by Bobbi A. Chukran
Though a published novelist and playwright, this is Bobbi’s first published mystery short story, which she adapted from a play that she also wrote. As part of KRL’s celebration of the release of The Raven, we are happy to share this story of something that “might” have happened between Poe and the love of his life Virginia.
1845, Baltimore, Maryland
Virginia Poe’s husband hadn’t been the same since he bought that blasted parrot. Even now, as she stood in the hallway outside Edgar’s study, he murmured to the bird like it was a small child. His writing, and his bird. That’s all that seemed to matter to him.
Although Edgar Allan Poe was twice her age, Virginia was still a young girl. She was still interested in frocks and lively society. She loved her husband, but she couldn’t abide his brooding nature. She set her mind to it–tonight would be different.
She brushed away a tear, squared her shoulders, and rushed into the room.
He suddenly clutched at his head, ripped the sheet of paper from the desk, crumpled it and flung it across the room.
She picked up the paper and uncrumpled it. Hen scratchings and wild inkblots, nothing more, covered the sheet.
“I fear that I shall never be able to write another story,” he murmured. He picked up the plumed pen, jammed it into the inkwell, then began to scribble on a fresh sheet. After a few lines, he flung the pen onto the desk.
“Darling, watch the ink!” She rushed to steady the well before it toppled to the floor.
Virginia smoothed his wild unruly hair. “Darling, you’re a bit disheveled this evening.”
The parrot on his shoulder nipped at her hand and squawked.
“Blasted bird!” she said.
Edgar glanced at his wife, frowned, then turned his attention to the bird. He became calmer, petting it, nuzzling it with his nose.
He looked up, in a daze, as if he couldn’t see. Then his eyes focused, and he smiled. “Oh, there you are, my dear! I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I’ve been here for ages, Edgar.”
“You have? Well then, how ravishing you look. But why are you dressed? Are you going out? To meet friends? You should go out with your friends more often, Virginia. You’re young and spirited. Go, have some fun! Don’t mind me.”
“But it’s our wedding anniversary this week, dear. We’re going out. You and I are going out. No friends. Just you and I.”
He frowned. “We are? Just us?”
Virginia nodded. “Yes, darling, we are. It’s our wedding anniversary, and you are my husband. You promised you’d take a few hours away from your writing.”
“I did? I don’t seem to remember that. Sorry, my angel. You know my memory is feeble. Are you sure I meant tonight?”
“Yes, Edgar, you did. You promised we could have supper at the Eutaw House. I’ve never been there and am terribly anxious to see it.”
Edgar continued to write, distracted. “Sounds expensive to me, my dear. Besides, it’s much too late to go out now–it’s almost midnight.”
Virginia stamped her foot. “But you promised, Edgar! We haven’t been out in ages.”
“You keep saying I promised, but I cannot remember doing so! Besides, I’m afraid we can’t afford to go out. Our finances are precarious.”
“But I thought you were doing well in your writing. You won those awards.”
“Yes, but all my stories don’t win generous prizes like The Gold Bug. I’m trying to make my entire living from writing. I’m working over fourteen hours a day, and we’re barely making ends meet.”
“But surely, for our anniversary…”
“I simply cannot justify spending money for an expensive hotel dinner. I’m sorry.” He turned back to his papers.
Virginia stared at him. “Perhaps it would be easier for your ends to meet if there was only one of us.”
“Please don’t be that way, my little poppet. I have an idea for a new poem. That should cheer you up.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful news! But why don’t you write more stories instead? I simply adore your stories. They make me so… shivery!” She grabbed her elbows and hugged herself.
“I like writing poetry,” he said. “I was thinking of doing something, well, a bit more literary this time. Stretch my boundaries, so to speak.”
“More literary? Goodness darling, why would you do that? I love your scary little stories.”
“As a matter of fact, I was thinking of going in a different direction all together. Perhaps I’ll write poetry about trees, or the water, or… birds! Perhaps I’ll write about birds. I love birds.” He turned to the parrot and smiled, petting its head.
“Yes! Why not? It’s all the rage these days. That Emerson fellow did all right with that Nature book of his. I’m sure he writes of birds in it. I’ll write a bird poem, too! Everyone loves birds. My lovely parrot will be my inspiration!”
“A bird poem? You know I love you, darling, but I’m afraid that’s just not you,” Virginia said.
Edgar frowned. “Just because I’ve written a few gruesome stories, doesn’t mean they all have to be that way, does it?”
