Under Another Sky 22

Chapter 22

Juli woke with a start. For a moment she had no idea where she was, then she remembered and sat up hurriedly, wondering what the time was. “Twelve o’clock,” she exclaimed, looking at her watch. “I must call Arthur.”

Upon opening her door she found Wendy sitting outside it waiting to be let in. At once the little sausage dog jumped up wagging her tail joyfully. Juli patted her head and made her way to the kitchen from where the delicious aroma of some sort of stew was filling the living room.

“I’ve been asleep for hours,” she apologised to Isobel. “I am sorry.”

“That’s quite alright,” Isobel laughed. “Lunch will be ready in about twenty minutes.”

“May I phone Arthur Carlie?”

“Of course.”

Arthur was still in his office. His secretary Constanza answered and put Juli through at once. “Juli!” he exclaimed anxiously. “What are you doing in Buenos Aires my dear?”

“I … well it’s a bit complicated, but in a nutshell, Dereck and Lena heard there were rumours that they were harbouring a British spy … me … so, well, they asked me to leave.”

“And where are you, for goodness sake?”

“I am calling you from Mrs. Roget’s flat here in Martinez. She’s a friend of Mrs. Martin’s from the church. We travelled from Santa Rosa on the same bus.”

“And Juli, what are your plans?”

“Dereck said I should go straight to Uruguay. All my papers are in order. But they only asked me to leave yesterday at mid-day, and, well … I’d like to talk things over with you if you have the time. You see, in all the rush I haven’t made any plans at all and I’m a bit nervous.”

“Then I think you should come and stay with us for a few days, or are you all settled in where you are? I’m fully booked up this afternoon but I can come and pick you up this evening on my way home if you give me your address.”

“Oh Arthur, would that be possible? What will Marion say?”

“She’ll be delighted. It won’t be any trouble. María is still with us and we have plenty of room. Now, let me have this Mrs. Roget’s address.”

Juli handed the receiver to Isobel who gave Arthur her address and clear instructions on how to get to her flat. “Well, that’s done,” she smiled when she cut off. “It will be better if you stay with the Carlies as you know them so well and have stayed with them several times already most likely.”

Juli nodded. “Yes, true. Arthur is so kind always. I’m a bit worried about Marion’s reaction though.”

“Well let’s have some lunch and worry about Marion later. I thought we could eat on the terrace,” Isobel said cheerfully.

The French windows of the living room opened onto an extensive terrace where a great many tubs, pots and troughs filled with flowering plants and shrubs had turned it into a veritable garden. A round table in a shady corner, waited invitingly for them. Juli helped Isobel to lay it and they settled down to eat their stew.

She told Isobel a little about her life in England so that she would understand why she was so happy in Argentina and they went over the alternatives and possibilities if she stayed. “You know, when I have to make a difficult decision I send it off to the Universe and ask for guidance,” Isobel remarked with a twinkle. “Try it, I find it often works out very well.”

“It’s about all I can do,” Juli sighed. “But Arthur is such a Rock of Gibraltar, I’m sure he’ll suggest something.”

Later in the living room the cabinet with all the semi-precious stones drew her like a powerful magnet, and she stood in front of it staring at their wonderful variegated tones, the shapes of the sections from the geodes so highly polished and with such fascinating designs, like the rings of transparent fairy tree-trunks, the sparkling amethysts and pieces of topaz in the shards of broken geodes, the glowing onyx and gleaming agates. Here was a silent, restful, beautiful world. Heaven caught and fixed in the hearts of rocks and crystals.

Arthur arrived at half past seven, large, smiling and impeccable as ever. Juli introduced him to Isobel and they chatted amicably for a while before humping Juli’s luggage into the lift and down to the car waiting outside the door of the building. Juli climbed into the front seat after having hugged Isobel good-bye, and waved to her. She felt incredibly relieved to find herself once more within the safety of Arthur’s eternal good humour, kindliness and practical wisdom.

“What did Marion say?” she asked.

