Summer Down Under
Australia decades ago. Summer holidays come at yearend. Beach, sun, sea, life outdoors; while Christmas traditions prevail with whitened fir trees, Santa, carols. Most migrants feel homesick, reminiscing about people and things past in old country.
Summer Down Under
Fernando García Izquierdo
That summer the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world disappeared off one of Ocean’s farthest coasts. Member of the power elite, Nelson Rockefeller was many things at the same time: industrialist, financier, politician and party leader, mayor of a big city and governor of the state, vicepresident of the United States of America, art collector, a great figure in the world of opera, cinema and society in general; he was loved and admired by nearly all his contemporaries in the free world. But the one thing above all which made him great and famous was a ‘commodity’: Oil. He was the scion of a family that possessed a big chunk of America and of the riches extracted from the soil and subsoil. Power was forever secured. Standard Oil! The the trusts, monopolies, banks and all the panoply of capitalism, forever his.
From the start of the North-American Republic the rich families (some of them the descendants of the British colonisers of old) grabbed the land for themselves, the immense American plains and the rest. They conquered them little by little from the natives, whom they called Red Indians; infinite extensions of territory where cotton was afterwards grown, thanks to the work of African slaves; the richest and finest soil along the big rivers, laboured by the poorest immigrants from the British Isles and the rest of Europe. All those lands, a gift from God Supreme, passed at once under the ownership of private individuals, the nobles of old, and the smart and the scoundrels of all times. All privately owned. Pope Leon XIII was to say in his encyclical Rerum Novarum that it was an attribute inherent to Man, the quality of Human, to possess the earth. North America, at the time of this encyclical, was still like when the English, armed as no other people ever was, conquered the land for themselves. But the English were, besides, armed with an Excellent Body of Laws, which would seal and legitimate all the acquisitions that wars, strife and chicanery afforded these nobles, and the families that followed (Rockefeller, Morgan, etc.) We can say, without fear of making a mistake, that this constituted the beginning of North American capitalism.
Early in the era of capitalism, only specialised people knew or could have guessed about the importance of that substance underground which came to be known as ‘petrol’, ‘kerosene’ or ‘oil. The Rockefellers knew. Also the Morgans and other families of the power elite. And a still greater advantage was secured by these powerful beings, as we have hinted, through the magesty ot the law, the employment of the law, particularly company law. Individual responsibility was transformed into limited liability, that is, with the foundation of corporations, trusts, monopolies and the stock-exchange, personal evasion of responsibility was possible. Power without danger of any civil or criminal responsibility. That is what a free society means.
At the time of the son’s (Michael Rockefeller) disappearance, the boy was looking for collectors’ treasures in a faraway forgotten world, the South Seas islands, north of Australia, where hardly any white man had ventured before (even if some of those islands belonged to Australia, as a protectorate.) It is said he was searching for articles made by the native people of those islands, either items like shrunken-heads and war trophies generally, or traditional tools and weapons, or religious articles, such as masks and idols, big or small statues of male deities with monstruous heads, and very short legs which effectively emphasised the length of the gods’ penises, or obese productive female goddesses, mothers of their people and of the earth at times. All kinds of similar works, known among us, civilised nations, as primitive art.
He was accompanied in the expedition by a man about fifteen years older than him, a professor. They were in Australia for a while, getting the necessary papers ready, which were granted by the colonial authorities. It was thereafter reported that Michael Rockefeller entered the country (Papua-New Guinea) from the south, then travelled along a rather wild inexpugnable coast. It is one of the most mountainous countries of the world, with high unreachable peaks everywhere, and the way to travel was by sea, sailing along the coast, trying to reach from time to time a little cove or the estuary of some small river, since at that time there was not a single road in the whole of that faraway, uneven, craggy territory. They were going west up the coast on their catamaran when it capsized; young Michael, seeing the current was taking them out to open sea, swiftly decided to dive into a most tumultous sea to seek help, and nobody ever saw him again. Was he eaten by sharks?, devoured by alligators of which those coasts were full?, did he drown and go to join the mermaids in the bottom of the ocean? There were even those that contended he had been eaten by cannibals who cut off his head (to shrink it and keep as a war throphy). As for the other White man, he did survive; but little was said about him afterwards.
Papua-New Guinea became a well-known land afterwards. One of the richest countries of the world as far as oil and other minerals are concerned, it kept on receiving foreign visitors, and not only art collectors. In time it became full of ‘collectors’ of another kind, sometimes known as ‘prospectors’. Today Exxon (a new name for Standard Oil) is exploiting the subsoil therein, destroying by the way all the land, corrupting some of the inhabitants and poisoning the rest (as well as the soil) with modern machines, fumes and chemicals of all sorts… and (don’t let us forget) introducing with great expertise all the laws and customs which have made in many points of the planet of People in the State of Nature, Countries of the Free World.
The summer found Galvao in a terrible state of indecision. The old articled clerk at Hutchkinson and Whyte’s, Mr. Kevin Dean, had retired and the Spaniard was called in to start on December the first. He was allocated his own little box in the office. The premises occupied nearly the entire seventh floor in Caltex House, a building of both little or big offices, and consisted mainly of various narrow corridors, intercrossing one another, with rooms on either side, which went from the manager’s office and the so-called typers’ (or typing) room (which were really large) to the rest of the individual offices, big and small, of which Galvao’s was the tiniest. His particular cubicle was in the centre of the premises and did not have any window: a narrow door leading in and out, a desk and two chairs, that was all. Which did not mean he was isolated from the rest of the employees. In fact he saw people passing by all day; for the offices everywhere were made of varnished wood up to a certain height, and the rest of the wall all around was clear glass, sometimes up to the ceiling, more often half-way, the whole being held in position with the help of varnished bars. As a new junior associate he was at a disadvantage, naturally; for certain rooms were facing the harbour, and in some others, with glass up to the ceiling, the glass was opaque, with or without displaying the names of partners or important members of the staff.
