Peter came to fetch Juli at ten thirty. He did not bother to change from his faded jeans and elbow-patched obviously well worn pullover, and his mother exclaimed. “Aren’t you going to put on something less scruffy?”
“No, why?” Peter rejoined using a tone calculated to irritate her. His appearance in comparison to his brother’s was unkempt to an extreme.
“Are you sure you want to go?” Mrs. Carlie asked Juli a little anxiously. “You must be exhausted, aren’t you?”
“No, no, I’m fine,” Juli replied jumping up. She ran to get her coat and, waving goodnight to the Carlies, she followed Peter out to the waiting car.
Dinner had been a pleasant meal. Pamela had amused them with a long story about the discomfiture of her math’s teacher. Tony and his father had had a lively argument about politics and Mrs. Carlie had given an entertaining account of the preparations for the rummage sale with a multitude of details which had made them rock with laughter. Juli, amid the general amusement had glanced across at Dino and his expression of anguish had shaken her profoundly. When he became aware that she was looking at him, his habitual expression had slipped back like a mask over his features and he had become distant and watchful once more. Juli realized that the fact that she might have discovered his inner self had upset him, and, with comprehending delicacy she at once pretended that she had noticed nothing, but she couldn’t forget the impression it had made on her.
“What’s with Dino?” she asked herself. “I must ask Peter … why is he so unhappy for goodness sake?”
The night air outside was icy and made her gasp after the warmth of the house. Peter ushered Juli into the front seat of the waiting car and introduced her to the driver as he climbed into the back. “Juli, this is Sandy.”
“Hi.” Sandy said as he put the car into gear.
“Hello,” she replied, looking at him with interest. He had a shock of tight fair curls cut like an afro, and a drooping moustache. Everything about him was round compared to Peter who was angular and bony. His hands on the driving wheel were soft and white; his chin and cheeks full and smooth.
“Well,” said Peter, taking off his pullover and dragging on a smart pale blue polo- necked sweater in its place. “What did you do all afternoon?”
“Hey,” Juli laughed when she saw that he had changed and was combing his hair carefully. “Big change!”
“No one is going to order me to change my clothes or tidy up!” Peter replied a little grimly.
“OK OK. Well, I accompanied your Mother to the church to help arrange things for the rummage sale tomorrow.”
“You did? My God, what a flagellation, were you trying to ingratiate yourself or something?”
“Don’t be stupid, I went because I wanted to. Don’t start heckling me now!”
“Alright, fair enough. Was Joanie Trale there asking sergeant major questions?”
A shadow flitted across Juli’s expression and she said a little sourly. “Yes, she was there.”
Sandy grinned. “She’s the biggest gossip in B.A. I bet she grilled you with questions.”
“Well, she asked quite a few, but what I found so incredible was the feeling of being in England.” Juli changed the subject. “But the England of my grandmother’s time, you know? Of course I suppose all those sort of things are still organized all over England in little villages, but I’ve never been to one there and my image of the UK today is so different.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Peter rejoined and Juli remained silent, thinking of her activity during the afternoon as she stared out of the car window at the street lights which, half hidden by the branches of the trees in the streets, seemed to swoop towards them like glimmering winged beings.
“When we got home Pamela showed me her stone animals and her paper flowers,” she added after a minute or two.
“They’re good aren’t they?” Sandy remarked.
“They really are,” Juli responded enthusiastically. “The flowers are beautiful. I’m going to order a bunch as she says she makes them to sell.”
“Mmm. She’s a clever little thing. I take her to the port sometimes and she spends literally hours choosing the right stones. It’s a real process, each one has to be just right. The ones I choose never are!”
Juli noticed the warmth which had crept into Peter’s voice and flashed him a little smile. “I met Tony and Dino as well,” she continued. “Tony lent me a tape recorder and a whole pile of tapes, including the latest one he and Dino have made. It’s terrific, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Peter replied after the slightest of pauses.
Silence fell and Juli wondered what might have upset Peter and decided that he was probably a bit jealous of his younger brother. Thinking of Dino evoked the memory of his expression of anguish which she had glimpsed and she was just about to ask Peter a few details about him when Sandy stopped the car in front of a small bungalow enveloped in total darkness.
“Didn’t Quique say they were going with us?” Sandy asked
“Sure, I spoke to Rita this afternoon,” Peter replied. “I’ll go and see what’s up. I don’t hear Napoleón barking.”
He hopped out of the car and rang the bell. After waiting a moment he went into the little front garden and hammered on the front door. It opened almost at once and the light of a tiny torch wavered in the darkness.
“They must have burned their fuses,” said Sandy as they watched the agitated movements of the torch, guessing at the story they were illustrating. After a moment Peter and the torch light disappeared into the house, then they reappeared and approached the car. Juli rolled down the window-pane as Rita bounced up and put her head through the window.
“Hello,” she exclaimed excitedly. “How are you – I am Rita – Napoleón, our dog, has escaped and Quique went to look for him. That dog, he is always escaping!” She spoke English fluently but with a noticeable accent. “And just now,” she continued breathlessly. “I plugged in the iron and all the lights fused. What a lío, and I have no candles, just this little torch. Why don’t you come in and we’ll have a coffee? The gas is still working. Quique won’t be so long, Napoleón always goes to the same place.”
They got out of the car and followed Rita back into the warm dark house. She gave the impression of being a ball of tightly compressed energy. She walked quickly and with a spring in her steps which made Juli feel almost staid. Her movements were quick and deft, her speech and hands indivisibly linked, for she used them continually to express her words more clearly, waving her arms about excitedly. Darting about the shadowy kitchen, lit only by the flames of the gas jet of her stove, she put water on to boil, and banged mugs and a pot of instant coffee on the table. The sugar bowl and teaspoons clattered after them. The sink was piled with dirty dishes. The ironing board with the offending iron occupied a lot of space, so they perched where they could find somewhere to sit and sipped the scalding coffee while they waited for Quique.
Juli let herself flow secretly about the darkened house, something she often did to catch the “feel” of the people who lived in the different homes she visited. She sensed love and a certain friction too; problems of money? Two of the mugs were chipped. A passion for life and yet at the same time sensitivity, creativity and understanding….
Napoleón’s cheerful barks heralded Quique’s triumphant return. Napoleón bounded in, a large fawn-coloured dog of very mixed parentage with loving brown eyes, floppy ears and a beautiful plume of a tail which wagged vigorously to show how much he had enjoyed his twenty minutes of freedom.
