Sunday, August 13, 2006

Short Story: A Darker Lingering Voice

On the small rough-hewn oaken table, the tiny flame flickered effortlessly. The single glowing light cast disproportionately long dim shadows on the adjacent walls, each swaying to the fanciful whims of the waxy little sprite. The tiny light barely illuminated the textured leather cover of the treasured family bible that rested prominently aside the candle near the table’s center. The cool April air that fluttered the candle’s flame slipped under the slightly opened window and provided an excuse for the chill that the quilted blanket could not allay. Restlessly shifting his weight, he felt his feet move against the sheets as he tried to find comfort without disturbing his sleeping young wife. The fresh breeze whose budding spring fragrance eased away the winter’s musty air did little to sooth his fretful thoughts.

News of the fall of Fort Sumter had come a week past. He and his wife knew that with this dangerous line crossed, fate now dangled before him an inescapable dilemma, one he had discussed with his family. A practical, well-respected man, his father spoke earnestly of honor and the obligation to fight for one’s country. As much as he wished to obey this man’s wishes and remain in the warm light of his father’s pride, he knew of the terrible possibilities that war would hold. His mother felt likewise. The memory of his mother’s words pulled his thoughts to her beloved brother Stephen. He had fought in the Mexican War two decades past, yet the scars of glory won still burned at his soul. Stephen strode off to war on two strong legs, filled with a rousing patriotism and eagerness to prove himself worthy of the old flag. He came home victorious, but lost more than just the lower half of a formerly sturdy leg.

Shaking those thoughts away, he instead gazed at the flickering light that danced across the cover of the family bible. Just inside its familiar worn cover, a sturdy tree held the names of family members long since gone with a line drawn just above the generation who first laid foot on this untamed land. The margins proudly bore several scribbled notations of those who fought in the Revolution, their actions allowing for the formation of the country he loved; the country now apparently destined to tear itself apart. He wondered of his debt to them. Because his ancestors faced the horror of war, he and his family could enjoy the liberties of this young vibrant country. Uncle Stephen’s painful sacrifices purchased for him the chance to raise a family in this beautiful land.

Although looking away from her, he took reassurance from the gentle breathing that spoke to him of his wife’s presence. He thought of their recent wedding and the promises made to each other before the altar of God. What did he owe her? She eagerly anticipated a future filled with many healthy children and spoke with gratified satisfaction of his ambition to provide for them. He had the chance to take over his father’s business should he continue to prove himself the hard worker his father raised him to be. They had a bright future ahead of them, or so he had thought. Now, the decision he must make stood ominously at a fork in the once straight road that had lead directly to their happiness.

A slight anger rose within him as he thought of the brewing conflict. He had no part in creating this. He cared not how the country answered the Negro question that had widened the now unbridgeable chasm between the Northern and Southern States. He alone would work for his family’s future. The sweat of his brow and the strength of his back would bring his young family the security and stability that would allow for the many children his wife wanted and the joyful years he had known awaited them. Yet now he wondered what manner of country would remain after the bitter smoke of battle cleared. The older men in town thump their chests and take their turns swearing that we will win what they insist will be a short, decisive war. They boast of the certain valor of those who, in front of their aging eyes, have grown from playful lads into strong young men. Such men could never fail to gain success when put to the great tasks of defending their honor and protecting their homes and firesides. They spoke of their own wishes to once again embrace youth so they too could shoulder arms and gain the soldierly laurels of glorious battle.

But a darker lingering voice taunted him with another reality. His mother had spoken mournfully of Uncle Stephen’s suffering and his struggles to survive the brutal amputation that severed his shattered left leg below the knee and cost him his sense of self-worth. His intemperate manner, so much in contrast to the warmth of his younger self, had consumed him. He would have no man help him support his family, not even those who loved him. Uncle Stephen’s family often went hungry as they ate primarily from the fruit of the small parcel of land he could till. He drove away many who would have offered help gladly, too proud to let them see his anguish, his pain, his inextinguishable sorrow.

Again trying to keep such thoughts at bay, his eyes focused on the leather cover on the table. What would God desire of him? What did He command? Both sides claimed God’s protection and the advantage of His holy sword. He suspected God would remain distant for a while and, like a wise Father, let the siblings grow tired of the fight to eventually after much acrimony find their own peace.

Rising slightly and leaning forward, he gave a short puff, allowing sudden darkness to envelop the entire room. The intermittent April breeze washed silently over their bed. He wished his mind could go blank, as had the now lightless room. Rolling towards his wife, he searched the darkness for a glimpse of her soft, strong face, wondering where he would find the courage to fight when it came time. Fighting meant standing his ground, risking never seeing her again, touching her cheek, or smelling her long, brown hair. Yet, if he did not go, could he ever again gaze without shame into her eyes? Would she look upon him as she had before? Would she think him a coward if he sought the security of home? Although he could not yet admit as much, somewhere in his mind, he knew that he would go. He knew he would fight. He knew he would defend his home, his honor, and his State. Tomorrow, he would speak to her of going into Charleston. Tomorrow, he would become a Rebel.



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JUDI said...


Randy said...

Judi, you may just have inspired me to continue with his story. We'll see. But I do appreciate that you stopped by again. Thank you.

GettysBLOG said...

If you don't...may your typing fingers break on the keys!