Jess was happy. They were sitting on the bench, chatting and admiring beautiful stars. At least she was admiring the stars. Nick was trying to smoke.
-Stop smoking, – she seized his cigarette and threw it in the trash bin.
-Would you like me to tell you a joke? – he asked.
-OK, – she accepted.-A cowboy’s wife was asked: “How can you live without any quarrels?” “After wedding, we were riding home. My horse stumbled. Hubby said: “One.” The horse stumbled again. He said: “Two.” When the horse stumbled for the third time, he shot it. I asked him: “Why did you shoot my horse?” He said: “One.” I haven’t asked any questions since then.”
-Stupid joke, – Jess frowned.
-Stupid joke! – she laughed.
-Stupid joke, – Jess insisted. The game was getting annoying.
Nick took Jess’s arm and led her towards her house. Jess tried to talk, but Nick kept silence. He took her to the house and disappeared.
All the next day was logy. In the evening Jess heard the bell.
-Hi, – he was offering her a box of chocolates. – Let’s go out.
Without any apologies. As if nothing had happened yesterday.
It looked like he was buying her with those chocolates. But Jess couldn’t do anything. Later, recalling that situation, she was throwing this box at him, banishing him from her sight. But at that moment her love paralyzed her will.
“How happy am I!” – she wrote in her blog the day before wedding. If only she knew how much she would cry!
Nick felt his power over Jess and took advantage of that – every so often he enjoyed his silence whereas Jess was trying to find out what she did wrong. She was begging, screaming, turning out her husband and then imploring him to stay. She hated being so grovelling. But her love, beaten black and blue, still managed to turn Jess into a puppet.
Once, after another Nick’s walkout, she swallowed all the pills she found at home. Then she was sitting at the desk writing her last message. Suddenly, their son Max woke up. He was standing in his crib crying: “Mama! Mama!” And Jess realized that she wants to live! For the sake of her little son, who could hardly talk but understood and loved her! Nick, who just pretended to be leaving, returned and pulled nearly fainted Jess to the bathroom, making her drink lots of water. Jess was scaring the toilet sink humbly.
Her love was poisoned with those pills – husband’s “silence game” didn’t impress Jess since then. When Nick didn’t answer her question, she kept silence herself. Nick changed his tactics. Now, to punish his wife, he left. For his mother’s. Leaving Jess with agonizing doubts: “Will he return?” He did return. With presents. Instead of apologies.
That summer Nick and Jess decided to do some renovation. Why did they argue? No one could remember later. But, having packed his belongings, Nick threw his keys on the floor and disappeared.
Jess was trying not to think about him. Together with Max, who was 12 then, they were moving the furniture, painting the doors and windows, hanging wallpaper. Jess was proud of her son. But she was feeling remorse – she deprived Max of summer vacation.
A month later, when the flat was repaired, the doorbell rang. Jess opened the door and saw Nick.
-How’s everything? I’ve bought a new mirror for you.
Her love was at its last gasp. But that agonizing love was still strong enough not to let out her scream: “Get lost with your mirror!” She just returned to her room, where her favourite computer game was waiting for her.
-Ma, what’s for dinner? – having come from school, Max entered the kitchen and saw Nick.
-What. Is. That. Doing. Here? – pointing at his dad.
-I’m living in here, – Nick tried to joke.
-Clown! – the boy slammed out of the flat.-Max! Where are you going? How about dinner? – Jess shouted running after him.
He returned home almost at midnight, when Jess was beside herself with despair.
-Where have you been?
-At my friend’s.
-Why haven’t you answered the phone? I didn’t know what to think.
-Aw, c’mon! I’m OK.
That day was the beginning of the son’s awkward age. Again and again Jess was thinking that everything would’ve been different if she hadn’t let Nick in. And Max had gone right off his rocker. He was disappearing for hours somewhere. And when he was at home, he spent hours playing computer games. Max’s teachers kept lecturing Jess for being irresponsible mother. Listening to them, she was feeling miserable. She knew everything. But all her attempts to talk with her son, her cries, her tears, her persuasions – nothing helped.
She was living like a robot: going to work, doing household chores… As soon as she had free time, she would rush to her computer, where her favourite game was waiting.
Jess bought this game for her son when he was 11. She wanted to distract him from computer monsters he loved so much. She liked the game where you can create your own characters, build them homes, fulfil their wishes… She hoped her son would love the game. But Max said the game was boring.
She began to play the game to show her son how interesting it was. But then she got completely carried away. Since then, as soon as Jess faced unsolvable problems, she escaped to virtuality. She liked to build cosy houses for her puppets. She loved that in a doll family it was easier to improve relations than in real life. But the most valuable was that if you’ve made a mistake, it can always be eliminated – just exit the game without saving. If only you could do that in real life! Once she told her husband that she regrets not throwing him out of the house with that box of chocolates. “I’d better live alone if you wouldn’t come again.” “I would come”, Nick said. That made Jess even more desperate. The thoughts of impossibility to change the past were driving her mad. Those thoughts may have caused splitting headaches, which couldn’t be cured by any pills. Nick insisted on her going to the doctor’s, but Jess hated hospitals.
That day she had a headache again. Tired of her tries to reach son on the phone, Jess went to bed – Max often came after midnight. She was woken by the doorbell. “He’s always losing his keys!” – she thought. It was 4 a.m. She heard her husband get up. “Well. Let him talk with the son in a masculine way.”
-Well? What did he say? – she asked half-asleep.
-Nothing. I turned him out.
-What?! He’s only 14! – her sleepiness seemed to have been blown away.
-Next time you open the door, – Nick muttered.
Jess didn’t hear him. She ran out into the street. But she couldn’t see anybody. She tried to phone. “The subscriber unit is switched off or out of range.” Having searched the neighbourhood without any result, she returned home. In the morning, she began phoning Max’s friends. No one knew anything. She was dashing around the flat, not knowing what to do. Terrible thoughts of what could be happening to her beloved son were bursting her head into millions bits.
-Go to bed. What can happen to him? – Nick tried to reassure her, but stopped short meeting with her ice-cold eyes full of hatred and disgust.
Another night came. The knowledge of her own helplessness was killing Jess. She turned on the computer. She wanted to escape.
Jess didn’t hear her husband go out.
She was off her game. Instead of being promoted, her simself got fired. Jess was reloading the game again and again. Waiting for the game to load, she was trying to change the past in her mind. “Let’s go out.” “No!!!” … “I’ve bought a mirror.” “Get lost!!!”… “Max! Wait! I’ll open the door!”
The headache got unbearable. But Jess decided that performing the task in the game would help her in real life: Her darling son would return. Wholesome and alive.
The door opened.
-You should’ve thought of Mother. She’s driven mad.
-You’ve thrown me out of the house, – Max was proud of himself: his parents will remember his lesson forever!
-Ma, why’s the light on?
He entered the room. Jess was sitting in front of the black screen with her head on the keyboard.
-Are you sleeping? – he touched her shoulder feeling sorry.
-Mom! Mommy! – he hadn’t called her so for ages.
Nick, who came in, got motionless.
Max was shaking his mother’s body, hoping to wake her up. He didn’t notice the mouse fall. Woken by the mouse, the screen got bright and they saw a cosy room. At the table, Jess was sitting with a green plumbbob above her head. Her husband and son were having dinner with her, chatting cheerfully.
A happy doll family…
Written for The Short Story Challenge held by Carewren123.