Here’s a snippet from my AWARD-WINNING book “Okatibbee Creek.” Haha. Yes, award winning! It was recently named the bronze medal winner in the 2013 eLit Book Awards in Literary Fiction. That’s funny, because I’m sure it was entered as Historical Fiction, but whatev. An award is an award. We take ’em any way we can get ’em! 😛
Set up – January 1863 Mississippi. The Civil War is in full swing. Mary Ann Carpenter owns an old general store in town where the war’s casualty lists are periodically posted. Four of her brothers and her husband, Rice, are off fighting in the war, and she has not heard from any of them in a while and is understandably worried.
Martha Jane yells up the stairs, “Mary, there’s a gentleman here. He says he has to see you.”
I return to my room to get my day cap. I smooth down my wrinkled dress and head downstairs.
When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I see him. I do not recognize his face, but I recognize his clothing. He is a Confederate soldier. He is standing in the open doorway of the store with the gray, cloudy sky at his back. He is dressed in a wrinkled gray uniform with a dirty yellow cummerbund. His trousers have holes in them, with mud caked around the bottoms of his pant legs. His jacket is missing some buttons, and he looks quite thin and weary. He is wearing shoes that are covered in red Mississippi mud and probably have no soles on the bottom. He is holding his tattered hat and a piece of paper in his dirty hands.
“Hello, sir, what can I do for you?” I ask as I approach.
“Hello, ma’am.” He nods. “Are you Mrs. Carpenter?”
“Yes, I am. And who are you, may I ask?”
“Private Joseph Brown, ma’am. Captain asked me to deliver the latest casualty list to you in person.” He holds the folded piece of paper toward me and looks down at the floor, like a child in trouble for doing something wrong.
“Why are you delivering this? It usually comes by a mail carrier,” I ask as I reach for the paper. I look at the boy’s face. He nervously avoids my eyes and keeps staring at the floor.
“Why are you delivering this to me?” I repeat.
“I promised I would. I’m sorry, ma’am. Goodbye, ma’am,” he murmurs, and backs out the open door.
I look at the piece of paper in my hand for a long time, wondering if I can open it. I don’t know whose names are on this paper, but I suspect the worst, and I don’t want to read it. My eyes sting with tears as I dread a simple piece of paper. I try to unfold it, but my hands are shaking, so I stop and hold it to my chest. I take a deep breath.
Martha Jane stands behind me, not saying a word or making a sound.
“Martha Jane, will you please go upstairs and mind the children for a few minutes?” I ask her.
She nods and quietly heads up the stairs.
I walk outside across the wooden porch and down the two stone steps onto the ground. I walk across the dirt road that is now filled with puddles of red mud from the rain. I keep walking straight ahead. I walk into the overgrown field across the road. I walk with purpose, with determination, like I have somewhere important to go. I want to run. I want to run away and never come back. I keep walking.
In the middle of the field, the thunder sounds above my head. I stop and look up at the ominous clouds that are almost as threatening as the piece of paper I hold in my hand. My hands are shaking as I slowly unfold it and smooth it open. My stomach feels like it has a hole in it. My eyes fill with tears. My hands are now trembling so violently, I almost can’t read it. The name at the top is the only name I see.
“Carpenter, Rice Benjamin: killed in battle 31 December, 41st Mississippi Infantry, Co C.”
Drops of water fall onto the page, but I can’t tell if they are raindrops or teardrops. Even God Himself is crying.
All I’ve wanted the last seven months is for my husband to come home and hold me and tell me everything will be all right. All I’ve done for the last seven months is managed the store and the family, and I’ve waited—waited for Rice to come home. I’ve waited and I’ve prayed and I’ve done everything possible in preparation for him to come home to me.
I’ve dreamed of his homecoming. I’ve dreamed of taking up our lives where we left off. I’ve imagined us having more children. I’ve wished for his arms around me. I’ve seen his blue eyes in my dreams so often and heard his laughter ringing in my head over and over. I’ve pictured his beautiful Carpenter smile as he runs up the road and takes me in his arms. My heart always feels like bursting at the thought of seeing him again. I’ve imagined our happy reunion hundreds of times.
There will be no homecoming. There will be no funeral. There will be no body. There will be no goodbye. It’s just over. My heart is ripping out of my chest in a pain I can’t even try to describe. My future is gone. My past is gone. My present is gone. Everything is gone. It all died with Rice.
I stand in the middle of the field in a blinding thunderstorm, holding a wet piece of paper that is all that is left of my husband, and I scream at the top of my lungs.