The Jekyll Doctor and the Secret He Could Not Hyde
“Time, which sees all things, has found you out.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
A Short Story
By Anne Hendricks
To William Faulkner, Stephen King, and Sylvia Plath,
This is what happens to English majors.
No, I did not drink shoe polish when I wrote this story.
“Oh, Mother, you will like him! Give him a chance,” Brianna tugged at her mother’s arm, placing the good china on the table for dinner, an occasion that was now rare. Brianna’s father had died when she was a high school junior and now she was finishing her graduate degree, having transferred out of state to the University of Georgia. Thanksgiving was just days away and Brianna had flown in for the break, to be followed after by her lover. “Boyfriend” just did not seem appropriate, but he was due to arrive soon, having flown up and rented a car. He was days behind her, but professors had more to do than a graduate student like Brianna whom left out, probably too early, anxious to see her mother.
Her mother, Sarah, grunted.
“Mother, you can at least sound positive. He’s just like you – he started out teaching English and is now a professor.”
“I know who he is,” her mother responded quietly, “Remember, LinkedIn is a powerful tool, just like Facebook. When a mother’s twenty-four year old daughter is dating an older man, it would help if he put a picture on his LinkedIn.”
“He hates pictures. He would rather take them than have them taken of him,” Brianna giggled, “The both of you being the same age means nothing. Age is mental, remember? Or did you forget that important point in your senior years?”
“I am not amused… and I have a LinkedIn picture,” her mother said pointedly, laying down the last matching plate. “You are my one and only child – my eternity in a wildflower. I have the right to be picky and look over every man – stress the word “man” there, Brianna, my daughter brings home.”
“We’re not talking marriage, Mother. We probably will, eventually, but for now. Oh, damn! We may –“
Sarah Gardner paused at the doorway of the dining room and turned, “May what?”
“Move in together,” Brianna spoke to her shoes, fearing to meet her mother’s eyes. Her mother was very conservative and a bit 1950s in her mentality of good girls and bad girls. It had been hard enough being a minister’s daughter; being a minister’s widow’s daughter was even more taxing at times. She knew her mother would freak if she knew everything. Small bits of information were what had to be told – not everything. Not right now!
Dr. Jennings Hyde was forty-three, not a boy; but at twenty-four, she was no girl either. They had met at a grief support meeting. She, grieving for her college fiancé Marc, after his car crash and Jennings mourning his wife who had died of cancer. He had no children either. Both deaths had happened more than two years ago, and just being with someone made the grief easier – and with each other, they had found happiness and love again.
“I’ve explained it all to you, Mother. We love each other.“
“Where I come from,” Sarah returned to the dining room and emphatically slammed down the rolls, “men have enough respect to put a ring on it. Wasn’t there a song a few years ago about that?”
“Beyoncé – yes, Mother, it was great. However, this is 2015. People can do whatever they want to now –“
“You would never have lived with Marc before marriage,” her mother snapped.
“He was studying for the ministry, Mother. It didn’t work that way!” Brianna yelled.
“What is the change now?” Sarah asked.
“I’m pregnant,” Brianna blurted out before she could stop herself. She fell into a chair as her mother’s mouth dropped agape. There! She had said it!
“Mom – please –“
Sarah ran for the door and stumbled, grabbing her car keys and purse. She had to get away – and fast.
“It slipped out, Jennings,” Brianna said apologetically, shaking her head while accepting the cup of hot tea he handed her.
“I put away the food and the china back into cabinet” she said as he rubbed her back and sighed, “Your mother being a minister’s wife – ah, sorry, widow – could get greatly upset by the idea of her daughter shacking up or being pregnant without marriage,”
“She didn’t freak out; she ran. What are we going to do?”
“Just sit here like two frogs on a bog, honey.”
“You can take the boy out of Athens, Georgia but not the Athens, Georgia out of the boy,” she said. “Co-habitating. There is nothing wrong with it. At least, until we decide about us.”
He kissed her head, “We are a package deal: son or daughter and I – with you.”