A few days after he entered the firm he saw the head and shoulders of a very young woman moving along the corridor, two feet away from his chair as it were. The girl was very blond and (he was sure) very pretty, although he hardly had the time to see her face. A quarter of an hour later the intercom rang. He was summoned into Mr. Hutchkinson’s office. He stood up, crossed the narrow door and proceeded along the passage. Entering the place, after duly knocking, he found the nice platinum girl with Mr. Hutchkinson, who said to him: ‘Mr. Luis Galvao! Let me introduce you to Miss Lida Kirolenko, your new secretary.’
Luis was dazzled. No better word for it. Such a pretty little thing. He tried to look through the window at the bay, for he felt he was blushing. Why had Mr. Hutchkinson said ‘Your new secretary’, why ‘new’? He hadn’t had a secretary or any similar personal aid in his life! He felt he had to say something, anything (the girl had stood up to shake hands, and he was stupidly holding the five delightful fingers in his grip.) Nothing doing. He must look silly, still trying to glance at the blue sky outside. He didn’t know why, but the idea of having to share his little office with such a pretty vivacious person, every time he summoned her in for dictation, embarrassed him. The boss had just said to her that she would share the large room ‘with the others’ of the typing pool.
But specially, he felt awkward to the point of blushing because he had just recognised the girl, his new secretary. They had been, on another occasion, just as near each other as they were now: the images of Irina and Vitas, bride and bridegroom, came to his mind. And he prayed to God she would not recognise him. The embarrassment! He would not know what to do. Would that ruin his career? Mr. Hutchkinson was looking. Apparently the girl did not remember anything and he thanked our Lord, though his ego suffered. She had not noticed him at all that day.
It had become a habit of his, from the time when he was in the Sussex Street factory, to walk back home in the evening, Ultimo being quite near the city and in fact just a half-hour walk if you chose to go through the back streets along the harbour, then across Pyrmont Bridge, Harris Street being just there, on the left, after the Power Station. At the beginning of his employment in the soap factory, he had stopped with his mates at the pub for a drink, after work; but soon he chose to rush home to Malgorata instead.
He enjoyed the landscape of warehouses, workers and the popular hotels, specially now when the afternoons were longer. In the morning he caught a bus to make sure he did not get sidetracked, being always interested in different things. The bus took him to Central Railway and in the same vehicle, turning left, half an hour later, he arrived at Circular Quay. A few minutes’ walk and he was in Caltex House. But in the afternoon he walked home.
Since his employment at the law firm his colleagues had been inviting him to join them for a drink in the Marble Bar: a famous hotel situated in the most busy portion of George Street. It was a place full of guilded mirrors, chandeliers and marble here and there, where the regulars, all men, made mostly shop-talk, over a glass of beer, and exchanged confidences for an hour or two: young professionals who gathered every day after work to relax, cracking jokes rather noisily, stamping their polished black shoes on the equally polished floor. But, again, Galvao did not enjoy it as he ought; not anymore anyhow than he had enjoyed the company of his workmates at Pyrmont Hotel a while ago; and little by little he ceased attending these social gatherings as he had done with the others. As the weather was becoming warmer and the afternoons longer, he often went to the seaside in his Holden, as he had done months ago with the Hillman.
After the day Malgorata spoke of the mysterious telephone calls that had made her so hysterical, he became somewhat pusillanimous. Manuel had told him that Krappov was now engaged in complicated war games, engaged by a secret American organisation, which was officially registered as a ‘Weapons and Hunting Society’. No freedom of movement for the ‘Rangers’. Still, something could happen.
There was another problem: Luis thought now too much about his secretary. He had been these last three days accompanying her, after work, to the suburban railway, for she lived in Lidcombe. The Wyndyard Square station was on his way. More than once he thought of going down the stone steps and travelling with her all the way to Lidcombe; or else inviting her for a drive somewhere. However, she was a minor and he, her boss, was already twenty-nine. Too much responsibility, if a liaison was established, and he never dared to invite her. Except once, a few days after she became his secretary. She had come into his office to take some notes, and he asked her (for he really felt curious about this) why she had been introduced by the boss as Lida Kirolenko, and now she called herself Maureen.
‘I’m not Russian, nor Ukrainian, and I hate the name. Maureen is my second christian-name,’ she said, challengingly. ‘I am Australian. Nothing else. Born in Paddington Maternity Hospital. Eighteen years ago, if you want to know.’
One day, when Luis was making his way back from the office along Pyrmont Bridge Road, intending to reach the small alley where he often left his car, he ran up against a wicked-looking Malgorata who was coming to meet him.
‘Why d’you avoid me nowadays, naughty boy?’ she asked. ‘It took me so much time and effort to find out what ye’re at, and… discover… this place.’
‘You spying on me?’ he asked, looking surprised. And he made to go.
But she was standing before him. ‘You see,’ she said.
‘I don’t like it,’ he said, ‘are you following me?’
‘Not so,’ she said kissing him, and trying to calm him now. ‘It is not that, not that, but..., tell me, am I no longer your pussy?’
‘It’s to say,’ he went on, now rather awkwardly, ‘I thought you were afraid… You see. It’s so ridiculous, so difficult the way we live. Besides, I feel poorly, depressed.’’ And, after caressingly touching her cheek with one finger, he again turned away.
But it was without counting with her determination. She swiftly grasped back the caressing hand and caused him to face her. ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ she protested.
‘You know we could never be man and wife,’ he said, humbly. ‘We cannot even get together without fear. The house is full of dangers. He can arrive suddenly any moment.’
‘But we can still meet, get together somewhere… Cronulla, like before. Oh please, don’t say I’ve come in vain. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.’
And he could not but open his arms to her. For above all he was in love, and there was nothing at that moment he desired more intently than having her again, possessing her, that fantastic body, kissing and adoring that beautiful face. He needed a woman, and it was she he wanted.
‘Malgorata… you know, it is not that,’ he began; he desired to explain himself, but he could only stammer.
‘Please, don’t talk!’ She placed her hand over his lips.
