Under Another Sky 6

Chapter 6

Dereck and Juli arrived at the Carlies at five in the afternoon just as Pamela arrived from school

“Uncle Dereck,” she cried rushing up to him and flinging her arms around his neck as he caught her up in his arms and kissed her warmly. Julli stared at them, overwhelmed by a stab of pain so intense she found difficulty in breathing. “That’s what I want, to be in Dereck’s arms, to be hugged by him, kissed by him … Oh my God, what’s happened to me?” She whispered.

The force of her feelings engulfed her. Shocked, she leaned forward in the car trying to control the turmoil of emotions which had suddenly been triggered off within her. Pamela wriggled out of Dereck’s embrace and spoke to him in a low voice. Juli heard him give a low shocked exclamation and then the murmur of their voices again. The pause gave her time to collect herself and regain control and presence of mind. She got out of the car and walked over to join them, saying a little breathlessly, “Hi, Pamela how’s everything?”

“Peter’s disappeared,” Pamela said, her eyes full of tears.

“He’s what?”

“Now then Pam,” Dereck said hastily, “I’ll find out everything from Mummy…”

“I’ve told you everything. That’s all any of us know. Mummy just cries most of the time.”

Juli stared at Pamela trying to understand her, trying to incorporate this new and appalling piece of news into her already numbed mind.

“What happened?” she asked, as Dereck rang the bell.

“He was one of a gang of people caught taking drugs in San Fernando. But we don’t know if he was caught because the police came here and searched the whole house. Yesterday Daddy said the police don’t have him but they found his little satchel with all his documents and so they knew he was part of the gang. But he’s disappeared. No one has heard a word since Friday night. Oh Juli, it’s so terrible. I feel so terrible about it.”

Juli put her arm comfortingly round Pamela’s shoulders as Dereck said to her, “Here’s your vanity case.”

He handed it to her, and as their fingers touched, she felt as if her whole arm were on fire. María appeared and opened the gate for them.

“Hello María, what a thing, all this business about the Niño Peter!” Dereck exclaimed. “Where is the Señora?”

“Upstairs, Señor Dereck, in her room.”

“Did you tell Marion that I was coming?” Juli asked suddenly.

“Couldn’t get on,” Dereck said, and glancing at Pamela he asked, “Is the phone working?”
“No, it’s been out of order since Saturday.”

“Well never mind, there’s plenty of room, or have you guests?”

“No.”

“I’ll go and speak to Marion,” Dereck said as they entered the hall, and hurried upstairs. Juli watched his virile movements and thought, “I love him. I love him terribly.”

Pamela, whose sweet round face looked shadowed and pinched, said, “Would you like some tea Juli?”

Juli focused her with difficulty and said “Yes, please, Pam. Just tea, nothing to eat.”

Maria, having understood, returned to the kitchen with Pamela to put the kettle on. Upstairs Juli heard Marion’s voice, raised in protest. “…but Dereck, how could you? Just now, with all this dreadful situation we’re in. No, no, I can’t possibly have her here, it’s too much.”

Gripped by a sudden impulse, Juli ran upstairs and hurried to where Dereck and Marion were standing in the passage.

“Please may I stay Marion,” she said quickly. “I can so understand how anxious you must be about Peter, but I really feel part of the family, especially after the lovely way you treated me when I arrived.” She knew that would have a good effect. “I won’t be any trouble to you and I am almost as anxious about Peter as you are really.”

Marion looked at her with blurred red-rimmed eyed and then said irritably, “Well, since you’re here you may as well stay, but the bed isn’t made… María …”

“I’ll make it,” Juli assured her quickly.

Marion went to the linen cupboard and handed her the bed linen and towels impatiently, then she put a hand to her head. “I don’t feel at all well,” she said. “This has just been all too much! Drugs… I’m so ashamed … and there is no way of hiding the matter from the Smiths living across the street and the Eddisons in the next block. It was too awful. Two police cars… all morning. I’m sure they must have Peter by now. I can’t bare it… I suppose they’ll torture him … Oh! It’s too awful. But why drugs? I just can’t understand it! Dr. James had to come and see me. My heart. I really feel so unwell … and with the Smiths right across the street there is no possible way … Dereck, do you know anyone in the government? Arthurs’s doing what he can but perhaps you…?”

Juli walked down the passage to the ‘blue room’ at the far end – her room – and threw the sheets onto the bed. She felt gripped by a violence hard to contain, the desire to rip and hurt her body – to wrench from its place the lust and desire which crouched, dark and writhing within her – fought with her concern for Peter. What had happened? Where could he be? A gentle tap on the door and María’s voice informed her that tea was ready.

Downstairs, a tray with tea things had been set on the coffee table in front of the fire. Juli sat down and poured herself a cup, drinking it scalding hot as she stared at the flames licking about the edges of a large log in the fireplace. Everything was the same and yet completely different. There seemed to be a faint, cold, grey veil drawn over the whole household.

Dino walked in, saw Juli and started forward with pleasure. “Juli, I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hello, Dino, it was a last minute decision. Dereck couldn’t advise because the telephone here is out of order.”

“Have you heard about Peter?”

“Yes, but without any details. Can you tell me quickly what it’s all about?”

“I’m starved,” he said. “Can we talk in the kitchen while I have something to eat?”

“Of course.” Juli filled her cup once more and followed him into the kitchen. Sitting at the table they talked quietly, relaxing in each other’s company, able at last to be themselves without fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted

“We’re not really clear at all about anything,” Dino said. “I spoke to Sandy and he told me that Peter had become very friendly with some fellow in the last two or three weeks and that he had seen very little of him lately for that reason. The situation between Marion and Peter was pretty bad because he really tried to change as you’d suggested and Marion, well, I told you I think …”

“Yes, she accused him of wasting his time with a new girl-friend and that was why he had failed his exams.”

“Exactly. Peter was so down after that, that it like hurt to be near him. Anyway Arthur realised too, that Marion had gone too far and he tried to help Peter and… I think … they had lunch in town together a couple of times. At least Peter seemed to buck up a bit and he started eating with the family again but he absolutely ignored Marion, just saying the absolute necessary in order not to be rude you know?..That, of course, made her pretty mad and she was always dropping remarks and needling him but he paid no attention, apparently anyway. It was a pretty nasty situation. Explosive, I mean. Then, all of a sudden he began to go out a lot and look much happier. I suppose when he got friendly with this other chap.”

“And then?”

“Well, Saturday morning at about 5.30 a.m. two police cars came, full of policemen, machine guns, the lot, and they came in and literally turned the whole house upside down while we all had to sit in silence in the dining room. They were here practically the whole morning searching every nook and cranny, they even pulled up the moquette in Peter’s room. They took note books and things of his and an officer interviewed each one of us separately all about Peter’s habits and his friends and so on. – they disconnected the phone too and of course got the names and addresses of most of his friends: Sandy, Rita, Quique, Ana, and I don’t know who else and they were all taken to some police station or office and questioned as well.
After the police left, Marion had a sort of breakdown, weeping and shouting … Oh! I don’t know, it was pretty awful. Arthur had to call the doctor and he gave her an injection and put her to sleep and Arthur made us all work until all hours so that everything was in order when she got up yesterday morning.”

“But what do you know about Peter, why did the police come?”
“I was getting there. Arthur has a friend in the Foreign Ministry, so he called him yesterday and asked him to find out what it was all about, and it turned out that Peter was a member of a gang who used to meet in a house in San Fernando and take or smoke drugs.”

“Where’s San Fernando?”

“It’s a suburb about three kilometres further along the coast from here, near Tigre. The police raided this house there on Friday night, and caught most of the gang but for some reason Peter was not there because they only found his little satchel, so now they are looking for him I suppose. That is all we know, or at least what this friend of Arthur’s could find out. Marion insists that they’ve caught Peter and that he’s in prison being tortured and goodness knows what else!”

“Oh, Dino,” Juli murmured. “How awful! Drugs! How can parents be so blind! Poor Peter. What an awful situation! And there’s been no word from him since then?

“As far as I know, nothing, unless Arthur has heard from him today in the office.”

“Marion is in a terrible state, isn’t she? I hardly recognized her, her hair all over the place and her eyes so bloodshot!”

“She cries a lot. María is running the house now, more or less, luckily. Don’t you want anything to eat?”

“No … no thanks. I …”

The kitchen door swung open and Dereck walked in, his cup of tea in his hand.

“Ah, there you are!” he said. “I wondered where everybody had gone.”

Juli felt her throat close about her vocal chords as he sat down at the table with them and began to stir his tea energetically.

“What a business this is about Peter,” he said seriously. “What time does Arthur get back?”

“Between seven and eight usually.”

“It’s six-thirty now. Marion has taken this all this very hard, hasn’t she? One wonders what Peter thought he was doing getting mixed up with a bunch of drug addicts. Honestly! A lovely home and all that goes with it and now he seems to be on the run and without any documents either, apparently. It’s incredible.”

Juli and Dino glanced at each other silently. The gulf between themselves and Dereck and Marion was so great, so unbridgeable. “And yet I love him,” Juli thought. “I’ve never felt this way before! What’s the matter with me? He’s as old as my father. I’m crazy, just plain crazy, just one hundred percent crazy, like Marion!”

But despite herself she could not keep from looking at Dereck’s strong, brown hands, at the little golden hairs which sprouted from the backs of his fingers, at the shape of his nails, and the scar, faint but just visible, on the second joint of his right thumb. She could not keep from looking at his hands, and wanting him to hold her and fondle her. Vaguely she wondered how long she would be able to cope with the storm his presence caused in her.
Pamela appeared at the door at that moment and then came in slowly, a little uncertainly.

“What’s the matter Pammy?” Juli asked gently, glad of the distraction.

“I need some maps and things, but Mummy …”

“Come on, I’ll take you,” Dereck said at once. “Don’t worry Mummy. We’ll go and get all the things you need.”

“Make a list,” Dino said warningly, remembering the many times Pamela had forgotten vital items which had entailed his having to rush off at the last moment to get them before the shop shut. Pamela tore off a piece of paper and Dino lent her a ball-point pen. She wrote down all she had to buy with Dino’s help and once it was complete she left with Dereck, delighted to have her problem solved and to be with her adored uncle.

Dino glanced at his watch. “I have to go,” he said. “I have conservatory now.”

Juli, who had been thinking about Dereck gave a little start and said, “Of course Dino, go, for goodness’ sake!”

Grinning, he rose and began to pile his tea things to take them to the sink.

“Leave them,” Juli said. “I’ll do them with mine.”

“Thanks a lot, Juli. Hey, it’s really good to see you again!”

She looked up into his eyes behind the round lenses of his glasses and smiled, thinking how plain he was compared to Dereck, how pale and delicate in a way, and yet what a nice person he was and how much she liked him.

María came into the kitchen from the ironing room with a pile of freshly ironed laundry as Juli was washing up the tea things.

“How are you María?” she asked.

María, surprised that Juli could speak to her in Spanish, beamed with pleasure and replied, “Muy bien Señorita Juli, how well you speak Spanish now!”

“Only a little, but I am learning. You must talk slowly and then I hope I will understand you. Where are you going with those things?”

“Upstairs.”

“I will take them for you. I am going upstairs now. You have a lot of work now.”

María hesitated and then, smiling, she handed everything into Juli’s outstretched arms. “I must help the Señora,” she said. “Poor lady, she is suffering terribly because of Peter. If only we knew where he was, it would make so much difference.”

“Yes,” Juli nodded. “It would wouldn’t it?”

She took the laundry upstairs and laid it, as María had indicated, on a table outside Marion’s room. As she was about to start down the passage in the direction of her own room she heard Marion calling. “María, María.”
“It’s Juli.”

“Oh Juli, well … could you come a moment.”

Juli pushed open the half closed bedroom door and stood looking towards Marion lying on her bed under the eiderdown. “I just brought up the ironed clothes and put them on the table here,” she said.

“Oh thank you dear. Come in. Come in and sit down. Where is Dereck? I wanted … yes sit in that little chair there.”

Juli seated herself in a small upholstered arm-chair and stared at Marion, wondering how it was possible that anyone could have changed so much in such a short time.

“I’m sure they must have caught him by now, he has no documents you know. Where would he hide? But they wouldn’t tell us, they never do. They’ll keep him locked up and let him rot. That’s the army for you! Look at all the young people who have disappeared. Thousands of them, and now Peter …” Marion began to cry.

“Hush Marion, you’re upsetting yourself with speculations, really you are. He’s probably lying low at some friend’s house and when everything has quietened down he’ll get in touch with Arthur or Sandy or Quique, or someone, and let you know that he’s OK:”

“He has no money …”

“Even more so then …”

“But drugs, Juli. You’re young, why did Peter start doing that? When he had everything he could possibly need, here? You’re his age Juli, almost exactly, what makes young people do that? Turn away from their homes, their parents, their family and start taking drugs … what?”

I don’t know,” Juli said feebly, hating herself for being disloyal to Peter for saying she didn’t know when in reality she felt she did. She glanced quickly round the room. The walls were wall-papered in an all-over blue design, the woodwork was white and the chintz curtains and bedspreads had the same design of flowers and leaves in an all-over pattern. The carpet was white. It was very much a Marion room, cool, elegant, a little distant. She looked back at the woman lying on the bed, her grey hair awry, her eyes wide and staring, with an unnatural gaze and with dark circles beneath them. Her fingers, the paint chipped off her nails, moved restlessly and unceasingly, picking at a knot in the hem of a handkerchief, at a lump in the border of the eiderdown, at a button on her jersey, never still for a moment. Watching them Juli thought, “They reflect her thoughts, they too twitch and fiddle all day long.”

She drew a deep breath and leaned back. She felt strangely sorry for Marion, despite thinking that she had brought all her problems upon herself and that she was over-reacting. She said thoughtfully, “I think Peter is very sensitive, maybe he was a bit jealous of Tony and Pam. Maybe he felt you loved them more than you loved him. Maybe that hurt him a lot and he felt that smoking marihuana it would help him not to care so much.”

Marion jerked up onto an elbow. “I love my three children just the same. I’ve never shown any preference whatsoever! They are my children and I love them,” she said fiercely. “How could you come to such conclusions?”

Juli nodded and gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Marion’s reaction did not surprise her. The older woman sank back on her pillows, as her fingers began to fiddle with a few strands of her hair.

“Why should he have been jealous? So foolish. Everybody is different. Tony is tidy and polite, there is no need to correct him, but Peter is … was …” she gave a little sob. “Oh, where is he? If I knew where he were, then everything would be different. Arthur keeps telling me to buck up and pull myself together, but how can I? How can I when I keep wondering if he is being tortured in prison or shot dead or … if he were free he’d have got in touch already. He has no money, no documents. He would have phoned … asked for help … money …” she talked on jerkily, her jumbled thoughts rising and slipping away, cutting across each other yet ever circling about the same point.

Juli sat listening to her helplessly. She could think of no way to console her hostess except by her silent, compassionate presence. Marion did not really want to converse, she talked compulsively, repeating herself over and over again. “Poor Arthur,” Juli thought. “Marion will drive him crazy if she goes on like this.”

After a while Dereck came in after a brief knock to announce his presence. Juli looked up at him and thought of Mariposa, the algarrobo and caldén trees, the wind the sun and the Pampa skies. Dereck seemed to sum them all up in his broad, vital, suntanned figure, and she felt a surge of longing to be back in the Pampa, away from all the uncomfortable, disturbing drama of Peter’s disappearance. Perhaps there her own personal drama could also be solved..

“Hello Marion, well I’ve just taken Pam to the stationers and bought the place out,” he said cheerfully. “She has all the maps and black ink and pens and pencils and erasers and paper she’ll need for weeks. I hope. It’s quite mild out this evening. I saw the Smiths just now and they asked about Peter. Apparently Smith’s nephew also had a drug problem, it was a terrible blow for the whole family when they found out because he’d been on drugs for years and they never realized it. I’m sure Peter will be able to kick the habit quite easily. After all, from what you tell me he couldn’t have been connected with that group for very long.”

