Under Another Sky 28

Chapter 28

Marion, filled with desperate anxiety, hurried over to George Clarence. “How is he?” she asked breathlessly.

“Stable and conscious, my dear. Hello Juli. Come along, I’ll take you straight to the hospital right away. Lena will be so glad to see you.”

“No,” thought Juli. “I don’t want to see him. I can’t! I can’t!”

Ten minutes later they were walking along the cool green passages of the hospital led by a neat dark skinned nurse with oval black eyes. Lena greeted them quietly. She looked exhausted. Juli remembered her departure from Los Alamos so clearly it was like acid in an open wound.

“Marion! Juli dear! I’m so glad you could come. Thank you so much. He’s sleeping just now, come and sit down.”

They sat on plastic chairs in the passage outside the room where Dereck lay. “What happened,” Marion asked.

“Dereck has had high blood pressure for quite a long time now, you see. He never wants it mentioned of course, you know Dereck, and he was supposed to take some pills regularly. Well, he stopped taking them apparently, without my knowing. He had a crisis just after arriving back home from the town and the next thing I knew he was … he’d had a stroke. Dr. Solá came and took charge. My sister is looking after the children and the house for me. Toffy is on a bottle now, so I left him too.”

“And Dereck keeps asking for Juli you say?”

“Yes, on and on. That’s why the doctors thought you had better come, Juli.”

Juli had taken off her engagement ring and put it in her hand-bag, she nodded and said with an effort. “How is Tishy?”

“Very well thank you. We’ve got a local girl from here looking after the children.”

“Hernan?”

“He’s doing very well at the school he’s gone to, I believe.”

A small sound from the room interrupted their conversation and Lena leaped to her feet and hurried to attend to Dereck. Marion followed her. Juli remained sitting, staring at the floor, concentrating all her strength of will on stopping herself from jumping up and running out of the hospital. After a while Lena came to the door and beckoned to her. Juli rose numbly and followed her into the half-darkened room. Dereck lay propped up in the bed. There was a hoop over his legs to keep the weight of the blankets off them. One side of his face drooped shockingly, and he had difficulty speaking.

“Alone,” he rasped, pointing at Juli. Unwillingly, Lena and Marion left the room. “Shut the … door.”

Juli shut the door behind them and went to stand beside him. Her heart ached at the sight of him. It was so terrible that any human being should suffer such a fate. Dereck lay staring at her, gathering his strength. At last he said, “Gavin … letter.”

“Yes.”

Dereck closed his eyes and remained motionless and ashen.

“He’s died,” Juli thought with a flash of horror, but he opened his eyes again and raised his left hand.

“You can’t … marry …”

“But Dereck …” She stood looking at him not knowing what to say. Could Gavin’s news of their engagement have been the cause of his stroke? “Why not?” she asked at last.

“I won’t … have it. No! Promise me you … won’t marry … promise me.”

Derecks eyes began to gleam feverishly. He waved his good hand vehemently working himself into an agitated, gasping state of nerves. Terrified that he would die. Terrified that due to his illness he would say something about their night together; terrified at the sight of his sagging distorted face working with emotion, she said quickly, “All right. Yes. All right. Calm down Dereck. Hush, please…”

“Break it off. Drugs … addicted.”

“Who told you that?”

“Rowena, … promise?” Dereck was shaking from the effort to speak.

“Yes, I do. I promise. Hush. I promise.”

His body relaxed, sagged, shrank into the bed. Juli was trembling violently. He stretched out his hand towards hers, found it and gripped it. “Good,” he sighed. “Good.”

Juli, tears filling her eyes, whispered, “You knew. You knew all the time.” He nodded. His breathing grew more regular and his grip relaxed. She withdrew her hand as Lena entered the room timidly.

“Is everything alright, Juli?” she whispered, sensing the emotional forces rampant in the room.

“Yes, but you had better stay with him Lena.”

“What did he want?”

“Er … to ask something about Gavin. He got a letter from him apparently.”

“Did he? He never said a word. It’s the first time Gavin’s written since …”

“I know.”

Dereck moved restlessly and Lena held a finger to her lips anxiously. Juli indicated wordlessly that she was going outside, Lena nodded, and Juli tiptoed into the passage to join Marion.

