Isobel slowed the car so that Juli could have a longer view of the holding which Arthur was interested in buying. “It’s right next door to yours!” Juli exclaimed as she leaned forward gazing at it. A large ombú tree stood guard over the entrance gate and beyond, the empty fields were green and lush after the rains. “Is he buying it for Peter?”
“That’s the idea.”
“Does Peter know?”
“I don’t think so. I believe Arthur wants to tell him once he has actually purchased it. In any case, whether Peter wants it or not I, we, will be using it. I’m thrilled to bits with the whole idea.”
Juli leaned back as Isobel accelerated and pictured Peter living there next to Isobel, helping her and building up his own nest. The sudden thought of Ana and her two children crowded into the picture, spoiling it, and Juli sighed. “I bought a number in a lottery the other day,” she said. “If I win I’ll buy a ‘chakra’ and I’ll buy Mariposa and Dobbie from Dereck and I’ll build a beautiful adobe house with a thatched roof.”
“Of course!” Juli was silent for a few minutes and then added, “I’m a bit of a dreamer aren’t I? I suppose I take after my father.”
“If one knows it’s only a dream, it does make reality easier to bear. It’s when they get mixed up that the trouble begins.”
“Like what I felt for Gavin I suppose.”
“In a way.”
“Mmm. Why is there so much suffering in the world Isobel?”
“You do ask easy questions!”
“Could it be that it’s the only way people wake up from their dreams? In a dream no one gets hurt, but reality demands clear thinking and awareness. One does get hurt. I think Galtieri forgot that in his dream war.”
Juli did not speak for a while. She did not want to think clearly with awareness or wide-awake consciousness. It was too painful. At last she said wistfully, “D’you think Dereck would sell me Mariposa and Dobbie?”
“I expect he’d give them to you.”
“I could sing tangos and milongas in a night club in London and make my fortune.”
“You could do that.”
“I’m leaving in six days time.”
“Will you have time for a last dinner or lunch?”
“Oh Isobel, of course!”
“We must set the date or at the last minute it’ll get forgotten. People are very keen on goodbye parties here.”
Juli bade Isobel goodnight with a fierce hug when they arrived at the Carlie’s and jumped out of the car. It was freezing cold and she waved quickly as she opened the wrought iron gate and ran into the house. ‘Don’t cry … Keep laughing … Don’t let anyone know…’
On Monday evening when Juli arrived back from the office she found Dino sitting on the sofa in the sitting room. “Dino, you’re back! How super! What time did you get here?” She hugged him.
“After lunch. Hey look how I can get about.” Dino hopped up, grabbed his crutches and swung round the room.
“Wonderful! You’ll be playing football in a couple of weeks.”
“Are you really leaving on Saturday?”
“Marion is going to give you a party.”
“On Friday. You’re to ask Quique and Rita and somebody else, I can’t remember.”
“Isobel probably. How kind of her.”
“How she’s changed.”
“Yeah. She’s so different.”
“I think it’s because of Dereck’s illness. You know Peter’s got his memory back don’t you?”
“Yes, my mother told me.”
Juli regarded him critically. His hair was cut very short as all conscripts, he was still very thin but his rest in hospital had helped greatly. He was wearing grey slacks and a thick, expensive looking pullover over his blue shirt. “You’re looking very much OK Dino,” she approved.
“All new. A present from Arthur.” Dino indicated his outfit.
“Wow. What a super godfather he is. How lovely to have you back and well Dino. When can you go home?”
“I have to have more X-rays next week and then they’ll decide.”
Juli went upstairs and changed listlessly, she brushed her hair and thought, “I must get a grip of myself. I feel I’m just floating about as if I’m sort of watching my body doing this and that and me being jolly and friendly.” She sank down on the edge of the bed and lost all sense of time, unable to recall later what she had been thinking about during all the while she had been sitting there.
Constanza arrived back and the two girls had lunch together the following day. Juli listened to all her descriptions of Mexico with pretended interest. They decided they would save up and meet there and spend a holiday together as soon as they had the money. Constanza returned to work the next day and Juli handed over formally, explaining all the pending activities carefully.
