Under Another Sky 9

Chapter 9

Dereck returned the following day. He looked weary but his delight to be home exploded in hugs, kisses, uproarious laughter and the eager distribution of presents to one and all for he had never been away for quite so long before. He handed out his gifts even before he had taken off his leather coat and the living room soon became smothered in a welter of torn wrapping papers, strewn clothes, books, newspapers, letters opened and half read, toys and all the pictures Marina had drawn and painted while he was away. Marina also brought her new red dress and cardigan and Tishy’s blue dressing gown. Neither were Josefina, Marta and Hernán forgotten. It was a crazy joyful moment, Lena’s face shone with happiness and love, and it hurt Juli to even look at her. Marina was, as usual beside herself with excitement and did nothing but shriek and bounce. Tishy, curled up within the curve of her father’s left arm, clung to his lapel for safety while he waved his free arm about energetically.

“How’s Mummy?” Pamela ventured to ask during a short lull.

“Better,” Dereck replied with a cheerful smile.”Your Dad is bringing her home from the hospital this afternoon and Joanie Trale is going to live in the house and run it and accompany your Mum until she’s quite well again.

“Any news of Peter?” Juli asked

Dereck, focusing her clearly for the first time, noticed her pallor and the dark circles under her eyes. “No,” he said gently. “Nothing I’m afraid.”

Juli nodded and turned her attention to Marina, calming the little girl by suggesting she help to tidy up all the wrapping papers. Very soon the living room was its self again, Tishy handed over to Juli, the suitcase and bags carried off to Dereck and Lena’s section of the house and Juli returned to the nursery with the children, their presents held proudly in their arms.

Pamela said cheerfully, “What fun, Uncle Dereck coming back, and Mummy’s home again by now.” She made a face and added, “Joanie Trale!”

“But it’s terrific that someone will be there to chat with your mother and remind her to take her pills and help her to run the house. Maybe she got so upset because she had no one to talk to.”

“She had all of us!”

“When you were not at school, or studying, or working, or whatever.”

“I wanted to be with her, but she just said the same old things over and over again. She didn’t want to listen at all.”

“I expect she’s got over that stage by now,” Juli smiled.

Saturday evening arrived all too soon and the children were put to bed promptly so that Pamela and Juli could join Dereck and Lena for a festive goodbye supper in the living room. Sitting quietly at the table listening to Dereck teasing Pamela and to Lena describing some of the latest fashions for maternity clothes in one of her new magazines which had just arrived, Juli thought, “ How incredible, even here in this house my routine is such that ‘supper in the living room’ is an event! How can one form habits so easily and feel O.K. with them. In London I led a much more active life; the flat, the office, the flicks, shopping, visits to Ann or to my father and yet I felt in a rut … trapped … afraid of ever being able to escape. Here for the most part I live and eat and work in one big room and yet I am happy, I don’t feel hedged in or trapped or anything. Happy?” she repeated to herself, questioningly, and thought firmly, “Yes, Happy.”

Concentrating on Pamela, whose holiday had done her so much good, her pinched anxious expression replaced by her usual placid happy smile, Juli felt the satisfaction of having done the right thing. Pamela seemed to be looking forward to going home, despite Joanie Trale.

That night Pamela, who was now sleeping on the sofa in the nursery, sat up abruptly and said seriously, “I’m going home tomorrow Juli.”

“Yes.”

They spoke softly so as not to wake the little ones.

“Do you think Mummy is really better?”

Juli stared into the fire trying to find an adequate reply.

“Perhaps not from the outside Pamma,” she said at last. “She probably repeats herself a lot still, I mean. But I expect deep inside her the doctor has helped and gradually that will begin to show. Anyway, Joanie will be there seeing to everything, so you will have someone to help you to remember your things and order the boys around the house and everything. You can always go and stay with Monica, too. She’s your best friend, isn’t she?

“Yes, but Mummy doesn’t like me going to stay with anybody. She says…”

“Well, talk it over with Daddy, of course. But I think Mummy won’t mind if it makes you happy, just now and again.”

“Joanie Trale is awfully bossy.”

“That will help Mummy get better in no time, Joanie won’t be too gentle with her.”

“Why does Mummy worry so much about the neighbours, though?”

Juli shrugged, unable to find a satisfactory answer. After a while Pamela said,” Do you still think Peter is safe somewhere?”

“Yes,” Juli said firmly.

“Do you think he’s with that man?”

“No, I think he’s alone somewhere.”

“Flying in his lonely sky.”

“What?”

“That song, ‘I’ll fly beside you in your lonely sky …’ don’t you know it?”
“No.”

“Hey! Won’t the girls at school be jealous when I go back, a whole week’s holiday!”

