January 2nd, 2000
The pendulum clock helped him know how much time he’d spent in that dimly lit room, sitting across his Judge, who was surrounded by a bribed jury. Even the weather seemed to be on the upset woman’s side; dark clouds, proper of the winter, averted the sunlight to come through. The gloomy atmosphere helped to shade his mother’s already dark and cold eyes, and so, helping her to exert more pression along with her heavy silence.
A little breeze came through the opened windows, turning the spacious workroom chillier. Thomas thanked it; that way he could fool everyone, even himself, into thinking his irregular shaking was because of the wind and had nothing to do with his nerves, which grew at how still his mother and sister were in juxtaposition.
Jane and Lucy wouldn’t look like mother and daughter for the foreign eye. The younger had inherited, just as he did, the curly raven hair of their father and his slim physique. But if you stayed close enough (if you had enough immunity to toxic personalities) you’d see how the third child of the Jefferson was a copy of the matriarch. Thomas never said ‘a younger version’ because, despite being nine years younger than him, Lucy looked like their mother’s little sister. The first son of the clan thought it had a lot to do with that habit both their mother and Lucy had of always frowning and never smiling.
And that wasn’t the only thing the two women understood each other in.
Lucy shared their mother’s sharp glare, proper more of a vulture that overflew its prey than one of a human being, able to cut you with just one look; those venomous words they threw as darts; those unsettling smiles they seldomly gifted you with, with those pointed teeth that waited to suck your energy; that soothing coldness they talked you with, so you’d let them decide on your behalf without questioning why, for it was always accompanied by that sorrowful tone with which they assured they were doing it all because they wanted the best for you.
It was like hearing sirens signing. Deep down you know you’re approaching your doom, but you keep walking, because the relaxation of conformity and stability weighed more than uncertainty.
Maybe that was why his father had endured it until his dying breath. Maybe because of it, Jen kept coming back, though she barely could keep a conversation with their mother that stayed serene till the end. Maybe that was the reason why Thomas still allowed this to happen.
He looked over at his youngest siblings. The twins. Anna and Randolph. Their personalities shone by their absence. But some days, like today, Thomas preferred it that way. The last thing he needed during these moments were more stones thrown his way.
There was a moment when Anna locked eyes with him, and Thomas could swear he read some sympathy in the lines of her frowned lips and brows. But the exchange was so ephemeral Thomas doubted it’d been real at all. He returned his attention to his mother, not paying the event any mind. It was just so implausible it wasn’t worth his time. The only sibling that ever showed him any kind of positive human emotion had been Jen, their oldest sister. And, of course, the only presence Jane had prohibited inside this room.
Neither was allowed in there their housekeeper, Consuelo, the woman that had truly raised him, though Thomas never had the guts to say it out loud. And if his father had been alive, he’d have been kicked out before he could’ve even had the chance to speak his mind about the whole issue. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
And that was what gave Thomas enough strengths and composure to put up with this until it was finally over: this was not the first time his mother decided to embarrass him for something he’d done wrong. After the trial were over, the silent treatment would be his well-known punishment, and though Thomas hated being ignored and treated as a mere speck of dust, he could cope. The pain was so familiar there were times he barely felt it at all, and it had also forged his patience.
So, he’d have to wait until his mother needed something from him (which would happen sooner or later, one didn’t get to be the head of one of the most venerated law firms by not socializing several times a month) and then he’d be visible for his relatives again. Until his next slip-up, of course. It was a never-ending cycle that started since he was very little.
And, after all these years, Thomas still didn’t know what he preferred: his mother’s indifference or constant vigilance.
“What did I do wrong?”
Jane finally talked, and the tension only grew.
Her voice reached Thomas’ ears, making him cringe. It really sounded like ice cracking slowly.
“I really must’ve done something very wrong for my son to treat me like this” she continued, frowning before his silence.
Thomas remained apathetic. You’re used to this, you can do this, he encouraged himself.
“Do you even know why I’m angry, Thomas?”
No, and I don’t care enough to know at this point.
“Will you ever learn to talk to people when they’re confronting you?”
Now, it was Thomas’ time to narrow his eyes in annoyance. That surely was a low blow, Mother.
“No wonder why you had to drop out” chimed in Lucy, adding salt to a wound she knew pretty well it was still open.
Thomas refrained himself before he could throw the apple of his mother’s eyes a hateful glare. Jane ignored the jab, as expected, and kept going with her reprimand.
“Do you remember the conversation we had before the gathering, Thomas?”
He nodded. And yes, he admitted it, he kept giving non-verbal answers because it was the only way he had to feel some kind of power during the conversations with his mother. Sometimes, he couldn’t control his silence, but he’d always be the owner of his words.
Jane’s left eyebrow ticked. “I told you important people were attending the event” she reminded him, drawling her words with that thick southerner accent that only showed up when she was too upset, the only way one had to know when Jane Jefferson was reaching her limit. “And that I’d love for you to be there to know a great part of them”
You’d love to hand me over to other puppeteer because now you can’t be over me the twenty-four hours of the day, countered Thomas, inspiring slowly through his nostrils. His hands turning colder, his blood warmer.
