Out of the Dark Wood Ch. 02byflatliner©
This story is the second of a three part series. Each story examines the experience from the viewpoint of one of the three characters. Although not essential, I think you will enjoy them better if you read this one after reading the first story in the series because there is a plot spoiler in this segment. And as always, comments are welcome. Thanks for reading.
The horses stumbled over the stones at the streamside. Both hers and mine were tiring in the August heat. Annie seemed to be in her usual absent-minded state and didn't notice Gantry needed a rest.
"Honey, it's time for a break. Let's water the horses here and walk on up to the falls," I called.
"OK, mom," Annie turned to look back at me, her red hair flashing in the sun. My daughter carried my genes almost exclusively it seemed. At least in looks. Her dreamy distractedness came from her father, The Senator.
After dismounting Mudge I took the kit with our lunch and the rifle and waited while Annie led the horses to the water. The two chestnut geldings drank companionably, swinging their tails and complacently flicking bugs from their ears. The creek was strong here downstream from the pools. We would need to climb the rocks for a bit before we could go swimming.
When they were satisfied Annie led the horses up into the shady woods where she slipped them each an apple and tied them to trees head to tail so they could switch each other's flies. Without speaking we began our short hike to the falls.
I'd arranged this day together before Annie went back to college so we could have a heart-to-heart. She'd let on that she was having troubles but it was hard to tell. She was always so introverted I couldn't be sure what was going on with her even though I was her mom and she was so much like me. But I am an extrovert and couldn't innately understand what made her tick, as much as I longed to.
I so wanted her to be a self-possessed woman and this late teen time was so critical. I wouldn't fail as a mother or a woman. She was my only child and my spitting image. I owed her what I know about life, about men especially. I suspected her problem was with men. She was smart and her grades were good. What else could it be?
When we got to the falls we gladly and quickly stripped off our shorts and t-shirts and shimmied down into the cool water. It was just like so many summers past. Since she was a small child we had come up here for a long day together and we always went skinny-dipping. It was very private. But her life since she'd started college had broader horizons and our opportunities to come to the falls were much fewer.
Looking at her was like looking in a mirror. The frizzy red hair, thin boned wrists and ankles, a dust of freckles across our faces and running down across our breasts. Both of us were fit, lightly muscled from all the horse work and shit shoveling. Paddling in the water I could see her trimmed bush glowing red and the bright white flesh of her belly and firm, scissoring thighs. Our pale Scotts-Irish-Viking complexions were only relieved by the freckles and our nipples, quick to pucker in the cold water. Mine were a bit darker, my breasts a little softer and smaller. She was an 'innie', I was an 'outie'.
It felt so good to float free in the water, letting it caress my body, lift me up, especially after the long hot ride up the hollow. The vista spread before us revealed rank after rank of forested mountainside expanding out into the Shenandoah Valley where just visible in the hot afternoon haze lay our farm, the property I'd married into when The Senator took me as his bride. Farther off over the Alleghenies thunderheads were forming like they did most summer afternoons.
Side by side we lay in the pool at the base of the falls with our elbows on the rocks, keeping our bodies afloat with gentle kicks of our legs. I put my head in close to hers so we could talk over the sound of the cool crashing water. The sense of privacy in our little mountain Eden was exquisite. Annie floated there looking far away, as she often did. What went on in her head?
Time for the heart-to-heart talk I'd been bursting to have since she came home for summer break.
"Annie, want to tell me what's bothering you?" I asked, putting my arm round her shoulder.
"Oh, nothing," she responded, vaguely.
"Come on, honey, I know there's something. You've been moodier this week than I've seen you in a long time."
"Really, mom, nothing." She seemed resolute. But I was her mother. I needed to know what I could do to help her. And if it was boy trouble, as I suspected, I was well qualified to assist. Eighteen years of marriage to her politician father had given me a solid education in the vagaries, proclivities and stupidities of men. I had him wrapped around my little finger.
"When I was your age...."
"No! Don't tell me about when you were my age!" she said angrily, shaking off my arm. "I know you were right there in the thick of women's liberation. You blazed a trail for all of us. Yada, Yada, Yada."