He again caught her in his arms and looked at her pleading eyes: an enchantress gazing at him.
‘I’m also much afraid, dear Luis, but we can still meet where we will not be caught,’ she repeated, ‘can we not?’
‘Yes, my darling,’ he muttered; but there was still something.
Malgorata, noticing his hesitation, and knowing the reason for it, drew away and her eyes shone with tears. ‘We’ll go far away,’ she repeated, ‘where nobody’ll know us. Things may come round.’
They drove to a little harbour beach, near the Heads. There was a restaurant on the sands, the Ozone. They had a fish meal and stayed on the beach afterwards.
… what Luis did not mention was that precisely that day, at noon, he had luncheon in town with Maureen, his secretary. The pretty young woman had entered Galvao’s office as usual, carrying her block and half a dozen sharpened pencils. He had summoned her at quarter past eleven. She had sat in her chair facing him, and had taken notes. After that, they both rose, and it was not entirely by chance that they met in the lift. He gazed at her and she smiled. They walked out into the street together, a few words were exchanged and he invited her to a fish and chips restaurant.
Another evening Luis found Malgorata frightfully depressed and on the brink of tears. She explained she had been going through the photograph album, and had come across some snaps taken in England many years ago, before her defection to the west. She had come across a snap which hurt her more than anything. Her best friend in the Kiev orchestra, Anna, had defected in London, a few months before she herself defected in Manchester. Her friend was in the picture.
‘And today,’ she said, ‘you know, Luis, unexpectedly, I got a Christmas card from Anna. ‘Why don’t we go to England, Luis? I’m sure Anna will help us.’
The story affected Luis. London, he thought. He fell in a sort of reverie.
… I was taking her to my flat. I wanted to show it to her, I had said. A typical London street, two rows of nearly identical houses. We had been walking from the underground station, hoping to have a lovely afternoon together. I lifted the latch of the area-railing, and we stepped in and down to the basement. When I opened the door and switched the light on, the flat looked dark and uninviting: she at once recoiled, quite unexpectedly, and I felt suddenly quite confused. She’d pressed her snubby nose (her only defect) with the palm of one and I really thought she was going to cry. We had made love together when in the camp, in Yorkshire; and now… I wondered what had happened. We went in, nevertheless, and a lunch was duly prepared. After the meal I rose from my chair to take the things to the kitchen, while she had a more complete look at the premises: just one room plus the kitchen and the bathroom. I came back with a bottle of sparkling wine which we finished in a jiffy, so to speak. And in the jiffy, too, my Margaret became soft and tender like an angel.
‘Luis, aren’t you listening?’
‘I was saying that we might go to London,’ Malgorata said, ‘I have that friend, Anna, from Kiev. She defected to the West before me, and has been playing all these years in England. She’ll help me.’
‘I see. And who will help me? Am I going to start anew, a worker? Let me, my precious, pass this exam first… otherwise, what hope will I have of ever getting employment overthere? And you too must work; I mean, you’re always saying you’re out of practice. You cannot arrive in London, just like that. Play, play, play.’
They came to an agreement. She would now practice every day “Oh, I shall, Luis, my love! I’ll play every evening, for you. And when you hear me, you must know it is for you, only you,’’ Malgorata said with great emotion.
‘And as for me,’ he said, ‘I shall now study very hard.’
They drove once again to the eastern suburbs and parked the car on a road near the ocean, but still took the footpath going down towards the harbour. Watson’s Bay, the Ozone fish-restaurant, owned by a London man, who had once been a famous rock-singer, married to a handsome Dutch woman much taller than him. They became friends with the couple. At twilight Luis and Malgorata walked down a wooden platform, and strolled on the beach near the water’s edge. The billowing waves approached the sands with a soft singing noise, which mingled in their ears with the sound of music coming from the restaurant.
‘Come! Let’s climb up a bit and lie on the dry warm sand near the rocks,’ she whispered.
Sitting on the sand, later on, he watched without moving how the sky turned a darker blue; how an early star had begun twinkling faraway over the horizon and, at once, the sky was full of stars. There was a sudden gust of wind, and a massive bird, floating with the waves, dived into the sea. They saw it soaring upwards awash with salty water, carrying its prey tightly in its beak.
‘The cormorant,’ Margorata murmured, noticing that the vision had impressed Luis. ‘Did you know?’
‘I didn’t know the name,’ he replied. ‘But yes, I’ve seen the bird… Those were awful days for me,’ he added pensively. ‘I was imprisoned.’
The rolling waves were gaining strength, and several lines of revolving white foam were now seen advancing and pushing back the returning waves with a splash. Malgorata was still watching the bird, up in the sky. His hand was on her shoulder; but his mind was miles away. She did not know he had once been tortured in jail, a fortress in Cadiz Bay, the Blue Mediterranean; that through the barred window of his cell he saw the whorls of foam flying up against the prison wall. And yet, that bird!
‘The cormorant, you’ve said,’ he muttered.
She saw he was suffering. ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have mentioned it then,’ she said apologetically, ‘if it brings you bad memories.’
‘Darling, you didn’t know. Besides, it’s no use trying to hide the scars of life.’
The middle of December was only just past and already there were public gatherings everywhere celebrating the birth of the Infant Saviour. Malgorata had read in a local paper about some ‘’carol singing by candlelight’’ going on in one of the posh Eastern Suburbs; she mentioned it to Luis, and to the suburb in question they drove one evening, taking with them a couple of wax candles as required. The singing took place on an oval green field where a nice soft breeze, that blew now and then, denoted the proximity of the ocean. Every generation of Sydneysider was there represented, from the old grandparent who had seen better times to the young toddler who had just begun to walk, standing in the field, facing a choir with a lady conductor on a platform, all chanting carols with great fervour, for which purpose the congregation had been provided upon arrival with stencilled copies of the songs to be sung that night and which they consulted by the light of their candles as soon as night began to draw in.
