Part Two: London
Madrid was always to be dear to me, but I started to pine for London, eager to be cheered once again by my mother's inimitable sense of humor, and to spend extended periods of time with Nora, once a classical singer, and who had in my affections come to supplant my own grandmother, with this fact being confirmed when, many years later, and back in Buenos Aires, my mother phoned me and, in the same call, told me that my grandmother had died two days before, and Nora a day later, and I had burst into tears only at the news of the latter's demise.
For a seeming eternity of days and nights, my mother and I would sit in that north London drawing room as Nora, our hostess, refrained for the most part from talking about having been blinded by a bomb, at the age of thirty-five, during the London blitz, with her opening up much more about her friendship with John Ellerman, the shipping magnate, who had loved the resort of Menton, with its lemon trees, in the French Riviera, with another great passion being the study of rodents, and about which subject he had written an authoritative book.
John Ellerman had died at sixty-three, with Nora, by now in her mid-eighties, having outlived him and, as she sipped the malt whisky that I had brought, transported from my flat on the seedy edge of Islington to Nora's house in the leafy tranquillity of Hampstead, I drew comfort from my belief that she would not leave us any time soon.
The rain lashing the windows, I and my mother, who had arrived before me, hung on Nora's every word as she recounted her memories of an age that we had never glimpsed, that of George the Vth, who had become King when Nora was six years old, and who had died three years before the outbreak of the Second World War.
In my youth, I had imagined those hostilities as a distant event, played out in some hinterland of history, and it was only later that I wondered whether my nieces' grandchildren, looking at my hands as riddled with arthritis as Nora's hands had been, would marvel as it dawned on them that I had been born just fifteen years after that conflict's end.
I reflected on what Nora must have been like as a young woman until, in 1940, the Germans dropped their fiendish explosives over swathes of London and, daring to open her eyes to witness the glare, Nora's sighted life was brutally extinguished.
Nora was reticent about her past, and I was aware that I would never be able to see far enough into her long shadow to know if any great love lay there.
But perhaps the darkness that had engulfed her had cut her off from human contact, or the man who, if he had survived, would have proposed marriage to her, had been blasted to death in the trenches of the Somme.
Exchanging glances with my mother, I was perplexed by something unfathomable that clung to her also, some deep-laid secret that she would never begin to unburden.
As for myself, if I had had a romantic interest while in London, I might well have renounced my plan to return to Buenos Aires. In any case, as the date for my departure loomed, I thought more and more of deferring it. It was not, to borrow James Joyce's phrase, that all the seas of the world tumbled about my heart, as I lived in the era of aviation, but during my initial flight to Argentina, I had felt a kind of spiritual umbilical chord that connected me to my mother and Nora and Europe distend itself, and I was afraid that if stretched for a second time, it might snap.
Madrid, London, Paris: Three Narratives
Part One: Madrid
"The Power of Prose"