A Mystery of Delmarva, Part Three

May 16, 2008, 11:00 am; posted by
Filed under Articles, Erin, Featured  | 2 Comments

Read part one of this short story here and part two here!

Marianne stood behind the kitchen door, having run in from whatever it was that had happened with Jaffey. She could still see his face — the gaping mouth gurgling out that tortured sound, eyes bulging with intensity, and yet the rest of his body so still and calm. The yard was silent now, and she couldn\’t bring herself to guess where her husband might be. A thousand questions raced through her mind before any of them could form completely, and she couldn\’t seem to catch any of them long enough to think. She eased herself onto the ground, fearing she might faint, not knowing what to do.

After a full ten minutes that might have been an hour or two, she realized that she was more scared of the silence than anything else. Jaffey hadn\’t made another sound, so she convinced herself to act in stages. First, standing to her feet wasn\’t such a big deal — if Jaffey was near, he could just as easily find her standing as crouching. Then, she moved to the window — no use ignoring what was going on. Seeing no one, she gazed out at the barn and the little field that melted off the yard, poor lightish soil from which nothing much liked to grow.

A voice near to her made her practically jump out of her skin. “Mama?” it said plaintively.

“Goodness me! You scared me, darling!” It was Anna, her youngest. Of course it was. She was always too perceptive for her own good, showing up at the strangest, most awkward, most troublesome parts of life.

“What\’s Papa singing?” The question came out of the blue and like a strong wind knocked Marianne off her feet.

“Singing? Ah…I don\’t…know the song,” was all that she could get out.


It was every little child\’s question for everything, but in the 10 or 15 seconds it took Anna to realize that Marianne was distracted and walk away, Marianne had asked it to herself a dozen times or more. Why, why, why? There didn\’t seem to be an answer anywhere.

Anna didn\’t care. She ambled away, her reedy voice lapsing into a hum. It took a few seconds to register with Marianne, but when she recognized the tune, she was astonished.

It was a strange aberration of the wail Jaffey had just uttered. And the fact that Anna — sweet, awkward, four year old Anna — was humming it . . . well, that was something, wasn\’t it?


Anna grew up and wrote down the tune, once, though she never really remembered where it had come from. Jaffey stuck to farming and raising his other animals, but never again did he buy a sheep or a goat, and the old woman never reappeared. Anna inherited the house in Delmarva, and most of this was forgotten.


Anna\’s daughter, Deborah, was cleaning out her mother\’s attic in Delmarva and came across the sheet music her mother had scribbled as a child. It was untitled and unremarkable, but like all good musicians she hummed a few bars. It appealed to her and she stuck it in her pocket.

She had offered to take the dog out for a walk a few days later and while doing so, she pulled the sheet music out and tried it once more. The ravine where she was walking was the same where the old woman had been and where Jaffey had gone to collect his thoughts after that last day of prayer, when Anna had asked her mother the unanswerable why. The melody escaped and echoed and twisted and contorted, turning back into what it had once been even after leaving the lips of the granddaughter of the man who had first given it voice. Deborah kept humming, stock-still.


And I, Erin Clark, stood stock-still years later, scared out of my wits, hearing what once was a prayer.


2 Comments to “A Mystery of Delmarva, Part Three”

  1. Chloe on May 18th, 2008 10:35 pm

    AH!!! I love it! I’m so glad you finished it!

  2. erin on May 19th, 2008 11:36 am

    gracias, roomie :)

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