Summary: There’ll come a time your children ask questions, uncomfortable questions. And then you might find answers that’ll help you, too, to cope with what was and is.
970 words, rated T
Companion piece to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.”
Also available in eBook format — please pm me for that.
If you haven’t read “Oh Brother” this is what you need to know before you read this story: in 1863, Adam enlists in the Federal army, leaving behind his wife and new born son, Henry.
What Do You Tell Your Children?
The Art of Explaining
“I’m sorry,” Ben said patting the horse’s swollen leg one last time. “There’s nothing to be done. We have to—”
“No!” Of course, the boy didn’t cry. He never did. But the hazel eyes under those expressive black eyebrows said more than a thousand tears could have.
Ben sighed. “Look, he’s in pain—do you see his eyes? He’s in pain, and he’s afraid. And we don’t want that, do we?”
“Can’t we…” The boy bit his lip. He crouched down, stroked the horse’s heaving flank, and over its nose and cheeks; then he looked up. “No, we can’t, can we.”
Ben shook his head, silently.
There were no more words necessary. Everyone but Ben left the stable; and they hadn’t even reached the front porch when they heard the shot. With a choked sob the boy buried his face in his mother’s skirt, Hoss reached out for him, but Juliet shook her head and with a look sent him inside. She sat down with Henry on the bench at the flowerbed, where he cuddled up against her, close, so close; as close as possible.
“Why must things die?”
A sense of foreboding seized her.
“Because that’s how it is. Everything that is born will die some day. It’s natural.”
Henry wriggled free from her arms and, gazing at her, made a face. “I know that,” he said in a tone that sounded eerily familiar. He did not roll his eyes, but then his tone alone indicated rolled eyes. He clearly had inherited that from a master. “You’re born, get old and gonna die,” he stated ticking off his fingers. “But Hector wasn’t old.”
“No, he wasn’t. But he was ill, very ill.”
Henry frowned. He looked down at his feet, watched them dangling from the bench and how they swung back and forth, back and forth.
His mind was working, she could tell it from his rigid back, from the white-knuckled grip his fingers had on the seat.
“Henry,” she said softly, “you don’t have to find a clever way to get there. Just ask what you have to.”
He looked up, studying her appraisingly. “Papa wasn’t old, either,” he eventually blurted out.
“No, he wasn’t.”
“But he also wasn’t ill.”
“No, he wasn’t.”
“He was in a war. He died fighting for—”
“Henry, people tend to die in wars.” She cringed at the sarcasm, but Henry didn’t seem to notice.
“No, I mean, why was he in a war?”
“Because he thought the war was about something worth fighting for.”
“Your father fought to help make this land a place where all people are equal. Does that sound like a good cause?”
Henry didn’t have to think long. “Yes,” he said and nodded. “Like a very good cause.” He stared at his shoes again, then asked in a very low voice—as if he were afraid of the answer, “And is this land a place now where all people are equal?”
“It is,” she said, leaving the part where theory and reality met for another time.
“Then the people can be very glad Papa fought for them,” Henry said and nodded contently.
And then the frown came back to Henry’s face, and he puckered his lips the way Adam had done it a million times while he thought. “Mama,” he said eventually. “Did Papa like those people more than us?”
Her vision blurred. She tried to answer, but she found she had no voice. Her lips moved, but no sound came from her.
“Mama?” Henry asked again, and then increasingly louder, “Mama? Mama? Mama?” until his voice was one single long scream. “Ahhhh!”
Juliet bolted upright. For the first time thankful for her baby’s wailing, she disentangled herself from the bedcovers that clung to her sweating body and walked over to Henry’s cradle. She picked the baby up, cradled him to her chest and rocked back and fourth in that ancient rhythm all mothers used and all babies needed to calm down.
“Papa loves us,” she whispered into Henry’s spiky black hairs. “Papa loves us.”
And even though her logic disputed it, her heart knew it was true.
While we try to teach our children all about life,
Our children teach us what life is all about. ~ Angela Schwindt
With many thanks to Sklamb for the beta-read.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
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