For a few minutes all was disorder while Rita explained about the iron, Napoleón barked, Peter laughed and Quique remonstrated. Then Quique found a new fuse and with the help of a cigarette lighter held by Sandy he changed the one that had burned out and the bungalow was once again flooded with light. Juli had seldom seen such an untidy room. Most of the table in the kitchen and part of the floor were littered with books and papers together with a number of bulging shopping bags, boots, and the dog’s dish of biscuits. Used mugs stood about on shelves, and ashtrays overflowed with cigarette butts. One had fallen on the floor and lay face down in a pool of ashes and stubbed out cigarettes, two hooks on one of the curtains had fallen off and it hung lopsidedly, waiting to be mended. Rita and Quique were amusingly similar in looks. Both had abundant black hair and snapping black eyes, However, Quique, who was not as effusive as his wife, also sported a thick black moustache which made him look older than he actually was.
They finished their coffee, Rita filled Napoleón’s dish with biscuits and they left, leaving the porch light burning.
“You must take the iron to be fixed on Monday first thing,” Quique said.
“Yes and I’ll take the hoover too, it’s working very badly,” Rita agreed fervently. They spoke in Spanish, but Sandy translated quietly.
They piled into the car and set off again. Rita never stopped talking, first in English and then in Spanish, as Quique’s English was far less fluent. They both spoke Spanish at the most devastating speed, and with the cheerful torrent flowing round her Juli registered only half-consciously the wide brightly-lit avenue along which Sandy was driving. Presently he turned off into a quiet tree-lined side street where the houses were smaller and built closer together than in the district where the Carlie’s lived. In fact, few of the houses stood free in their own gardens.
When they arrived at their destination, the house they were ushered into was quite different to any Juli had ever been in before. From the small front garden they passed through the front door into a narrow passage which in its turn led onto a veranda full of ferns and plants in pots. To the left a door opened into a sitting room which was connected to a dining room by an archway. Both rooms were filled with young men and women laughing and talking. A haze of cigarette smoke filled the air, while pop music in the background added to the general hubbub. Several pizzas still piping hot had been placed in their cardboard containers on the dining-room table and guests were helping themselves eagerly. Bottles of wine, soft drinks and glasses were crowded on the sideboard.
Their hostess, Ana, a tall thin young woman, her long dark hair tied into a pony tail, welcomed Juli pleasantly when Peter introduced her, kissed the others and asked Rita to show the way to the bedroom where she and Juli could leave their coats, waving her hand vaguely towards a door at the other end of the dining room.
“Come on,” said Rita and pushed her way towards the door which Ana had indicated. It opened into a bedroom, the first in a string of rooms which all opened onto the veranda. Coats were piled onto the vast brass double bed. The room had no window as such, but received light from the panes of glass in the double doors which opened onto the veranda and by the fan-light above them. The panes had wooden shutters on the inside.
“That door,” Rita said indicating a door opposite the one they had just come through, “leads to Ana’s kids’ bedroom and from there the next room is a bathroom and then comes the guest bedroom. All the rooms have doors onto the veranda. The kitchen used to be at the very end but Ana had it put into the room on the right of the passage by the front door. These houses are very old and that’s how they were designed years ago, I suppose to be cooler in summer, masses of doors and very few windows. She has a garden at the back and it’s all walled in so perfectly safe for the kids. I like our bungalow better though; ah, if you want to use the bathroom you get to it from the veranda.”
The room they were in was furnished with solid antique oak furniture. Rita, noticing Juli’s expression of amazement said. “This was Ana’s grandmother’s house and the furniture as well. Isn’t it divine? Ana is divorced, her father’s an architect and he fixed it up as she wanted it. She is an interior decorator, this is a sort of advertisement cum home, she’s always having parties, you know, to show off….”
They left their coats on the wine coloured bedspread. Rita was wearing a flimsy summer dress and Juli noticed that she was not wearing stockings. In spite of herself, she said. “Won’t you be cold?”
“No, I have a woollen vest on, look,” Rita showed her woollen vest with a grin but Juli knew intuitively that Rita had very few pretty clothes and that she was not in jeans or trousers like most of the other women present because hers were just a little too shabby to wear to a party.
“Let’s go and have a pizza, I’m starved,” Rita added and they returned to the dining room where she helped herself eagerly, betraying the fact that she had not dined before leaving home. Juli accepted a glass of wine from Peter and said, “What a peculiar house this is with its long string of rooms. Rita told me it belonged to Ana’s grandmother.”
They are called “Chorizo” … that is sausage houses. They’re certainly not very practical, it must have been warmer in winter years ago, or the people were hardier.”
“And the ceilings are so high! These look like floors upside down with their wood panelling all so nicely polished,” Juli went on, staring up at the ceiling with interest.
“Nice and cool in summer, it can get very hot here sometimes … thirty six, thirty nine, forty degrees centigrade … although the average is about thirty; the problem is the humidity, it always feels much hotter. Ana specializes in fixing up these little old houses which are all the rage in her set at the moment. I must say she’s pretty good at it.”
Juli noted the tone of pride in his voice and glanced at him curiously, for she could find no point of coincidence between his style and Ana’s. Sandy joined them at that moment, his eyes twinkling and a bottle of red wine in his left hand.
“More wine,” he offered waving the bottle cheerfully, but both Juli and Peter refused. “Good party this, huh? Tops for Ana as usual, certainly knows how to entertain her guests, doesn’t she?”
The two friends started chatting and Juli let her eyes wander over the crowd with interest. Most of the women were wearing trousers and were smart despite their casual clothes. There was a marked fashion trend although most seemed to have come to their own terms with the latest fashion as it best suited them individually. Very few wore lipstick and none of them looked as if they had come straight from the hairdresser. The atmosphere was relaxed and noisy with much laughter and everyone speaking Spanish at lightning speed.
“Except Ana,” thought Juli as Ana detached herself from the group she was talking to and came over to where they were standing.
“Que tal, how are you querido?” she murmured putting her arm round Pete’s waist thus placing herself between Peter and Juli. “You OK?” she asked Juli.
“Yes, fine thank you,” Juli smiled.
“When did you come … to Buenos Aires?”
“This morning. I arrived this morning.”
“I told you Ana,” Peter said, looking down at her.
“Oh, yes. Do you like Argentina?”
“I’ve only seen a very little of Buenos Aires so I can’t really tell you, but I find it all very interesting. Thank you for inviting me to your party.”
“I didn’t invite you, Peter did,” Ana remarked rather pointedly. “Peter, mi amor, shall we select the records for dancing?” She drew him away and Sandy shrugged amiably.
“Ana is quite a character..,” he grinned.
“I wonder what she sees in Peter, he hardly seems her type,” Juli said, looking after them.
“Peter is known for not committing himself, I suppose he represents a challenge for someone like Ana”
Rita bounced up radiating life. “Hello,” she cried. “I just love Ana’s parties, one always meets such interesting people.”
“Public Relations, Rita,” Sandy remarked drily, and Rita made a face at him.
“I’ve just been talking to a girl who is studying dancing at the Colón, for instance, that one in red over there,” she went on. “The Colón is our huge, wonderful Municipal Theatre in the centre of the city, Juli. And that weird looking fellow with all that long grey hair is an expert on vegetarian food. He’s been married four times.”
