by Julia Proud ©2014
“Come in,” Tamara uttered a bit startled.
The knock had shattered her brief reverie on the passing of time and she found herself grateful for the distraction, even if a little fearful that the company of the one stepping inside her room was not the one she desired.
And her fear became reality as her husband opened the door and entered with his lit ciggy between his thick dry lips and a glint in his eye telling of the few drinks he had probably already had that evening.
He closed the door behind him, smothering the music coming from the gramophone downstairs. It was one of her favorites, Paul Whiteman’s Whispering, a melody she had first heard, in 1920, only two years ago, before she had been married and stuck in Dallas, living with a man she knew nothing about.
Tamara turned around to look at herself in the mirror, trying to hide the disappointed look on her face.
Why couldn’t it have been her maid walking in, asking about dinner, offering little tidbits of gossip from town?
“You look wonderful, dear!” he exclaimed and blew the smoke toward the clear, untainted surface of the mirror, where her reflexion tensed at his approach.
She was seated at a large vanity table, her earrings in hand. She was about to undress and skip dinner that night, as she had been for the past week.
“Why not come downstairs?” he asked and put on a mocking expression of concern as he leaned to brush his cheek against her short golden locks; he then added lowly “Or are you feeling ill again, my dear?”
His gaze was fixed upon Tamara’s reflexion as he pressed his cheek against hers in a tender gesture that made her stomach hurt and her blood rush. So, she avoided his warm brown eyes and kept her head lowered, and her cold blue gaze upon the glittering jewel between her fingers.
“I’m not well. Yes. So, would you mind-”
“Matter of fact I would mind,” he uttered bluntly and took the earrings from her hand, rendering her speechless for the moment.
Couldn’t he just leave her be?
He put her earrings on, slowly and carefully, taking his time, and every touch of his fingertips on her ear lobes made her skin crawl.
Of course, he couldn’t just leave her be – he was her husband and had been so for over two months now. How long could she go on avoiding his company?
The first few weeks had been filled with wonder and a strange feeling of freedom, but only because he had been away on business. Tamara had had the large eight bedroom house to herself and spent most of her days in the large gardens, reading and listening to music – she had the maid bring out the gramophone whenever the weather allowed, and it allowed almost every day.
But once he returned, her reign ended. Even if he spent his days at his Dallas office and came home in the evenings, there was no sense of freedom anymore, not even in listening to her albums, not even in reading her books.
She had refused him her company long enough, it seemed, and Jeremy would have her sit across the table from him and go through all the motions of gentle society conversation, about the weather, about the house, about his work, about whatever he, the man would choose to talk about.
Tamara had been brought up properly, to be a lady, even if she had gone to college, it had been only so she’d be educated enough for her to marry someone with class, of good breeding. Her father clearly had no idea that his little girl hadn’t been so little or a girl for some time.
Her college experience had been very enlightening, in the ways of men and women.
And so her father’s plans to marry her off to a good family, fell flat when she came back from Mount Holyoke College wearing the latest inappropriate fashions and with her hair cut short, like a boy’s.
Tamara had refused every offer for marriage: lawyers, judges a congressman even. But what she never refused was sex. It was all the more exciting if she didn’t know anything about the man.
And so, her reputation started to wither as the years past lowering her chances to marry well, or even marry at all.
But she believed she didn’t care. The man she had loved was lost to her forever and no other would compare to him. So why should she submit and suffer the company of anyone else, someone who she didn’t and wouldn’t ever care for?
Tamara sat at the table and sought to drown her resentment in wine.
She hated wine and she hated being a wife.
The only reason she accepted marrying this man was… Well, it was lost to her – she’d rather not admit to it, not even to a hint of it.
Tamara was just like any other woman, after all. Under the threat of ending up a sad old spinster, she yielded. She was now twenty-five – old enough to know not to trust a man’s words and old enough to understand her own limits. She was not the sort to grow old in the same house as her father, in that small, irrelevant little town. She wasn’t going to waste her youth trapped there, but she was too afraid to take flight, so, she decided she might as well spend the rest of her days in a cage fit for a canary like her, with a wealthy, snazzy man.
