The White Horse
Morse family photo
When Mick was away, Jane would party with friends. This is at Carnival in Rio.
By ROY PETER CLARK
Once again, Mick called the hospital for Jane to find out the results of her AIDS test. Once again, it was negative.
Jane was relieved, of course, but she knew the compulsion to be tested would return again, the next time she felt soreness in her throat or woke up in a cold sweat. Friends, doctors and counselors would reassure her. Yes, her husband had AIDS, but how long had it been since they had made love? She could not remember, but the count was in years.
When people hear the story of Mick and Jane, that is what puzzles them. How could a passionate woman like Jane survive in a relationship without physical love? How could she continue to be faithful to Mick, both before and after learning that he had AIDS?
She wondered herself. Once she had even posed the question to Mick. It was back in Rio, where Jane and her girlfriends could frolic at beachside cafes, where handsome men would send over drinks or stop by the table to flirt. "I could be having a hell of a time, for all you know," she had told him.
"I trust you," was his response.
During Carnival in Rio, Mick often went on business trips, leaving Jane to party for herself. She was more than up to the task. She and her friends wore gorgeous blue sequined outfits, with silver capes and headdresses. They went down to Copocabana Beach for "Gay Night," to enjoy the city's world-famous drag queens. Later, one friend introduced her to a man visiting from the States. They drank and danced and enjoyed the sensuality of the festival.
She drove him to the airport, and he said, "God, it's too bad you're married."
"Well, yeah, but I am and that's that."
That's how it would go. Men were attracted to Jane. At parties, they would flirt with her, and she would flirt back, calling them corny names like "my pumpkin cheesecake." Sometimes, her daughter Meghan would tug on Jane's dress and tell her to cut it out. "Dad's right over there," she would say.
Back in Spain, Jane became attracted to a British man who taught English at the school where Mick was headmaster. He was young and handsome. They found themselves at parties together, where they would dance and chat. "And one time," remembers Jane, "I thought, oh, what the hell, and I went out on a limb and asked him. I said, 'Hey, look, I enjoy your company. How do you feel about if we get together once in a while and just talk?' I wanted some male attention."
The teacher agreed to take Jane out, but then called her back. "I can't do this," he said. "Your husband signs my check."
Jane spent her last year in Bilbao going through the motions as wife of the headmaster. That meant dinner with School Board members, cocktail parties with teachers and hosting the school Christmas party. For years, she had enjoyed this social life, even gloried in it. In the shadow of Mick's illness, joy became obligation and fear.
They had revealed the secret to friends and family in the States, but in Spain, the AIDS charade would continue. Jane wondered if others noticed Mick's shocking weight loss - more than 30 pounds - and physical deterioration. "They haven't known him for long," she thought, "so maybe they don't see it." Then she would have paranoid fantasies that the school community was buzzing about them behind their backs.
Mick's way of dealing with this - the Morse way - was to attack his work with even greater fervor, with an almost superhuman determination. He would work and work, even unto death.
Jane also would work, three jobs. During the mornings she would assist the first grade teacher, in the afternoons she would teach English to visiting Japanese students, and on Saturdays she would teach English to older Spanish students. She saved her money. When the time came, she would need every penny.
And she took care of Mick, now with the help of her daughters. He was losing his appetite, but she cooked macrobiotic foods for him and made sure he took his many medications, especially AZT.
There was almost no time and energy left to think of her own dreams. In fact she could not remember the last time she had a dream. It might be longer ago than when she last made love.
Then one night it happened. In a deep, restful sleep she had an electric dream. She was riding a white horse, a magnificent stallion. She was wearing a beautiful yellow dress. But that does not begin to describe it, for the colors in the dream were the brightest colors you could imagine. The white of the horse was whiter than snow on a mountaintop, and her dress was brighter and hotter than the sun. She rode the stallion bareback, as she did as a young girl on a Michigan farm.
She was overcome by the beauty of it, the glorious creature galloping beneath her, between her legs and under her control. The feeling of strength, independence and beauty was overwhelming, and it built to a passionate crescendo, racing and racing, whiter and brighter, till it blinded her and broke her body with a wave of pleasure.
She woke up gasping, her bedclothes sodden with sweat. But it was a good feeling, an absolute release. She took the dream as a sign. "I can make it," she said.
It was not too much later that she stood near her dresser, slipped off her wedding ring and dropped it in her jewelry box.
THE SERIES: This is the 17th installment of a 29-part story.