‘Twas the week before Valentine’s . . .

‘Twas the week before Valentine’s,

And all through the house,

Nary a heart was heard beating, 

No, not even a pulse…

D: Um, A. . .

A: Yes, D?

D: What are you doing?

A: Taking creative license with Valentine’s Day.

D: With a poem ripped off from Christmas?

A: It’s how I roll.

D: Okay, but isn’t it slightly morbid?

A: You’re talking to the chick who wrote a flash fiction story based on a zombie getting it on with Jenny from Human Resources.

D: . . . this is true. So, tell me, have you written something slightly off-kilter for this year’s Valentine’s extravaganza – because I assume that this being Monday, you’ve decided to devote the entire week of posts to this strange, modern holiday designed to sell flowers, ridiculous pieces of lace, and overpriced bits of plastic masquerading as chocolate?

A: I actually like Valentine ’s Day.

D: . . .

A: No, really, I do – amid all that bad chocolate is some fabulous chocolate, which goes on clearance the day after. Plus, all the color is a nice break for all of us in the northern climes completely surrounded by grey, white, more grey and bits of crusted-over, gnarly-looking snow.

D: Uh huh, and?

"Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome" by Circle of Adam Elsheimer - Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Circle of Adam Elsheimer The Lupercalian Festival in Rome” by Circle of Adam Elsheimer – Christie | Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

A: And, it has some rather dark and disturbing pagan roots – beyond Cupid – and I just like that kind of thing.

D: Um, A – did you read the article you just linked?

A: Okay, I don’t like the actual Roman Lupercalia ritual, I just find the idea that the Catholics attempted “to put the clothes” back on the ritual when they tried to assimilate the pagans amusing. Of course, we’ve done a rather bang-up job of taking the clothes back off, which is okay, too. However, we can leave the ritual beatings for fertility to those ancient Romans, thankyouverymuch.

D: Thought so.

A: Right, so, we interrupt this Monday’s installment of “Three Ghosts” with the a repost of a story I wrote for The Community Storyboard a few years ago, which is a) based on the ghosts I grew up with, and b) the basis for a far-off book I’ll write when I’m good and ready and D please stop tapping your foot at me.

D: Who, me?

A: (Eye roll) Right – without further ado. . .

My Dearest Love

Portrait of a Union Soldier -- Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

Portrait of a Union Soldier — Kenosha (WI) Civil War Museum | Image by Ron Cogswell, 2012

My Dearest Evelyn,

While war continues, I would not write of it. I would spare you the details of my daily horror.

When I write to you, it is to forget that I am far from you, far from your embrace. I wish that I had been brave enough to speak to your father and ask for your hand before this started. I have faced enough Secesh as punishment for my fear, and I will speak to him.

* * *

Samuel,

Your words fill me with hope that I will see you again. How foolish we were to think that this war would only last a week. Our nation is divided and my heart weeps. I will follow your advice, and think of you only as I remember you, for to imagine you amidst all that devastation is almost more than I can bear.

I think, in light of your new status in the military, you will find Father’s measure of you much improved, or else I have seriously misjudged his character.

Keep safe, my love.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Forgive me for keeping secrets from you. Once I knew that I would be granted leave for Christmas, I wrote to your father straight away. He has granted that we may wed.

I would not take you from the bosom of your family until this dreaded war is over, but please, do me the honor of becoming my bride when I return?

* * *

"Pauline Cushman" Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Pauline Cushman” Part of the Brady-Handy Photograph Collection (Library of Congress). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Samuel,

You must ask? Foolish boy, I love you with all my heart.

Mother is already a-flutter with preparations. She laments that we will not be able to go travelling as they did in her day, to celebrate amongst the family, but she is happy just the same.

I, on the other hand, am not merely happy. Your words have filled me near to bursting and I fear I may cry out, laugh or sing with the feel of it! Cook caught me signing the other day as examined what has become of my trousseau, and scolded me something terrible. She tells me such noise is bad luck. But what can she know of it? She is not married and I defy the fates to take this joy from me.