“Listen here Pamela Carlie. You’ve missed a whole week of school and you’ve got to study like mad to make it up. If I hear that you are not studying and are getting bad marks I shall go to Buenos Aires and tie you up and hang you by your ankles from the tip top of the highest tree in your garden.”

Pamela burst into smothered laughter and snuggled down under the bedclothes. “You sound even worse that Joanie Trale,” she giggled, and two minutes later she was fast asleep. Juli remained sitting in the rocking chair, rocking herself gently and staring at the glowing embers of the fire.

They all accompanied Pamela to Santa Rosa to catch her Aerolineas flight back to Buenos Aires the following day, as Dereck had arranged with the oculist that he should see Tishy even though it was a Sunday, as a great favour, and in that way take advantage of the long trip into the town.

Once they had waved goodbye to Pamela’s aeroplane, they went to his consulting room. After examining Tishy exhaustively as she sat on Juli’s lap, the oculist declared her to be suffering from acute short-sightedness and prescribed special spectacles for her. He took all the measurements very carefully, for he also owned an opticians shop, and promised to have the spectacles ready for Tishy the following week.

“Well,” Dereck said as they drove back to the Estancia. “That was quite a revelation, Tishy being so short sighted ….. I expect she’ll go ahead right away as soon as she’s fitted with a pair of glasses. Poor little tiddle, no wonder she’s such a quiet little thing if she can’t see anything clearly.”

“Wasn’t it kind of Dr. Wulff to see her today,” Lena said. “He’s always full when one goes during the week. I went once ages ago and his waiting room was crammed with people, incredible!”

Juli drew Tishy close to her for she knew that what Lena really meant was ‘wasn’t it lucky all those people had not had the opportunity to see Tishy and start gossiping.’

“Tishy will have to go back to see if the specs fit her properly, won’t she?” she asked.

“No. We’ve invited him out to the Estancia for lunch next Sunday and he’ll bring the glasses with him and do all the fitting there,” Dereck said cheerfully.

…………………………….

Juli decided to try and ignore her feelings for Dereck, to try and think of something else when her emotions threatened to engulf her, especially as he obviously considered her hardly more than an adolescent at the best of times. But it was not easy, because when he came in to say good morning at breakfast time, settled jovially into his place at the lunch table or happened to meet her on her rambles with the children she felt her heart pound uncontrollably.

Firmly she would take a deep breath and turn her mind to Marion and Peter. Strangely she could understand much more clearly their love hate relationship; Peter’s jealousy which impelled him to find every possible way to irritate his mother; Marion’s frustration that her first born should be such a patent failure within her scheme of things. Juli lived and relived the few days spent at the Carlies, for they had left such a vivid series of memories that it was easy to recall them.

“I have no right whatsoever to Dereck,” she told herself. “Or to spoil his marriage to Lena or anything. I’m just not the sort of person to do that. O.K. he’s terribly attractive and I am enormously attracted to him but that doesn’t mean ….! I know very well what I’d think of someone else, if they were in my position and let their feelings rule them. I must just acknowledge what I feel for Dereck, and then let it lie until it dies from lack of attention. I would hate myself forever if I found I was responsible for a whole heap of unhappiness! Lena, the children, even Dereck himself!”

The following Sunday Dr.Wulff and his wife Feliza arrived for lunch in a sleek Peugeot 504. He checked Tishy once again and then placed the spectacles carefully on her little nose. Immediately she covered them with her hands and refused to lift them away.

“It’ll take her some time to get used to them,” he said reassuringly. “Let her take them off whenever she wants and let her take her time over the whole thing, eh Patricia? You are going to be like me now wearing glasses. See? I wear glasses all the time so I can look at everything. Now you too will be able to look at everything, won’t that be nice?”

Turning to Juli and Lena he said, “Please take note of her reactions, whether she rubs her eyes a lot and so on. I wish to see her again in two weeks time so that I can check her progress.”

Juli nodded eagerly as Lena said gracefully, “Thank you so much for all the trouble you have taken over our little daughter, Dr.Wulff, I really can’t thank you enough. And now, can we offer you a drink before lunch?”

Dr. Wulff bowed slightly and followed his hostess, pausing at the door for a moment to glance questioningly at Juli who had Tishy on her lap, she smiled and raised her shoulders a fraction. Shaking his head he left the room and went to join Lena and Feliza while Dereck served their drinks.

Marina had watched the whole procedure with unusual silence. Now she hurried to the bookshelf, selected a picture book and brought it over to Tishy. “Look, Tishy,” she said softly. “This is a picture book. You can look at the pictures now, you can see them now and they are really nice. Look Tishy, look at the pictures.”