Afterwards Luis and Malgorata went for a stroll along the waterfront among the promenaders, their hands entwined and their bent heads touching. Strangely enough neither of them seemed particularly animated at the moment; though from time to time she did hum the tune of one or other of the carols they had been singing on the oval. There was a line of lampposts which gave a subdued yellow light all along the promenade, and the couple, so evidently in love, rather looked like two enchanted beings in a fairy tale under said subdued light. There was a strip of lawn on the opposite side of the road and, after another narrower roadway, a line of small houses, with shops, refreshment-rooms, cafés and a hotel, all of which were closed at that hour, but which the two knew well, Coogee Beach being a favourite spot when they went for a swim of a Sunday. Eventually Malgorata led the way to the stone parapet separating the walk from the sands, pulling Luis up with her. After a lapse of a few minutes, during which she was quietly staring at the ocean and he was watching her with a wondering smile: ‘Sweetheart,’ he began, ‘I noticed you hardly looked at the stencilled sheets while singing, do you know all them carols by heart?’
‘I’ve always sung carols at Christmastime, love,’ she replied; but her mind was obviously occupied with other matters.
They were seated on the stone parapet, for the moment not quite close together. She was wearing a light sleeveless top which did not even reach her waist, her navel showing most deliciously just above a black miniskirt. He came nearer and laid one hand on her warm thigh, caressingly. But she did not seem to notice; only her dangling legs were moving, her toes playing nervously with her flip-flop rubber sandals, until at length one of them fell to the sand below, which again she did not seem to notice.
‘Back home,’ she said, without looking, ‘I sang ever so often. Both my parents are good singers.’
‘Pity I can’t say the same about mine; I believe I never heard my Dad sing. As for Mum, just a few lines from a popular hit when she was in the kitchen or making the beds. Well, you can see the result: I can’t sing for nuts.’
‘My poor boy! Take heart,’ said Malgorata with a note of irony. ‘You’ve a strong baritone voice.’
He was going to remonstrate with a kiss, but she drew away resting the palms of her hands on the parapet, and then, balancing her body firmly on the stone, she threw herself over upon the sand, picked up the missing thong and away she trod barefoot, moving her arms, a thong in each hand, letting the breeze caress her pretty face. Luis also jumped over and ran after her, and when he caught up embraced her tightly from behind, his lips touching her neck and little round ear. She turned round, and in her eyes he detected a sadness which was not there before. Why the change? Some secret woe?
‘My love, what?’ Luis whispered. Of course he knew the answer.
… it was a feeling common to many migrants, which crept into your heart from time to time, and often on special occasions during some celebration. You’re in a country to which you don’t belong. The Aussies won’t understand, they don’t realise what it means to sing ‘White Christmas’; to spread artificial snow over the Christmas tree… in midsummer.
‘Luis, my only love!’ she had been holding him by the shoulder, with one hand (the other Luis had grabbed.)
He kissed her with passion.
‘It always happens at this time of the year,’ she went on, and the tears were struggling to get out of her eyes.
He loved that face, those eyes, now shining with tears. He recognised in them the soul of an artist. There was in those eyes tonight something new, profound, a melancholy to which his own heart was no stranger: that vague sense of loss and regret, the realisation that part of one’s life has already gone… the irretrievable past.
They sat on the sand, close, but not touching. ‘’I love you,’’ he whispered bending to kiss her ear.
‘And I love you too!’ she cried; but her gaze was turned to the ocean. The murmuring surge of the coming waves, one after another, this summernight. And the glittering, rolling, white bands faraway began to look quite threatening.
Luis touched her shoulder, trying to make her look. ‘Please, tell me?’ he whispered.
‘I should not have left my land, my friends, my art, all that!’ she whispered back, ‘the violin was my all to me… all my life.’
‘I know how you feel,’ he said with a sigh. ‘I too feel homesick, I too made brillliant studies. I chose exile,’ he was crying. ‘New Australians, that’s what we are, and…’ another pause. ‘We have roamed from place to place, carrying with us a despondency borne of the knowledge that we don’t belong in here, anywhere. We’ve lost our roots.’
She assented with her eyes. ‘I’ve lost them completely, Luis, irremediably! And I feel it most particularly today,’ she muttered. ‘This lovely summernight. The waves, the sea, the horizon. How strange!’
She stopped, and he wanted her to go on. ‘Malgorata, tell me!’
‘In summer, August overthere, they took us to the Black Sea.’
The tears were now rolling down her cheeks. There was a growing darkness over the ocean, while the expanse above was bright and luminous. Behind them, far away, along the promenade, there was that long line of lampposts of yellow light, like little incandescent circles, and the rest almost black. There were no longer so many promenaders.
‘How strange, you’ve said,’ he began. ‘How strange, I say too. And how lucky we’ve met. In a foreign country! Foreign for you, foreign for me… You know, to tell the truth, this feeling…’ he did not finish his sentece, as if the idea had gone from his mind, and, in despair, he fell back upon the sand, and lay down, watching the stars.
‘I was a pioneer back home,’ he heard her say. ‘D’you know what that means?’
‘I know the meaning of the word, yes.’
‘They took us to holiday camps, I’ve said. It was fun of a summer evening… In August nights already came earlier. Well, you know.’
He murmured assent. And she went on: ‘I mean, now it’s winter overthere… Here it’s summer, yet christmastime… Oh, I’m getting myself into a mess! Well, we were taken to the mountains or the sea, depending on where you lived. Simply staying out around a bonfire was great fun: we chatted, told stories, put potatoes in the fire, and of course played music and sang. Then, when the fire burned out, we watched the stars.’
