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Edgar Allan Poe famously wrote, “The death [of] a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world — and equally is it beyond doubt that the lips best suited for such a topic are those of a bereaved lover.” In this new flash fiction and poetry series, The Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum invites lovers everywhere to create their own pieces inspired by the real or imagined loves of Edgar Allan Poe.

February 2020

An excerpt from “Who Are You?” short story by Maryland author, Mary Tilghman.

We all stay here for something. For me, it’s Ginny. She was the girl who lived next door to me for too short a time. A few months after we came, she moved into the house next door with her Mama Maria Clemm and Grandmother Poe, her brother Henry and her cousin Edgar Allan Poe. We used to call him just plain “Eddy.”  That was before he became famous and now is called by a moniker longer than my arm. To me he’s still Eddy.

I fell in love with Ginny the moment I clapped my eyes on her. We played together sometimes, when I wasn’t working at the market or she wasn’t helping her Ma. At night or early in the morning I could hear her singing in her attic room only a thin wall away from mine. She had the prettiest voice. I would stay real still and practically held my breath, for fear she’d realize I was close by and stop. But that lasted only for a few years until old Mrs. Poe died and Eddy got a job in Richmond.

That’s when he sent for Miss Maria and Ginny to come live with him. When she said goodbye she kissed my cheek, like she was now a grown-up. She did look like one, that’s for sure, in her blue traveling suit with the matching bonnet and grown-up gloves.

Before she stepped into the carriage she promised to come back for me. I never forgot and I’m sure Ginny hasn’t either.

Early the next morning, Tyrone strolled down the street like he owned it, whistling a tune that I’d heard on the radio. That was one of the new modern contraptions that I liked. I wasn’t a fan of cars—too fast and stinkier than horses. To tell you the truth, I missed the horses. The streets used to be full of them. Now I only see them once in a while, hauling the Arabbers’s wagons full of fruits and vegetables. Oh, I know sometimes they bit and made a mess of the streets. But some of them were true friends, better than any ol’ dog.

I’d stopped to watch television a few times but I didn’t like that much either. Most of it was silly or just for selling stuff I didn’t need. But radio was fine. Lots of good music, not pretty songs like Ginny’s, but still the kind that made a heart happy.

“But you did, but you did and I thank you,” Tyrone sang out like the two guys on the radio. Not as good as Sam and Dave but he had a clear, strong voice.

He stopped when he saw me, lounging on the vacant lot where I had abided since my house was torn down a few years ago.

“Hey, you. What’d you say your name was?”

“Jacky.”

He dropped on the ground beside me and gave me that squinty-eyed look again. “I been looking for you since yesterday.”

“You have?” Nobody ever looked for me anymore, not since the funeral anyway.

“Turns out I owe you an apology.”

“You do? What for?”

“I should’ve believed you yesterday or whenever it was. I keep losing track of time.”

“That’s to be expected. I know it doesn’t feel like I been here for 135 years.”

He was getting ready to say something else until my statement made him stop. “Huh? What you mean by that?”

Remembering my vow to be patient with this fellow, I explained as calmly as I could. “I was twelve when I passed on. I had the diphtheria. I been here ever since.”

“No kidding?” He considered that for a moment. “The thing is, I realize now you might be right. I don’t understand it but I know something weird is going on. When I went home, I couldn’t turn the doorknob of my very own door. I tried again and again and couldn’t get ahold of it. I tried to push against the door but it didn’t move a speck. I still ended up in the living room anyway.”

“Yeah, that’s how it is for me, too. I can’t move anything but things like walls and doors don’t keep me out anymore. I wish I could talk to people, but they can’t hear or see me.”

“I know what you mean. Mama and Grandma ReRe were in the living room and I expected them to look up when I came in.”

“But they didn’t.”

“Naw. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I sat between my Mama and Grandma ReRe. They had that ‘Julia’ show on the TV. Mama always likes seeing that Afro-American lady with her own show but I’m not sure she was actually watching it. My house was crowded with people. There were church ladies running around in the kitchen. They were frying chicken but I couldn’t smell a thing. And the Reverend Fuller was sitting with my Auntie Anita. They both had their eyes closed, like they were praying. Anyway, Mama never once turned to look at me. I tried to talk to her but she didn’t hear me neither. She had a tissue in her hand and was shredding it to bits, crying her eyes out. I put my arms around her but it didn’t do no good.”

I remember my own mother after I passed. It was hard thinking about how I made her feel. Now it seemed like what I recalled most was her handkerchief, the Irish linen one edged in lace and her initials stitched in pale blue on one corner. She lost it once after she came home from church and she spent hours looking for it. I found it wedged under a cushion and she laughed as she hugged me.

She was holding it when I went to see her after I passed. It was crumpled and wet but she still kept touching it to her red-rimmed eyes.

For a minute, I thought Tyrone was going to cry. “She’s sad I’m dead, huh?” He stabbed at his eyes with his big hand and swallowed. “How’d that happen? That’s what I want to know. How come I’m dead?”

“I don’t know, Tyrone.” I wish I knew why either of us were dead but I didn’t. Never had been able to answer that question.

“So now I’m a ghost, huh?”

“‘Fraid so.”

“So is this Heaven?”

I wanted to laugh. This most assuredly was not Heaven or, as I like to call it, Home. That’s where I want to go someday but not until I’m ready, not until Ginny comes to see me here on Amity Street.

But how about Tyrone? What did he need to work out with his family before he went Home?

“No. This is where you lived. You could have gone Home when you passed but for some reason, you turned aside. You weren’t ready to leave. Like me.”

He leaned in and searched my face with that squinty look again. “But you’re saying there is a Heaven, right?”

I nodded.

“And this ain’t it?”

I shook my head.

“So why didn’t you go—what’d you call it?—Home?”

I didn’t get to answer Tyrone before he hit me with another barrage of questions.

“What you staying here for? Why would anybody stay around here on these dirty old streets? I got to tell you, for a little white boy, you’re pretty brave to be hanging out around here.”

That got my back up. I’d abided here a long time. I knew my way around, even as the neighborhood grew and changed and changed again. “My family lived in the house that used to be next to the little house on the corner.”

I pointed to Ginny’s place.

He shook his head, skeptically. “The Poe House? You didn’t live there. That’s that writer fellow’s house.”

I explained how my house used to look, the other half of the duplex that shared a wall with Ginny’s house, before they tore it down, long after my Mama and Pa moved away. “When I lived there, the two houses looked like mirror images of each other.”

“So why did you stay?”

I didn’t know how to answer. I really didn’t want to explain about Ginny. Older boys at the market used to make fun of me for being such a sap about her. I’ve always loved Ginny and I guess it showed. I’m not really good at keeping my feelings to myself. But now, I wanted to keep this buried deep in my heart.

“I have to wait for my friend.” Would that be enough to satisfy Tyrone?

He looked down his nose at me, like he was skeptical. “Is he dead too?”

What a question. It’s been almost 135 years since I saw Ginny. I guess she had to be, though. I didn’t rightly know. All I knew is she said she was coming back. That’s what kept me here waiting.

Copyright 2019 Mary Tilghman. To learn more about the complete story, visit MaryKTilghmanWrites.com

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