She pushed the book onto Tishy’s lap and waited. Juli thought that Tishy, as usual, was not going to respond, until she realized that Tishy had moved one finger a little to the right and was actually peeping through the space between her fingers at the picture book on her lap. She glanced at Marina, who looked up at her with shining eyes, for she too was aware that Tishy was testing her vision. Suddenly the child twisted round and hid her face against Juli’s neck. Juli’s gave her a close hug and said, “We are going to have a picnic lunch under our tree, shall we go and get it from Josefina?”

“Oooo,” Marina squeaked. “What fun! I’m going to the kitchen.”

Tishy’s eyesight forgotten, she dropped the picture book on the floor and rushed off to find out what had been prepared for this unexpected adventure. Juli sat Tishy on the sofa and picked up the book leaving it beside the child, who still had her hands covering her face yet managing to suck her thumb at the same time.

Josefina had prepared ‘empanadas’ similar to Cornish pasties but with mince meat inside them instead. For desert there were bananas and a bar of chocolate for each of them. Hernán was sitting in a corner of the kitchen strumming on his guitar, he looked up as Juli entered holding Tishy by the hand and said, “Y, Patricia, can you see me now? This is my guitar, see?” He held it up for her to look at. Juli glanced down and saw the child move her head sideways a fraction, without taking her thumb out of her mouth. She felt her heart begin to pound, as, near to tears, she picked up the picnic things carefully packed into a plastic bag, and headed for the kitchen door, unable to do more than give the servants a slightly watery grin. Marta made no secret of wiping her eyes with a corner of her apron. They had all seen Tishy’s reaction.
………………………………

September bloomed its way into October and the arrival of spring filled Juli with wonder. Her London life had not prepared her spring in the Pampa. The ground became carpeted with thousands of tiny flowers; white, yellow, blue, red; the grasses and weeds spread out their devotional offerings to the sun and to life; the caldén trees added pale green shoots, and clouds of little white and yellow butterflies floated over the fields and among the trees.

Juli found that she was concentrating so much on Tishi that she was able to handle her feelings for Dereck with greater ease. She resumed the daily routine with the children, and studied her Spanish and learning to play the guitar daily. But the evenings were long after the children had fallen asleep, and it was almost impossible not to fall into the habit of daydreaming, despite the fact that she knew it did not really help.

Tishy’s progress was very slow although she did appear to look at things, however she still made no effort and depended heavily on Juli’s presence. As the days grew warmer Juli took the children out for rambles. They collected bunches of wild flowers, pressed them, and once they were dry, she stuck them onto white cardboard and covered them with transparent ‘contact’ paper so that the children could enjoy looking at them and running their fingers over the fragile petals and dainty leaves without spoiling them. Tishy especially loved these cards, and Juli wondered what was going on in her little mind when she was looking at her ‘flowers’.

After hesitating for some time Juli decided to teach Tishy how to jump. Taking the little girl’s hands she said, “Lets bounce Tishy, look at Marina bouncing and then we’ll do it.” Marina needed no further encouragement and started to jump up and down saying, “Look Tishy, I’m bouncing, it’s such fun and it’s easy.” But Tishy was not in the mood. Juli sighed.

Standing one evening in Dereck’s rose garden with Tishy in her arms while Marina watered with her toy watering can, Juli breathed in the sweet wafts of perfume and regarded the beautiful forms and colours of the roses, comparing them all to herself. She felt like a rose blooming in an abandoned garden, unseen and unsung. What was the use of all the love she felt bottled up inside her? Somehow Tishy, Marina and Dobbie were not quite enough. It was another kind of love she had to give.

She received a letter from her father mentioning the autumn and found it difficult to imagine the golden leaves and shortening days in the northern hemisphere. Rita wrote a long rambling somewhat incoherent letter about her daily life, adding that her sister had no idea who Miguel Licar or Julieta Caminos were, so the mystery of the letter remained unsolved. Pamela wrote every week, letters which made Juli laugh for she described life with Joanie Trale at the helm with acute observation and a delightful sense of humour. Her letters, Juli realised, also helped Pam to be objective, to always look for the funny aspects and to maintain an even keel, for life at the Carlies was not easy and had changed a great deal from the smoothly run household into which Juli had been introduced. Dino had apparently moved into Peter’s room, but he had changed nothing, probably in an effort not to impose his own personality on the room, should Peter suddenly reappear.

Lena was now looking distinctly pregnant and spent a lot of time resting as well as complaining. Juli wondered if her complaints were genuine or if she felt she needed more attention generally because of her ‘condition’. She complained about everything and everyone. Josefina who was taking advantage and cooking so badly; Marta who was not cleaning as thoroughly as she should; Marina who made too much noise; old Dobbie because she scratched so; the weather because it was either too hot or too windy. Juli, because Marina was always looking grubby and uncombed; Dereck who was always off somewhere with the car and what would happen if she suddenly started getting contractions and couldn’t get to the doctor on time? The fact that Juli could drive and that Dereck usually used the pick-up so that the car was nearly always available was no comfort for Lena. Dereck lost his temper regularly, so that his raised voice and slamming doors became part of the household sounds.