Constanza grinned. “You’re terribly efficient. Arthur must be grinding his teeth at losing you; he’d have made me redundant I’m sure if you had decided to stay!” she asserted.
“Don’t be an ass. I’m no more efficient than you are.”
“If I ever leave this job I’ll write and tell you in good time.”
“You’re crazy, but thanks all the same. I’ll keep it in mind.”
Juli had her last lunch with Isobel who apologized, “I’m sorry about your party tonight Juli. But old Bauer phoned me, as I told you, and I promised I’d go out tonight.”
“It doesn’t matter. At least we’re having lunch together now.” The meal was good but Juli hardly tasted it. “Will you come to England ever?” she asked hopefully.
“Maybe. It’s on my list.”
“Will you write to me?”
“I’m rather a bad correspondent, but I’ll try.”
“Why does Europe have to be so far away?”
“Perhaps it’s lucky for South America that it is.”
“I never really understand more than half of what you say.”
“Will I come back?”
“Yes, I think so. I hope so.”
“But what for?”
“To buy an Estancia under the Southern Cross.”
“Even when I’m eighty?”
“In two days time I shall be under another sky. All the northern stars and constellations.”
“Piscis, Scorpio, Saggitarius.”
“I won’t recognize any of them.”
“Buy a book.”
“I think I will.”
“Have another coffee.” Isobel motioned to the waiter. She ordered two expresso coffees and said, “I’ve brought you a present.”
Isobel delved into her capacious handbag and dug out a parcel which she handed to Juli. It was heavy. Juli opened it curiously and gave a low gasp of pleasure when, nestled in many tissues, she came upon a section of a geode gleaming with amethysts. “How beautiful,” she whispered. “Isobel, how beautiful!”
“I thought you’d like it. You enjoy looking at my stones at home so much.”
“Oh I do, I love it! Thank you. It’s the best present you could have given me.”
At last it was time to part. It was too sad a moment for long drawn-out goodbyes so with a quick kiss and a hug they went their separate ways. Juli went to say goodbye to Rita’s parents. Fernando and Dora had been invited to the party that night.
In the end Peter arrived in time for the party, a little late but nonetheless welcome. He looked windblown and sunburned, very different to the anxious unhappy person whom he had been only a few weeks earlier.
“Peter,” Marion cried. “I thought you’d said you couldn’t come.”
“Isobel arrived early so here I am.”
“Did she lend you her car?”
“No. I came by bus.”
“By bus, darling, what a journey … Oh, Dino is sleeping in your room.”
“I’ll sleep in Tony’s, Mum, no problem.”
The sitting room and dining room were filled with the oddest assortment of people that Peter had ever seen in his home. Dino and his mother, little Mrs. Martin and Simon, Joannie Trale and her husband just back from Uruguay, Constanza and her boy-friend, Rita and Quique, Fernando and Dora, Tony and a group of friends of his age, two or three of Pamela’s inner circle. There were also various other couples, friends of Marion and Arthur’s who had been invited because they were owed a party and ‘fitted in’. Peter was greeted with cries of welcome. “The three-day-wonder who get his memory back and survived,” he thought wryly as he kissed the women and shook hands with the men.
“Good you could come Peter,” Arthur smiled, giving him a quick hug. “This is a most peculiar party but it seems to be working, against all the laws of party-making.”
Peter walked over to Dino and they looked deeply into each other’s eyes. Both had been through experiences which neither of them would ever divulge, but which had affected the very essence of their beings. They each sensed how the fibres of the other’s soul had been strengthened, had been tested and not found wanting.
“How good to see you Dino. I’m really glad the bomb was as little successful as it was.”
Dino grinned. “Dad is talking of taking me to England where I can get the very latest foot on the Health Scheme. It’s a bit ironical, isn’t it?”
“But a damn good idea.”
Viviana joined them and Peter kissed her. She looked relaxed and happy, the deep, anxious lines which the long years of Tom’s drinking had engraved in her face, had softened and she looked almost pretty.
“How’s the music by the way?” he asked Dino.
