By Anna Ilona Mussmann
(A story in about 500 words)
Old Man Shore at first thought that God had spared him the least worthwhile of his sons. Then, within six months of Appomattox, even that little joke came to an end—the remnant of Roy’s leg had never ceased oozing pus, and he too joined his brothers under sod. They buried him in his grey uniform with its yellow braid, despite the minister’s suggestion that civilian attire befit a time of peace. “There is a passage in the Bible,” Old Man Shore reminded the minister, “that says to beware those who cry, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. All we have now is reconstructing Yankees, not peace.”
The funeral was small. Miss Emily White was the only one who wept, and even her tears were restricted to a single drop that slid down her weathered face and into her collar when Shore dropped his fistful of earth onto the grave.
Shore walked home alone. In his study, he sat for a while beside a glass of whiskey. “I’m not going to take this in the manner of Job, you know,” he told God. Then he combed his hair neatly and took out Roy’s cavalry pistol from the drawer.
As the Old Man polished the metal with his handkerchief, footsteps interrupted him. Miss Emily’s face appeared around the doorframe. “I beg your pardon for not knocking.” She let her eyes skim over the weapon as she sat down. Her chair was the one that the Shore’s lone servant, Moses, had stood behind while Old Man Shore asked him where he was going now that the Yanks had set him free. She said quietly, “Today reminded me of another service a long time ago.”
She reached over and took a swig of his whisky, straight from the bottle, and he was the one who choked—never had Miss Emily White behaved in such a way within his sight. She looked at him with intensity. “It reminded me of your wedding. I was the only one who cried. Just a single tear. Not even the bride’s mother cried, God rest her soul. Now I have the feeling that you are preparing to commit an unforgivable sin, and I don’t see any need for that. Do you want to abandon the South to the rapacity of the Yankees?”
“The future of the South has nothing to do with me. My sons are gone.”
Miss Emily nodded. At last she said, “Don’t you want to know why I cried at your wedding?”
“Use a little imagination.” Her hands shaking at the baldness of her declaration, she reached for the whiskey again. “You are an unpatriotic old villain if you shoot yourself while you are still capable of— ” Even with the bottle in her hand, the scarlet Miss Emily could not finish her sentence. She managed to stammer, “You know what I mean. I am not too old either.”
Written as a writing exercise in brevity