“She just couldn’t understand Dereck and Lena’s attitude. She’s very happy to know that you are coming to stay with us.”

“She wasn’t cross with you for inviting me?”

“Cross? But Juli, you are always welcome in our home.”

Juli gave a little smile and raised her hands. “How’s everybody?” she asked.

“You’ll find us a somewhat divided household … as usual,” Arthur sighed. “Tony has become violently Argentine. Marion and I for some reason say “we” when we mean the British which upsets him greatly. Pamela is in love, and Peter … well, he’s coming along, coming along. Marion dotes on him. Really their relationship concerns me a little. It seems to have no half measures. I’m just hoping that all the concern and attention she is lavishing on him won’t do him more harm than good in the long run. He still can’t remember anything from before the accident. He goes to a psychologist in the neighbourhood, a woman. She seems to help him and he’s also doing ceramics for the moment. Presumably he’ll get his memory back one of these days, and then I’m a little afraid about his relationship with Marion. However, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“And Dino?”

“He’s down south somewhere. He might even be in the Falklands. He spent two nights with us some time ago and since then we’ve had no news.”

“What an awful position to be in, I feel so sorry for him. And all this had to happen just now when he’s doing his military service.”

“He’ll be alright,” Arthur said firmly.

“Yes, but what I meant was he’s not a soldier, he’s a musician through and through.”

“Perhaps it will do his music good. One never knows.” Arthur remarked thoughtfully, as he drew the car up in front of the wrought iron gates of his home.

Marion hastened into the hall to welcome Juli, her arms outstretched, her face alight with sympathy. “I simply can’t understand Dereck behaving like that,” she exclaimed. “I mean, really, rushing you out of the house as if you really were a spy! With hardly any time even to pack, come to think of it.”

“Mrs. Roget sat beside me on the bus. She invited me to her home this morning when we arrived. She’s a good friend of Mrs. Martin.”

“Yes I know her by name. Well, come upstairs and leave your things, your back in the same room. Then we’ll have a drink.”

“Are you sure it’s alright for me to stay here?” Juli asked anxiously as Arthur brought in her suitcases. “María won’t feel I’m a spy or an enemy, will she?”

“God heavens, NO!” Marion cried. “María loves us and all our friends. She harbours no personal grudges. We’re all very upset of course about this ridiculous war, but she’s perfectly well aware that it’s not our fault and that we are as anxious and unhappy about it all as she is. Perhaps it’s as wise not to mentions why you’ve come to Buenos Aires though, after all, it’s no concern of hers.”

Juli nodded sadly, even the trusted María was now almost unconsciously, in the ‘other camp’. She followed Marion upstairs, looked round her bedroom, the blue room, with a deep feeling of gratitude and laid her things on the bed. “I can’t thank you enough Marion for letting me come here,” she said earnestly.

“We love having you, come on down as soon as you’re ready,” Marion smiled and left her alone.

Suddenly Juli flung out her arms above her head and whispered, “Thank you Thank you Thank you.” Joy at being at the Carlies and not in some unwelcoming hotel filled her heart. For the first time in thirty six hours she felt really safe and was overcome with the urge to say a heart-felt ‘thank you’ to God, the Universe, Fate, whatever … Running downstairs she popped into the kitchen to greet María who welcomed her with a delighted gasp of pleasure. Juli gave her a quick kiss and flashed her a happy smile.

She returned to the hall and hurried into the sitting room where she settled beside Marion on the sofa which was still in its ‘summer’ position away from the fireplace. Glancing fondly round the room, she felt very at home.

“Now then,” Arthur said after handing her a glass of tonic water. “No gin, that’s right isn’t it? Let’s try and sort out your problem dear. Tell us again what it was which made Lena and Dereck so, shall we say, precipitate?”

“Dereck discovered that there were rumours going round that they were spying for the English and that I was a British spy. Both he and Lena were afraid some fanatic, or somebody with a grudge, might set fire to the house or poison all the animals or something, so they felt it would be best that I should leave. I can understand them perfectly.”

“But why the ridiculous rush?” Marion exclaimed, shaking her head.

