Cecily Plowright made herself comfortable in the makeshift recruitment tent set up by the Chevaliers du Bayou Affame in Guidry’s field. Skinny as a stick and twice as hard, Cecily made lists to give some order and softness to her days. She knew it made little sense to add chores already accomplished just so she could check them off, but she liked the sense of accomplishment she felt, watching those tidy lines get marked with an X, one after another.
Runt calf, liniment back left leg – X
Chicken (speckled,) pluck – X
Will, brown pants, patch – X
She hoped the newly minted Captain Lance P. Tibideaux—as recently as Monday the favored son and heir to the Tibideaux dry goods store on Main Street, but now a captain of the Glorious Cause—wouldn’t mind her using his desk while she waited. But she didn’t suppose he would, conditions being what they were.
Come to think of it, conditions being what they were, she might as well take her time.
She liked the way his fresh-cut pen felt in her hand, the way the ink from the captain’s desk didn’t splotch or run thin the way her own home-cut quills always seemed to, obliged as she was to make her lists on the back of old meat-wrapping paper or a quarter piece of foolscap, rough surfaced, no matter the precious pennies spent to buy it. Yessir, Captain Tibideaux’s pen flowed smooth as warm butter across his parchment, and a body could get used to that kind of ease.
The list items lengthened.
Put out the washing – X
Send Will to town (corn grits, lard, lye soap) – X
Will, big as a bull, watched her with all the innocence of a calf. He knew to do as he was told, even if it pained him. And maybe he had cut through Guidry’s field, though she’d warned him off it. He’d listened to his mama well enough just now, in the captain’s tent. Her boy—she still couldn’t make sense of him in that gray uniform—rocked back and forth on the camp stool, small animal sounds escaping his thick lips, sounds that made no sense coming from a man his size.
“Hush now, Willie. We’ll be home for supper in two shakes. I got some crawfish, your favorite, and I’m gonna cook ‘em up battered and fried, just the way you like.”
Motherhood had come late to Cecily—unlooked for and unwelcome—but from the first moment she gazed at Will’s too-small but trusting eyes, his tongue somehow too large for an infant mouth, Cecily had taken to the task with a heart as hot and fierce as any mother bear. It was hard with Will’s father alive, and was harder after he died, but Cecily had somehow managed the milking and plowing and the slaughtering of hogs year after year until Will got big enough to help. Now, a man full-grown, Will could do most of the heavy work on his own, so long as she reminded him and kept a close eye, but his mind would always be a child’s, fond of all he met. No thought for the adders in the grass.
Still a bit longer to wait. The sounds of the men finishing up their parade practice at the far end of the field.
Fix Millie’s saddle – X
Watch out on the town road – X
Ask Will what happened to the corn grits, lard, and soap – X
Tell him to take that fool uniform off – X
Ask him where it hurts – X
Clean the blood with a warm rag – X
Help him dress in fresh underclothes – X
Let him keep the cursed gray jacket, but take the pants for washing – X
Will knew better—he did—than to trust the Tibideaux boy. A lifetime of beatings and petty meanness had seen to that. But when they’d come with their uniforms and trumpets and drums, riding through town like God’s own calvary, Will had gotten excited, and the Chevaliers du Bayou Affame thought it was funny to dress him up, make him feel like one of the men, maybe kick him around a little bit for sport, the way some men’ll kick a puppy if it suits ‘em. But when he’d come home this afternoon, beat all to hell, no shopping money and no grits, the blood pooling in his britches mixed with shit, well that was more than enough.
More than enough for Cecily, anyway.
Call on Captain Lance P. Tibideaux – X
The flaps of the captain’s tent were drawn shut, tied from the inside, and the setting of the sun obliged Cecily to turn up a small oil lamp set on the desk. Only a little longer, and she could get about her business. Even now the shouts of the men receded as they rode off into town for a night of liquor and mayhem. All except the captain, of course. Cecily shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with the surface under her heels, the way it gave, just there, like stepping on a jellyfish unexpected. But dragging him under the desk had been the only way. When Captain Tibideaux had refused to see the situation from her point of view, he had seen the point of her hog knife. He hadn’t even thought to defend himself, against a poor little scrap of a thing like Cecily Plowright. But slaughtering one hog was like slaughtering another, to her way of thinking.
“Just a little longer, Willie Boy, and we’ll have you safe and sound at home. Say, look at that latrine shovel just there. You wanna grab that for your old ma?”
Cecily dipped the pen one last time into the pot for the final item on her chore list. The miss-matched ink would be a shame, but she’d have to check the last item later, when she got home.
Bury the trash.