Sandy burst out laughing. “His wives must have got very tired of brown rice. By the way Rita, Ana mentioned something about dancing just now, why don’t you murmur in someone’s ear that Quique might just sing a few songs if asked loud enough. I see Ana has a very good-looking guitar over there, which he can borrow.”
“Would you prefer that to dancing?” Rita asked, looking surprised.
“I’ll go and ask Quique.” Rita darted off.
“He’s got a beautiful voice,” Sandy said. “But he’s not got much self confidence so one doesn’t get to hear it very often.”
“Better than Tony’s?”
“Oh, God, yes. He’s taking singing lessons and he’s also a member of a choir which is a very good one. No, he’s really tops.”
“He should get together with Dino then. I find Dino’s music fantastic.”
“Ah, I don’t know if he knows Dino.”.”
“And the pop music here, are there many groups?”
“Yes, any number, but all on the mediocre side. There are several individuals who are very good but groups … no, not really. Folk singers and tangos excluded of course.”
“Do you sing?”
Sandy shook his head and laughed. “Only when I’m having my shower,” he said. “But I love music; one of the few little treats my mother and I give ourselves every now and then, is an evening at the Colón actually. It’s a lovely place and has excellent acoustics. They always invite the really top singers from abroad for the opera season. Good music in B.A. is one of its most positive aspects. One can go to a free concert of one sort or another practically every day, all sponsored by the municipality, or by some business entity”
Someone across the room called out to Sandy and he excused himself to Juli just as Rita returned, her eyes bright with anticipation. “Quique’s going to sing in a minute or two,” she said. “Once he’s tuned the guitar.”
“Have you been married long?” Juli asked.
“Six months, but we have been going out together for five years. Since we were sixteen.”
“Five years! That’s a life time. Haven’t you ever had another boy friend?”
“Yes. We quarrelled and we separated and I started going out with another fellow but it was terrible. I broke up with him and Quique and I got together again.”
“Do you work?”
“Yes. I’m a primary school teacher. Quique works for his father for the moment, but he’s a bit undecided about what he’ll do once he gets his degree. He is studying economics and still has a couple of exams to take. His father is an accountant and has a lot of clients. And you? Peter said you are going to look after his uncle’s little children.”
“Yes. But I trained to be a secretary, I haven’t any training as a nanny!”
“I’m sure you will do it wonderfully,” Rita said with great seriousness.
“How come you speak English so fluently?”
“I went to an institute called the Asociación Argentina de Cultura Inglesa for seven years. English Culture Asociation I suppose in English…”
“I thought you might have gone to a bilingual boarding school.”
“A boarding school? NEVER! Imagine me in a boarding school! There are very few boarding schools in Argentina. For the army I think, and perhaps for children who live very far away from towns. Most Argentine kids go to day-school.”
“I was sent to boarding school.”
“No! Really? Did you like it?”
“Yes, I did. But my older sister was there too. I ran away once just for fun, but then I got scared and went back and no one ever even knew I had!!”
They both laughed. Peter came over to them and asked, “What are you two laughing about?”
“You loved boarding school, didn’t you Peter?” Rita grinned.
“Adored it, my foot.”
“Didn’t you like it then?” Juli asked.
“Boarding school? No, I hated it. Luckily I became a day student at another school when I was fifteen,” Peter said and Juli felt she should change the subject.
“When’s Quique going to sing?” she asked.
“Now,” Rita replied. “Look, he’s already sitting strumming the guitar, waiting.”
“Dále, Quique,” Peter called out in a loud voice, and clapped his hands in order to attract attention “¿Qué vas a cantar, viejo? What are you going to sing?”
The atmosphere in the room changed at once. Everyone moved into the sitting room and settled themselves in an enthusiastic semicircle around Quique, either on chairs or on the floor. He strummed softly as they settled themselves, someone turned off most of the lights, and then, as a gentle hush fell upon all present he began to sing in a clear effortless tenor which gripped their hearts and brought tears to Juli’s eyes.
He sang song after song. Sometimes they were slow and sad, others were bright and sparkling and Quique would indicate that his audience should accompany him in the choruses with a quick gesture of his hand. After about an hour he passed the guitar over to Ana who sang several songs in her deep husky voice, and then he sang again. When at last he stood up and stretched, holding the guitar high above his head Juli began to clap starting an outburst of applause.
“You must be ever so proud of him,” she said to Rita. “What a lovely voice he has!”
Rita grinned proudly. “I sure am,” she said. “But I protest sometimes because I would like him to sing less and help me more in the house!! He composes songs too, but he is such a perfectionist and sometimes he is days and days over one single bar or word. It nearly drives me crazy!!”
Juli suddenly realized how tired she was and suppressed a yawn with difficulty. Rita reacted immediately and rushed over to Sandy and Quique to organize their departure. Peter wavered a little …
“It’s not so late,” he remonstrated glancing at his watch.
“Stay then,” Juli said
“But we only have one key.”
Sandy said,” We’ll take Juli home now and come back. What’s the problem?”
Too tired to argue, Juli let them decide what to do. Rita and Quique opted to go home as well and the two girls went to collect their coats together. Ana had her arm seductively round Peter’s waist again when they returned, she eyed Juli offhandedly and said, “Of course, flying can make some people very tired. My mother has to rest a whole day when she returns from a trip to Europe.”
Juli ignored the jibe and replied as pleasantly as she could. “Thank you very much Ana, I really enjoyed the party.”
“Hasta luego, till later,” Peter called as they left through the front door and ran to the car through the icy night air.
“Ana is never tired and does everything so well, she makes me mad,” Rita remarked lightly.
“She has no man,” Quique reminded her.
“Perhaps she’s happier without one,” Sandy said teasingly.
Peter said nothing. They dropped Rita and Quique off at their home, refusing an invitation to yet another coffee. Just as they were about to leave Rita rushed back to the car and said, “On Sunday, Juli, are you free?” I would like to show you a little of Buenos Aires. Tomorrow I am not free but on Sunday, yes. OK?”
“Great, I’d love to go with you. Would that be alright, Peter?” Juli exclaimed happily.
“Sure, I would think so,” Peter nodded.
“I’ll phone you then,” Rita said, flapped her hand in a goodnight wave and darted back into the house, where they could hear Napoleón barking noisily.
As Sandy drove back to the Carlies, Juli turned to Peter and asked,” What relationship to Dino have you, Peter?”
“Distant cousin, he’s my father’s godson, why?”
“I just wondered. Has he any brothers and sisters?”
“A sister of sixteen and a brother of ten. You’re very curious about him suddenly!”
“He seems such a strange aloof sort of person, that’s all.”
“His father is an alcoholic, isn’t he?” Sandy interposed and Juli realized that Peter had not wanted to mention that fact. “That’s probably why, as you say, he’s a bit aloof.”
