Of Marcus & Immanuel

The following is a collection of letters found in the year 1896 among the personal effects of one Marcus Smith formerly of the SS Carrion of the United States of America:

Immanuel, my dearest friend,                                                                          3rd of February 1894

            I cannot tell you how many hours I debated sending this correspondence. I am fearful that it has been much too long since our parting. For decades I convinced myself that you had forsaken me. My self-decided isolation was my retribution for abandoning you after the war. In truth, I hope you believed me dead; that would be easier than facing the truth of my cowardice. However, I am compelled to expose myself to you at last as the man who ran yet returns contrite. Thus, I have arrived at my current state: convinced that this will be sent in vain. I fear I have injured you deeply and that this letter will remain unanswered, if opened at all.

            Forgive my rambles, old friend, I digress from what I resolved myself to say. As you well know, I embarked with a crew out of Cape May after our years were served. I could not, very well, stay in New Windsor and risk recognition once those farther south claimed their liberty up north. Since my boarding, our vessel has sailed to every port, both friendly and bitter, from Canada to the Islands. How I wish to share these travels! There is no better means of experience than living this life, but maybe—if you find it in your heart to forgive my distance—I can write to you of my journeys and we can see the world through each other’s eyes once more.

            In hopes of not exacerbating your patience should you hold bitter towards me still, I will share with you just one tale of my time at sea. Two days prior this, we arrived at a port around the southern bend of Florida—Key West, I believe, though we do not often stay long enough to know the area well. There, upon the shores I once dreaded so, we came across the horror of rotting dead. You know as well as I the stench of them and the wretched sight of hollow eyes; yet, I have never seen a Hell quite like this. In truth, I find my hand trembling in a shameful way, the memory of it giving me pause; still, write I shall, for if I cannot talk to someone of this, I fear I will go mad. Even after all this time—by the Lord’s count it will have been nigh on thirty years, I am ashamed to say—you, my dearest Immanuel, are the only one I can talk to of such things as…well, such things as this and as myself. You will soon understand.

            Upon reaching port in Key West, my shipmates and I had no sooner stepped foot on the pier than smelled the reek of death. Though birds are no uncommon sight upon the shores, I realized the shadows that darkened the docks were of no common gulls. Vultures and other manner of unholy scavenger circled the sky, screaming for blood. Curiosity was nearly the death of me, my friend, for my wandering eye searched instinctively for the stench and did find it presently; piles of dead were rotting in the foam of the waves. It was my uniquely acute horror to find that many of the white devils of the South have refused to free their slaves, even after our great army defeated their rebellion, and had slaughtered them en mass on shore. I nearly drank myself to death that day—would that I had—and I owe thanks to our captain for leaving before the sun’s rise that next morning.

            Have you ever spoken to a born slave? The tales they tell well surpass any horrors you or I have seen. I shudder to think that I may have befallen a similar fate were it not for this complexion of mine and the discretion of many. There is no purer example of wickedness than man, I assure you. It would seem that many a slave owner here in the depths of the rebellion took to corralling their victims under a single roof and slaughtering them like diseased cattle. I must vouch for the honor of my shipmates, for truly their horror was near equal to my own; still, surely you must now understand why this has affected me so.

            I fear without a friendly word I will never get the haze of those deaths from suffocating my sleep. I feel like a child for letting myself believe our fight had ended. I am as helpless as a child, too, and know not where to turn; so, I turn to you, my friend. Your camaraderie is my last hope. I will pray every day from now until I receive your reply—even if I pray until my body is set deep within the earth—that you have not forsaken me on grounds of my hurried departure and prolonged absence. I make no excuse to you, other than my fear of the future and of my own heart. I hope only that this is enough. I am sorry Immanuel, my dearest companion. I never wished to abandon you. I do not deserve your response, though I beg it from you now. I am sorry, Immanuel. I am sorry. My vessel, the SS Carrion, is bound for the Port of Charleston presently. I pray for your response to await me there.

Desperately Yours,

Marcus Smith


Marcus,                                                                                                           21st of March 1894

            Though I fare better with work than words, I doubt even W.C. Bryant could rightly tell you of my joy upon receiving your letter or of my pain at its contents. Would that I could see you and offer some sort of commiseration worth more than this scrap of paper; still, I do hope that it suffices as you say.