“Marion,” she murmured. “Dereck made me promise I wouldn’t marry Gavin. You haven’t said anything yet, have you, to Lena?”

“No dear. I saw you had taken off your ring, so … But why?”

“I … don’t know exactly. He’d had a letter from Gavin and he wanted to know … He can’t speak clearly, he got so desperately agitated I promised right away.”

“What will you do?”

“When he’s better I can un-make it, but for the moment we’re not engaged any more. I only promised to calm him down.”

“Of course. Anyway, I expect Gavin will be here soon.”

“I suppose so.” Juli blushed and Marion smiled in a conspiratorial manner.

“I’ll go back now, then,” Juli said drawing a deep breath. “He’s seen me and said what he wanted to say. You’re staying are you?”

“Yes. Lena and I will take it in turns to sit with him. Poor thing, she’s quite worn out.”

Juli nodded, collected her things and peeped through the door. Lena looked over at her and she made a sign that she was leaving. Lena nodded and blew her a kiss. The ordeal was over. Sitting in the air taxi beside the pilot she closed her eyes and went over everything Dereck had said over and over again. But Gavin was not addicted, why had Rowena said that to her father? And anyway Gavin had promised her that he was giving it up, that she was much more important to him than pot, he loved her so much. The image of Dereck in the hospital kept filling her mind, and she found it hard to think clearly, for the conflicting memory of his arms embracing her tightly against his firm virile body and the passion flooding every cell of her being, was as vivid as if it had been yesterday. How could such an active, robust person have had a stroke, be transformed into that gasping shadow of his former self in the matter of minutes? Unbidden tears rolled down her cheeks.

Arthur was in the office when Juli arrived there. “Well,” he asked, and she gave him a brief but clear account of Dereck’s condition. “He’d had a letter from Gavin telling him about us and he made me promise that I break off our engagement. He said Gavin is addicted to drugs.” She had to tell someone.

Arthur frowned, and shook his head. “How did he know? Did you know?”

Juli nodded. “But only that he smoked marihuana, not that he was addicted. Anyway, Gavin has promised me that he’s given it up. Rowena told Dereck apparently.”

Later, on the way home, she learned that the H.M.S. Plymouth had been sunk. The war! It was still going on! 7.000 Argentine boys were preparing to defend Puerto Argentino. Cold, hungry, frightened, brave and full of ideals; but there was no way, no possible way that they could win, could somehow salvage those ideals, could say, ever, anything more than that they had fought and lost. President Galtieri insisted that Argentina would fight for years if necessary. “With what, his bare hands?” Juli thought.

Gavin ‘phoned her the following day. “I’ll be arriving on Friday,” he said. “Have you any news?”

“I saw him yesterday.”

“Saw him? Isn’t he in Santa Rosa?”

“I went for the morning. I accompanied Marion but she stayed on to help Lena. We went in an air-taxi.”

“How is he?”

“Very affected. He’s paralyzed all down his right side, face, arm and leg.”

“Oh, my God.”

“He got your letter.”

“When?”

“Just before he got the stroke. Gavin…”

“What?”

“He made me promise not to marry you.”

“He what?”

“He was out of his mind. Frantic. I thought he’d die if I didn’t promise.”

“But Juli …”

“I’ll undo the promise when he’s better.”

“Did he give any reason?”

“He can hardly talk Gavin.” She felt she could not tell him what Dereck had said over the ‘phone.

“Poor darling, how awful for you.” They talked on for a few minutes, then he gave her his flight number and time of arrival and they cut off. The atmosphere at the Carlies was very subdued. María had asked for permission to go to the mass to be given by Pope John Paul ll on the Saturday morning. There had been no more news from her brother and she had no idea whether he was dead or alive. Juli had made a point of trying to comfort her every evening, aware that the poor girl, despite living with the family and loved by them, was in fact very lonely, doing her work, eating alone and sleeping in her small neat room beyond the kitchen with only her portable radio for company. Apart from the char who only came twice a week, everyone spoke English in the house most of the time so that she was not even able to partake in the general chit-chat, albeit in a tangential manner.