“Yeah. Probably,” Peter said vaguely. “Do you mind if I just let you in, Juli? Will you be needing anything?”
“No, nothing. Just bed. Thanks very much for everything.”
Sandy brought the car to a halt in front of the Carlie’s house. Juli said good night and followed Peter through the wrought iron gate and into the house. He kissed her good night and left quickly locking the front door behind him. With weary footsteps Juli betook herself to her bedroom and fell into bed, almost too tired to undress or put on her pyjamas. Her last thoughts were of Dino …
She awoke well after ten. Horrified, she jumped out of bed, wondering what the Carlies would think of the future nanny of their nieces sleeping till all hours of the morning, and hoping that her late hour of rising would be put down to her tiredness from the flight.. She need not have worried for the household had been organized to function despite the various young people and their needs and habits.
María, who was vacuuming in the sitting room, seemed to be the only person about, downstairs. With a bright “Buenos días, señorita.” she led the way into the spacious kitchen where Dino was sitting at the formica-topped table having breakfast, and returned to her hoovering.
“Good morning,” Juli said a little nervously. Dino seemed to always make her feel awkward, his silence had a strange quality about it. Now, wordlessly, he got up and fetched a mug, plate, teaspoon and knife. “Tea or coffee?” he asked lighting the gas under the kettle.
“Er…tea please,” Juli said arranging her plate and mug. He dug a tea bag out of a decorated tin which Juli recognized as Pamela’s handiwork, and dropped it into her mug. “Thanks Dino,” she said quickly. “I’ll see to the water. You go on with your breakfast. Sorry to have troubled you”
“That’s OK.” Dino sat down and folded the newspaper he had been reading neatly. Juli filled her mug with boiling water and sat down in front of him. She decided, that if she wanted to get to know this enigmatic personality she had better take advantage of the opportunity for she doubted if there would be many more.
“Where is everybody?” she asked. “I nearly had a fit when I woke and saw how late it was.”
Dino shrugged. “Marion must be at her rummage sale, she’s been on about it all week. Arthur had a golf tournament I think. Pamela has hockey practice. Tony is sleeping and Peter I don’t think came back last night.”
“Great,” Juli grinned with relief. “Then I can enjoy my breakfast without feeling guilty.” She looked round the gleaming green-tiled kitchen with pleasure. “What a lovely house this is,” she added. “It simply takes my breath away. Of course there are houses like this in England but not many among the families I know. And those who do have big houses don’t have any help so they’re always pretty untidy.”
Dino’s gaze was attentive but guarded, it was quite impossible to guess what he was thinking. Juli helped herself to bread, butter and honey and ploughed on. “Do you play only pop music, or do you study classical as well?”
“I only fool around with Tony’s songs,” Dino shrugged. “At the conservatory of course I’m studying classical music and modern.”
“Does one study everything in a conservatory here? I mean, history of music, how to play an instrument, composing etc, or does one specialize?”
“Each year one has to study several different … ‘materias’ … they are called … or subjects … and apart from that, one has to learn to play at least two instruments. It’s a four year course.”
“And at the end what is one?”
“Professor of music.”
“Do you want to be a teacher?”
“Which is your favourite composer?” Juli persisted.
“Wagner? Really? I love Wagner!”
A subtle change came over Dino, not only did his gaze seem to expand, his frosty shell melted and it was almost like meeting another person.
“Do you really like Wagner? Richard Wagner?” he asked.
“Yes, really. My father is wild about Wagner. We’ve been to every one of his operas and several two or three times. All I know and love of Wagner I owe to my father.”
Dino indicated the newspaper. “There’s a concert tonight, choir and solos. Arias from Wagner,” he said.
“Let’s go,” Juli said at once. “I invite you, I’ve got lots of money, in pounds though. We’ll have to change some first.”
“Do you mean it?” exclaimed Dino.
“But of course, how shall we go about it?”
“If you give me the money I can go and change it at the Sheraton Hotel and see if I can get the tickets this morning.”
“Right. I’ll just finish breakfast and then I’ll fetch the money. Can you wait?”
Dino laughed a little self-consciously, he was already at the sink washing up his breakfast things. Juli decided to change fifty pounds in order to remain with argentine pesos. She gave the money to Dino and her left at once, his eyes shining. Alone in the big house except for María, who had finished cleaning downstairs, and could be heard hoovering distantly in the direction of the bedrooms, Juli washed up her breakfast things, picked up the newspaper and wandered into the sitting room where a small fire glowed in the grate.
It was very quiet and Juli let herself relax as she sauntered round the room looking at the pictures, the silver objects on the table, the family photographs and the different views of the garden from the windows. She felt languid and happy. After a little while she sat down on the sofa and stared at the glimmering coals in the fireplace, thinking of the party; of the ladies at their rummage sale; of Sandy, Peter and Ana; of Ana’s house and Quique’s voice; of Rita, her untidy house and Napoleón. She had only been one day in Argentina but somehow she felt as if she had been months. The warmth with which she had been so immediately welcomed by one and all, the lack of reserve and the genuine affection she had experienced were things she had not expected. London was such a huge city. One had one’s friends but the indifference of those who did not know you was like a cold mist which curled around nearly every activity. One could be so terribly lonely in London … so terribly lonely.
Thinking of Wagner reminded her once again of her father. It was often a painful experience to think of him. He had left her mother to marry Paula when she Juli, was twelve. The divorce had followed a bitter stormy year in which her parents had torn the very fabric of their fifteen year old marriage to shreds. Ann, at fourteen, and completely involved in her first boyfriend, had managed to live through that awful year almost unscathed. But Juli had suffered intensely. Horrified by her parents’ quarrels and the dreadful accusations they had flung at one another; torn by the deep love she felt for both of them, she had felt like an unwanted paper boat tossing helplessly on a stormy sea. After she had tried, with no success whatsoever, to act as a go-between, she had retreated into herself and created an inner space from which everything unpleasant was quickly pushed. At the same time she had deliberately built up an exterior mask or self who was always pleasant, friendly yet distant. She avoided any form of intense emotion because she could not handle it. It affected her deeply and left her upset and almost paralyzed. The only exception was music. Music seemed to have the power to play havoc with her carefully controlled feelings and at first she had tried to banish it from her life, but this she had not been able to do. At last, inspired by her mother’s pressure cooker when it had once melted its safety valve and expelled its steam with a frightening roar, Juli had decided to use music as her safety valve.