Juli, curled up in a garden chair reading while the two little girls played in the sand box, would hear Dereck’s angry exclamations and Lena’s soft continuous flow of complaints and recriminations, and think, “What on earth does he see in her?” and then, crushing the thought hastily, she would return to her book.

“How stupid I am!” she thought one day. “If Dereck spoke to me like he does to Lena I would shrivel up and die and yet I go on loving him. But he wouldn’t … Oh, no? … how can you be so sure? He’s pretty like Marina, always noisy, but he’d be different with me …Ha! why? Maybe for a couple of months and then he’d be just the same as ever. He likes to argue like that because it makes him feel good. Shut up … I love him. Lena loves him …. you only want to change him…”

This truth hurt. It was most unpleasant to admit that the Dereck she really wanted was a slightly modified version of the everyday Dereck with whom Lena lived and whom, very obviously and despite her complaints, Lena loved.

Juli made a little grimace and stared down curiously at the signature on the flyleaf of the book she was reading. Ph. F. Phyllis Fitzgerald. Dereck’s first wife … who had committed suicide. “I wonder what she was like?” she thought. Abruptly her curiosity got the better of her and rising she went to the big cupboard and gazed at all the neatly wrapped parcels on the shelves before her.

“All his first marriage is tucked away in here,” she said to herself. “I must know something about it, about them, …. now!”

“What are you going to do?” Marina asked, poking her head round the door.

“I’m going to dust these shelves and put mothballs and things …,” Juli replied calmly as she went to fetch a stool and a large piece of cloth with which to dust. “Are you going to help me?” she added with a flash of inspiration. Marina was not very fond of feeling herself under any obligation and within five minutes found it necessary to go to the bathroom and then to the kitchen to see what Josefina was doing. On discovering that Josefina was about to make a batch of scones, she returned gleefully to inform Juli and ask if she could go and help her. Juli gave her permission gladly and continued pulling out parcels from the shelves, dusting them and reading the labels stuck neatly onto each one.
Gavin: Exercise books – 1st grade. Rowena: knick-knacks and toys. Recipes. Baby clothes. Handbags. Picnic things. Old materials for toys. Recipe books. Gavin: story books. Knitting wool. Gavin: shells. Rowena: butterflies. Rowena: Barbie Dolls. Gavin: Corgie toys. Xmas decorations. Recipes.

“She must have loved cooking,” Juli thought, as she cleaned the dusty shelf carefully and spread mothballs along the back of it before returning the parcels. She re-arranged them, so that those which contained things which might be useful for the children were nearer at hand. With great satisfaction she came upon several parcels labelled ‘photos’ which she placed where she could reach them easily, deciding to open them that very evening once the children were asleep. Phyllis Birnham intrigued her more than she cared to admit. She urgently wanted to learn about the years which Dereck had shared with her, although she didn’t stop to ask why.

Glancing at her watch she saw that it would soon be tea time and she remembered that Lena had been formally invited to tea in the nursery as Dereck had gone to a cattle sale early in the morning and was not expected back until the evening. Hastily she changed her sweater and went to wash her hands before spreading a clean cloth on the table. Deciding that a posy of flowers would look nice as a centre piece, she handed Tishy her stick horse and led her out into the garden. Dobbie, who now slept beside the nursery garden door to be as near to Juli as possible, rose joyfully and followed them.

A humming bird with a short tail, its green and blue feathers glittering in the sunshine, hung in the air sipping nectar from a flowering bush, darting from flower to flower. Tishy saw it and gazed at it in fascination.

“That’s a hummingbird, Tishy,” Juli said gently. “He’s drinking. Isn’t he beautiful?”

The child looked up at her and suddenly smiled. Her pale, sad little face was transformed and Juli, overwhelmed with joy, dropped to her knees and hugged her, laughing and almost crying at the same time.

“Pretty Tishy,” she whispered. “What a pretty, pretty little girl you are when you smile!” She leaned back, sitting on her heels and smiled widely and Tishy smiled fleetingly back, before turning to look at the hummingbird again. Her heart bursting with joy, Juli said, “This is a red letter day Tish, this is the happiest day of my life!”

She picked up the flowers where they had fallen on the grass and stood up, holding out her hand to Tishy she said, “Let’s trot, your horse wants to trot he’s so happy.” Together they trotted across the lawn, their hands clasped and their joy one. Once in the nursery Juli caught Tishy up, changed her into a pretty pink frock and fresh white socks. After that she tied up her well brushed hair with a pink ribbon.

