Here's a really rough Chapters 2 and 3. I don't know how much of this will actually make it to the book form but I'm enjoying exploring Alex's story.
Chapters 2 and 3
I hope that you understand why she doesn’t talk about him. Why all your questions went unanswered for so many years after this. Why I’ve never pressured her to tell you, why I pushed it away whenever you brought it up. For so long, I’ve been afraid of him, of his memory. Not that she’s ever done anything except love me since the day she said her vows, but I’ve always accepted that I was her second choice. I wanted her to forget- for how could you love a candle when it is compared to the sun?
I never told you because it was hard. It is hard. It’s like cutting something out of your soul to admit how you’ve failed those you love the most. I feared that you’d love me less, that you would feel the same sort of disappointment in me that I feel in myself.
I was selfish. I still am.
I’m afraid you will hate me.
And I’ll no longer be your hero.
All my life I’ve wanted to be a hero; the kind of man they told stories about after their death. My father was that kind of man, my grandfather was too, before the sickness took his mind. I looked up to them and I wanted to be like them but I killed my sister when I was eight and I have wanted to make it up ever since.
My mother said it was an accident but I knew better. I was the oldest and I was in charge. I was supposed to be her protector, and I knew we were never supposed to go to the lake but we did all the time. It was our place, we were careful to keep it a secret and stay dry lest momma notice our wet clothes and whip us.
That morning we were bickering as usual, Catherine was smaller and meaner than me so she pushed me. I got my trousers wet to my knee. I was so angry that I pushed her in. If I was going to get a licking then she was even more so! I knocked her off the dam, the deepest part.
She went completely under.
She never came back up.
At first I thought she was playing. I screamed and jumped in, thrashing in the water. Daddy heard me and came running and Will ran for momma. It seemed like an eternity before he pulled her out.
She was already gone.
Can you imagine holding your child’s lifeless body in your arms? It’s one of those things that no one should have to endure. Now that I am a father I suppose I could imagine how it would feel. I remember him crying as he held her. I had never heard him cry- before or until the day he died and it’s a sound that haunts me still.
Along with the questions: “What were you doing here? Why didn’t you watch out for her? You are the oldest it was your job to protect her.”
And so, I learned that it was my fault. My father said as much. I was the oldest and I got the idea that things happened because I allowed them. I promised myself that I would always do my best to protect my family.
My mother fell into a depression so dark and deep that we all worried she would succumb to it entirely. She would stand in her room and look out toward the lake. She said that during that time it was almost as if the water called out for her, inviting her to join her daughter in death’s embrace. We tried to make her happy, but there was no light left in her anymore. The only thing that seemed to calm her was those dark waters, almost as if a part of Katherine was still there.
I knew that Katherine wasn’t in that lake because the Preacher told us at her funeral that all good little children went to Heaven to be with Jesus. I reckoned that I’d never get there no matter how hard I tried and it made me sad.
It must have made her sad too, even way up in heaven because she would come to visit sometimes when everyone else was asleep. The first time I saw her I thought she was really alive and all the rest had just been a bad dream. I jumped out of bed to run to her but she was gone. I ran through the house looking for her. I woke Daddy and when I told him he told me it was just my imagination and to go back to bed. She came again several nights later and when I told him he said I was being naughty and forbade me to tell momma. He said if I said anything more about it then he would give me a whipping for sure.
Nobody believed me about Katherine and I felt terribly alone. I found my solace in Grandpappy. He hated me calling him Grandpappy because it made him sound old, which I thought was funny because he was old. He had gotten so old that he could hardly get out of his bed anymore and he was the only person in the family that seemed to understand me. He told me stories about when he was a boy and things he did when he was young. I especially liked the stories about his family before the war. He didn’t talk much about the war and I asked often.
My mother said that he filled my head with harebrained notions and I should take any story Grandpappy told me with a grain of salt. I didn’t know what that meant, but sometimes he would call me at night and he would beg me to bring him a drink.
“They’re cryin’ out boy, go get me a drink so I can sleep.”
“They’re cryin’ out boy, go get me a drink so I can sleep.”
“Who’s cryin’ out Grandpappy?” I asked him.
“Them boys in yonder field.”
I went out on the front porch to look. I didn’t see or hear anything but it bothered me enough that I told my daddy.
Daddy shook his head sadly. “His mind is back in the war, son, back on that battlefield. Those boys he hears crying out are only in his memory. Don’t worry boy, they’re not real. Try your best to ignore him and go on back to bed.”
But they were real, or had been at one time. Maybe he could hear them like I could still see Katherine sometimes.
“But he says he wants a drink Daddy, can’t I get him some water?”
My father lowered his newspaper. “It’s not water he wants but moonshine. If your mother knew we gave it to him she would be angry. Besides, I don’t know where he’s hidden it.”
It was under a lose board in the barn.
A knowing look passed between us and my father raised his paper again. “I’m not opposed to it given the circumstance. Just don’t let your mother know.”
“Them boys…” Grandpappy moaned. “Make them stop…”
I slipped the jug into his hand and discovered that it not only made him stop crying it seemed to make him happier as well.