“Dereck gave me the money for my passage, salary, money in lieu of notice and said it would be best for me to go straight to Uruguay and decide there what I want to do.”

“And what do you want to do?”

“I don’t want to go back to England. As you know I have no home there, and neither my father nor my sister have room for me in their houses. Or perhaps what I mean is, in their lives. That’s why I love it here so much. I’ve only been here such a short time and yet I feel so close to you all, and to Rita and Quique, and Rita’s brother Fernando and Dora. You have all made me feel that you love me and care.” Juli’s voice wobbled and she fell silent, thinking of her father. Of course he cared but …

Arthur cleared his throat and said, “So, basically, you’d like to stay in Argentina?”

“Yes, but do you think the authorities will intern me?”

“There are seventeen thousand people of British decent in Argentina and a very large number of them were born in Great Britain. I think it’s very unlikely that the authorities will start interning them. Apart from that I don’t think the war will last long enough.”

“And if I stayed in Buenos Aires, what could I do? I don’t really feel I’d like to look after any other children for the moment.”

“Well, there are two options, or perhaps three. You can apply as a teacher to any of the English schools here in Buenos Aires, the fact that English is your mother tongue would be all that they would consider necessary for the smaller children. Or you could give private English lessons either to adults or to children or as a service to different firms.”

“But I’ve no idea how to teach English as a language! My knowledge of grammar is more or less non-existent.”

“Or,” Arthur said with a smile. “You could be a secretary.”

“I’d earn a lot more as that, wouldn’t I?” Juli mused, hiding the distaste she felt for the idea. “But I’m not bi-lingual, so I wouldn’t be much use any way.”

Arthur cleared his throat and raised his hand to Marion who had suddenly leaned forward. “Do you know how to work the Telex?” he asked.

“Sure. Why?”

“Well,” Arthur smiled, leaning back in his arm chair. “For the last week I have been interviewing hopeful young ladies to stand in for Constanza who is going to Mexico for a month in June, none of whom would be in any way suitable. Marion and I have been talking it over and we both feel that if you would like to take over from Constanza during June we would be very happy to have you stay here with us. You can spend this month learning the ropes, and by the end of June you will have had ample time to decide what you really want to do. It would be a great relief for me.”

“But, may I really stay here for almost two months? Won’t it be a nuisance for you Marion? I feel …”

“My dear Juli,” Marion said warmly. “We owe you Peter. You are more than welcome.”

“Then … Yes. I’d just love to stay here and be your secretary, Arthur.”

“That’s my girl. Wonderful. Now I shall be able to play my golf tournament this weekend with a carefree mind. The very idea of having to interview more hopefuls was turning me grey!”

“This would never happen in a novel, would it?” Juli grinned. “It’s much too pat.”

“I must say it’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it?” Marion laughed, and Juli looked at her, a sudden question in her mind. Coincidence? Peter, Isobel Roget beside her on the bus, Constanza going to Mexico. Her destiny seemed to be still firmly tied to that of the Carlie family. How strange.

“Did we tell you that Peter is doing ceramics? He’s creating such lovely things, he brought home this candlestick the other day.” Marion picked it up off the little table by the sofa and handed it to Juli for her to admire.

“He still doesn’t remember anything, does he?” Juli asked, for something to say, as she studied the candlestick from all angles.

“Nothing. Isn’t it incredible? I have shown him photos and he sees himself with all of us so of course he knows he is our son and all that but nothing … not even a tickle. His friends have come to see him but he doesn’t remember any of them. It’s quite lonely for him in a way, to have no past. It makes one realize how tremendously bound one is to all one’s past and how it affects one’s present and future. Of course he gets tired very easily so he has a long siesta and then in the evenings he often works at his weaving.”

“Weaving?”

“Yes, his psychologist suggested it. She says the rhythmic movement is very relaxing. He’s been weaving pillow covers. The last one he made we gave to Joanie Trale who is always so kind and helpful in every way.”

“And Pamela? Arthur says she has fallen in love.”