“He’s going to play this evening,” Viviana said proudly. “Juli wants a musical interlude and asked Tony and Dino to prepare something. They’ve been practising.”
“Quique is going to sing, too,” Dino added.
“Wonderful. Where is Juli by the way?”
“In the kitchen, helping María.”
“Right, I’ll go and say hello.”
Peter found Juli immersed in little pizzas. She was wearing a coral wool skirt which she had bought the day before and a white blouse. She looked frail but apparently cheerful. Only a very discerning eye would have noticed that her good cheer was a little feverish. A dark young man, his hair cropped like Dino’s, stood beside her. He wore a very white shirt and black trousers and bow tie, and was holding a tray.
“Peter!” Juli exclaimed, her face lighting up with pleasure. “You came after all.”
“How could I miss?”
“This is Julián, María’s brother. He’s just arrived from the south and he’s helping out.” Juli introduced him in Spanish. Peter shook hands and clapped the boy on the back. “I’m glad you came through,” he said.
The boy nodded, his eyes old in his young face. “So many didn’t,” he replied.
“You were a prisoner of war, weren’t you? How were you treated?”
“Correctly. We were given good hot food and cigarettes and baths. But the Malvinas belong to Argentina for all that.”
“Would you go again?”
Peter nodded, and a sad smile just touched his lips. “Are you out of the army?” he asked.
“No, just on leave.”
“Can I help?” Peter asked turning to Juli.
María appeared, welcomed Peter and pushed Juli gently away. “Leave it niña Juli,” she insisted. “We can manage perfectly, go to your party.”
“You look a bit nervous,” Peter said as they returned to the sitting room. “Are you alright?”
“I feel a bit like a robot actually.”
“If I press your nose, what will happen?” Peter asked, touching her nose with the tip of his finger.
“Ping-pong! Zing! Swoosh! Clunk!” Juli whooped softly and they both laughed, but Juli felt if she laughed too much she would start to cry.
Once everyone had eaten and drunk their fill the guests were asked to find chairs and form a semi-circle in the sitting room for the musical interlude. The very young sat on the floor. Everyone settled down expectantly and the little concert commenced with a soft flute solo by Dino. No one knew that he had composed it in a bunker in the Malvinas, especially for Juli. Later Tony joined him with his guitar and they played a number of dances from the Renaissance which even the least musical enjoyed.
“I never got to the Colón Theatre,” Juli thought. “What on earth will Dad say?”
After that Tony sang modern songs playing his guitar with Dino accompanying him on Juli’s. Then it was Quique’s turn. To end up Tony and Dino came on again, Pamela passed round song sheets and they sang old favourites in English and Spanish for every age group. Even one which only little Mrs. Martin knew the melody and sang alone in a slightly wavering voice but in perfect tune, while the boys strummed an accompaniment. She received warm applause and several calls for an encore which she laughingly refused.
As everyone began to stand up and chairs were being pushed out of the way, Peter made his way to Juli’s side. “ ‘member the party we went to the day you arrived, at Ana’s?”
“You’ve come full circle.”
“I planned it that way, since Marion was organizing the party for me.”
“I think that this has been a very special party.”
“Also a beginning.”
“You’re starting to sound like Isobel.”
“I’m sad she couldn’t come.”
Peter refrained from telling Juli that Isobel had not been able to bring herself to come. ‘You go,’ she had said. ‘I said goodbye at lunch today. I couldn’t go through it all again.’
The older guests had begun to leave, while the younger decided to dance for a while in the dining room, pushing the table out of the way. Juli shook hands dutifully with a cheerful smile or kissed proffered cheeks. As soon as she was free she joined Rita to look at the gifts several of her friends had brought her. “Who gave you the poncho, isn’t it divine?” Rita queried enviously.
“Arthur and Marion. I love the ‘maté’ pot and silver ‘bombilla’ which you gave me Rita, it really great.”
“I’m glad you like it so much, what else? Those paper flowers must be from Pamela …”
“Dino has given me a cassette of his own music but I haven’t had time to listen to it yet.”