Lena and Marina came in a few minutes later and when Marina saw Tishy so smartly dressed she began to jump up and down demanding that she too be changed for tea. Marta brought in the tea things followed by Hernán with a chocolate cake and the fresh scones, she laid the table cheerfully, her brown face wreathed in smiles over Marina’s contagious enthusiasm.

“I helped,” Marina informed her mother loudly in Spanish as Juli pulled on her new red dress. “Isn’t that true Marta?

“Si, Marina quite true,” laughed Marta, blowing her a kiss before leaving the nursery with Hernán.
“I helped to make the scones, the big one in the middle is mine, I’m going to eat it,” Marina added jiggling about as Juli brushed her hair.

“Ooooh, isn’t it big!” Lena said laughing.

“Lena,” Juli said, trembling a little with the thrill of what she was going to impart. “Tishy saw a hummingbird in the garden just now and she smiled.”

Lena turned and looked at Juli for a long minute, then she said off-handedly, “Well, that’s something I suppose.” She turned back to the table and picked up the big scone teasingly. “I think I shall eat this great big delicious scone.”

“No, Mummy, no! I made it. I made it for me!” Marina squealed.

Juli stood quite still, staring at the floor with wide shocked eyes, unable to believe Lena’s reaction, as Marina ran over to the table to appropriate her scone.

“But won’t you let me eat it? Poor Mummy. Won’t you let Mummy eat it for the new baby?” Lena went on teasing Marina. Marina, caught between her desire to eat her very first scone and to please her mother, was plunged into silence and looked desperately to Juli for help, her bottom lip trembling.

“Half and half,” Juli said, surprised to hear her voice so calm and firm. “Half for Marina and half for Mummy and the new baby, do you think that is a good idea?”

Marina nodded vigorously as Lena laughed gaily and cut the scone in half, placing one of the pieces on Marina´s plate. Tishy, looking as forlorn and backward as ever, had to be sat in her high chair after which Juli served her a glass of milk with its straw, and a scone cut into little pieces with honey on them. She couldn’t understand Lena and her total disinterest in this lovely, tender little girl of hers.

“Oh dear,” Lena said after they had finished tea and the children were playing with the doll’s house. “I wonder when Dereck will be back, I do hate his being away these days. I’m so afraid I’ll start the baby and no one here to take me to Santa Rosa or to call a doctor.”

“But I can drive, Lena, and the car is nearly always here.”

“Yes, I know, but you don’t have an Argentine driving license and anyway Santa Rosa is fifty kilometres away. That’s quite a drive and you don’t know the roads or anything.”

“You’ve still two months to go, more or less, haven’t you?”

“But one never knows. This pregnancy had been so different to the other two. I’m sure it’s going to be a boy. We have decided on the name, did I tell you?”

“No.”

“We’ve chosen Christopher William. My father is called William. It’ll sound nice don’t you think? Christopher William Birnham.”

“And if it’s a girl?”

“Oh, it won’t be a girl, I’m sure of that.”

“What was Tishy like when she was born?”

“Tiny. Poor thing, she was such an ugly little baby, all wizened you know, and sort of crumpled. I remember that my nipples became so painful I couldn’t feed her for more than a week. Oh! What agony I suffered! The doctor put her on a bottle at once.”

“Why were you sort of … indifferent just now when I told you she smiled this afternoon?” Juli ventured.

“Oh, Juli, Mongolic children smile all the time,” Lena said in a low voice, her eyes filling with tears.

“But Lena … how can you say that?” Juli gasped. “Tishy’s not …” Words failed her.

Lena shrugged. “One will have to face it some time. You’re as bad as Dereck.”

“But Lena, you’re wrong. I’m sure you’re wrong!”

“One just has to look at her, Juli,” Lena said a little harshly. “Just use one’s eyes and one can’t deny a reality. She should be taken to Buenos Aires and treated properly in some Institute, but Dereck will have none of it. Time, he says, give her time. It’s such nonsense! And the years go by. We can’t help her, none of us have the slightest idea how to. Eventually it’s going to be very negative for Marina and the baby to have Tishy around.”

Juli felt her heart contract within her. How could one tell Lena that it was probably due to her personal rejection of the child that she seemed to be backward. That if Lena were to bestow on her the same love and attention she gave to Marina, Tishy might blossom like the little flower she truly was. But Lena had wanted a boy and Tishy had turned out to be a most unwanted ugly little girl. She had the firm idea that Tishy was backward despite all the doctors’ opinions, and that the child was not even able to respond to true love and attention. “She treats her worse than she would an animal, for all her silly tears,” Juli thought bitterly. “And she doesn’t even give it a thought!”