Tony had become very depressed. However hard he tried he could not believe that the British would lose the battle for Puerto Argentino / Port Stanley and impotence and frustration burned in his heart. Dino had suffered a new bout of fever and had had to go back into intensive care. Viviana and Tom practically lived in the hospital, but nevertheless, on the stairs or in the hall, one of the family saw them and received the latest daily bulletin.

Pamela dreamed of Simon. The events in her home and country hardly seemed to touch her. She registered Dereck’s stroke with sorrow and her mother’s absence with pleasure, Dino’s amputation with horror, Peter’s departure to Tarawera, and news of the war with little attention. Only Juli’s beautiful engagement ring and forthcoming wedding interested her at all. Arthur continued on his quiet way. Juli had no idea, despite being his secretary, of all he did. Many letters he typed himself, meetings with different gentlemen, both English and Argentine, were held behind closed doors. She had no way of knowing whether these meetings had to do with business or with other matters pertaining to Argentine and British interests as a whole, or to anything else for that matter.

On Friday morning Tony and Juli drove to Ezeiza International Airport to meet Gavin. In Luján, seventy kilometres from Buenos Aires, over a million people, waving Argentine and Vatican flags, were braving the cold rainy weather to attend the mass to be held outside the Basílica there. Two million or more were expected to be at the mass to be held in Palermo in Buenos Aires itself the following morning. María had asked for permission to go, there had been no more news from her brother and she had no idea whether he was alive or dead. The number of British dead and injured given by the British and Argentine governments were so different it was anybody’s guess. There was no information about the number of Argentine boys who had been killed or wounded.

Juli felt a rush of excitement rising within her heart as they hurried over to the huge announcement board and saw that Gavin’s flight had just arrived. Three quarters of an hour later he walked through the big glass doors and she was in his arms. Tony hugged him as well and they walked out to the car. In the car Juli sat beside Tony in front, and Gavin sat behind leaning on the back of their seats and holding Juli’s hand, while asking questions about his father, Dino and Peter. Over the radio came the news that the British had attacked Puerto Argentino.

“Well, that’s it then,” Tony muttered dejectedly, and Gavin touched his shoulder in commiseration.

“Are you coming with me?” he asked Juli. “I’m going to hire a car.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought … there’s so much going on here, with Marion away.”

“Of course you must go,” Tony interposed. “Are you going straight from here today Gavin?”

“That was my plan. Once you leave the office Juli, just for the weekend, chèrie.””

“I’ll have to ask Arthur, but I think it’ll be OK,” Juli said a little breathlessly.

Tony left Juli in front of his father’s office. Arthur was there and welcomed her with a wide smile. “All under control?” he quieried.

“Yes, we arrived at the same time as Gavin’s flight. He’s planning to hire a car and drive to Santa Rosa this evening. He’s going to rest now. Will it be OK if I go with him, Arthur? María won’t be around, she going to spend the night in Palermo.”

“But of course Juli. We’ll be fine here. Pamela will have to take charge. Do her good.”

They left in the evening and drove through the night. A sleepy concierge at the hotel they had chosen led them to the lift and whisked them up to the third floor where he showed them into a warm, comfortable room with a double bed, colour T.V. and private bathroom. When he left Gavin drew Juli into his arms and held her close to him for a long tender moment. “I’d like to have a quick shower,” he murmured. “OK? Or do you want to go first?”

“No. You must be dead beat, go along, it’s three a.m.!” Juli replied, running her fingers through his hair lovingly. When she came out of the bathroom after her shower, Gavin was fast asleep. She slid into the bed beside him and turned out the light. Gazing up into the ceiling where slits of light from the street lamps shining through the blinds made a faint crisscross pattern, she thought, “I’m lying beside my future husband and it’s like we’ve been married for years. How odd.” She touched her ring gently and fell asleep.

He made love to her the following morning, tenderly and conventionally. Afterwards Juli lay beside him and felt vaguely guilty that she hadn’t been able to respond to him with more ardour. He stroked her cheek and murmured, “That was so wonderful, dear heart, I love you so much.” His words flashed through her, conjuring up the memory of Dereck placing his arm round her in the car, drawing her to him and handing her his hanky. He had called her ‘dear heart’. Whether she wanted to accept it or not, she loved him still. What had been really wonderful had been what she had experienced with him.

