Under Another Sky 19

Chapter 19

During the evening after Jacky’s birthday party Juli suggested to Lena that it might be a good idea to prepare a work plan for the children for the next few months. “It occurred to me that we could have a little ‘do’ on Monday, or whenever, so that Marina and Tishy feel that they are starting ‘school’ like Jacky,” she remarked.

“I think that’s a very good idea,” Lena agreed. “It’s time they got back into a regular routine.”

Marina came running up, panting slightly. “Are we going to swim Juli, I’m soooo hot, can we? I mean, may we?” she begged.

Floating lazily in the cool water a few minutes later, Juli felt a rush of joy. She had enjoyed the party that afternoon but she was really glad to be ‘home’ again, alone with the two little girls. The hushed tranquillity of the evening enveloped everything in sheathes of soft golden light, the birds were silent except for an occasional twitter here and there. Buenos Aires, London, Paris all seemed very far away and unimportant, even the planets in their courses lost their significance.

“In July I’m due holidays,” she mused. “I think I may just have enough money to go to Perú and visit Machu Pichu. I must do that. And then here in this country I want to visit Ushuaia in Fireland, Tierra del Fuego, and Bariloche and Salta as well as the Iguazú Falls and Calafate of course. When will I ever find the time to do all that?” Her mind wandered on and she wondered when Hernán would pluck up the courage to speak to Dereck. If he wanted to start now in March he would have to do so soon, for there would be many things to arrange.

Almost as if summoned by a genii, Dereck appeared in his bathing suit, a grim expression about his mouth. Immediately the peace and tranquillity of the evening, menaced, retired to a safe distance hovering about the tree tops and the peach coloured clouds beyond them. The little girls ran up to him excitedly, their arms raised, their fingers fluttering. He threw his towel onto a chair and dived into the water followed by Marina who jumped holding her nose. Tishy stood by the side of the pool waiting to be received. Once the excitement had abated, Juli said mildly, “You’re late.”

Dereck’s expression grew grim once more. “Hernán cornered me and told me he would like to go to an agricultural high school. Have you been putting these high falutin ideas into his head?”

“No.”

Dereck threw a disbelieving glance in Juli’s direction. “Hernán has never asked me for anything since he came to live here, and now, all of a sudden, after spending the afternoon with you, he comes and tells me he wants to go to an agricultural high school of all things. Do you expect me to believe you?”

“But why shouldn’t he?” Juli said. “After all he’s your …”

Their eyes met and the word ‘son’ hung between them like a burning coal in the silence.

“My what?” Dereck asked at last.

“I was going to say you responsibility, but perhaps that’s going too far in a non-feudal establishment. What I mean is … well you are really the only person he can turn to in a case like this. Who else in his minute circle of human relationships would be in a position to either help … or even care!”

“Hmf,” Dereck grunted, sinking slowly below the surface of the water. When he rose, the water streamed down his face and neck. “I could speak to Solá,” he said. “I believe a nephew of his is going to some place like that.”

Juli kept the elation which rose within her carefully hidden, and replied calmly, “Great, it must be nice to feel that one can help a person get on in life, to study I mean, that sort of thing, if that’s what they really want.”

“Huh,” Dereck grunted again. “Josefina will be dead against the whole idea.”

“Josefina’s opinion shouldn’t in any way stop Hernán from being able to go to secondary school,” July said shortly. “He’s nearly sixteen. If you can help him Dereck I think you should.”

“You think altogether too much young lady,” Dereck growled, looking straight into her eyes, the invitation in his gaze like a flaming sword. Juli ducked and swam away.

“Damn him!” she thought. “I still love him! Damn him, damn him!”

The following day Dereck went to Santa Rosa and took the opportunity of phoning Marion. He returned with the news that Peter was out of hospital, physically fit but still suffering from amnesia. He was going to a psychologist in the neighbourhood in order to be able to adjust and had decided to take up ceramics in order to give his hands and mind something to do.

