So that’s how the Plan was hatched. The Plan that snatched him away completely. Working abroad for a year or more he’d save on tax, double his salary, find that security, safety, even as banks teetered on the brink of collapse. Of course I'll miss you, Eva, but the only worrying thing is something happening to us. Marriages can break up after episodes like these, separate lives. Remember Tilly and Steve.
Tilly and Nathan now: a buffed, rebuffed and re-re-buffed Tilly, bearing no resemblance to her younger self, the natural beauty that was Harry’s little sister. And another much older photo, she and Harry, rugged, clinging to a mountain they’d scaled. A previous era, before kids and promises. But of course every challenge was easier before you made a promise to succeed.
No, we won’t fall apart, she told him, counting on her own devotion. You’ll keep healthy, work hard, make your name and earn your rightful place in the firm. We’ll count the days until your visits and when this separation is over we’ll both really live. Remember when we used to do that? Go out together? And more time with the children, simplicity. I didn’t have any of this stuff when I was young but I turned out all right.
She starts brushing off the books each in turn, stacking them one by one.
Yes, yes, but where should I live between visits home? Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw?
That’s how it always went, the conversation drifting further and further from its starting point, until finally they settled on Warsaw, a small flat by one of the company’s new offices. Pressured by the firm but also a compromise to have him closer to her parents. Not that it was that close to Warsaw – Pzremysl, the hilly old Polish town on the border with Ukraine where she’d been born and raised – a six-hour train ride from the capital, more hours on the road. But at least it was Poland, a place she once belonged, and perhaps their curious little English children, with their funny accents and broken Polish grammar, could be got out of their strict schools to visit their only grandparents and garden of fruit trees. What English people called an orchard whereas in Poland it was a garden like any other: Mamcia patting Katya, her plaited straight hair the colour of
wheat burnished by a long summer, though now it had darkened, and Christophe, always darker curls, sitting next to a basket of apples by Mamcia’s feet, mischievous look in his eye. Returning to Mamcia and Tato meant going back to a time of wonderment, the simple life she had somehow never managed to build here.
Ach, Eva, it’s silly, you staying in England while Harry comes to Poland, Tato said. Ironic verging on absurd, Harry mused, and for a while they wondered if it was worth uprooting them all. Surrey life could be a gilded cage: houses, schools, pressures to maintain lifestyle. Elsewhere people were struggling to make ends meet but here the rationale for work largely had been displaced by pursuit of glamour. A new end goal, which seemed equivalent to happiness but wasn’t, at least not for her. But maybe it was too late. That insidious line of thinking having wrapped up Harry inadvertently, then purposefully as it took hold of Surrey, England, the world. An imperative of need turned to tentacles of greed.
But they hadn’t discussed that. The premise of the Plan. Or that morally it might be dubious, even if they don’t intend to rely on state schools or the health service. Because it’s easy to gloss over all that when a scheme is legal and possible. Rich people do it all the time, Harry said, as if that ought to be the ultimate sanction, the arbiter of what should be done. Understandably legality featured foremost for a legal mind like his, and technically he wasn’t doing anything wrong, just working the system in a different way from parents who suddenly found God. He certainly wasn’t breaking laws like those cheats milking state benefits with false declarations. He had paid in plenty before and he wasn’t taking what wasn’t his. He was preserving what he earned now – and at quite some cost to them.
Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw and The Reprieve. She fingers its soft cover, brittle with time, the back cover cautioning: Europe mobilizing, commentary on moral paralysis, counterfeit heroism, betrayal, shame. One of the Sartres that she and Xavier had argued about repeatedly, the Second World War having been a different experience for Poles and French.
© Lesia Daria