“I love you,” she affirmed, leaning into his strength. For many months, his arms had been a haven and he in turn had found peace and healing with her.
“I love you too. Hungry?”
“After your long travels, you must be hungry,” she smiled as he rubbed his flat stomach. At 43, Jennings Hyde, Ph.D. was in excellent shape. His healthy lifestyle of running and watching his weight had aged his youthful fairness into a man with rugged and masculine features where women turned around twice, sometimes thrice, to capture. Female students had crushes he avoided in his widowhood, but it had been grief counseling that had brought his darling Brianna into his life.
“I could go for some good Greek food. How about the little restaurant I passed coming in?” he asked.
“Oh, my parents loved that place, Jennings! Let’s go – and eat. Mother will be back by the time we finish our meal and all will be good. She’s just in shock about the pregnancy.”
“I think we all were,” he said, getting her coat as the rain began to fall. “You all weren’t kidding about Seattle. This place rains non-stop!” They ran to the car and drove to eat, both worried about Sarah, but hoping she would be at least amenable to the future upon their respective returns that evening.
After an hour spent driving aimlessly until she was emotionally and physically fatigued, Sarah pointed her car to an old destination, her favorite restaurant she and her late husband had often frequented in their years together. “I miss you, Daniel,” she whispered, clutching the wheel and staring at the sign. They had often joked, when she had been pregnant, her craving for Greek food would encourage an “Astraea.” Indeed, Sarah had named their daughter Brianna Astraea based on the old joke of her Greek food cravings combined with her love of Greek mythology and tragedies.
She knew she could make a fast dash into the restaurant and have a glass of wine to calm her nerves before going home and facing Brianna and meeting Jennings.
“I will be a grandmother at forty-three.” These thoughts tumbled through her mind as she tried to fully grasp the gravity of their meaning, having only just had this bombshell dropped on her by her daughter’s verbal slip up.
“Well, Daniel, she at least has her degree and hopefully a well- established, good man who loves her… and he has insurance for when the baby comes.“ Before entering the restaurant, she sat back a minute to pray, but remembered her prayers to God had ended the day Marc had been killed in the wreck. Her daughter’s fiancé had helped in her anger at God for what He had done to her, stealing away her beloved Daniel through a heart attack. Her faith now destroyed, she had drifted through life these last seven years, more existing than truly living. In addition to carrying the weight of her husband’s death on her heart, Sarah also carried a dark secret…a secret known only to her…
Before Desert Storm, in the summer of 1990, Sarah had gone to Jekyll Island to do a freelance article on the island’s glamorous history for her writing portfolio as a project while a student at the University of Seattle. The small Georgia island had beautiful beaches and endless days and nights of fun. Her first night there, she had met a group of young people, including a young sailor. The young sailor stood out, a handsome blonde eighteen -year old boy with a Southern accent and emerald eyes. He, like her, shared a passion for literature. “My GI Bill will pay for my college,” he had told her. He had been burdened, he said, with the worst name in all creation: “the southern mother’s tradition of naming her son with her maiden name. My buddies call me ‘Rummy.’ It makes living with my name easier!”
“Your given name must be horrible,” she laughed.
“As horrible as it gets!” he grinned back at her.
She very much enjoyed his company. They spent the next day together, she in her favorite new sundress bought in an island boutique and he in his shorts and t-shirt. As they meandered about the island, they found their way to a used bookstore and spent a goodly amount of time sifting through the stock in search of their favorite books.
“This is a classic,” he held up Yeats.
She threw back her Titian hair and laughed, “No, my friend, THIS is a classic,” and held up her choice. Rummy plainly showed his disgust at her selection and re-shelved his Yeats and she hers. He grabbed her camera and they left the bookstore, hand in hand.
Young and carefree, he snapped her picture and handed it back to her. “Now you,” she gestured.
“I don’t do pictures,” he laughed and distracted her by grabbing her sun hat and running towards the pier.