He was holding her by the waist. Of a sudden they saw something shining faraway at sea, something which from a line along the horizon turned into a shining segment of blood-red matter, and then, a bright glowing orange of enormous proportions, girdled all around with a halo of white light, like ejected at that moment into space by the earth; and at the same time a crimson flash burst out on the entire surface of the ocean, a long line of light coming right to the water’s edge and the beach. And the glittering distant object over the horizon crept up to the middle of the sky. It was the moon, round and pearly white. Malgorata now stood up and moved, as in a trance, towards the sea; she stripped herself of her blouse and miniskirt and trod ever so lightly on the firm wet sand, raising her arms in the air. The waves came bubbling to meet her and she let them wet her thighs and panty and tiny bra, still playing with her hands. And the moon and the stars were peeping down upon the goddess as she swam eagerly towards the surging ribbons of white foam. Luis had been watching, and now he stood up in alarm, ready to join her; however she had stopped swimming and, turning round, paddled with the surge, like a little feline, and soon a sharp keen wind pushed her back to the sand with the rollers. She left her wet bra and panty on the sand and at once went back to the water, swaying with the regular swell of the sea, then stood up playing gleefully, with hands and feet as if she were dancing, jumping up and down and twisting her legs above the foaming surf; until she came panting to Luis, who was approaching, and together they went up the beach, where the sand was soft and warm.
‘My!’ she exclaimed, flinging herself on the ground. She lay on her back, then on one side, then on the other, rolling her delicious body about, all covered with sand, until she rolled herself still.
Luis had fallen on his knees to kiss her; but she turned round on the sand once more, offering her back to him. ‘Now you’ve got to work,’ she said. ‘Brush the sand off my back.’
Which he did; and next she was leaning on her elbow with her head resting on her hand and her eyes fixed on him. He went on, stroked her neck and shoulders, her dizzily curving back, brushing the sand off the warm sensual body. With two hands he held her head, her golden locks, hopelessly full of sand, and kissed her.
… I’ve come to her I love best, oh, my sweetheart! You, you!... never, oh never shal wel separate! Oh, dearest, I adore you!
She kissed him, in her turn, biting and moaning, and asking him to come closer, ever closer, to make love together, so completely. And into her most precious being he ventures, loving and caring.
That day the Council was to send around the so-called ‘surplus lorry’, with the task of collecting any amount of rubbish which the neighbours might care to deposit in front of their houses and which was not collected on a daily basis in the ordinary way. By midday Harris street was full of heaps of waste, discharged all along the pavement. Only on one side of the street was concerned, as the other side was entirely occupied by sundry factories and warehouses, which were not meant to benefit from this municipal collection.
Manuel Suárez had begun the day looking prim and bright, dressed in white; but as the day advanced he appeared flushed and suffocated, as he helped Big Nino to carry away chunks of broken plaster, lumber, metal piping, rotten shelves and dusty cupboards, and other unwanted matter which had been accumulating in the backyard since the Council lorry last came along.
On their way across the house with the rejected material (or back to the yard, through the house, from the street), they ran up against Malgorata and Luis, who had offered to help and had in fact joined in the cleaning. ‘’Come, give me a kiss!’’ was Luis saying to Malgorata, thinking they were alone, in the back garden. She wore a well-fitting light-blue dress, and her short wavy hair shone prettily in the mid-morning sun; and she wore black glasses acceptuating the beauty of her rounded rosy checks. Luis held her by the waist, caressing her body, which was bent backwards. ‘Let’s go back with the others,’ Malgorata said, with a little toss, as the other two entered.
‘Wait,’ he said, retaining her by the arm, ‘don’t you think it would be a good idea if we were to look inside that old bomb. Come along, let’s have a peep.’ They went to the Austin Somerset wreck, just by the back gate; and Malgorata opening the door, ‘Look!’’ she cried with excitement. ‘A pussy there!’
In effect, a very tiny black kitten was lying asleep on the torn leather seat in the back. She got the dear little thing in her arms, caressing its fluffy coat and calling it ‘beauty’ and ‘my own.’ ‘Oh, you knew about it, and wanted to give me a surprise, thank you, Luis!’ she said, blowing him a kiss.
‘Seriously I didn’t know, or I wouldn’t have opened my mouth; for now I’m jealous.’
‘You did!, you did!’
‘I guess its mother left it there one night, knowing as there’s a cat lover on the premises.’
They brought the little creature into the house, Malgorata gave it a saucer of creamy milk, and Manuel, who had again entered the kitchen, pronounced it to be a female. Whereupon Malgorata christened the baby ‘Kittusha,’ and again called her ‘my own’ and ‘deary’.
Eventually all but Malgorata went back to work. The narrow pavement of the long street, right and left, was now full of disorderly heaps of old timber, rusty steel pipes, bricks, slabs and other building material, greasy batteries and other spare auto-parts, old mangles, hoists and copper-boilers, rusty garden tools, old furniture, pieces of carpet, rugs and kitchen utensils of all sorts, speckled mirrors, washbasins and toilet bowls, showerheads, sinks, taps, disjointed windows, doors and mosquito nets, broken crockery, kettles, pots and pans, coffee-machines, pressure cookers, radios, pick-ups, electrical appliances, as well as broken branches of dead or recently felled trees, all kinds of shrubs, flower pots and countless other things.
In the afternoon, the building of these heaps had not yet been completed and already some small vans and station-waggons were seen cruising along in search of discarded ‘treasures’; they were seen suddenly pulling up, here and there, to take away some for those precious articles, and then driving on, the drivers’ eyes always on the heaps on the pavements.
‘Shall we go back to the garden now and have a well-deserved rest?’ Manuel suggested.
‘That’s a great idea,’ Galvao answered.
‘Nino’s been tidying the place for us,’ Manuel added, as the two were joined by Malgorata, who was stll wearing her big sunglasses.
The Sicilian had in fact been raking the ground in the backyard, where most of the lumber had previously been, and blades of fresh grass were showing on the black, recently watered soil. Two pelargonium plants, one on each side, just by the fences which separated the property from the neighbours’ yards, equally seemed to have taken on a new lease of life and were full of previosly unseen red and white flowers. The yard also contained a small gumtree, and the big boy was under it, trying to protect himself from the sun, which just at that moment was very fierce. Everyone congratulated him for a job well done, but he remained with his chin tucked in and his lips pouting, just uttering a grunt of recognition.
