I walked away from camp in my long skirt and my cropped shirt. I walked up the ridge on my bare feet and found two headstones side by side carved, â€œC.S.A.â€ Two boys with the same last name born two years apart, died within two days of each other, â€œWounded at Shiloh.â€
I could see them just as plain, their brown breeches and their gray coats. It was nothing, I was born half a mile from Chickamauga and I have always talked to ghosts. They elbowed each other, giggled. They had never seen a girl’s bare belly. I told them, â€œThings are very different now.â€
â€œWhat happened?â€ they asked.
â€œThe world has been broken and remade so many times, you would not believe,â€ I said.
â€œCan you tell us about the war?â€ I never heard one ask that before. The dead don’t talk about where they’ve been, and neither do soldiers.
â€œThings are very different now,â€ I said. I think they understood. I am tactful with the dead.There are some I would tell an earful, given the chance, but not these two brothers from the Army of Mississippi, seventeen and nineteen, dead two days apart. Instead, I talked sun on the ridge and the whuffing pine trees, how a hawk spun by. How blue shone deep and upward, how fine it was, and they listened until the wind took them away.
Watermelons by Night
My mother and father before they were married, he was twenty-nine years old, she was nineteen. Out with his first cousin and her best friend. The four would go out in the evening, when the red dust of Georgia roads settled, and drive to feel fresh air on their faces.
They rattled down a back road in Coweta, spotted a field full of striped treasure. â€œLook at them watermelons. I sure would like some.â€
â€œWell, let’s go pick one out.â€
â€œOh no you don’t! Somebody’s gonna come out here and shoot you for stealing his watermelon!â€
â€œHow will they know it was my idea? You gonna tell on me?â€
â€œI ain’t telling nothing to nobody except God.â€
â€œCome on, we’ll keep an eye out. I never let a German sneak up on me.â€
Broad leaves, hairy vines, round melons like pregnant bellies, still warm to the touch from the sun but sweet and cool inside, cut open with a pocket knife, full of black seeds and sticky pleasure. â€œWhat’s that?â€ They spook and crouch, and the women still like deer. They run back to the car, laughing, hands full of pilfered juice and rind.
At twenty-seven, in the English Channel waiting his turn to step up on the bloody beach; twenty-eight in Czechoslovakia waiting for a troop ship and a long ride home. Gone five years, eight months and three days. Home to play a boy’s trick to impress a girl and make her laugh, stealing sweet treasure from his uncle’s watermelon patch.