In the book, Quoth the Raven, I presented my interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” in short story form. In “My Annabel” I explored the theme from the perspective of an ER doctor and his wife in the middle of a Pandemic outbreak. Little did I know the theme would become so real to us today.
I now present you with an excerpt from “My Annabel” below.
My Annabel by Emerian Rich
They blamed me, but I couldn’t stop it. Annabel was going to die from the moment she hugged that poor sick child and I knew it. She knew it too, but neither of us vocalized it. It was more of an exchanged look, a silent message as she smoothed back the hair of that poor homeless waif.
The virus had been loosed on a plane flying in from London, but the passengers didn’t start getting sick until they left the airport. By then, they’d had time to infect others. Patients streamed into the ER faster than we could care for them. The rules? Stay four to six feet away, use the protective gear, and make no contact. We followed the rules…except that once.
Just like an unexpected pregnancy from casual sex, it only takes once.
I can’t explain why Annabel picked up the child whose sneeze infected her, only that it could have just as easily been me. Perhaps it was the child’s pleading blue eyes, too young to know the severity of what her innocent-seeming cold meant, or maybe it was those cute, chubby cheeks covered with tears. Maybe it was because we’d talked of having such a child, of finally being ready to give ourselves up to parenting, of allowing our lives to be taken over by the mixture of joy and stress of being parents. Diapers, late-night feedings, no rest. After all, if two doctors couldn’t function without a little sleep, what good were we?
And so Annabel allowed herself to be infected because of a sudden lapse in judgment, an urgent wish to ease a little girls’ suffering. Who could fault her for that? No one. But they blamed me.
She’d waved me off when a few of the interns in hazmats swooped in to handle the girl. The interns washed Annabel, too. They worked quickly, shedding her of her clothes and wiping her down as I watched from the other side of the glass.
“She can be saved,” they murmured. No way the great Doctor Lee—one half of the greatest medical team ever known to the West Coast—could succumb to the virus as the result of simply embracing a defenseless young soul. We were brilliant surgeons, but our bodies were still human. The physical laws of biology and virus still applied.
By the time I’d been installed in a hazmat suit, my Annabel was naked and shivering, more from fever than cold. Unembarrassed by being on the patient side, where modesty was nothing compared to wellness, her teeth chattered as she fell into my white-shrouded arms. I embraced her, gripping the body I knew as well as my own, wishing I could smell her hair, wanting nothing more than to rip off my mask and succumb alongside my love. But when I moved to do so, she pleaded with me to protect myself, that it was she who made the mistake and she who must pay the price.
“You must live on,” she said. “You must live this life for us both.”
In those last hours as I held her on my lap—me in my hazmat, she in her hospital robe—Annabel reminded me of our life. Not the life we lived then— each trying to be strong for the other, trying to concentrate on the love not the loss—but our life before. When we moved to San Francisco fresh out of medical school, against her parents’ wishes, to be interns in a new city on the West Coast. She spoke of the little apartment we could barely afford. Of lovemaking between shifts, or on breaks, or whenever we could. In the car, in the on-call room, and sometimes in our own bed, exhausted but craving each other’s touch. She reminded me of those rare days off when we’d take a picnic to the park and roll in the grass, enjoying the sun on our pale, indoor skin or running along the beach letting the freezing water tingle our toes in the sand.
“We loved with a love that was more than a love,” she said, her weary, red-rimmed eyes looking up at me from her curled spot on my lap.
“That we did and will always, forevermore,” I replied.
After the light was gone from her eyes and her heart stopped for good, I held her still, willing my love to revive her. You’d think it would. For why would the heavens give us such a gift of love if not to make it powerful enough to bring back life?
To read more of My Annabel, download Quoth the Raven.
The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.
In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and Gothic horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.
Contains stories and poems by Aryan Bollinger, Brian Ellis, Chris Abela, Donea Lee Weaver, Edward Ahern, Emerian Rich, Frank Coffman, Gregory J. Wolos, Hugh J.O’Donnell, John Kiste, Kara Race-Moore, Karen Robiscoe, Kenneth C. Goldman, Lauryn Christopher, Lawrence Berry, Matthew M. Montelione, Melanie Cossey, Penelope Paling, R.C. Scandalis, Sarah Murtagh, Scott Wheelock, Sidney Williams, Sonora Taylor, Stephanie L. Harper, Steven R. Southard, Susan McCauley, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Tonia Kalouria, and Vicki Weisfeld.