‘Now, Nino!’ Manuel uttered in a rather shrill cry. ‘Take your hands out of your pockets, and help me bring out some chairs.’
Chairs and a table were brought out, everybody collaborating; as well as a large beach-umbrella, which Luis got out of the garden shed. Then everybody sat down but Manuel, who stood, rubbing his hands together. He asked the company (but with his eyes fixed on Galvao) what they would like to drink.
‘Cocoa for me,’ Luis said, mockingly.
‘Do you, really?’ Manuel asked, somewhat taken aback. ‘Oh dear, wouldn’t you rather have cold beer, that sort of thing?’ He really look worried now.
‘I’m very fond of cocoa,’ Luis rejoined. ‘Besides, I want to try that cake you were baking last night.’
Manuel looked flushed and quite embarrassed. He had never understood his friend’s strange sense of humour. He glanced at Big Nino. A ray of sun was hitting him straight on the face, and he held out his right hand towards the disk of the sun. ‘Okay!’ he asked Nino. ‘And you?’
‘Cocoa, too,’ replied the fat boy.
‘Nino!’ Manuel exclaimed in utter amazement. ‘Don’t you want ginger beer? You used to like ginger beer. I know you love it, and I bought a fresh bottle for you only yesterday.’
‘No, cocoa,’ replied Nino, his face becoming red like a tomato.
‘Of course, he doesn’t want ginger beer,’ Luis intervened, visibly enjoying himself. ‘Warm cocoa in the evening, isn’t it? And a piece of…’
‘I won’t have it!’ Manuel cut him short. He flew into a rage. ‘I know what is best for Nino, and you aren’t to interfere.’
Whereupon, Nino stood up and, with his hands stubbornly in his pockets, took a few steps backwards silently looking on the ground. Only that swollen under-lip of his was moving.
‘Nino!’ Manuel shrieked.
But the young man would not budge. Manuel stood up, grabbed him by the arm, and brought him back to his chair. ‘Well,’ he said, devastated, ‘cocoa it will be for all of us!’ and he went away, without caring to ask any more. As he was near the kitchen, however, he turned round and added in much humility. ‘All right, Nino, it was wrong for me to shout, but be an obedient boy.’ And he went into the house.
The night was drawing on. For some minutes the sky was of a beautiful crimson red, and the reflection of an unseen setting sun could be detected on the walls and roofs of sheds and outside toilets and on the top leaves of the gumtree. There was not a whiff of wind, and almost no noise was heard, not even people’s calls or the usual jackdaw cry. Only from time to time the shouts of an isolated drunkard were heard, followed by the barking of dogs.
Luis was looking at his friend as he arrived back from the house, carrying a big tray with mugs and saucers and a large cake complete with icing and a little plastic Father Christmas and crinkly paper-wrapping all around the base.
‘Luis dear, have the goodness of not looking at me so, today of all days.’
‘Well, you can see why. I know I must look like a scarecrow. Stained, sweaty, haggard-looking and uncombed,’ Manuel reasoned. He had left the tray on the table and went in for the warm cocoa. Then he sat down, carefully passing the palm of one hand over his uncommonly tousled hair.
‘May I serve you a piece of cake?’ asked Malgorata, knife in hand, taking off the plastic and paper decorations. She was looking at Manuel.
‘Not necessarily me. I can wait, absolutely.’
There followed a moment of great movement, during which the cake was being cut and served. Manuel, producing a new golden packet of ‘Benson & Hedges’, took out a cigarette and began to smoke, after first having offered the packet to the others, who all refused.
‘Later!’ he said to Luis, who was passing on the plates with pieces of cake. ‘Sure you don’t want to smoke?’ He looked somehow very disappointed.
‘No, thanks,’ Luis replied, ‘I’m enjoying this too much.’ He slowly rolled the cocoa around in his mug, emptied it, and dried his lips with a paper serviette.
Meanwhile Nino was tackling the Christmas cake with obvious relish and Manuel, who noticed it, said, raising his voice once more:
‘Stop it, Nino!’ He rapped his boyfriend’s fingers and went on in a softer tone: ‘’Okay, if you want to keep on adding stones to your weight, go on. I shan’t care.’
‘May I serve you a piece now?’ Malgorata asked in an attempt to mollify Manuel.
‘No, thank you,’ he replied, and, looking at Luis: ‘But if anybody else wants to repeat, don’t let me discourage you.’
‘Thanks ever so much,’ Luis said with a smile.
Malgorata had gone into the kitchen and come back with the pussycat, which she now caressed on her lap. ‘D’you still work with your father in the shop?’ Malgorata asked Nino, just in order to start a conversation, for she knew perfectly well that he did.
The young man again blushed to the roots of his hair, and said in a low voice: ‘Yes, ma’am.’
‘Work in the shop!’ Manuel put in with a frown. ‘If you can call that work. Slavery would be a better term, absolutely. He treats my Nino as a servant, he does. Now,’ (turning to the big boy and dropping his voice into a whisper,) ‘roll your cocoa about in the mug, as you’ve seen Luis doing; otherwise you’ll leave all the sugar in the bottom.’
At that they noticed they were being observed by strangers. The fence separating them from the garden on the left was made of tall wooden palings, held together by two long transversely nailed beams. Four red-haired children were now perched on the top beam, watching. Luis stood up and drew near the fence, followed by Malgorata, who had the cat in her arms.
‘Oo, a peety pussy!’ mumbled the smallest of the children, a girl. ‘Lemme ooch ‘im.’
‘It’s a she,’ answered Malgorata, lifting the cat, over the fence.
One of the boys, the eldest, put on: ‘Olly wans the boofull lidy to sing.’
‘And who may Holly be?’ Galvao asked.
Three of them, all boys, immediately pointed to the little girl. ‘She is.’
‘What d’you want me to sing, deary?’ Malgorata inquired.
‘Dunno,’ the little girl replied, blushing.
‘Loike this mornin’,’ one of the boys uttered, ‘please.’