Her mother had never recovered from the hurt of her husband’s desertion and her bitterness had gnawed its way into her heart and soul, eventually affecting even her physical body by creating a mortal cancer in her liver. Juli and Ann had remained with their mother. Ann resolved the situation within herself by blaming her father for everything and never bothering with him again. For Juli that was not possible. A deep bond linked them and she was too objective a person not to see that her mother had also been to blame for many of the quarrels and impossible situations between her parents. She had not gone to her father’s wedding to Paula, but she had visited him regularly, always careful to arrange things so that her mother would not know, for her mother’s feelings were so deep and corrosive that Juli was certain that if she discovered their younger daughter’s relationship with her ex-husband she would begin to hate her too. Even Ann did not know any more than that Juli occasionally met their father in London, usually to go to the opera, something which had started when Juli was ten and which her mother considered ridiculous.
Juli discovered at a very early age that a genuine interest in others and in their activities was a perfect shield behind which to protect herself from any form of unwanted intimacy. Few people could resist talking about themselves and Juli learned to parry their curiosity about her with a laugh, an evasive answer and a carefully aimed question. Ann often said, “You’re a dark one Juli. One never knows what you feel about anything”
“And that,” thought Juli a little startled, “is exactly what I accuse Dino of. He’s the first person I can’t fathom. He has his mask, just as I have mine … and we both like Wagner.”
Wagner and the concert that evening made her think about her father again, of little Susan and Bernard, of Paula, and then of Ann and her husband. “My family, and the only one I really belong to is my father, if one can belong to anyone,” she sighed.
The memory of her father with his angular stylish face and long slim body arose in her mind’s eye. He was a very passionate person for an Englishman, for he either hated or loved intensely, and he hated hypocrisy. His reaction when Juli had told him of her decision to go to the Argentine to work as a nanny cum governess, had been fervent approval.
“Great!” he had exclaimed, his eyes shining. “Good for you, Juli. Get out and see the world while you’re young. Far better than tying yourself up in a marital straightjacket, and worrying about the cost of onions and birth control pills, as Ann has. How is she by the way?”
“Fine, very happy with her Roland. She’s most upset about my going away, though.”
“She would be. Always one to be on the safe side as it were was our Ann.”
“If anything happens Dad … I mean something really serious like an accident or an illness …”
“You can count on me, my love. Just send me a cable and I’ll call out all the reserves. Robin Hood will pale to a shadow in comparison to the help you’ll get from your old Daddy. Really, Juli, joking apart, don’t hesitate…”
“Oh, these jealous wives. Of course she’ll understand … if you’re really really at your wits end.”
“How are the children?”
“They’re both in bed with heavy colds, as usual. She over protects them but I don’t interfere. At my age one has to learn to be discreet, you know. But let’s talk about you. Argentina … Buenos Aires … The Colón Theatre there is something simply stupendous I understand. Marvellous acoustics and a Wagner season every year. They’ve got such a big stage they can get over a hundred people onto it at once. Imagine Juli, in the Meister singers, all those voices singing on the stage. It must be magnificent. I really envy you. You must write and tell me all about it.”
“I had no idea you knew so much about Argentina, Dad.”
“Well, wherever there is a keen audience for Wagner, my dear, there must be a pretty high level of culture…”
“Are you going to Bayreuth this year?”
“But of course. Why do you ask?”
“I … ahh … invited you … for this year … didn’t I?”
“Well, when you come back, we’ll make it a date. I’ll write and tell you about it. Don’t forget to give me your address.”
Juli passed him a card with her future address neatly printed on it: Estancia Los Alamos, La Pajas por Victorica, La Pampa, Argentina.
“You’re going to live on the famous Pampas of Argentina! How thrilling, Juli. My dear, don’t forget to take your riding gear, you’ll be a ‘gaucho’ in no time.”
Juli laughed and said, “Imagine me galloping along singing at the top of my voice.”
“Marvellous,” her father had breathed. “Marvellous. I’ll try and get to the airport to see you off. You must give me all the details.”
Juli had written them all out for him but he had not come. She knew that she had Paula to thank for that. Paula was intensely jealous of Juli and always made it perfectly plain that she was only accepted on sufferance when she went to visit her father and little half sister and brother. However, Susan and Bernard loved Juli and Juli loved them, so, after thinking it over very carefully she had decided that one Saturday every two months would keep alive her joyful relationship with the children without causing too much friction, and so it had turned out.
“And now they’re all thousands of miles away, planning their summer holidays and not really thinking about me at all. They’re all busy with their lives and activities …” Juli thought with a rush of homesickness. This very Saturday she would have spent with Susan and Bernard, Paula and her father. “I wish I could ‘phone,” she reflected.
Tony appeared just then, elegant in pyjamas and dressing gown, his hair neatly combed. “Helloooo,” he said. “All alone?”
“Hi.” Juli felt her habitual mask slip automatically back into place as she smiled up at him cheerfully. “I was just thinking how nice it would be to phone my family to tell them I had arrived OK. Would it be possible do you think?”
“Sure, why not?” Tony went over to the phone and dialled the number for long distance calls. “What’s the number?” he asked, settling himself in the Hepplewhite chair by the phone and crossing his legs. Juli dictated her father’s telephone number which he repeated to the operator when she eventually answered.
“No delay, that’s lucky,” he remarked and sat silently listening to the far away clicks and clacks, while he jiggled his slipper on the end of his bare toes.
“There,” he said at last. “It’s ringing.”
Juli took the receiver from his outstretched hand and permitted him to guide her into the chair as she listened, with mounting nervous tension, to the phone ringing so many thousands of miles away in her father’s house.
“Hello?” Her father’s voice, clear and infinitely dear, filled her ear, her head and her heart.
“Hello Dad. This is Juli.”
“Juli! How are you?”
She explained briefly from where she was phoning.
“How was the trip?”
“Uneventful and no delays, very smooth.”
“Well, good for you my Juli. I’m so glad you arrived all right. When are you going to the farm?”
“I’m not sure. Mr. Birnham was held up and hasn’t arrived yet. I think he may be coming tomorrow.”
“What’s the weather like?”
“Beautifully sunny but pretty cold. How are the kids?”
“Here’s Bernard, he wants to talk to you.”
Juli, laughing, spoke to Bernard and then to Susan and then said a quick goodbye to her father. “Dad, please phone Ann and tell her I’ll write as soon as I can, OK?” she said hurriedly, just before cutting off. When it was all over she sat staring at Tony with a wide-eyed, grave expression.
“Well,” she said at last, with a little sigh.”I’ve spoken to them.”
“Drink time,” Tony said. “Do you want a sherry or something stronger?”
“Could I have a beer?”
“Sure , I’ll get you one.”
Juli’s thoughts were in a turmoil. “It’s not enough, I wanted to say so much more, to touch him, to say I missed him. I wanted to hug Bernard, funny fat little Bernard ..’Hello Juli, aren’t you coming to see us today?’ He remembered. Bernard at least remembered. Dad sounded queer. Sort of embarrassed, no, hurried, because of the distance and the cost I suppose. Funny old Dad. I forgot to tell him about Wagner tonight. Well, I can write to him …”
Tony returned with a long glass of cold beer and she sipped it with pleasure.