Marina came over and leaned against her mother. “What is the baby will be called!” she asked.

“Going to be,” Juli corrected.

“Christopher William, Christopher William Birnham,” Lena replied.

“And in Spanish?” Marina asked, laying her hand on her mother’s abdomen.

“Cristobal Guillermo.”

“He’s moving!”

“Yes, he’s moving quite a lot now.”

“There’s Daddy,” Marina exclaimed as they heard the sound of the car and the dogs barking. She scampered out of the room as fast as her legs could carry her.

“At last!” Lena breathed, her face lighting up. She rose and followed Marina quickly to welcome Dereck.

Juli gathered Tishy compassionately into her arms and sat the drooping little girl on her lap. Tishy sat quite still sucking her thumb. Juli wondered why she didn’t give any indication of wanting to welcome Dereck too. But she always remained behind when Marina rushed off shrieking “Daddy’s come, there’s Daddy,” when he returned from a day or an afternoon away from home. Instead she waited for Dereck to come, pick her up and hold her against his heart.

“I wonder if she does it on purpose?” Juli asked herself. “I wonder if unconsciously she makes him come to her. Could that be possible?” She sat gazing into the fireplace thinking of Tishy. “In her way she’s just as much of a character as Marina really, just as much of a presence, despite not talking and hardly reacting to anything. In fact, I’m sure Dereck is right. It’s as if she’s all damned up and one day the floodgates will open and everything will be alright.”

‘One only has to look at her, just use one’s eyes and one can’t deny a reality …’ Lena’s words hung like a heavy grey persuasive cloud about Juli’s heart. Was it really wishful thinking on her part? Was Tishy in reality hopelessly backward, something she and Dereck were quite unwilling to admit?

Dereck swung into the nursery, bringing with him waves of energy and bonhomie. Juli’s heart began to thud uncomfortably as she jumped up and said cheerfully, “Look Tishy, Daddy’s come.”

“She set the little girl on her feet and pushed her gently towards her father. He picked her up and cuddled her against him.

“Everything alright?” he asked, as he always did.

Juli, remembering, said, “Tishy saw a hummingbird this afternoon and she smiled.”

“She did? Is that right?” Dereck exclaimed. “But that’s wonderful news. Hey, Lena, did you hear that? Tishy saw a hummingbird this afternoon and smiled. Isn’t that terrific? Tishykins! Let’s go dancing shall we? May I have this dance Miss Patricia Birnham? Thank you! Tra-la-la, Tra-la-la, Tishy smiled.” He began to waltz around the nursery with Tishy in his arms.

“Do you want tea?” Lena called out over Marina’s noisy imitation of her father and Dereck replied, still singing, “Yes, yes please.”

Lena shook her head fondly and left the room as Dereck returned Tishy to Juli’s arms and the little girl looked at him shyly, her thick lenses twinkling a little and smiled again, just a fleeting smile which touched her lips in passing, but which changed her whole expression. Dereck stood looking at her with a strange awed look on his face. It was as if, for the first time, he could really believe what he was always repeating, that Tishy was in fact quite normal.

“My God,” he whispered running his fingers through his hair. He looked at Juli, nodded several times, unable to say anything else, and at last left the nursery in silence. Juli felt as if some sort of sustaining power in her had been taken away. She felt completely empty and weak. With a shock, she realized that she had believed Dereck. That all her strength and faith had been based on his apparent certainty that Tishy was normal., and now after all it was clear that he had not been certain at all, even when she had told him about the hummingbird.

She sat Tishy on the sofa with a bunch of ‘flower’ cards. She felt drained and shaken, as if she had suffered a fall. She wanted to be alone, to cry, to run away and leave this strange, silent child. She wanted not to care so much, not to feel so involved. She did not want to be the only one to believe that Tishy was normal, she doubted if she had the strength to do so when no one else did. This made her feel that she was betraying the child in some way and she felt guilty of cowardice.

“But now he does believe,” she thought choosing a cheerful cassette and inserting it into the tape recorder with fumbling fingers. “Now he does. I think he does. But the thing is that I only did because he did. Poor Tishy, we’re all against you. Unconsciously we all think you are backward. If that’s the message you’ve been getting from us all, whatever we say, then, how will you ever get well? If … if … if … if … Real faith can move mountains. People have recovered from fatal illnesses because of some loved one’s faith, or their own. I know they have. If I had real faith, Tishy would get well. But I don’t! I don’t! I keep hearing Lena’s voice and I think, if she’s right then every day away from the right Institute is one day wasted. And how can I be so sure that Tishy is like this because Lena rejects her? Millions of babies have been rejected like that and grow up perfectly normally.”