“Oh, Arthur! Just an infatuation that’s all. All eyes and sighs you know, and endless conversations on the telephone. She met him at a party just before school started. He’s sixteen, a nephew of little Mrs. Martin. Do you remember her from the church guild?”

“Really? Did I tell you that Mrs. Roget is a friend of hers?”

“The lady you met on the bus? How extraordinary that she should have recognized you. She must have a very good memory for faces. Arthur dear, we mustn’t forget we’re invited out to dinner. I had better go up and change. I’m so glad that you have decided to help Arthur out Juli and that you’ll be staying here. I really am.”

The front door burst open and Tony hurried in. “Hello Juli,” he exclaimed as he rushed over to the radio and switched it on. “What brings you here so unexpectedly?” His thin nervous fingers twiddled the dial of the radio as he looked for a station which might still be giving some news.

“There were rumours that she was a British spy so Dereck and Lena asked her to leave … yesterday at lunch time,” Marion declared .

“Really?” Tony looked up at Juli with interest. He shook his head and returned his attention to the radio. “We’re fairly knocking hell out of the British,” he added exultantly. “Our pilots are fantastic! They fly their ‘planes very low, right over the water to get out of range of the radar, and then they let off their torpedoes and up and away, and that needs split second timing! Do you realize how fast those jets fly? It’s really incredible. They’re extremely well trained mind you. Lami Dozo is the head of the air-force. He’s really professional. Of course, I suppose you want the English to win, I’d forgotten for a minute. I suppose you think Mrs. Thatcher is absolutely right.”

Marion got up and left the room. Arthur rustled his magazine but said nothing. Juli continued to study Peter’s candle-stick, trying to remain calm. “I’m all against war,” she said. “Perhaps Mrs. Thatcher and President Galtieri should solve the problem by having a dual. It would save a lot of bloodshed and suffering.”

Tony looked at her in surprise. “You sound like Peter,” he said.

“Do I?” Juli flipped her hair back over her shoulders and looked straight at him. “Don’t you agree with me, though?”

Arthur, pretending to be quite absorbed in his magazine, raised his hand and rubbed his upper lip firmly in order to hide a smile.

“It’s not a realistic proposition,” Tony snapped. “One can’t ignore reality. Wars are played under other rules.”

“And you really think Argentina will win this war?”

“Why not? A couple more direct hits and the Royal Navy will be in no fit shape to do anything but retreat. The Islands are ours you know.”

“The United States has opted to stand by Britain. The EEC and the UN also support England, and the British people supported Mrs. Thatcher in the vote of confidence on Thursday, Tony.”

“She’s a real witch, to be polite. She has absolutely no ethics. Look at the General Belgrano, it was miles out of the war zone.”

“Those are the rules of war. You said it yourself, no holds barred. One can’t have it both ways.”

“Och, there’s no news, damn! No holds barred, eh? Well, they’ll get what they deserve from Lami Dozo’s men!” Tony turned off the radio and went upstairs. Arthur continued to read his magazine. Juli, feeling extremely ruffled, glanced at him and wondered how he could remain so calm. It was amazing how much emotion this war stirred up. Rational, normally cool headed people, lost their tempers and used ridiculous arguments to support their views or refute those of others. Everyone was either violently for, or passionately against, one side or the other and there seemed to be no space for a middle point or an objective attitude.

The Argentines claimed to have shot down nine Sea Harriers. The British said three Harriers had been ‘lost’ due to bad weather. Ronald Reagan was busily trying to explain to Latin American leaders why the USA had to support Britain. U.S. citizens and employees of the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires were quietly moving across the river to Montevideo. Señor Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary General for the United Nations, put forward a peace proposal which the Argentine government had more or less accepted. Germany and France had called for a cease-fire. Where would it all end? Was it possible that even now a third world war was looming over humanity? With arsenals of atom bombs at the immediate disposal of both super powers, would this squabble over a cluster of tiny islands and the rights of 1800 inhabitants, so many miles away from Britain, suddenly explode into a full-scale war with more and more countries having to participate? Was this what the grey, unknown personalities behind the scenes and the rhetoric of the politicians who seemed to have all the strings in their hands, wanted?

