by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
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I was on the way out, having put the children to bed and read them a story, Henry, the oldest at fifteen and my quest and his younger sister, Gail at thirteen. It was a wonderful day and I was about to cry at the end when my ‘employer’ called, “Mrs Obrien, can I see you in the kitchen for a moment before you leave?”
“Of course, Mrs Smith,” I replied. Her name wasn’t Jane Smith any more than her husband was John Smith or their children Henry and Gail. I give them these to protect them for Alexii, even still, has a long reach.
I followed her to the kitchen, unaccustomed to this role of servant for I was the one who was lady of the manor with servants to care for my every whim. Still, the role must be played. They thought me a nanny, sent to them as a free promotional service to garner recommendations for a new business in town, that of European nannies to teach the American children proper manners.
“Would you care for some tea,” I asked and when she nodded, set the kettle on the stove and busied myself with fetching cup and saucer, milk and lemon and sugar, carefully placing them before her and at my place for manners are important and the forms must be met.
That is what I had done these last hours, played with the children, teaching them to sit and stand and be polite, “Henry, a gentleman always stands when a lady enters the room.” “Gail, a young lady should sit straight and never slouch.” And the like. Trying in one short day to give these children a lifetime of grace. Or so they thought.
I heated the teapot, then as it whistled, poured the hot water into a ceramic pot which I placed on the table between our seats. She watched me all the time, noting my stance, how I moved, my long dress never getting in the way. These American women wore too many pants and too few dresses making my assumed task seem all the more difficult. Still, that wasn’t why I was here.
Then sitting, ensuring that Jane noted the ease with which I smoothed my dress before and after sitting, my back straight and my hands careful to move with grace as I poured. She had cause to be jealous for she was fast approaching fifty and the cost of a two-income family had torn her dreams asunder. Only the children were what she had wanted. What she saw as was a woman, I have been told I am beautiful, in long dress and high collar, an expensive broach at my neck to draw the eye from my ample bosom, my long strawberry-blonde hair tied back yet free, conservative cosmetics and with a grace, youth and body that her husband, sleeping on the couch, lusted after but did not pursue. She knowing that had I wished, I could have him with but a glance and smile.
We sipped, the hot tea warming our bodies as she gathered her thoughts. “Mrs Obrien,” she began again for the third time. I waited politely, not caring to interrupt this woman who felt that she was my employer yet secretly knowing that I was better than her in every way, possessing a grace and beauty and carriage that she could never have.
Finally, impatient, for that is a character flaw with me. A flaw that had caused me far more trouble than it should. “Is there a problem, Mrs Smith?”
“No, nothing at all. The day was perfect though I don’t think that Henry will remember a tenth of what you taught him.
“At least he knows that manners exist. It is his choice to pursue or not.” I wished that he would. But then, I wished that I would be the one to teach him. Another impossibility.
“I do plan to give your company an excellent recommendation.”
“Thank you,” I replied, feigning gratitude for tomorrow the company would be closed down, having served its purpose.
Then she set her cup down, watching me sip again then carefully set mine upon its poreclin seat without a sound. My silent move contrasting with the noise of her own placeing.
“Who are you really!” she demanded, getting to the point as these Americans are wont to do.
“I don’t understand,” knowing the truth but buying time. I didn’t want to hurt these people, though the police they could summon would be fair game.
“Yes you do! This was too perfect. Last week your company didn’t even exist. Then today… And I watched you with my children. You tried to be impartial but I saw you watch Henry and spend as much time with him as you could. The truth, Mrs Obrien, if that is your real name, before I call the police.”
Her husband was so easy to manipulate. Men fall under my spell so easily. I can attract more attention with a poised stance as I sit than my employer could naked. That is what grace is, not showing skin but in making men notice you from the way you stand, walk, sit, ways that the younger crowd never knew, making me stand out. So men pursued me and in their pursuit, obeyed my whims. But women were jealous. Jane Smith had to wear a push-up bra, low bodice and tight skirt to get the attention that I could by sitting straight with my legs tucked beside. Pity America no longer held culture classes.
I waited then she wilted, “Ok, I know you aren’t afraid of me. Hell, you intimidate the hell out of me. Henry adores you and … Please, why?”
This I could understand, a mother’s plea. So I removed my broach and carefully, with a tear, slid it across the table, pouring myself another cup to mask my emotions.
