Return to Base

Jesse died quietly seated in the garden. Dick, thinking she was asleep, scolded her for not wearing a hat but didn't want to wake her so carefully moved the parasol to keep her head out of the sun. Later he called her in for tea.

It called for a rapid revision of opinion, a revealing that we were not expecting: arriving hot and tired at our door Lieutenant Irene Blake, Australian Army Nursing Corp spilled it out over floods of tears: "Mum's died, Mum's died." She sent a neighbour to get Maeve, then came to Cristimar because Dick wanted to see us. Not enough money for a taxi, she must have run all the way. Taken like an obedient child into the shower room; Lizzie stripped her off, put her under the shower then wrapped her in a kaftan. "He's blaming me for coming, 'cos I upset her." Looking straight at us to confirm or deny. "It was Ronnie and Linda they wanted, but life is tough in the old GeeBee so they got me."

"You came. Ronnie didn't. Let that be sufficient"

We arrive at El Paso. Neighbours are shushed but awed in the presence of death. We find Maeve and our local police lady - the one with the long blonde ponytail. Maeve, competent as always, has done all this bereavement stuff before, for she circulates among much wider groups than ours in her whist-playing British Club, like Claudia and her discussion group at the English Library Social Club and the English School over on the north side, such groups adjacent to ours are hidden from view. The observer should study these social groups more closely. But does he really want to know? He is, after all, a confirmed non-joiner?

Our first thoughts are to console Dick. Did he want a priest? The question is hammered at him by the neighbourly mob until Maeve reminds them of the legal process concerning the death of a foreign national in Spain; first we inform the Policia Municipal which has been done - with an executive nod at our pretty ponytail in her long boots and crash helmet - and she will advise a doctor to visit and supply a certificate of death, but the doctor hasn't arrived yet, and Maud next door has secured the Pillbeams opposite in a call for a priest, the absence of which is causing spiritual bewilderment in this genteel community and brings tears from Maud who feels strongly that Jesse should not depart this life without a blessing.

"Tell them to shut up," Dick growls, "I don't want a shit or a shave or a fuckin' 'air-cut. I just want my Jesse to return to base under escort with everything in good order."

"Not your turn, Dick, old cock. They are trying to be nice."

"My turn next. Hope she'll wait and not go wandering off. The old bugger wanted a boy to follow him into the bloody army. Poor old Jesse. But we gave him a granddaughter who got in the Australian army. I hope the old sod is satisfied."

"We can't move her until we get the certificate."

"OK, Maeve. Should we close the shutters?"

"No!" yells Dick. "I want to see her."

"Go and sit with her, Dick lad."

Our pretty police lady, her short prayer transmitted to base through her handset, now leaves us with handshakes and muttered sympathy. Dick, watching her astride her motorbike, croaks "Just a kid! All that life to go! You're a social worker, Alan, mate, what's left to hope for?"

"We make the most of what we've got, Dick, flower. There's no other way."

Maeve hesitates to close the shutters, decides not to. "Must get the tanatorio to take her away. We'll need her birth certificate, I don't think her residencia will suffice."

"I've been looking for them," says Irene, "I need them for visas. Sorry folks. I was going to tell you. It's easier for me."

Lizzie suggests, "Irene, why not take your dad a cup of tea?"

Irene Blake shakes her head. "He doesn't want me around, I'll get blamed for killing her."

"Her residencia her Residencia...Permanencia...?"

"Not found them yet."

"We'll ask the doc for an affidavit or a notario - "

"They haven't seen a doctor for ages," says Maeve, "even I don't know. But Daniella said she would notify a doctor. We must get Jesse out of that hot sun pretty damn quick."

"We'll move her," says Irene, "put her on the bed."

This is too much for Dick, his lifelong companion limp in the hands of others. He goes into the bathroom for privacy. We need to search private papers, for the doctor has arrived and he needs to know who she is.

Pessports are unearthed. But there is a snag. The passports have been renewed by the British Consul in Santa Cruz so there is a mild query about validation... Ok, ok, suficiente, the death certificate is signed, cause of death - heart failure.

"Now we need the tanatorio," Maeve directs, "to move her."

Irene is coping with death the best way she can, she doesn't know what to do with her hands, her face set hard in private distress distorts at mention of moving her mum. On a cart pulled by a donkey - I can see the thought of rubbish disposal going through her mind.

Maeve swoops in, "It's a funeral parlour. They place her in a nice casket with a proper funeral car. They'll need to see the death certificate and her passport."

In a trauma situation, the only way to handle matters is to stick to practicalities. To save messy telephoning the doctor agrees to notify the funeral parlour. The Pillbeams have left in a huff before anybody can ask to use their telephone. Maud and her cat are still here, truly wretched; she is over her weeping and sits with head bowed at the side of Jesse talking about her love of simple food, her scones, her famous flapjack, the marmalade on meat dishes and how to make proper tea with hardly any milk. "So good at things, yet she never said. She did her garden and she was like a stick in the ground supporting Dick. It's so unfair. Poor Jesse."