Marion came down stairs and Arthur rose, bade Juli goodnight, and followed his wife out to the car. Once they had gone Juli went to the kitchen. “María,” she asked, “how are you?”

“Oh, I am so worried Señorita Juli!” María replied, her eyes clouding and lines of anxiety making her face look drawn and older. “My brother is doing his military service but we don’t know where he is. My mother is desperate. The other day in our street the army brought the son of a neighbour three houses from ours. He was killed on the Malvinas. They brought him in a coffin in a lorry and unloaded it … it was terrible … the family held the wake in the house. There are so many boys from our district who are down south, and it is already so cold. One prays that they have enough to eat and to wear. Oh, Señorita Juli, the Ingleses are very powerful. Our pilots are good and brave and it is wonderful that we have taken the Malvinas but how long will we be able to fight against the Ingleses if they land? I am so afraid for my brother.”

“Ah María,” Juli comforted her. “That is truly terrible for you. And Dino is somewhere down south as well, the Señor Arturo told me. Both your brother and Dino!”

“I know Señorita Juli. I pray for them every night. But how can God permit so much suffering? Four hundred young men drowned, murdered, when the General Belgrano sank. It is terrible. The Señora Thatcher is a wicked woman.”

“Don’t worry about your brother, María,” Juli said, gripping María’s shoulders gently. “I’m sure nothing will happen to him. The Ingleses have fought many, many wars and lost many, many sons and brothers. War is dreadful and the worst of it is that the people who decide to make war are always safe in their offices and it is the poor soldiers who have to obey orders and do the fighting.”

María nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes. Squaring her shoulders, she said, “Bueno, I’ll get supper ready.”

Juli returned to the sitting room and sat down on the sofa again. The front door opened and closed quietly. She glanced round as Peter walked into the room. He stopped and looked at her with his head slightly on one side. “Juli?” he said at last.

“Peter! Hi. How are you?” Juli rose and held out her hands.

“When did you arrive? Does my mother know you are here?”

“Yes. Your Dad fetched me from a friend’s flat this evening.” She felt extraordinarily awkward wondering how much he remembered of the morning after his accident, and what one could and could not say to him. “How different you look.”

“Do I?” he looked at her broodingly and added, “From when?”

“From …” she shrugged, smiling. “Before.”

“What’s different?” his voice had an urgent note.

“Well … you speak so quietly, your hair is back to its normal colour and it’s so short and neat. You’ve no beard and … you’re terribly thin.”

“Yeah, I am thin. Have you come to stay?”

“Yes. I .. I’m going to work for your father. Constanza is going to Mexico for a month and I am going to replace her. In June.”

“And you’re going to stay here?”

“Yes.”

He looked out of the window for a long silent minute and then he looked back at her and smiled. “How good. Will you excuse me, I must go and wash my hands.”

Juli felt as if a knife had been driven into her heart. ‘NO,’ she felt like crying aloud. ‘No, don’t! Fight her!’ She watched him walk out of the room and it seemed as if he were surrounded by a soft invisible mist.

Pamela arrived noisily at that moment and gave a shriek of delight when she saw Juli, throwing herself into her arms in a great bear hug.

“When did you arrive? Did Uncle Dereck come too?”

Juli explained, once again, the reason for her sudden appearance and Pamela said indignantly, “What cowards! I’m sure no one would have even thought of doing any of those horrible things. Oh Juli, how awful to have to rush away like that!”

They ate in the kitchen, and spoke in Spanish. María served them sizzling steaks, mashed potatoes and boiled carrots. Tony snarled about how the British were rotten liars until Peter said, “Did you read that there was an earthquake near the South Sandwich Islands?”

“Where are they?” Pamela asked.

“What’s that got to do with the Malvinas?” Tony asked.
“It occurred to me that if the moon has effects on the way human beings behave, perhaps the way human beings behave has an effect on the Earth, creates earthquakes and that sort of thing.”