“How incredible to be able to speak to somebody thousands of miles away as if it were just round the corner,” she remarked. “I’ve never made a long distance phone call before, it’s quite an experience.”
The front door opened and Mr. and Mrs Carlie came in, wrapped in warm coats and scarves, followed by Pamela waving her hockey stick, her plump cheeks scarlet from the cold and the exercise. Juli stood up to welcome them.
“Good morning,” she greeted Mrs. Carlie, “How did the rummage sale go?”
“Oh, very well, thank you. I left a little early as I had to pick Pamela up. How was your party last night?”
“Lovely, thank you.”
“Not dressed yet, Tony?”
“Almost, mother dear. But don’t you think I look very elegant like this in my new dressing gown?”
“Well, it looks very nice, I must say. Are Peter and Dino up?”
“Hours ago I should say. They’re not here anyway.”
“How about a drink, Marion,” Mr. Carlie interposed.
“Yes, pour me out a whisky, dear, I’m exhausted. I must go and see about lunch in a minute. Pam, go and change.”
Mr. Carlie prepared two whiskies and sodas and handed one to his wife.
“How did your game of golf go?” Juli asked and he proceeded to give her a long detailed account of his game.
Mrs. Carlie went to the kitchen. Pam and Tony went to change and Peter slipped quietly in through the front door. He went straight up stairs. Dino arrived back triumphantly just as lunch was about to be served
“I got them,” he said in a low voice to Juli as he handed her her change.”
“Where have you been?” Mrs. Carlie asked with surprise, noting that he was still wearing his anorak.
“I went to buy tickets for a concert tonight in town.” Dino replied as he hung up his anorak and followed everyone into the dining room.
They settled themselves at their accustomed places at the table. Juli waited for Mrs. Carlie or someone to ask for details about the concert but no one did, the talk was all about golf, the rummage sale and hockey. Peter and Dino did not speak. Tony teased Pamela and joked with his father while María served the delicious meal with her usual grace and efficiency.
Juli, still half in England because of her phone call, felt as if she were standing watching them all at the table including herself, talking, laughing and yet quite unreal. She shook herself slightly to get rid of the illusion and glanced at Dino. Their eyes met and he winked, she wrinkled her nose faintly in response.
“Peter,” Mrs. Carlie said suddenly. “Your finger nails are filthy. How many times have I asked you not to come to the table with dirty hands?”
“They’re not filthy,” Peter snapped back.
“Don’t speak to your mother like that,” Arthur Carlie interposed sternly as Juli glanced surreptitiously at her own fingernails.
“I can’t stand dirty fingernails and you know it,” Mrs. Carlie went on, her voice rising. “I’m sick and tired of having to repeat the same thing every day.”
“I washed my hands, but I can’t get them any cleaner. I’ve been helping a friend to fix his motor bike.”
“There must be some way of getting rid of that grime. I consider it the height of bad manners to come to the table with dirty hands.”
“I washed my hands, I told you. They are not dirty, mother. They – are – quite – clean. Oh, hell, one can’t even eat in one’s own home in peace!” Peter snarled.
“If you can’t get your hands clean you had better go and eat in the kitchen then,” his mother said furiously.
“Like a ten year old,” Peter exploded. “Let’s see your fingernails, Pam!”
“Hold up your hands Pamela. I’m sure they’re not washed. I know you! In fact, everybody hold up their hands for inspection.”
“Peter! Will you leave the table this instant. Really you are the limit. I won’t stand for it. How dare you be so rude, and in front of Juli, too!” Mrs. Carlie cried in a shocked voice.
“You were the first to be rude in front of Juli, Mother, so don’t bring her into this, please.” Peter glared at his mother furiously and Juli, searching desperately in her mind for a way to divert the suddenly aroused resentments, wondered how it was possible that such a pleasant meal could turn into a nightmare from one minute to the next.
She said mildly, “My mother was always very strict about hand washing before meals. By the way, Mrs. Carlie, I phoned my father in England just now, a few minutes before you returned. To tell him that I had arrived all right, you know … er … how can I find out how much I owe you for that?”
“You phoned your family in England?” Mrs. Carlie repeated in a shocked voice. “From here?”
“Yes, why?” Juli asked, surprised. She had not expected Mrs. Carlie’s reaction.
After the slightest of pauses Mrs. Carlie collected herself and said with a thin smile, “It just surprised me a little that’s all, a long distance call to Europe.”
“Tony very kindly put the call through for me,” Juli said with a serenity she did not feel. They were all looking at her and she was aware of the variety of different reactions to her words. “I asked him if it would be all right,” she added firmly, deciding that there was no reason to protect Tony from some unexpected attack from his mother. Tony coloured slightly and made a slight gesture with his hand. “They’re all terrified of her!” she realised, noting with astonishment that both Mr. Carlie and Pamela were eating busily, their eyes on their plates.
“How long did you talk for?”
“About four minutes, more or less. I can leave you some money to cover the cost, for when the bill arrives.”
“Nonsense, Juli dear,” Mr. Carlie interrupted jovially. “That’ll be quite all right. Your father must have been delighted to hear that you arrived safely all in one piece. I think it was a very good idea. How was the connection, clear?”
Peter rose quietly and left the room. The conversation, brimming with relief, flowed smoothly about the subject of long distance telephone calls and the hazards of the Argentine telephone system in general.
As they all rose to drink coffee in the sitting room Dino moved near to Juli and said softly, “Neat.” His eyes were twinkling. Juli nodded almost imperceptibly in acknowledgement.
Mr. Carlie turned on the television and all at once it was Saturday afternoon in a family home, and Juli, for an instant, had the vision of millions and millions of people all round the world drinking coffee and listening to a T.V. programme. “Well at least here in this country,” she thought, remembering that there were time zones. “It must be almost supper time at Dad’s.”
Dino and Juli left for the city centre soon after six. They walked to the station and boarded an electric train into Retiro terminal. Juli noted how the city, with its high-rise buildings and narrow streets seemed to loom up suddenly beyond a succession of parks, and to close in upon the railway as it neared the terminal. It gave her a sense of claustrophobia for, although different to the architecture of London, the feeling of cement and asphalt was familiar and oppressive.
The theatre when they arrived, early, after a short trip in an underground train, was a large modern building, gleaming with marble and plate glass. An alert young man led them to their seats and handed them a programme, they leaned together eagerly, studying it with the judgement of veterans.
The theatre was soon full, and Juli, looking round, studied the audience with interest, noting the general air of culture and sensitivity which pervaded the whole atmosphere. The members of the orchestra in the pits began to tune their instruments. After a little while the lights dimmed, the quiet conversations hushed to an expectant rustle as the audience settled down with soft quick coughs here and there to clear their throats before the performance.
