Under Another Sky 24

Chapter 24

In the ensuing silence Marion continued to glare at Arthur across the lunch table, wondering what had suddenly caused him to defy her decision. Ever since Peter was born she had had the last word where the children were concerned and now …. The memory of her terror at being in total charge of Peter, four days old, flitted through her mind as she snapped, “I cannot approve this idea of Peter going to the cinema. It’s obvious that he has not recovered fully and still needs quiet and rest”

“Peter is much better than you wish to admit, Marion. I consider this an ideal opportunity to see how he feels outside the family circle,” Arthur said firmly.

“I won’t stand for it. Why, even Juli agrees with me.”

“I’m not sick,” Peter said with a spurt of energy. “Quique and Rita were my friends and I want them to be my friends.”

“I’m not against that,” Marion said sharply.

“Come with us then, if you like.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Peter. What would your friends think? I just feel it’s too soon, you may have a relapse.”

“Into what?” Pamela quipped. “His memory?”

“Pamela, that’s quite enough from you.”

Pamela, remembering her party that evening, remained quiet. Juli felt the waves of Marion’s anger and fear crashing across the table and exploding against Arthur’s calm resistance.

“If Peter feels like going then the time is right. It is he who must decide, not us,” he said. “Pamela, what are you doing today?”

“I’m going to study and tonight I’m going to spend the night with Helen.” Pamela’s face went crimson as she held her father’s eyes. He frowned slightly and glanced at Marion, he wanted to ask ‘And Simon?” but decided to fight on one front at a time. Turning to Juli he said, “Will it be alright if Peter goes with you all?”

“Sure. I promise if he gets too tired or anything we’ll come back in a taxi.” Juli looked at Marion, raising her eyebrows and shrugging faintly.

“What time are you leaving?” Marion asked bitterly, realising that the decision had been taken.

“At three.”

Peter rose and said, “Then I’d better go and have my rest right away.” He left the room jauntily and they all recognized the shadow of the former Peter in his step.

Silence fell. Marion, her lips pursed, struggled to control the fury which raged in her breast. Arthur, the battle of Peter having been won, concentrated on how best to manage his youngest who, he felt, was getting altogether out of hand and needed a different ‘bit’ in order to curb her. Juli felt drained and desperately sad. How was it that Marion could not have a normal relationship with Peter, couldn’t she see how possessive she was? She thought of Josefina who had had her only fledgling torn away from her by his father and sent far away for months on end, suffering in resigned silence. Marion’s anger might be destructive, hopefully she wouldn’t find the valve to lessen it in alcohol again.

As soon as lunch was over Pamela disappeared up to her room. Arthur drank his coffee standing and followed her upstairs. Juli would have liked to do the same but decided to remain with Marion.

“I’m just so livid,” Marion burst out as soon as they were alone. “It just shows how blind men are. This is a good idea, that is a good idea and all the care taken, the hours accompanying Peter to the psychologist, seeing that all she recommended was done properly and now, perhaps, all swept away because the child wants to go to the cinema. It’s much too soon. That’s so obvious. And he’s only just got over his cold, too. I just can’t understand Arthur, undermining my authority like that! You agree with me Juli, don’t you? Peter is really not ready to go out with his friends yet, is he?”

Juli drew a deep breath and said seriously, “Since I am going too, as I said, I’ll watch carefully and if I see that he is very tired I’ll call a taxi and bring him back. It’s about all we can do under the circumstances.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. I’ll give you the money for the taxi dear,” Marion sighed. She rose, looked for her handbag, took out a wad of notes and handed them to Juli, who took them and counted them carefully.

“I’ll give them back to you if we don’t take a taxi,” she said. “He’ll be alright though, really Marion.” She rose and put her arms round the older woman.

For a moment Marion relaxed against her, then she said, “What terrifies me is the thought of his getting his memory back suddenly miles away from home. The shock might unbalance him.”

“The psychologist must be preparing him for that, surely. Any way I shall be with him all afternoon so you needn’t worry. Have a rest now and then go and see Joanie Trale, you’ve been so busy with Peter I expect you’ve hardly seen any of your friends lately,” Juli comforted her.

Marion patted her gently and gave her a wobbly smile. “You really are an understanding little person,” she said. “I may do that, I haven’t seen Joanie for ages.”

Arthur appeared in the doorway, waved a quick good-bye and left. Marion sighed deeply and went upstairs to her room. Juli sat down again and gazed out of the window into the sunlit garden, her mind filled with memories of her mother, always so bitter, so angry with her father. Marion and Arthur were very fond of each other and got on so well, it would be dreadful if this business over Peter should drive a wedge between them.

Pamela appeared looking crestfallen.