“It’s all very well, but where is Peter? What’s the point of thinking he’d kick the habit easily when he might even be dead? These people who are governing now have no trouble in finding any excuse to use their guns!” Marion cried. “And we’ll never know, … never … never!”

“Marion!”

“There are women who belong to the Plaza de Mayo Mothers whose children disappeared in 1976 and now it’s 1981. Five years Dereck. Five years not knowing if your child is alive or dead!”

Juli rose quietly and left the room, after her glance had touched Dereck’s and he had nodded almost imperceptibly. Marion did not seem to notice. In the passage she met Tony.

“Hello,” he exclaimed with surprise. “I saw Dereck had arrived but I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hi. Yes, it was rather a last minute decision and as you phone wasn’t working …”

“Yes of course. You know about Peter too I suppose?”

“Yes. I was just sitting with your mother. She’s so terribly upset.”

“Tony looked at Juli with a wink and said ironically, “She’s lost her sparring partner. Peter was her safety-valve, she channelled all her irritations through him.”

“Do you think the police have got him?”

“He’s fool enough to have let himself get caught.”

“Tony!”

Tony shrugged. “He was always on about doing what was correct, he might just have felt it was correct to give himself up.”

“But then surely the police would have informed your Dad, or that friend he has in the Ministry?”

“Not necessarily.”

“What’s driving your mother crazy is not knowing …”

“We should invent that he’s been arrested and taken to a special secret prison away in the interior,” Tony said. Juli looked at with a slightly shocked expression and he laughed and added, “I was thinking of story I read, can’t remember who by, where the whole family club together to keep the knowledge of their mother’s favourite son’s death in Uruguay a secret from her. They write letters and forge his handwriting and so on for years and in the end she knew all the time.”

“Aren’t you worried about him Tony?”

“I’m not going to worry about something I can’t remedy, Juli. Peter started taking drugs, I don’t know why, perhaps because he failed those exams or had a row with Ana, who knows? It’s his affair. When we know where he is, then will be the time to find a way of helping him, to worry about that.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I’ll have to go Juli. How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days.”

“Good, we’ll have a talk tomorrow, OK?”

Juli nodded. She had meant to go to her room but somehow she didn’t want to be alone with herself so she decided to go and see if María needed help. She found her peeling vegetables for a stew, so she made a milk pudding to help out and when it was ready she went to the sitting room. Picking up the Buenos Aires Herald, she sank down on the sofa in front of the fire. She felt very tired. The long trip, her own state of emotional upheaval and the atmosphere of nervous tension in the house had left her exhausted. Despite herself, however, the faint hope that Dereck might come downstairs and join her lurked at the back of her mind.

Arthur arrived a little after eight. Juli was amazed to see him looking exactly the same as she remembered him, not haggard and distraught like Marion.

“Juli!” he exclaimed. “How nice to see you! I suppose you came to BA for a few days with Dereck. I saw the car. Well, well, this is a really nice surprise. Good, heavens, didn’t anyone give you a drink?”

Warmed by his evident and sincere pleasure at seeing her, Juli jumped up and kissed him on the cheek, thinking fleetingly of Dereck as she did so.

“I don’t want anything to drink, thanks,” she said. “How are you Arthur?”

“Bearing up my dear, bearing up. This business about Peter is so very worrying and poor Marion is taking it so hard. Most upsetting, how is she?”

“Lying down. Dereck is with her.”

“Oh good.” He sighed and, going over to the table where María had placed a tray with ice, soda and tonic water, he helped himself to a whisky and soda and returned to the fireplace, sinking into an arm-chair with a tired smile.

“Any news?” Juli asked.

“Just a thread … ah Dereck, how are you old chap? Good to see you! Have a drink.”

Dereck walked over to Arthur and patted him comfortingly on the shoulder, saying. “Dreadful thing all this about Peter, Arthur, I’m very sorry …”

“Thank you Dereck.”

“Señor?” Maria’s quiet little voice broke into the conversation.

“Sí María?” Arthur turned and looked at her with a pleasant smile.

“May I serve the dinner?”

“What time is it? Yes of course, in ten minutes time. Will that do?”

“Sí Señor.”

“I’ll go and advise Marion and Pamela,” Arthur said, getting up and heading for the stairs, leaving Juli alone with Dereck. She could find nothing to say which sounded natural. Her heart hammered furiously and she had to sit on her hands to control their trembling. She smiled at him briefly and returned her gaze to the fire, feeling foolish and miserable.

“Marion is a real mess,” Dereck said irritably. “I would never have expected her to go under like this. She just repeats herself over and over again, like a broken record. Good heavens alive, what’s come over her?”

Dinner was rather a dismal affair. Marion, a comb run hastily through her hair, sat with glassy-eyed misery at her usual place, but she hardly ate anything. Pamela kept looking at her, suffering with her mutely, yet unable to sort out in her childish mind the tortuous whys and wherefores between this grieving mother and the mother who had done nothing but criticize and fight with the object of her grief until only a few days earlier.

Dereck and Arthur, in an effort not to mention the subject, talked about golf, the camp Lena and the economic situation. Juli, aching with curiosity to know the thread of news Arthur had come home with, found herself so tense she could hardly swallow. Her pudding, however, was very well received and even Marion ate a tiny portion and was able to take her mind off Peter for a moment to say thank you.

After dinner Pamela was sent off to bed and Marion excused herself, following Pamela upstairs. Juli took advantage of their moving to the sitting room to drink their coffee, to say,” What was the thread of news you mentioned just before dinner, Arthur?”

“Ah yes, well…” Arthur leaned forward in his chair as Dereck tensed, looking alert. “Apparently just a few minutes before the raid Peter went into the kitchen with a fellow called Paco. They had come together. Some of the group had met Paco before but did not know his real name. Others had never met him before, but apparently he was the one who introduced Peter into this group.”

Arthur sipped his coffee thoughtfully before continuing. “It seems that all of a sudden this Paco fellow said something to Peter and they got up and went into the kitchen and that was the last the others saw of them. About ten minutes later the house was raided and the whole bunch was taken off to the police station. The police think this Paco is the fellow who, behind the scenes, provides the drugs or is the middle man of some sort. If that is the case and if he has taken a liking to Peter, then Peter is probably with him and that’s why we have not heard from him.”

“What have the police got on this Paco chap?” Dereck asked quickly.

“For the moment, nothing, but they’re working on it of course.”

“How long had Peter been part of the group?”

“Only a short time, two or three weeks. That’s my great hope, that he’s not really had time to become completely addicted, and that his innate good sense will help him. But if he’s with this Paco individual …. on the other hand, the junkies don’t take drugs , do they? I don’t know what’s worse. Becoming an addict, or becoming a dope peddler. I can’t tell Marion all this, she’s in such a state as it is …”

“I’m sure Peter won’t stay with this Paco,” Juli said impulsively. “I mean … I’m sure he won’t become a dope peddler as you say. He’s too honest.”

Dereck gave a snort of laughter, and said, “You’ll find, Juli, that everyone has his price, even the best of us.”

Juli felt a cry of repudiation rise to lips. To even say such a thing seemed to her an utter betrayal of all that Man stood for, of all the potential good folded into every heart. But she did not say anything. One couldn’t argue these things with ‘grown-ups’. Simply because they had failed, they assumed that, where ethics were concerned, everyone failed sooner or later. Their defeatism and worldliness upset her.

With a great effort she stood up and said lightly, “Well, my price just now is sleep. I think I’ll go to bed now, I find I’m bone tired. What time are you going into the city tomorrow Dereck? I’ve got a whole list of things I want to buy, and I want to go to the British Hospital to start getting onto their health scheme, as you suggested.”

“We’ll leave at eight fifteen,” Dereck replied. “I’ll take you to the Hospital and on the way I’ll tell you how to get to the shopping centres from there.”

“Lovely, thank you. Good night Arthur, ‘night Dereck.”

“Goodnight,” the two men chorused smiling, glad to rest their eyes on someone young and attractive and to forget their worries for a moment or two.

Juli ran upstairs. She had already passed Pamela’s door when it occurred to her that the child might appreciate a quick goodnight kiss. She turned and knocked gently. After a moment a stifled “Who is it?” made her realize that Pamela was crying. She opened the door quickly and went in, her compassionate heart already aching for this child caught in the turbulence of a situation she could not understand, her safe accustomed world shattered and a new world filled with violence, madness and death threatening to engulf all those she knew and loved.

Pamela, fully dressed, was lying on her bed weeping into her pillow so that her sobs would not disturb the rest of the family. Juli hastened over to the bed and knelt beside it, putting her arm around Pamela’s heaving shoulders.

“Don’t cry Pammy, don’t cry,” she murmured. “The police don’t have Peter. Your Dad just told me. He got away just before the raid with another man and this man probably gave him enough money to take a bus far away somewhere and live quietly until it’s safe to come back.”

“But why is Mummy so sad then?” whispered Pamela. “”She cries all the time. She didn’t come to kiss me good night again tonight. She just goes to her room. She always came before. Juli, I don’t understand. Daddy is quite calm and talks about other things but Mummy cries all the time. I sort of feel that she’s crying more because she’s ashamed than because of Peter – she was always cross with him – and then … and then I feel I’m wrong and I feel awful, so guilty. Daddy hides everything, but he’s really worried, he really cares and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Oh Juli, do you think that Peter is really alright? Really really? Or do you think the police have him?

“I’m sure they don’t Pam.”

“I’m so afraid. When I see a policeman I begin to tremble all over. How do they torture people Juli? What do they do to them? I have terrible dreams sometimes, I don’t want to go to sleep because they frighten me. I miss Peter, Juli, I miss him so much. Do you think he’s taking drugs?”

“No, at least, not any more. Look, get undressed and go and have a shower. I’ll wait for you here, may I tidy your room a little while I wait?”

Pamela nodded mutely as she sat up obediently to undress. The relief of having to obey orders again was so great that her tears dried and she dragged on her dressing-gown and hurried off to the bathroom. Thinking about all Pamela had said, Juli piled her dirty clothes into a bundle, sorted and tidied the books and papers strewn about the floor, straightened the tumbled bed-clothes and hung up the child’s skirt and blazer.

“Did you wash your teeth?” she asked when Pamela returned, pink and sweetly smelling, from her shower.

“No … I forgot.”

“Well …”

Pamela disappeared and returned in a couple of minutes, nodding her head.

“Now yes.”

“Right, now brush your hair like mad until it shines. I always do that when I’m depressed.”

Obediently Pamela brushed her hair vigorously for a few minutes while Juli sat on the bed watching her.

“”Now ,” Juli continued. “Get together all you will need for tomorrow. School books, maps, gym things, hockey things, whatever. Get them all ready now.”

Her depression by now almost entirely dispelled, Pamela sorted out all she needed for the following day and placed them in a neat pile alongside a clean blouse, underwear and socks. Juli polished her sturdy brown shoes for her as she did so.

“And now,” Juli went on, full of invigorating energy. “Please put away all those small stones, the paper for your flowers, and sort out all that mess of glue and paints and wire and biscuits and goodness knows what, which you have on your desk. If it stays like that, every time you look at it it’ll remind you of the muddle you feel inside you. The best thing to do just now is to have your room spotlessly clean and tidy, your clothes, your cupboards and everything. Then that will help you to think clearly and not get upset.”

Pamela made a face but she did what she was told and about fifteen minutes later her room really looked habitable once more. Glancing round it with a great sense of satisfaction, she looked at the row of dolls leaning against the radiator under the window.

“I’m a bit big to have all my dolls still, aren’t I?” she said suddenly, “I think I’ll put them all away.”

She got down a kit bag from the top shelf of her cupboard and proceeded to pack away her dolls resolutely. Juli said nothing for she realized that Pamela was packing away her childhood, unconsciously aware that the time for dolls was over and that she must now begin to tread the thorny, difficult path of adolescence.

Once she had packed away the dolls and pushed the kit bag back into the cupboard Pamela crawled into bed and said fervently, “I love you Juli, can we talk?”

“Of course.”

Pamela fiddled with a corner of her, sheet for a few moments before saying bashfully, “I haven’t started the curse yet, Juli. All my friends have and I haven’t. Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“This too,” Juli thought. “Poor Pamela, she certainly has her plateful of problems!” Aloud she said, “But of course not Pamela, what makes you think that?”

“Because my breasts are growing,” Pamela said. “Look.” She pulled up her pyjama top and displayed her gently rounding little breasts.

“Aah,” Juli said comfortingly. “I remember my breasts grew before I got the curse and I didn’t start until I was nearly fourteen.”

“Didn’t you? Oh well then, I’m nearly thirteen so that’s OK. María Elena and Sonia and Josie have all got the curse. What is it Juli? Why do we lose blood? Sonia’s mother said all women bleed a little every month and it’s nothing to worry about but she didn’t say why. Josie’s little bitch also bleeds, but only twice a year and they shut her away from the dogs so that she doesn’t have any more puppies.”

Juli, her heart sinking, thought, “Just my luck to have Marion weeping with self pity at this moment instead of fulfilling her role of mother as she should be!! Now what shall I say?”

Pushing away her desire to reply ‘Well, well, we’ll talk about it all another day,’ she ran her fingers through her hair, raking up from the depths of her memories all that she had felt and learned during those crucial times ten years ago. Only ten years? It seemed a life time!

“All women and lady dogs and cats and rabbits and cows have a little bag inside them in order to be able to have babies. To keep nice and clean, it loses a layer of skin every month and that is what causes the bleeding, but it’s very little blood really. Chickens lay eggs and the chicks grow up inside the egg and when they are big enough they chip their way out. But lots of animals have the egg, like a bag, inside them. The baby grows inside that until it is big enough to be born.”

“And how is it born, through the tummy button?”

Taken aback by Pamela’s innocence, Juli contemplated the child for a long silent moment. At last she said, “No, through a special passage next to where we pee.”

Pamela looked at her aghast. “But there’s no room!” she cried. “I’ve seen a new baby. It’s head is big!”

“Well, but Pamela, the baby’s head is not hard like ours are, and all the mother´s muscles become quite soft and elastic so the baby can slip out quite easily.”

Pamela digested this piece of information seriously, mulling over all that Juli had said while Juli gazed back at her with as much tranquillity as she could muster, girding herself for further difficult questions.

At last Pamela said reflectively, “I see, so that’s how babies are born. And I suppose the baby’s soul really does slip down a moon-beam into that little bag when it wants, you know, for that baby to be a person. Dogs don’t have souls, our Sunday School teacher told us that, she told us about the moon-beam too.”

“That was a spot of inspiration.” Juli thought, imagining the Sunday School teacher’s embarrassment at being asked where babies came from. She smiled and said mildly, “Don’t you think you had better catch a moon-beam and go to sleep now? It’s quite late.”

Pamela snuggled down grinning. “When I get the curse,” she said. “Do you think a baby’s soul would like to come into me? I’d love to have a baby.”

Imagining Marion’s horror at such an event, Juli controlled her desire to burst out laughing and said seriously, “I think it would want a Daddy too. Daddies are very important people.”

“Yes,” Pamela agreed after a moment’s thought. “It would probably want a Daddy too, wouldn’t it? What a pity. My Daddy wouldn’t do would he?”

“No, he’d have to be the Grampa.”

“Mmm, yes,” Pamela yawned, then she said suddenly, “Do you pray at night?”

“Yes, why?”

“Why don’t we pray the Our Father together?” Pamela said. “For Peter. He must be feeling so terribly lonely.”

“And I thought we had managed to forget Peter,” Juli thought wryly. Aloud she said “Yes let’s, I think that’s a great idea. Marina, Tishy and I always say our prayers together every night.”

“Do you?” said Pamela, pleased. Juli lit one of the many candles on Pamela’s desk, another of her collections, and turned out the light. Together they murmured the Lord’s Prayer, the words lapping gently about their sorrowing hearts, healing and consoling them.

“Goodnight,” Juli whispered, leaning over and kissing Pamela goodnight. “Sleep well.”

“Oh Juli, I do love you so,” Pamela sighed. “Can’t you stay here with us?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, I have to look after Marina and Tishy.”

“Oh, bother them,” Pamela giggled sleepily. “…g,night.”

Juli blew out the candle and left the room.

……………………………………..

