JACOB’S ROOM (1922) is an early novel by Virginia Woolf, in which the character ‘Jacob’ is only described by other characters in the book.
12/07/09 | Novel

Jacob's Room

by Claudia Smith

We made galaxies at his birthday out of black construction paper, glitter, and star stickers. There was cake with hard black icing, a piñata, clear, crazy balls filled with stars. After, we slept in our clothes, too tired, and you were full of beer. I in my jeans and Star Wars tee shirt, you in your sweat soaked button-down. He slept with me. You were in the other room. I imagined your voice, saying honey, sweet, dear, sweetheart. I wanted your head in my lap. You said it was emptiness, and that is artifice.

No, you didn’t say it in those words. You don’t use words like artifice, I use words like artifice. We had a long talk on the way home as he slept in the backseat and you told me that you believed I believed it when I told you I loved you, but that you don’t love me and I don’t love you. You felt sorry for me and the bad things that happened to me that make me who I am. You conceded that I am a good mother. You said that you cared for me, for my well being. Your hands were on the steering wheel but you weren’t driving and your eyes were fixed straight ahead. We talked some about loneliness. You said you wanted to do your own laundry, now. Then there was more discussion, about the sleeping arrangements. I said I don’t want to send him mixed messages, I want to know, where are you sleeping? You agreed, you said it is ill defined. And then you used the words “you and I” in a sentence incorrectly, the I should have been me because we were in the objective case which wouldn’t usually annoy me but your words seemed formal, carefully chosen, and still, you messed that part up. I slept in our bed, you slept in his room, but he got up and crawled into bed with me. He said the nightmare stays in his room. He called our room Mommy’s room. The sheets smelled of Gain, Joyful Expressions. I am a careful mother and sometimes, a careful wife.

The next morning, I was in the Walgreens, buying fruit snacks and antibiotics, and a song from the 70s came on, and the words included I love you too much to ever start liking you and I sang it in the car, on the way home, and I started to cry but then I stopped at the stoplight.

I found the easy listening station, and sang to songs about flying in balloons, women with stormy eyes, unrequited love. I didn’t stop to think about the carefully selected moments and real details I often stop to think about to remind myself. Maybe it is what you say, a trick, when I do that. You told me that I always make the stories sound more real than the truth. What’s the word for that? You asked me.

Verisimilitude, I told you. Yes, you said.

You used to be thin, your eyes sweet. Mine were too. I know this to be true. Or maybe it is all a trick I do, see, I’m thinking your same thoughts.

I was still wearing the stinky Star Wars shirt. When I came home, I noticed the glitter, little smudges of silver on the fridge and on his Peter Pan table. You were both asleep under the air conditioning unit. Jacob’s bottom was in the air, his head close to your head. I wanted to lie down with you. I thought, my boys. I called you my boys. I didn’t want to say goodbye to him in the morning, a school day. I wondered if you’d brushed his teeth. I peeled off the dirty jeans, the old shirt, and stepped into the shower, thinking that my naked body was just a naked body, thinking you can’t make somebody love you if they don’t. You can’t make a heart feel something it won’t. Or something like that.