“What’s up?” Juli asked

“Daddy came and asked me about Simon and tonight. In the end I got all muddled and he realized that I wasn’t going to Helen’s at all and he was really cross He told me to change my plans and Simon can come here and visit me but that we can’t go out alone. WHY? How STUPID! What does he think anyway, that Simon’s a kind of … brigand or something? What shall I say to Mummy now? And we can’t be alone here anywhere. It’s going to be awful. How will I explain this to him? How did Daddy realize? Did you tell him?”

“Of course not! But I think your blush did.”

“Oh phooy,” Pamela grumbled. “I’m going to phone Simon.”

Quique and Rita were overjoyed at the sight of Peter. They joked, teased Juli and tried to keep the conversation to topics which Peter could handle with ease. The war was not mentioned. Fernando and Dora joined in the little game cheerfully. Watching him overtly Juli saw how Peter seemed to grown stronger, to expand and take on an unexpected vigour in the presence of his friends ‘She wants me to die’. His words ran through her mind and she wondered if it was possible to actually kill someone by just wanting it hard enough, either consciously or unconsciously. It was a disturbing thought.

They all enjoyed the film and returned to Martinez by train. There Juli and Peter took a taxi home in order to calm Marion’s nerves and to prepare for the pizza supper which the others were bringing. Marion hurried out as they arrived and hovered about Peter insisting that he looked exhausted and how foolish to have invited the others for pizza. Peter put his arm round her shoulders and began at once to tell her the story of the film, cutting short her exclamations of remonstrance with a “Yes, yes, and then…” He was only half way through when the others arrived.

In the meantime Juli had prepared the table in the kitchen and they all repaired there inviting Pamela and Simon who had been in the sitting room trying to make conversation with Marion and Arthur. Arthur cornered Juli and asked quickly, “Everything all right?”

“Yes. He didn’t get over-tired at all.”

“Ah, good. I’m exhausted. I’ve had nearly two hours of scolding!”

“Poor!” Juli giggled and Arthur returned discreetly to the sitting room.

Simon was a brown haired boy with hazel eyes and a regular short nosed face. Only a few teen-age pimples marred his otherwise baby-smooth cheeks. Juli remembered her first loves and their problems of acne and decided that Pamela had done very well for herself. Pamela was not in a very good mood, but the general jollity and teasing in the kitchen in which the others were careful that Simon and Pamela were included, gradually cheered her up. Tony opened the kitchen door, was noisily welcomed, offered some pizza and invited to sit down. Everybody spoke Spanish. No one mentioned the war, but there was a shadow in both Quique and Jui’s eyes which betrayed its presence. They were both, behind the laughter and banter, thinking of Dino and Quique’s brother, risking their lives in the cold south together with all the other conscripts, soldiers, sailors and pilots.

The following day all the Carlies except Tony went to have lunch at the Hurlingham Club, and Juli remained in the house looking after it. It was very quiet after they had left and Juli settled in Arthur’s arm chair enjoying the silence, the restfulness and the pale sunshine falling on the lawn and flower beds in the garden outside. Her thoughts turned to Gavin and she wondered what was so urgent in his letter that he should want her to telephone him when she received it. Obviously it had something to do with Hernán. Gavin’s childhood had obviously been a happy one, at least until he had discovered that Dereck was unfaithful to Phyllis. How awful to see one’s mother, or father for that matter, so happy and trusting and to know that in reality that trust was totally unfounded. How difficult relationships were. Was it worth getting married? Making promises to love and be true until death as Ann had, and then a few years later discovering that …. Not of course that Ann was anything but blissfully happy. But for how long? In fifteen year’s time would she be as happy as she was now?

Thinking of Gavin led inevitably to thinking of Dereck, Lena, the girls and little Toffy. She missed Los Alamos desperately, the children’s lively prattle and the quiet routine of her days. With impatient determination she pushed her thoughts and feelings to one side and picked up the Buenos Aires Herald.

E.E.C. to meet today on sanctions. Argentine ‘planes damaged in attack … the headlines ran — Quique’s brother was a pilot — Escalation feared as U.K. envoys recalled. Acceptance of U.N. plan feared by British press, handover to the Argentine, however skilfully packaged would provoke outrage, cynicism, despair the Daily Telegraph said in an editorial. In fact all the right wing newspapers in England seemed to be urging the British Government to stand firm and oust the Argentines, otherwise it would be a ‘defeat’ and a ‘sell out’. Only the B.B.C. seemed to be trying to give a fair account of the war, for which it was being severely criticized by government officials.

Haig had gone to Greece. The Governor of one of the Provinces of Argentina had stressed the need to strengthen links with the communist block at a press conference. Juli threw the newspaper away in disgust, a great weight of depression settling about her heart. It was all so hopeless, and there was Dino in the middle of it all. Goodwill, common sense, human love and understanding seemed to be empty words flushed away by skilful headlines blazing into the confused minds of readers, churning up feelings of hate, misplaced pride, anger and the desire to fight and to kill! Words, mere words, swaying the people of a nation away from what was best or correct or sensible or wise.

