Day 1 of my 30 day Lorenzo/Jessica challenge, in which I attempt to write a one-shot every day.
Friendly reminder that I am not Shakespeare (nor am I immortal), and I do not own the Merchant of Venice or any of the characters, but this play is in the public domain so this disclaimer is actually unnecessary.
He talks to her sometimes, when he thinks she is asleep, his lips barely moving in whispers of a childhood he cannot forget. Some nights, Lorenzo will tell her about the days he spent alone or thieving to survive. Others are brighter, and he talks about Antonio and Bassanio, and the first few mornings of hot breakfasts and a pair of brotherly eyes watching over his shoulder. Most of the time, Jessica feigns sleep.
He is welcome to his own secrets, should he wish to keep them.
"My mother was a Jew," he says, one spring night, startling Jessica enough that she stills in his arms, her body tensing against her will. It is the first day of Pesach – she still counts the days, even now – and she realises too late that he knows she is awake, that he has probably always known.
"I do not remember her," he adds quietly, as though that changes things. "She died when I was a baby, and I was raised by Venice herself."
Jessica knows this, of course – she has been married to him for over a year now, and Lorenzo's mother did not die too soon to circumcise him – but to hear him admit this to her is nothing short of a surprise. She has been lying in wait, hoping he might finally say something, but she understands now: here, in the darkness, where they cannot see each other or read each other's expressions, is where he finds the courage to bear himself to her, to strip himself naked in front of her and tell her everything that he is.
"What was her name?" Jessica asks. Her hands find his face in the moonlight; her fingertips trace the outline of his nose, and her other hand cradles his cheek.
She feels his head move minutely. "I do not know," he whispers. "I used to hear the names of Jewish women and wonder if any of them were hers. A Rachel, maybe." He swallows the way he does when he is trying to hold back tears, and she feels him clench his jaw beneath her palms.
Gently she rubs her thumb across his stubble, wanting to comfort him without words, to encourage him to talk if that is what he needs.
"I think about her sometimes," he admits. "If ... if things would be different if she had not died. I wonder what she would have been like. You and I might have been friends ..."
"And now we are something else entirely," she reminds him softly. She feels a tear nudge her thumb. "Your mother loved you. She always will."
It is this quiet assurance of love, words he has never heard, that breaks him. He pushes her hands away as he shakes, his body wracked with over twenty years' worth of grief. Jessica pulls him back into her arms, holding him against her, almost as if she can protect him from the past.
She has seen him cry, watched his eyes glisten with tears before he has had time to pull himself together, and move on – but he has never shown her such raw emotion. For the first time, he offers himself as an open book to her; she holds the bindings close enough to be able to smell them, and her fingers linger on every word, but she cannot turn the page until she is sure he is ready.
He quietens after several minutes until all that remains are congested sniffles. Lorenzo's hand tightens around hers.
"I am here," Jessica promises. "I am with you."
"I know," he responds. "Thank you."
She waits until she is sure he is asleep to think about closing her eyes. His hand is still around hers, and his head nestles in the space between her shoulder and her neck. She wonders, for a moment, if this is what he was building himself up for - if this is what he wanted to tell her all along - but the moment is short-lived.
It hardly matters.
There is him, and there is her. That is all.