“I adored the first thing he played, didn’t you? What’s this?”
“It’s a Mexican rain god, Constanza gave it to me.”
At two the younger guests began to leave as well. Juli kissed them all. Rita and Quique were the last to go. Rita’s eyes filled with tears and she could hardly bid Juli goodbye, her voice was so full of emotion. They hugged each other closely and Juli promised to write regularly. Her own heart was so heavy it was like a leaden weight within her chest. She wanted to run away and hide, to switch off, to fall into a deep hole and fall forever.
María and her brother had got everything back into place and were plumping up the cushions in the sitting room when Peter and Juli came back from waving Rita and Quique goodbye. Pamela and Tony were drinking hot chocolate in the kitchen, discussing the party animatedly. The others had long gone to bed. Juli felt she simply did not have the energy to keep up a cheerful front for one minute longer.
“I’m terribly tired,” she yawned, standing by the door. “Thank you all for a really super party!”
“Have some hot chocolate.”
“No thanks, really. I’m pooped. Good night. See you tomorrow.”
“’night Juli,” the three Carlies chorused and Juli, after bidding María and Julián good night took herself to bed, worn out both physically and emotionally. “At least I didn’t cry,” she thought before falling asleep.
“Can I go to Ezeiza with you?” Pamela asked Peter at lunch the following day.
“No,” Peter said kindly but firmly. “I fetched Juli when she arrived and I’m taking her, alone.”
“I hope all the presents we gave you last night won’t mean that your luggage will be overweight,” Marion worried.
“I don’t think so, they’re all quite light.” ‘Keep going. Don’t cry, only a little while to go. Laugh, smile, think of Susan and Bernard. Don’t think at all. Just don’t cry…’
Arthur left straight after lunch to play golf. He bent, kissed her lightly and gave her a quick warm hug. “Goodbye my dear. Have a good trip. Let us know at once that you have arrived safely.”
“I will. Goodbye Arthur, thank you for everything.” ‘Don’t cry, just keep smiling. Don’t cry…’
Juli decided to dedicate her last hour to Pamela and accompanied her to her room. Pamela was not demanding and had no difficulty in prattling away with little or no help from her listener. Inevitably their conversation turned to Simon. Juli looked at Pamela solemnly, remembering how closely they had been dancing cheek to cheek.
“Pama,” she said. “When one respects oneself one can demand respect from others you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just …,” Juli shrugged, deciding to dive in at the deep end. “Just don’t hop into bed with Simon because he wants you to. Making love is OK but it’s best when one is married and can enjoy it without worrying. One always has the fear that one might get pregnant.”
“Even with the pill?”
“Sure. Even with the pill. Not every woman can tolerate them either.”
“We haven’t done anything.”
“Keep it that way, Pammy. You are both so young. May be you’ll want to have lots of boyfriends before deciding who to spend the rest of your life with, or Simon girlfriends for that matter. Do things with a group for the moment, it’s easier that way.”
“But you and Gavin…”
“I thought we were going to get married in France right away. It didn’t work out.”
“One doesn’t have to ‘prove’ one’s love ever to anybody, right?”
Pamela looked up from fiddling with one of her paper flowers, and nodded. “Yeah, … oh Juli,” her voice wobbled as she added. “I just hate …”
“Don’t, please Pam. Show me your dolls. Do you remember one year ago they were all out sitting over there on the floor?”
“My dolls? Hey, so they were!” Pamela jumped up and dragged the forgotten hold-all out of her cupboard. She sat beside Juli looking at each of the dolls and remembering their names.
“I gave Portly, my bear, to Tishy and Marina,” Juli confided.
“Perhaps he’ll bring you back to Argentina.”
“Juli,” Peter appeared at the door of Pamela’s room. “I think we should leave now.”
“OK, I’m nearly ready.” Juli felt her lips smile and wondered at the fact that they were able to do so. Her luggage stowed away in Marion’s car, she checked her passport and ticket, and pulled on her overcoat. The words: ‘Don’t cry. Don’t start crying …’ repeated themselves over and over again in her mind as she hugged and kissed each member of the family in turn. María, Tony, Viviana, Dino, Pamela, Marion … Abruptly she remembered Pamela’s face when she and Dereck had arrived from Los Alamos the year before, as Pamela had cried, “Peter’s disappeared…” How much people changed in a year!