She looked across the field, beyond the lawn, to the caldén trees, green and shimmering in the radiant evening light. She never tired of resting her eyes on the caldén trees with their gnarled, twisted branches and their fine leaves which seemed, from a distance, to be vibrating slightly the whole time.

“Tonight I shall look at the photographs,” she thought. “Tishy can see now, and she smiled three times today. She’s come a very long way in only four months. She’s going to be alright. I know she will.” Pushing the subject of Tishy out of her mind, she went to the bathroom to turn on the bath.

Sitting at the table in the pool of light cast by the bridge lamp, once the two little girls were asleep, Juli turned the pages of the old photograph albums with mounting interest. Phyllis had been a very neat person evidently, for under each photograph she had printed the names of the people portrayed, or the place, in white ink on the thick brown pages, and dates abounded.

One album contained wedding photographs. Juli poured over them, studying every angle of Phyllis’s pretty dreamy-eyed face, and Dereck’s sharp youthful features, so slim in those days and yet entirely recognizable. Juli yearned over him, dreaming herself into Phyllis and their life at Los Alamos twenty odd years ago.

Rowena appeared with Gavin in another album, an attractive smiling little boy with a mass of fair curls above his plump cheeks, Rowena looked incredibly like Marina. Fascinated, Juli watched them grow up. Dereck too grew older and thicker-set, more like his present self, while Los Alamos grew and changed in the background.

Apart from the albums where only the best photographs were pasted there were envelopes full of random snapshots but each had a title and a date neatly inscribed on the back. It was very late when July finally closed the last album and stuffed the loose snapshots back into the yellowing envelopes. She felt strange, as if, for a while she had been living another life. What threads, she wondered, what notes or melodies had drawn her to this faraway farm, away from London town, her family and her friends?
………………………………

At lunch the following day Marina remembered her conversation with Lena and said loudly to her father, “The new baby is going to be called Cristóbal Guillermo Colón.” Lena and Dereck burst out laughing and Dereck corrected her with a chuckle, “Not Colón sweetheart, Birnham.”

“And how can I say that in Spanish?” Marina persisted.

“It’s a surname …” Lena began, but Dereck raised his hand and said, “Quemar Jamón. How’s that for a surname, eh?” and they burst out laughing again. Marina, encouraged, repeated ‘Quemar Jamón’ several times before continuing excitedly, her voice rising with every name, “Marina Quemar Jamón, Mamá Quemar Jamón, Papá Quemar Jamón …”

“And Juli?” Dereck asked.

Marina held her breath, looking at Juli while she tried to work out a translation.

“Julieta Camino – Juli Lane,” Dereck cried clapping his hands and Marina leapt from her chair and bounced up and down clapping her hands and shouting gleefully “Julieta Camino, Julieta Camino…”

The words reverberated in Juli’s head and she felt as if all her blood were draining away from her body. She stared at Marina with wide unseeing eyes, thinking, “Julieta Caminos … wasn’t that the name in that strange letter Rita received? Could it be … could it possibly be …?”

“Excuse me,” she whispered, and jumping to her feet she ran to the nursery and began to hunt through her letter-writing folder to find Rita’s last letter. Marina and Dereck followed her at once, startled by her expression.

“What’s the matter, Juli, what happened for goodness sake?” Dereck demanded anxiously.

“Juli, Juli,” Marina cried bursting into tears. Lena appeared looking concerned.

Juli found Rita’s letter and opened it with trembling hands, spreading it on the table and searching through it with the tip of her finger.

“Here,” she said in a low voice. “Here …….” She turned to Dereck and said , “That day you came to fetch me from my friend Rita’s house, with Pamela. When I went to B.A, with you. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” he nodded.

Tishy appeared and walked silently over to her father; he picked her up and settled her almost automatically into the curve of his arm. No one wondered how she had climbed out of her high chair.

“Well,” Juli went on. “That afternoon a neighbour gave her a letter badly addressed, the last number of the street number was wrong. Rita couldn’t understand the letter at all, it said … it was in Spanish … it said that someone called Miguel …” she glanced at the letter in her hand, “… Licar, who was a friend of Julieta Caminos, wanted her to know that … Oh! I can’t remember … something about flying … and to tell her. Neither Rita nor her sister know anybody called Julieta Caminos. I’m sure it’s me. That it’s a message, a message in code. A message from Peter to tell us he’s O.K. Oh! if only I could remember what the letter said! If only I could phone Rita …”

“But Miguel Licar, how do you connect that with Peter?” Lena asked.

“Peter who?” Marina asked.

“Peter Carlie, Pamela’s brother.” Lena told her.

“Car-lie, Car-lie, Car-lie,” Marina exclaimed, banging the table with a fat little hand. “Auto Li … Auto … Li …”

The three adults gazed at one another in electrified silence.