“And you didn’t only turn down all their tries to make conversation with you”
Their tries to interrogate me about my personal decisions.
“You also left to marry that… That…”
Jane threw daggers in his direction when he heard what first word her son had decided to say since she’d made him come. Thomas tensed his jaw under her disapproving glare, but stood his ground.
“That divorced woman*…” continued Jane, as if the interruption hadn’t occurred at all. The two words pronounced with a disgust out of this world. “Behind your mother’s backs; behind your siblings’ backs…”
“Nothing you’ve done since you knew her made me think you’d want to be there” was the excuse Thomas gave; his tranquil voice in contrast of his rapid heartrate.
Jane squinted her eyes, showed her clenched teeth. “A civil wedding” she kept going, not minding his words at all, though they were igniting her inner fire, the one she was trying so hard to have under control. “Is that the education I’ve given you?”
No, you haven’t raised me; the personnel did.
“Do you think you’re being fair to me?”
Just as much as you’ve been to me.
Jane’s face contorted in one of rage when she saw her son was going to keep his silence once again. Sighing loudly, she declared:
“You’re going to null that”
“Pardon?” It came out without thinking, the shock clear in his features.
“If you want to marry a woman, you will do it fine” explained Jane, sternly, tapping her pen in frustration against her desk.
“I already married” argued Thomas, leaning on his seat.
“That thing you did last night in a hurry will never be valid in my eyes” warned Jane, straightening herself in her chair; the chin up. “Neither in the eyes of God, for that matter”
Thomas did all within his power to not roll his eyes just there. “I didn’t marry you or God. I married Martha”
“Don’t worry, brother” interjected Lucy, before his mother could elaborate her posture. “She won’t mind that much; she already divorced once” she fake-supported with a mocking smile, enjoying his current situation.
“It is a miracle she didn’t bring a backpack*” Jane didn’t hesitate in joining her daughter’s sneering comments. “You’re fool enough to have taken care of somebody else’s child… Maybe even treated it as your own”
“Who knows if she already knows the experience” commented Lucy, out of the blue, scrunching up her nose in repulsion. “I expect anything from a woman like that”
“Like how?” questioned Thomas, balling his hands into fists; the half-moons his nails made on his palms helping him to keep his voice volume controlled.
Jane went to her daughter’s aid. How typical. “Enough of this. We can continue this conversation while we’re planning the wedding”
“We…” tried to talk Thomas.
“And, hopefully, you’d realise where you’re getting into” added Jane, throwing him a disregarding up and down look.
“Or, if God finally answers my prayers, you would finally meet someone worthy, an upstanding woman. Last night, before you deliberately disobeyed me, I was about to introduce you to…”
And something snapped inside Thomas’ head. He simply exploded.
He couldn’t keep doing this. He couldn’t do this anymore.
In a second, Thomas got up from the chair, almost making it fall for the vehement of his sudden act. It succeeded to finally make her mother’s mouth to click shut and to his siblings to look at him with the guard up for whatever he could do.
“I will not marry again!” he swore, raising his voice considerably, his cheeks burning and his body trembling from contained ire. “Martha and I liked the intimate ceremony we had and that’s all that matters”
Jane’s surprise changed when she heard the name of her in-law. “So, would you rather please your girlfriend, a woman you knew on the street, than your own mother?”
“Wife” Thomas corrected, first of all, then answered. “And I’d rather please me. I think it’s about damn time”
“Do not swear” reprehended Jane, between gritted teeth. “And lower your voice. That’s not the way I raised you”
Thomas, this time, huffed, despite his best judgment. “You have not raised me. None of us, for that matter” He opened his arms, throwing glares to his silent siblings. Lucy was seething, her sombre expression matching their mother’s; the twins simply looked at him with eyes wide, still avoiding visual contact. “You’re just a mother because you gave birth, but because nothing else. The job of raising us was passed to Consuelo, whom you never thanked once, because you were too busy with your job”
Jane’s glare sharpened more than it already was. “I fed y’all thanks to that job. Thank to that job you could live your care-free lives”
“That’s all you care about” insisted Thomas, resentfully. “Money and appearances. The rest is unimportant”
“You’re living off my money, honey” drawled Jane, with superiority in her voice. “Show me a bit of thankfulness”
“You don’t want thankfulness, you want submission” spat Thomas, taking a few steps back. “Well, you don’t have it for me” he swore, turning around.
“Where do you think you’re going?” inquired Jane, her voice raising a tiny bit, but it was more than enough proof that she was about to lose her cold demeanour.
“Out of here. Of all…” he stopped for a moment, right in front of the door; right hand on the knob, left one making circles in the air to explain he was referring to them all. “All of this” he ended up saying, not finding the exact word to define the place he grew up in.
“Thomas, sit down” ordered Jane, coldly.
He ignored her and swung the door open, more than ready to leave to never return. To the whole house, preferably.
