At this point, I am overcome with hesitation in sharing a story that doesn’t belong to me. It isn’t mine to tell, but as part of a running investigation, I felt obligated not to conceal the facts of such an intimate story.
Regardless of who it might condemn.
Without further digression, I will present my testimony of Thaddeus Jackson’s daughter, Alexandra, who was not a young woman, and not a child, but caught somewhere in between. There was a time when she didn’t resemble a human being, but was more of a ghost, and crept around the house on silent toes, as not to disturb her father at any given point of the day, torn between her fear of anything louder than a whisper, and saying the wrong things to him. I spent many an afternoon in their dining room, indulging in drunken pleasantries and merriment with Thaddeus, and only once did I hear her speak.
Thaddeus’s daughter was an ordinary girl, and when I first met her, it was at the age of six, when she peered around the corner of the door frame to put a face to my unfamiliar voice. Her skin was a beautiful, pale fleshy color, but unlike most children in the middle of summer, her complexion was almost white. It lacked the sun-kissed freckles that frequented the faces of July-happy children. Perhaps I should emphasize the fact that even from a young age, she was capable of vast changes in personality and form. As a child, she was often sweet and cheerful, but as she aged, could sometimes appear to be an ungrateful girl, who often broke dishes and dropped plates simply to irritate her father. There were ugly nights where she would appear in the hallway outside the living room, thin and skeletal, with eyes sunken deep into her cheeks, but just as many other nights, beautiful nights, where she would parade around in her newest dresses, kissing her father happily on the cheek. Her face was flushed, and her hips had grown rounded and womanly in adolescence. She was a girl who, on some occasions, looked too little like her late mother, and on others, too much. One might say it was difficult to believe she was the same girl, one week to the next.
The causes of these changes were due to none other than the force of Thaddeus Jackson himself. He would praise her or demean her to greater or lesser degrees of self-worth, depending upon what suited him after his fifth or sixth glass of scotch, and by the end of the night, she had a fair chance of being either the best daughter, or the worst. Following his impulses there were nights that Thaddeus Jackson would really look at her, his eyes would fill with tears and he would tell her he was a lifetime’s worth of proud. There were just as many nights where she didn’t dare come down the stairs.
It seemed to me that things had gone well for the pair at the beginning of their life together. She had been a child plagued with nightmares, and Thaddeus, content with her need for him, would allow her to sleep in the same bed on the nights they did occur. She would close her eyes, her breathing would slow, and within minutes, she had drifted into a restful, undisturbed sleep. It was after nights like this, sitting in the dining room and nursing our drinks, that Thaddeus would tell me the wonders of having a daughter.
Then, after several years, their relationship began to degrade. It was about this time that the girl actually began showing signs of adolescent independence, and the development of a personality that, while as enigmatic, differed from his own.
Thaddeus fell ill to a shameful disease, a subtle monster that devoured his days, hour by hour. It started with one drink in the morning, just after he woke up. Then another drink at twelve, when the air was hot enough that anything on the rocks was an appealing notion. That hours between one and six would hold as many as ten drinks, depending upon his mood that day, and of course there had to be wine with dinner. We would sit in the dining room, as he poured himself another scotch and would lean towards me to say, “So, my friend, you see what lay at the hearts of young women; driving a man to the bottle, time and time again, as to have enough calm to know what to do with them.”
I’ll make this quick, in part because I know we all have places to be, but also because the details of the period before that final night are slowly blurring together, their lines not nearly as distinct and defined as they once may have been.
The years went by, and Thaddeus Jackson’s distaste for Alexandra became palatable, although his love for his daughter did not show any signs of faltering. It was as though he much preferred the idea of his daughter to the woman she could, or was becoming. It was on that final night that the war in his heart between affection and aversion for her seemed to tear him apart, so much so that he had become quite emotional. His eyes scanned the room, as though Alexandra might appear from out of thin air, the way she use to do as a child, shouting at him to put down his drink, or worse to try to take care of him—as though he weren’t still enough of a man to do it himself. The strangest impulses appeared that night, accompanied by the most irrational fears. He spoke to me of Alexandra more and more often as the night progressed, worried that she would leave him, worried that she would suddenly disappear right in front of him, accusing her of unthinkably cruel things. In this I could not follow him, nor reassure him in any way, as my time spent with his daughter was limited to short sightings in the hall way.
“Believe it or not, my friend, she’s aging.” He would say to me, over and over again throughout the duration of the evening, taking my hand as if my presence alone was enough to move him to tears. “Do you know where my daughter has gone?”
The tragic climax came rather suddenly; it was the last night I spent in the living room of their house, Thaddeus Jackson poured me another glass and made a toast. He became rather agitated unexpectedly, his state of mind clearly not in its best of forms. His physical condition was even more upsetting, his body seemed weak and sickly, his stomach distended and his face had become a little grey. He stood up once, only to sit down in his chair again, only then to stand once more and pace around the room. He twisted his hands together anxiously, wiping sweat from his brow and stopping only to take another drink. Suddenly he called Alexandra into the room, and returned to his chair.
She came like a vision, standing just to the inside of the door frame and immediately he began to nudge me, bragging like a child with a new toy, “Look at her, my friend, there she is!” He pestered me with questions about her eyes, her face, her lips, as though he could point out something to me that would make her beauty more recognizable. He asked me if I wanted a wife, asked me if I wanted to marry his daughter. As well-intentioned as he may have been, behind it all one could feel his repugnance, his disrespect for his daughter. She disappeared into the kitchen, tears playing on the edges of her eyelashes.
There was silence in the living room for a moment, before Thaddeus Jackson too, burst into tears. He took my hand for a second time, and begged me to put an end to it all, muttering: “How can such a thing be happening to me? I can’t take it; I can’t take losing my little girl. How much of this is a man expected to take?”
The splintering of fine china rang out from the kitchen, and Thaddeus Jackson leapt up furiously, letting go of my hands and disappearing from his seat, disappearing from the living room all together. I heard his angry shouts through the door as though they were my own thoughts, and then I heard it: her voice, so beautiful, so foreign to me.
“Who are you to be yelling at me?” She demanded.
“Damnit girl, I am your father!”
“You have never been my father! You have only been my agony!”
The crash of more china came as a surprise, and I heard her scream. I rushed into the kitchen as a second plate hit the floor, narrowly missing his face, but the palm of his hand did not miss hers. I wished to stop him, wished to put an end to this cruelty but, and I do not know why, I didn’t have the courage to speak up. Outraged, he grabbed her wrists and pulled her towards him, struggling with her tiny limbs as she fought against him until she bit his forearm, and he let her go. She scurried to the cupboard like a wounded animal; only to retaliate with plate after plate throw in his direction until he’d had enough, grabbed an empty wine bottle from the counter and brought it down upon her head. She fell, cracking her head on the corner of the counter on the way down, and her body lay limp on the linoleum floor, sickening silent and still.
I don’t know exactly how long Thaddeus Jackson and I stood there, waiting for her to get back up until we realized that she never would.
I thought I heard him whisper. He crossed himself, with his left hand of course, before picking her body up gently and exiting the kitchen. I couldn’t help but follow him, dragged forward by some morbid fascination that I hadn’t known existed in me, until we reached his bedroom and by some moral reasoning I stopped, just inside the door frame. He placed her in his bed, pushing the hair out of her face and closing her eyes, as though she had only fallen into a blissful, exhaustive state, the way she used to when she had nightmares—as though all of this had only been her nightmare.