The last ballad of Edwin St. Edwards
"There is nothing 'neath your bed little goose…" Edwin's voice was in her head again. The sound of his long-ago whisper startled her so much that chills suddenly ran wild down her spine and the thin hairs on her arms stood on end. Mariah dropped the book she had been reading and it fell to the floor with an equally startling thump.
The light filtering in through the stained glass skylight in the atrium had nearly burnt away with the last sputtering shadows of twilight. Mariah hadn't noticed the darkness, and when she retrieved her leather-bound book from the floor she could not remember what page she had been reading.
"Little goose—" Edwin's chiding whisper made the breath catch in her throat. Mariah struggled to swallow her fear and reminded herself that Edwin could not be in the room with her. "Little goose. Such folly." She knew he meant her trembling hands. "Such resplendent flights of fancy."
"Edwin?" Her voice broke the silence like a cracked eggshell. Mariah took a deep breath but only silence answered her. "Edwin, please…" She could not be sure if she meant to implore him to speak again or merely to leave her in peace.
"There is nothing 'neath your bed." She heard again. "No bedraggled bedfellows lurking 'neath your windowsill. No need to pull the curtains so tightly shut."
"Edwin?" Darkness seemed to flood the room around her. Mariah thought she saw a flash of movement to her right but she could not be sure.
"Edwin is still on Harpen Street, my love," the voice explained. "His face is smashed into the cobblestones and his eyes are still open. His mouth has a bit of red on it."
Mariah pushed her hands against her ears in a desperate attempt to block out the voice. She did not want to remember Edwin as he had been found.
"Mariah?" She pressed her hands tighter to the sides of her face and the voice became muffled. "Mariah?" She closed her eyes tightly. When a hand touched her shoulder she screamed before she could stop herself. "Mariah!" She heard again as her fists were moved forcibly away from her face. When Mariah opened her eyes she saw Tom kneeling before her. He stroked the top of her shoulders and her neck sending a tremor through her veins. "Are you alright? What are you doing sitting alone in the dark?"
Moving away from her Tom struck a match and lit the kerosene wick of the hurricane lamp and sat it on the table beside her.
Tom creased his eyebrows together. "What is going on?" She watched him cross the couch and sit beside her. His hand reached out for hers but she pulled it away.
"Nothing," Mariah lied. She pretended to be dazzled by the honey-colored hues of the stained glass shimmering above their heads in the soft light. When they had been children, Mariah and Edwin used to spend hours simply staring at the different colors of the glass, trying to memorize each blushing stain.
Tom reached out for her again, but like before she shrank away from him, this time rising up from the couch. The bustle and long train of her dress followed her like an unwanted shadow. Tom had always been able to smell her falsehoods – like an animal might catch the scent of blood.
She thought of Edwin again. How he had been found in the alley, close to the street. How his bloodshot eyes had been wide and frightened.
"Is there any news?" She turned back toward him, hoping her small smile might appease him.
A week had not even passed since the last night Mariah had seen Edwin. That last night when he pulled on his heavy coat and his gloved hand tilted his top hat into a mocking dip. The last words he said to her were: "I shall see you in the morning little goose." Edwin kissed her on the cheek when they were both sure her father wasn't looking and his delighted grin, spanning from ear to ear, was the last image that she had of him.
Tom lowered his head. "No new leads."
Mariah paced the room slowly.
"Please tell me what was going on when I came in?" Tom pressed. Mariah could only imagine what she looked like in Tom's eyes with her eyes pressed shut and her hands covering her ears. "Edwin was my brother," he went on gently. "He would want me to look after you."
"Little goose…" Mariah was sure the voice was in her head now. As far as she could tell Tom had not reacted to it.
"It's just…" Mariah was sure she felt someone sigh behind her. Her hand clutched the side of the table where the lamp rested. She was fighting the urge to turn around but she was also afraid that she might faint. "I miss him so much." Her voice broke. Tom hastily rose from the couch and wrapped his arms around her. She clung to him in return. There were moments when he reminded her of Edwin completely.
"Little goose." Edwin's voice yelled into her ear causing Mariah to jump away from Tom's embrace.
Tom pulled her back, and Mariah could feel him twirl a stray lock of hair at the back of her neck with his finger. "I shall always watch out for you, Mariah."
"There is nothing 'neath your bed little goose, but there are ghosts and demon's in the atrium."
Mariah could not stifle her sob. Tom cupped his hand across her cheek and jaw. "I shall always protect you, Mariah, as my brother would have done." Tom leaned in and pressed his dry lips lightly to her cheekbone. "As my brother would have wanted me to."
"Hush now little goose…"
A/N: Written for the March WCC. Links in my profile. Cover image provided via art/Victorian-111762144 I do not own the image.