"Ouch, sweety," I said, reaching to put my hand on her arm. "I just don't like to see you suffer needlessly. If you can benefit from my experience, I want to share it. I fought on the barricades of the sexual revolution and I've got the war wounds to prove it. I'd like to spare you that pain."
"I've heard this all before. I can find my own way, thanks anyway." She turned away, still pouting.
"I can save you some heartache..."
We just lay in the water for a while. I gave her time to cool down, knowing we'd get past this and down to her real issues. She could not resist her mama's love.
She turned to me, "I don't see how you can talk about being all liberated if you don't work. Daddy keeps you at the farm, puts you on stage for his election campaigns, trots you out to do fundraising, and then sends you home. And all you do there is mess with the horses."
"Well it's a little more complex than that, darling. We have the luxury of being a wealthy family and don't forget what put you through private school. And what pays your way at Hollins. When I went there I was a charity case and had to work, too." Now I was getting angry.
"So why don't you work now, MS Betty Friedan?" She sure knew how to push my buttons.
"You think raising show horses isn't a career, or hard work? Just because I enjoy it doesn't make it easy. Your English major isn't exactly a ticket to a good independent career." I could give as good as I got. I'd counseled her to go into business or law; She'd rather write stories. She had notebooks full of them in tiny script that she showed to no one.
And I'd struck a nerve.
"I don't have any idea what to do!" she wailed.
"Can you be more specific? Your major? Your love life?" I was fishing, looking for that opening that would get her to spill more than tears.
"Nobody likes me at school."
"NO! Not even Sarah, who says she's my friend. We've been roommates all first year and I thought she could be trusted, but she can't be. Not at all." Annie put her head in her arms and cried.
I hugged her again, my breast pushed up against her arm like when I cuddled her as a child and dried her tears. Now my baby needed me and my maternal drive stirred. This was what I needed.
'Sweety, tell me what's wrong. Please?"
"There's this boy." Aha! I knew it had to do with a man. They're at the root of every heartache. Can't live with 'em or without 'em.
"Did he hurt you?" My first instinct; protect my child.
"No, I can take care of myself, I guess. He's sweet, but pretty stupid. Dumb bastard."
"That's it, darling, let it out. Most men are dumb bastards."
"You don't even know him! Don't call him a bastard," she paused, thinking. "Sarah's a bitch, though."
I could sense where she was going. "Did Sarah...."
"I caught them screwing in our room right after exams." She burst into tears again.
"Well that really hurts. She is a bitch. Proper Hollins girls do not steal their roommates boyfriends."
"He's not my boyfriend, Sarah is...I mean, Sarah's my 'lover'."
She suddenly looked defiant, though a little scared. She stuck out her chin and said, "Don't look so shocked. Hollins is a women's college. You know what goes on. Just like it did in your time, I'm sure."
I was stunned. I should have seen this coming. Annie and Sarah spent a lot of time together, I knew. But not like that, I thought. And I knew Annie wasn't a virgin. I'd dragged that story out of her in high school. And made sure the boy stayed out of her life after that, too.
"So she's a dyke. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Give me a moment to adjust to the idea." Wow, it was going to take a little recalibration to absorb that information. My daughter corrupted by some bull dyke lesbian bitch. Just like Annie to be influenced by a stronger personality.
Suddenly Annie's body felt very warm against mine. I became acutely aware of her nakedness. I had found a new, deeper layer to my child. My love for her, my compassion for her heartbreak rang like a bell in me. I knew I could help her through this.
"Honey," I said, quietly, "I should have counseled you about this before you went off to Hollins. I knew a lot of the girls there were lesbians. Yes, in my time it was common, too. A safe place, in fact, to explore that aspect of one's sexuality. To, um, experiment." I looked for understanding in her eyes. It was growing there.
"You mean, you...." She gasped.
"Yes, I had a lesbian tryst there in my second year." I trembled to reveal that about myself. I'd never even told my husband.
"Yes, I feel like a Shit Mom for not anticipating this problem."