            Before I continue, you should know that I do not accept your apology regarding the silence that has trespassed between us. Any reason I may have for resentment is overshadowed by my own guilt. Even had I known which port to reach you, I doubt I would have written for the same fear of dismissal you express. The only time I felt obliged to write was to send an invitation not long after the guns had silenced. It was returned to me, unopened, from a new resident at your former homestead. It would wear on my conscious not to tell you of its contents now; upon my return to New Windsor, I found Ms. Anna Preston—you remember my mention of her?—still waiting. You must understand; coming back after years of fighting against the Rebels, there was no warm welcome here, nothing but ire south of the Mason-Dixon.

            I married her, Marcus. In that old church my father helped to build. It has closed now. There are talks of demolishing it. I cannot say I would be sorry to see it go.

            I had no desire to add unwelcome news to this letter when you came to me wanting comfort. I just thought you should know. For the horrors you have witnessed, I fear I have no way to help you. My dearest friend, I understand how you feel as best I can and, should your feet find land once more, know that my door is always open. Anna would be glad to meet you. I have told her as much as I could of our time on the battlefield. Marcus, I am sorry for what you saw on those shores. I hope to hear from you again under better circumstances.

Yours,

Immanuel Meyer


Dearest Immanuel,                                                                                          30th of May 1894

            Seeing the messenger approach during our second day at port was more than I could have asked. Know that your response, your solidarity, helped. Congratulations to you and Anna, too. I hope that you both are happy, I truly do; though, I must admit, the news came as a surprise. It has reminded me of the reasons—well, one of the reasons, at least—why I chose the life of a sailor. No one expects you to have a family when you spend your days out at sea. No one expects much, which is both a blessing and a curse. We could sail off the edge of the earth and no one would ever know. Sometimes I wish we would, instead of stopping every few weeks at a different port. To keep sailing into the raging waves—at least then I would never need to face such Hell as we humans create.

            I digress; you asked for better circumstances and I refuse to darken this page with the clouds of my mind. Speaking of, we sailed through a storm a few nights back. The waves were fearful, truly, but the clouds! I swear I had not seen such formidable plumes since that day at the Charge. It seemed at any second the Rebel army would emerge from the salt and storm the vessel. Frightful, shaking, but beautiful. It was beautiful—that was what I intended to say. It made me think of that day, yes, but it also made me think of you. I wish you could have seen it.

            Really Immanuel, I think you would love the sea. Every day is a new challenge and the crew is mad so you would never be short on entertainment. Just like old times! Surely more interesting than the hens and cattle you keep; though, I must admit, some of these scoundrels can be swine. You should come meet me next time we land in Cape May! If I know you, then you must be keeping poor Anna stuck on that farm; surely, she would love to see the sea and I—well, I would give anything to see a familiar face. Yours, in particular. What do you say, old friend? I will tell you next time we make for New Jersey and you can deliver your letter in person. Who knows? Maybe the seas will call to you, too. You would never have to return to New Windsor. Would you want that? No, forgive me. Truly, I speak too far.

            I am compelled to admit: it was not just the horror at the port that bade me write to you. Ever since the war, I find myself bemoaning all those near-miss bullets. A life on the sea, a life pretending, a life with nothing—what about our comrades? What about all the men who had honest lives to which they could never return? The only reason I keep living is because it feels wrong not to. Because I know that it would be unfair to those who will never again see the sun rise. I was hoping—and I hope this will not sound as foolish as I fear it does—that talking to you might help. I am not yet sure how, or with what, but I think it has. I hope it has.

            We leave Charleston today. Transporting prisoners back north; I still cannot believe there are those who persist. Can you? I hate having to face them. Seeing them broken like that…I hate that I enjoy it. That sounds foolish, I am sure. After all, you and I, we went through an early Hell, but this is what insists on tormenting me? Foolish, I know. I am sorry, I guess I let you down on the “better circumstances” again, did I not? Tell me about the farm, will you? I always have wanted to see it.

Bound for New York Harbor,

Marcus Smith


Marcus,                                                                                                           4th of July 1894

            I had forgotten of your persistency with questions; forgive me if I fail to answer them all.

            In regard to your invitation: I will ask Anna. Though, I must admit, I am fearful she will say yes. There is nothing stronger than my wish to see you; however, such a meeting feels to me a mockery of her and a betrayal of you. We both know I am already Damned but the last thing I want is to cause either of you pain. Still, I am selfish. I will ask.