She opened it, knowing that that one piece of jewelry was worth more than her car, possibly as much as her house, then finding the clasp, opened the piece.
She stared at the contents, then at me, then back. “You’re Henry’s mother!”
Sagging a fraction, I replied, “I am not, I was simply the woman who bore him. You are his mother. I just had to see him again.”
“I don’t understand… How could you just give… Please…”
“You wouldn’t understand. My world is as different from yours as your life is to a black sharecropper in the south. My ways are different, my motives unknowable to you. I should leave and you should forget this.”
She reached and took my hand, my perfect manicure contrasting with her plain nails. It should, I spent more for my nails yesterday than she spent on a weeks food. I wanted to impress … Henry.
“Tell me…Are you going to take him away from me?”
I laughed at this, as if I could. “Hardly. Perhaps a dozen years ago, I could but today, at his age, he’d just run away from me back to you. No, I just wanted to see him again.”
I sipped, she examining me. I looked anywhere from twenty-five to at most thirty but was far older. She counted years in her head and finally, “You were a teen-age pregnancy, unwed and ….” Then seeing my smile, tried again, “You couldn’t have been more than fourteen when he was born.”
“Nothing like that.”
“Then why? Henry was six months old when we adopted him. You had him for a half-year, held him, nursed him, loved him and you…”
A lady never cries in public, no matter what the cause. Hell, I snapped back, “I gave him to you BECAUSE I loved him so.”
This time she was the one who waited, for the first time today, in charge. I sighed, composing myself. “I am Irish Nobility, Baroness Janice Obrien or that is as close as I can come to your ideas of Nobility. We raise our children as pawn, to be used in our bids for alliance and power. Don’t be so shocked, you do the same here. Many of your modern Presidents married to assist each other in their political dreams. Hollywood is filled with loveless marriages of convenience and Texas millionaires buy trophy wives as they do automobiles. You Americans do the same as we Europeans, only you pretend you are better with empty talk of love.
Then relaxing, for Americans never enjoy foreigners pointing out their own inadequacies, I continued more calm, deadly calm. “I traveled. Why I won’t discuss, but I did. Sometimes I stayed in a castle, sometimes in an Inn, other times a barn or even under a tree. But it was me and no other who made that decision. Russia, Turkey, Romania, Italy. I traveled and visited the Great houses, was patron for famous artists. That miniature in your hand was painted by someone whose name you wouldn’t recognize though were you to drop his name at any museum, they’d recognize it instantly. The broach you hold was made by a very famous Russian artist. It was a wedding present I keep only for what lies within.
Let me interject that I am gay. Please, hold your incredulity. My sexual preference has little to do with my duty to my family and nation. But that one fact is vital to my story.
One day I simply got tired of traveling and wanted to settle down, have servants again. But for reasons that I cannot discuss, I could not, would not, return to Ireland. So I chose Poland only because I was there at the time. Convenience is the tool of devils.
His name was Alexii and he was a powerful, wealthy Duke. His wealth, his power, his position was intoxicating. Henry Kissenger stated under President Nixon that Power is the greatest aphrodisiac and far too many women, lesbians included, fall under that spell.
Alexii wanted Me for my poise, my beauty, my fame and my political contacts. And so he courted me; and because I was vulnerable and tired, I aceeded.
We married and I became the Dutchess of… well it is better you do not know. I thought I could be happy, endure his sweating body for the wealth and position it gave. But I was wrong. I found that the only way I could enter his bed or allow him in mine was to fantasize about some girl I saw in court. Pretend that he was she with a…
I sighed, “Alexii was a cruel man. No, not cruel to me but ruthless in his dealings. I was a possession as was a horse or house or land. But that was acceptable, for to me he was a purse. I see your mind, you think I am a whore to sell my body for gold. And I suppose you are right but that makes me no different from so many others, only my price was much higher than a dinner and evenings dancing.
Alexii sought power and land and wealth with a devotion I found intoxicating… until the passion faded as it does with us all. That was when I saw him as he was. Alexii was the kind if man who would send an army into Russia, kill hundreds of women and children in his way and send thousands of soldiers to their death to win a few miles of land. In the modern world, he would purchase a factory, then close it down, sending thousands into unemployment and poverty without a care because that act would save him a few kopecks in taxes. There is little difference between a modern businessman and a medieval robber baron for they both destroy lives at their whim.
