فصل 07

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فصل 07

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7

Strong men don’t cry

I JUMPED into my MG and drove through the night to Boston. I changed my shirt in the car before I entered the offices on State Street. It was only eight o’clock in the morning, but several important-looking people were waiting to see Oliver Barrett the Third. His secretary recognized me and spoke my name into the telephone. My father did not say ‘Show him in’. Instead, the door opened and he came out to meet me.

‘Oliver,’ he said. His hair was a little greyer and his face had lost some of its colour. ‘Come in, son,’ he said. I walked into his office and sat down opposite him.

For a moment we looked at each other. Then he looked away, and so did I. I looked at the things on his desk: the scissors, the pen-holder, the letter-opener, the photos of my mother and me.

‘How have you been, son?’ he asked.

‘Very well, sir . . . Father, I need to borrow five thousand dollars.’

He looked hard at me. ‘May I know the reason?’ he said at last.

‘I can’t tell you, Father. Just lend me the money. Please.’

I felt that he didn’t want to refuse, or argue with me. He wanted to give me the money, but he also wanted to . . . talk.

‘Don’t they pay you at Jonas and Marsh?’

‘Yes, sir.’ So he knows where I work, I thought. He probably knows how much they pay me too.

‘And doesn’t Jennifer teach too?’ Well, I thought, he doesn’t know everything.

‘Please leave Jennifer out of this, Father. This is a personal matter. A very important personal matter.’

‘Have you got a girl into trouble?’ he asked quietly.

‘Yes,’ I lied. ‘That’s it. Now give me the money. Please.’

I think he knew that I was lying. But I don’t think he wanted to know my real reason for wanting the money. He was asking because he wanted to . . . talk.

He took out his cheque book and opened it slowly. Not to hurt me, I’m sure, but to give himself time. Time to find things to say. Things that would not hurt the two of us.

He finished writing the cheque, took it out of the cheque book and held it out towards me. When I did not reach out my hand to take it, he pulled back his hand and placed the cheque on his desk. He looked at me again. Here it is, son, the look on his face seemed to say. But still he did not speak.

I did not want to leave, either. But I couldn’t think of anything painless to say. And we couldn’t sit there, wanting to talk but unable to look at each other.

I picked up the cheque and put it carefully into my shirt pocket. I got up and went towards the door. I wanted to thank my father for seeing me, when several important people were waiting outside his office. If I want, I thought, he will send his visitors away, just to be with me . . . I wanted to thank him for that, but the words refused to come. I stood there with the door half open, and at last I managed to look at him and say:

‘Thank you, Father.’

Then I had to tell Phil Cavilleri. He did not cry or say anything. He quietly closed his house in Cranston and came to live in our flat. We all have ways of living with our troubles. Some people drink too much. Phil cleaned the flat, again and again. Perhaps he thought Jenny would come home again. Poor Phil.

Next I telephoned old man Jonas. I told him why I could not come into the office. I kept the conversation short because I knew he was unhappy. He wanted to say things to me, but could not find the words. I knew all about that.

Phil and I lived for hospital visiting hours. The rest of life - eating and sleeping (or not sleeping) - meant nothing to us. One day, in the flat, I heard Phil saying, very quietly, ‘I can’t take this much longer.’ I did not answer him. I just thought to myself, I can take it. Dear God, I can take it as long as You want - because Jenny is Jenny.

That evening, she sent me out of her room. She wanted to speak to her father, ‘man to man’. ‘But don’t go too far away,’ she added.

I went to sit outside. Then Phil appeared. ‘She wants to see you now,’ he said.

‘Close the door,’ Jenny ordered. I went to sit by her bed. ‘ I always liked to sit beside her and look at her face, because it had her eyes shining in it.

‘It doesn’t hurt, Ollie, really,’ she said. ‘It’s like falling off a high building very slowly - you know?’

Something moved deep inside me. I am not going to cry, I said to myself. I’m strong, OK? And strong men don’t cry .. . But if I’m not going to cry, then I can’t open my mouth.

‘Mm,’ I said.

‘No, you don’t know, Preppie,’ she said. ‘You’ve never fallen off a high building in your life.’

‘Yes, I have.’ My voice came back. ‘I did when I met you.’

She smiled. ‘Who cares about Paris?’ she said suddenly.

‘Paris, music, all that. You think you stole it from me, don’t you? I can see it in your face. Well, I don’t care, you stupid Preppie. Can’t you accept that?’

‘No,’ I answered honestly.

‘Then get out of here!’ she said angrily. ‘I don’t want you at my damn death-bed.’

‘OK, I accept it,’ I said.

‘That’s better. Now - will you do something for me?’ From somewhere inside me came this sudden, violent need to cry.

But I was strong. I was not going to cry. ‘Mm,’ I said again.

‘Will you please hold me, Oliver?’

I put my hand on her arm - oh God, she was so thin - and held it.

‘No, Oliver,’ she said. ‘Really hold me. Put your arms round me.’

Very, very carefully I got onto the bed and put my arms round her.

‘Thanks, Ollie.’

Those were her last words.

Phil Cavilled was waiting outside. ‘Phil?’ I said softly. He looked up and I think he already knew. I walked over and put my hand on his arm.

‘I won’t cry,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m going to be strong for you. I promised Jenny.’ He touched my hand very gently.

But I had to be alone. To feel the night air. To take a walk, perhaps.

Downstairs, the entrance hall of the hospital was very calm and quiet. The only noise was the sound of my footsteps on the hard floor.

‘Oliver.’

It was my father. Except for the woman at the desk, we were all alone there. I could not speak to him. I went straight towards the door. But in a moment he was out there, standing beside me.

‘Oliver,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

It was very cold. That was good, because I wanted to feel something. My father continued to speak to me, while I stood still and felt the cold wind on my face.

‘I heard this evening. I jumped into the car at once.’

I was not wearing a coat. The cold was starting to make me ache. Good. Good.

‘Oliver,’ said my father. ‘I want to help.’

‘Jenny’s dead,’ I told him.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said very softly.

I don’t know why I did it. But I repeated Jenny’s words from long ago.

‘Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.’

Then I did something which I had never done in front of him before. My father put his arms round me, and I cried.

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