Ancient History - Part 6
Maxwell pressed his own comparatively large, distinguished nose against the squishy, button like facsimile poking out from the center of his son's face. His son. Even after several months he still found himself smiling with uncharacteristic gratitude at the world and whatever gods or fates wove possibilities into realities. There was no mistaking the resemblance between father and son even as the child's features retained the fatty roundness of his infancy. His eyes had been brilliant red straight from the womb and the dusting of fine, soft hairs that curled along his crown were the same dark brown that graced Maxwell's own temples. There was no doubt in his paternity, doubt that would have been misplaced anyway considering the fidelity of woman who's left ring finger was ornamented by the delicate but simple gold band Maxwell had bestowed upon her at the alter years ago.
Nirvana sat with regal grace in her own chair across from her husband, hands folded neatly in her lap as her eyes alone reached out to hold her child. Her expression tightened with every giggle and gleeful sound Maxwell orchestrated from the baby with strange faces and games that caused him such delight. Her fingers tightened into fists against her skirt when little James Jr. reached out for his father with chubby fingers and patted curiously at the stubble on his chin. Her teeth clenched when Maxwell turned his head and pretended to bite those small hands. Their baby laughed with unfathomable joy. Nirvana's chest burned with stomach acid as it replaced the bile in her throat.
"You don't seem to be happy, my dear." Maxwell announced, bouncing the baby in his arms.
Nirvana swallowed the sickness but did not mask it with the false smiles and practiced humility she'd been instructed in for public affairs. In the presumed comfort of her own home she left her emotions to drip from the heart on her sleeve with hopeful vulnerability. "No, James." Her voice was soft but firm. "I'm not happy."
"A little late for postpartum depression, isn't it?"
"It's not that."
"Well, it's always hormones with your type anyway. It'll pass; I wouldn't put too much thought into it. You'll just feel foolish later for making a big deal out of nothing." Maxwell gave another goofy smile and the baby gave an appreciative squeal.
Nirvana gritted her teeth. "I wish you wouldn't speak to me as though I were the child. I know perfectly well how I feel and I am not happy. We need to talk, James."
"Not around him."
Maxwell laughed and bounced their son against his chest. "He doesn't understand a damn thing we say. I could tell him his mother is an overly emotional, irrational little cunt and he'd just laugh like an idiot."
Nirvana winced, eyes squinting with scorn. "I meant him" She pointed across the room to where Ashe stood, the pale yellow spit-up rag with the duckling print along the boarder still hanging off one shoulder, leaned against the wall with his attention cast towards the datapad at hand. His eyes lifted towards her, his golden gaze filtered through long black lashes. Despite their warmth in color, Nirvana always felt cold under his stare, which seemed to her to be chilled with contempt in an otherwise vacant expression. "I know you'll just turn around and tell him what we talk about but that doesn't mean he needs to be here when I want to talk to my husband."
"I have no interest in your personal affairs, Mrs. Maxwell. If you desire I leave the room you may address me and ask as much. I'm only here to facilitate in the needs of your son as per Mr. Maxwell's request." Ashe stowed the stylus away and slipped the datapad into the pouch of his sweatshirt before crossing to the liquor cabinet and pouring out two glasses: one of straight bourbon and the other a fruity premixed drink on ice. Setting each glass down to the side of its patron, Ashe lifted the baby from Maxwell's lap and cradled him to his chest. "If privacy is all you require now, we'll be going."
"Thank you, Ashe." Maxwell wrapped his fingers around his son's short, curled toes and gave his leg a little shake in parting.
Ashe smiled vaguely and carried the baby out, duckling print rag hanging down his back like a tattered cape. The sounds of James Jr.'s cursory cries, punctuated at even intervals by the gentle rhythmic patting against his back, were cut off as the doors slid shut.
Maxwell cast a malignant glare over the rim of his liquor glass as he took his first sip. "There's no reason to be rude to him. He's the reason you get to sleep through the night. You should show some gratitude."
"Maybe I want to be woken up. Maybe I want to be the one to go to his crib at night. I'm his mother, it's my right to be there."
"Is that what this is about? You wanted Ashe out of the room so you could bitch about resentful shit that doesn't amount to anything? He's not even one year old, he could care less who's changing his diapers at 3 in the morning."
"No, that's not what this is about." Nirvana hooked her white knuckled fingers into her skirt again. "This is about you and your complete disregard for my opinion. You never asked what I wanted; you've made every decision for me. You named him, you won't let me breast-feed, you have Ashe and the maids take care of him, and now I hear I have a personal trainer? Is there nothing I get a say in?"
"Breast-feeding ruins the shape of the breast and I'm not paying to have them reshaped. I got you that little pump thing, what's the difference?"