The members of the choir filed in and Juli felt the usual thrill as she watched them take their places. For two hours the two young Wagner fans, together with all the rest of the audience, floated and soared on the wings of Wagner’s music and the choir and soloists’ voices. The applause when the concert finished was deafening and their hands ached from clapping when they finally, wearily, wended their way out of the theatre and the crush of people into the cold winter night air.
“I’m starving,” Juli exclaimed. “Let’s find somewhere to eat.”
They selected one of the numerous, brightly lit snack bars near the theatre. It was after eleven but the streets, restaurants and snack bars thronged with people and Juli was surprised at the number of small children, bright eyed and bouncing, to be seen in the company of their parents.
They sat at a formica-topped table with a tin ashtray on it and after a while a corpulent waiter materialized holding a tray. He wore black trousers and a white coat and shirt. His black bow tie nestled neatly under his many jowls which quivered as he wiped the table energetically with a cloth and asked what they wanted. Juli chose coffee and milk and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, and Dino after a moment’s hesitation ordered pizza.
“Wasn’t it lovely?” Juli said delightedly. “How lucky to have got tickets, we had very good seats.”
“They had just been returned,” Dino said. “It was all sold out.”
“Not surprising, it was really worth going to. My Dad told me that the Colón Theatre here is enormous and that they have a Wagner season every year.”
“Yes, but not until the end of September, October. It’s a super theatre, old fashioned of course, all gold and red plush. It’s circular, perfect for Wagner.”
“Don’t the Carlies like going to the theatre?”
“Not really, they’ll go to something in English maybe. They go to the plays the local amateur English groups put on for charity and usually to those the British Council brings out from England, but Wagner is like someone from another planet for them and they hardly ever go to the Colón.”
“How strange, I’d have thought …”
Dino shrugged, his expression changed and his usual mask threatened to slip over his features.
“Dino,” Juli said softly, wanting to take advantage of this relaxed moment. “Tell me about yourself. What you want to do, Be? Isn’t it strange how we can all live under one roof and know nothing about the real selves of the people we share it with. Peter told me last night, because I asked him, that your family lives in a small town in the interior, that you have a sister and a brother and that your father … has a drinking problem.”
Dino jerked back in his chair and glared at her, his eyes blazing, his pale face flushed. Juli stared back at him with a grave steady gaze and he suddenly slumped and began to fiddle with his glass of coke, staring at it with shadowed eyes.
“Yes,” he said at last, heavily. “My father is an alcoholic.” He raised his eyes and looked at her, a deep pain, always so carefully hidden, hovered in his expression. “But he’s a wonderful man,” he nodded softly. “My father is a super person.”
He was silent for a long time, thinking of his father and Juli waited quietly feeling instinctively that it would help Dino to be able to talk about his father with someone sympathetic who would soon be gone, sparing him the embarrassment of disclosing his innermost feelings, which he might perhaps regret, to someone he saw every day.
“He’s an English teacher, I mean he was,” Dino said at last. “You can’t imagine how much he knows. He’s so interesting and so kind. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, if he finds a spider in the house he takes it outside, he never kills it.” After a pause, he went on. “When I was little he used to tell me stories, Grimm’s Fairy Stories, every night before I went to sleep. He has the complete collection, a big fat book. He didn’t read them, he used to tell them to me. How I enjoyed listening to him. Ellen didn’t like them. Anyway she was too small at first to understand. I remember I used to ask him to repeat the same story over and over again every night for weeks, and he always did. When I was older he used to tell me legends and sagas. That’s how I got to know all the legends which Wagner used for his operas. He loves music, too. We used to listen to the different records he had, all scratched, you know, on our cheap old gramophone, and he used to tell me all about the composers, … he really made them come alive for me. Sometimes he would get hold of his Shakespeare and he’d say, “Hey, Dino, listen to this … doesn’t it sound lovely?” then he’d read parts from plays or a sonnet or something. He has a very good reading voice. He sings well too. Poor old Dad, he has so much and he’s thrown it all away.”
“He’s a cousin of Mr. Carlie, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, Arthur is a second cousin of his and he’s my godfather. Arthur is really OK … I’d never have got to study music if it weren’t for him, and what he’s done for me. But Marion hates me.”
“Marion …? Mrs. Carlie?”
“Yeah, deep down. Well maybe she doesn’t hate me, but what I represent. I’m the poor relation, the native poor relation. My mother … well she’s of a very humble class and she can’t speak English. Her grandfather was Polish so she’s fair and has blue eyes, Ellen is very like her. She, Mami, is a dressmaker. Anyway, Marion feels she’s about the social level of María or even less, and my presence is like a continual reminder that they are not, you know, Lord and Lady Muck as she likes to pretend. She’s terribly stingy, too, have you noticed? She nearly had a fit today when you said you’d phoned your father in England.”
“But the house is beautifully …”
“Oh, I don’t mean the house, the house reflects what she wants to be. I mean the Lady Muck part. Arthur is very easy going and lets her run everything, except now and again. Where I am concerned he was absolutely unmovable. I get my books, my uniform, tuition, pocket money and also the conservatory. Marion says it’s a waste of money and that I should study typing and book keeping. But Arthur, I don’t know why, insisted that I was to study exactly what I wanted and the only condition was good marks. So I was able to study music. I give guitar lessons to earn some more pocket money and Arthur gives me some extra money now and again, but when Marion is not around. She watches him like a hawk, so I expect she suspects he gives me more than the pocket money that was arranged. The only one that can spend what he likes is Tony. She’s butter in Tony’s hands. He got all that recording equipment and the organ just asking for it, and he can’t even play it!!
“Weren’t you homesick when you first came?”
“Sure. It was really tough. My mother is a very clucky sort of mother which I hated when I was at home, but I really missed it when I came to live here. Peter and Marion always fight, I don’t know what it is but if it’s not Marion niggling him, it’s Peter saying just what he knows will made her mad. He always goes about looking like a tramp on purpose and when they have guests he sometimes makes a point of going to greet them all, looking like that. It’s a laugh really. But he’s OK. He’s much more generous than Tony.”
“And Tony? He’s very … sort of … suave isn’t he?”
“Tony’s a bit like Marion I suppose, I mean, he’s very nice when it doesn’t cost him anything. We get on OK so long as I never argue with him. He’s very clever, much cleverer than me. I finish my fifth year of secondary school this year, a year late because I’m nineteen already, and then next year I have to do my military service which is compulsory here, and then I don’t know what will happen. I haven’t ever talked about it with Arthur. I don’t know at all if he’s thinking of helping me after I leave secondary school.”
Dino fell silent again for a little while. Although tempted to make some bright remark Juli restrained herself with an effort, sensing that it might break his train of thought and the delicate rapport which had grown up between them. She made herself relax as the silence lengthened, becoming deeper and wider with every minute, and tried not to let her mind run off on its own train of thoughts.
