Thursday, June 6, 2013

ANNE EYRE (Jamaica: chapter Twenty-three) #Jane Eyre Retelling

Chapter Twenty-three
   I remained speechless as he spoke.
   ‘I was born as you know into the richest, most aristocratic of families. But it was my brother who was to inherit the lands, the title, the house… everything. When he was nineteen he died; he went out hunting and returned in a body bag. We are unsure what happened but there were bullet holes in his forehead.
     There is madness in my family, Anne, and no one has ever spoken of it openly, but eccentric behaviour, selfishness and violence; these were the traits of my relatives. When I travelled to America, fresh out of school and attended college there, it was a whole new world, an open way of living, with no family feuds and no more secrets or violence…  or lies, or so I thought.’
    He stoked the flames of the fire that had been lit in my room and continued speaking in his rich, low tones. ‘There were no family fires to contend with there; I was free at last.’
    I did not stir; I felt I at least owed him the chance to unburden his conscience.
   ‘As you know, I had significant funds and agreed to produce a film with Christopher when our screenplay won a competition. It was just a low-budget movie but we were granted enough funds to make the film the way we wanted and we were sent to New Orleans, one stiflingly hot summer, to film it. Christopher Mason was my best friend at university and my co-producer. Berenice Antoinetta Mason was his sister. We’d already auditioned an actress for the leading role but when his sister walked in… she had the part. She was…’
   ‘Beautiful?’ I answered for him.
   ‘Seductive.’  He countered.
   ‘And you could not resist marrying her.’
   ‘I could not but not for the reasons you think. I hardly knew her.’
   ‘Then why did you marry her? You were so young, my age.’
   ‘Their family, the Masons, were one of the oldest in New Orleans. Her father and my father did business together; it was arranged. I was now the only son and due to inherit everything. I went from being previously ignored by my family to somehow coming up in their world. My wedding to Berenice was a business transaction for my father, the merging of two family enterprises,’ he added bitterly.
    ‘And Berenice?’
    ‘She… loved me.’
    ‘That makes it worse. And you?’
    ‘I loved her the first moment I saw her.’
    Breathless, I knew it. She must have been so exquisite he had not bothered to ask any questions about the arrangement, barely needing any incentive to marry her. The money had just been a bonus to keep his father happy and the family business running strong.
    Nevertheless, the words that had come out of Nathanial’s mouth left me almost speechless. They were not exactly the words a woman expects to hear on her wedding night.
    I started to dress, not caring if he stayed in the room. I began pulling on my woollen jumper over my pyjama top, buttoning up my jeans, pulling on socks as he finished his unrehearsed speech. I’d cut my hair in the bathroom, it was shorter around my ears, a shaggy long bob.
    ‘You look like a waif,’ he said, suddenly noticing my hair in the firelight.
    ‘I feel like one,’ I replied. ‘I am not the same person I was yesterday. I do not want to look like that girl.’ He reached out to touch me but I pulled away from him. He continued to speak…
    ‘Christopher swears he didn’t know that she was… more than different… more than mad… she thinks she’s a creature of the night. Have you heard of bloodsuckers Anne?’
    ‘Only in horror movies.’
    ‘I have lived a horror movie and now I want to return to the light.’
    He continued speaking in low tones. I could not stop myself from listening even though his words were abhorrent to me.
    ‘We honeymooned in Jamaica. That first night was perfect; then I noticed, almost immediately after that night, some strangeness. She would not go out in the light; She had a horror of blood in the daylight but a craving to touch my wounds or “kiss them better” as she put it, when I least expected it. Unknowingly, I’d scratched myself on the bedpost and she began crazily licking my arm when I woke. It was not normal. The medical examiner at the resort said she was… deluded, psychotic.’
    ‘Please, I said. I don’t need to hear any more about your wife,’ I muttered under my breath. He kept speaking anyway…
    ‘I could not admit the truth of her apparent insanity. At first, I just thought it was behavioural, containable. She wanted to be with me all night, staying awake long after I fell asleep, waking me up as she paced the floors.