Chapter 6

Dereck and Juli arrived at the Carlies at five in the afternoon just as Pamela arrived from school

“Uncle Dereck,” she cried rushing up to him and flinging her arms around his neck as he caught her up in his arms and kissed her warmly. Julli stared at them, overwhelmed by a stab of pain so intense she found difficulty in breathing. “That’s what I want, to be in Dereck’s arms, to be hugged by him, kissed by him … Oh my God, what’s happened to me?” She whispered.

The force of her feelings engulfed her. Shocked, she leaned forward in the car trying to control the turmoil of emotions which had suddenly been triggered off within her. Pamela wriggled out of Dereck’s embrace and spoke to him in a low voice. Juli heard him give a low shocked exclamation and then the murmur of their voices again. The pause gave her time to collect herself and regain control and presence of mind. She got out of the car and walked over to join them, saying a little breathlessly, “Hi, Pamela how’s everything?”

“Peter’s disappeared,” Pamela said, her eyes full of tears.

“He’s what?”

“Now then Pam,” Dereck said hastily, “I’ll find out everything from Mummy…”

“I’ve told you everything. That’s all any of us know. Mummy just cries most of the time.”

Juli stared at Pamela trying to understand her, trying to incorporate this new and appalling piece of news into her already numbed mind.

“What happened?” she asked, as Dereck rang the bell.

“He was one of a gang of people caught taking drugs in San Fernando. But we don’t know if he was caught because the police came here and searched the whole house. Yesterday Daddy said the police don’t have him but they found his little satchel with all his documents and so they knew he was part of the gang. But he’s disappeared. No one has heard a word since Friday night. Oh Juli, it’s so terrible. I feel so terrible about it.”

Juli put her arm comfortingly round Pamela’s shoulders as Dereck said to her, “Here’s your vanity case.”

He handed it to her, and as their fingers touched, she felt as if her whole arm were on fire. María appeared and opened the gate for them.

“Hello María, what a thing, all this business about the Niño Peter!” Dereck exclaimed. “Where is the Señora?”

“Upstairs, Señor Dereck, in her room.”

“Did you tell Marion that I was coming?” Juli asked suddenly.

“Couldn’t get on,” Dereck said, and glancing at Pamela he asked, “Is the phone working?”
“No, it’s been out of order since Saturday.”

“Well never mind, there’s plenty of room, or have you guests?”

“No.”

“I’ll go and speak to Marion,” Dereck said as they entered the hall, and hurried upstairs. Juli watched his virile movements and thought, “I love him. I love him terribly.”

Pamela, whose sweet round face looked shadowed and pinched, said, “Would you like some tea Juli?”

Juli focused her with difficulty and said “Yes, please, Pam. Just tea, nothing to eat.”

Maria, having understood, returned to the kitchen with Pamela to put the kettle on. Upstairs Juli heard Marion’s voice, raised in protest. “…but Dereck, how could you? Just now, with all this dreadful situation we’re in. No, no, I can’t possibly have her here, it’s too much.”

Gripped by a sudden impulse, Juli ran upstairs and hurried to where Dereck and Marion were standing in the passage.

“Please may I stay Marion,” she said quickly. “I can so understand how anxious you must be about Peter, but I really feel part of the family, especially after the lovely way you treated me when I arrived.” She knew that would have a good effect. “I won’t be any trouble to you and I am almost as anxious about Peter as you are really.”

Marion looked at her with blurred red-rimmed eyed and then said irritably, “Well, since you’re here you may as well stay, but the bed isn’t made… María …”

“I’ll make it,” Juli assured her quickly.

Marion went to the linen cupboard and handed her the bed linen and towels impatiently, then she put a hand to her head. “I don’t feel at all well,” she said. “This has just been all too much! Drugs… I’m so ashamed … and there is no way of hiding the matter from the Smiths living across the street and the Eddisons in the next block. It was too awful. Two police cars… all morning. I’m sure they must have Peter by now. I can’t bare it… I suppose they’ll torture him … Oh! It’s too awful. But why drugs? I just can’t understand it! Dr. James had to come and see me. My heart. I really feel so unwell … and with the Smiths right across the street there is no possible way … Dereck, do you know anyone in the government? Arthurs’s doing what he can but perhaps you…?”

Juli walked down the passage to the ‘blue room’ at the far end – her room – and threw the sheets onto the bed. She felt gripped by a violence hard to contain, the desire to rip and hurt her body – to wrench from its place the lust and desire which crouched, dark and writhing within her – fought with her concern for Peter. What had happened? Where could he be? A gentle tap on the door and María’s voice informed her that tea was ready.

Downstairs, a tray with tea things had been set on the coffee table in front of the fire. Juli sat down and poured herself a cup, drinking it scalding hot as she stared at the flames licking about the edges of a large log in the fireplace. Everything was the same and yet completely different. There seemed to be a faint, cold, grey veil drawn over the whole household.

Dino walked in, saw Juli and started forward with pleasure. “Juli, I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hello, Dino, it was a last minute decision. Dereck couldn’t advise because the telephone here is out of order.”

“Have you heard about Peter?”

“Yes, but without any details. Can you tell me quickly what it’s all about?”

“I’m starved,” he said. “Can we talk in the kitchen while I have something to eat?”

“Of course.” Juli filled her cup once more and followed him into the kitchen. Sitting at the table they talked quietly, relaxing in each other’s company, able at last to be themselves without fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted

“We’re not really clear at all about anything,” Dino said. “I spoke to Sandy and he told me that Peter had become very friendly with some fellow in the last two or three weeks and that he had seen very little of him lately for that reason. The situation between Marion and Peter was pretty bad because he really tried to change as you’d suggested and Marion, well, I told you I think …”

“Yes, she accused him of wasting his time with a new girl-friend and that was why he had failed his exams.”

“Exactly. Peter was so down after that, that it like hurt to be near him. Anyway Arthur realised too, that Marion had gone too far and he tried to help Peter and… I think … they had lunch in town together a couple of times. At least Peter seemed to buck up a bit and he started eating with the family again but he absolutely ignored Marion, just saying the absolute necessary in order not to be rude you know?..That, of course, made her pretty mad and she was always dropping remarks and needling him but he paid no attention, apparently anyway. It was a pretty nasty situation. Explosive, I mean. Then, all of a sudden he began to go out a lot and look much happier. I suppose when he got friendly with this other chap.”

“And then?”

“Well, Saturday morning at about 5.30 a.m. two police cars came, full of policemen, machine guns, the lot, and they came in and literally turned the whole house upside down while we all had to sit in silence in the dining room. They were here practically the whole morning searching every nook and cranny, they even pulled up the moquette in Peter’s room. They took note books and things of his and an officer interviewed each one of us separately all about Peter’s habits and his friends and so on. – they disconnected the phone too and of course got the names and addresses of most of his friends: Sandy, Rita, Quique, Ana, and I don’t know who else and they were all taken to some police station or office and questioned as well.
After the police left, Marion had a sort of breakdown, weeping and shouting … Oh! I don’t know, it was pretty awful. Arthur had to call the doctor and he gave her an injection and put her to sleep and Arthur made us all work until all hours so that everything was in order when she got up yesterday morning.”

“But what do you know about Peter, why did the police come?”
“I was getting there. Arthur has a friend in the Foreign Ministry, so he called him yesterday and asked him to find out what it was all about, and it turned out that Peter was a member of a gang who used to meet in a house in San Fernando and take or smoke drugs.”

“Where’s San Fernando?”

“It’s a suburb about three kilometres further along the coast from here, near Tigre. The police raided this house there on Friday night, and caught most of the gang but for some reason Peter was not there because they only found his little satchel, so now they are looking for him I suppose. That is all we know, or at least what this friend of Arthur’s could find out. Marion insists that they’ve caught Peter and that he’s in prison being tortured and goodness knows what else!”

“Oh, Dino,” Juli murmured. “How awful! Drugs! How can parents be so blind! Poor Peter. What an awful situation! And there’s been no word from him since then?

“As far as I know, nothing, unless Arthur has heard from him today in the office.”

“Marion is in a terrible state, isn’t she? I hardly recognized her, her hair all over the place and her eyes so bloodshot!”

“She cries a lot. María is running the house now, more or less, luckily. Don’t you want anything to eat?”

“No … no thanks. I …”

The kitchen door swung open and Dereck walked in, his cup of tea in his hand.

“Ah, there you are!” he said. “I wondered where everybody had gone.”

Juli felt her throat close about her vocal chords as he sat down at the table with them and began to stir his tea energetically.

“What a business this is about Peter,” he said seriously. “What time does Arthur get back?”

“Between seven and eight usually.”

“It’s six-thirty now. Marion has taken this all this very hard, hasn’t she? One wonders what Peter thought he was doing getting mixed up with a bunch of drug addicts. Honestly! A lovely home and all that goes with it and now he seems to be on the run and without any documents either, apparently. It’s incredible.”

Juli and Dino glanced at each other silently. The gulf between themselves and Dereck and Marion was so great, so unbridgeable. “And yet I love him,” Juli thought. “I’ve never felt this way before! What’s the matter with me? He’s as old as my father. I’m crazy, just plain crazy, just one hundred percent crazy, like Marion!”

But despite herself she could not keep from looking at Dereck’s strong, brown hands, at the little golden hairs which sprouted from the backs of his fingers, at the shape of his nails, and the scar, faint but just visible, on the second joint of his right thumb. She could not keep from looking at his hands, and wanting him to hold her and fondle her. Vaguely she wondered how long she would be able to cope with the storm his presence caused in her.
Pamela appeared at the door at that moment and then came in slowly, a little uncertainly.

“What’s the matter Pammy?” Juli asked gently, glad of the distraction.

“I need some maps and things, but Mummy …”

“Come on, I’ll take you,” Dereck said at once. “Don’t worry Mummy. We’ll go and get all the things you need.”

“Make a list,” Dino said warningly, remembering the many times Pamela had forgotten vital items which had entailed his having to rush off at the last moment to get them before the shop shut. Pamela tore off a piece of paper and Dino lent her a ball-point pen. She wrote down all she had to buy with Dino’s help and once it was complete she left with Dereck, delighted to have her problem solved and to be with her adored uncle.

Dino glanced at his watch. “I have to go,” he said. “I have conservatory now.”

Juli, who had been thinking about Dereck gave a little start and said, “Of course Dino, go, for goodness’ sake!”

Grinning, he rose and began to pile his tea things to take them to the sink.

“Leave them,” Juli said. “I’ll do them with mine.”

“Thanks a lot, Juli. Hey, it’s really good to see you again!”

She looked up into his eyes behind the round lenses of his glasses and smiled, thinking how plain he was compared to Dereck, how pale and delicate in a way, and yet what a nice person he was and how much she liked him.

María came into the kitchen from the ironing room with a pile of freshly ironed laundry as Juli was washing up the tea things.

“How are you María?” she asked.

María, surprised that Juli could speak to her in Spanish, beamed with pleasure and replied, “Muy bien Señorita Juli, how well you speak Spanish now!”

“Only a little, but I am learning. You must talk slowly and then I hope I will understand you. Where are you going with those things?”

“Upstairs.”

“I will take them for you. I am going upstairs now. You have a lot of work now.”

María hesitated and then, smiling, she handed everything into Juli’s outstretched arms. “I must help the Señora,” she said. “Poor lady, she is suffering terribly because of Peter. If only we knew where he was, it would make so much difference.”

“Yes,” Juli nodded. “It would wouldn’t it?”

She took the laundry upstairs and laid it, as María had indicated, on a table outside Marion’s room. As she was about to start down the passage in the direction of her own room she heard Marion calling. “María, María.”
“It’s Juli.”

“Oh Juli, well … could you come a moment.”

Juli pushed open the half closed bedroom door and stood looking towards Marion lying on her bed under the eiderdown. “I just brought up the ironed clothes and put them on the table here,” she said.

“Oh thank you dear. Come in. Come in and sit down. Where is Dereck? I wanted … yes sit in that little chair there.”

Juli seated herself in a small upholstered arm-chair and stared at Marion, wondering how it was possible that anyone could have changed so much in such a short time.

“I’m sure they must have caught him by now, he has no documents you know. Where would he hide? But they wouldn’t tell us, they never do. They’ll keep him locked up and let him rot. That’s the army for you! Look at all the young people who have disappeared. Thousands of them, and now Peter …” Marion began to cry.

“Hush Marion, you’re upsetting yourself with speculations, really you are. He’s probably lying low at some friend’s house and when everything has quietened down he’ll get in touch with Arthur or Sandy or Quique, or someone, and let you know that he’s OK:”

“He has no money …”

“Even more so then …”

“But drugs, Juli. You’re young, why did Peter start doing that? When he had everything he could possibly need, here? You’re his age Juli, almost exactly, what makes young people do that? Turn away from their homes, their parents, their family and start taking drugs … what?”

I don’t know,” Juli said feebly, hating herself for being disloyal to Peter for saying she didn’t know when in reality she felt she did. She glanced quickly round the room. The walls were wall-papered in an all-over blue design, the woodwork was white and the chintz curtains and bedspreads had the same design of flowers and leaves in an all-over pattern. The carpet was white. It was very much a Marion room, cool, elegant, a little distant. She looked back at the woman lying on the bed, her grey hair awry, her eyes wide and staring, with an unnatural gaze and with dark circles beneath them. Her fingers, the paint chipped off her nails, moved restlessly and unceasingly, picking at a knot in the hem of a handkerchief, at a lump in the border of the eiderdown, at a button on her jersey, never still for a moment. Watching them Juli thought, “They reflect her thoughts, they too twitch and fiddle all day long.”

She drew a deep breath and leaned back. She felt strangely sorry for Marion, despite thinking that she had brought all her problems upon herself and that she was over-reacting. She said thoughtfully, “I think Peter is very sensitive, maybe he was a bit jealous of Tony and Pam. Maybe he felt you loved them more than you loved him. Maybe that hurt him a lot and he felt that smoking marihuana it would help him not to care so much.”

Marion jerked up onto an elbow. “I love my three children just the same. I’ve never shown any preference whatsoever! They are my children and I love them,” she said fiercely. “How could you come to such conclusions?”

Juli nodded and gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Marion’s reaction did not surprise her. The older woman sank back on her pillows, as her fingers began to fiddle with a few strands of her hair.

“Why should he have been jealous? So foolish. Everybody is different. Tony is tidy and polite, there is no need to correct him, but Peter is … was …” she gave a little sob. “Oh, where is he? If I knew where he were, then everything would be different. Arthur keeps telling me to buck up and pull myself together, but how can I? How can I when I keep wondering if he is being tortured in prison or shot dead or … if he were free he’d have got in touch already. He has no money, no documents. He would have phoned … asked for help … money …” she talked on jerkily, her jumbled thoughts rising and slipping away, cutting across each other yet ever circling about the same point.

Juli sat listening to her helplessly. She could think of no way to console her hostess except by her silent, compassionate presence. Marion did not really want to converse, she talked compulsively, repeating herself over and over again. “Poor Arthur,” Juli thought. “Marion will drive him crazy if she goes on like this.”

After a while Dereck came in after a brief knock to announce his presence. Juli looked up at him and thought of Mariposa, the algarrobo and caldén trees, the wind the sun and the Pampa skies. Dereck seemed to sum them all up in his broad, vital, suntanned figure, and she felt a surge of longing to be back in the Pampa, away from all the uncomfortable, disturbing drama of Peter’s disappearance. Perhaps there her own personal drama could also be solved..

“Hello Marion, well I’ve just taken Pam to the stationers and bought the place out,” he said cheerfully. “She has all the maps and black ink and pens and pencils and erasers and paper she’ll need for weeks. I hope. It’s quite mild out this evening. I saw the Smiths just now and they asked about Peter. Apparently Smith’s nephew also had a drug problem, it was a terrible blow for the whole family when they found out because he’d been on drugs for years and they never realized it. I’m sure Peter will be able to kick the habit quite easily. After all, from what you tell me he couldn’t have been connected with that group for very long.”

“It’s all very well, but where is Peter? What’s the point of thinking he’d kick the habit easily when he might even be dead? These people who are governing now have no trouble in finding any excuse to use their guns!” Marion cried. “And we’ll never know, … never … never!”