At last Dino said heavily. “I don’t want to teach. I’d like to give organ concerts and compose. But I won’t earn much that way, and anyway… composing … there’s such a lot to learn.”
“You play the flute, too, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I like to play the flute. But one can’t just play the flute, one has to be accompanied.” Dino leaned forward and spoke with abrupt intensity. “It would be terrific if I could get into the orchestra at the Colón … but for that … I guess I’d have to know somebody with influence, apart, of course from playing really well. But I’d really like that. Imagine being in the orchestra accompanying Lohengrin for instance … Fahhh!” He ran his fingers through his hair and sat back in his chair with a thump, grinning.
“If that’s what you really want, what’s to stop you?” Juli asked.
“Are you crazy?”
“You play the flute really well, Dino. I’m not crazy. It’s just a matter of making up one’s mind and not letting a single doubt get in the way, however long it might take.”
Dino shook his head, but the dream hovered in his eyes.
“Are your brother and sister musical as well?” Juli asked, changing the subject.
“Ellen and Martin? No, they’re just … well … usual. Ellen helps my mother sewing and Martin is little, he’s only ten. Ellen is sixteen.”
They sat in silence once more, Juli digesting all that Dino had said about the Carlies, Dino caught up with thoughts of his family.
“What are Mr. and Mrs. Birnham like?” Juli asked at last, curious to know Dino’s opinion.
“I don’t know Lena very well, she’s sort of pale and droopy, but she’s OK I suppose. He’s pretty much a skirts man I would say. You’d better watch out,” Dino grinned, teasing her. “Dereck is quite different to Marion, less bothered with being classy. He’s very energetic, always doing about three things at the same time. His son Gavin is not like him at all, he’s a quiet, thoughtful type. He’s in France, studying … er … how to make wines and all that.” He looked at Juli quizzically and added. “How come you were chosen to look after Tishy and Marina? Weren’t you a secretary?”
July shrugged. “Fate, I suppose. I didn’t want to go on being a secretary for ever, I wanted to travel. I know Mrs.Horn saw a lot of persons before she decided. She told me she was looking for someone not too pretentious, like one who would start asking for all sorts of impossible things like regular days off, a huge salary, or an eight hour day as soon as they arrived. She made it quite clear that life on the farm would be comfortable but very simple. Anyway, we liked each other and I understood exactly what she was looking for. I think she felt I wouldn’t sort of let her down and leave after a month or something like that.”
“It’s strange the way destiny works isn’t it?” Dino said thoughtfully. “All of a sudden you are here amongst us and because of that everything changes. We all become a little different because we have met you and you too are a little different now that you have met us.”
“I don’t see that Dino. Why should I change just because I am in Argentina? After all, wherever I live I always have to take myself along with me.”
“Yes, but I see each person like a melody. Suddenly fate turns the page and one makes a new friend or a group of friends and one is changed, more allegretto or more adagio. And if people or situations have that effect on one, then one must have that effect of other people too. Until Arthur brought me to B.A. and let me study music at the conservatory I was one melody, but since then I am another. Until you came we were all … together … a certain tune. But now it has to change so as to fit you in. Our tune has to change and so does your melody and we are all changed, … and so on and so on.”
“Yes, but then I’ll go away and your tune, your group tune, will return to what it was.”
“That may be … but that would be very sad.”
Juli looked at him gravely, touched by his words. He raised his eyes and looked back at her with a slight smile and added, “At least I know that my melody will be quite different from now on, which means that the group tune will be a little different. I have never spoken like this before to anyone. I mean, about my … parents or what I want to do and all that.”
“I should think you must have been very lonely.”
“Mmmm. I was.”
Silence fell again but Juli knew that Dino had more to say and waited expectantly. At last he said, “What makes me … really miserable is when I think of my home. We are so poor. My mother works so hard and my father … always finds a way to drink. Sometimes he’s OK for months and we begin to buy things, or fix the house; to hope. And then he starts again and I don’t know why, I just don’t know why.”
“Perhaps your father’s drinking is a physical illness or something like that. I mean something which a medicine could cure.”
“Maybe, I don’t know. Perhaps he’s just a weak man, too weak to take a grip of himself and do something, get out of the rut.”
“It’s an inner thing. As I said before, one always has to take oneself along with one. You want him to change his melody Dino, from being a foxtrot you want him to be a waltz!”
“I admire courage. I really admire you for coming out here to be a governess on an estancia after having been a secretary in London. That really needs strength of character.”
“Or a moment of complete lunacy,” Juli replied with a small grimace. She stared across the snack bar, at the long mirror reflecting the fat waiter, the bright neon lights and the customers as they came and went. What had made her arrive at the decision to change her life so drastically? Could she in all sincerity say that she had consciously sat down and thought out all the pros and cons, that her decision had been an act based on rational thought, courageous or not? Hardly, rather had she felt herself, as if in a dream, caught up into a current which swept her along, inexorably, giving her no time to escape even as she watched the whole panorama of her life changing about her.
She had gone to visit Mrs. Horn out of curiosity and they had taken to each other at once. From there on she had felt, pulsing in her heart, the urgent need to be free, to break the trammels which tied her, to take advantage of her youth and to travel, to get to know the world. Talking to Mrs. Horn, longings, dreams she had hardly been conscious of, had suddenly sprung to life and the next thing she had known was that everything had been arranged, and she was defending her decision before her sister, her boss and all her friends as if she had really come to it by a conscious act of her own will. By Dino’s theory, meeting Mrs. Horn had most certainly changed her melody. She wondered if she had changed Mrs. Horn’s and doubted it.
But perhaps because of her, Dino’s melody would be changed, and through him someone else’s. For a moment she saw the threads of different lives touching and forming a vehicle along which a current flashed, intent on a purpose of its own. Where was it going? What was the reason? She felt herself to be an all important link and she trembled before the majesty and awe-inspiring enormousness of that tapestry of flashing currents which rose before her mind’s eye, creating colours and melodies as they touched and passed on; a continuous kaleidoscope which, if she were not there, could not, somehow, fulfil its purpose. She shivered as a terrifying sense of responsibility enveloped her.
“It wasn’t courage, Dino,” she said. “It was all like a dream. I was just swept along, but when I woke up I knew that was what I wanted to do more than anything. Shall we go?”
Juli paid and they drifted home still slightly inebriated by the concert they both had so much enjoyed. “That was lovely, Dino,” she murmured in the passage outside his bedroom door. “Thank you very much.”
Dino scuffed the carpet with the toe of his moccasin. “It’s I who have to thank you, Juli,” he said. “I don’t get to go to many concerts.”
“Good night,” she whispered and touched his hand lightly. Then she walked on along the shadowy passage silently to her own room. Dino waited until she had closed her door before he put out the light in the passage and slipped noiselessly into his bedroom.