Our Sign of Parting

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Suddenly, everything became blurry and dark. When he awoke, the Raven, having left its perch above the bust of Pallas, had settled on his chest.

“This is a curious place to take a nap,” the Raven remarked.

He was not entirely sure he had heard the Raven right. Perhaps his other senses had abandoned him, so lost in grief and shipwrecked by ---

“I said,” spoke the Raven, “this is an unusual place to rest. Why are you here, supine on the floor, sir?”

Regaining his senses, he rose quickly to his feet, finding his footing and displacing the Raven from his chest. The Raven, annoyed at having been so unceremoniously removed from his rest, flit to a new landing, settling on the back of the plush armchair by the fire.

“Bird of evil, get away from me and quit this place at once,” he shrieked, wiping down his vest. “Leave me to my grief and solitude, creature of the dark!”

The Raven was silent for a moment.

“You are,” it spoke after some length, “without a doubt the rudest little man I’ve ever suffered to perch upon.”

The shock of the insult left the poet spellbound. “I merely sought refuge from a storm,” the Raven continued, “and this is your hospitality: to snap at me and mock me and show disdain for every feather of my being. Never have I been treated thus.”

The poet could see the Raven was quite serious in his hurt. “Please forgive me; I cannot abide rudeness in others, and I suffer in seeing that I have inflicted it upon you.”

The poet paused as he tried to find the words. "I have not--” and here, a glance at the portrait above the mantel -- "I have been alone for quite some time.”

“Ah yes,” the Raven said, turning to admire the portrait of the lady the poet was looking at with sublime loss and longing. “This must be your lost Lenore.”

“Was. She was my Lenore.”

“She is beautiful.”

“Yes. A fair and radiant maiden.”

“And this maiden...chose you?” the Raven teased.

The poet overlooked the remark. “She chose me. And I would have spent the rest of my days trying to be worthy of her love. Instead...”

“Instead she died?”

The poet was quiet, the silence unfurling itself like a dark cloud upon the floor. “I could not save her,” he softly uttered.

The Raven hopped back and forth on its claws, glancing back at the portrait and then the man weeping to himself, then back to the portrait.

After some length, he spoke again: “Forgive me, but you have not answered my question. What were you doing lying on the floor?”

“I was...I am consumed. By grief. By my longing. And then you arrived, some dark token of the abyss. And you, ebon bird, you lanced my heart with your dark omens and --”

“What nonsense!” interrupted the Raven. “I am a bird. A bird. I have feathers that are dark and I have eyes that are black, but that is all. I am a bird. I fly. Today, I had occasion to fly to your bedroom, and I have regretted the decision ever since. Had I known that the man I’d flutter into was possessed with a feverous need for self-flagellation, I would have happily let myself be drowned in the tempest.”

“I...I do not understand.”

“Oh, you fool. Your grief -- who asks it of you? This hopeless grief of yours -- you rack yourself with it and here it leaves you, collapsing on the floor at the entrance of a perfectly harmless bird! A bird! Would your Lenore have had you suffer thus?”

“She was my--”

“A bird! A tiny, black-feathered bird!”

With that, the Raven took to flight, fluttering to the window. “And now, if you please, I shall take my leave of you, you sad little man.”

The poet shuffled to the window, entirely lost. He opened the latch and pulled the pane back, letting the wind and rain in. The Raven made to leave.

“Wait,” the poet cried.

The Raven paused.

“I...do not know who I am without her.”

The Raven turned, taking him in. “You are the same person as before, only more so. Loss does not diminish us.”

The poet was silent.

“And now, I must go. Goodbye, sad little man. I hope never to see you again.”

With that, the Raven departed, nevermore to return.