“Marion!”

“There are women who belong to the Plaza de Mayo Mothers whose children disappeared in 1976 and now it’s 1981. Five years Dereck. Five years not knowing if your child is alive or dead!”

Juli rose quietly and left the room, after her glance had touched Dereck’s and he had nodded almost imperceptibly. Marion did not seem to notice. In the passage she met Tony.

“Hello,” he exclaimed with surprise. “I saw Dereck had arrived but I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hi. Yes, it was rather a last minute decision and as you phone wasn’t working …”

“Yes of course. You know about Peter too I suppose?”

“Yes. I was just sitting with your mother. She’s so terribly upset.”

“Tony looked at Juli with a wink and said ironically, “She’s lost her sparring partner. Peter was her safety-valve, she channelled all her irritations through him.”

“Do you think the police have got him?”

“He’s fool enough to have let himself get caught.”

“Tony!”

Tony shrugged. “He was always on about doing what was correct, he might just have felt it was correct to give himself up.”

“But then surely the police would have informed your Dad, or that friend he has in the Ministry?”

“Not necessarily.”

“What’s driving your mother crazy is not knowing …”

“We should invent that he’s been arrested and taken to a special secret prison away in the interior,” Tony said. Juli looked at with a slightly shocked expression and he laughed and added, “I was thinking of story I read, can’t remember who by, where the whole family club together to keep the knowledge of their mother’s favourite son’s death in Uruguay a secret from her. They write letters and forge his handwriting and so on for years and in the end she knew all the time.”

“Aren’t you worried about him Tony?”

“I’m not going to worry about something I can’t remedy, Juli. Peter started taking drugs, I don’t know why, perhaps because he failed those exams or had a row with Ana, who knows? It’s his affair. When we know where he is, then will be the time to find a way of helping him, to worry about that.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I’ll have to go Juli. How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days.”

“Good, we’ll have a talk tomorrow, OK?”

Juli nodded. She had meant to go to her room but somehow she didn’t want to be alone with herself so she decided to go and see if María needed help. She found her peeling vegetables for a stew, so she made a milk pudding to help out and when it was ready she went to the sitting room. Picking up the Buenos Aires Herald, she sank down on the sofa in front of the fire. She felt very tired. The long trip, her own state of emotional upheaval and the atmosphere of nervous tension in the house had left her exhausted. Despite herself, however, the faint hope that Dereck might come downstairs and join her lurked at the back of her mind.

Arthur arrived a little after eight. Juli was amazed to see him looking exactly the same as she remembered him, not haggard and distraught like Marion.

“Juli!” he exclaimed. “How nice to see you! I suppose you came to BA for a few days with Dereck. I saw the car. Well, well, this is a really nice surprise. Good, heavens, didn’t anyone give you a drink?”

Warmed by his evident and sincere pleasure at seeing her, Juli jumped up and kissed him on the cheek, thinking fleetingly of Dereck as she did so.

“I don’t want anything to drink, thanks,” she said. “How are you Arthur?”

“Bearing up my dear, bearing up. This business about Peter is so very worrying and poor Marion is taking it so hard. Most upsetting, how is she?”

“Lying down. Dereck is with her.”

“Oh good.” He sighed and, going over to the table where María had placed a tray with ice, soda and tonic water, he helped himself to a whisky and soda and returned to the fireplace, sinking into an arm-chair with a tired smile.

“Any news?” Juli asked.

“Just a thread … ah Dereck, how are you old chap? Good to see you! Have a drink.”

Dereck walked over to Arthur and patted him comfortingly on the shoulder, saying. “Dreadful thing all this about Peter, Arthur, I’m very sorry …”

“Thank you Dereck.”

“Señor?” Maria’s quiet little voice broke into the conversation.

“Sí María?” Arthur turned and looked at her with a pleasant smile.

“May I serve the dinner?”

“What time is it? Yes of course, in ten minutes time. Will that do?”

“Sí Señor.”

“I’ll go and advise Marion and Pamela,” Arthur said, getting up and heading for the stairs, leaving Juli alone with Dereck. She could find nothing to say which sounded natural. Her heart hammered furiously and she had to sit on her hands to control their trembling. She smiled at him briefly and returned her gaze to the fire, feeling foolish and miserable.

“Marion is a real mess,” Dereck said irritably. “I would never have expected her to go under like this. She just repeats herself over and over again, like a broken record. Good heavens alive, what’s come over her?”

Dinner was rather a dismal affair. Marion, a comb run hastily through her hair, sat with glassy-eyed misery at her usual place, but she hardly ate anything. Pamela kept looking at her, suffering with her mutely, yet unable to sort out in her childish mind the tortuous whys and wherefores between this grieving mother and the mother who had done nothing but criticize and fight with the object of her grief until only a few days earlier.

Dereck and Arthur, in an effort not to mention the subject, talked about golf, the camp Lena and the economic situation. Juli, aching with curiosity to know the thread of news Arthur had come home with, found herself so tense she could hardly swallow. Her pudding, however, was very well received and even Marion ate a tiny portion and was able to take her mind off Peter for a moment to say thank you.

After dinner Pamela was sent off to bed and Marion excused herself, following Pamela upstairs. Juli took advantage of their moving to the sitting room to drink their coffee, to say,” What was the thread of news you mentioned just before dinner, Arthur?”

“Ah yes, well…” Arthur leaned forward in his chair as Dereck tensed, looking alert. “Apparently just a few minutes before the raid Peter went into the kitchen with a fellow called Paco. They had come together. Some of the group had met Paco before but did not know his real name. Others had never met him before, but apparently he was the one who introduced Peter into this group.”

Arthur sipped his coffee thoughtfully before continuing. “It seems that all of a sudden this Paco fellow said something to Peter and they got up and went into the kitchen and that was the last the others saw of them. About ten minutes later the house was raided and the whole bunch was taken off to the police station. The police think this Paco is the fellow who, behind the scenes, provides the drugs or is the middle man of some sort. If that is the case and if he has taken a liking to Peter, then Peter is probably with him and that’s why we have not heard from him.”

“What have the police got on this Paco chap?” Dereck asked quickly.

“For the moment, nothing, but they’re working on it of course.”

“How long had Peter been part of the group?”

“Only a short time, two or three weeks. That’s my great hope, that he’s not really had time to become completely addicted, and that his innate good sense will help him. But if he’s with this Paco individual …. on the other hand, the junkies don’t take drugs , do they? I don’t know what’s worse. Becoming an addict, or becoming a dope peddler. I can’t tell Marion all this, she’s in such a state as it is …”

“I’m sure Peter won’t stay with this Paco,” Juli said impulsively. “I mean … I’m sure he won’t become a dope peddler as you say. He’s too honest.”

Dereck gave a snort of laughter, and said, “You’ll find, Juli, that everyone has his price, even the best of us.”

Juli felt a cry of repudiation rise to lips. To even say such a thing seemed to her an utter betrayal of all that Man stood for, of all the potential good folded into every heart. But she did not say anything. One couldn’t argue these things with ‘grown-ups’. Simply because they had failed, they assumed that, where ethics were concerned, everyone failed sooner or later. Their defeatism and worldliness upset her.

With a great effort she stood up and said lightly, “Well, my price just now is sleep. I think I’ll go to bed now, I find I’m bone tired. What time are you going into the city tomorrow Dereck? I’ve got a whole list of things I want to buy, and I want to go to the British Hospital to start getting onto their health scheme, as you suggested.”

“We’ll leave at eight fifteen,” Dereck replied. “I’ll take you to the Hospital and on the way I’ll tell you how to get to the shopping centres from there.”

“Lovely, thank you. Good night Arthur, ‘night Dereck.”

“Goodnight,” the two men chorused smiling, glad to rest their eyes on someone young and attractive and to forget their worries for a moment or two.

Juli ran upstairs. She had already passed Pamela’s door when it occurred to her that the child might appreciate a quick goodnight kiss. She turned and knocked gently. After a moment a stifled “Who is it?” made her realize that Pamela was crying. She opened the door quickly and went in, her compassionate heart already aching for this child caught in the turbulence of a situation she could not understand, her safe accustomed world shattered and a new world filled with violence, madness and death threatening to engulf all those she knew and loved.

Pamela, fully dressed, was lying on her bed weeping into her pillow so that her sobs would not disturb the rest of the family. Juli hastened over to the bed and knelt beside it, putting her arm around Pamela’s heaving shoulders.

“Don’t cry Pammy, don’t cry,” she murmured. “The police don’t have Peter. Your Dad just told me. He got away just before the raid with another man and this man probably gave him enough money to take a bus far away somewhere and live quietly until it’s safe to come back.”

“But why is Mummy so sad then?” whispered Pamela. “”She cries all the time. She didn’t come to kiss me good night again tonight. She just goes to her room. She always came before. Juli, I don’t understand. Daddy is quite calm and talks about other things but Mummy cries all the time. I sort of feel that she’s crying more because she’s ashamed than because of Peter – she was always cross with him – and then … and then I feel I’m wrong and I feel awful, so guilty. Daddy hides everything, but he’s really worried, he really cares and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Oh Juli, do you think that Peter is really alright? Really really? Or do you think the police have him?

“I’m sure they don’t Pam.”

“I’m so afraid. When I see a policeman I begin to tremble all over. How do they torture people Juli? What do they do to them? I have terrible dreams sometimes, I don’t want to go to sleep because they frighten me. I miss Peter, Juli, I miss him so much. Do you think he’s taking drugs?”

“No, at least, not any more. Look, get undressed and go and have a shower. I’ll wait for you here, may I tidy your room a little while I wait?”

Pamela nodded mutely as she sat up obediently to undress. The relief of having to obey orders again was so great that her tears dried and she dragged on her dressing-gown and hurried off to the bathroom. Thinking about all Pamela had said, Juli piled her dirty clothes into a bundle, sorted and tidied the books and papers strewn about the floor, straightened the tumbled bed-clothes and hung up the child’s skirt and blazer.

“Did you wash your teeth?” she asked when Pamela returned, pink and sweetly smelling, from her shower.

“No … I forgot.”

“Well …”

Pamela disappeared and returned in a couple of minutes, nodding her head.

“Now yes.”

“Right, now brush your hair like mad until it shines. I always do that when I’m depressed.”

Obediently Pamela brushed her hair vigorously for a few minutes while Juli sat on the bed watching her.

“”Now ,” Juli continued. “Get together all you will need for tomorrow. School books, maps, gym things, hockey things, whatever. Get them all ready now.”

Her depression by now almost entirely dispelled, Pamela sorted out all she needed for the following day and placed them in a neat pile alongside a clean blouse, underwear and socks. Juli polished her sturdy brown shoes for her as she did so.

“And now,” Juli went on, full of invigorating energy. “Please put away all those small stones, the paper for your flowers, and sort out all that mess of glue and paints and wire and biscuits and goodness knows what, which you have on your desk. If it stays like that, every time you look at it it’ll remind you of the muddle you feel inside you. The best thing to do just now is to have your room spotlessly clean and tidy, your clothes, your cupboards and everything. Then that will help you to think clearly and not get upset.”

Pamela made a face but she did what she was told and about fifteen minutes later her room really looked habitable once more. Glancing round it with a great sense of satisfaction, she looked at the row of dolls leaning against the radiator under the window.

“I’m a bit big to have all my dolls still, aren’t I?” she said suddenly, “I think I’ll put them all away.”

She got down a kit bag from the top shelf of her cupboard and proceeded to pack away her dolls resolutely. Juli said nothing for she realized that Pamela was packing away her childhood, unconsciously aware that the time for dolls was over and that she must now begin to tread the thorny, difficult path of adolescence.

Once she had packed away the dolls and pushed the kit bag back into the cupboard Pamela crawled into bed and said fervently, “I love you Juli, can we talk?”

“Of course.”

Pamela fiddled with a corner of her, sheet for a few moments before saying bashfully, “I haven’t started the curse yet, Juli. All my friends have and I haven’t. Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“This too,” Juli thought. “Poor Pamela, she certainly has her plateful of problems!” Aloud she said, “But of course not Pamela, what makes you think that?”

“Because my breasts are growing,” Pamela said. “Look.” She pulled up her pyjama top and displayed her gently rounding little breasts.

“Aah,” Juli said comfortingly. “I remember my breasts grew before I got the curse and I didn’t start until I was nearly fourteen.”

“Didn’t you? Oh well then, I’m nearly thirteen so that’s OK. María Elena and Sonia and Josie have all got the curse. What is it Juli? Why do we lose blood? Sonia’s mother said all women bleed a little every month and it’s nothing to worry about but she didn’t say why. Josie’s little bitch also bleeds, but only twice a year and they shut her away from the dogs so that she doesn’t have any more puppies.”

Juli, her heart sinking, thought, “Just my luck to have Marion weeping with self pity at this moment instead of fulfilling her role of mother as she should be!! Now what shall I say?”

Pushing away her desire to reply ‘Well, well, we’ll talk about it all another day,’ she ran her fingers through her hair, raking up from the depths of her memories all that she had felt and learned during those crucial times ten years ago. Only ten years? It seemed a life time!

“All women and lady dogs and cats and rabbits and cows have a little bag inside them in order to be able to have babies. To keep nice and clean, it loses a layer of skin every month and that is what causes the bleeding, but it’s very little blood really. Chickens lay eggs and the chicks grow up inside the egg and when they are big enough they chip their way out. But lots of animals have the egg, like a bag, inside them. The baby grows inside that until it is big enough to be born.”

“And how is it born, through the tummy button?”

Taken aback by Pamela’s innocence, Juli contemplated the child for a long silent moment. At last she said, “No, through a special passage next to where we pee.”

Pamela looked at her aghast. “But there’s no room!” she cried. “I’ve seen a new baby. It’s head is big!”

“Well, but Pamela, the baby’s head is not hard like ours are, and all the mother´s muscles become quite soft and elastic so the baby can slip out quite easily.”

Pamela digested this piece of information seriously, mulling over all that Juli had said while Juli gazed back at her with as much tranquillity as she could muster, girding herself for further difficult questions.

At last Pamela said reflectively, “I see, so that’s how babies are born. And I suppose the baby’s soul really does slip down a moon-beam into that little bag when it wants, you know, for that baby to be a person. Dogs don’t have souls, our Sunday School teacher told us that, she told us about the moon-beam too.”

“That was a spot of inspiration.” Juli thought, imagining the Sunday School teacher’s embarrassment at being asked where babies came from. She smiled and said mildly, “Don’t you think you had better catch a moon-beam and go to sleep now? It’s quite late.”

Pamela snuggled down grinning. “When I get the curse,” she said. “Do you think a baby’s soul would like to come into me? I’d love to have a baby.”

Imagining Marion’s horror at such an event, Juli controlled her desire to burst out laughing and said seriously, “I think it would want a Daddy too. Daddies are very important people.”

“Yes,” Pamela agreed after a moment’s thought. “It would probably want a Daddy too, wouldn’t it? What a pity. My Daddy wouldn’t do would he?”

“No, he’d have to be the Grampa.”

“Mmm, yes,” Pamela yawned, then she said suddenly, “Do you pray at night?”

“Yes, why?”

“Why don’t we pray the Our Father together?” Pamela said. “For Peter. He must be feeling so terribly lonely.”

“And I thought we had managed to forget Peter,” Juli thought wryly. Aloud she said “Yes let’s, I think that’s a great idea. Marina, Tishy and I always say our prayers together every night.”

“Do you?” said Pamela, pleased. Juli lit one of the many candles on Pamela’s desk, another of her collections, and turned out the light. Together they murmured the Lord’s Prayer, the words lapping gently about their sorrowing hearts, healing and consoling them.

“Goodnight,” Juli whispered, leaning over and kissing Pamela goodnight. “Sleep well.”

“Oh Juli, I do love you so,” Pamela sighed. “Can’t you stay here with us?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, I have to look after Marina and Tishy.”

“Oh, bother them,” Pamela giggled sleepily. “…g,night.”

Juli blew out the candle and left the room.

……………………………………..