“Well, what good news,” Lena beamed. “Poor Arthur, he has had the most terrible year, what with Peter and Marion and so on. Let’s hope this year will be easier for him.”

That evening Hernán appeared outside the nursery in the darkness after the children had gone to sleep. Juli was sitting on the bench next to Dobbie playing her guitar softly.

“Señorita Juli,” he said quietly “The Señor Dereck told me he had spoken to Dr. Solá and that he has an address of an agricultural school, and is going to find out if I could go.”

“Hernán, how super!” Juli exclaimed

“I must tell my mother soon, but not until an answer comes from the school. I am a little frightened now.”

“One is always a bit frightened when one starts to do something new, but then one does it and it turns out to be great fun. Look at all the wonderful things I have learned and done because I came to Argentina. One is frightened but one goes ahead just the same. You are very intelligent. When you finish school you will be able to look for a job with a good salary, not just as a peón, a farm worker.”

“One has to study. It is the only way. I had to come and tell you, it is such a big secret for me!”

“Sure, I understand you.”

Hernán bade her good night and slipped away into the murmuring darkness, Juli remained silently staring into the night, thinking of Gavin’s letter, of Hernán’s sudden decision to mention his wish, of Dereck’s immediate response. It was good. Gavin would feel more reconciled when he knew that Hernán too was being given his chance.

The tenth of March dawned fair and full of peace. Despite the fact that the planets in their personal ballets had all landed up in the same quadrant, the world continued to rotate on its axis around the sun, and there was no news of earthquakes or other natural disasters.

“The astrologers really get one quite worried at times,” Lena remarked at lunch. Juli, looking at her plate while Dereck harrumphed about astrologers in general noticed a solitary tomato seed and thought, “If today I plant this seed, no one will notice, but one day it might grow into a plant and have masses of tomatoes and who knows what effect that might have? If a new capacity is planted in human beings today, no one will notice, but when it begins to grow and to flower no one will know that it was planted on the tenth of March in 1982.”

“Tomorrow is my birthday,” she said aloud. “So I hope the astrologers are all wrong and that nothing awful happens anywhere.”

“Juli! Your birthday!” Lena cried and at once the children were full of shrill exclamations.

“I don’t want any fuss,” Juli said hurriedly. “No party, nothing. I don’t go in for making a big thing of birthdays. I just mentioned it because it happens to fall on the day after today, that’s all.”

“All the same,” Lena smiled. “We’ll get Josefina to make a chocolate cake, and we’ll have a festive tea. One can’t let these little chances for a bit of a ‘do’ just slip by when one lives in the camp. We’ll all dress up … alright Dereck I wasn’t including you anyway … and have a formal little family tea party here in the living room. It’s so good for the children.”

Juli capitulated. It was true. There were few occasions in which one could demand party manners and create a different scene in camp life. One had to take advantage of even the smallest opportunities.

She did not see the children again for the whole afternoon, they and Lena were so busy preparing for the birthday party the following day. Juli took advantage of the unexpected freedom to go riding and then to write letters.

The following day, for tea, the children wore their best party dresses; Juli changed out of her jeans and put on a skirt and blouse; Lena, as usual, was immaculate, and even Toffy, resplendent in a brand new outfit with a design of blue bunnies knitted into the jersey, attended.

The best china, white lawn serviettes folded under little silver forks, a beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloth on which the silver toast rack with its pieces of perfectly browned toast, a plate of cucumber sandwiches, another with scones and the chocolate cake with four candles and a large twenty decorating its gleaming surface, surrounded a centre-piece of fragrant roses. Juli stood looking at it all with tears in her eyes. She had never been given quite such an elegant, nor so lovingly and tastefully prepared, birthday party. A small heap of gaily wrapped presents surrounded her plate. Wordlessly she walked over to Lena and kissed her.

Lena, who had enjoyed every minute of all the preparations, hugged her happily and said, “This is to show how much we all care for you, Juli. You’re really one of the family now, at least that’s how I feel.”

