When Tristan had returned from the hospital and begged Nora to leave James, she had no more tears left to cry. She could not tell her son the truth for his own safety and would also have to convince him to submit to a situation that had become unbearable.
Feeling her strength desert her body, Nora merely hugged Tristan and buried her face against his shoulder. “I’ve been a terrible mother for you. All I wanted was to provide you with everything that I couldn’t have when I was a child. But I realize now that I’ve failed you as a mother. I wasn’t able to protect you!”
Her body shook violently and Tristan pulled away to look at her. Nora’s face seemed to have aged a decade. “If I had a thousand lives, Mom, I would wish you were my mother in all of them. I love you and what’s happening is not your fault.”
Any resemblance of the fun-loving, carefree Nora had died that day. James’s abuse of both her and Tristan grew exponentially in the following six months, but after what had happened to Kevin, Nora feared too much for Tristan’s life to try to obtain help. She became the submissive wife and encouraged Tristan to follow her lead. Evangeline was not familiar with James’s violent side and after witnessing the first beatings he gave his wife and son, she tried to intervene.
“You better manage your own business,” James had told her. “If anyone ever finds out what happens in this house, the three of you will face the consequences.”
Neither Nora, Tristan, nor Evangeline knew exactly what James’s words meant, but they were fully aware of the meetings he had every Wednesday with the big shots who ran that city. He had judges and politicians in his pocket, and often found ways to corrupt the system to benefit his guilty clients. It wouldn’t be any different when he was the one doing something wrong.
Trying to keep the situation under control, Nora told Tristan, “Let’s not confront him. And when something bad happens we’ll just take care of each other, okay?”
Evangeline tried to keep Tristan out of James’s sight as much as she could and Nora became the target of most of James’s hatred. After a year of misery, Nora was consumed by depression and stopped both seeing her doctor and taking her medication. The combination was chaotic. She oscillated between irritable or aloof and things grew worse with James until she fell seriously ill.
Chronic Schizophrenia was the diagnosis Tristan learned from Evangeline after his mother was taken to hospital. At first, Nora was very aggressive, obsessed with the idea of there being a conspiracy to murder Tristan. It took weeks until she became more docile and was released from the hospital.
Tristan barely recognized her. The beautiful woman with the warm, charismatic presence had been reduced to a silent figure, whose long red curls had paled and frayed in disrepair. Tristan had endured his father’s threats, then his beatings, and recently, the man’s surprise visits to his bedroom. Tristan’s pain seemed unbearable until he saw Nora in that deplorable state. Eyes filled with tears, he hugged her tenderly. The floral scent of her hair had given way to an unfamiliar smell of iodine and even her skin felt colder than usual.
Tristan had long abandoned both swimming practice and the theater group, and for the next few months he spent all his free time with Nora. Nearly thirteen now, Tristan had grown extremely mature, but also very bitter and detached from the outside world. His mother was his entire universe and he restlessly tried to talk to her, to bring her back, but eventually he realized it was too late to help her. He looked at the woman who had been his personal sun, and instead saw nothing more than a tiny star, whose dimming light suggested she had already begun to die.
Despite being back on medication, Nora’s condition had worsened and she was having frequent hallucinations.
That particular afternoon, a voice repeated over and over inside her mind. Your baby is suffering because of your greed… your greed…
“Leave me alone!” she screamed.
The nurse looked up at Evangeline who was standing by the door. The two women were familiar with the routine. “I will get her medication,” the nurse mouthed, and Evangeline nodded, heading back to the kitchen.
Tristan was in his room and after they had put Nora to sleep, the nurse joined Evangeline in the kitchen for a quick snack. In the midst of their conversation, the two women heard two loud cries from outside, one following the other like an echo, then a thud. Their legs weak, the two women raced from the table. The nurse rushed upstairs, climbing the steps two at a time. Evangeline opened the kitchen door and ran outside, toward the pool. She was sure the noise had come from there.
“Dear God!” Evangeline whispered under her breath as she drew closer.
Against the ceramic tile lay two bodies, with blood spilling out over the pool’s edge, tainting the blue waters.
Nora was clearly dead. Blood pooled around her head, and her open eyes had glazed over. Tristan was on top of her with his eyes shut, completely immobile, yet without any visible wounds.
“Oh, honey!” Evangeline crouched down and rested her head on Tristan’s chest, trying to gauge if he was still breathing. It was weak and inconsistent, but he was alive, and she smiled through the tears coursing down her face.
Finally, she noticed the nurse screaming above her. Mechanically, Evangeline looked at the terrace above her head, and found the woman weeping hysterically, with both hands covering her face. She ran inside and called 911. Then she called James and waited at Tristan’s side until the ambulance arrived.
Neither of the women had actually seen the accident so the police had to write a report based on their impressions and details from the paramedic.
“According to the servants, Mrs. Donovan had been hallucinating—she suffered from schizophrenia—and her son probably surprised her the moment she had awoken and climbed onto the parapet. He must have tried to save her, but wasn’t strong enough and fell with her.”
The paramedic looked at Nora’s body, which was now covered with a sheet. “I’ve seen this happen before. Some mothers can sense when their child is in danger, and will protect them with their own bodies. Despite her mental state, this woman’s maternal instincts were still at work. By the way it looks here, she embraced the boy in a way that her body broke his fall. His condition is serious, but looking at her, you can see it could have been much worse.”
