A Twice-Widowed Woman (Second Stave) by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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“This new state—that of actually being dead—is not at all unpleasant!” Mr. Wilmer (the former Jacob Marley of London, England) thought to himself. In fact, despite the fatal shock from the letter he had just finished reading, Wilmer now felt light as a feather and free as a bird as he flew through the spirit world, back down the Chester River, down the Chesapeake Bay, across the Atlantic Ocean, and directly onto the doorstep of his former business partner, the infamous Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, just at the stroke of midnight. He knew in the bones he no longer required that he had been granted his dying wish: it had blessedly come down to him to begin the haunting of the old miser. And similarly, in the blink of the eye he no longer needed, the now ghostly Marley knew exactly what to do: he wrapped himself in chains, frighted his hair, put on his death mask, and just as the clock struck twelve, began to pound on Scrooge’s heavy wooden door.

(Now, dear reader, you know full well all that happens next: Marley’s exhortations and dire warnings, spectral visits from three dreadful spirits (all quite friendly to Marley, if not to Scrooge), their lamentations, recriminations, and alarming prophecies, all these (and other) unearthly happenings right up until the moment when the old bugger awakens on that cold, clear morning, finds himself redeemed, throws open the window and calls to a boy in the street below, “What day is this?”

“Why it’s Christmas day, sir!”

“What an extraordinary boy!”

And, subsequently, you must know all that follows that delightful exchange, right up until the final happy scene when crippled Tiny Tim—goose-fed (“What a surprise, Mr. Scrooge!”) and sitting atop his father’s proud shoulders—loudly and affectionally observes to all those assembled ‘round the Cratchet’s festive table, “God Bless Us, Every One!”)

But that, of course, is another tale to be told by another writer, none other than the estimable Mr. Charles Dickens himself. This other tale—my tale—continues on in the pleasant house on the Water Street in humble little Chestertown where Mrs. Wilmer—now the Widow Wilmer as well as the former Widow Comfort—has found her poor husband slumped at the kitchen table, dead as a dormouse, a mysterious letter posted from England fallen from his cold, ink-stained fingers.

Now the bereaved woman reads the letter a second and then a third time before doing the only sensible thing she can think to do: she holds it to the candle still burning on the table and watches as it smolders, catches flame, and curls to ashes which she immediately sweeps into the bin because she sees no need to muddy the waters of what she reasonably assumes will be her late husband’s considerable estate with a mysterious and cryptic epistle containing only the sentence “I know who you are” and signed only with the initial “S.” Better to let the past remain the past she decides and to let the future take a happier and (let’s be honest here) less problematic—meaning less litigious—course.

And there is also the question of the new widow’s soon-to-be-delivered child to consider. She sees no need to ensnare his or her future in a sticky spider web from the past; would not the deceased Mr. Wilmer’s good reputation in town—along with a sizable inheritance—be a more fortunate legacy for the child than a passel of fulsome or embarrassing questions raised by an unknown hand from a foreign land? And, come to think of it, for herself, too? After all, a twice-widowed woman has her own future and reputation to consider!

And with those sobering thoughts in the forefront of her mind, the newly-minted and quite comely Widow Wilmer, rouges her cheeks, puts on her brightest shawl and best bonnet, and with the hint of a Mona Lisa smile on her pretty plump lips, sets off down the street to fetch the undertaker…again.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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