by Emma Brocato
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Rosemary peeled damp, stray curls off her face and sighed in frustration. She desperately waved her intricately carved fan in front of her face, trying to pretend the stagnant air wasn’t full of mosquitoes dying to suck the blood from her exposed hands and face. It was another hot, sticky night in Galveston, and Rosemary was less than amused. She and her husband, Edward, had been living in Galveston for six months now. Having left all their family and friends behind, there wasn’t much for her to do while Edward was gone all day. She was left alone to her thoughts – and, more recently, her nausea. The house was massive and gorgeous, but also lonely. Her only consolation was that the house came with a widow’s walk, on which she was standing at this very moment.
The widow’s walk allowed many things. It allowed her to escape the house and all the summer heat it trapped. It also allowed her to enjoy a view of the island from above. And, most importantly, it allowed her to see all the way to the ocean, so that she could tell whether or not Edward’s ship was coming in. So far, it always had. But, of course, there was always the grim possibility the widow’s walk would live up to its ominous namesake.
She paced back and forth, still feverishly swatting her fan through the thick air. Where was Edward’s ship? This was later than usual. In fact, it was later than ever before. The last hints of pink dusk were fading, shaping an introduction for nightfall.
And that’s when she saw it. Edward’s ship arrived at the port, flooding Rosemary with relief – but only momentarily. Rosemary felt a twinge of concern upon realizing that no land crew appeared to greet the ship. As the minutes ticked by, no one — absolutely not a soul —approached the vessel. And no one got off the ship either. This ship was supposed to be full of sailors, but there were none in sight.
Rosemary glanced at her lantern, considering a venture to the port to investigate. That would be an awfully long walk to make all by herself. Unaccompanied women were not to be out at night, as she had been told many times. She was stuck between concern for her own safety and that of her husband.
Suddenly, the salty island air was pierced by song. Seamlessly intertwined with crying, the feminine voice issued forth a haunting melody but no recognizable lyrics. Her sobs were both graceful and aching. Entranced by the sound, Rosemary grabbed her lantern and descended from the widow’s walk, into the empty house.
She tiptoed through her large and exquisite house, the interior of which was pitch black, save for the lantern’s glow. Although Rosemary could still hear the singing from inside the house, it was clear that it was coming from outside. She followed the voice to her front porch and realized it came from the West. Carefully locking the door and holding her lantern in front of herself, Rosemary stepped into the street, determined to find the source. The hour was late, and the streets were empty of their usual horses, carriages and people. There was no one else in sight – it was just her and the voice.
Rosemary continued down Broadway Avenue, listening as the melancholic melody intensified with each step she took. It was unlike anything she had ever heard before, and yet, she knew it was calling her. The air was unusually still, without the slightest hint of an island breeze. Rosemary lifted her lantern to glance at the palm trees, noting that their fronds were motionless and undisturbed. This might have been the most walking she’d ever done. Her legs ached. When she arrived at the Broadway Cemetery, the voice stopped as suddenly as it had begun. It appeared that this was her destination.
In the absence of the voice that had guided her, Rosemary wasn’t sure what to do. She entered through the gates, trying not to be alarmed that they were already open. A few stray frogs croaked softly, bouncing around in the grass that was freshly watered every day. Grand, ornate mausoleums — burial structures intended for use by entire families — towered over the plot of land like kings. Gingerly stepping around headstones and footstones, Rosemary wandered through the maze of graves, reading epitaphs and memorials for people she had never known. The air in the cemetery was noticeably thicker than it had been in the streets. A clinging mist crawled past her face and over her head, obscuring her vision. As she glanced to her right, her heart nearly sprung out of her chest.
Looming over her was a tall statue that certainly had not been there moments ago. The stern, imposing figure was carved out of smooth, white stone. It was an angel. The features did not match those of any of the named angels Rosemary had learned about in church scriptures. Instead of a kind face that offered protection and guidance, this statue’s face was quite serious, as if it were issuing a warning. But of what?
Rosemary crept past the angel, wanting to escape its ominous presence. A loud commotion disturbed the almost-silence of the cemetery. She heard waves crashing violently, punctuated by faint crashes of thunder, even though she was nowhere near the ocean. A cold breeze picked up. The air smelled distinctly of salt water. Confused, Rosemary looked around, seeing no visible signs of a storm. As she searched for a possible source of this noise, she saw a young lady kneeling at a gravesite.
“Come back! Please!” the woman begged.
Unsure of how to comfort the stranger, and unsure of whether approaching her in the darkness would even be advisable, Rosemary noticed that the grave was unmarked. In fact, several other graves appeared to be unmarked. Rows of weathered, inscribed headstones were interrupted by small handfuls of fresh stones, as if no one were buried there yet, but the places were reserved.
Suddenly, Rosemary noticed a sailor emerge from the fog. He was soon joined by others. As she looked around the cemetery, she saw several of them walking with purpose. Their faces expressionless, they didn’t seem to notice Rosemary or the other young lady. She recognized some of them from when Edward had introduced them to her. The first sailor approached an unmarked grave and stepped right into it, his body slipping through the earth without a struggle. Although Rosemary’s heart was clutched with panic, she watched in silent awe as the others did the same. One by one, each sailor arrived at his grave and entered it. The sounds of waves and thunder continued, yet the men were unfazed.
Edward appeared, his tall figure impossible to miss. Like the others, he did not seem to notice Rosemary at all. She ran toward him and called out.
“Edward! Edward, it is me! Come back!” she pleaded as he walked right past her, staring straight ahead.
She raced after him, determined to catch his attention. Edward arrived at an unmarked grave and paused. Rosemary straightened her long skirts, which fit much tighter than they had seemingly weeks ago. She struggled to catch her breath.
“Edward, please! Do not leave!” she screamed.
It was too late. He was already stepping into the earth, his body swallowed up in one smooth motion. He was gone.
“Come back! Please, come back!” she sobbed, collapsing to the ground and leaning on the empty headstone.
Looking around, Rosemary witnessed dozens of other women like her, kneeling by the unmarked graves and pleading with their departing husbands through choked sobs in an eerie chorus reminiscent of the angel’s song.
Her walk through the darkness that night had served to transform her into the widow she so feared becoming. Rosemary gently stroked her stomach, fondly acknowledging the child Edward would never meet.
©️ 2021 by Emma Brocato
“The Walking Widow,” by Emma Brocato, was first published on May 13, 2021 in Love Letters to Poe and can be found in Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe.
Interview with Emma Brocato, Author of “The Walking Widow”
What inspired your story?
The elements of this story are inspired by Galveston Island, a very old and very haunted city on the Gulf Coast of Texas, with Victorian-style houses and countless stories to tell. I had the pleasure of taking a guided tour of a cemetery there after dark, and in spite of being let in through locked gates, I saw a girl kneeling at a grave. I have always wondered what her story is, so I decided to make one up for her.
What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?
I have always loved Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” because reading it blesses me with such detailed imagery.
How long have you been writing?
For as long as I can remember.
What are you working on now?
My master’s degree and some journalistic pieces.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
Emma Brocato is an emerging writer of multiple genres – journalism, fiction, essays, poetry, etc. She is currently working towards an MA in Science & Environmental Journalism. Her work has been published in The Agriculturist magazine. She lives, works and writes in Arizona. “The Walking Widow” is her debut fiction publication.