“There was another name,” Juli said. “Miguel something Licar … Let me think … hush Marina, just for a minute.”

Marina, still half submerged in her name game, crooned softly, “Peter, Pedro; Pamela, Pamela; Marina, Marina; Tishy, Patricia; Juli, Julieta …”

“Ordep,” Juli exclaimed. “Miguel Ordep Licar, I remember because Rita said it sounded middle eastern.”

Ordep,” Dereck said thoughtfully and then repeated loudly, “Ordep, my God! That’s Peter backwards.”

“Pedro — Ordep, Carlie – Licar,” Marina shouted banging the table gaily.

“And the Miguel?” Juli asked.

“He’s called Michael Peter Carlie,” Dereck said. “But they always called him Peter, Michael was my father’s name.” He was tremendously excited. He set Tishy down and said,” My God, this is terrific! Who did you say got the letter? Rita? And who was it from?”

“Someone called Isabel.”

“Can you remember what it said?”

“Wait.. oh goodness, my heart is jumping about so I can’t think straight! What exactly did it say…? What on earth did it say?”

“Ordep – Pedro, Licar – Carlie,” Marina intoned.

“Quiet Marina,” Dereck roared, and the child dissolved into a noisy flood of tears. “Oh, for God’s sake Lena take her into the living room and shut the door,” he snapped and Lena took Marina’s hand and led her out of the room, returning almost at once having left Marina in Marta’s sturdy brown arms with the promise of a spoonful of dulce de leche if she stopped crying.

In the ensuing silence Juli said, “As far as I can remember the letter said that this Isabel had met this Miguel person and he had said to tell Julieta Caminos that he had learned to fly.”

“Who had learned?”

“Miguel … Peter.”

“Miguel Ordep Licar, Michael Pedro/Peter Carlie. If those were the names then it’s almost certainly a coded letter from Peter. I shall have to go to Buenos Aires. It’s a clue. At least it will set Marion’s mind at rest.”

“Oh, Dereck! You promised not to go to B.A. until the baby is born,” Lena cried, the hint of a wail in her voice.

“Lena, I can’t ring Arthur up and tell him all this on the phone, for God’s sake!”

“You can write to him.”

Juli, sensing Lena’s very real anxiety, said quickly, “We can both write. You to Arthur and I to Rita.”

Dereck, who far preferred action to writing letters, said rather grudgingly, “Well, yes, I suppose so.”

“It’s a month and a half since Juli was in Buenos Aires. The letter was written ages ago!” Lena said.

“True. Well, the best thing then is to write right away. I’ll post the letters in Las Pajas as soon as you have yours ready, Juli. Give me the details again will you?”

“Let’s have some coffee and let her write in peace,” Lena suggested and taking Tishy by the hand she steered Dereck back into the living room. Juli found that her hands were trembling so it made her handwriting jerky and she was annoyed at her lack of control. As a P.S. she added, “ If you get any more letters from ‘Isabel’ don’t throw them away for they are probably from Peter himself.”

She took her letter and the envelope, already addressed to Rita, to Dereck in the living room. He read it, nodded and hastened off with it to his office.

“Have some coffee,” Lena offered and Juli sank down onto the sofa with a sigh of relief. “I’m exhausted,” she said, “Imagine! A letter from Peter and we didn’t even realize it! What fools! Julieta Caminos – Juli Lane. How could we have been so stupid?”

“And you only noticed because of Marina,” Lena remarked with a noticeable note of pride in her voice.

“That’s true,” Juli agreed. She set her empty coffee cup on the table and said, “I think I’m going to go riding now. I’m so excited I feel I shall burst if I don’t do something really energetic!”

“And I think I shall lie down for a while,” Lena said. “I feel quite tired out with all this to-do.”

Juli laughed and nodded. “You do that,” she agreed.

She donned her riding gear, advised Marta who was with the children, that she was going riding, and walked down to where Mariposa was tethered to a tree in the shade, waiting for her patiently, already saddled, flicking her tail to keep away the flies and listening to the cicada’s buzzing lullabies filling the air. Juli had opted to wear what most people wore in the ‘camp’ to go riding. Bombachas which were loose trousers fastened at the bottom, and a long woollen faja, or sash, wound round her waist.

It was a blue day, with a fresh wind from the east. Juli cantered into the caldén woods, her hair streaming in the wind and her heart singing. “He’s flying in his lonely sky,” she thought. “But he got away. He’s O.K.. Thank heavens for that! Oh! Thank heavens for that!”

In the distance she heard the car start up and then she saw the dust rising as Dereck drove rapidly away to post their letters.

…………………………………………………

1 thought on “Under Another Sky 9

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