* * *

My dearest,

That I can call you wife, and yet not be by your side is more difficult than I would have ever imagined. Pray for me, my love; pray that I may return to your side, that I may have your sweet whispers in my ear once more. Pray that this war is over soon.

* * *

My love,

Mother says that ardor cools as daily life intrudes, but I have not found this to be true. Perhaps it is that I have yet to know you day-to-day. I remember you though, the feel of you by my side as I slept. At night, I kiss the air where you once were and weep to know that you are not there. My heart is full of the good nights and good mornings that have not yet been.

Knowing that you are mine, that those nights and mornings may yet be, only flames my ardor for you more. You may think me indecent, but my love for you only grows.

Let me be your beacon of light, guiding you home.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

Your letters do me well, my love. I feel your kisses at night and they keep me warm, safe in this chill.

I do not find you indecent, dearest. Your blushes and modesty have no place with me anymore. I would fill your days with kisses and more were I there.

And, I will be there. With your love guiding me, I will be there.

* * *

My love,

The neighbors say that this war cannot last much longer. I pray that the year 1865 ends this horror. The thought of your smile, the memory of your touch, and the echo of your laughter stays with me, and cheers me. With them, I traverse the darkest hours of the night and live in hope that I will see you again soon.

* * *

My Dearest,

Your words, you once said, should be my beacon of light. I tell you that they are so. Your love is my guiding star, my heaven. I have suffered but the promise of home keeps me. The war is over, they say. We will be coming home. Once I would have leapt with joy at the news, now I weep that I have been gone so long. Wait for me.

* * *

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier's home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

The house my parents built. Evelyn & The Soldier’s home is on the right, the exposed beam side.

He knocked at the door and collapsed before it could open. Clutched in his hand was a scrap of paper, words scrawled across it with a near-unintelligible hand.

* * *

Evelyn opened the door and nearly tripped on the half-starved scarecrow that lay in a heap. There had been so many returning, so many seeking a warm fire and a bite of food, that she had stopped searching their faces for her dear Samuel.

* * *

He woke, stretched out before the fireplace. The tatters that had once been his fine uniform were gone, replaced by the heavenly scratch of thick wool blankets. The fire blazed, cheerful and comforting. He tried to turn his head, but found that even this small movement cost him more than he could spare.

“Don’t move, Samuel.”

Evelyn. He tried to say her name, to feel it on his lips once more. She kissed him silent. Her lips were salty.

“Don’t speak, my love. We didn’t know if you would wake. The doctor has been and gone; he was amazed you made it this far. Oh, Samuel, my dearest love.” She clutched his last letter in her hand. At least she would understand why. She kissed him again and rested against him. He breathed her in, surrounding himself with her. On her sweet perfume, he drifted off into the darkness, never to wake.

* * *

My Dearest Evelyn,

It was all I could do not to run all the way home when I received my discharge. That I was not permanently maimed or prisoner in some war camp was solely by the grace of God. That I prayed to you instead of Him may have been my undoing. The roads are not safe between our camp and you, and I was set upon in the night, attacked and shot. I fear it will be the death of me.

Forgive me, my love. Forgive me for not being able to be with you; forgive me for those beautiful babies yet unborn, forgive me for not growing into old age with you. I love you, Evelyn and I am so desperately sorry. If God is good, he shall grant that I watch over you, and love you for as long as you are upon this earth, my dearest. I feel your kisses yet, Evelyn and they still stave off the chill.

All my love,

Samuel

Background: The home my parents built – the home I lived in until the age of 18 – was haunted. It was actually two civil-war era log homes dismantled and rebuilt together, and most of the ghosts accompanied the timbers in the move.  Evelyn and “The Soldier” to whom I have given the name Samuel, resided in the formal living and dining rooms, respectively. Their close proximity as ghosts led me to wonder whether they knew each other in life, and the story grew in my head until I was convinced Evelyn had waited for her soldier, only for him to die in her arms upon his return from the war.

Eventually, Evelyn and Samuel will form the backdrop to a multi-generational love story, but until then, I’m happy to let them have this little snippet of a tale.

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