            As to the idea of me and the sea, well, reading those words brought a smile to my aged face; though, I must chide you for asking such a thing. I could never leave the farm or abandon Anna, you know that as well as I. Each day that has passed since my discharge—even the days that stretch now, almost thirty years later—has worsened the abhorrence I feel for this place I once loved as home. There is no excuse for the Rebels of this town. There are also no grounds for the shouts of “murderer” and condemnation I face for my time with the Union. These people, they blame me for their children’s deaths; however, I cannot remember ever having faced a familiar eye on the bloody fields. Still, I do remember all those we—I—faced and they were someone’s family. In a way, I guess, it is because of those accusations that I cannot leave. I pray you understand.

            Since you called me to visit the sea, I implore you to come to our farm one day; though, I know the request will likely be left unfulfilled. You know, Marcus, that I will never be able to describe our life to you in any sort of sufficient manner. I will say, however, that our land was blessedly untouched by the battles. Yet, with my bones grown old, I found myself unable to work the acres as I used to. Anna and I made the decision to sell off most of the land. We have adequate provisions to live off of—harvesting this small lot has been taxing enough. Though, truth be told, no one in town would have purchased crops from me anyway; so, it was truly for the best. The animals—which serve more entertainment than you may believe—we kept. Hens, goats, cattle, hogs, the lot of them. Their upkeep is wearing on the funds, but Anna has not fared well with the isolation and I refuse to deny her their company when she has no other.

            Today we were meant to go into town for the festivities but Anna insisted we stay and celebrate on our own. I believe it hurts her to face them; so, I obliged, of course. We made a feast of one of the hogs. Though I was sorry to slaughter it, we no longer have the money to purchase from the butcher. Anna hates that, I know. She never had the stomach for it. When I killed the beast…well, I no longer believe that I have the stomach for it, either. A sad realization for an old farmer, I dare say. Anyway, I hope you have a fine night of celebration. I heard New York would be having fireworks; are you able to see them from off shore? I never was a fan of the things— too sharp on the ears; still, from a distance over the sea…that would be a sight, I am sure.

            I fear that I have been away from Anna too long; I must go. She finds it amusing I have spent this time writing you. Other than the bookkeeping that needs done, I have not written a line since the war. Can you imagine? Not a soul to talk to—at least none I knew how to reach—and now here we are. Anna is convinced that you have turned some kind of witchcraft against me. I wonder what she thinks, but pondering never was my strength. I ask you: Marcus, will you stay on that boat forever? You and I—we were two of a kind, but it seems you chose the journey while I remain trapped in this destination. Maybe a change would do us both good. I often doubt the choice is ours to make.

Yours,

Immanuel Meyer


Dearest Immanuel,                                                                                          6th of August 1894

            The SS Carrion makes for Cape May! We will arrive at the start of the second week of September and I ask again—no, I beg you—come see me there. I know the journey is not an easy one, but I swear to show you, and Anna of course, a marvelous time! What do you say? Can I expect you? I know it is foolish to ask; the answer will be to see you standing upon that shore or not. This suspense will be the death of me!

            I have much I wish to tell you of our recent stay in New York! Would that you not blame me if I wait to tell you in person; call it the pride of an optimist. Should you send word that you cannot, then I will write but believe you me I will be much sadder for it. Out of courtesy, however, I will answer your questions, for they are few and I am not yet so cruel. I fear I must disappoint you. We were docked within sight of the fireworks that eve, but I share your distaste of the things; I spent that night tucked in a bottle below deck. As to you not picking up the pen for near on thirty years, I can believe that, truly! Have you forgotten how long I have known you? Clearly, I think, since you seem to doubt my stubbornness. I have no plans to leave this ship—this “journey” as you call it—for the plainest reason in the world: I have nowhere else to go.

            Save a brief pause to spend a day or two with you and Anna in Cape May. I know you would never leave me waiting, old friend, surely!

Until then,

Marcus Smith


Dearest Immanuel,                                                                              20th of December 1894

            I am sorry that it has taken me so long to write since I last saw you at the Cape. Call me a liar but I was overcome with relief when I saw you standing at the docks; though, I knew you would not abandon me! How old you are! I hope you take no offense to that for I have never seen a man age so well; still, I would recognize you should you survive to a hundred and three—and I pray you do.

