THOMAS FRISBY JEFFSON (1878-1971)
Annie has tried her best to tell my story, but we have to face facts. She’s been trying to get a novel published for nearly two years now and … between you and me and the computer mouse … she need to try a darned sight harder and stop messing around. I know publishers don’t like me because I’m such a nasty piece of work, but there is a reason. I have a secret – a skeleton in my closet – and I’d like to share it with you.
Hey …. don’t go away!. Please stay and listen to what I have to say. I know it doesn’t sound too good, so far, but there is a reason I am such such a horrible character. It isn’t all my fault, you know!
When I was sixteen, I wasn’t a bad lad. Believe me, I behaved myself and had ambitions. I respected my elderly aunt and uncle because I was grateful to them for giving me a new start in life when they rescued me from my sadistic, cruel mother and took me in. So, I suppose you are wondering where it all went wrong? This is where you hear my true story because I swear that I’ve never told a living soul about the dreadful thing that happened to me.
The year before I moved in with my aunt and uncle, a new family had arrived in the village and rented the cottage next door to them. Young Jack was my age and we became really good friends.
His mother, Mary, always made me welcome in their home. It was a lovely, wafty-walled thatched cottage with nice furniture and always very clean and tidy. She told me that she admired how I had tried to better myself and complimented me on my neat clothes and highly polished boots. Mary was well respected in the village and a regular churchgoer. She was also a very beautiful woman and turned heads wherever she went.
After a while I started to go to church and join in all the activities. I liked being around Mary because she was always so interested in me – I wasn’t just the lad who lived next door. Young Jack and I joined the village cricket team and life was good. I was having the time of my life after my miserable childhood.
Mary had married her husband, Old Jack, when she was very young and, although their marriage seemed strong, she often used to confide in me that she felt her best years had slipped away without her noticing. I was really wet behind the ears when I was sixteen!
Don’t ask me to define the moment I fell in love. I always had a big crush on Mary, but I never let it show. I think most young lads about that age tend to get all fanciful about an older woman, don’t they?
Anyway, it all started in a field on a warm late-August Sunday afternoon. I was collecting blackberries for my aunt to make a pie, when I heard a voice call out to me. I looked around and Mary was hurrying across the field, a radiant smile splitting her pretty face. She was carrying a nearly full basket of blackberries.
‘Here,’ she said to me, ‘let me put my basket down and I’ll give you a hand to fill yours.’ We walked along the hedgerow, chatting away, plucking the ripe juicy fruit from the brambles.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her loose golden hair, which blew in wisps around her face and hung in waves over her narrow shoulders. She could have easily been mistaken for a woman half her age. I caught a faint scent of perfume – or was it fresh laundry – as she leaned in front of me and the blue and white cotton of her dress stretched enticingly over her full breasts.
After a few minutes of picking the ripe, juicy fruit together, I saw some particularly large berries that were right inside the hedge, just out of reach. I leaned into the brambles to pick them. As edged my way into the hedgerow, my foot went down a rabbit hole and I lurched and fell right into the deadly thorns. A hot rasping pain gouged the skin on the back of my hand and I cried out as I scrambled up. The bramble must have slashed through one of the veins on the back of my hand because there was blood everywhere.
Mary and I sat down on the grass; she whipped a handkerchief out of the pocket of her dress, shook it and wound it round my hand, pressing down on the cut with my hand sandwiched between hers. As the bleeding subsided I glanced up at her and was startled to see that she was looking straight into my eyes. A deep desire played around the edges of her seductive smile as we stared at each other. I could hardly contain my excitement. My heart pounded. All I could hear was the sound of her breathing and feel the warmth of her hands and thigh, which was touching mine. I was hypnotised, completely mesmerised by the smell of her, the sound of her voice and her hair tumbling over her shoulders when it should have really been pinned up, it being a Sunday. The sight of her breasts and tiny waist made her seem youthful and vibrant, and yet her maturity and experience seemed to gush from her eyes straight into the tops of my thighs and groin.
She stroked my bare forearm with one hand whilst holding my injured hand with the other and I thought I would be sure to explode. She could see how excited I was and kept looking into my eyes as her free hand effortlessly left my arm and caressed the top of my thigh. Her hand worked its way to my crotch.
‘Sorry,’ I said, after I few seconds, feeling as if I needed to apologise.
‘Never mind,’ she said almost in a whisper as her deft hand played with the buttons on my trousers. ‘When we can be somewhere more private, I’ll show you what it’s all really about!’