Sharing similar goals, they had walked and talked for hours. He said goodnight at her motel door, a gentleman, kissing her gently goodnight until she grabbed his hand and pulled him into her motel room. She never told him she had a fiancé back home and a ring in her nightstand nor that they had promised to wait until their wedding night.
Even good girls got tired of waiting – and often, in haste of passion, make life – altering decisions. The night had been magical – and she, a virgin, had no regrets. She had awoken with a note attached to a wrapped package.
“Meet me at the restaurant. And yes, I did get it.” Curiously, she unwrapped her package and found the book she had held up at the beach bookstore. Inside, he had written a Yeats poem:
“When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
And bending down beside the glowing bars
Murmurs, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”
He did not sign his name. Sighing, she shook her head. No – let it stay the way it was: a summer romance. Instead of joining him at the restaurant, she quickly packed, placing the gift from Rummy in her suitcase, and drove back to Savannah to catch a flight home, leaving a young sailor forever wondering where and how he could find her. What she did not know was she had brought back a permanent reminder of her night.
“I love you – and we all make mistakes,” Daniel had pressed her hand after his initial outburst of anger. “I’m hurt – I am very hurt. Sarah,” he kissed her hand, “I love you. If God’s love is unconditional, so is my love for you. Please marry me.”
Sarah stared at his dark hair and touched it, playing with his curls. Both its color and its texture were quite unlike Rummy’s straight blonde hair. The personalities of Daniel and Rummy were also diametrically opposite. Rummy was passion, unfamiliar, and romantic, but he was gone due to her choice. Daniel was solid, familiar, and good. Most of all, Daniel was here.
Her attempts to find Rummy had failed as the country plunged into war and she found out from one of his friends that Rummy had been deployed to the Persian Gulf with the fleet. Daniel was her only hope, since her mother had remarried and moved to Alaska. She knew if she went to her mother, the anger and disappointment her mother would feel toward her would have Sarah running back to Daniel. Her father was long gone – who knew where – and she did not have anyone. Nevertheless, she had a good young minister who loved her – and he would raise her child, giving it a name.
She did love Daniel. For his goodness – and for his great compassion and sacrifice he made for both his faith and for her. Yet her heart and her body longed for Rummy, the young sailor who had made her laugh, feel beautiful, and quoted Yeats to her.
“It’s important that you know I have never lied to you. It was only one time and yes, Daniel, I will marry you. I will spend the rest of our lives making it up to you – and to the baby.”
“Friday afternoon sound fine?” he asked, arising and helping her up from the bench outside the Greek restaurant, “The past is the past. The future is now.”
She nodded, “Friday can’t come soon enough.”
Brianna never knew – or suspected – her minister father was not her birth father.
With her memories of the distant past washing over her in the cold and biting Seattle rain, Sarah dashed into the restaurant. “Seattle in the winter!” she cursed, shivering.
“Would you like a table, Mrs. Gardner?” the hostess asked.
Sarah shook her head, “No – I’m only drying off and having a drink at the bar.”
She went to the bar, ordered a glass of red wine, and gazed out into the crowd of people. Many were leaving as the night aged while others were coming in.
Brianna Gardner was one of those coming in, closely accompanied by a tall, blonde man. The turn of his head was vaguely familiar. Did she know him? Was that Jennings?
She knew when he turned his head and pointed to a table. Two decades had not dulled him; only improved him. She well knew why Brianna had fallen in love with an older man.
For she had loved the younger man he had been.
Sarah’s blood turned to ice. Dear God – - Rummy was Dr. Jennings Hyde! She gasped, rapidly tossing her money on the bar and running outside into the stinging rain to her car, the weight of her years of secrecy crushing the remaining light of her world. The truth will destroy us – all of us. She wept uncontrollably as she knew she had to get home – get home – get -
Sarah would never know how she got home. Or that she rushed into the house, ran to her stash of brandy, and poured a generous amount in a glass. She would never remember grabbing a specific anthology – - a beloved book of stories she had longed to teach, but high school did not allow.
