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And the Gunshot Silence Rang
Margaret put the baby down to sleep, turning her face upward, blessing the heavens for every moment of blissful silence was gifted. The infant was still in his crib, on his back on the worn cloth mattress. He curled his pudgy fingers around the wooden rails. Margaret sighed in relief, hoping that she might finally get an hour or two of rest from her full time job.
She crossed the great room and warmed herself by the fire, letting the snapping flames just nearly singe her thin fingertips. The blazes crackled and stretched toward her outstretched hands as she peered at the frames set upon the mantle above. Inside them, medals were mounted. The shiny discs split the sunlight that streamed through the windows, a bright glare that could only be reflected off the December snow. The medals hung from short tufts of ribbon, red, white, and blue, purple and yellow and green. She yearned to take them from their frames, pin them on her dress or rub them between her fingertips, for some semblance of a memory, but she did not.
She knew each medal, its ridges and nicks. But she didn’t know how they had been earned, what it had taken to earn them, their costs per say. How many lives had been bought for this one? Or sold, rather. She didn’t know the answers and she didn’t care to. The frames were dusted and the medals polished; nothing could tarnish the honor of the gold and silver pins.
Margaret traversed the room once more, resting back in her husband’s worn chair. She longed to catch a whiff of him, his cologne, the kind he had put on before they would go out to town. She longed to douse the home in it; she knew the bottle still sat on his dressing table. Her head fell back and rested against the top of the chair, where the insides were poking out at odd angles.
A gun fired. The baby stirred. Another shot. A whimper. A chorus of blasts, showering across the moments. A wail arose from the crib.
In what seemed like slow motion, Margaret stood from her chair. She sprinted as no lady should for the baby, grasping him closely and wrapping him to her chest. Darting around the room, she lowered each set of window coverings. She returned with her child to the chair, but instead of resting in it, she hunkered down behind it on the floor that hadn’t been swept since her husband left.
There had been no silence since the first blast. She listened closely, the way her husband had taught her. She couldn’t hear the shells raining down yet, they weren’t nearly that close. She was still safe. Margaret was only a civilian, after all. She had nothing to worry about; the militia was just doing their job.
The men marched closer, dragging the battle along behind them. Tremors of canon fires and gun blasts shook the Earth below her feet, shook the ceiling above her head. In her cradled arms, the baby was strangely still. His cries had softened until there was only silence, if gunshots could be silence. Margaret had grown weary of the shudder that came with each yell, each infamous dying word, and so her body had entered a state of perpetual apprehension. She sat in wait of the next scream, praying for the life and death of the one that had come before.
Margaret huddled tighter behind the chair, trying to distract her mind by counting the stitches in the worn chair backing. She had never imagined it would be like this. Arthur had told her that this war would be the first of its kind, but she hadn’t understood what he meant. She had read about wars, but never lived one. She had no matter of comparison.
She pulled an afghan quilt from the back of the chair and began to count the stitches there as well. It was unimaginable, the biting chill outside in which the soldiers were fighting.
Soon the noises died down, and the hope rose in her throat, only to be swallowed back down by reality. The fighting was done, as far as she could hear. But when it left her range, it overlapped into someone else’s, and she knew the fighting was far from over. The war was always heard and never truly gone. And even once a white flag could be waved or a victory proffered, the battles would still surge on. Perhaps it would settle down a bit, for a decade or two, until the states disagreed again. Or maybe it just manifested into something else. The war could be over, the shooting and dying done, but there would always be shooting and dying and war for someone.
Margaret leaned down to the baby in her arms, lifting him up to kiss his forehead. He was still awake, but barely. A little soldier, Margaret thought. Taking after his father. The notion made her proud, yet disgusted that she had thought of such a thing. She couldn’t bear the thought of her son carrying death on his shoulders before he could even speak for himself.
She tried not to picture it, but the image of her tiny baby, a tiny rifle-wielding infant, would not slip from her mind. Standing again, she opened the window coverings, letting the winter sun reflect off the snow and shine in bright and blinding. She was lucky for the sun, making her squint as she peered outside, averting her from seeing the blood-stained snow that was surely there.
Just that morning it had been pure and smooth, untouched and lovely, in its white sheets built of flake upon flake. The baby was nearly asleep now, and she rocked him back into his crib and returned this time to the davenport that was nearly as worn as the chair, but not so saturated with memories, and she sat as the gunshot silence rang.