Thea heard the door slam downstairs. Alexander was leaving. He was leaving the country to return to his homeland. He was leaving her with a decision to make. She could either leave with him tonight or never see him again; leave her isolated, unfulfilled life with Mother, or symbolically leave her heart’s desire by staying, allowing him to cross the sea that would separate them forever. Her choice was frighteningly obvious: leave her inheritance or allow her destiny to leave her heart-broken, empty and alone. To most people, the choice would be apparent, but to Thea, who had led a simple, unadulterated life with her mother, the choice was torture. Since father had died ten years ago, she was her mother’s sole companion, but that is not to say in typical terms. Mother had loads of friends and sometimes suitors. But she held onto Thea like a boa constrictor held on to its prey, tightly, suffocating and unyielding.
It wasn’t a loving mother-daughter relationship. Rather it was a penance, a debt owed by Thea to her mother that Thea paid for over and over again, in recompense for the death of her father. "If father had not gone away that day to purchase that gift for your birthday Thea, he’d still be alive". But the trip into the next town over had caused that accident to occur, that led to his death. She heard it repeatedly, even on the day of the funeral. Thea, though an innocent child at the time, had never been allowed by her mother to forget that.
Through the years she cared for her mother as if she were an invalid. Mother was anything but an invalid. She had a thriving social life, and allowed Thea none, unless it was to accompany her, or to date only the milk toast, impotent suitors that mother decided upon for her. If the suitor showed even the slightest interest in Thea, he was deemed unsuitable for her and banned from any further encounters with Thea. Mother’s goal was to bait and let go, and keep Thea imprisoned. If Thea did show an interest in anyone, mother would become suddenly ill and bedridden. Thea then became her doctor, nurse and counselor; the ever faithful and devoted daughter, that none could replace. As soon as mother recovered, it was back to the ostracizism and ridiculing. Not that it ever really stopped. Even when "sainthood" was pronounced during the “sick reclusions", there were always little suggestions, corrections, innuendos of incapacity to be even slightly perfect acceptable.
Alexander was different. He was worth fighting for. Alexander had come into her life last autumn at the masquerade ball. After agreeing to a dance, they struck up a conversation that proved to be every topic of interest they both enthusiastically shared together. Throughout other outings and dances over the past year, Thea had found herself growing more courageous and was apt to eventually sneak out when mother was asleep to meet Alexander.
Soon he found the courage to ask for her hand in marriage. Mother was adamantly against the idea, but didn’t let anyone know of her disapproval. When she saw Thea was actually considering leaving altogether, she threw her usual tantrum, declared herself sick to the point of death and then coyly made plans to disband Alexander forever, by making up lies and tales about him and his family. He was "a bastard, who came from an irrefutable family with no lineage or wealth", she had declared. That didn’t stop the romance until the final draw, where she accused him of thievery and had him arrested. Nothing had been proven but this was the last straw for Alexander. He was returning to his home and would have nothing to do with this conniving, despicable person. How she could have borne someone as caring and loving as Thea, he would never understand. The deck was dealt and it was Thea’s turn to make the call. Leave with him, or never see him again.
Thea sat in the room and thought about her father. He was everything to her and she to him. There was always a little jealously in her mother’s eyes when she and father would play or just sit and talk together. When he had heard about the doll she wanted for her birthday, he set out that day to buy it. The weather was threatening but no storm had occurred when he left. Father was intent upon surprising her. Mother was incensed. She needed him here to set up the party the day before. Not that they didn’t have a housemaid or cook to help. It was Mother’s way of controlling him and everyone around her. A pattering of raindrops fell. Father didn’t return. Later that evening, there was a knock on the door. At that moment, the thunder clashed, and so did Thea’s heart and life. There had been an accident. Father had died instantly when his car went off the road and he crashed into a tree. Thea was left with the housemaid and mother went to identify the body. She came back later that evening with the news of the accident. Thea could remember mother talking to herself downstairs that evening. “It’s all her fault! And he paid for it, just like she will".
She heard her mother’s voice now. “I’ll make you pay for it, just like I made your father pay". What was she talking about? How did she make Father pay? She snuck further into the hallway and heard her mother saying, “He would never have had that accident if I didn’t add the belladonna to his tea that morning. The little doses daily, adding up to the larger one, was the icing on the cake. By the time he was almost across town, he was unable to concentrate. He crashed that car, and they’d never thought to judge it any other way. They never realized the effect that the belladonna had on him. The storm was "A Perfect Storm"!
Thea could not believe her ears. She went into mother’s bedroom and looked through the safety box she kept on her dresser. In her distraught state, she had left the key outside of it today. Taking the key, Thea opened the box. Inside was a death certificate that declared death by accident. Under the certificate was a letter in father’s handwriting stating that he intended to leave mother and sue for custody of Thea. He wasn’t going to just buy a doll for her birthday that day. He was going to make this the best birthday ever, after visiting his lawyer in the next town over. After the divorce, he would take Thea and leave mother substantially well off. He stated that he could no longer live with her jealously and abusive, domineering nature.
Next to the papers was an empty vial: "Belladonna". A newer replacement had been set aside next to it. The proof was all there. Mother had killed the one man in her life who had loved her, before she had met Alexander. And she had made Thea think she was responsible all this time. A child, at that tender age would believe and not question.
She closed the box and crept into the hallway. There was a knock on the door. Alexander stormed in. “I’m not letting you stay here another night. Please Thea leave with me, for your sake and mine! I love you. This is not a demand. This is me begging you, declaring my love for you. It’s your choice. I won’t make you, but if you care about me or yourself, you will leave with me".
Mother was staring at them with her ice cold blue, piercing eyes. Thea said “I’ll get my coat. I have nothing here that I want, except this”. She leaned over and reached for the doll that mother had hidden away all these years. Taking it from her trembling hands she said, “You kept this from me. You took father from me. You are not now taking the love of my life or any part of my life ever again!”
She handed her mother the letter and another content from the box. “It’s your choice” she said. From the closet she took a small carrying case that she had packed in case she had come to this decision. “Let’s go Alexander. I have all that I need.” They left with the doll, the suitcase and themselves. As she closed the door, she turned around to her mother and looked down at what she had handed her. “Remember. It’s your choice now"!
The door closed behind them. Her mother sat there reading the letter. In her hand she held the new vial that had been hidden in the safe box next to an empty one that had been set aside years ago. She looked at the full bottle of belladonna. She stared at it and heard Thea’s voice repeating the words: “It’s your choice. It’s your choice now"!