“How could it possibly do that?” Tony said irritably.
………………………………….

At lunch the following day Arthur said, “The British Chamber of commerce and the B.C.C. have both sent telegrams to Mrs. Thatcher, did you read them, Marion?”

“Yes. I thought the one from the B.C.C. was very good,” Marion nodded.

“Much good they will do,” Tony scoffed. “As if Thatcher could care less for the 17.000 British subjects living in Argentina! The Kelpers are her great concern now. They must rule the world and start World War lll if necessary. Who cares? And if the Russians are around to pick up the bits, bully for them!”

“If you mean an atomic war, the bits will be somewhat radioactive,” Juli said a little caustically.

“It’s all so stupid,” Marion said with a sigh. “Two friendly western countries going to war in this way, as if the Falkland Islands …”

“Malvinas, mother,” Tony snapped angrily. “Why go on and on saying Falkland for God’s sake?”

“Don’t start picking on that, Tony. The point I want to make is that it’s a conflict between allies. All this bloodshed and suffering between allies. I can’t understand it!”

“Which all goes to show how honest the British are, when it comes to the crunch. They’re no more honest than the Arabs if you ask me. They declare the South Atlantic a nuclear-free zone and immediately send atomic submarines. Wonderful!”

“Do you really believe all the communiqués given out by the Argentine government Tony?” Arthur asked seriously.

“Yes I do. Eighty percent anyway. The Argentine pilots are creating havoc with the Imperial British Fleet. That’ll show them that they’re not up against a bunch of feathered Indians with bows and arrows for arms.”

“Eighteen-year-olds with inexperienced officers and old fashioned artillery,” Arthur said.

“Fighting on their own land.” Tony retorted.

“Will they fight?” Arthur looked at him quizzically.

Tony banged his fist on the table, his eyes blazing.

“Look,” Peter said. “There are two calandrias, mocking birds, on the bird-table I put up yesterday.”

Everyone turned and looked out of the window at the bird-table where two mocking birds pecked daintily at the delicacies Peter had laid out for them.

“I’m going to study,” Tony grated, pushing his chair back furiously. He left a vacuum behind him.

“We’ll have coffee in the sitting room,” Marion announced, to fill the silence.

Elsie and Dick have gone to Brazil,” Arthur said as he settled himself in his arm-chair. “They’re afraid of being interned.”

“Have they?” Marion said with surprise as Juli felt a nervous shiver run down her spine. “Joanie rang me this morning and told me they are thinking of going to Uruguay. She said they had a very nasty experience on the train yesterday, a woman began screaming at her and a friend as they reached Retiro Station because they were talking in English.”

“Which was very foolish of them,” Arthur sighed. “If we get into an uproar at the lunch table just between ourselves, it isn’t surprising that tempers will flare in a public place. I consider the Argentines extraordinarily long-suffering with regard to us Anglos. We keep to our clubs, our schools and our hospital; our businesses and our language with an arrogance which is really insulting when you come to think of it.”

“You don’t expect us all to start talking Spanish between ourselves now, do you?” Marion exclaimed. “You sound like Tony!”

“I think I shall go and lie down,” Peter said and left the room.

“I’ve got some letters to post,” Juli said.

“I’ll be off to the Hurlingham club then,” Arthur said, heaving is bulk out of the arm-chair.

The telephone rang and Pamela rushed over to pick it up. The call was for her so she sank onto a chair and curled round so that her conversation might be as private as possible. In fact it consisted mostly of odd words and many giggles, but her utter absorption made it quite clear who was at the other end of the line. Marion raised her eyes to the ceiling and Arthur smiled indulgently. He kissed his wife and patted Juli’s shoulder fondly.

“’Bye ‘bye,” he said “See you this evening.”

“I think I’ll go and lie down too,” Marion said, suppressing a yawn.

Juli followed her upstairs and went to collect her letters. As she came out of her room she met Peter in the passage. “I’m going to post some letters,” she said. He nodded and followed her down into the hall.