Malgorata left the cat on her chair and sang for a minute or two a Ukrainian ditty, and then asked: ‘Was that it ?’
The girl nodded in silence, and another of her brothers said: ‘I’s asked Santa to brin’ me a violin.’
‘And d’you think he’ll bring it to you?’
‘Oi dunno,’ he answered. And the other three giggled.
‘Santa won’t, ‘cos he’s naughty,’ said the eldest boy, and the third one added: ‘Mum syse as he’s a bad’un.’
At that they all heard the mother in the kitchen chanting out: ‘Wee Willy Winky’s a-coming, the children should be in bed!’ And the four little persons scrambled down the paling and stampeded into the house.
When Luis and Malgorata turned round, they saw the other two were no longer there. Malgorata put out her hand to Luis, who grasped it as they went into the house, where she left the pussycat in a basket, which she had prepared in the afternoon.
‘The cormorant won’t pounce on us tonight,’ she said, noticing his hesitation.
For he had stopped short at the bedroom door. They were facing one another. She lay her had on his shoulder, and added: ‘Sure. I know they took a plane to Central Australia.’
Luis was surprised to see her so convinced.
‘It’s always the same,’ she said, ‘one of them, a Croat, told me long ago.’
‘One of them?’ Luis asked.
‘In the group of rangers. They’re training all this week.’
The mention of a Croat, to whom Manuel had referred sometime ago, had intrigued Luis. ‘Who is he… that Croat?’
‘He’s dead now,’ Malgorata smiled. She was bending her pretty head backwards, for he was holding her by the waist.
‘Sweet Malgorata, my fair girl,’ he whispered, sadly. ‘Have you always been a good girl?’
Avoiding the question, she said, drawing away from him: ‘Close your eyes for a moment, I’ve a surprise for you.’
‘Why, a Christmas present?’
‘You just close your eyes and wait. Wait!’ she exclaimed.
Then, she stripped hersellf naked, and put on a night-gown of transparent muslin, with a slight bluish tint. ‘You can open them now.’ Her slim yet shapely figure looked ever so attractive under the soft muslin fabric, and her eyes bewitching and endearing were asking him to come closer. ‘I’ ve bought you another present, specifically for you; you’ll find it under the Christmas tree on Thursday.’ She drew away, and before he could catch her, she scuttled to the adjoining room, got out of a drawer her violin and bow, and drew the bow over the strings, looking at him and meeting his eyes; her neck was slightly bent over the violin and her cheek was caressing it. She again played from Peer Gynt.
… the adventurer that did not come back until Solveig, an old lady now, was blind. Looking at pretty Malgorata, he thought of Margaret, and images from the past suddenly came to him. Madrid, the fight against fascism, Manchester during the concert (an orchestra from the Soviet Union) and Yorkshire… that summernight near the canal…
When she had done playing, she left the violin and bow on a chair and stood before him without moving. He caught her in his arms, again, now without the muslin gown. ‘I worship you, goddess!’ he sighed.
In bed, the two bodies were linked together for a long time. He was holding her head, the gorgeous golden curls in the palms oh his hands as she pressed his body tightly over her own, with both arms, hurting him. For she wanted him to come closer, ever closer. She heaved a long deep sigh. And soon afterwards she fell asleep in his arms. For his part he did not go to sleep at all. At four o’clock he heard the usual shrill cry of the yellow-beaked jackdaws, which in summer nestled in a hole under the roof. Dawn was approaching. He heard the two of them, just above the window, and he heard the engine of a lorry coming, stopping every few minutes, and he heard the shouts of the dustmen flinging the chunks of lumber and other stuff, quite noisily, into the immense surplus-lorry
‘Now, make haste!’
‘Ye hurry up, ye bastard!’
They were outside the house, and the noise and agitation became unbearable. Once more he heard the engine setting off, the banging of many objects on the lorry, more shouts, but a little farther away. It all was happening in the street, but the voices and noise were getting in his brain, making him nervous. The shouts and the thump of objects falling soon became less offensive. Just a moment later, there was a stop, silence for a minute; but he heard the engine once more, and again the voices, the banging, but all the time less pronounced. First a little bit farther away up the street. Then towards the end of Harris Street, the way to Broadway. And, once more, the jackdaws. And for a long time, it seemed to him, that thoroughly offensive penetration of the noise still in his brain: the same order of things altering his thoughts, the voices, the banging, the birds. Only very soon the engine was heard in the distance, like in a dream. The birds were silent; having gone perhaps in search of early worms to feed the little ones with. Even in his mind fainter and fainter… all the time… all becoming less precise inside him: weaker bangings like people playing, and the voices turning into a melodious something… perhaps a Spanish ditty? Had he gone back to Madrid? Strange things were happening…Margaret? eventually all sounds, and his own conscience, all died out.
It was an established rule in big firms, and specially law partnerships, that every member of the staff would enjoy the benefit of a day-off (between the tenth and twentieth December) so as to be able to buy Christmas presents at leisure, as corresponds citizens of a christian, civilised society. And in Sydney it was a joy to see during those days so many people in the streets glowing with happiness, each one of them on a shopping spree.
So, one day, Luis Galvao instead of going to Caltex House to work, also went shopping. He had his breakfast downstairs with Malgorata, and after doing with her the washing up, he invited her to come to town with him. It was his Christmas-shopping day. She accepted the invitation and they walked to the city together. First left, along Harris Street, and on the corner with Broadway, the largest department store in town was to be seen. Grace Brothers, an ugly, massive dark-brick building which, however, was much appreciated by shoppers all the year round. There were six spacious lifts, but they preferred taking the escalator, to go to the third floor, Women’s Wear, together with whole families: women accompanied by numerous noisy people who had never ridden in similar mechanical device as an escalator. The desired section, all kinds of dresses, skirts and all a woman could desire in the way of wearing apparel. Luis had decided to buy a fashionable swimsuit for his lover, and wanted to have a word in the choice of the garment. Malgorata did not agree, saying only herself could choose what she was going to wear. In fact an hour ago, in the communal kitchen, they had had a discussion on the subject and she got annoyed; she had besides been surprised that her boyfriend should think of buying a Christmas present and not keep the purchase secret, as she had done (with his.) You were supposed to place it underneath the Christmas tree. But he was adamant; and the two were now looking through the shelves with the help a nice assistant. They first chose six beautiful articles to try on. She entered the fitting-room, and he squeezed in right behind her; a small cubicle with walls covered with mirrors. And if Malgorata was an enchanting female when dressed, in the nude she was divine, having become these last few days a slender figure with the jogging and so much swimming, a perfect body thoroughly suntanned nearly all over. Luis even helped her to try on the chosen items. And in the end it was in fact Luis Galvao who chose the desired garment.