Juli grinned and nodded, rubbing away her tears as she looked back in her mind’s eye over her twenty three previous birthdays. Some had been great fun, especially before her parents had separated, but none had been like this.

Dereck appeared fresh and sparkling in a clean white shirt and slacks and Juli exclaimed teasingly, “Oh, Dereck, were you made to change out of your comfortable bombachas and boots just for me?”

“Not at all,” he replied cheerfully. “When I saw how smart all the family was, I couldn’t let them down, could I?”

Juli lit the candles and Toffy, sitting on his mother’s lap, gurgled with delight waving his little hands excitedly. She blew them out in one breath and seconds later they burst into flames once more.

“They’re special ones,” Lena explained.

“Now you blow them out Marina,” Juli begged, laughing.

Marina did as she was asked excitedly and Juli just saved the milk jug from being knocked over. Then it was Tishy’s turn and then even Toffy’s. Lena blew for him and every one clapped and laughed so he laughed delightedly with them all. After they had sung ‘Happy Birthday to you’ Juli cut the cake.

“Aren’t you going to open your presents?” Marina asked, wriggling in her chair a little anxiously.

“Right now,” Juli nodded and began to open her presents one by one, exclaiming over each gift and jumping up to kiss each giver. A T-shirt from Lena, two beautiful hankies from Tishy, a little blue hand towel with a ‘J’ embroidered by Marina in one corner, a paper-back novel from Toffy and a cassette with music by Bach from Dereck.

“What lovely presents,” Juli enthused, touching them gently. “How lucky I am. I love them all and this is the happiest birthday party I have ever had.”

“Next year we’ll have a real party,” Marina announced firmly. “Like Jackie’s, and we’ll invite Jackie too.”

Later Juli fetched her guitar and Marina and Tishy sang and danced on the veranda outside. Then they played games in which Dereck and Lena also took part so there was much laughter and great excitement.

That night, lying in her bed, Juli went over the afternoon in her mind fondly and thought about Gavin far away in France. Soon it would be spring and the vines would be starting to sprout as all the cycle started again. She thought about Easter and felt that it would be strange to be celebrating Easter in autumn. It would be quite a different feeling, like Christmas in the heat of summer. One had to make a personal effort here to get beyond Nature and link oneself to the Christian Festivals. In a way one became more conscious of the whole world by living in the southern hemisphere.

The following Monday, by special request, she sent Marina and Tishy off to say good morning to Lena while she quickly prepared the nursery for ‘class’ with exercise books, wax colours, glue, round-tipped scissors and coloured papers. The children returned hand in hand with Lena, each wearing a new blue pinafore and carrying blue drawstring bags with their names embroidered on them. Juli wondered who was prouder, Lena or the children.

“How smart you both are!” she declared. “Did you make the pinafores Lena?”

Lena nodded, her eyes shining.

“Shall we give Mummy a chair and sing some songs for her?” Juli suggested, reaching for her guitar.

Although Lena already knew all their songs she sat down happily, quite content to listen to their repertoire all over again. She imagined Toffy in their place and decided that he would certainly not be going to boarding school when he was eight, but there was plenty of time before that problem would have to be solved.

“How well you both sing, lovely,” she said, clapping her hands. “Now I must go and see to Toffy and leave you to do your lessons. ‘Bye ‘bye, pichones.”

Marina rushed to kiss her goodbye, clinging to her as if she were really going to some other house far down the road. Tishy hovered, waiting. She too wanted a kiss, but she was too shy still with her mother to demand one. Lena kissed her as well and left. Starry-eyed, the children took their places at the table and showed Juli the things Lena had put into their drawstring bags. Several biscuits each, as well as a crisp little handkerchief apiece.

“Suburbia in Los Alamos,” Juli thought. “But all the same we shall go riding after lunch, and in the afternoon we shall go for a walk and look at all the animals.”