Chapter 6

Dereck and Juli arrived at the Carlies at five in the afternoon just as Pamela arrived from school

“Uncle Dereck,” she cried rushing up to him and flinging her arms around his neck as he caught her up in his arms and kissed her warmly. Julli stared at them, overwhelmed by a stab of pain so intense she found difficulty in breathing. “That’s what I want, to be in Dereck’s arms, to be hugged by him, kissed by him … Oh my God, what’s happened to me?” She whispered.

The force of her feelings engulfed her. Shocked, she leaned forward in the car trying to control the turmoil of emotions which had suddenly been triggered off within her. Pamela wriggled out of Dereck’s embrace and spoke to him in a low voice. Juli heard him give a low shocked exclamation and then the murmur of their voices again. The pause gave her time to collect herself and regain control and presence of mind. She got out of the car and walked over to join them, saying a little breathlessly, “Hi, Pamela how’s everything?”

“Peter’s disappeared,” Pamela said, her eyes full of tears.

“He’s what?”

“Now then Pam,” Dereck said hastily, “I’ll find out everything from Mummy…”

“I’ve told you everything. That’s all any of us know. Mummy just cries most of the time.”

Juli stared at Pamela trying to understand her, trying to incorporate this new and appalling piece of news into her already numbed mind.

“What happened?” she asked, as Dereck rang the bell.

“He was one of a gang of people caught taking drugs in San Fernando. But we don’t know if he was caught because the police came here and searched the whole house. Yesterday Daddy said the police don’t have him but they found his little satchel with all his documents and so they knew he was part of the gang. But he’s disappeared. No one has heard a word since Friday night. Oh Juli, it’s so terrible. I feel so terrible about it.”

Juli put her arm comfortingly round Pamela’s shoulders as Dereck said to her, “Here’s your vanity case.”

He handed it to her, and as their fingers touched, she felt as if her whole arm were on fire. María appeared and opened the gate for them.

“Hello María, what a thing, all this business about the Niño Peter!” Dereck exclaimed. “Where is the Señora?”

“Upstairs, Señor Dereck, in her room.”

“Did you tell Marion that I was coming?” Juli asked suddenly.

“Couldn’t get on,” Dereck said, and glancing at Pamela he asked, “Is the phone working?”
“No, it’s been out of order since Saturday.”

“Well never mind, there’s plenty of room, or have you guests?”

“No.”

“I’ll go and speak to Marion,” Dereck said as they entered the hall, and hurried upstairs. Juli watched his virile movements and thought, “I love him. I love him terribly.”

Pamela, whose sweet round face looked shadowed and pinched, said, “Would you like some tea Juli?”

Juli focused her with difficulty and said “Yes, please, Pam. Just tea, nothing to eat.”

Maria, having understood, returned to the kitchen with Pamela to put the kettle on. Upstairs Juli heard Marion’s voice, raised in protest. “…but Dereck, how could you? Just now, with all this dreadful situation we’re in. No, no, I can’t possibly have her here, it’s too much.”

Gripped by a sudden impulse, Juli ran upstairs and hurried to where Dereck and Marion were standing in the passage.

“Please may I stay Marion,” she said quickly. “I can so understand how anxious you must be about Peter, but I really feel part of the family, especially after the lovely way you treated me when I arrived.” She knew that would have a good effect. “I won’t be any trouble to you and I am almost as anxious about Peter as you are really.”

Marion looked at her with blurred red-rimmed eyed and then said irritably, “Well, since you’re here you may as well stay, but the bed isn’t made… María …”

“I’ll make it,” Juli assured her quickly.

Marion went to the linen cupboard and handed her the bed linen and towels impatiently, then she put a hand to her head. “I don’t feel at all well,” she said. “This has just been all too much! Drugs… I’m so ashamed … and there is no way of hiding the matter from the Smiths living across the street and the Eddisons in the next block. It was too awful. Two police cars… all morning. I’m sure they must have Peter by now. I can’t bare it… I suppose they’ll torture him … Oh! It’s too awful. But why drugs? I just can’t understand it! Dr. James had to come and see me. My heart. I really feel so unwell … and with the Smiths right across the street there is no possible way … Dereck, do you know anyone in the government? Arthurs’s doing what he can but perhaps you…?”

Juli walked down the passage to the ‘blue room’ at the far end – her room – and threw the sheets onto the bed. She felt gripped by a violence hard to contain, the desire to rip and hurt her body – to wrench from its place the lust and desire which crouched, dark and writhing within her – fought with her concern for Peter. What had happened? Where could he be? A gentle tap on the door and María’s voice informed her that tea was ready.

Downstairs, a tray with tea things had been set on the coffee table in front of the fire. Juli sat down and poured herself a cup, drinking it scalding hot as she stared at the flames licking about the edges of a large log in the fireplace. Everything was the same and yet completely different. There seemed to be a faint, cold, grey veil drawn over the whole household.

Dino walked in, saw Juli and started forward with pleasure. “Juli, I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hello, Dino, it was a last minute decision. Dereck couldn’t advise because the telephone here is out of order.”

“Have you heard about Peter?”

“Yes, but without any details. Can you tell me quickly what it’s all about?”

“I’m starved,” he said. “Can we talk in the kitchen while I have something to eat?”

“Of course.” Juli filled her cup once more and followed him into the kitchen. Sitting at the table they talked quietly, relaxing in each other’s company, able at last to be themselves without fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted

“We’re not really clear at all about anything,” Dino said. “I spoke to Sandy and he told me that Peter had become very friendly with some fellow in the last two or three weeks and that he had seen very little of him lately for that reason. The situation between Marion and Peter was pretty bad because he really tried to change as you’d suggested and Marion, well, I told you I think …”

“Yes, she accused him of wasting his time with a new girl-friend and that was why he had failed his exams.”

“Exactly. Peter was so down after that, that it like hurt to be near him. Anyway Arthur realised too, that Marion had gone too far and he tried to help Peter and… I think … they had lunch in town together a couple of times. At least Peter seemed to buck up a bit and he started eating with the family again but he absolutely ignored Marion, just saying the absolute necessary in order not to be rude you know?..That, of course, made her pretty mad and she was always dropping remarks and needling him but he paid no attention, apparently anyway. It was a pretty nasty situation. Explosive, I mean. Then, all of a sudden he began to go out a lot and look much happier. I suppose when he got friendly with this other chap.”

“And then?”

“Well, Saturday morning at about 5.30 a.m. two police cars came, full of policemen, machine guns, the lot, and they came in and literally turned the whole house upside down while we all had to sit in silence in the dining room. They were here practically the whole morning searching every nook and cranny, they even pulled up the moquette in Peter’s room. They took note books and things of his and an officer interviewed each one of us separately all about Peter’s habits and his friends and so on. – they disconnected the phone too and of course got the names and addresses of most of his friends: Sandy, Rita, Quique, Ana, and I don’t know who else and they were all taken to some police station or office and questioned as well.
After the police left, Marion had a sort of breakdown, weeping and shouting … Oh! I don’t know, it was pretty awful. Arthur had to call the doctor and he gave her an injection and put her to sleep and Arthur made us all work until all hours so that everything was in order when she got up yesterday morning.”

“But what do you know about Peter, why did the police come?”
“I was getting there. Arthur has a friend in the Foreign Ministry, so he called him yesterday and asked him to find out what it was all about, and it turned out that Peter was a member of a gang who used to meet in a house in San Fernando and take or smoke drugs.”

“Where’s San Fernando?”

“It’s a suburb about three kilometres further along the coast from here, near Tigre. The police raided this house there on Friday night, and caught most of the gang but for some reason Peter was not there because they only found his little satchel, so now they are looking for him I suppose. That is all we know, or at least what this friend of Arthur’s could find out. Marion insists that they’ve caught Peter and that he’s in prison being tortured and goodness knows what else!”

“Oh, Dino,” Juli murmured. “How awful! Drugs! How can parents be so blind! Poor Peter. What an awful situation! And there’s been no word from him since then?

“As far as I know, nothing, unless Arthur has heard from him today in the office.”

“Marion is in a terrible state, isn’t she? I hardly recognized her, her hair all over the place and her eyes so bloodshot!”

“She cries a lot. María is running the house now, more or less, luckily. Don’t you want anything to eat?”

“No … no thanks. I …”

The kitchen door swung open and Dereck walked in, his cup of tea in his hand.

“Ah, there you are!” he said. “I wondered where everybody had gone.”

Juli felt her throat close about her vocal chords as he sat down at the table with them and began to stir his tea energetically.

“What a business this is about Peter,” he said seriously. “What time does Arthur get back?”

“Between seven and eight usually.”

“It’s six-thirty now. Marion has taken this all this very hard, hasn’t she? One wonders what Peter thought he was doing getting mixed up with a bunch of drug addicts. Honestly! A lovely home and all that goes with it and now he seems to be on the run and without any documents either, apparently. It’s incredible.”

Juli and Dino glanced at each other silently. The gulf between themselves and Dereck and Marion was so great, so unbridgeable. “And yet I love him,” Juli thought. “I’ve never felt this way before! What’s the matter with me? He’s as old as my father. I’m crazy, just plain crazy, just one hundred percent crazy, like Marion!”

But despite herself she could not keep from looking at Dereck’s strong, brown hands, at the little golden hairs which sprouted from the backs of his fingers, at the shape of his nails, and the scar, faint but just visible, on the second joint of his right thumb. She could not keep from looking at his hands, and wanting him to hold her and fondle her. Vaguely she wondered how long she would be able to cope with the storm his presence caused in her.
Pamela appeared at the door at that moment and then came in slowly, a little uncertainly.

“What’s the matter Pammy?” Juli asked gently, glad of the distraction.

“I need some maps and things, but Mummy …”

“Come on, I’ll take you,” Dereck said at once. “Don’t worry Mummy. We’ll go and get all the things you need.”

“Make a list,” Dino said warningly, remembering the many times Pamela had forgotten vital items which had entailed his having to rush off at the last moment to get them before the shop shut. Pamela tore off a piece of paper and Dino lent her a ball-point pen. She wrote down all she had to buy with Dino’s help and once it was complete she left with Dereck, delighted to have her problem solved and to be with her adored uncle.

Dino glanced at his watch. “I have to go,” he said. “I have conservatory now.”

Juli, who had been thinking about Dereck gave a little start and said, “Of course Dino, go, for goodness’ sake!”

Grinning, he rose and began to pile his tea things to take them to the sink.

“Leave them,” Juli said. “I’ll do them with mine.”

“Thanks a lot, Juli. Hey, it’s really good to see you again!”

She looked up into his eyes behind the round lenses of his glasses and smiled, thinking how plain he was compared to Dereck, how pale and delicate in a way, and yet what a nice person he was and how much she liked him.

María came into the kitchen from the ironing room with a pile of freshly ironed laundry as Juli was washing up the tea things.

“How are you María?” she asked.

María, surprised that Juli could speak to her in Spanish, beamed with pleasure and replied, “Muy bien Señorita Juli, how well you speak Spanish now!”

“Only a little, but I am learning. You must talk slowly and then I hope I will understand you. Where are you going with those things?”

“Upstairs.”

“I will take them for you. I am going upstairs now. You have a lot of work now.”

María hesitated and then, smiling, she handed everything into Juli’s outstretched arms. “I must help the Señora,” she said. “Poor lady, she is suffering terribly because of Peter. If only we knew where he was, it would make so much difference.”

“Yes,” Juli nodded. “It would wouldn’t it?”

She took the laundry upstairs and laid it, as María had indicated, on a table outside Marion’s room. As she was about to start down the passage in the direction of her own room she heard Marion calling. “María, María.”
“It’s Juli.”

“Oh Juli, well … could you come a moment.”

Juli pushed open the half closed bedroom door and stood looking towards Marion lying on her bed under the eiderdown. “I just brought up the ironed clothes and put them on the table here,” she said.

“Oh thank you dear. Come in. Come in and sit down. Where is Dereck? I wanted … yes sit in that little chair there.”

Juli seated herself in a small upholstered arm-chair and stared at Marion, wondering how it was possible that anyone could have changed so much in such a short time.

“I’m sure they must have caught him by now, he has no documents you know. Where would he hide? But they wouldn’t tell us, they never do. They’ll keep him locked up and let him rot. That’s the army for you! Look at all the young people who have disappeared. Thousands of them, and now Peter …” Marion began to cry.

“Hush Marion, you’re upsetting yourself with speculations, really you are. He’s probably lying low at some friend’s house and when everything has quietened down he’ll get in touch with Arthur or Sandy or Quique, or someone, and let you know that he’s OK:”

“He has no money …”

“Even more so then …”

“But drugs, Juli. You’re young, why did Peter start doing that? When he had everything he could possibly need, here? You’re his age Juli, almost exactly, what makes young people do that? Turn away from their homes, their parents, their family and start taking drugs … what?”

I don’t know,” Juli said feebly, hating herself for being disloyal to Peter for saying she didn’t know when in reality she felt she did. She glanced quickly round the room. The walls were wall-papered in an all-over blue design, the woodwork was white and the chintz curtains and bedspreads had the same design of flowers and leaves in an all-over pattern. The carpet was white. It was very much a Marion room, cool, elegant, a little distant. She looked back at the woman lying on the bed, her grey hair awry, her eyes wide and staring, with an unnatural gaze and with dark circles beneath them. Her fingers, the paint chipped off her nails, moved restlessly and unceasingly, picking at a knot in the hem of a handkerchief, at a lump in the border of the eiderdown, at a button on her jersey, never still for a moment. Watching them Juli thought, “They reflect her thoughts, they too twitch and fiddle all day long.”

She drew a deep breath and leaned back. She felt strangely sorry for Marion, despite thinking that she had brought all her problems upon herself and that she was over-reacting. She said thoughtfully, “I think Peter is very sensitive, maybe he was a bit jealous of Tony and Pam. Maybe he felt you loved them more than you loved him. Maybe that hurt him a lot and he felt that smoking marihuana it would help him not to care so much.”

Marion jerked up onto an elbow. “I love my three children just the same. I’ve never shown any preference whatsoever! They are my children and I love them,” she said fiercely. “How could you come to such conclusions?”

Juli nodded and gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Marion’s reaction did not surprise her. The older woman sank back on her pillows, as her fingers began to fiddle with a few strands of her hair.

“Why should he have been jealous? So foolish. Everybody is different. Tony is tidy and polite, there is no need to correct him, but Peter is … was …” she gave a little sob. “Oh, where is he? If I knew where he were, then everything would be different. Arthur keeps telling me to buck up and pull myself together, but how can I? How can I when I keep wondering if he is being tortured in prison or shot dead or … if he were free he’d have got in touch already. He has no money, no documents. He would have phoned … asked for help … money …” she talked on jerkily, her jumbled thoughts rising and slipping away, cutting across each other yet ever circling about the same point.

Juli sat listening to her helplessly. She could think of no way to console her hostess except by her silent, compassionate presence. Marion did not really want to converse, she talked compulsively, repeating herself over and over again. “Poor Arthur,” Juli thought. “Marion will drive him crazy if she goes on like this.”

After a while Dereck came in after a brief knock to announce his presence. Juli looked up at him and thought of Mariposa, the algarrobo and caldén trees, the wind the sun and the Pampa skies. Dereck seemed to sum them all up in his broad, vital, suntanned figure, and she felt a surge of longing to be back in the Pampa, away from all the uncomfortable, disturbing drama of Peter’s disappearance. Perhaps there her own personal drama could also be solved..

“Hello Marion, well I’ve just taken Pam to the stationers and bought the place out,” he said cheerfully. “She has all the maps and black ink and pens and pencils and erasers and paper she’ll need for weeks. I hope. It’s quite mild out this evening. I saw the Smiths just now and they asked about Peter. Apparently Smith’s nephew also had a drug problem, it was a terrible blow for the whole family when they found out because he’d been on drugs for years and they never realized it. I’m sure Peter will be able to kick the habit quite easily. After all, from what you tell me he couldn’t have been connected with that group for very long.”

“It’s all very well, but where is Peter? What’s the point of thinking he’d kick the habit easily when he might even be dead? These people who are governing now have no trouble in finding any excuse to use their guns!” Marion cried. “And we’ll never know, … never … never!”