"No, you're a great mom. I just mean, Wow, I never imagined that." She was looking at me with love in her own eyes now. Not angry at me anymore.
"Well, it was brief. Then I met your father and found I liked men better. Besides he was rich, handsome and going places. I was the poor farmgirl who snatched, no pun intended, one of the most eligible young men in Virginia. I rode him to a place in society and never looked back." Well, I'd never exactly described my marriage that way. I surprised myself.
"So you're happy with Dad?" she asked.
"Well, I'm not sure if I like women or men best yet, either. I mean, I've tried both now but the guys are so clumsy and quick and girls are easier to get to know. Both emotionally and biblically." She laughed at her own joke. I felt the ripple of her laughter along the length of her body as she floated against me in the water. It was endearingly typical of a young woman to think she knew it all based on so little experience.
Oh, God, this was going to be an interesting conversation. I sorely wanted to be a support to my only girl child. My maternal instincts flared bright. It was like taking my own youthful self in hand and guiding her to better choices. Truthfully, I wasn't entirely happy with her father and the life we'd had. What politician's wife can be truly happy? He has the mistress of his career and usually a real mistress as well drawn by the aphrodisiac of his power. I could live with it in exchange for wealth and comfort and a chance to give my daughter every opportunity I had not had. It seemed a good bargain most of the time.
"Maybe it's good not to limit yourself when you are young," I ventured.
"You're not upset?"
"No, sweety, no. I know how hard it is to choose a lover. In my time we didn't have 'friends with benefits'. We were either angels or sluts. We fought to change that."
"I guess I should thank you," she said and gave me a little kiss on the forehead.
"We had to marry them. That is, marry men, as expected, and then fix them as we went along. No playing house for us. At least, not with a man from a family like your father's with too much old money and reputation to protect. Politicians with national ambitions, as you well know, have to have a squeaky-clean public life."
"I've seen how hard it has been for you to be a Senator's wife." She looked sympathetic, not scolding. But I thought I heard a note of sarcasm. Or a button just was pushed.
"It was a good compromise."
"I don't want to compromise, mom." She had that idealist glow to her eyes. I could see her spirit rise up. I knew she would get hurt, but I would try to soften the blow. What else could a mother do?
"Sorry, darling, but life is about compromises. It's better to think of them as choices and to make as wise a choice as you can when you're forced to."
She looked skeptical. "That's good-sounding bullshit, mom. You don't think you'd be happier with someone else, a different life?"
"Everybody wonders about a different life." I was on the defensive now.
"You mean like one without a philandering, posturing, brown-nosing politician?"
"How can you talk about your father like that!? I know you love him." I'd never heard Annie talk that way. She and her father were very close.
"But I love you, too, mom and I see how you have to suck it up. You've been doing that for years. I think you escape to the horses. And to being a mom."
"I've done well at that, I think, don't you?" It's pathetic when parent needs affirmation from their child. I'd just fallen into that pit of remorse I try so hard to avoid. What if these eighteen years had been a waste of time? My secret fear.
"You're a great mom. I think I need just a little less of one right now..."
My heart broke. My baby didn't need me. I'd been smothering her. Too much mom. Now it was my turn to cry. I hid my face in her shoulder.
Annie stroked my hair, pulled me close. Our breasts touched. I felt her hard nipples rake across mine and became confused. Self-pity and electricity both shot through me.
"No!" I pushed her away. I couldn't look in her eyes. What just happened?
I gathered myself. This was supposed to be me helping her. To help her into womanhood. I could do that for her. That was my purpose.
"You were talking about your troubles. What's your father and I got to do with it?" I tried to change the subject. To get it off of me and that spark that just passed between us.
"Well, you're my example, mom. How could I not be comparing my love life to yours?"
"Fair enough, I know that. But you see a loving couple in your parents, don't you?" I had tried to be a good model. To show her how to negotiate in a relationship so that it was not one-sided. To show her that even a married woman had power. Not like my own poor mother. "I've done much better than grandma."
"Yes, you've done better than grandma, whose drunken husband beat her and kept her barefoot and pregnant until he died an angry alcoholic loser in the gutter in Richmond, leaving her and four skinny young'uns to fend for themselves," she rattled off the litany of my sad childhood. It sounded like a bad script. Perhaps I'd used it too often.
