“This Little Size of Dying”
The first time I saw Shawn, I was leaning against a split-rail fence in Pennsylvania and looking up at Cemetery Ridge. It can’t have been later than five thirty or six; surely the mist had in it the pink glow of dawn, creeping up on us just as it had the real Army of Virginia. My father stood next to me, fully invested in being that summer’s version of General Longstreet, watching everyone else take their places. I was in my butternut uniform too, buttoned to the neck just like Daddy’s, three days of field sweat creeping along my ribs. Out of the low seeping damp came the pounding of a horse’s hooves, and a Confederate cavalryman wheeled up before us.
“General, sir,” he said. He nudged the brim of his hat, and grinned down at us, holding the black mare in place with his thighs.
“Good morning, Lieutenant.” Daddy smiled. “You met my boy Clay yet?”
“No sir,” he said. “I don’t believe I have.” I blinked in the face of that lazy, knowing grin, and tipped the brim of my own hat.
“Shawn Parrish,” my father said to me. “An officer of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry, here, and a Lieutenant in the Army Reserves in real life.”
He blushed, and something twisted in my gut. “No, sir, I’ve resigned that commission, effective last month.” His shoulders straightened. “Other opportunities,” he said after a moment, before Daddy could ask.
“I see,” he said. There was an odd quiet place, and then he saluted. “Give General Stuart my regards, Lieutenant Parrish.”
From horseback Shawn smiled down at us. “I’ll see you all in a couple of days, then.”
I held my salute until he’d gone, precise for once. The Civil War was something Daddy lived year-round, whether in the persona of his beloved Longstreet at intervals, or as Professor Doucet in College Park, but for me it was an abstraction, an entertainment in which I participated every July, five days a year in stiff, sweat-warmed butternut and high black boots.
“Damn,” my father said. “Your mother loves that boy, Clay. First time I saw him I thought he was too well-bred,” which was how my father liked to say queer, when he was being polite. “Your mother’s been after me to introduce the two of you for years.” Well, I thought, Mother knows best…
(excerpted from The Book of Broken Hymns, which is copyrighted material, 2011)
Want more? Of course you do. I am happy to announce that THE BOOK OF BROKEN HYMNS is available as an eBook at Lulu.com, in Apple’s iBookstore, for the Nook, and for (sigh) Kindle. I also have a few copies of the paperback still, and if you shoot me an email I’ll see what I can do.
Caveats: It looks AWESOME on my iPad, so visually I recommend that you get it from the iBookstore. However, I do love my indie bookstores, so… But be aware that for reasons I do not yet understand, if you get it that way, there is no cover art, just body content. BUT you can totally download the cover from my site here, so that works. I guess.
Anyway. Thank you for your support, you people.