Ellen Goodman’s syndicated article entitled “Wooden Heads, War and the Bomb.” Caught her eye and she read it with interest and a quickening pulse. Here was something real, of profound importance. How many people would read it and be moved to do something concrete for humanity?

“I have read it. What am I going to do about it?” she thought. “Between now and the end of June I must decide what I should do and how to go about it. In fact what I’m going to do at all!” She had got so used to being part of the family with the Birnhams, it seemed strange to discover it was otherwise at the Carlies. Actually, thinking about it, it had been a week of acute loneliness despite busying herself at the office and arranging for classes in Spanish twice a week after office hours. Small yet insidious fears lingered in the corners of her mind, of ‘not belonging’, of ‘not meaning much to any one’, of ‘being a nuisance’ … She tried to push them away but she realized that she was not nearly so brave and self-sufficient as she had always considered herself. The idea of going to Cuzco and Machu Pichu alone had very little attraction about it suddenly!

The afternoon crept by. Juli found she didn’t have the heart to do anything but just moon about and a great wave of relief filled her when she heard the family arriving back.

“Well, did you have a restful day?” Arthur asked her with a smile at supper.

“Lovely thanks,” she lied cheerfully.

“I’m thinking of taking up golf,” Peter said. “I had my first lesson today: thumbs straight, head down, eye on the ball.”

“How very British!” Tony sneered.

“That’s enough Tony,” Marion snapped.

“Hundreds of Argentines play golf Tony,” Arthur interposed firmly. “Please don’t start playing down the British.”

Tony glared at his father but bit back a sharp reply. Pamela burst out suddenly.

“What’s wrong with being British? We can’t help it if we aren’t pure Argentines! We didn’t start this stupid war, we’re just caught here in Argentina. If we were living in Uruguay or Brazil we wouldn’t be quarrelling all the time. Why do you go on and on, Tony? Go away and live by yourself if we’re such a horrible English family!”

“It’s a question of attitude, of principles, things you wouldn’t understand Pamela,” Tony said angrily. He stood up abruptly. “Excuse me, I have an exam tomorrow so I have to study.”

“Really what a child,” Marion said indignantly as he left the room. “Who does he think he is to judge us like that?”

“An Argentine,” Peter said mildly.

“Perhaps Pérez del Cuellar will be successful,” Juli said hopefully.

“Arthur shook his head. “After what Galtieri said in Plaza de Mayo when they invaded the Malvinas, that Argentina would not return even one metre to the U.K., I very much doubt it. As I see it the British will have to invade the Islands and fight to get them back.”

“And will they win?” Pamela asked.

“Yes dear, they will.”

“The Canberra has already arrived with two thousand five hundred troops,” Marion said. “And the Queen Elizabeth is on its way with three thousand more. The Argentines haven’t a hope!”

Later Juli said quietly to Peter, “I don’t see you as much of a golfer.”

“It was nice under that blue sky, surrounded by green fairways and tall green trees. It made me think of when you speak of the Pampa.”

“Don’t you remember what the camp is like at all?”

“No, just a feeling which recognized the truth of your words when you described your life at Los Alamos yesterday.”

Juli nodded, trying to imagine what it was like not to remember anything.

“It won’t be so bad, hitting a little white ball in as straight a line as possible up the fairway. Apart from that, Mother thinks it’s a good idea, which means several hours of freedom a week, plenty of fresh air, and plenty of exercise. A bit pointless, though, I agree,” Peter grinned.

“My Dad says golf is the most antisocial sport, for one is always playing against oneself.”

“Well, since rugby, football and tennis are out, doctor’s orders, I shall have to settle for golf.”

The following day it rained. It was a quiet day in the office and Constanza took the opportunity to chat. “How do you feel being 100% British?” she asked.

“I think I’d have marched in that left wing demonstration in London yesterday. I feel the British newspapers are mostly to blame. I really do. They’ve made it impossible for anyone to think clearly,” Juli replied.

“It’s hopeless,” Constanza said wearily. “I want Argentina to win with all my heart but I know it’s crazy. Our soldiers are all kids, the officers have never had any experience anywhere, how will they ever be able to fight against veterans, and with all the latest weapons too? I feel so split. My mother is fanatically certain we are going to win. You should hear her. I don’t say anything. What can one say?”

“How does she feel about you going to Mexico?”

“She’s furious. She says I am betraying Argentina by even admitting that my father is American! She says I should cut him out of my life forever just as she has done. But he sent us money to buy a new washing machine a month ago and how he knew we needed it I don’t know. I never told him.”

“Does she receive alimony?”

“Oh yes, every month in an account in the States.”

“Funny people, parents.”