“Marion!”

“There are women who belong to the Plaza de Mayo Mothers whose children disappeared in 1976 and now it’s 1981. Five years Dereck. Five years not knowing if your child is alive or dead!”

Juli rose quietly and left the room, after her glance had touched Dereck’s and he had nodded almost imperceptibly. Marion did not seem to notice. In the passage she met Tony.

“Hello,” he exclaimed with surprise. “I saw Dereck had arrived but I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hi. Yes, it was rather a last minute decision and as you phone wasn’t working …”

“Yes of course. You know about Peter too I suppose?”

“Yes. I was just sitting with your mother. She’s so terribly upset.”

“Tony looked at Juli with a wink and said ironically, “She’s lost her sparring partner. Peter was her safety-valve, she channelled all her irritations through him.”

“Do you think the police have got him?”

“He’s fool enough to have let himself get caught.”

“Tony!”

Tony shrugged. “He was always on about doing what was correct, he might just have felt it was correct to give himself up.”

“But then surely the police would have informed your Dad, or that friend he has in the Ministry?”

“Not necessarily.”

“What’s driving your mother crazy is not knowing …”

“We should invent that he’s been arrested and taken to a special secret prison away in the interior,” Tony said. Juli looked at with a slightly shocked expression and he laughed and added, “I was thinking of story I read, can’t remember who by, where the whole family club together to keep the knowledge of their mother’s favourite son’s death in Uruguay a secret from her. They write letters and forge his handwriting and so on for years and in the end she knew all the time.”

“Aren’t you worried about him Tony?”

“I’m not going to worry about something I can’t remedy, Juli. Peter started taking drugs, I don’t know why, perhaps because he failed those exams or had a row with Ana, who knows? It’s his affair. When we know where he is, then will be the time to find a way of helping him, to worry about that.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I’ll have to go Juli. How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days.”

“Good, we’ll have a talk tomorrow, OK?”

Juli nodded. She had meant to go to her room but somehow she didn’t want to be alone with herself so she decided to go and see if María needed help. She found her peeling vegetables for a stew, so she made a milk pudding to help out and when it was ready she went to the sitting room. Picking up the Buenos Aires Herald, she sank down on the sofa in front of the fire. She felt very tired. The long trip, her own state of emotional upheaval and the atmosphere of nervous tension in the house had left her exhausted. Despite herself, however, the faint hope that Dereck might come downstairs and join her lurked at the back of her mind.

Arthur arrived a little after eight. Juli was amazed to see him looking exactly the same as she remembered him, not haggard and distraught like Marion.

“Juli!” he exclaimed. “How nice to see you! I suppose you came to BA for a few days with Dereck. I saw the car. Well, well, this is a really nice surprise. Good, heavens, didn’t anyone give you a drink?”

Warmed by his evident and sincere pleasure at seeing her, Juli jumped up and kissed him on the cheek, thinking fleetingly of Dereck as she did so.

“I don’t want anything to drink, thanks,” she said. “How are you Arthur?”

“Bearing up my dear, bearing up. This business about Peter is so very worrying and poor Marion is taking it so hard. Most upsetting, how is she?”

“Lying down. Dereck is with her.”

“Oh good.” He sighed and, going over to the table where María had placed a tray with ice, soda and tonic water, he helped himself to a whisky and soda and returned to the fireplace, sinking into an arm-chair with a tired smile.

“Any news?” Juli asked.

“Just a thread … ah Dereck, how are you old chap? Good to see you! Have a drink.”

Dereck walked over to Arthur and patted him comfortingly on the shoulder, saying. “Dreadful thing all this about Peter, Arthur, I’m very sorry …”

“Thank you Dereck.”

“Señor?” Maria’s quiet little voice broke into the conversation.

“Sí María?” Arthur turned and looked at her with a pleasant smile.

“May I serve the dinner?”

“What time is it? Yes of course, in ten minutes time. Will that do?”

“Sí Señor.”

“I’ll go and advise Marion and Pamela,” Arthur said, getting up and heading for the stairs, leaving Juli alone with Dereck. She could find nothing to say which sounded natural. Her heart hammered furiously and she had to sit on her hands to control their trembling. She smiled at him briefly and returned her gaze to the fire, feeling foolish and miserable.

“Marion is a real mess,” Dereck said irritably. “I would never have expected her to go under like this. She just repeats herself over and over again, like a broken record. Good heavens alive, what’s come over her?”

Dinner was rather a dismal affair. Marion, a comb run hastily through her hair, sat with glassy-eyed misery at her usual place, but she hardly ate anything. Pamela kept looking at her, suffering with her mutely, yet unable to sort out in her childish mind the tortuous whys and wherefores between this grieving mother and the mother who had done nothing but criticize and fight with the object of her grief until only a few days earlier.

Dereck and Arthur, in an effort not to mention the subject, talked about golf, the camp Lena and the economic situation. Juli, aching with curiosity to know the thread of news Arthur had come home with, found herself so tense she could hardly swallow. Her pudding, however, was very well received and even Marion ate a tiny portion and was able to take her mind off Peter for a moment to say thank you.

After dinner Pamela was sent off to bed and Marion excused herself, following Pamela upstairs. Juli took advantage of their moving to the sitting room to drink their coffee, to say,” What was the thread of news you mentioned just before dinner, Arthur?”

“Ah yes, well…” Arthur leaned forward in his chair as Dereck tensed, looking alert. “Apparently just a few minutes before the raid Peter went into the kitchen with a fellow called Paco. They had come together. Some of the group had met Paco before but did not know his real name. Others had never met him before, but apparently he was the one who introduced Peter into this group.”

Arthur sipped his coffee thoughtfully before continuing. “It seems that all of a sudden this Paco fellow said something to Peter and they got up and went into the kitchen and that was the last the others saw of them. About ten minutes later the house was raided and the whole bunch was taken off to the police station. The police think this Paco is the fellow who, behind the scenes, provides the drugs or is the middle man of some sort. If that is the case and if he has taken a liking to Peter, then Peter is probably with him and that’s why we have not heard from him.”

“What have the police got on this Paco chap?” Dereck asked quickly.

“For the moment, nothing, but they’re working on it of course.”

“How long had Peter been part of the group?”

“Only a short time, two or three weeks. That’s my great hope, that he’s not really had time to become completely addicted, and that his innate good sense will help him. But if he’s with this Paco individual …. on the other hand, the junkies don’t take drugs , do they? I don’t know what’s worse. Becoming an addict, or becoming a dope peddler. I can’t tell Marion all this, she’s in such a state as it is …”

“I’m sure Peter won’t stay with this Paco,” Juli said impulsively. “I mean … I’m sure he won’t become a dope peddler as you say. He’s too honest.”

Dereck gave a snort of laughter, and said, “You’ll find, Juli, that everyone has his price, even the best of us.”

Juli felt a cry of repudiation rise to lips. To even say such a thing seemed to her an utter betrayal of all that Man stood for, of all the potential good folded into every heart. But she did not say anything. One couldn’t argue these things with ‘grown-ups’. Simply because they had failed, they assumed that, where ethics were concerned, everyone failed sooner or later. Their defeatism and worldliness upset her.

With a great effort she stood up and said lightly, “Well, my price just now is sleep. I think I’ll go to bed now, I find I’m bone tired. What time are you going into the city tomorrow Dereck? I’ve got a whole list of things I want to buy, and I want to go to the British Hospital to start getting onto their health scheme, as you suggested.”

“We’ll leave at eight fifteen,” Dereck replied. “I’ll take you to the Hospital and on the way I’ll tell you how to get to the shopping centres from there.”

“Lovely, thank you. Good night Arthur, ‘night Dereck.”

“Goodnight,” the two men chorused smiling, glad to rest their eyes on someone young and attractive and to forget their worries for a moment or two.

Juli ran upstairs. She had already passed Pamela’s door when it occurred to her that the child might appreciate a quick goodnight kiss. She turned and knocked gently. After a moment a stifled “Who is it?” made her realize that Pamela was crying. She opened the door quickly and went in, her compassionate heart already aching for this child caught in the turbulence of a situation she could not understand, her safe accustomed world shattered and a new world filled with violence, madness and death threatening to engulf all those she knew and loved.

Pamela, fully dressed, was lying on her bed weeping into her pillow so that her sobs would not disturb the rest of the family. Juli hastened over to the bed and knelt beside it, putting her arm around Pamela’s heaving shoulders.

“Don’t cry Pammy, don’t cry,” she murmured. “The police don’t have Peter. Your Dad just told me. He got away just before the raid with another man and this man probably gave him enough money to take a bus far away somewhere and live quietly until it’s safe to come back.”

“But why is Mummy so sad then?” whispered Pamela. “”She cries all the time. She didn’t come to kiss me good night again tonight. She just goes to her room. She always came before. Juli, I don’t understand. Daddy is quite calm and talks about other things but Mummy cries all the time. I sort of feel that she’s crying more because she’s ashamed than because of Peter – she was always cross with him – and then … and then I feel I’m wrong and I feel awful, so guilty. Daddy hides everything, but he’s really worried, he really cares and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Oh Juli, do you think that Peter is really alright? Really really? Or do you think the police have him?

“I’m sure they don’t Pam.”

“I’m so afraid. When I see a policeman I begin to tremble all over. How do they torture people Juli? What do they do to them? I have terrible dreams sometimes, I don’t want to go to sleep because they frighten me. I miss Peter, Juli, I miss him so much. Do you think he’s taking drugs?”

“No, at least, not any more. Look, get undressed and go and have a shower. I’ll wait for you here, may I tidy your room a little while I wait?”

Pamela nodded mutely as she sat up obediently to undress. The relief of having to obey orders again was so great that her tears dried and she dragged on her dressing-gown and hurried off to the bathroom. Thinking about all Pamela had said, Juli piled her dirty clothes into a bundle, sorted and tidied the books and papers strewn about the floor, straightened the tumbled bed-clothes and hung up the child’s skirt and blazer.

“Did you wash your teeth?” she asked when Pamela returned, pink and sweetly smelling, from her shower.

“No … I forgot.”

“Well …”

Pamela disappeared and returned in a couple of minutes, nodding her head.

“Now yes.”

“Right, now brush your hair like mad until it shines. I always do that when I’m depressed.”

Obediently Pamela brushed her hair vigorously for a few minutes while Juli sat on the bed watching her.

“”Now ,” Juli continued. “Get together all you will need for tomorrow. School books, maps, gym things, hockey things, whatever. Get them all ready now.”

Her depression by now almost entirely dispelled, Pamela sorted out all she needed for the following day and placed them in a neat pile alongside a clean blouse, underwear and socks. Juli polished her sturdy brown shoes for her as she did so.

“And now,” Juli went on, full of invigorating energy. “Please put away all those small stones, the paper for your flowers, and sort out all that mess of glue and paints and wire and biscuits and goodness knows what, which you have on your desk. If it stays like that, every time you look at it it’ll remind you of the muddle you feel inside you. The best thing to do just now is to have your room spotlessly clean and tidy, your clothes, your cupboards and everything. Then that will help you to think clearly and not get upset.”

Pamela made a face but she did what she was told and about fifteen minutes later her room really looked habitable once more. Glancing round it with a great sense of satisfaction, she looked at the row of dolls leaning against the radiator under the window.

“I’m a bit big to have all my dolls still, aren’t I?” she said suddenly, “I think I’ll put them all away.”

She got down a kit bag from the top shelf of her cupboard and proceeded to pack away her dolls resolutely. Juli said nothing for she realized that Pamela was packing away her childhood, unconsciously aware that the time for dolls was over and that she must now begin to tread the thorny, difficult path of adolescence.

Once she had packed away the dolls and pushed the kit bag back into the cupboard Pamela crawled into bed and said fervently, “I love you Juli, can we talk?”

“Of course.”

Pamela fiddled with a corner of her, sheet for a few moments before saying bashfully, “I haven’t started the curse yet, Juli. All my friends have and I haven’t. Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“This too,” Juli thought. “Poor Pamela, she certainly has her plateful of problems!” Aloud she said, “But of course not Pamela, what makes you think that?”

“Because my breasts are growing,” Pamela said. “Look.” She pulled up her pyjama top and displayed her gently rounding little breasts.

“Aah,” Juli said comfortingly. “I remember my breasts grew before I got the curse and I didn’t start until I was nearly fourteen.”

“Didn’t you? Oh well then, I’m nearly thirteen so that’s OK. María Elena and Sonia and Josie have all got the curse. What is it Juli? Why do we lose blood? Sonia’s mother said all women bleed a little every month and it’s nothing to worry about but she didn’t say why. Josie’s little bitch also bleeds, but only twice a year and they shut her away from the dogs so that she doesn’t have any more puppies.”

Juli, her heart sinking, thought, “Just my luck to have Marion weeping with self pity at this moment instead of fulfilling her role of mother as she should be!! Now what shall I say?”

Pushing away her desire to reply ‘Well, well, we’ll talk about it all another day,’ she ran her fingers through her hair, raking up from the depths of her memories all that she had felt and learned during those crucial times ten years ago. Only ten years? It seemed a life time!

“All women and lady dogs and cats and rabbits and cows have a little bag inside them in order to be able to have babies. To keep nice and clean, it loses a layer of skin every month and that is what causes the bleeding, but it’s very little blood really. Chickens lay eggs and the chicks grow up inside the egg and when they are big enough they chip their way out. But lots of animals have the egg, like a bag, inside them. The baby grows inside that until it is big enough to be born.”

“And how is it born, through the tummy button?”

Taken aback by Pamela’s innocence, Juli contemplated the child for a long silent moment. At last she said, “No, through a special passage next to where we pee.”

Pamela looked at her aghast. “But there’s no room!” she cried. “I’ve seen a new baby. It’s head is big!”

“Well, but Pamela, the baby’s head is not hard like ours are, and all the mother´s muscles become quite soft and elastic so the baby can slip out quite easily.”

Pamela digested this piece of information seriously, mulling over all that Juli had said while Juli gazed back at her with as much tranquillity as she could muster, girding herself for further difficult questions.

At last Pamela said reflectively, “I see, so that’s how babies are born. And I suppose the baby’s soul really does slip down a moon-beam into that little bag when it wants, you know, for that baby to be a person. Dogs don’t have souls, our Sunday School teacher told us that, she told us about the moon-beam too.”

“That was a spot of inspiration.” Juli thought, imagining the Sunday School teacher’s embarrassment at being asked where babies came from. She smiled and said mildly, “Don’t you think you had better catch a moon-beam and go to sleep now? It’s quite late.”

Pamela snuggled down grinning. “When I get the curse,” she said. “Do you think a baby’s soul would like to come into me? I’d love to have a baby.”

Imagining Marion’s horror at such an event, Juli controlled her desire to burst out laughing and said seriously, “I think it would want a Daddy too. Daddies are very important people.”

“Yes,” Pamela agreed after a moment’s thought. “It would probably want a Daddy too, wouldn’t it? What a pity. My Daddy wouldn’t do would he?”

“No, he’d have to be the Grampa.”

“Mmm, yes,” Pamela yawned, then she said suddenly, “Do you pray at night?”

“Yes, why?”

“Why don’t we pray the Our Father together?” Pamela said. “For Peter. He must be feeling so terribly lonely.”

“And I thought we had managed to forget Peter,” Juli thought wryly. Aloud she said “Yes let’s, I think that’s a great idea. Marina, Tishy and I always say our prayers together every night.”

“Do you?” said Pamela, pleased. Juli lit one of the many candles on Pamela’s desk, another of her collections, and turned out the light. Together they murmured the Lord’s Prayer, the words lapping gently about their sorrowing hearts, healing and consoling them.

“Goodnight,” Juli whispered, leaning over and kissing Pamela goodnight. “Sleep well.”

“Oh Juli, I do love you so,” Pamela sighed. “Can’t you stay here with us?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, I have to look after Marina and Tishy.”

“Oh, bother them,” Pamela giggled sleepily. “…g,night.”

Juli blew out the candle and left the room.

……………………………………..

