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The Love Story of Whitman and Dickinson
The lighting in the library on that particular Sunday evening was dim; it was desolate, devoid of any life or sound or even a librarian behind the counter. The silence was broken only by the light, muffled footsteps of the dark-haired and tired-eyed girl making her way down each isle. She was not out of place here; this was her most natural habitat – silent solitude, surrounded with thousands of mysteries waiting to be delved into. She paused in the poetry section and tilted her head thoughtfully to read the title of a book by an author whose name she did not recognize, and she decided that this was exactly what she was looking for. She pulled the book off the shelf only to realize that she was not in her most natural habitat, after all. She quickly shoved the book back into its place, concealing the piercing blue eye she had unveiled, and she began to make her way to the exit. Her quickened pace was not enough to reach the doorway before the owner of the eye, who now stood with his face inches before hers.
“I didn't mean to frighten you, good lady. I can't seem to help my loitering...I am not a bit tamed.”
She could detect the stench of vodka in his breath.
“You haven't frightened me.” She tried to push past him, but he would not step aside.
“Would you not even care to ask my name?”
Seeing no hope in struggling against the man, she complies. “Who are you, sir?”
“I am everyone and everything. I am an old artillerist, I am the clock on the wall, I am the man, I suffer'd, I was there!” He held before her an anthology, pointing to the name 'Walt Whitman' written across the cover. “I am him!”
She raised an eyebrow. “So you are the great Whitman?”
“Thirty-seven years old in perfect health.”
He held her by the hand and pulled her to a seating area in the corner, which he had scattered with his own poetry and news articles and short stories. She looked down at them and winced.
“Success is counted sweetest, after all, by those who never succeed,” she muttered underneath her breath.
“What was that?”
There was a pause. She began, “Wh-”
“Oh, you need not even ask! I will tell you everything you desire to know and become. I celebrate myself, and sing myself!”
And with that, he rambled on about his successes – his beginnings as a journalist, the pride that caused him to withdraw from his newspaper firms, his achievements as a poet and a hounded slave and large-hearted hero. . .
“Sir,” she interrupted, “you haven't yet told me who you are.”
He was baffled. “What?”
“Well, you can comprehend a nectar, you've made clear. Is that much true?” (Dickinson 558)
“Why...why of course! I can comprehend and swallow it, and it tastes good, and it becomes mine-”
“Then you must also be defeated – dying.”
As her words penetrated him, his lips pursed together and his eyes remained cold and fixed. After a moment, he was deduced to loud sobs, spilling his tears on the shoulder of the frail woman's deep blue frock.
“Oh, perspicacious woman! Reader of the soul! Agonies are one of my changes of garments!”
With that, he began to spill his tale – his beginnings in a disfigured household, his suffering mother, the depression he acquired from the war –
“Stop!” The lady interrupted once more, this time urgently. She stood up, squinting her eyes.
“What? What's the matter?”
“The Truth's superb surprise!”
“Was it something I said--?”
“It was how you said it.” She shielded her eyes from the dim rays of the lightbulb above her. “The Truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind--” She started towards the exit once more.
“No! Please, let me try once more!” He clung to her ankle.
“Let me go!” She yelped, shaking him off.
“Do not treat me like I am mad! I am not mad! I have done no wrong!”
“Of course you are not mad. You can succumb to alcoholism and pull aside strangers and cling on to them, but you will still be sane. You assent – and you are sane. But I – I demur, so clearly, I am dangerous...” She walked decisively out of the door, not looking back.
“You will not rid of me, good lady! Look for me under your boot soles! I filter and fiber your blood!”
“No, Mr Whitman. The soul selects her own society.”
He never heard her voice again.
New City, New York
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