“I Thought It Was a Costume Party!” © Robin Young
Emma’s Tell-Tale Heart
True! Nervous- dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say I am mad? I have no disease, but that of obsession and true emotions forever to be hidden; all this has sharpened my senses-not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all, my sense of hearing is acute, and for this I am grateful. I hear all the things in Heaven and Fall River. Perhaps I even hear things in Hell. How then, am I mad, then or now? Listen to how beautifully- how calmly I tell my story.
It is impossible to say how the idea first appeared; but once conceived, it haunted me. Object there was none, nor Passion. I loved the Old Man. For his gold I had no particular desire. As best I can remember was father’s eyes, his whole countenance and how often its affectionate attention fell upon Lizzie. And so, I made up mind to… that is to say, I find myself in agreement with whomever it was that planned to kill Father… and the wretched old thing we were expected to call “mother.” For myself, I was never kinder to Abby than in the weeks before her murder… because I was out of town that whole time. But, let us say, one imagines all the ways in which it could have happened…
Now, Lizzie as the killer is the version everyone remembers. While she was at Taunton Jail, perhaps some money found its way to some anonymous poet’s pocket and well… everyone remembers a catchy rhyme, don’t they? Then again, anyone planning slaughter could do little better than utilize a strong man who knows his way around an axe. What rumor, what trespass could be bad enough to make such a man as John Morse want to butcher two people to rescue his beloved nieces from humiliation and harm? Or…what was her name? Maggie? No… Bridget, yes that is it. Maybe it’s true what they say about the Irish, unstable was the maid. Maybe one too many midnight visits from her employer? Or maybe it was several conspirators, each with something to gain. Or maybe Lizzie was the insane bitch everyone still thinks she is. Maybe the poem was true… or true enough.
Now this is the point. You may fancy them mad, this killer, whose true identity we will never know for certain. But you should have seen it. You should have seen how wisely our villain must have proceeded- with what caution, what foresight, what dissimulation this assassin must have gone about their work. Neither Father nor Abby saw it coming. And while the house contained its own suspects, let us face it- if they had listed everyone with a murderous grudge against Father- in just Fall River alone- well, they would need the town census.
I try not to dwell on the details of that day. The murders were said to be brutal, even by the measure of violent crime. One newspaperman posited it might be Jack the Ripper, fresh come to America after his disappearance from England four years earlier. But they settled, no surprise, upon Lizzie as their chief suspect. And that is where we must consider our Man of Medicine, Dr. Seabury Bowen. He proved most useful I imagine.
With all these tools assembled and their roles written out for them, a plan was set into motion and dark deeds done. All hopes for the conspiracy now depended on the competent functioning of all its members. So long as they played their parts, success was guaranteed, though there was a note almost exposed to the police by Dr. Bowen. He admitted himself to hospital for morphine addiction, not two years after the trial. Unsurprising.
If you still think the killer, mad, you won’t when I describe the wise precautions they took for the concealment of things afterwards. Before Thursday night waned, the lack of suspicion yet was taken advantage of; a maid was sent out on an errand to lose something wrapped in a bundle; one hatchet was thrown away atop a neighbor’s barn roof and another, its handle strangely missing, was set where it was sure to be discovered and… it’s best I shouldn’t say too much. For what it’s worth, guilty, or not, Lizzie- I’m sorry, LizBeth, bore it all with dignity, grace and no small humor in her later years. People should respect her for that. I know I do, no matter that we have not spoken since.
You must understand what could push someone to desperate actions for such animosity to swell to the fever pitch of murder. Now, it is decades later, and the nights have grown darker. It’s colder where I live, but that is not what chills me. It is the nagging feeling that some forgotten detail, even all these years, might snag a reader’s attention and the whole thing will be unraveled and revealed and someone will think to ask, not who the killer is, but who was the master planner behind it all? For ours was an after-story overfull of coincidences, mutual eyewitnesses, and oddities never proven true or false. It all assembles too well. Someone should have noticed.
So, here I sit, waiting. I am haunted by things far colder than the New Hampshire air, and I’m terrified of the dark. The other day, I confused and concerned my housemates by saying, “One day they will come for me.” They think me senile and indulge me by installing lights where I ask. With the darkness closing in now, I ask for a lot of light. It helps with my nerves. They are tortured, you see, the relentless, repeated sound only I seem to hear. Is it just the nightmare sound of a hatchet, rising and falling, over and over… a sound that will follow me to the grave. Or is it footsteps? Have they final come for me? That sound! Do you hear it? Tell me you hear it!
Ryk McIntyre has been a presence on the New England poetry scene for decades. He has two collections of poetry After Everything Burns (2013 Sargent Press) and The Man at the Door (2018 Broken Head Press). He is currently pursuing a degree, and a second life, in Theater. He currently works at a haunted house and occasionally talks to ghosts.
Artist Robin Young, based in Borrego Springs, California works in mixed media focusing mostly on collage and contemporary art making. Her focus on collage art using magazine clippings, masking tape, wallpaper, jewelry, feathers, foil etc. allows her to develop deep into the whimsical and intuitive.