Everyone went out onto the sidewalk to wave her goodbye. At last she was in the car and Peter had let in the clutch and they were moving away. A last wave … It was over. She hadn’t cried.
The drive to Ezeiza passed in silence. Juli was too depressed to talk and Peter sensed her need to be quiet. Listlessly she watched the familiar houses, the brightly coloured ‘colectivo’ buses, and the huge sky over the flat landscape. When they arrived at the airport Peter unloaded her luggage and said, “Wait here. I’ll just go and park the car.”
While she waited she remembered how she had stood beside the information desk wondering if anyone would come and collect her, fear lurking deep in her heart, and then Peter’s voice. ‘Juli Lane?’ Isobel had been at the airport then. Juli glanced round half expecting to see her with Wendy in her arms. Peter appeared with a trolley and said, “This way.” He loaded her belongings onto the trolley and pushed it ahead of him. The queue at the check-in desk was already long. They inched closer, standing in silence as each person was attended to, their luggage weighed and despatched.
“Will your father be meeting you?” Peter asked in order to break the long silence between them.
“Why not? Haven’t you told him?”
“No. I haven’t even told him I’m not getting married.”
“Is no one going to meet you then?”
Juli shook her head. “They don’t care,” she said.
As she spoke the enormity of her loneliness pressed in upon her and she was gripped with a despair which knew now bounds. In the whole of Europe there was only one person, Gavin, who really cared for her and to him she could not turn. It was as if whatever she had had to do had been completed and there was no more room for her as a needed and useful person anywhere in the world. Someone called Florencia had taken over the care of Tishy and Marina, Constanza had returned from Mexico. Marion was herself again. Peter was well and had found an aim in life. Everyone’s lives, including those of her father and Ann were full and satisfying. There was only Gavin, but to go to him was unthinkable. Covering her face with her hands she stood stock still trying to regain control of herself as the waves of despair, which had been rising ever higher during the last twenty-four hours, began to break over the dike of her self-control, crumbling it away and flinging her into a wasteland of utter hopelessness.
Peter had seen the desolation in her eyes as she answered him, and her immobility filled him with anxiety. The queue moved forward and he pushed the trolley on a few steps, but Juli remained standing as if she had been turned to stone. He put his arm around her rigid shoulders and said urgently, “Juli, what’s the matter? Are you all right?”
She did not answer or relax. Not knowing what to do, Peter glanced at the people in the queue watching them with indifference. “Juli,” he whispered almost fiercely to make her react. “JULI.” But she remained still and unresponsive. Deeply concerned he gripped her firmly and guided her, stumbling and almost falling, to a bench a short distance away. He collected the trolley and brought it over to where Juli was sitting, realizing as he did so that she had begun to tremble violently, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. He bent over her and said softly, “What’s the matter Juli? Please say something.”
“I want to die,” she whispered. “I want to die.”
Appalled, he prized her ticket out of her fingers and ran to the counter where the passengers for Juli’s flight were being attended to. “This passenger is ill,” he said. “She won’t be flying today.” The airline employee took note of Juli’s name and thanked him. He ran back to Juli and said loudly and firmly, “Come on. We’re going.”
Past the long patient queues of people standing by their luggage, past the shops and the information desks they wended their way. Juli stumbled along beside Peter blindly, she had no will of her own, no awareness of her surroundings, no thoughts and no feelings. When they were outside on the covered sidewalk, Peter said, “Hold onto the cart and wait here while I get the car.”
Obediently she hunched over the trolley and stood quite still, while Peter ran, dodging past people, luggage and cars, until he reached his own. He backed it out and drove round to where he had left Juli. She was in exactly the same position as when he had left her. Jumping out, he opened the car door and pushed her gently into the front seat. Then, with all the speed he could muster he slammed the suitcases into the boot and the other things into the back seat. With that he drove out of the airport and along the super highway towards Buenos Aires. He found that he too had begun to tremble from the reaction to all that had happened. Seeing a side-road he turned off and parked under some tall eucalyptus trees.