Chapter 6

Dereck and Juli arrived at the Carlies at five in the afternoon just as Pamela arrived from school

“Uncle Dereck,” she cried rushing up to him and flinging her arms around his neck as he caught her up in his arms and kissed her warmly. Julli stared at them, overwhelmed by a stab of pain so intense she found difficulty in breathing. “That’s what I want, to be in Dereck’s arms, to be hugged by him, kissed by him … Oh my God, what’s happened to me?” She whispered.

The force of her feelings engulfed her. Shocked, she leaned forward in the car trying to control the turmoil of emotions which had suddenly been triggered off within her. Pamela wriggled out of Dereck’s embrace and spoke to him in a low voice. Juli heard him give a low shocked exclamation and then the murmur of their voices again. The pause gave her time to collect herself and regain control and presence of mind. She got out of the car and walked over to join them, saying a little breathlessly, “Hi, Pamela how’s everything?”

“Peter’s disappeared,” Pamela said, her eyes full of tears.

“He’s what?”

“Now then Pam,” Dereck said hastily, “I’ll find out everything from Mummy…”

“I’ve told you everything. That’s all any of us know. Mummy just cries most of the time.”

Juli stared at Pamela trying to understand her, trying to incorporate this new and appalling piece of news into her already numbed mind.

“What happened?” she asked, as Dereck rang the bell.

“He was one of a gang of people caught taking drugs in San Fernando. But we don’t know if he was caught because the police came here and searched the whole house. Yesterday Daddy said the police don’t have him but they found his little satchel with all his documents and so they knew he was part of the gang. But he’s disappeared. No one has heard a word since Friday night. Oh Juli, it’s so terrible. I feel so terrible about it.”

Juli put her arm comfortingly round Pamela’s shoulders as Dereck said to her, “Here’s your vanity case.”

He handed it to her, and as their fingers touched, she felt as if her whole arm were on fire. María appeared and opened the gate for them.

“Hello María, what a thing, all this business about the Niño Peter!” Dereck exclaimed. “Where is the Señora?”

“Upstairs, Señor Dereck, in her room.”

“Did you tell Marion that I was coming?” Juli asked suddenly.

“Couldn’t get on,” Dereck said, and glancing at Pamela he asked, “Is the phone working?”
“No, it’s been out of order since Saturday.”

“Well never mind, there’s plenty of room, or have you guests?”

“No.”

“I’ll go and speak to Marion,” Dereck said as they entered the hall, and hurried upstairs. Juli watched his virile movements and thought, “I love him. I love him terribly.”

Pamela, whose sweet round face looked shadowed and pinched, said, “Would you like some tea Juli?”

Juli focused her with difficulty and said “Yes, please, Pam. Just tea, nothing to eat.”

Maria, having understood, returned to the kitchen with Pamela to put the kettle on. Upstairs Juli heard Marion’s voice, raised in protest. “…but Dereck, how could you? Just now, with all this dreadful situation we’re in. No, no, I can’t possibly have her here, it’s too much.”

Gripped by a sudden impulse, Juli ran upstairs and hurried to where Dereck and Marion were standing in the passage.

“Please may I stay Marion,” she said quickly. “I can so understand how anxious you must be about Peter, but I really feel part of the family, especially after the lovely way you treated me when I arrived.” She knew that would have a good effect. “I won’t be any trouble to you and I am almost as anxious about Peter as you are really.”

Marion looked at her with blurred red-rimmed eyed and then said irritably, “Well, since you’re here you may as well stay, but the bed isn’t made… María …”

“I’ll make it,” Juli assured her quickly.

Marion went to the linen cupboard and handed her the bed linen and towels impatiently, then she put a hand to her head. “I don’t feel at all well,” she said. “This has just been all too much! Drugs… I’m so ashamed … and there is no way of hiding the matter from the Smiths living across the street and the Eddisons in the next block. It was too awful. Two police cars… all morning. I’m sure they must have Peter by now. I can’t bare it… I suppose they’ll torture him … Oh! It’s too awful. But why drugs? I just can’t understand it! Dr. James had to come and see me. My heart. I really feel so unwell … and with the Smiths right across the street there is no possible way … Dereck, do you know anyone in the government? Arthurs’s doing what he can but perhaps you…?”

Juli walked down the passage to the ‘blue room’ at the far end – her room – and threw the sheets onto the bed. She felt gripped by a violence hard to contain, the desire to rip and hurt her body – to wrench from its place the lust and desire which crouched, dark and writhing within her – fought with her concern for Peter. What had happened? Where could he be? A gentle tap on the door and María’s voice informed her that tea was ready.

Downstairs, a tray with tea things had been set on the coffee table in front of the fire. Juli sat down and poured herself a cup, drinking it scalding hot as she stared at the flames licking about the edges of a large log in the fireplace. Everything was the same and yet completely different. There seemed to be a faint, cold, grey veil drawn over the whole household.

Dino walked in, saw Juli and started forward with pleasure. “Juli, I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hello, Dino, it was a last minute decision. Dereck couldn’t advise because the telephone here is out of order.”

“Have you heard about Peter?”

“Yes, but without any details. Can you tell me quickly what it’s all about?”

“I’m starved,” he said. “Can we talk in the kitchen while I have something to eat?”

“Of course.” Juli filled her cup once more and followed him into the kitchen. Sitting at the table they talked quietly, relaxing in each other’s company, able at last to be themselves without fear of being misunderstood or misinterpreted

“We’re not really clear at all about anything,” Dino said. “I spoke to Sandy and he told me that Peter had become very friendly with some fellow in the last two or three weeks and that he had seen very little of him lately for that reason. The situation between Marion and Peter was pretty bad because he really tried to change as you’d suggested and Marion, well, I told you I think …”

“Yes, she accused him of wasting his time with a new girl-friend and that was why he had failed his exams.”

“Exactly. Peter was so down after that, that it like hurt to be near him. Anyway Arthur realised too, that Marion had gone too far and he tried to help Peter and… I think … they had lunch in town together a couple of times. At least Peter seemed to buck up a bit and he started eating with the family again but he absolutely ignored Marion, just saying the absolute necessary in order not to be rude you know?..That, of course, made her pretty mad and she was always dropping remarks and needling him but he paid no attention, apparently anyway. It was a pretty nasty situation. Explosive, I mean. Then, all of a sudden he began to go out a lot and look much happier. I suppose when he got friendly with this other chap.”

“And then?”

“Well, Saturday morning at about 5.30 a.m. two police cars came, full of policemen, machine guns, the lot, and they came in and literally turned the whole house upside down while we all had to sit in silence in the dining room. They were here practically the whole morning searching every nook and cranny, they even pulled up the moquette in Peter’s room. They took note books and things of his and an officer interviewed each one of us separately all about Peter’s habits and his friends and so on. – they disconnected the phone too and of course got the names and addresses of most of his friends: Sandy, Rita, Quique, Ana, and I don’t know who else and they were all taken to some police station or office and questioned as well.
After the police left, Marion had a sort of breakdown, weeping and shouting … Oh! I don’t know, it was pretty awful. Arthur had to call the doctor and he gave her an injection and put her to sleep and Arthur made us all work until all hours so that everything was in order when she got up yesterday morning.”

“But what do you know about Peter, why did the police come?”
“I was getting there. Arthur has a friend in the Foreign Ministry, so he called him yesterday and asked him to find out what it was all about, and it turned out that Peter was a member of a gang who used to meet in a house in San Fernando and take or smoke drugs.”

“Where’s San Fernando?”

“It’s a suburb about three kilometres further along the coast from here, near Tigre. The police raided this house there on Friday night, and caught most of the gang but for some reason Peter was not there because they only found his little satchel, so now they are looking for him I suppose. That is all we know, or at least what this friend of Arthur’s could find out. Marion insists that they’ve caught Peter and that he’s in prison being tortured and goodness knows what else!”

“Oh, Dino,” Juli murmured. “How awful! Drugs! How can parents be so blind! Poor Peter. What an awful situation! And there’s been no word from him since then?

“As far as I know, nothing, unless Arthur has heard from him today in the office.”

“Marion is in a terrible state, isn’t she? I hardly recognized her, her hair all over the place and her eyes so bloodshot!”

“She cries a lot. María is running the house now, more or less, luckily. Don’t you want anything to eat?”

“No … no thanks. I …”

The kitchen door swung open and Dereck walked in, his cup of tea in his hand.

“Ah, there you are!” he said. “I wondered where everybody had gone.”

Juli felt her throat close about her vocal chords as he sat down at the table with them and began to stir his tea energetically.

“What a business this is about Peter,” he said seriously. “What time does Arthur get back?”

“Between seven and eight usually.”

“It’s six-thirty now. Marion has taken this all this very hard, hasn’t she? One wonders what Peter thought he was doing getting mixed up with a bunch of drug addicts. Honestly! A lovely home and all that goes with it and now he seems to be on the run and without any documents either, apparently. It’s incredible.”

Juli and Dino glanced at each other silently. The gulf between themselves and Dereck and Marion was so great, so unbridgeable. “And yet I love him,” Juli thought. “I’ve never felt this way before! What’s the matter with me? He’s as old as my father. I’m crazy, just plain crazy, just one hundred percent crazy, like Marion!”

But despite herself she could not keep from looking at Dereck’s strong, brown hands, at the little golden hairs which sprouted from the backs of his fingers, at the shape of his nails, and the scar, faint but just visible, on the second joint of his right thumb. She could not keep from looking at his hands, and wanting him to hold her and fondle her. Vaguely she wondered how long she would be able to cope with the storm his presence caused in her.
Pamela appeared at the door at that moment and then came in slowly, a little uncertainly.

“What’s the matter Pammy?” Juli asked gently, glad of the distraction.

“I need some maps and things, but Mummy …”

“Come on, I’ll take you,” Dereck said at once. “Don’t worry Mummy. We’ll go and get all the things you need.”

“Make a list,” Dino said warningly, remembering the many times Pamela had forgotten vital items which had entailed his having to rush off at the last moment to get them before the shop shut. Pamela tore off a piece of paper and Dino lent her a ball-point pen. She wrote down all she had to buy with Dino’s help and once it was complete she left with Dereck, delighted to have her problem solved and to be with her adored uncle.

Dino glanced at his watch. “I have to go,” he said. “I have conservatory now.”

Juli, who had been thinking about Dereck gave a little start and said, “Of course Dino, go, for goodness’ sake!”

Grinning, he rose and began to pile his tea things to take them to the sink.

“Leave them,” Juli said. “I’ll do them with mine.”

“Thanks a lot, Juli. Hey, it’s really good to see you again!”

She looked up into his eyes behind the round lenses of his glasses and smiled, thinking how plain he was compared to Dereck, how pale and delicate in a way, and yet what a nice person he was and how much she liked him.

María came into the kitchen from the ironing room with a pile of freshly ironed laundry as Juli was washing up the tea things.

“How are you María?” she asked.

María, surprised that Juli could speak to her in Spanish, beamed with pleasure and replied, “Muy bien Señorita Juli, how well you speak Spanish now!”

“Only a little, but I am learning. You must talk slowly and then I hope I will understand you. Where are you going with those things?”

“Upstairs.”

“I will take them for you. I am going upstairs now. You have a lot of work now.”

María hesitated and then, smiling, she handed everything into Juli’s outstretched arms. “I must help the Señora,” she said. “Poor lady, she is suffering terribly because of Peter. If only we knew where he was, it would make so much difference.”

“Yes,” Juli nodded. “It would wouldn’t it?”

She took the laundry upstairs and laid it, as María had indicated, on a table outside Marion’s room. As she was about to start down the passage in the direction of her own room she heard Marion calling. “María, María.”
“It’s Juli.”

“Oh Juli, well … could you come a moment.”

Juli pushed open the half closed bedroom door and stood looking towards Marion lying on her bed under the eiderdown. “I just brought up the ironed clothes and put them on the table here,” she said.

“Oh thank you dear. Come in. Come in and sit down. Where is Dereck? I wanted … yes sit in that little chair there.”

Juli seated herself in a small upholstered arm-chair and stared at Marion, wondering how it was possible that anyone could have changed so much in such a short time.

“I’m sure they must have caught him by now, he has no documents you know. Where would he hide? But they wouldn’t tell us, they never do. They’ll keep him locked up and let him rot. That’s the army for you! Look at all the young people who have disappeared. Thousands of them, and now Peter …” Marion began to cry.

“Hush Marion, you’re upsetting yourself with speculations, really you are. He’s probably lying low at some friend’s house and when everything has quietened down he’ll get in touch with Arthur or Sandy or Quique, or someone, and let you know that he’s OK:”

“He has no money …”

“Even more so then …”

“But drugs, Juli. You’re young, why did Peter start doing that? When he had everything he could possibly need, here? You’re his age Juli, almost exactly, what makes young people do that? Turn away from their homes, their parents, their family and start taking drugs … what?”

I don’t know,” Juli said feebly, hating herself for being disloyal to Peter for saying she didn’t know when in reality she felt she did. She glanced quickly round the room. The walls were wall-papered in an all-over blue design, the woodwork was white and the chintz curtains and bedspreads had the same design of flowers and leaves in an all-over pattern. The carpet was white. It was very much a Marion room, cool, elegant, a little distant. She looked back at the woman lying on the bed, her grey hair awry, her eyes wide and staring, with an unnatural gaze and with dark circles beneath them. Her fingers, the paint chipped off her nails, moved restlessly and unceasingly, picking at a knot in the hem of a handkerchief, at a lump in the border of the eiderdown, at a button on her jersey, never still for a moment. Watching them Juli thought, “They reflect her thoughts, they too twitch and fiddle all day long.”

She drew a deep breath and leaned back. She felt strangely sorry for Marion, despite thinking that she had brought all her problems upon herself and that she was over-reacting. She said thoughtfully, “I think Peter is very sensitive, maybe he was a bit jealous of Tony and Pam. Maybe he felt you loved them more than you loved him. Maybe that hurt him a lot and he felt that smoking marihuana it would help him not to care so much.”

Marion jerked up onto an elbow. “I love my three children just the same. I’ve never shown any preference whatsoever! They are my children and I love them,” she said fiercely. “How could you come to such conclusions?”

Juli nodded and gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Marion’s reaction did not surprise her. The older woman sank back on her pillows, as her fingers began to fiddle with a few strands of her hair.

“Why should he have been jealous? So foolish. Everybody is different. Tony is tidy and polite, there is no need to correct him, but Peter is … was …” she gave a little sob. “Oh, where is he? If I knew where he were, then everything would be different. Arthur keeps telling me to buck up and pull myself together, but how can I? How can I when I keep wondering if he is being tortured in prison or shot dead or … if he were free he’d have got in touch already. He has no money, no documents. He would have phoned … asked for help … money …” she talked on jerkily, her jumbled thoughts rising and slipping away, cutting across each other yet ever circling about the same point.

Juli sat listening to her helplessly. She could think of no way to console her hostess except by her silent, compassionate presence. Marion did not really want to converse, she talked compulsively, repeating herself over and over again. “Poor Arthur,” Juli thought. “Marion will drive him crazy if she goes on like this.”

After a while Dereck came in after a brief knock to announce his presence. Juli looked up at him and thought of Mariposa, the algarrobo and caldén trees, the wind the sun and the Pampa skies. Dereck seemed to sum them all up in his broad, vital, suntanned figure, and she felt a surge of longing to be back in the Pampa, away from all the uncomfortable, disturbing drama of Peter’s disappearance. Perhaps there her own personal drama could also be solved..

“Hello Marion, well I’ve just taken Pam to the stationers and bought the place out,” he said cheerfully. “She has all the maps and black ink and pens and pencils and erasers and paper she’ll need for weeks. I hope. It’s quite mild out this evening. I saw the Smiths just now and they asked about Peter. Apparently Smith’s nephew also had a drug problem, it was a terrible blow for the whole family when they found out because he’d been on drugs for years and they never realized it. I’m sure Peter will be able to kick the habit quite easily. After all, from what you tell me he couldn’t have been connected with that group for very long.”

“It’s all very well, but where is Peter? What’s the point of thinking he’d kick the habit easily when he might even be dead? These people who are governing now have no trouble in finding any excuse to use their guns!” Marion cried. “And we’ll never know, … never … never!”

“Marion!”