In the street, later on, they continued their stroll, turning into George Street, full as always with shopping crowds; everyone around them looked content and satisfied, very noisy beautiful children were seen everywhere. In fact, a great mass of humanity surging along the footpaths and entering and coming out of shops and department stores. The sun, which was torrid that day did not trouble them at all, as they marched along under the steel overhanging, very efficient in times of rain as well as during a heat wave. They reached Circular Quay, full of buses bringing still more people into the city, and Malgorata suggested they go to Manly, to spend there the rest of the day. A little peninsula on the north shore, situated at the very end of the bay, where the waters of the ocean entered the harbour. She had not been in Manly these three years, and the ferryboat would constitute for her an expedition, like sailing on the open sea. Luis agreed, and they did have the most pleasant trip at sea, leaning on the railing on the deck, contemplating all along the different districts of the northern coast; Neutral Bay, Toronga Park, Balmoral and the Middle Harbour; then, coming nearly out into the open sea as the were reaching the town of Manly, when the crowded ferry actually began rocking, with the tide, to the great delight of Malgorata, who felt particularly happy that day. They had a meal in town, in an Italian restaurant: spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce, generously washed down with South Australian wine. A walk on the promenade came next, facing the little harbour beach, and the rest of the afternoon was spent at the fairground, where Malgorata rode on the horses of the merry-go-round, listening to rock-music by the Beetles.
They had a hectic day, and as they reached the promenade, Malgorata sat on a bench, holding up her skirt, and Luis followed suit, laying his hand on her knee. The evening star was already twinkling over the horizon, and watching the wonderful spectacle of the waves rolling in, they decided to stay put for a while; for on the other hand, they did not want to rush back to the city in the ferry with all the commuters.
Night came on with some precipitation, and the sky began to be filled with stars. In less than a hour, the whole dark-blue expanse was covered with an infinite number of twinkling spots. ‘Like eyes gazing at us two from outer space,’ Luis said. ‘Tell me, Malgorata, what does all this mean to you, this infinite number of stars… celestial bodies, ageless coordinated matter in boundless space?’
‘Oh, no!’ she replied, caressing him. ‘You first, tell me. I know you want to.’
He took sometime to answer. ‘Why, it fills me with awe,’ he said. ‘I suppose. It shows how irrelevant, I mean, how impossible it is to try and comprehend… well, anything,” he paused, ‘to hope that one could grasp, with one’s tiny brain, what is in fact infinite matter! At the same time,’ (gazing at the sky) ‘it gives me some comfort.’
‘Comfort, what d’you mean?’
‘I feel reconciled with myself, you see. Such awful immensity up there! I can say to myself: Oh, man cool it, don’t worry! what does it matter anyhow!’
‘What on earth am I worrying about? Work, hopes, conquests, defeats…, to have to withstand the contempt of others, to be ignored by all. Their laughs, insults, scorn… all this nonsense. But please, let us go back to the subject. Now you tell me,’’ (glancing at the stars again), ‘what does this vast spectacle mean for you?’
‘Music,’ she answered very swiftly.
‘I thought so! How lucky you are, Malgorata, being an artist. You’re different. And you’ll be acclaimed again one day, you’ll see.’
She kissed him on the lips.
‘Music, you’ve said,’ he murmurs. “Darling, tell me more about yourself. For instance, what’s your favourite piece of music?’’
‘’Listen to the sigh of the wind,’’ Malgorata said in a low mysterious voice. ‘’I think it was Debussy who said, C’est des vagues pour moi la musique.’’
‘You haven’t answered my question.’
‘I was going to. Well, Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, definitely.’
‘’Like the waves coming forth from afar…, that is how it starts: the sound of a number of violins approaching… very slowly. An instant of passion unfolding. That is what pathetic means, passion… not despair. Oh, yes, like the sound of this billowing, that is how it should start! When I was playing it, I often cried.’’
‘Sweet love!’ Luis said, kissing her cheek.
‘Its music still vibrates in my memory, though I haven’t played it for years.’ Her eyes were curiously glistening and her voice quavered as she went on: ‘When all the rest is gone, there will always remain that remembrance.’ The rolling waves were gaining strength, and several lines of white foam were now seen advancing and pushing back the returning waves with a splash. After a moment she went on: ‘The tempest of a passion, yes, that is the Sixth Symphony. I know he is not absolutely the best, but he touches my heart, that piece especially. It’s sad and poetic and so full of surprises. At the end of the first movement already there is a sudden change of mood, like the premonition of something hard to come; hard, not yet evil, something rearing up from the depths… yes from the depths of the ocean, like the thunder grumbling behind the driving wind; it’s announced in the orchestra by the big bassoon. Now, you remember the bird we saw the other night… I think it was in Watson’s Bay.’
‘The cormorant, you said,’ he answered, looking sombre. ‘A brave bird. I think you said it was’.
‘The only bird strong enough to brave the perils of a stormy sea,’ she replied.
‘Come,’ he said, offering his two hands. And they began to move towards the jetty of the ferryboats. She was holding onto his arm, the left one, and on her own left arm was carrying the bag with the things bought in Grace Brothers and other stores.
Fernando García Izquierdo
9, rue Vernet
78150 LE CHESNAY FRANCE