“I can’t marry Gavin!” The words seemed to burn in her mind. She didn’t love him, yes, she was fond of him, but … It was impossible. It was not fair, not right, awful. All her life if she married him she would compare him to Dereck, and think of Dereck, and be Dereck’s daughter-in-law. And if he recovered there would always be that knowledge between them of the hours they had spent in each others’ arms and maybe even the temptation to … It was unthinkable.

Gavin sat up and picked up the telephone. He rang and asked for breakfast to be sent up and to be put through to the hospital. Within minutes he was talking to Marion. Juli got out of bed and hurried to the bathroom. Locking the door she pressed her hands to her face and rocked back and forth, appalled at her thoughts, at what she had just realized. It was too much. All her joy, all her dreams, lay shattered about her. She stared at the ring on her finger, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise. Isobel’s words echoed in her mind.

“… or are you in love with love?”

Hurt as it may, terrible though it was, Juli had to admit that all her feelings had been an illusion, the fruit of her desire for a home and a child of her own. Gavin as he really was, once she had decided to marry him, had hardly entered her thoughts at all. Only the thought of a child, her own baby in her arms, her own home, had filled her mind. Gavin, a shadowy father in the background had never taken on any reality. He had simply been the necessary means to an end. How terrible for one’s mind and heart to play such tricks. How terrible to have to tell Gavin, for his feelings were genuine enough.

A quiet knock on the door made her start. “Juli, are you alright?” Gavin asked anxiously

“Sure, Gavin, I’ll be right out.” Juli took a two minute shower, scrubbed herself dry and returned to the bedroom. One look at Gavin’s white, drawn face frightened her. “What is it?” she whispered “Is Dereck …”

“No, but he’s very very low. Oh Juli, he can’t die, he’s too … I love him despite everything. God damn it all, I can’t bare it …” Weeping, Gavin pressed is face against her neck clinging to her as she drew him close.

“He’ll pull through,” she said firmly. “Don’t even think of his dying! Go and talk to him, even if he seems to be unconscious, remind him of Tishy and Toffy and Marina, of how much you and Rowena and Lena care for him. Tell him he can make it, to fight. Tell him .. Oh just whatever comes from your heart.”

A knock on the door drew them apart. Juli opened it and a young waiter pushed a trolley into the room with their breakfast. She poured out a cup of coffee and buttered some fresh crispy bread. “Here,” she said. “Eat this and then go and be with him. Tell him we’re not engaged any more, if you can. It may help.”

Gavin washed his face, gulped down his coffee pulled on his anorak and left with the bread in his hand. Juli sat down and looked at the trolley with unseeing eyes. Was Dereck going to die? She could not even imagine what the future would be for them all if he did. After a while she drank a cup of coffee and ate some bread. Her head had begun to ache unbearably.

She had no aspirins but decided to see if Gavin had in the little leather case he had with all his washing things. As she searched for them her fingers brought to light a small syringe. For several seconds she just stared at it with unbelieving eyes. Drugs, heroin? … cocaine? … what did this syringe imply? He had promised to give up smoking marihuana, he loved her, he wanted to marry her, but a syringe? Could that mean …?

Trembling she went and sat down on the bed, fighting an overwhelming desire to cry. There was no question of her marrying Gavin. What would she do when Constanza came back? Where would she go? She lay back in the bed pulling the bedclothes over her, head and all, and wept.

A couple of hours later she stood up, tidied herself and went out into the streets. It was very cold. She went to the bus terminal and bought herself a passage to Buenos Aires, remembering her last trip, sitting by Isobel. There would be no Isobel this time.

When she returned the concierge told her that Gavin had returned and had gone to their room. He was sitting on one of the chairs and looked calm and in control of himself. A very faint but unmistakeable scent told her at once that he had been smoking, and what. “How’s Dereck,” she asked.

“In an oxygen tent, if he pulls through today and tonight the doctor said it’s very possible that he’ll recover.”

“Gavin.”

“Mmm?”

“I’ve just bought my return ticket on the bus for tonight.”

“But Juli, why?”

“You haven’t given up smoking marihuana, Gavin, have you? You’ve just been smoking it now, haven’t you?”