“May I come with you?” he asked.

“Sure. I thought you were resting.”

They left quietly. Pamela was still talking on the telephone.

“It’s hot today isn’t it?” Juli remarked.

“Hot and damp.”

They walked on in silence until Peter broke it. “I remember you. I know your name. You belong to my NOW, and yet you also belong to my THEN. Perhaps you can help me build a bridge. I don’t remember any one, neither my family nor my friends. They are all strangers who try to possess me.”

Juli nodded, trying to imagine what it must be like to be in Peter’s position. “Do you remember Martinez?” she asked.

“Yes, if I don’t think. Instinctively I know my way about perfectly.”

“What does your psychologist say?”

“That I’m using the bang I got to maintain my amnesia due to emotional stress. She doesn’t say that, but that’s the message that comes across. She gives me little tests now and then … geography, maths, history, literature none very encouraging but I find I can do anything with my hands. It’s as if they know exactly what to do, especially in the line of electricity.”

“That’s what you were doing in Uruguay.”

“I know. Dad told me.”

They walked on in silence until they reached the post office. Peter waited outside while Juli bought the necessary stamps and had posted her letters, then he said, “I’d like to go on talking. Could we go to a bar that’s near here?”

“Sure.”

They walked to the bar in silence, chose a table and ordered two cokes. The waiter wiped down their formica-topped table, fetched the cokes and glasses, opened the bottles and sauntered back to lean against the bar and continue reading his newspaper. They had selected a table which was secluded enough to permit them to talk in English to each other softly. Peter said nothing for a long time. Juli waited. She felt extraordinarily nervous.

At last he said, “I am an adult human being and I have no past, and yet obviously I do have one, but it’s out there … somewhere.” He waved his hand vaguely. She nodded. “And it has brought me to this particular point in my life. Here.” He tapped the table with the tip of his finger. “Right here.”

Silence fell between them once more. He looked away and continued to speak after a little while. “But my past, to me, is not a word. It is like a force. A river? No. It’s more like a Being, which walks beside me and says … or implies … ‘Because of me you belong to this family, to this country, to this world.’ It’s as if my past were millions of years old, billions of experiences old. I am what I am, not because of what I have learned since I was born, but because of what I have learned during all these millions of years ever since the world was … nothing.”

Again he became silent for a long time. Then he said, “I don’t love my family. I don’t love any one of them. I feel nothing.”

“But they love you.”

“Is that love?”

Juli shrugged, confused. Peter went on,” My psychologist lets me talk. I talk and talk and she listens and tapes everything I say. She does not converse. She just lets me talk and when I stop she asks me a question and expects me to answer. She’s a strange person. I often repeat myself, on purpose, what have I to say? I have no past that I can remember and no one in the family …” he raised his hand and let it drop.

“Am I weird?” he asked. “I overheard Pamela telling her boyfriend on the ‘phone that I was a bit weird. Am I?”

Juli smiled. “A little,” she said gently.

Peter nodded. “My family seems a little weird to me. They each have their personal point of view as it were and that´s it. They are all different and they have made a few adjustments here and there in order to get on together, but it´s tremendous Juli … tremendous. For each one of them the world is thus and so, not because it is but because that´s what they want it to be. They see only what they choose to see and hear what they choose to hear and act according to that, not according to what is true or real.”

“Even your father?”

“Yes, even my father.”

Peter ordered two more cokes and waited for the waiter to open them before continuing to speak. “My mother is sick. She is a very sick person. She wants to possess me and she is afraid. I sense her fear. I do all I can to calm her but she is terribly afraid, and I somehow feel she wants me to die.”

“Peter!”

“You see, if I die now I shall be hers entirely. I shall never change. But if I get my memory back … then …”

“I … I´m sure you´re wrong. I can´t accept the idea.” Juli stammered.

“She´s obsessed with me.”

“I know but …”

“And she´s smothering me. Slowly, slowly she is smothering me and one day I shall have to die.”

“Everybody dies.”