     When I woke the next morning she was staring into my eyes and her eyes… she told me they turned red in the dark, then black in daylight. Even after we’d…’ he hesitated, not wanting to say the obvious words, ‘… slept together, she would stay in bed all day and only want to go out at night. She spent vast amounts of money on a designer wardrobe but did not wish to be seen in daylight. Then she became violent and angry over nothing and one day, before we were due to arrive back in England, I found her sharing a hammock with a bartender she’d picked up that afternoon.  When I went to move her, she appeared to be in a trance; the man was dead.
    Investigations proved nothing and she was not blamed but still…. I did not know the beautiful woman I’d married, Anne. She was a stranger to me; she was not, human.  She acted human enough in her lucid moments but her habits were strange, her thirsts, unquenchable. I could not control her. Finally, when we arrived back in England, she tried to kill me.’
    He lifted his shirt and showed me a stab mark and scars on his hip mixed with what appeared to be bite marks.
   ‘That night?’ I asked.
   ‘Christopher came here to visit her. He went to the room, alone, and Berenice tried to kill him, her own brother. I did not think he would talk because he knows I am trapped by her insanity, but blood is thicker than water,’ he laughed bitterly.
    Nathanial continued, ‘Before she’d tried to kill me, she had wanted me to feed from her blood just as she had fed on mine but I would not. She became agitated, pacing around the bedroom again once we were here at Thornton. My wife started screaming and wound herself up into a wild frenzy. Then she tried to stab me. She did not know her own mind. She was not properly diagnosed or medicated. A stranger was found outside the grounds of the estate, not long after I’d refused her, dead and drained of his blood.’
    ‘Stop… you are telling me an unimaginable story. I don’t want to hear any more. I would think it all lies if I hadn’t seen the evidence myself.’
    ‘I can’t stop, Anne. You deserve the truth.’
     ‘Why didn’t you leave her? Divorce her?’
     ‘After she tried to kill me, then herself, I refused to call in the police. We called in psychiatrists, instead. She denied everything, hid her true nature from them but after careful observation, they told me, if I were to press charges, take photographs of her violence, she would be sectioned and held indefinitely in a psychiatric institution.’
     He put his head in his hands then looked up.
    ‘I couldn’t do it, Anne. Have you seen those places? Have you ever seen a prison for the criminally insane? They restrain people in padded cells, drug them all day; I couldn’t do it because I loved her. But I could not live with her and she did not return my love. Over time, she deteriorated, degenerated into whatever she is now.’
    ‘Then why didn’t you divorce her?’
    ‘Her family are catholic and do not recognize divorce. They threatened to disown her; she would have ended up in an institution without me to care for her. This way, legally, I am still responsible for her. In any case, she has cursed me all the same. When you arrived, I had not expected to ever feel love again.’
    I was speechless with the weight of his words.
   ‘Don’t leave me Anne. I beg you, don’t go.’
    I looked at him, honestly feeling sorry for him. But it was not my pity he needed. It was my love, my devotion.
    ‘I think I must,’ was all I could utter.
    ‘Stay here with me; we will be husband and wife in our eyes, if not the world’s. And honestly, who cares what people think? I have never followed the rules of this world anyway and it is not unusual to live together in this day and age. I will give you everything you ever wanted.’
   ‘All I ever wanted,’ I said, ‘was you.’
   ‘And you have me,’ he said reaching out to me, pressing me to him, covering my wrist with kisses and then moving up to my chest, my neck. I could barely refuse him. But I pushed him off me again.
   ‘No,’ I said. ‘I must leave. Tonight.’
   ‘Don’t go, Anne. Who is there to disapprove? There is no one in this world who will judge us once they see where the truth lies.’
   ‘I do not want to live this lie.’
   ‘Who would know? Apart from the staff, the village and they are all gossips anyway, who is there to care?’
    ‘I care.’  I could barely speak. ‘I would know, and I would judge myself harshly for living with another woman’s husband.  I must leave, I cannot wait,’ I cried out as I pushed him away from me and ran down the stairs.
   He had taught me to drive and I used that skill to flee to the village in one of his many fast and beautiful cars.  I parked the vehicle in the parking lot near the station and sheltered from the cold behind a wall where no one would see me if they came searching. When the bus arrived that would take me to Devon, I sent Rochester a text telling him where he could collect the car. Then I threw my phone away.