After a long silence Gavin said, “Yes. I have.”

Juli sat down in front of him and added, “I wanted to see if you had aspirins in your leather case where you keep your washing things and I found a syringe. Oh, Gavin, we can’t get married. I … I want to call it off. I don’t want to get married to you any more.”

“Juli, I’ll give it up. I promise. Please darling, don’t … Please forgive me. Give me another chance,” Gavin cried out. “Oh my God, I can’t lose you too!”

“Your father knows.”

“What? Did you tell him?”

“No, Rowena did.”

Gavin covered his face with his hands.

“I can’t help it Gavin. I’m ever so fond of you but … that’s not enough. I don’t want to marry you any more. I … well I really believed you when you said of course you’d give it up. But you weren’t able to, maybe you’ll never be able to. I can’t face that.”

“Was that why he made you promise to break off our engagement?”

“Yes. I told Marion, but not why, Lena doesn’t even know we were engaged.”

They sat in total silence for a long while. At last Juli got up, poured herself a glass of water and swallowed her aspirin.

“Juli,” Gavin sighed. “Please don’t go tonight, you’ll arrive at the most ghastly hour in the morning. Please spend the night with me, for my sake. If Dad dies I can’t bear to be alone. Dearest one, I do understand but, well, I just can’t face being alone tonight, I know myself.”

Juli knelt on the floor beside him and stroked his hair. “OK,” she whispered. “I’ll stay. As a friend.”

Gavin nodded miserably.

They went together to the bus terminal and changed her ticket for a bus leaving in the morning. Then they bought some fruit, piping hot ‘empanadas’, and a bottle of mineral water and returned to the Hotel. After they had eaten Gavin ‘phoned the hospital and Lena told him that Dereck’s condition had not changed. He leaned back on the bed took off his glasses and lay quietly with his eyes shut.

“He’s just as lost as I am,” Juli thought suddenly. “We both have been living in a kind of dream.” She got up, walked over to the bed and lay down beside him, as much to comfort herself as him. He put his arm round her tenderly and mumbled, “Thanks.”

Tired and sorrowful, they fell asleep. When they woke Gavin, forced himself to pick up his anorak and set off for the hospital once more. On the way he met Hector Lozano. The old man rushed up to him. “Your father,” he puffed. “How is he?”

“Not too well, but if he gets through tonight the doctor says he’ll make it.”

“My wife and her friends are praying for him, they pray for an hour each. He will recover, you will see. I too am praying for him. The power of prayer is very great.”

“Thank you Don Lozano,” Gavin said seriously. “I’m quite sure it is.”

Lena was asleep on the empty bed next to Dereck’s, Marion was sitting beside him holding his hand. She smiled wanly at Gavin and raised her shoulders slightly. He indicated that she should go out and get some fresh air, that he would sit by his father. For a moment she demurred then she nodded, rose and gathering her warm coat and handbag she gave him a kiss and left the room. He sat down in the chair that Marion had vacated and laid his hand on his father’s. “I should be praying,” he thought. “There are all those kind souls praying for Dad and I just sit here….”

Suddenly he felt a slight movement under his hand. He looked at Dereck and saw that his father’s eyes were open. Dereck slid his hand out from under Gavin’s and raised his oxygen mask. “Has Juli … told you?” he whispered. His heart hammering, Gavin nodded. “I’m sorry Gavin,” Dereck said and slid the mask back over his mouth and nose.

“It’s OK,” Gavin managed to say. “You’re probably right.” He made a wry grimace. Dereck gripped his hand, gave it a squeeze and closed his eyes. Gavin stared at him, his thoughts tumbling about his mind, was he better or was he about to go? He turned to look at Lena but she was still fast asleep. Dereck was breathing evenly and still holding his hand. Had he turned the corner? Would he recover?