It was months into my marriage that I exploded. Mrs Smith, I am not a difficult woman to please. Although I enjoy the clothes and jewels and houses, I also find the greatest pleasure in watching a sunset with someone I love. And, well, Alexii never cared for my satisfaction. And I am not that difficult. I must pad my saddle lest my cries announce to the world my enjoyment before the horse leaves the paddock. And although I prefer the caress of my own gender, I have had many a boy and man and more.” I chose to not mention the Gods with whom I slept. Christians see their god as celebate and don’t understand how the Pagan Gods are so sexual. “And none had left me wanting.
Yet, Alexii… let us be polite and refer to him as a two-minute wonder for the man was my husband, as bitterly as that word falls from my lips.
It was one night, months after our honeymoon when he realized that I had spoken the truth about my lack of desire for men. He insisted, entered, spewed and rolled off long before I was ready for though my mind recoils at the touch of that man, my body did react to his member. There just wasn’t enough, long enough. And that time I was… well I can be a bitch at times. Please don’t be so shocked for I accept my failings and am honest about myself, as careful as I am to not offend by pointing out others. Perhaps it was PMS, perhaps just frustration for as he rolled his mass aside to allow me to breathe again, for the man was corpulent, my fingers sought to relieve what he could not.
It took but a minute and I fear that I am noisy at the best of times but my unconscious and selfish act caused Alexii to pause in his dressing then explode in anger. Mrs Smith, if you wish to totally destroy a man to the point where he will never recover, thus driving him to the arms and home of another, impugne his ability to satisfy or provide. A man can accept any failing save those two. He can forgive any infidelity save that. And Alexii was no different. I had wounded his male pride and his sexual prowess and that he could neither forgive nor accept.
He struck my hand away, calling me ‘whore’ and ‘slut’. When I sat, naked, I fought back in anger. I suppose it was my fault. I should have waited until he left my chamber to finish. I know I should have apologized and begged for his forgiveness but instead my Irish temper came to the fore and I snapped back some comment about … I do not remember what I said but it hurt him. And he hurt me in return. His blow nearly removed my head and as I rose from the floor, bleeding from cut lip, he struck me again. He intended to rape me I suppose as he threw me to the bed, though with what I could not imagine. I have seen women raped with manhood, sticks and wine bottles and feared them all at that moment.
But as a child, I learned to fight and as he rose over me, I kicked with all my might and as he fell, screaming with his hands in his lap, I clutched the blankets to my body and sought the dagger I kept under my pillow.
Alexii snarled and I slashed, opening his chest to the bone. He fall back and I slashed again and again, missing for I was slowed by the blankets about my feet and he was unencumbered by clothes or bedding. I screamed at him, “Get out! Touch me again and I will kill you! And I can do so in ways that will leave me your title and lands and no suspicion!”
Alexii left, ran I suppose as I collapsed in terror for had he pushed the matter, I would have lost and we would not be sipping your tea. I barred my door from then on and he sought his doxies and trollops who were happy to pretend.
The next morning, I dressed, my cosmetics failing to cover my swollen face, and took my seat at his side as usual. He glared but I whispered, “You may not touch me ever again but I am STILL your wife and expect to be treated as such in public.” And in public I played the part. No one suspected I suppose though from that day on he wore body armor under his clothing when he was around me.
I made plans to leave, for my passion for his wealth had long faded and in that catholic nation, divorce was illegal. But he could divorce me were I to desert him, thus were the laws so unequal. Then, over breakfast I became sick and spewed over the floor. My maids ran to me and took me to my room to recover. I felt that I had been poisoned by my husband in fear of my threats but it was not to be.
Days of sickness, every morning, and my handmaid finally told me, “My Lady, you are not poisoned, you are with child!” She was as happy as I was angry. How could this happen to me? I was barren! Never had I suffered the monthly curse that inflicts womankind. Never had I taken precautions and never had I feared pregnancy. Before I could stop her, she ran to tell my husband the terrible news. Terrible for now that Alexii had an heir on the way, I was imprisoned.
A gilded cage is still a cage and I was allowed to no longer ride for fear of the miscarriage I sought. I could not leave the manor without Alexii sending guards to watch me. Even my personal maids and lovers were replaced with those loyal to their master. Once when I looked out over the land and opened the windows to better hear a songbird, he learned of this and had them barred for fear I would leap away. To the world he was a tenderly careing husband who fretted for his heir. To me he was an investor watching his portfolio.