Watching Tishy cutting up a piece of gold paper into snips and sticking them onto the picture she was creating, Juli felt a rush of tender joy and pride. It really seemed such a miracle that this intelligent, happy little girl with her neat movements and clever little fingers should be the same mournful, drooping, silent child of six months ago. Here so clearly, the relationship between the sun and love became obvious. Just as all living things could not live without the sunshine neither could the human soul develop properly without the warmth and essence of love.

While the children coloured and snipped and stuck, Juli went over her work-plan for the next couple of months. Ordering the future in this way gave her a sense of comfort and purpose, it was as if a faint inner unease was stilled as she planned activities, projects and materials needed.

Later, while the children were playing outside and she sat watching them, fondling Dobbie’s ears as the old dog lovingly laid her head on her lap, she thought of Peter and wondered how the relationship between him and his family was now. Did the fact the he had forgotten all his past also include the emotional struggles between himself and Marion? Obviously her attitude towards him, now that he was in a way disabled, must have changed a great deal. She hoped so. It would be terrible if the battles had begun to rage once more, their natures once again, subconsciously, trying to wound each other and gain the upper hand at all costs.

Juli was surprised at how much she would have liked to see Peter again. She wished that they had had time to talk on that fateful night in Punta del Este. What would happen when his memory returned? When all the fear related to his escape, the despair and repression which had led up to it, plus the months spent in Brazil and Uruguay rose once again into his consciousness and had to be coped with. At least he was going to a psychologist which meant that he would have professional help when he needed it.

She sighed. It would be nice to have been able to walk down the road and drop in on the Carlies for a while. After lunch she would go and visit Phyllis’s grave. Dereck was at a cattle sale which meant it was quite safe, and Juli, who had not been there since her return from Punta del Este felt a deep need to go, despite the fact that it was quite against Dereck’s wishes. Then she would write to Gavin and tell him about Hernán.

Hernán’s imminent departure to the agricultural high school Dereck had discovered, had the servants in a turmoil. Dereck had taken him to Santa Rosa, bought him the clothes, books and other things he would need, and Hernán was beside himself with delight and not a little trepidation. Don Elizondo’s nephew was to be the patio boy in Hernán’s place and the latter was busy teaching him all the things he had to do, and how he had to behave. Lena considered it was a good idea for the Hernán to go and only Josefina’s heart ached unbearably beneath her full round breasts.

Glancing at her watch, Juli called the children back into the nursery where they tidied away their ‘school things’, sang a little song, changed quickly into their bathing suits and ran over to the pool where Lena was already sitting, reading a magazine.

“Toffy?” Juli asked.

“Sleeping,” Lena smiled and showed Juli a full colour fashion photograph of a little girl in a charming dress. “Don’t you think the girls would look sweet in matching dresses like this one? I think I’ll make something like this for them. I find the big collar a charming detail.”

Juli glanced at the photograph distractedly and then gave a cry of surprise.

“What magazine is that?” she exclaimed.

“Fashion and Miscellany. Why?”

“That’s Susan! That little girl is my sister! Hey, isn’t that incredible? My father never told … ! May I have a look? Are there more photos?”

Lena handed her the magazine and Juli took it with shaking hands. Fascinated, she stared at the familiar face of the child in the pretty dress. Turning the pages she came upon more photographs of Susan, also in colour, wearing different outfits. Juli felt a lump in her throat. She sank down beside Lena and gazed at the photographs wordlessly. The floodgates of her memories suddenly opened as she gazed at Susan’s perky little features, noting the colour of her eyes, that wisp of hair that always escaped from her clip, the dusting of freckles on her nose, her smile, the slight tilt of her left eyebrow caused by a tiny scar, the result of a fall when she was learning to walk.

She wanted to will the photographs to come to life, to make Susan hop off the pages and hug and kiss her as she always did. To drag off those fancy clothes and join Marina and Tishy in the paddle pool wearing only her little white knickers.

Silently she forced herself to return the magazine to Lena and say somewhat huskily, “It’s sort of queer to see my half sister right there like that, the photos are so real, aren’t they … somehow?”