How long he sat there motionless, watching his father and wondering, Gavin could not say. He had heard of how people about to die suddenly seemed to get better just before passing on. Was this the case with Dereck or was he really recovering? Marion returned looking less haggard, Lena woke up and sat up sleepily. Gavin said nothing. No point in raising their hopes. Let the doctor be the one to say. Lena touched his arm and suggested softly that she take his place. After a moment’s hesitation he got up stiffly and ceded it to her. A swish of movement in the passage presaged the appearance of a doctor. They left the room at his indication and stood outside it anxiously. After a little while he came out with a smile on his face. “He’s better,” he assured them. “Your prayers are helping.” They gazed back at him as hope expanded in their hearts and they realised that they hadn’t after all been praying at all. He nodded pleasantly and hurried off as Gavin thought of Hector Lozano and his wife and her friends. He described his meeting with the old man to Marion and Lena and they listened eagerly, their eyes shining. “So long as he really recovers properly, not as a lame and disabled person,” he mused as he hugged them and added that he was going to go out for a bit of a walk. He had not told them that Juli had accompanied him.

Juli was watching TV when he entered their room. She looked up questioningly and he smiled and repeated what the doctor had said. Springing to her feet she hugged him joyfully. He hugged her to him mournfully, knowing that hers was a sisterly hug and not one he could hang any hopes on. He kissed her cheek and let her go. “I bought some ‘factura’, buns, and some coke” he said with a wry smile. “Hungry?”

“Sounds great.”

They ate, while he described to her how Dereck had revived and what he had said. He also described his meeting with Lozano. “And I haven’t prayed at all,” he added. “Mums was always praying for this or that person who was unwell. I suppose my faith is very frail.”

He accompanied her to the bus terminal the next morning. News from the hospital had been very positive, Dereck was definitely on the mend.

“What are your plans, Gavin?” Juli asked. She had returned him her engagement ring the night before and was unhappily aware of its absence on her finger. It was such a lovely ring!

“I’ve decided to remain here and help Dad,” he replied. “It’s the least I can do. I’m going to send off a cable resigning from my job in France this morning. I shall have to go and collect my things at some time, but for the moment I’ll ask my friend Jean Hubert to look after them for me.” He sounded firm, stronger, more decided and able to cope. Juli smiled warmly, and touched his hand.

“I think that’s great!” she declared. “he’ll be so relieved, really he will.”

He touched her cheek gently and said,” I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Juli. I did so want you to be my wife.”

“Perhaps now you’ll be able to, you know, give all that up. Now that you’ve found your Dad again, as it were.”

“I sincerely hope so, quite frankly.”

“Good bye Gavin. Send me photos of the little girls, and of Dobbie. Please?”

“I will. Good bye chèrie.”

She kissed him and walked over to the bus which had just driven into the terminal.

“Out of my sight and out of my life,” she thought sorrowfully as she waved to him. “Why couldn’t it have been like I dreamed?” But deep inside her she was relieved. Only a complete fool married a drug addict knowing, however much she loved him.

Arthur was at home when she arrived back at the Carlies. “Hello there,” he greeted her rising from his chair. “Dereck’s better I hear, out of the woods thank God. I’m so very glad. And how is everything with you?”

“Sad. I broke off my engagement. Dereck was right. I couldn’t marry Gavin knowing he, you know, takes drugs.”

“I’m so sorry about that, for both of you.”

“Gavin has decided to stay and help Dereck run Los Alamos.”

“Has he now? That sounds very positive.”

“I think he’s been, like, running away all these years, because of Phyllis committing suicide.. Maybe now everything will fall into place again for him. How’s Dino? What’s the latest news, Arthur? What’s going on on the Islands?”

“Heavy fighting. It can’t last. I keep thinking of all those poor kids. You know the arms the British troops have are almost science fiction. They have infra-red gun-sights and can detect heat at almost any distance at night, and accurately destroy what’s producing it. The Argentines have nothing even faintly similar. Dino’s out of intensive care again by the way?”

“Great! Has everything been OK here?”

“Perfectly. Pamela undertook her duties with enormous seriousness and gave us a very good supper last night. Simon was invited. It was good to get to know him better. He seems a nice boy. We talked about football. Argentina lost.”

“Where?”

“The World Cup in Spain. Belgium beat them 1-0.”

“It’s not their year, is it? I think I’ll go and lie down, Arthur, is that OK?”

Juli went slowly upstairs, weary and heart-sore. Now, once again, she would have to decide what she wanted to do with her life.”
…………………………………………………..

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