“But to go back to what I was saying … there are millions of Argentines who think we are going to win, at all levels socially. Are they mad, or children who look like grownups, or what?”

“I know, Tony Carlie is just the same. He goes on and on.”

“Wishful thinking I suppose … Oh, I’ve just remembered I must explain this to you …”

And the two girls turned to the work in hand. After lunch Juli ‘phoned Isobel, and the latter’s voice, low and friendly, warmed with true pleasure when she recognized who was speaking.

“My dear, how have you been? Thank you for your letter; I was so touched to receive it. When are you coming to see me?”

They arranged that Juli would go and have supper the following evening. Isobel’s flat was as comfortable and inviting as Juli remembered it. Wendy received her with shrill barks and a fiercely wagging tail, as Isobel hugged her and took her coat and bag saying as she did so, “Hush Wendy, that’s enough now.”

Juli patted and stroked the little dog laughing. “The Carlies don’t have a dog,” she said. “At the Birnhams, where I was working, they had an old Labrador called Dobbie who adopted me. We adored each other. I miss her so much.”

“It’s not really fair to have a dog in a flat, but as I have such a nice terrace I feel it’s all right.”

They settled down to a pre-supper glass of wine and chatted about Juli’s doings during the week, Dino’s phone call, the war … and Juli was surprised at how comfortable and at home she felt with Isobel. It was as if she had known her always. Isobel’s genuine interest and understanding were like a warm embrace.

“Let’s eat,” Isobel said after a little while. “I expect you’re starved. I’ve made thick onion soup and then bread and cheese and desert. Does that sound enough?”

“Sounds great. Can I help you?”

“No thanks. It’s all ready. You just relax. Look, I received this book today. Argentina 1880. All photographs, mostly of Buenos Aires and greater Buenos Aires, taken around that time. It’s fascinating, especially when one conjures up in one’s mind’s eye what it is all like now.”

While Isobel bustled about serving their supper, Juli leafed through the photographs in the book, beautifully enlarged and printed with amusing little anecdotes in Spanish under each, marvelling at the discomfort and simplicity of those early days, only a little more than a hundred years ago.

“How is your farm?” Juli asked while they were eating.

“Farm?” Isobel laughed. “One can hardly call it a farm. We call that amount of land a ‘chacra’. Twenty four hectares in this country is a pimple compared to real farms. As a matter of fact I’m a bit worried because Sr. Bauer who looks after it has had to go into the town to look after his wife who has been taken ill and it looks as if they might have to leave. It will be very difficult to find someone to replace Karl. Juan is there with his wife Celina, and he sees to things, but they are very simple people and need guidance.. I’ve decided to go out every week end and Karl goes whenever he can, of course, because of the lavender, although that looks after itself more or less. But it’s going to be a bit of a problem I can see that. By the way, would you like to come with me this weekend? I expect you miss the Pampa.”

“Oh Isobel, I’d love to!”

“I shall make you work like a black mind you, weeding probably.”

“I don’t mind. I’ll do all you ask. How super!”

“Wonderful. We’ll go on Friday night and come back on Sunday so take work clothes and night clothes and pullovers in case it’s cold. It’s pretty primitive but nice. Rather like some of the photographs in that book I showed you.”

Juli longed to ask her if she was divorced or widowed. There were no ‘photos about so she assumed Isobel was divorced and had no children.

“My ex-husband was an Estanciero, a farmer-owner as it were. Is, actually,” Isobel remarked, almost as if in answer to Juli’s thoughts. “In fact he’s a very successful lawyer and has two farms, estancias, way down south near Esquel. Huge sheep farms. Everything is deep in snow during the winter, I think it has already snowed there as a matter of fact, this year. Anyway, he goes down regularly for a couple of weeks at a go. There’s a very nice house, wood fires in every room. The shepherds are all Chileans of course. Incredible people they’re almost part of the mountains.”

“But he works here in Buenos Aires?”

“Yes, as a lawyer; we were married for seven years, a very difficult relationship; I think we were both relieved when we called it a day. We’re good friends, he attends to all my legal problems, and he bought me this flat and the ‘chacra’ and the car when we separated, which was all I wanted. One has to divide everything up in this country, half and half as it were, when one divorces, and there is always such a wrangle. Luckily we came to this arrangement, which suited me perfectly, so we were able to remain friends. I reverted to my maiden name, but I keep the Mrs.”

“And you had no children?”

“I had a miscarriage and no other little person seemed to want to choose us as parents,” Isobel smiled. “It’s funny, isn’t it, how some families have heaps of children and others for no apparent reason, don’t have any? My ‘ex’ married again and has four. Perhaps subconsciously I never really wanted children. I am very independent and I don’t much like to feel tied.”

Later, as Juli made her way back to the Carlies, the thought of spending the weekend with Isobel on her little ‘chacra’, filled her with cheerful anticipation.


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