I looked all around to see if anyone had seen what had happened. There were people in the field only a few yards away along the hedgerows, and some children played cricket in the meadow on the other side of the hedge. I blushed crimson at the thought someone might have been looking, but a quick glance over my shoulder told me that everyone seemed to be minding their own business.
She stood up and pulled me to my feet. My face was still scarlet with embarrassment. She said, ‘don’t be ashamed, Tom, I know how you feel about me.’ Then she let go of my hand, picked up her basket and walked jauntily away across the field back to the village. Her hips swayed rhythmically, and she tossed her head as she flicked hair out of her eyes. She didn’t even look back at me.
After that Sunday, I kept away from Mary for a while. I felt guilty about the whole episode and could hardly look Young Jack in the eye because of the shame at the thought of what I had done with his mother.
One Saturday, about a month later, my aunt and uncle went out with some other relatives. I was at home on my own, polishing my boots and minding my own business, when Mary tapped on the front window like a jackdaw after a sparkly jewel.
I put down the boot I was polishing, stood up and stretched. I felt a rush of fear mixed with excitement as I opened the heavy, oak front door just a little, a waft of delicate perfume filling the hallway through the crack in the door.
‘Could I trouble you to borrow a darning needle,’ she enquired, fanning her flushed face with her hand and shooting me a seductive look under her eyelashes. I opened the door fully, and politely asked her to come in. I made her wait while I turned my back on her to rummage in my aunt’s needlework bag. I didn’t look round. I deliberately didn’t encourage her in any way. In any case, my face was red with embarrassment and I didn’t want her to notice.
As I was hunting for a needle in the bag, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle; her eyes seemed to bore into me and my cheeks burned crimson. Just as I was about to turn around, having found what I was looking for, I stopped breathing as I felt her arms encircle my waist from behind. I froze as she unbuttoned my shirt and caressed my bare chest. She laid her head against my back, pressing herself erotically against my buttocks. She was kissing the back of my neck and then licking my ear with the tip of her tongue. It was so difficult for me, a healthy young lad with normal desires and yet knowing that any sort of liaison would be inappropriate to say the very least. I did try to pull away – I honestly did.
I swear to you as God is my witness, I’m telling the truth. But … well … what lad could have resisted? I certainly couldn’t. She took me by the hand and led me upstairs. She undressed me with slow, experienced hands, before taking off every item of her own clothing. We lay, naked, on top of the bed.
It was my first time.
After that Saturday, it happened about a dozen more times over the next year. It was always Mary who seduced me. At first I wanted it to stop and I tried to avoid her if I could, as I was so ashamed of myself. I was terrified that people would find out, especially Young Jack, but they never did. No one ever suspected a thing.
As time went on, I fell deeply in love with Mary. Whenever we were alone I told her how I felt about her. She told me she loved me back and was just waiting for the right time to leave her husband and for us to be together properly. I worked like a Trojan; saving every penny I could to be able to afford a nice home for us both and to have the means to support Mary and her two youngest children. I both dreaded, and yet lived for, the few times we could be together, consoling myself that the loneliness I felt when we were apart would be worth it eventually.
Just before I was seventeen, my aunt made a casual announcement at the dinner table one Sunday as we tucked into roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. She said that Mary was pregnant with her fourth child.
I was stunned.
I put down my knife and fork and took a deep breath before swigging half a glass of water. With a primitive instinct in my gut and a guilty heart tinged with pride, I knew that the child growing in her belly was probably mine.
We passed each other in the street a few days later. I didn’t think she was even going to acknowledge me. I caught her arm and asked her outright if the child was mine. She looked at me in the eye and said coldly, ‘of course it’s yours, you silly little boy! Old Jack thinks it’s his and it’s best kept that way. You just keep your mouth shut, or else you’ll be sorry!’
As she walked away she looked over her shoulder at me and then stopped. She took a step backwards and gave a condescending, unfeeling sneer. ‘Well I wanted to have another baby before it was too late, and that useless lummox couldn’t give me one!’ she said
I was panic-stricken.
I caught her arm. ‘Mary …’ I said, ‘let’s just talk about this ….’
She shook my hand off and left it suspended in mid air.
I was desperate.
She pursed her lips and shook her head, before walking away, her eyes cold and hard, staring straight ahead without even a backward glance.
My life was a living hell after that day; but I couldn’t tell anyone. I can’t tell you how hurt I was. I was angry with myself, too, because I could see how stupid I had been.