Lena studied the photographs with interest. “You’re not a bit alike,” she said.

“No, I know. Susan and Bernard are both more like Paula than Dad.”

Marina ran over to them followed by Tishy. “What are you looking at?” she demanded.

Juli showed the children the photographs in the magazine and said, “That’s my little sister, Susan. Those clothes are not hers, she just wears them for the photos.”

“Pretty,” Tishy said, touching the pictures with a finger.

“Is she going to come and visit you?” Marina asked.

“No, it’s too far away.”

“Oh. Can we swim, Juli, please,” Marina begged “I want to swim now.”

She had dragged on her water wings and was hopping about at a discreet distance from the edge of the pool. Juli rose and dived into the water, when she surfaced the children jumped into the safe semicircle of her arms laughing and splashing excitedly. Tishy kept her glasses on, firmly attached with an elastic band round the back of her head.

That afternoon, sitting by the grave, Juli dropped into a reverie about her family. She wondered about Ann and if she would become pregnant again soon, about Paula and her father, together with Susan and Bernard. Her family, thousands of miles away, fading into the dim recesses of her heart and mind as her activities and interests in Argentina occupied her attention more and more fully. Could Paula and her father have decided, or been persuaded, to use Susan’s pretty little face as a source of income? Paula she felt sure would get a vicarious thrill from seeing her children smiling out of the pages of glossy magazines.

The afternoon was very hot and still. Here and there a bird chirped softly. The little green parrots chattered to each other in the algarrobo trees nearby. All the grasses were yellow gold beyond the watered confines of the little graveside garden. Suddenly Juli realized that she had been sitting there for nearly half an hour and had not once thought of Phyllis. Startled, she looked at the grave, the rose bushes, the chapel with its shadowed porch and it all felt empty, uninhabited. Standing up nervously, she looked down at the grave and the words so carefully engraved on the headstone.

“Goodbye Phyllis,” she said aloud. “I don’t think I shall be coming back here again, and somehow I don’t think you will either. Now that Gavin knows … Now that I know … But it’s not Hernán’s fault. Don’t blame him. It’s certainly not his fault.”

She drew a deep breath, shivering in the heat of the afternoon sun, wondering at what she had just said. She glanced round to see if anyone was at hand and had heard her speaking, but all was quiet and quite still. Abruptly she left the garden, snapped the padlock to, hid the key in its cranny in the porch and, running lightly, she left the quiet grave behind her, mounted Mariposa and cantered away, remembering her wild gallop, not so many months ago, when Dereck had found her there and she had nearly been bitten by the snake.

So many emotions, so many events, so much life crammed into these last nine months. And now, what would April bring? An uneventful routine? Some new crisis affecting the course of their lives? An illness? What? Deep within her Juli had the feeling of impending change which she resisted with all the force of her will, but its chill shadow fell across her heart and she was glad to be back at the homestead, making her way to the nursery, the aroma of freshly made toast reminding her that it would soon be teatime.

That evening she looked through a pile of old ‘Fashion and Miscellany’ magazines which Lena had given her, but there were no photographs either of Susan or Bernard. She would have loved to have phoned to ask all about the matter. Sometimes Los Alamos felt very far away and isolated.

Thousands of miles to the south, a small group of Argentine workmen contemplated the abandoned whaling station they had come to dismantle on the desolate windswept island of South Georgia. They had just raised the Argentine flag and sung the National Anthem. One of them, with a pot of paint, sprayed “Las Malvinas son Nuestras” The Malvinas are Ours, on one of the walls, while his companions laughed and encouraged him with suggestions for other epithets before the snow and the cold drove them to seek shelter.
…………………………………………………………

2 thoughts on “Under Another Sky 19

  1. A great way to end a chapter! It really makes one want to get ‘stuck in’ to the next one!
    The paragraph where Juli ponders the ramification of one tomato seed being planted, had quite an effect on me, I liked it.

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