“Put one foot out of this room, and you’re disinherited”
Jane’s voice was so casual, Thomas almost thought she was joking. Then, remembered who he was talking about and dismissed the idea immediately, freezing right at the doorframe, grip tightening around the knob.
“Sit back down and let’s talk this like adults” continued Jane, her smirk clear in her voice.
Because she knew she’d won. She had won and was enjoying it, savouring it like a kid does with a candy.
Thomas knew he was being hypocritically materialistic, knew he complained about his siblings’ life-styles while he also lived untroubled and with no more obligation than doing as his mother said. Knew others had it rougher, especially to get the good education he always had within his reach (and that he, so cowardly had turned his back to). Knew he looked pathetic, swallowing his pride just so he could keep living off somebody else’s fortune.
He comforted himself with the thought that the threat didn’t sting because he loved living well without effort (he still studied, though on his own, and read all the books he could and more); the really matter was that if his mother followed her ultimatum (which she would surely do, Thomas had no doubt about it) then only his siblings would get something from when the matriarch would leave this world. And if he received nothing in exchange, as material as money can be, after all Thomas had endured, after all he went through…
That’d be so unfair. Thomas didn’t want to think about the possibility.
And just when he was about to surrender, to accept the conditions his mother had talked about earlier and the new ones she would add now for his bad behaviour, the image of his Martha came to his mind.
Thomas remembered all the woman had provided him with since they started dating four years ago. He remembered her tender caresses and soothing words during one of his many anxiety attacks; remembered her never-ending shows of support; remembered the feel of her lips tracing his skin, her arms warming up his cold exterior, her hands running through his wild hair with mastery, remembered the distances she kept when he needed it the most, with no rancour or uncomfortable questions right after, just respect and understanding; remembered how she reminded him how to smile and laugh sincerely, how she taught him how to dance as if the world wasn’t looking.
A life in which he didn’t receive anything in exchange from all the suffering he’d put up with since he was very little from the hands of his mother, the woman who was supposed to protect him from such malice, was really unfair.
A life without Martha by his side would return him to the cold and dark world he’d known since he had use of reason.
She made a difficult choice the easiest in the world. And that would always make her worthy.
“We had a deal, Thomas” Jane reminded her oldest son, with condescendence. Thomas huffed again, under his breath. As if he didn’t know.
“Consider it broken, Mother” he replied, turning slightly and enjoying the puzzled look on his mother’s face.
“Where will you go?” she asked, hurriedly, seeing she was losing control of the situation. “What will you do?”
“Martha’s father is as supportive as she is” responded Thomas, calmly; calmer than he’d felt in a long time. “We’ll get a place in Monticello and we’ll figure it out”
Jane smirked slowly once again, though with less security than the previous times. “So, your plan of future is to live off your father-in-law now?”
“I’ve got my own resources” assured Thomas, taking easy offense.
“You do?” wondered his mother, showing him that sided smile he despised so much, a mix of condescendence and taunt that made his blood to boil to inhuman levels. “You won’t last a week” she continued, her voice levelled and a bit raspy, as if swallowing a mocking laugh. “And I think I’m being generous by saying a week… You won’t last more than a full day playing the working man. After you see how hard it can be, you’ll come back running, with the tail between your legs”
Thomas swallowed, bitterly, not wanting to admit she could be right. “Farewell, Mother” he simply said, finally stepping out.
“You come from where you come from” she stated, the iceberg in her voice finally breaking, throwing him the pieces as poison darts right to his insecurities, the ones she’d fed since he was little. “You can pretend all you want, but you’ll always be part of this family, you’ll always share this blood. And you can’t change that”
Thomas closed the door, maybe a bit too hard. His eyes shut, partly for the slight sunbeam that managed to make its way through the grey clouds, but mostly because he was trying to erase his mother’s words from the walls of his brain. If he didn’t hurry, they’d turn permanent.
“Thomas?” a worried voice called him.
His muscles relaxed at its sound and he opened his eyes, finding the concern face of his wife a few metres away from where he was standing. Stretching out a helping hand, she asked:
“Is everything alright? What happ…?”
“We’re leaving” he informed, cutting her off more sharply than he’d intended. He winced along with her once he realised. Clearing his throat, he took her hand and guided her to where their rooms were. “And we’re not coming back” he added, trying to cover the quivering of his voice.
Martha looked at him, wanting an explanation, but did as she was told, without making any questions. By now. She simply packed up and left the place with him. Thomas thanked he didn’t bump into Jen or Consuelo on their way out, he didn’t want to falter in this decision by seeing their heartbroken expressions. Martha noticed how strange it was that he didn’t want to say his beloved sister and housekeeper goodbye, but didn’t say a thing, following him to the car.
Thomas would never be able to thank her enough for her silent support. He threw her a grateful smile that she reciprocated as he drove away from the mansion he’d spent his entire life living in. He didn’t know if he should be worried for the lack of sadness or homesickness the action should be giving him…
Martha placed her hand on the top of his. He felt more secure again. They smiled at each other once more.
As long as they had each other, everything was going to be just fine.