Finally the baby came, early and hard but come did Alexii junior. Yes, Mrs Smith, Henry was born Alexii the Second! Grand Duke of….
My husband relaxed a bit though never understood why I nursed our son myself instead of passing him off to a wetnurse as was expected. The truth is, that I fell in love and refused to be parted with my one love in that prison. But I craved freedom.
There was only one way I could find. My aunt who had raised my in Ireland was a Witch and she sought to teach me herbs, a subject I failed to pursue but I remembered a few things. Pennyroyal to miscarry and bring on the menses. Willowbark to ease a headache. Foxglove to stop heart ailments. And a few others. I poisoned my son.
No, you have ample proof that I failed. Or rather, I succeeded for my son’s death was not my goal. I could no more harm him than I could bring the moon onto the head of my husband, though I wished the latter often.
No, my plan was all the more devious for I honestly fretted over my baby. They thought I feared his death, I feared the same. Did I give him too much? Will he suffer permanent damage? Have I murdered my child? And what the doctors fixed at day, I undid at night, and my honest fears for my son lulled any suspicion that I may be the author of his misery.
I planted a seed in the ear of a handmaid loyal to my husband. There was a shrine to Mary some days away. A shrine that recorded miraculous cures. And Alexii heard and considered sending me there to pray for our son’s life.
Of course I refused! I was not catholic nor was I even Christian but I wanted, needed to go and Alexii insisted, all the more with my every refusal. I had planned my assassination carefully, timed it so that my husband would not dare leave his dealings at that time. So he sent me alone. Alone save a guard of six trusted assassins whom he claimed would protect me from outlaws. They were to ensure that were my son to die, I would follow upon the instant.
So we left, and at the shrine, I stuck. I handed my son to the nun who lived there and .. let us say that those six will never report to Alexii or anyone other than god or satan. As I said, I lived a hard life and learned to fight well and early. They were drunk on the wine I had brought and I was armed with a knife stolen from the kitchen of the church. I left them bleeding away their lives as the mother superior looked on with horror.
I took my son and ran away.
For months I ran, seeking aid from the noble houses of Europe but Alexii’s reach was long and those who did not turn me away in fear of my husband, took me in as they sent messages to Alexii seeking his favour. Those were the days we rested. Finally I left for Turkey where I had some influence and Alexii had none. It was a temporary solution but one I could not refuse for even the Turks would not be able to long defend us from his kidnappers.
So I made the hardest decision I could. There was only one place where my son could live in secrecy. In Asia or Africa or even Turkey would he stand out. I came to America.
Your lack of Nobility and desire for democracy was to be the salvation of my son.
So I came here, chose this town as it felt .. it felt nice. Then I searched for the right family and chose you.
I spent Alexii’s wealth, wealth that I had stolen to buy my son an American birth certificate, bribed the adoption agency to place your name to the head of the waiting list, bribed and threatened the investigators to accept you as good parents then walked into the hospital, handed my son to the nurse and watched her take my son, my reason for living, to a stranger.
I think I went mad for a while. I remember crying constantly and woke up with this. (I unbuttoned my sleeve and showed her the scar on my wrist, a scar that did not exist as I held my son but did after he was gone.)
Then, when sanity returned, I sought a therapist experienced with hypnotism. I paid him the last of my wealth to implant a thought, a thought that my son had died. When it was there and set, I left, knowing that if Alexii could capture me, all his beatings and tortures would reveal only that his son was dead and that made him safe.
I sighed, wishing that there was some strong alcohol in my tea. “I mourned for my dead son and then got on with my life.
“A few years ago, I heard that Alexii had died, his neck broken as he fell from his horse. I wished him shot by a cuckolded husband but the gods are sometimes cruel and rarely answer your prayers. I sometimes wonder if he divorced me or if I am his widow, heir to his fortune.” I laughed at this, recognizing the temptation to descend, again, into madness and took a deep breath to turn from the abyss.
“Then some months ago I had business in this town and when I passed that hospital where I last touched my son, I remembered again and almost crashed my auto with my grief.
“I sought you two, saw that Alexii was well, though now called Henry, and that you had adopted for him a sister. So I opened that business, placed myself here so I could, once again, see, touch that which I loved and gave away.”
I put the dishes in the sink, rinsing them more for something to do then, picking up my broach, turned to the mother of my son and said, “hard as it was, and is, I made the right decision.
Without another word, I left and tried to not look back.