In 1923, the despondent would-be novelist StephenFlannery walked into the Hudson River just outside thesmall town of Tivoli, New York. Along with pocketsfilled with stones and a heavy overcoat, he wore amilitary knapsack containing three unpublishedmanuscripts. A suicide note was also tucked into thesack, though by the time Flannery's body was dredgedfrom the tides the letter was illegible. At the timeof Flannery's suicide, his newlywed wife Rose wasdrowsing after a heavy luncheon and cheap bottle ofburgundy. The two had gone for a June picnic along theriverbank at a grassy slope known to locals asClaverack Landing. Stephen was 26 years old at thetime of his death, Rose 22.
The funeral was a nightmare. Stephen's ferocious Irishfamily-a clan he'd very much tried to disassociatehimself from first by joining the Marine Corps andthen by writing provocative novels-blamed Rose fortheir son's tragic death. The grandmother said Rose'slaziness was the culprit while Stephen's brothers eyedher with salacious scorn during the entirety of theceremony. While Rose understood that her in-laws werea bunch of louts, nevertheless, she couldn't help butgo to pieces. She was far too angry and desolate torespond to their taunts with anything but tears. Thatshe only had a widowed, mousy aunt named Martha on herside of the family didn't help. She was alone. As theparish priest concluded the graveside reading, Roserealized she had nowhere to go in the world and nointerest in going there even if she did. She wouldhave joined her husband in the river but the slimyeels that inhabited the shallow waters terrified her.And with that she decided to lie upon Stephen's gravefor the remainder of her life.
At first no one quite knew what to do. Everyone intown was aware that the Flannery girl had campedbeside her husband's grave in the dank, nearly emptycorner of the cemetery reserved for suicides but whatcould they say? For the first few days Tivoli figuredRose was out of her head with grief and would sooncome to her senses. But the season was June, the airdelirious with fireflies and late sunshine, and uponStephen's grave the girl stayed. All she requestedwere Stephen's belongings from the Great War. AuntMartha delivered a small pup tent, a canteen, severalchintzy pots and a bag for sleeping. With those plus asatchel of her own toiletries and a few spare clothes,Rose was quite comfortable. Martha, a modestlywell-off shopkeeper in Tivoli, brought Rose breads andcheeses and tins of sausage and produce from thegarden. During the days Rose lazed about and chattedwith Stephen, telling him how sad she was and what anass he'd been to kill himself, and in the evenings shewatched the fireflies until she slept. In general Roseslept about 14 hours a day but she didn't care just solong as she was close to her beloved. The onlydisturbances in her existence were visits from herin-laws, who came to the graveyard on Sundays toberate her loudly, though they kept their distancefrom the madwoman. The distance wasn't enough, though,once Rose decided she'd had enough of being called abitch and worse by shanty lowlifes. Rose spent anevening stockpiling heavy, palm-sized rocks, and thenext Sunday she flung them at the Flannerys until theywere driven off bleeding and cursing and weeping.Never again would any Flannery come to Stephen'sgrave.
The summer wore on. The town considered having Roseforcibly removed and brought to an asylum forinsomniacs, liars, and deranged women but other widowsin Tivoli rose to Rose's cause. A fund was taken up,Rose sold her and Stephen's small house in town, andthe area immediately around the gravesite waspurchased for a somewhat extortionate price. A smalliron fence was erected around the plot, a sign washung declaring the land Flannery's End, and Martha andRose celebrated the sale with the other Tivoli widowson the 4th of July, watching the fireworks burst overthe river as they drank bootlegged champagne and atemolasses cookies. The next morning Rose threw uprepeatedly and knew it wasn't just the aftereffects ofthe champagne and cookies, but that she was pregnant.Resting her tired head against Stephen's gravestone,she told her dead husband the good news. She knewshe'd have to make improvements to Flannery's End inorder to make it suitable for an infant but thatdidn't matter at the moment; all that mattered wasthat she was to become the mother of Stephen's child.
The improvements to Flannery's End went well, as didRose's pregnancy. Rose still had some monies leftoverfrom the sale of the cottage and she had a small brickhouse built right next to Stephen's marker. She'doriginally planned on including the grave within thehouse but memories of how much Stephen loved greengrass after his hellish time spent in the trenchespersuaded her against the idea. A polite mason namedKlaus built the little house: 2 rooms, one for Roseand the baby to sleep in and the other for cooking andeating at the ingeniously compact hearth. The nightthe house was finished, after Klaus-a shy bachelororiginally from Rhinebeck-drew his initials in thechimney mortar with a trowel, Rose welcomed him insideand thanked him by making love. A passionate girl tobegin with, for why else would she have married aRomantic like Stephen, she dearly missed sex. Besides,the house was the nicest thing anyone had ever donefor her, far nicer than walking into the river to diebecause of potty-mouthed manuscripts, that was forsure. The season was mid-September and the leavesalong the graveyard were becoming yellow and orange,replacing the fireflies of summertime. Rose was closeto four months pregnant.