Virginia shrugged. “I suppose not, dearest. But I liked ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ although it was a bit morbid. And ‘The Purloined Letter’ was a really good one. I love those stories with surprises at the end.”
“Yes, but those were not happy stories.”
“True. Let’s see… I know! Pirates are still popular. Write more stories like ‘The Gold Bug.’ Write more like those, why don’t you?”
Edgar shook his head. “But I only wrote those for the money. You know how the public is–their tastes run to the grotesque, the arabesque, to the prurient and horrific.”
“Yes, absolutely! Do more of that sort of thing!” She laughed. “You’ll get so famous, then we’ll never have to worry about money again.”
Edgar shook his head. “I have my reputation to uphold. If I keep writing drivel, I’ll get stuck in that mode. No one will ever think of me as a great author!”
“But Edgar, surely you could lower your standards a tiny bit. For our sake… for the sake of our marriage?”
Edgar jumped up and paced. “Listen here, cousin. I’ll write what I want to write.”
“Please don’t call me cousin. I am your wife now. We are married!”
“Oh, sorry… please forgive me, Virginia. But you really shouldn’t dictate to me what to write. If I want to write a sonnet called ‘Ode to a Parrot,’ I will!” He thought for a moment. “That’s it! What a brilliant idea! The public will love it!”
Edgar flung himself back into his chair, snatched up his pen, and began scribbling.
Virginia stared at him, shook her head, then turned to leave. Suddenly, a tapping sound was heard at the door.
He looked up. “Darling, can you see to that? I can’t have visitors tonight. Can you put them off? I’ll try to finish here soon. Perhaps we can go out tomorrow.”
Virginia reached out to touch his face; he brushed her aside and began mumbling as he wrote.
“Door… floor… gore… no! That’s not right. Let’s see–door… bore… forevermore. No, no no! Damn!”
The tapping continued, more loudly.
“Please answer that,” he shouted. “It’s so distracting. Tell whoever it is I can’t be disturbed.” He scribbled a few more words.
“Where was I? …Door… more… Lenore! Yes!” He scribbled, frantically running his fingers through his hair.
Virginia stopped abruptly and whirled around to face him. “Lenore? Who is Lenore?”
“What? Oh, nobody real. She’s just a woman in a poem.”
“A poem? A woman in a poem? You’re writing about other women now?” Virginia asked.
“Darling! It’s only a poem about a woman and a bird. She’s just a name I made up. It rhymes with door. Don’t worry your pretty little head. She’s nobody. You are the wife of my bosom. Do you not know that your singular beauty enchants me? Without you, I would be as a child, groping through the darkness. Please understand!”
“Don’t worry my head?”
Edgar nodded, nervously. “I just made her up. You do believe me, don’t you?”
The tapping continued, more loudly.
“Damn! That infernal tapping! It’s driving me mad! I can’t think. I can’t write!”
Virginia tapped her foot. “Is that her, at the door? Did you wish me to go out with my friends, then you’d spend the evening with LENORE? Does she have raven black hair?”
“No, of course not! She has no hair at all!”
“What? No hair? The poor woman!” Virginia said.
Edgar laughed. “My darling, you misunderstand me. She has no hair, because she is not real! I beg of you, you have got to believe me. There’s no one else but you. I’ll love you forevermore, my darling.”
“Believe you? You say we’ll go out for our anniversary, then you completely forget.”
“I’m distracted by my work! Can’t you see that? I’m trying to pay the bills and keep the wolves from our door! For god’s sake, woman!”
Virginia hung her head. “You promised we’d have a nice supper, and go dancing.”
“Now wait a minute! I’m sure I’d never promise to go dancing.”
“But you did!” she said.
The tapping became louder, insistent.
In a fit of anger, Virginia picked up the paper Edgar was writing on, ripped it to shreds and threw it at him. “Nevermore will I trust you! Nevermore will I believe you when you say we’ll go out! Nevermore will I get dressed up with no place to go!”
“Nevermore! That’s it! Thank you, darling! That’s the word I was looking for!” He rushed to kiss her, then flung himself back in his chair, took a new piece of paper and began to scribble. “Nevermore…”
“Oh, Edgar! You’re impossible! Why didn’t someone tell me how difficult being the wife of an author could be! If I’d only known!” She whirled around, ran out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
The tapping became more insistent, so loud it shook the house. Edgar stared at the door for a moment, then threw down his pen. “Oh, damnation! I suppose I’ll have to get the door myself. Who could it be at this hour? It had better be important! I need to work on my bird poem!”