"Yes, I did better than grandma. And made her last years a blessing, I might add." I was proud I'd been able to use my husband's money to get my own mama out of poverty. "That was part of the 'compromise' I made when I married your father."
"You've done OK, but have you done all you can with your own talents? Did you, will I, have to trade off my dreams to fit myself into my husband's life?"
"I'm surprised you have to ask that in this, the 21st century. You have more choices than I had. Our wealth and position give you that, don't forget."
"I think you had more choices than you thought. Or at least you do now." What was she suggesting? That I divorce her father and start over?
"Like what?" I asked.
"Francois Mitterand's mistress came to his funeral. With his real wife and kids. Nobody said a word."
"This isn't France, it's Virginia, sweetheart. We are in the land of Falwell and Robertson, remember."
"Dad has a woman on the side, why don't you have a man?" The impertinent little snot! She shouldn't know about that. I thought I'd protected her from the ugly little necessities of powerful men.
"Why don't I have a man on the side?" I blurted incredulously, laughing. "Oh, sweetheart you don't know what you're talking about."
"You could hide it better than him and it would only be fair. Besides, your sex sounds boring. Just as boring as you make your life out to be in those stupid campaign ads."
Holy shit, my little girl was showing some nerve. Where did this dynamo come from. Under that introverted wallflower was a radical thinker. Suddenly I was proud of her again.
"Boring? What makes you think our sex is boring?"
"I heard you through the wall."
"Your bedroom is in the other wing of the house!"
"Well, I was curious when I was little." Now she looked a little sheepish. Maybe she'd just revealed more than she meant to. She looked like she expected to be punished for it.
"Oh, sweetheart, oh, dear. Now I feel especially uncomfortable. I don't think we should talk about that. Shame on you for spying on us!" My voice didn't carry the conviction of my words.
"Did you want me to learn it 'on the street' as they say?"
"But I explained about the birds and bees when you were twelve."
"Well, I read a book on tennis, too, but that didn't mean I had any idea how to play."
"And did listening through the wall help any?"
Now she looked uncomfortable herself. Her eyes drifted toward the trees. "I peeked, too. Sorry."
"Annie!" I didn't know what to say. An image of her at the keyhole while The Senator bounced away happily on top of me played in my head. Actually, our lovemaking was pretty boring. She couldn't have seen much. The missionary position was about all in the way of sex as her father cared to practice. Furthermore if I didn't save the 'special' treats for birthdays and father's day how could I keep him under reasonable control? He'd want blowjobs every time if I gave away the goodies too often. Truthfully, he usually came fast and went right to sleep. But he was dependable. Part of the compromise.
"I guess today is True Confessions day. I bet you never even saw us naked. Your dad prefers to stay under the covers. He was brought up by prudes and I couldn't break him of that, though God knows I tried." Now I was skirting into dangerous territory. But maybe I could use my experience to help Annie. "You know it doesn't have to be boring, don't you?"
"Duh, the internet...?"
"Dear, I try not to think of you watching porn. Those poor exploited women." MILFs and self-described cum queens was not what the women's movement had been about. Not in my day.
"You settled for too little, mom. You know the sexual revolution wasn't just about power in the workplace, but also power in the bedroom. My women's studies class opened my eyes to that."
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, young lady. I used the power of my body and my intellect to wed and keep a man who has made our lives unimaginably better that it could have been otherwise. You are a spoiled brat." It was hard to hear the judgment of the child I'd sacrificed for. She had no idea.
"Its just that I can see so much more potential in you, mom!"
"Shouldn't I be saying that to you?"
"You're still young and good looking. Haven't you ever wanted something other than just the one dull man in your bed? Even just a one-night stand?"
"Of course I did. And I did, too." Oops, now I'd slipped up.
"You did?! When?" She looked positively delighted to hear her mom was an unfaithful wife. How could she wish that on the father she loved so much?
I chuckled, "Well, I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I did have it on with the stableman a couple of times." It was actually for several years,but...