Juli had begun to cry. Her body shook with paroxysm after paroxysm of sobs. Peter had never seen anyone cry so and his anxiety mounted. He put his arm around her gently and drew her head against his shoulder, feeling that perhaps it might help her, but it seemed desperately inadequate. After half an hour she drew away from him and fell back against the seat, limp and spent, looking bleakly out of the window, her head turned away from him.
“I want to die,” she repeated.
He searched through all his experiences to find one which faintly matched what she was undergoing at that moment in order to say the right thing, but in the end he opted for silence.
“I just want to die,” she whispered again.
He put the car into gear turned it around and drove back onto the highway. “What the hell,” he thought. “She’s always seemed so strong, so self assured and now suddenly I have to be the strong one making decisions, in charge.” A warm flood of self-confidence filled him. He’d take her back to Tarawera and between them he and Isobel would find a way to give meaning to her life again. That was it, no question about it.
After a while Juli said, “Where are we going?”
She shook her head and he saw that she had started to cry again. Once more he stopped the car by the side of the road and waited until she was a little calmer, stroking her hair softly. “I’ve got to go away,” she choked at last. “Take me back. I can’t stay here.”
Peter glanced at his watch. There was still time for her to catch her ‘plane, but she was in no fit state to travel. She needed a sedative. He considered taking her home; ‘phoning his father; taking her to the British Hospital. At last he decided to carry on to Tarawera. Isobel was there and would know what to do. Apart from that she would be overjoyed to have Juli to look after.
“Juli is the daughter I would have loved to have had,” she had said to him. “I can’t bear the thought of her going away. Silly of me but there you are, we women get a bit sentimental in our old age sometimes.”
Yes. He would drive out to Tarawera. Isobel would know what to do. If Juli had to go to a hospital they could go to the one where the Señora Bauer had gone. Isobel would decide everything. If they went home it would only be a bother, Dino would probably have been moved into the blue room. The British Hospital? He didn’t fancy taking Juli there … what would he say?
An hour later Juli asked again “Where are we going?”
“I told you, to Tarawera.”
Once they were on the earth road about a kilometre from the farm she said in a flat voice. “I don’t want to go to Tarawera. Ana won’t want me there.”
“Ana? What’s Ana got to do with Tarawera?”
“She went to see you …”
Once again Peter stopped the car and turned towards her. “Yes, two Sundays ago. But Juli, didn’t you know she was living with Sandy, or rather, Sandy moved in to live with her? She’s decorating a country club in the vicinity here and when he told her I was in Tarawera she dropped by on her way home.”
“She’s very possessive. I don’t want her to think …”
“But she’s living with Sandy, Juli, for months now, almost a year. They’re very happy together. It was her visit in fact, which was the key to my getting my memory back.”
“I don’t want to see any one,” Juli sobbed. “Anyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Isobel will laugh at me.”
“Isobel loves you. She told me you are the daughter she always wanted. She’ll be so happy when she sees you.”
“I can’t … I want to be alone … I want to die.”
Peter started the car and drove on until they reached the gate. He opened it, drove through, shut it and drove up the drive to the house. Isobel came out to meet them as Juli covered her face with her hands once more, her shoulders heaving. Peter got out of the car and said. “I think she’s had a nervous breakdown. I brought her here.”
Isobel nodded and opened the car door. “Juli,” she said gently. “You’re home, and this is where you are going to stay. Come my dear.”
She drew Juli out of the car and led her, stumbling, into the house. Peter stood watching them and felt a great wave of relief flood through him. He had done the right thing, this was where Juli belonged. Heaving a deep sigh of satisfaction he began to unload her luggage from the car.
Dear Readers, please let me have your version of a post script, you can write it in the box below.
I would also like to know, should I ever write a sequence to this novel, whom you’d like to have as the main character: Dino, Peter or Gavin, or Pamela (age 18) Rita or Juli? Thank you, I really look forward to your suggestions!