With the benefit of hindsight, I believe Mary only wanted another baby so that she could be the centre of attention. Her seduction of me was well planned and clinical. What was easier than a beautiful woman ensnaring an impressionable sixteen-year-old lad? She abused me and then discarded me like a bag of rubbish.
I was broken – my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
After he was born, she would walk around the village, pushing my son in an expensive new perambulator, with her hair pinned up in an elegant bun under a demure hat, swishing her full skirts as she swayed her hips, nodding her head, smiling and passing the time of day with everyone she met – especially the men. Her tinkling laughter was so fabricated and contrived, I wondered how I could ever have been so gullible as to be taken in by her. I used to stand and watch, hiding behind a newspaper or bending down pretending to tie my shoelaces in a gateway. Her voice would change when she spoke to a man. Any man. Her head would lower slightly and she would look up at them under her eyelashes; then she would hold their gaze just a second too long. I’d wait for the trill laugh and for her to touch them gently on the arm. They’d walk away with a spring in their step, feeling on top of the world. I knew the feeling all too well and I wanted to run after them and tell them not to be such a bloody fool.
I’d watch as she and Old Jack went to church, pushing my son in front of them in his perambulator. She would march off on Old Jack’s arm, with her two little girls running along in front, looking for the entire world like a devout church-going pillar of the community.
My aunt knew there was something wrong and was worried about me. My mind was in turmoil – all my dreams and aspirations knocked aside, worthless and redundant as the reality of the situation hit me like a runaway horse and left me bleeding and broken.
I had been well and truly used.
To an inexperienced sixteen year old, Mary had been the perfect woman. In the next few months I gradually came to realise that her behaviour had been ten times worse than that of my slovenly, dirty mother. In their own disparate ways they had splintered and fragmented my fragile early years, and it took me a very long time to realise that Mary’s actions had not only affected me for my entire life, but had moulded me into the bitter, nasty and unfeeling person I turned into afterwards.
Frank, they called him. I could hear his muffled cries through the wall, physically aching to hold him in my arms and be a proper father to him. I liked his name and it is one I would have chosen myself, had I had the chance. He was a lovely little chap, with bright blue eyes and fine blonde hair.
I can’t even begin to describe to you all how much I loved him. It was a hopeless situation. It was like a heavy, constant ache around my heart. I cried lonely, helpless tears, night after lonely night, over the futility of the situation, knowing I could never acknowledge that perfect little boy as my son.
Occasionally, my aunt looked after baby Frank. I felt on top of the world at such times and always willed him to wake up so that I could pick him up and hug him to me, breathing in his delicate baby smell and feeling the warmth of his body, his little heart beating against my chest. I’d gaze into his eyes and make him chuckle with silly noises, and he would reach out to touch my nose or my mouth. My eyes would fill with tears and I’d deliberately let them fall on his face before wiping them away. In some perverse way I wanted him to be baptised by my tears; to somehow know how much his real father loved him and how it was tearing me apart.
I swear I can recall each and every time I held Frank. The memories are so pure, so clear in my mind. It was like finding a patch of warm winter sun on a cold, bleak day whenever I thought of my precious first-born son.
I threw myself into work and cricket and worked myself into exhaustion most days so that I had little time to dwell on things. I stopped going to church, because Mary was always there, and I couldn’t even bear to look at her. To help ease the pain, I took just a little whisky to help me sleep through the night without having to hear my son living his life, disconnected from mine, through the few inches of the dividing wall. His cries pierced through my body right into my soul. I felt physical pain with the basic, simple need to be a proper father. Where’s the wrong in that? The tot or two of whisky before I went to bed was the only bit of comfort that helped me through that awful time.
After a year or so I took up with my lovely Liz. We married when I was nearly twenty-two. I wanted to make a fresh start but there were two things I just couldn’t do, try as I might. I couldn’t forget my perfect son and I couldn’t give up the whisky that eased the pain of knowing that he would never know that I was his real father.
I carried the scar of that hot, August Sunday afternoon on the back of my hand for the rest of my life. It was a permanent, constant reminder of Mary Haywood – the woman who had stolen my innocence and damaged my heart beyond repair.
That is why I drink. That is why I am such a horrible man. You see, Frank Hayward died of the consumption at the age of twenty-two without ever knowing how much I loved him. He died without knowing that I, Tom Jeffson, was his father.
I think Annie needs to tell her readers about my secret, don’t you?