“There are women who belong to the Plaza de Mayo Mothers whose children disappeared in 1976 and now it’s 1981. Five years Dereck. Five years not knowing if your child is alive or dead!”

Juli rose quietly and left the room, after her glance had touched Dereck’s and he had nodded almost imperceptibly. Marion did not seem to notice. In the passage she met Tony.

“Hello,” he exclaimed with surprise. “I saw Dereck had arrived but I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Hi. Yes, it was rather a last minute decision and as you phone wasn’t working …”

“Yes of course. You know about Peter too I suppose?”

“Yes. I was just sitting with your mother. She’s so terribly upset.”

“Tony looked at Juli with a wink and said ironically, “She’s lost her sparring partner. Peter was her safety-valve, she channelled all her irritations through him.”

“Do you think the police have got him?”

“He’s fool enough to have let himself get caught.”

“Tony!”

Tony shrugged. “He was always on about doing what was correct, he might just have felt it was correct to give himself up.”

“But then surely the police would have informed your Dad, or that friend he has in the Ministry?”

“Not necessarily.”

“What’s driving your mother crazy is not knowing …”

“We should invent that he’s been arrested and taken to a special secret prison away in the interior,” Tony said. Juli looked at with a slightly shocked expression and he laughed and added, “I was thinking of story I read, can’t remember who by, where the whole family club together to keep the knowledge of their mother’s favourite son’s death in Uruguay a secret from her. They write letters and forge his handwriting and so on for years and in the end she knew all the time.”

“Aren’t you worried about him Tony?”

“I’m not going to worry about something I can’t remedy, Juli. Peter started taking drugs, I don’t know why, perhaps because he failed those exams or had a row with Ana, who knows? It’s his affair. When we know where he is, then will be the time to find a way of helping him, to worry about that.” Tony glanced at his watch. “I’ll have to go Juli. How long are you staying?”

“Two or three days.”

“Good, we’ll have a talk tomorrow, OK?”

Juli nodded. She had meant to go to her room but somehow she didn’t want to be alone with herself so she decided to go and see if María needed help. She found her peeling vegetables for a stew, so she made a milk pudding to help out and when it was ready she went to the sitting room. Picking up the Buenos Aires Herald, she sank down on the sofa in front of the fire. She felt very tired. The long trip, her own state of emotional upheaval and the atmosphere of nervous tension in the house had left her exhausted. Despite herself, however, the faint hope that Dereck might come downstairs and join her lurked at the back of her mind.

Arthur arrived a little after eight. Juli was amazed to see him looking exactly the same as she remembered him, not haggard and distraught like Marion.

“Juli!” he exclaimed. “How nice to see you! I suppose you came to BA for a few days with Dereck. I saw the car. Well, well, this is a really nice surprise. Good, heavens, didn’t anyone give you a drink?”

Warmed by his evident and sincere pleasure at seeing her, Juli jumped up and kissed him on the cheek, thinking fleetingly of Dereck as she did so.

“I don’t want anything to drink, thanks,” she said. “How are you Arthur?”

“Bearing up my dear, bearing up. This business about Peter is so very worrying and poor Marion is taking it so hard. Most upsetting, how is she?”

“Lying down. Dereck is with her.”

“Oh good.” He sighed and, going over to the table where María had placed a tray with ice, soda and tonic water, he helped himself to a whisky and soda and returned to the fireplace, sinking into an arm-chair with a tired smile.

“Any news?” Juli asked.

“Just a thread … ah Dereck, how are you old chap? Good to see you! Have a drink.”

Dereck walked over to Arthur and patted him comfortingly on the shoulder, saying. “Dreadful thing all this about Peter, Arthur, I’m very sorry …”

“Thank you Dereck.”

“Señor?” Maria’s quiet little voice broke into the conversation.

“Sí María?” Arthur turned and looked at her with a pleasant smile.

“May I serve the dinner?”

“What time is it? Yes of course, in ten minutes time. Will that do?”

“Sí Señor.”

“I’ll go and advise Marion and Pamela,” Arthur said, getting up and heading for the stairs, leaving Juli alone with Dereck. She could find nothing to say which sounded natural. Her heart hammered furiously and she had to sit on her hands to control their trembling. She smiled at him briefly and returned her gaze to the fire, feeling foolish and miserable.

“Marion is a real mess,” Dereck said irritably. “I would never have expected her to go under like this. She just repeats herself over and over again, like a broken record. Good heavens alive, what’s come over her?”

Dinner was rather a dismal affair. Marion, a comb run hastily through her hair, sat with glassy-eyed misery at her usual place, but she hardly ate anything. Pamela kept looking at her, suffering with her mutely, yet unable to sort out in her childish mind the tortuous whys and wherefores between this grieving mother and the mother who had done nothing but criticize and fight with the object of her grief until only a few days earlier.

Dereck and Arthur, in an effort not to mention the subject, talked about golf, the camp Lena and the economic situation. Juli, aching with curiosity to know the thread of news Arthur had come home with, found herself so tense she could hardly swallow. Her pudding, however, was very well received and even Marion ate a tiny portion and was able to take her mind off Peter for a moment to say thank you.

After dinner Pamela was sent off to bed and Marion excused herself, following Pamela upstairs. Juli took advantage of their moving to the sitting room to drink their coffee, to say,” What was the thread of news you mentioned just before dinner, Arthur?”

“Ah yes, well…” Arthur leaned forward in his chair as Dereck tensed, looking alert. “Apparently just a few minutes before the raid Peter went into the kitchen with a fellow called Paco. They had come together. Some of the group had met Paco before but did not know his real name. Others had never met him before, but apparently he was the one who introduced Peter into this group.”

Arthur sipped his coffee thoughtfully before continuing. “It seems that all of a sudden this Paco fellow said something to Peter and they got up and went into the kitchen and that was the last the others saw of them. About ten minutes later the house was raided and the whole bunch was taken off to the police station. The police think this Paco is the fellow who, behind the scenes, provides the drugs or is the middle man of some sort. If that is the case and if he has taken a liking to Peter, then Peter is probably with him and that’s why we have not heard from him.”

“What have the police got on this Paco chap?” Dereck asked quickly.

“For the moment, nothing, but they’re working on it of course.”

“How long had Peter been part of the group?”

“Only a short time, two or three weeks. That’s my great hope, that he’s not really had time to become completely addicted, and that his innate good sense will help him. But if he’s with this Paco individual …. on the other hand, the junkies don’t take drugs , do they? I don’t know what’s worse. Becoming an addict, or becoming a dope peddler. I can’t tell Marion all this, she’s in such a state as it is …”

“I’m sure Peter won’t stay with this Paco,” Juli said impulsively. “I mean … I’m sure he won’t become a dope peddler as you say. He’s too honest.”

Dereck gave a snort of laughter, and said, “You’ll find, Juli, that everyone has his price, even the best of us.”

Juli felt a cry of repudiation rise to lips. To even say such a thing seemed to her an utter betrayal of all that Man stood for, of all the potential good folded into every heart. But she did not say anything. One couldn’t argue these things with ‘grown-ups’. Simply because they had failed, they assumed that, where ethics were concerned, everyone failed sooner or later. Their defeatism and worldliness upset her.

With a great effort she stood up and said lightly, “Well, my price just now is sleep. I think I’ll go to bed now, I find I’m bone tired. What time are you going into the city tomorrow Dereck? I’ve got a whole list of things I want to buy, and I want to go to the British Hospital to start getting onto their health scheme, as you suggested.”

“We’ll leave at eight fifteen,” Dereck replied. “I’ll take you to the Hospital and on the way I’ll tell you how to get to the shopping centres from there.”

“Lovely, thank you. Good night Arthur, ‘night Dereck.”

“Goodnight,” the two men chorused smiling, glad to rest their eyes on someone young and attractive and to forget their worries for a moment or two.

Juli ran upstairs. She had already passed Pamela’s door when it occurred to her that the child might appreciate a quick goodnight kiss. She turned and knocked gently. After a moment a stifled “Who is it?” made her realize that Pamela was crying. She opened the door quickly and went in, her compassionate heart already aching for this child caught in the turbulence of a situation she could not understand, her safe accustomed world shattered and a new world filled with violence, madness and death threatening to engulf all those she knew and loved.

Pamela, fully dressed, was lying on her bed weeping into her pillow so that her sobs would not disturb the rest of the family. Juli hastened over to the bed and knelt beside it, putting her arm around Pamela’s heaving shoulders.

“Don’t cry Pammy, don’t cry,” she murmured. “The police don’t have Peter. Your Dad just told me. He got away just before the raid with another man and this man probably gave him enough money to take a bus far away somewhere and live quietly until it’s safe to come back.”

“But why is Mummy so sad then?” whispered Pamela. “”She cries all the time. She didn’t come to kiss me good night again tonight. She just goes to her room. She always came before. Juli, I don’t understand. Daddy is quite calm and talks about other things but Mummy cries all the time. I sort of feel that she’s crying more because she’s ashamed than because of Peter – she was always cross with him – and then … and then I feel I’m wrong and I feel awful, so guilty. Daddy hides everything, but he’s really worried, he really cares and he doesn’t want anyone to know. Oh Juli, do you think that Peter is really alright? Really really? Or do you think the police have him?

“I’m sure they don’t Pam.”

“I’m so afraid. When I see a policeman I begin to tremble all over. How do they torture people Juli? What do they do to them? I have terrible dreams sometimes, I don’t want to go to sleep because they frighten me. I miss Peter, Juli, I miss him so much. Do you think he’s taking drugs?”

“No, at least, not any more. Look, get undressed and go and have a shower. I’ll wait for you here, may I tidy your room a little while I wait?”

Pamela nodded mutely as she sat up obediently to undress. The relief of having to obey orders again was so great that her tears dried and she dragged on her dressing-gown and hurried off to the bathroom. Thinking about all Pamela had said, Juli piled her dirty clothes into a bundle, sorted and tidied the books and papers strewn about the floor, straightened the tumbled bed-clothes and hung up the child’s skirt and blazer.

“Did you wash your teeth?” she asked when Pamela returned, pink and sweetly smelling, from her shower.

“No … I forgot.”

“Well …”

Pamela disappeared and returned in a couple of minutes, nodding her head.

“Now yes.”

“Right, now brush your hair like mad until it shines. I always do that when I’m depressed.”

Obediently Pamela brushed her hair vigorously for a few minutes while Juli sat on the bed watching her.

“”Now ,” Juli continued. “Get together all you will need for tomorrow. School books, maps, gym things, hockey things, whatever. Get them all ready now.”

Her depression by now almost entirely dispelled, Pamela sorted out all she needed for the following day and placed them in a neat pile alongside a clean blouse, underwear and socks. Juli polished her sturdy brown shoes for her as she did so.

“And now,” Juli went on, full of invigorating energy. “Please put away all those small stones, the paper for your flowers, and sort out all that mess of glue and paints and wire and biscuits and goodness knows what, which you have on your desk. If it stays like that, every time you look at it it’ll remind you of the muddle you feel inside you. The best thing to do just now is to have your room spotlessly clean and tidy, your clothes, your cupboards and everything. Then that will help you to think clearly and not get upset.”

Pamela made a face but she did what she was told and about fifteen minutes later her room really looked habitable once more. Glancing round it with a great sense of satisfaction, she looked at the row of dolls leaning against the radiator under the window.

“I’m a bit big to have all my dolls still, aren’t I?” she said suddenly, “I think I’ll put them all away.”

She got down a kit bag from the top shelf of her cupboard and proceeded to pack away her dolls resolutely. Juli said nothing for she realized that Pamela was packing away her childhood, unconsciously aware that the time for dolls was over and that she must now begin to tread the thorny, difficult path of adolescence.

Once she had packed away the dolls and pushed the kit bag back into the cupboard Pamela crawled into bed and said fervently, “I love you Juli, can we talk?”

“Of course.”

Pamela fiddled with a corner of her, sheet for a few moments before saying bashfully, “I haven’t started the curse yet, Juli. All my friends have and I haven’t. Do you think something is wrong with me?”

“This too,” Juli thought. “Poor Pamela, she certainly has her plateful of problems!” Aloud she said, “But of course not Pamela, what makes you think that?”

“Because my breasts are growing,” Pamela said. “Look.” She pulled up her pyjama top and displayed her gently rounding little breasts.

“Aah,” Juli said comfortingly. “I remember my breasts grew before I got the curse and I didn’t start until I was nearly fourteen.”

“Didn’t you? Oh well then, I’m nearly thirteen so that’s OK. María Elena and Sonia and Josie have all got the curse. What is it Juli? Why do we lose blood? Sonia’s mother said all women bleed a little every month and it’s nothing to worry about but she didn’t say why. Josie’s little bitch also bleeds, but only twice a year and they shut her away from the dogs so that she doesn’t have any more puppies.”

Juli, her heart sinking, thought, “Just my luck to have Marion weeping with self pity at this moment instead of fulfilling her role of mother as she should be!! Now what shall I say?”

Pushing away her desire to reply ‘Well, well, we’ll talk about it all another day,’ she ran her fingers through her hair, raking up from the depths of her memories all that she had felt and learned during those crucial times ten years ago. Only ten years? It seemed a life time!

“All women and lady dogs and cats and rabbits and cows have a little bag inside them in order to be able to have babies. To keep nice and clean, it loses a layer of skin every month and that is what causes the bleeding, but it’s very little blood really. Chickens lay eggs and the chicks grow up inside the egg and when they are big enough they chip their way out. But lots of animals have the egg, like a bag, inside them. The baby grows inside that until it is big enough to be born.”

“And how is it born, through the tummy button?”

Taken aback by Pamela’s innocence, Juli contemplated the child for a long silent moment. At last she said, “No, through a special passage next to where we pee.”

Pamela looked at her aghast. “But there’s no room!” she cried. “I’ve seen a new baby. It’s head is big!”

“Well, but Pamela, the baby’s head is not hard like ours are, and all the mother´s muscles become quite soft and elastic so the baby can slip out quite easily.”

Pamela digested this piece of information seriously, mulling over all that Juli had said while Juli gazed back at her with as much tranquillity as she could muster, girding herself for further difficult questions.

At last Pamela said reflectively, “I see, so that’s how babies are born. And I suppose the baby’s soul really does slip down a moon-beam into that little bag when it wants, you know, for that baby to be a person. Dogs don’t have souls, our Sunday School teacher told us that, she told us about the moon-beam too.”

“That was a spot of inspiration.” Juli thought, imagining the Sunday School teacher’s embarrassment at being asked where babies came from. She smiled and said mildly, “Don’t you think you had better catch a moon-beam and go to sleep now? It’s quite late.”

Pamela snuggled down grinning. “When I get the curse,” she said. “Do you think a baby’s soul would like to come into me? I’d love to have a baby.”

Imagining Marion’s horror at such an event, Juli controlled her desire to burst out laughing and said seriously, “I think it would want a Daddy too. Daddies are very important people.”

“Yes,” Pamela agreed after a moment’s thought. “It would probably want a Daddy too, wouldn’t it? What a pity. My Daddy wouldn’t do would he?”

“No, he’d have to be the Grampa.”

“Mmm, yes,” Pamela yawned, then she said suddenly, “Do you pray at night?”

“Yes, why?”

“Why don’t we pray the Our Father together?” Pamela said. “For Peter. He must be feeling so terribly lonely.”

“And I thought we had managed to forget Peter,” Juli thought wryly. Aloud she said “Yes let’s, I think that’s a great idea. Marina, Tishy and I always say our prayers together every night.”

“Do you?” said Pamela, pleased. Juli lit one of the many candles on Pamela’s desk, another of her collections, and turned out the light. Together they murmured the Lord’s Prayer, the words lapping gently about their sorrowing hearts, healing and consoling them.

“Goodnight,” Juli whispered, leaning over and kissing Pamela goodnight. “Sleep well.”

“Oh Juli, I do love you so,” Pamela sighed. “Can’t you stay here with us?”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t, I have to look after Marina and Tishy.”

“Oh, bother them,” Pamela giggled sleepily. “…g,night.”

Juli blew out the candle and left the room.

……………………………………..

1 thought on “Under Another Sky 6

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