Illuminations V, A Toast to Friends and Foes New York City, October 1849
Zachary sat by himself at a table in the corner of the tavern. His right hand rested on a half-empty glass of vodka. He stared at the glass over the knuckles of his left hand while he used it to prop up his head. A bell rang as the front door opened and closed behind him but it did not bring his mind back from where it was, which was not in the tavern. It wasn’t even in New York.
Was it too much to ask, Zachary thought, to be with the woman I love? Was it too much to ask for Xamn to find someone else to ask to be his wife? Yes. Too much. And so began the grudge. And the grudge lit a fuse to a stick of dynamite that exploded in my face.
The front door slammed open, hitting the wall beside it and nearly knocked the bell off the mount. The two men laughed boisterously as they shuffled toward the bar.
“They said ‘e was takin’ the train to Philadelphia… and got off in Baltimore. ’E stumbled into a tavern and collapsed. Most likely drunk out of his mind. Wait. ’E was already out of his mind.” The two broke into even louder laughter.
“You’re in New York. Not Baltimore,” the bartender quipped as he wiped the counter.
“I wasn’t talking about me—oh… I see. We’ve got a Mark Twain for a barkeep,” the drunk patron said, poking his friend in the ribs with his elbow. “Poe, you fool. Edgar Allen Poe. He’s dead.”
“Edgar Allen Poe? Are you sure he’s dead?” Zachary turned around and asked.
“Yep. Dead, dead, dead.” When the man looked back, Zachary was gone. “Where’d ’e go?”
Westminster Church and Burying Ground, Baltimore, January 20th, 1949
The groundskeeper climbed up on the tractor and prepared to plow the snow off the cemetery road. He cranked it up, lowered the shovel and set off down towards the west gate. Nearly to the fence and about to make the turn toward the north entrance, he noticed something out of place. A bright object beamed at him from a ledge on one of the larger gravestones. As he got closer, he could see three red objects and a bottle. Roses. Three red roses and a bottle of wine.
Henry hopped off the tractor and walked over to the grave.
“Huh… Edgar Allen Poe’s,” he said, picking up the bottle. “Not wine. Cognac. And half-empty.” He looked down at his feet and saw a brown spot sunken in the snow, about the size of a baseball. He took a handkerchief out of his pants pocket and spread it out on his hand. He carefully picked up the three roses, placed them on the kerchief and wrapped them in the light blue linen.
Henry stood there for a moment. These weren’t here last night, he thought. Poe’s children? They’d have to be more than a hundred years old. Grandchildren? I suppose they might, but the cognac… That just seems like there’s more to their relationship than merely family. “Ah, well. It’s cold and a stiff drink would certainly warm me up a little.” He held up the bottle, “Cheers, Mr. Poe,” and Henry took a large draw.
“Mr. Motes,” Henry said, closing the officer door behind him. “These were left on Mr. Edgar Allen Poe’s headstone.” He put the bottle and the handkerchief on his boss’s desk and unwrapped the roses. “They weren’t there yesterday evening. I’m sure of it. Someone had to have jumped over the fence. If it’s his grandchildren or someone else in the family, why not visit during the day?”
“I don’t know, Hank,” Mr. Motes replied, eyeing the strange articles. “Perhaps they just didn’t want to make a scene. Was there any vandalism?”
“Not that I could tell.”
“Well… put the roses back, but leave the liquor here. We don’t need any drunks hanging out at the cemetery.”
Office of Richard Graham, Director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area, 1977
“Your resume is very impressive, Mr. Jerome. What made you decide to try for this position?”
“I’ve had a lifelong love for American literature and, in particular, the work of Poe. When I heard, through a friend of mine, that the position of curator here was open, I simply could not pass up the opportunity of a lifetime. It would be a dream come true and an honor to be curator of the Poe House.”
“I thought it might. Well, seeing as how you’re more than qualified and… there were no other applicants… I see no reason to deprive you of that honor. You’ve got the job, Mr. Jerome.”
“Thank you, Mr. Graham. And please, call me Jeff.”
“Only if you call me Richard. Would you like a tour?”
“Richard… I mean no offense, but I’ve been here so many times, I could probably give you a tour.”
“Ha! You probably could. One thing we should talk about… Are you familiar with the Poe Toaster?”
“A little. Is his identity still a mystery?”
“Yes. And we’re happy to let it stay that way. In the nearly thirty years that he’s been leaving his gifts, there has never been any vandalism of the grave site, no issues whatsoever, except for those trying to get a glimpse of him. So, we will accommodate him as best we can.”
“I have no problem with that.”
“Good. Do you drink whiskey?” Richard asked, pouring two shots.
“A toast. To old friends and new acquaintances.”