(While working on my new book Cousins at War, I couldn’t help comparing the problems of 1861 with those confronting us today: polarity and political divides. From those thoughts came this fictional piece with characters you will meet in CAW.)
“Make way.” Marion Allender nudged his older brother Alex in an effort to secure a better view through the portal. “I can’t see. What’s she doin’?”
Alex was older according to the happenstance of birth, but both young men had been dead now for well over a century.
“Writing again,” Alex replied. “At least this time it’s with ink—on paper.”
“Not that queer machine?” queried Marion.
“I’ve been thinkin’ on that, Alex. Even talked to some other fellas. She’s pressin’ on letters from the alphabet and it makes words appear on paper. I reckon it’s like the telegraph machine. Like that. Some new-fangled printing press.”
“She’s writing about us, brother. That’s what’s really odd. Why do ya think she is?”
Ruth tossed her notebook onto the porch table, took a swig of the now cold coffee, and sighed heavily. “This ain’t comin’, boys,” she said aloud. “If you can hear me, then guide me. How in tarnation (as you would say) does this scene play out?”
She shook her head in disbelief. Sometimes I think I’m mad, she thought. But yet . . . I know they’re here. Around. Some. How.
“I already led her to every document with my name on it,” growled Alex. “Ain’t no more I can do short of leaping down there and poofing in front of her.”
“I’d like to witness that—you poofing,” laughed Marion. “’Sides, how you know she’s not beseeching me for more information?”
“I’m honored that she wants to tell our story—me or you.”
“She is our cousin. I mean she woulda been if she lived when we did. Right?”
“Yeah, she’s descended from Aunt Jane. But it must be more than that.”
“Why more than that?” demanded Marion. “It’s a fair yarn to write, ‘bout two handsome brothers choosin’ different sides in the War of 1861.”
Alex looked at him hard. “There were other wars, other soldiers. She could have settled on any of them. Ones we knew about. Ones that came after we died. All shared our blood. Just like she shares it.”
“Pa always said you were a philosopher, Alex.”
“Marion, look down there. Look sharp. What do you see? Besides a Kentucky born old woman who keeps writing and writing?”
Marion gripped the sill of the portal, leaning out as far as possible in an effort to scan the world roiling below him. “It’s a golderned calamity, isn’t it?” he muttered.
“Exactly. I’ve been sittin’ here off and on for 147 years now. I’ve watched my country go through five or six wars, for God’s sake, since the one we fought in. I’ve seen riots, protests, unkindness, ungodliness of every stripe. What did we accomplish, Marion? What did I fight for? Why’d you even bother to take the oath of allegiance after comin’ home?”
“You think that’s why she wants to tell our story, Alex? Cause it might have some meaning still—down there?”
“I do, Marion. Short of poofin’ in and sending her to a premature grave, let’s help. Reenlist. Join the fight. Those people are so divided, so polarized. It reminds me too much of ‘61, ‘62, all that.”
“You may be right, Alex. She wants somebody to think on it. Think on what they’re doin’, what they’re sayin’. Just think on it.”
Ruth leaned over the porch railing. Her mind had wandered from the frustrating writing task to the lilting melodies of nearby songbirds—unseen but heard. So soothing, she thought. The slightest of breezes caressed her face, breaking her reverie. She brushed back whispery strands of gray hair and turned to gaze in its direction.