Sunday, 3 June 2007

Chapter 99

It’s true that Yolanda had kept her distance from Harry McFry since he arrived in Madrid. She’d manoeuvred it so that she wouldn’t be at home when he was due to arrive there.

“So, why did you come to Madrid now, Harry?” she asked, as they sat in the small bar over coffee, orange juice and pastries. He knew what she might be getting at. He was here, he told her, strictly on business. Yolanda refused to believe her sister was the only person in the world qualified to translate that document of his – and she told him this.

“It’s not a case of being qualified – it’s more about whether I could trust anyone else to do it,” he said, pleased with the distinction he’d made.
“So – you wouldn’t have ‘trusted’ me to do it, then?” Her smile was sly.
“I hardly know you,” he replied, breaking off a wind of dough from the churros and shaking off the sugar.
“Whose fault is that then, Harry?” she asked.

When he’d first met her, he’d thought he had the measure of Yolanda. An older, protective sister, who was on the look-out for Ana’s welfare. She was much closer to Harry, in age. Ana was nearer to Alan’s. There might have been a hint of jealousy, he’d thought, that Ana had found Harry, but he knew he wasn’t the best person to judge that. In truth, after they’d been introduced they’d not really had a whole lot to do with each other, had only met a few times when she’d been visiting Ana while Harry was staying. Yet, he’d felt her presence in the relationship constantly. Harry had guessed that the two sisters were close, and that they saw a lot of each other while he wasn’t there, while he was back in England. He suspected Ana might have confided in Yolanda quite regularly – particularly in the later, dying days of their relationship, when Harry was ‘pulling away’.

For her part, Yolanda was in no doubt that Harry was a malign influence on her kid sister. Too old for her – he threatened to pull her from the orbit of her successful academic career when he arrived on the scene. For all she knew, he might even drag her away to some God-forsaken town on the north-west coast of England that looked, in the few pictures of it she’d seen, like it might have known better days.

Trying to switch tack, Harry took a gulp of coffee. “I never did find out how you met Alan,” he said. Yolanda pulled a cigarette from her purse, and waited while Harry lit it for her. As she dragged heavily on it, she formed her careful reply: “There’s nothing to know. Alan was visiting her one day when I came around.”

Harry looked – and sounded – genuinely surprised. “Alan – visiting Ana?”
“Of course! He’s great pals with Pablo. Didn’t he tell you?”
No he didn’t! It must have slipped his mind entirely, Harry thought, laconically. His world was being slowly undermined be everything he was learning about Ana, Yolanda and Alan. In Harry’s multiplex mind, it was like the noise from the theatre next door had suddenly started to intrude on the film he was watching. He’d suddenly become aware of a set of parallel lives, friendships and interactions that had been hidden from him for the last five years. Alan had never once mentioned that he’d seen Ana (probably regularly) since Harry had left her. And he’d certainly never mentioned Pablo.
“You better tell me about this Pablo, Yolanda,” he said. Might as well deal with it sometime, he was thinking.
Yolanda’s brow furrowed up. “But surely Ana told you about him?” She was arch.
“No – I wasn’t exactly in the market for that kind of information last night. We were otherwise engaged.” Discretion might be the better part of valour, but Yolanda wasn’t about to hand out medals to Harry for his heroic defence of her sister’s virtue.
“Yes. Of course. Your ‘business’. How could I forget that?” Yolanda said. “Tell me, then. What is it you want to know about ‘this’ Pablo?”
She was the queen of sarcasm, today, Harry thought.
“Well … what is he like?”
“You’d like him,” she replied, quickly. She was looking Harry straight in the face. “You know, he looks a lot like you. Very similar eyes. Ana loves him very much, you know.” As if explaining why Ana might have fallen for someone else, she went on: “Did you stop to think how hard it has been for her since you left her?”
Harry hadn’t. Not much, anyway. Most of the time he’d learned it was best to lock any thoughts of Ana well away from his heart. He shifted in his seat, and lit a cigarette for himself.
“It wasn’t easy for me to leave her, you know. But what could I offer her then – or even now?”

Yolanda’s eyebrows darted north. A humble Harry? This was a new one on her. “You could have offered her what you can offer any woman. Love. It’s not so complicated as you think. Keep it simple, stupid!” she said, mockingly.

“Well, it’s academic now, anyway. There’s Pablo. And if she loves him as much as you say she does, there’s no future for us.” Some of Harry was hoping Yolanda might come back, and protest otherwise.
“When she told me you were coming to Madrid, my advice to her was to stay away from you. Not to see you at all, while you were here. It’s just ‘raking over coals’ as I think you say.”

She was right, Harry thought. Someone else was fanning Ana’s flame, now. And yet … Ana had disregarded her sister’s advice. She must still feel something for him, to do that. Yolanda might have anticipated his thoughts.
She stubbed out her own cigarette, slowly and carefully. “Ana’s asked me to entertain Pablo while you and her conduct some more of your ‘business’ today. I’m going to take him out of harms way – while Ana and Harry play,” she said. She looked at him with knowing eyes. “Now,” she said. “Isn’t that nice for you?”
With that, she stood up and walked from the café, leaving Harry to contemplate his place in the world – lord of the lonely hearts, prince of the charmers and king of the fools.


the domestic minx said...

Oh my God...

what a cruel and sad twist.


Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Cruel, sad ... but then, families are very complicated things!