Rosary Beads

October 7, 2012
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The man coughs. His lungs rattle like crumpled paper as they desperately try to fill with air. He lies on his cot beneath a rough, wool, blanket, hands rested on his chest as his fingers numbly rub rosary beads carved from dark oak.
He knows the beads won’t help him. The doctors can’t. He knows he will die by nightfall; if lucky, maybe sunrise. He can feel the life in him slipping away, his very being carried on the shallow breath he fights to fill his lungs. But he has always had his beads: he had them when he was drafted in the Confederate army; he had stroked them when he was shot; he had clutched them when Emmaline passed. By the sweet merciful Lord and all that He stood for, he was going to have them now.
The room is steadily filling, the cots burdened with battered bodies of soldiers like his own. Bandaged, bruised, bloodied; they didn’t stand a chance, just like him. Just like his Emmaline.
Wraths they were, moaning so sorrowfully, low noises filled with such pain and grief and anger. They reached out to the doctors with trembling hands, begging, but there was such little that could be done. About anything: about their situation, about the lack of medication, about the war. Like a storm, all you could do was batten down the hatches, clench your teeth, and hope your house and you still stood by the end.
“Please, oh Lord, please help me,” someone cries.
The man does not stir; he continues to stroke his beads and stare up the ceiling and listen to the terrible noises of agony: squeaking cots from tossing bodies; sharp gasps; and worst of all, silence. That terrible silence that devoured them all in its empty, hollow, being.
“Please! Someone,” the voice begs desperately.
He pauses his rosary. Now that was different. That was a woman’s voice, unmistakable in all its soft glory despite being roughened by agony.
“Lord, someone! I’ll do anything just...stop the pain. Please!” she continues to sob.
He slowly sits upright, hissing in pain as his lungs rattle and his stomach constricts and his vision wavers like a mirage. Still, he sits upright. Slouched maybe like a wilted flower in the southern humidity, but still upright, yes sir.
He coughs. “All you alright, ma’am?” he croaks.
Heavy panting, then: “No. Please, get help. Get…a doctor! Please, oh God,” she moans, crying out again.
The man sees the woman. Like the men around her, the woman lies on a cot, but she is not bedridden from something unwanted, rather, a swollen belly. Her skin, the color of sugarless coffee, is beaded with sweat as she grips the blanket with tight fists. Nostrils flared, teeth clenched, eyes tight, she reminds him of a wild horse unwilling to be broken.
He pushes himself up and slowly, so slowly, shuffles to her side.
She begs once more, “Get help! Please--”
“—there ain’t no one who’s gonna help you, hunny. The war is in full bloom and men are dying left and right. Your situation don’t get no better with the color of your skin either,” he explains softly.
The woman tips her head back and lets out a low, mournful cry. Her shoulders quake as she shakes her head and cries. “Fine. Then leave me be. I can do this on my own,” she snaps.
He kneels beside her and wraps his rosary beads around her neck, then takes her hand as he fights off the urge to cough. “The color of your skin don’t matter none to me or God. I’m gonna help you through this, if it is the last thing I do,” he promises. “Now I need you relax and breathe. Good, just like that. Goood. And when I say, you gonna push for me, nice and strong. I’m gonna be here for you. Don’t you worry,” he eases.
The woman nods, tears and sweat slipping down her dark cheeks. “Alright,” she says.
“Get ready. Alright now…push,” he says softly, yet firmly.
The woman’s fingers tighten around his own as she screams and strains until finally surrendering. She pants wearily, panicked. “I-I can’t do this. Lord, I’m so scared--”
“—don’t be foolish. You gonna be fine. On my say, hunny. Don’t you worry. You doing fine,” he soothes and strokes her hand as if they were his rosary beads.
She nods again and on his command she strains again, gripping his hand until he thinks it might break, until her cry is not the only one that echoes in the room. The woman falls back onto the cot, color drained from her face as she sobs with relief.
He stands and shuffles to his cot to retrieve his blanket that he then wraps the wailing child in. He cuts the cord with his army knife before gently handing the squirming baby to the weary mother. She now sobs with joy as she lays eyes on the wrinkled faced, wailing, toothless creature.
He is the most beautiful thing either of them has ever witnessed.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” she breathes.
He nods cordially, body stiffening as he coughs. “It was my pleasure, ma’am. He’s a beautiful boy.”
“Please, tell me your name. I cannot thank you enough Sergeant…?”
“Whitener. Avery Whitener at your service, ma’am,” he introduces, bowing slightly.
The woman smiles tiredly at him before looking back adoringly at her child. “Then, if it would be alright with you Sergeant Whitener, I’d like to name him Avery in your generous honor.”
A smile slides across Avery’s face as he nods. “I don’t mind in the least, Rosary.”

The silence no longer bothers her as she holds onto her sleeping child. In his twitching, tiny, hands, Avery grips the rosary beads Sergeant Whitener had wrapped around her neck hours before.
“Sergeant--” she calls out softly to hand them back. She falls silent though. He had stopped coughing an hour earlier and now his body remains still and eerily stiff. “Avery?” she calls out once more.
She hugs her new child closer to her chest and rocks him softly. Tears fall softly onto the dark wood of the rosary beads but she dares not swipe them away.
The silence no longer bothers her.

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This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 15, 2012 at 10:38 pm
I recall reading this on a forum thread, and I would like to congradulate you on publishing it on Teenink! It was one of the best stories I'd read on the website, and I'm really glad to see it on here now! Keep writing! :)
Ella G. replied...
Dec. 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm
Oh my gosh! Thank you so much for this opportunity!
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 17, 2012 at 7:27 pm
I really loved this story when I read it. You have a mature style of writing without being trashy, and I appreciate your stories.
Ella G. replied...
Dec. 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm
Again, thank you. However, I don't know how to gain more publicity on this website with my stories. How do I get more attention with my work?
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm
You can create a feedback for feedback thread on the forum again, offering to check out one of their pieces if they read this one. I still have pieces that hardly anyone has read, much less commented. I'd be happy to read some of your work, if you want. You could also enter in on the contests forum if there is a contest that works. 
Ella G. replied...
Dec. 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm
I've tried a feedback for feedback thread and it also did not get as much attention as I had hoped it would. It just got lost in the rest of the forums. For the advice given to me, if you ever need your work read, I will happily take a look! I just submitted a new piece of work that should be on here soon, so, feedback for feedback if you'd like. Hmm, contest forum. Never heard of it. I guess I'll give that a go. Thanks!
AthenaMarisaDeterminedbyFate This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 21, 2012 at 9:05 am
Sure, sounds great! You know, there's currently a thread on the Short Stories forum of someone offering to read anyone's piece of work that posts there, so if you want to try that, you can. Thanks!
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