They ate and drank, and, as she had expected, the conversation floated from proper subject to proper subject, weaving a sense of civility into an otherwise barbaric situation.
Jeremy Tusk knew full well he had married a stranger for her pedigree and pleasant appearance. He took a nuisance off her father’s hands and, to sweeten the deal, he also opened a few doors in the southern trade for him. She had been sold by one man and bought by another.
The threat of silence set upon the table as they were almost done with the final course and so, she wandered over to the gramophone and revived Paul Whiteman’s Whispering.
Tamara wasn’t a prude, though Jeremy might have believed that. And, even if she would have never admitted to it, she wasn’t avoiding being alone with him out of a reluctance to give herself to him. On the contrary, she knew she wouldn’t be able to resist him – how else was one to vanquish loneliness?
But, she dreaded the idea of intercourse with her husband. It felt as if she would be sealing the deal, approving the trade, agreeing to the contract that had brought him and her together. She knew that, oddly enough, she’d feel cheaper after being with her husband than she had ever felt after being with men whose names she couldn’t even remember.
A giggle escaped her wine tainted red lips and she shrugged in response to Jeremy’s inquisitive gaze.
“Let’s dance,” she heard herself suggest and he obliged with a smirk.
The man knew how to move, and she found she was lost admiring his face.
He kept a thin mustache, like the actors in those moving pictures, and his eyes were beautiful, even if a little tired. With a long face and a straight, well-defined nose, he reminded her of the Portrait of a Poet by Amedeo Modigliani – she loved his works.
The tune came to an end and so did their evening together. She didn’t protest when his hand took hers and when his lips kissed her fingers.
But, despite her expectations, there was no attempt to kiss her, to enter her room or to persuade her to remain in his company longer.
She stood in front of her vanity table staring at her reflexion, puzzled by her husband’s gallantry.
The fact that he didn’t even allude to wanting to spend the night with her bothered Tamara more than she would have liked to admit. Was he actually being coy about sex?
But what irked her, even more, was that she wanted it now, so much so, that she had spent the better part of an hour staring up at the ceiling, in darkness, stuck in a cold large bed, trying to sleep.
So, she dared slip out of her room, wearing nothing but her silk white night gown. Her bare feet took her along the corridor toward his room, only to freeze at the sound of Jeremy’s voice coming from downstairs.
Tamara couldn’t make out what he was saying or even guess who he was speaking to but she assumed it was the maid, or the butler.
She approached the stairs quietly and took a peek in the entrance hall, just over the railing.
Tamara could see Jeremy’s shadow and the one he was now whispering to – a man. Someone she had never seen before, probably an employee from his cotton trading company; he was well dressed and young, maybe not even twenty – perhaps the son of one of his employees, come, in secret, at that late hour, to ask for a job, a favor, a…
She was sure of it. Jeremy had leaned in and kissed the boy on his lips.
No, no, surely this wasn’t what she had seen.
But, as the boy walked backwards toward the front door, seeking to leave, Jeremy kissed him again, this time, for a while longer, deeper and with an embrace.
She didn’t want to believe it, and for a few seconds she just stood there, staring at them. But once the shock faded, Tamara fled in silence, hiding inside her room.
There was outrage, then pure wonder, confusion and then revelation.
Tamara burst into laughter, covering her mouth, and trying to keep her chuckles in check for fear she might be heard.
All her avoiding, worrying and thoughts of self-importance had been for nothing.
Nothing was what it seemed, was it? You’d think that she would have learned that by now.
She continued to laugh under the covers of her cold bed and soon, her low snickers became quiet sobs.
There was nothing left for Tamara but loneliness and, for the first time in years, she had no choice but to feel it and let it swallow her whole.
Julia Proud is an animation artist and a storyteller. She has experience writing movie scripts, which most likely shows in her books by the manner in which she structures her stories and the way she chooses to walk the reader through a scene.
Actions, dialogue, and the characters’ interpretation of the world are important to her.
She is a firm believer that a story’s first job is to entertain, no matter the medium in which it presents itself. But don’t label her writing mindless fun – Julia knows that real entertainment is achieved by engaging the mind and tricking it, even for a moment, into believing that the story and its characters are real.