            To be fair, I owe you at least an explanation for my silence. It was lovely seeing you and Anna, it was; however, I hope you understand when I say that I was not prepared. The moment I saw you together my heart broke and the riven pieces soared. After you departed, I found myself unable to face the banality of everything—even the sea—thus I left. I do not remember much about my time after our parting. I’ve been confined to peeling duty since the Captain found me drunk and rambling about exploding hogs—you will undoubtedly find that amusing—at the next port over.

            Yet, I regret that divergence. We have lost too many years because of my foolishness and I will not risk the time we have now. I am at a loss for what to say, but I needed to explain and I wanted to wish you and yours a Blessed Christmas. I hope to hear from you if it has not been too long.

Bound for Norfolk,

Marcus Smith


Marcus,                                                                                                           7th of January 1895

            You need provide no explanation for me. No apology. I simply wish my fears had not been confirmed. This winter has been hard—harder without word from you. Anna, I fret, took some notion from our visit. She has been distant and upon our return fell ill. Marcus, you know I would give my life for you but to put her health in jeopardy…

            It is a sin I am not ready to commit.

            I am torn, Marcus. I know not whether to write to you and ease my heart or maintain my duty as husband and ease my mind. I know what would appease Our Lord and I fear I no longer care. I will not waste this page or your time with my indecision, just know that I will count the moments awaiting your response and I will pray that it never comes.

Yours,

Immanuel Meyer


Dearest Immanuel,                                                                                          5th of February 1895

            No one can understand the depths of your words as much as I. Know that I will never begrudge you them. I will continue to write to you—the act is selfish on my part, having someone to talk to has helped more than I could imagine—but if you choose not to respond, know I will hold no ill will towards you for it.

            If you would indulge me, however, I should like to tell you about my shipmates; I believe talk of them provides some respite. They are rabble, the lot of them, but they are the finest of men. They never seem to care, never seem to change, no matter how many chances they are given. You see, the more time I spend on this ship the more I believe that this is a destination—to play along with your sentimentality—one where people know but do not speak. One where it would never matter your true colors or where your heart lies.

            I understand your dilemma, my beloved friend, but I must implore you. Join me. If something were to happen to Anna—Lord forbid it and forgive my hand for writing those words—or if something should come between you, then I believe you could find a home here, with me, among the rabble of the world. I believe you would find some semblance of peace, as I have. Please forgive me. Please come.

Bound for Savannah,

Marcus Smith


Dear Mr. Smith,                                                                                              17th of June 1895

            It is with a heavy heart that I write to you; yet, knowing how close you and my dear husband were, I knew I could not leave you with nothing. Immanuel passed on the Twenty-Fifth of April sometime in the night. There was a bout of the fever in town and we both were ill. He did not pull through. I am sorry for your loss. He had no better friend.

            I apologize for not notifying you sooner, but I had no means with which to reach you. When I found the strength to go through his belongings, I found a letter—addressed and unsealed—to you. I read only enough to know to whom and where it should be sent. I have forwarded my husband’s letter and those that you had sent him. He kept them all and he read them often.

            I want you to know that I loved my husband. Through everything, even after he was changed by the war. I believe he loved me, in his way, but I know that he loved you, as well. I am glad that you two could connect once more. Know that I thank God for the pleasure of meeting you and that I thank you for bringing a smile to my dear Immanuel’s face. If there is anything I can do, please write.

My Sincerest Condolences,

Anna Preston Meyer


Beloved Marcus,                                                                                             10th of March 1895

            Your wish pains me more than I can say—in part because I share it. There is nothing left for me here but Anna. I have resolved to speak with her. It may be the end of me, but I owe her that, at least. I have postponed this journey long enough; I feel it time to embark at last.

Truly Yours,

Immanuel Meyer


Sarah Edmonds is a queer author and filmmaker whose films have screened at Barebones Film Festival, Global Shorts Film Festival, and FlickFair Film Festival. She has fiction in Wolfsinger Publication’s Us/Them Anthology, Whiskey(tit) Journal, Dead Skunk Magazine, and Vagabonds Vol. 10; poetry in Backchannels Literary Journal; non-fiction in the West Trade Review; and upcoming work in Ethel Zine and Decoded Pride. She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of For Page & Screen Magazine.