She would not remember clutching her beloved book to her chest and having had too much alcohol. Going to her room and grabbing the bottle of sleeping pills, she would swallow three handfuls, weeping, for what she had done to her child and the man she had once loved.
I am sorry, Brianna, her heart broke.
I am sorry, Jennings, her heart cried.
As eternal slumber welcomed her, the book dropped from her hand, falling open to the first page, revealing a handwritten poem, well worn by age, her touch, and her tears.
An hour later, Jennings and Brianna found Sarah.
“Mother! Mom! Jennings, call 911! She’s overdosed!” Brianna grabbed her mother and shook her. Sarah was unresponsive.
Jennings shoved her aside and told her, calmly, “Brianna, call – let me do CPR – I can – darling please –“
When bad things happen to good people, Brianna had learned in grief therapy, you would go through a five step grieving process - -denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Jennings had learned that, too. As the ambulance took Brianna’s mother away after the attempts to save her had proven to be futile, Jennings spied a book, on the floor next to Sarah’s bed. He picked the book up, closed its cover, and found the choice of an anthology of Greek tragedies to be a strange bedside read, especially for a ninth grade English teacher.
Days later, standing at her mother’s funeral, surrounded by loved ones, Brianna could not understand anything. She moved in a fog of confusion and regret, and often touched her stomach with a prayer that her unborn child would be safe.
Congregation members, teachers, and students came to the funeral with questions that Brianna and even, Jennings, could not answer. Sarah had been a beloved and highly respected woman, and her sudden suicide had both shocked and deeply saddened the entire community. Brianna blamed herself for sharing about her pregnancy, but Jennings knew there had to be more. He kept looking at the earthly remains of Sarah Gardner and seeing not just Brianna, but something more. Something so familiar – “You’re imagining things,” he told himself. They had never met. How would have they have met?
“I found this picture of your mother,” her father’s former secretary held up a framed picture to Brianna, “It showed her at her happiest. That is what she called it when she gave it to me -- her happiest picture. When your father died and I was packing his office, she told me to keep it – because the past was best kept there. I did not have the heart to toss it. I think you should have it, Brianna.”
“Thank you,” Brianna hugged her and gazed down at the picture. A young and happy Sarah, wearing a sundress and holding a sun hat, smiled on a beach to someone with her heart in her eyes and sunshine on her face. “When was this picture taken?”.
“Jekyll, 1990?” she queried, seeing the writing on the back of the picture after removing it from the frame.
“That’s in Georgia,” Jennings took the picture and flipped it over.
The picture fell silently to the floor as he forced himself to stand.
He wanted to fall down too; but he could not.
“Are you alright?” Brianna took his arm.
“No, I’m not, darling; but we will be,” he whispered.
We will have to be.
Bedside reading, indeed! How – appropriate! She had been reading an anthology of Greek tragedies, but he was now living his own. Had he not given Sarah that same book as a gift – all those years ago -
He could check; but the reason was mute.
He looked at his daughter.
The mother of his unborn child.
His grandchild slept in his daughter’s womb.
Sophocles had said, “Time, which sees all things, has found you out,” he remembered – suddenly thinking of an innocent Titian haired beauty, a few days and one unforgettable night in paradise with her. Sarah had transferred her long held secret to Jennings and now he must bear it alone, unmentioned, for the remainder of eternity, lest he visit upon his darling Brianna the overwhelming and unrelenting pain that Sarah had borne in her last moments.
He smiled, brokenly, at Brianna. Kissing her lips, Dr. Jennings Hyde touched her stomach while saying, but neither meaning nor believing, “Everything, my darling, will be fine.”
In this modern day short story, a minister's widow takes the shocking news of her daughter's pregnancy hard. But it will be the past that keeps her entrapped - or will it be a shared future with her daughter, the fiance, and the unborn child? Fulfilling a popular quote from Oedipus Rex: "Time, which sees all things, has found you out," Hendricks tackles a taboo subject - and the consequences of decisions made in the moment of passion and regret.