No one ever discovered if it was the brain trauma that kept Tristan in a coma for two weeks or the news of his mother’s death, but he left the hospital an entirely different person.
The accident had occurred at the end of March, and after the coma, Tristan spent another six weeks in a special clinic, going through therapy to ensure his motor and sensory skills had not suffered permanent damage. He fully recovered, and his IQ tests proved that he was still just as smart as he always had been. But his doctors explained that some of his memories could be lost forever.
Usually, James would have relied on his powerful connections to help him through this nasty little situation that his wife and “son” had just inflicted on him. But it would be tough to escape a scandal involving the words incest and pedophilia. Now Tristan was mentally unstable and he might end up opening his mouth about the abuse he and his mother had suffered.
After reflecting on his options, James found it prudent not to take Tristan back to their home. Too many compromising situations had taken place there and anything could trigger the little snot’s memory. Also, returning to school meant talking to teachers and classmates who might ask all sorts of questions and put him under stress. So James first made sure Tristan wouldn’t be enrolled in school until the following year. He then moved the boy into an apartment near his office, where the boy was accompanied by Evangeline and a tutor. Tristan continued his studies privately, and in June, the school allowed him to take his tests.
By the time the school year ended, James had bought a new house and gotten rid of all the vestiges of Nora’s existence. He invited Tristan to accompany him on a trip, while the architect finished working on their new home. The new Tristan did not object to any of James’s decisions, the same way he did not cry over his mother’s death, nor visit her grave. Psychiatrists could not determine whether Tristan truly didn’t remember his mother, or if he was in an advanced stage of denial about her death. They all agreed, however, that if it were the latter, at any moment, his façade would crumble. By July, Tristan was still the same person who had left the clinic. He seemed genuinely excited to be going to the Bahamas with his father.
Evangeline accompanied them, as always. The loyal governess had known Tristan just as well as Nora had, and she knew for a fact that Tristan was no longer himself. She had noticed the change the second she laid eyes on him after he awoke from the coma. The Americans could attribute his shift to whichever psychiatric explanations they wished, but she knew it was not that simple. Evangeline was a practicing Voodooist. While she waited for the ambulance right after Tristan’s accident, she had appealed to both the angels and the demons to allow the boy to survive. Now, she knew exactly who had answered her.
Evangeline spent the summer traveling with the Donovans, and she watched on helplessly as Tristan increasingly emulated his father. Tristan had always despised violence, but while they were in South America, he went twice to watch cock fights with James, volunteered to accompany him on a hunt, and made a point of watching the taxidermist prepare the animal heads in a bloody mess for trophies.
James attributed the boy’s well-being to the expensive therapy. But Evangeline had seen Tristan act with Nora hundreds of times. She knew the boy was putting on some kind of perpetual act, as if the actor inside him had simply taken over. Besides, Evangeline knew how much Tristan hated James and when she saw how well they were getting along, she couldn’t help but worry if Tristan was plotting something against him.
Soon Evangeline feared that she would have to watch Tristan kick the dogs, as James did when he was in a foul mood. To her surprise, she discovered that Tristan had more elaborate plans for the beasts.
A few weeks before the accident, Tristan had surprised Evangeline when she was lighting candles in front of the small altar hidden inside her closet. As Tristan approached her, he saw the statue of a black man with a beard, surrounded by candles, cigarettes, and a bowl with food.
“This is my loa,” Evangeline explained. “My god. But please, Tristan, don’t mention it to anyone. Your father is Christian and he would not approve of my religion.”
Tristan nodded absently, his eyes still locked on the strange figure. “Do you bring him things so he will answer your prayers?”
After a brief pause, Evangeline laughed. “Kind of. Here in America, I make small offerings just to keep my faith and show my loa my gratitude. But back in my country, during the ceremonies, the priestess would make animal sacrifices. Their blood builds the bridge between our world and the spiritual one, and the loas would grant us wishes, clear our path from our enemies and give us guidance in difficult situations.”
Tristan had spent an hour with Evangeline, asking her details about the Voodoo ceremonies, and whether her gods were more powerful than the one whom he had been taught to believe. They never discussed the subject again, but the conversation had left a powerful impression on Tristan. So when Evangeline found the mutilated carcasses of the dogs that guarded the summer house, she knew that Tristan had killed them. In Voodoo ceremonies, practitioners killed the sacrificial animals with exactly the same vertical knife wounds she saw on the dogs’ necks.
Aware of Tristan’s fragmented memory after the accident, Evangeline did not know whether he had performed the deed out of this newfound cruelty, or if he had remembered something about her religion and distorted it.
After several restless nights, she decided to confront him.
Evangeline found Tristan in the back of the boat house, digging in a box of tools. “I know you killed the dogs,” she said. “All I want to know is… why?”
Tristan looked into her eyes with a half grin on his face. His gaze was vacant as though his soul had deserted him. She tried to keep up a strong façade but she realized that she was too afraid of him.
Tristan remained silent for a moment and then, instead of replying to her in French, he said in English, “You know something, Evangeline? God never listens to my prayers, so I’ve been trying to talk with your loas. But they’re either deaf, or they don’t like animal offerings.” The boy’s half smile grew into a full grin. “Maybe Hollywood is right about Voodoo. Perhaps your gods really do prefer human blood.”