“At my age?”

“No, of course not.”

“Juli, what was my relationship with my mother before? Before my accident I mean?”

Juli drew in her breath sharply. She was aware of a wave of terror filling her heart. She had visions of Peter regaining his memory in front of her and becoming altogether unbalanced. She wanted to get up and run away. Her thinking seemed to have turned into a mouse scuttling about trying to escape and quite incapable of any coherence. “If anything happens it´ll be my fault and I´ll have to go away again. What can I say? Can I lie? What does he know? If he goes mad, if he gets his memory back suddenly I shall be to blame. If Marion wants him like this, really, then she´ll blame me and send me away. What can I say? I can´t lie, at the Birnham´s everything was lies, I had to leave. I was there two days ago. Why am I so afraid? I´m …”

“Don´t be afraid,” Peter´s quiet voice broke through her skittering thoughts.

“Why should he get unbalanced?” the thought rose within her. “He was perfectly normal before the accident, he´ll be like that, quite OK.” She stared at Peter, her eyes wide with fear and tumbling emotions. “Why do you ask me?” she whispered.

“Because all the others tell me it was just the same as now and in my heart I feel sure that is not true. Tell me the truth Juli. They are all afraid, and so are you now, why?”

Juli looked away from him into the violet brown transparency of her coke. She took a deep breath, trying to calm her hammering heart and scattered wits. At last she said hesitantly, “You were always fighting. But I think it was because you loved each other so much. Jealousy or something. I think you were jealous of Tony.”

“I can understand that.”

Juli looked up with a little shock. Nothing had happened. Peter was just the same.

“So, we were always fighting,” he repeated.

“Mmmm.”

“How?”

“Words, gestures, attitudes, silences. Anything that would hurt most.”

“And with the others?”

“No, only with you.”

Peter leaned back and stretched his arms above his head, then he leaned forward and asked, “Why was I in Uruguay, really and truly?”

Juli took a deep breath and told him everything that she could remember from his letter to her. “Then the man in Brazil went to Peru so you went to Uruguay and started working for Knut Bergson.” He listened intently, his eyes on hers, his attention riveted on what she was saying.

When she had finished he said, “Thank you. My father gave me an edited version of what you have told me. But I understand it all better now.”

“That´s O.K.” she smiled.

They sat in silence until Juli said a little hesitantly, “We´d better go home now, hadn´t we?”

“Yes.”

Peter motioned to the waiter who ambled over. He paid him and they left the bar and walked back along the sun-lit tree-lined streets. The leaves of the trees were turning russet and brown, covering the sidewalks as they fell rustling with their brittle movements in the afternoon breeze. Peter glanced at his watch. “Cinderella´s hour,” he said.

“And who was Cinderella?” Juli asked, teasingly.

“She was a beautiful princess with grey eyes and fair hair,” Peter replied, laughing, touching her nose with his forefinger. Then he added, “And she had two ugly sisters and she lost her shoe. It´s coming back. It´s coming back.”

“Well done,” Juli grinned.

“It will all come back,” Peter mused. “One day … when I let it. I now understand what my psychiatrist means.”

“Are you afraid?”

“I must be. Otherwise why the amnesia?”

“You were fine in Uruguay.”

“Perhaps only part of me. I´m living at home again now don´t forget.”

“Are you OK Peter? I haven´t, you know …?”

“I´m very much O.K. You have explained so much to me, you have cleared up all sorts of muddles and mysteries which my well meaning family created for me. I just have a lot of thinking to do now. A lot of thinking.”

They had reached the wrought iron gate and he opened it and followed Juli into the garden. Marion was just coming downstairs as they entered the house.

“Hello,” she said. “Where have you been?”

“I accompanied Juli to post her letters,” Peter explained. “It´s such a lovely afternoon.”

“What a good idea,” Marion said cheerfully. “Let´s have a cup of tea, shall we?”

“When will she start to get jealous of me?” Juli thought, and her heart was filled with sorrow.
……………………………..

1 thought on “Under Another Sky 22

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