Fall stretched into the holidays. The jack-o-lanternin front of the door was replaced with a wreath. Atmidnight of Christmas Eve, Rose waddled out toStephen's grave, hung a sprig of mistletoe there andkissed the cold stone. The next day Martha and shecelebrated the holiday quietly. A little red stockingfor the child hung from the little mantle. The dayafter that the widows of Tivoli again came to pay Rosea visit, bearing many gifts for the child. Rose criedat their generosity, the widows cried also, and Marthamade everyone, Rose included, sip a bit of champagnesimply for the love in it. Together they looked outthe lone window towards Stephen's grave and wishedupon the first star of the night.
The child was born on the Ides of March as crocusblossomed around Stephen's headstone. Rose had plannedon a confinement with Martha alone but numerousconversations with her aunt and other visitorsconvinced her that a doctor might be a good idea. Itwas the first time he'd ever made a house call to acemetery, Dr. Jenkins joked as he ducked into thesmall cottage. Rose strained and screamed, Martha heldher hand and washed her face, and Dr. Jenkins cajoledthe birth along as best he could. From start to finishthe birth took 9 hours and the result was a healthygreen-eyed son named Stephen Klaus Flannery. Rosesurvived the ordeal intact, and Jenkins and Marthashared a sip of strong whiskey in gratitude as Roseoffered the boy a breast before the lone window,telling the child his father was very proud of themboth.
Stephen Klaus grew up a strong, intelligent childafraid of rivers and the written word. He never caredthat most of Tivoli considered his mother a madwoman,and by the time he reached his teens few noticedanyway. The only problems he ever had were from hisFlannery cousins when they tried to ambush him andbeat him up while walking home from school. A fewwell-thrown rocks soon solved that, though, and heleft the wretches bleeding in the dust. Stephen grewup to become mason and built many houses but hismother refused to leave her cottage at the edge of thegraveyard. She told her dead husband all about theirson and his successes in Tivoli and beyond.Occasionally a desperate newspaperman would come bythe cottage looking to interview the madwoman and Rosealways complied, though the journalists soon realizedthere was nothing insane about Rose whatsoever andwent away brooding on what seemed like a wastedafternoon. Stephen Klaus was maybe the only one whorealized his mother's sanity was exactly what was sointeresting about the situation but he refused tocompose so much as a single sentence. He well knewwhat had happened to his father when he tried to putpen to paper and the son resolved never to tread thatpath.
Rose lived until she was 73 years old. Never onceafter the day of her husband's funeral did she departfrom the vicinity of Stephen's resting place. Notonce, that is, until the day of her own death. Feelingcranky, arthritic and permanently out-of-sorts, shelooked one last time through the photo albumcontaining pictures of all the houses her son had everbuilt. She cried and cried seeing all those lovelyhomes, one after the other. Then she took a sip ofstrong whiskey in gratitude, filled her pockets withrocks, and slowly walked down to the river. It wasJune and the weather sunshiny and warm. She feltdrowsy and full, as though she'd just woken from along nap. With a grease pencil, for she had learnedfrom her husband's mistake, she wrote a short note,folded it within a plastic sandwich bag within herthick overcoat, and walked into the river. The policefound the note shortly after pulling her body from thetides. The letter said, "I'm still very afraid of eelsbut it's time I finally got over that." Only her sonunderstood what the note meant but he kept the meaninga secret. To this day the fence and cottage stand inthe Tivoli graveyard but no one has any idea whatthose are either. All they see is a lone and tiltedheadstone surrounded by lush grass next to a tinyhouse and a sign saying Flannery's End and theymistakenly believe the cottage a mausoleum, but it isnot nor was it ever any such thing. But even ifvisitors are informed of the plot's history-- that itwas an often-thankless construct inhabited byimmensities of love and grief-- they still usuallymutter under their breath, "It sure looks like a graveto me."
About the author:
Tobias Seamon's first novel The Magician's Study was recently published by Turtle Point Press. A contributing writer with the online magazine The Morning News, he lives with his wife in upstate New York.