My Dearest Jenny…

I finally jostled the drawer free that had been stuck since I bought the old place in Scranton. A letter underneath slid to the floor. There was no return address and the paper was yellowed with age. It was addressed to Miss Jenny Maguire, 23 McGivney Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania. There was no stamp. I sat down and opened it. My Dearest Jenny, I tell myself I won’t write you again. I tell myself I must forget. Every day seems harder than the last. If the nights and days were only ours…if I hadn’t ever loved you…if you hadn’t passed away before our wedding day. What remains of us I have hidden here in the attic. It may be that no one will ever know. Sleep, my Jenny, Jeremiah.

I’d never been to the attic. I’d had no need. But when I looked I saw an old chest and two wooden chairs. The chest held only a man’s clothes from a time I didn’t know. And there was a yellowed silk camisole with elaborate lace at the neckline. This couldn’t be what he meant by “hidden.” But there was a wide piece of wood nailed at an odd angle at the front end of the attic. I removed it as it seemed unnecessary, and there was a large leather-bound portfolio tacked on the underside. Inside the portfolio: Jenny.

She wore the camisole from the trunk. One shoulder was bare. Her long skirts touched the floor. Her clothing looked Victorian. She wore a cloth choker at her neck with a cameo. Her hair in an unkempt bun. Always looking down or away. Of the eight ink drawings, there was one in which she smiled. It is my favorite. Jeremiah had signed each page. I believe this was their courtship, to meet privately where he could draw her like this. I believe this was his heartache that he wanted someone to know.

I researched Jenny and discovered her engagement to a Jeremiah Johansson, a portrait artist who never married. Jenny Maguire died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-two in 1887.

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