What about poor Dick? Irrelevant stuff is fighting relevant stuff for prime time. Yet I am thinking of Keats and negative capability and Claudia and the bit of Keats she quoted - erm - yes, "Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream?" It's the old POTEM force relieving the tension. But we weren't into death when Claudia quoted Keats, so how did it come up? ...And something else to worry about: Dick will need to be watched until he gets used to the fact of bereavement.

"They are here!" Maeve announces. "They will want us to leave the room while they prepare Jesse for removal."

"I'll do her buttons?" Dick moves forward. He is gently restrained.

It is nicely done. Here is proper respect and muttered prayers, a silk-lined casket and a car that looks like a hearse. The death certificate and the passport are seen. Irene and Dick accompany Jesse to the funeral parlour.

It drifts into us whilst preparing to leave that Irene is still in Lizzie's kaftan and my slip-on sandals. "Oh heck! We'd better go chase them."

"Better not. They'll want to spend some time there. Let's go home."

The death certificate must be seen by the civil registry, preferably by a member of the family, but anyone with knowledge of the family can do it: thus Maeve announces the passage of formalities. Adeje is a very pretty cemetery, Dick could rent a niche in a wall for Jesse's casket, otherwise she is buried in common ground -

"The keys! Who has the keys?"

"Dick has them."

"So we can't lock up!"

"I'll stay," Maud offers. "Bessie just loves Jesse's kitchen."

"You shouldn't feed animals indoors," Maeve is firm, "we got troubles enough with animals outside!"

Dolly's dogs are back in the picture. And we still haven't found Dolly! We should stop looking, for if we don't know, we can't tell. Seriously, we must get rid of the dogs and forget Dolly. She has vanished into the underworld. Facts relating to her disappearance may never reach us. Maeve catches my query, "He's been out here, you know - Dolly's bloke. Had a couple of minders with him. Joan reckons Dolly's left the island and gone to Lanzarote, for the Franklins know some people who saw her at Los Rodeas waiting for a local flight, but we didn't say anything." Now, back to matters in hand: "Maud, please tell Irene I must see her to get the death registered. I'll be back first thing. Must go, got things to do." Busy lady, Maeve nods briefly when we offer a lift home.

We depart El Paso in a vacuum, there is nobody around as we go. Irene is nice. It was hateful the way we misjudged her, being a nurse does not absolve her from grief. Yet we know nothing of her; does she have husband and children, did she require special leave to get here? And what about Ronnie and Linda?

"How about a gin and tonic to clear the air? Linda is not a name you come across these days."

"In Latin I think it means 'beautiful'."

Berenca knocks. She has no knowledge of the day's events and bursts in with her Illustrated Delia Smith. "In this book I find many findings already. Thank you dear peoples."

"No way can I get an Aged Parent Migration Visa," Irene plonks one beefy fist into the other. "So we just arrive and get the visa after."

This is the first positive announcement of Dick going to Australia. He was so much against it. But now there is a new relationship with his daughter, a closeness brought about by this crisis in the family. Jesse is lying in a niche in a wall at Adeje cemetery. Dick has been spending a lot of time up there with no thought of bullets through the post or gangland vengeance. "If the mob kill him he isn't worried any more. He just wanted to save mum and now mum's gone so it's no bother."

He's going through anger and guilt, blaming himself for keeping Jesse short of money, though he spent very little on himself. Time back he used to drink at The Old Crow but he stopped doing that and drank his lager with friends in the back garden. Jesse preferred shandy made with lager and lemonade. She rarely walked the prom with him, arthritis made her very slow, so she sat with her half of shandy in the John Bull whilst he continued alone to the fish market.

I catch him alone by the Black and White standing, looking at the beach. "Just look at this lot, Alan. They've no bloody idea about what's going on behind their backs. Look at 'em just starin' at the sea. Nobody ever turns to look at the bloody prom."

"Do you ever wish you were a holiday person, Dick?"

"Nah. All those kids! Jesse was always good with kids. Really loved little Linda. Now she won't see her again."

"Depends whether you believe in an afterlife, Dick."

"I'm thinkin' about it, Alan, mate. Don't reckon on it very much. What do you reckon?"

"Not a lot. But as a human animal I can think about it. Other animals can't."

"Human nature, right!"

"Right. Want a coffee?"

"Okay. Do you want my boat?"

"Peter asked me if I wanted his bike and his shed! Dick, I hate fishing. Roy's furniture store is your best bet."

"Lots of sharks in Australian waters. I'll be livin' with Irene. Her husband's a physiotherapist. Aint got no kids."

"That's a blessing!"

"Ossieland is a Long way for Linda to come."

"I'm sure she'll make it, Dick flower."

"You think Jesse will follow me to Oz?"

"It's an intuitive thing, Dick. If you both want, I'm sure it will happen. Is the bungalow up for sale?"

No outward sign of anger or guilt. But, of course, it happens differently with different people. With Dick it's still tied in, yet to emerge. Leaving this island may be difficult for him, for his conscience insists that he always kept her short of money and now he's leaving her behind - and it's a long long flight to Australia.

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