"There's a huge difference between holding my son against my chest and holding a machine to it. And what do you care what my body looks like? You haven't touched me in more than a year. I thought it was the pregnancy, I thought you were just turned off my the thought of making love to me with our child inside but it's been months since he was born and you don't even look at me as though there's a single spark of interest left."
Maxwell took another long sip, shrugging his shoulders like a child rather than the twenty-six year old man he was. "You're fat. Give it a while with the personal trainer and we'll see if things improve."
Nirvana closed her eyes tight. "I wore this dress before I got pregnant. I'm no bigger now than I was then. You used to say I looked healthy. Any thinner, you said, and I'd stab you to death with shoulder and hipbones in our sleep. You said I was beautiful."
She nodded, her heart ready to accept what it had feared all along. "You don't love me anymore."
"That's not true." He smiled at her in a way that sent shivers down her spine as it had done in their days of courtship. "I can't say that I ever loved you, really."
Nirvana choked on a surprised sob, biting her tongue to keep composure. "If you never loved me, why did you marry me?" Her voice was low and pained, her face downcast, unable to meet his.
"Voters prefer married men to bachelors, especially considering my age. It demonstrates responsibility and maturity and being a father adds compassion and steady values to that. You've increased my voter approval substantially."
"Is that all I am to you? A means to fulfilling your political agenda?"
"Of course not. I got a son out of you too." He smiled with pride in himself. "First try and a perfect likeness. Had it been a girl we'd have had to continue this charade longer."
As her world crumbled with each harsh truth, he continued to smile. She felt Maxwell either cared so little for her he couldn't bring himself to consider her feelings or else disliked her so that her pain was enjoyable to cause. That she couldn't hate him for either made her heart ache the most. She had meant every word of her vows and locked away as secret treasures every dream like night they had spent together all the years before. As he pecked away harder at her memories of love, she held on tight to the few instances she felt could not have been lies. A picnic on the rooftop where no one could see them when she first let his hands press against her skin under her T-shirt but nothing more, her head resting on his shoulder as they gazed at stars afterward without a hint of anxiety towards desires unfulfilled. There were lazy afternoons spent watching the terminal, fingers intertwined and heads touching with no need to speak or press closer. Those were moments of content happiness where love, she told herself, had existed. Perhaps the feeling had died in its infancy for Maxwell but it had been there once. She wasn't so foolish as to believe a lie from the start.
Maxwell finished his glass and set it down on the side table. Nirvana had not touched her own.
"Divorce, as you should know, is out of the question."
She looked up at him at last, frowning with a desperate curve to her brow. "Why keep me if you don't love me? At least allow me the chance to be happy with someone else if it's too much to expect from you."
"Politics, my dear. Simply matters of public opinion. If you can be discrete about it, I have no problem with you looking for romance elsewhere."
"I don't want a lover; I want a husband. I have no intentions of breaking my wedding vows regardless of the situation."
Maxwell shrugged, slouching down into his armchair. "All the better, then. The less trouble you get into, the better for all of us."
Nirvana nodded, watching her future unfold in front of her, the affectionate words, touches and kisses in public contrasting with the growing distance and unhappiness at home. A smiling, laughing, picture perfect family only in photographs. She put her face in her hands.
"God, please don't tell me you're crying."
She bit her lip to stop the tears. "Julian deserves better than this," she managed with shaking breath.
"James," he corrected, "can ask for nothing better than a home where all his needs are met."
"Love is a need."
"You doubt I love my own son?"
"How can I believe anything you say, James? You're a plastic smile with a script. The only thing genuine about you is your malice." Her reply was even though unsparing, said with the same tone as one might comment on the color of a blouse. Emotion had become too tiring to attach to anything related to her husband.
Maxwell laughed. "My dear, I long ago gave up ever caring about what you thought. Isn't that how this conversation started?" He stood up, twisting side to side to pop his back and release the stiffness that had formed. "Arrangements won't be complicated. You'll have your own room and free rein of the household floors. Decorate, plan parties, do whatever the hell you want; I honestly don't care so long as you are a public example of a commendable wife and mother. If this becomes too much for you and you try to leave me, there will be scandal, you will be put through the ringer and you will not be seeing your son again. Is that much understood?"
Nirvana nodded, resignation stomping out the flames of her disquietude. She rose from her chair and inclined her head in mimicry of the same slight bow the staff replied to their orders with. "Yes, James. I believe I understand you quite clearly."
Standing across from him at arms length apart, she saw the white faux flowers of the church in her minds eye, the sound of organ music and the feel of nervous butterflies warning her through the ceremony. "Till death do you part," a voice said, sentencing her while binding her to the executioner. And she had agreed with all her heart.
Leaving that shadow of a heart behind her, Nirvana left the room.