“My older brother was supposed to fight but he refused. That was James' daddy. He refused to go, Daddy said he brought shame on the whole family. I wasn’t but 13 but I lied about my age.”
He never spoke about the war, but I was right at that age where I found those sorts of things irresistible. When the moonshine worked its magic he would start to tell me things. Most of them were horrible and I realized that was why he never talked about it.
“Chickamauga.” He told me one night. “So many boys… dyin’ so far from their homes… callin’ out for their mommas… begging for water… and not one of us went to help… lest we be shot too…” He wept and took another drink. “If I could only do it again… Mebby I’d a been kilt… but mebby the Good Lord would a watched over’n me too…” He told me before he dozed off to sleep.
That night Katherine came to visit me.
“Too much death.” She said. “Too much death… to live…”
I pulled the covers over my head. Too much death to live. I pulled the covers over my head but I knew that if I ever looked back out she would be sitting there. I barely slept all night torn between wondering if she was still there and the fear that she would be. My bladder was near to bursting when the first light peeked in through my window and I decided I didn’t want to see Katherine anymore.
My father left on business after that. I didn’t like him being gone but I did like it when he returned. He always brought us gifts, and we had been hinting for quite some time that we were both old enough for some coon hound puppies.
He told us he would only be gone for three or four days and to watch out over our mother. It had been 8 months since Katherine passed and he said he wouldn’t have gone but Uncle James said it was urgent. He said when he came back he would bring us something special. We could almost feel those puppies in our hands.
This trip however, he didn’t come back with puppies.
He brought home a boy.
Momma hit the roof.
I don’t imagine Daddy anticipated a reaction like that. Momma always had such a kind heart, taking in almost every stray kitten or puppy we came across, I suppose Daddy thought she’d be the same way with a person. I’m sure he imagined her taking this boy right in her arms like one of those orphaned kittens.
She didn’t though.
She looked at him like he was some alien thing. I suppose, he was. He was several years younger than us but he was especially small. He was dirty and disheveled, covered in some sort of bites. His clothes were little more than rags. William and I wrinkled our noses when we got close enough. He stunk like a pig.
My momma glared at my daddy like he was the devil.
“You want to replace Katherine- our baby- with that thing?” She howled in accusation and my father stood dumbfounded.
William and I looked at this stranger and wondered why he had brought home a little boy when a coon dog puppy would have been so much more fun.
“I’m not trying to replace Katherine with anyone.” My father tried to calm her. “Your uncle said that we are his only family left. He said he was your cousin Inez’ son.”
Mother blinked and straightened. Inez was a cousin that mother often spoke about playing with when she was a child.
“Inez?” She asked no one in particular.
Grandpappy threw in his two cents from his window.
“Inez ran off with some drifter from the railroad!” He moved to see the fight more clearly and peered from the other side of the screen. “Looks like he’s a half breed like his father. He ain’t no Thornhill.”
My father lifted his chin and stood protectively behind the boy. He placed his hands on his shoulders.
“No sir, he isn’t going to be a Thornhill. When I adopt him he shall be a Bradshaw.” He turned his attention back to Momma. “Anne, be reasonable. Look at him. He’s just a baby. He needs a family.”
Mother made a sound like a mad cat and stomped inside in a flurry of skirts while Grandpappy howled in laughter.
“Stop fussing girl! Ye already got yerself a bastard and a Damn Yankee- might as well have a half breed.”
Momma screamed some things back at Grandpappy that I’d have gotten my mouth washed out for saying. William and I stood on the front porch with big eyes and didn’t really know what to do.
The ‘baby’ scampered to the far corner of the porch and hid underneath a table where momma kept potted plants.
“She will come around.” He told us just before she yelled for us to come in for supper.
We scrambled in after her, not willing to incite more anger from her. She glared past us at Daddy and told him that he was not bringing “that creature” inside our house until “it” was clean and free of lice.
She meant it too.
She made William and I take their supper out to them and I felt a little bad for Daddy but he seemed to take it all in stride.
William offered Daddy his plate. I put mine on the porch several feet in front of the child and backed away as I was sure he growled at me.
We watched the little boy uneasily as he wolfed down his supper. He hunched over his plate and ate with both hands like he hadn’t eaten in some time.
“Reckon she’d liked ‘em better iffin he was a girl?” William mused and Daddy laughed at him.
“You think so? Well, I couldn’t find a girl this trip. You want me to look for one next time?”
We exchanged uneasy glances. We had wanted a coon dog, but that dream had gone the way of the dodo.
“I reckon you’d better ask momma first ‘afore you bring anothern’ home, Daddy. She’s perty mad.”
“She’ll come around.” He assured us as he ate his supper balanced in his lap, but I wasn’t so sure.
“What are you gonna do with him?” Will asked.
Daddy ordered me to take another piece of chicken to the wild boy. I approached him carefully and he snatched the drumstick out of my outstretched hands and scampered away.
“Clean him up, change his name, give him a new family.” He smiled over at us. “Isn’t that what God does for us sinners?”
At the words “Clean up” I looked over my shoulder at my poor father.
“Momma said she’s not boiling water for a bath tonight, Daddy.”
He sighed and looked out across the yard and was quiet for several minutes. I got the idea that he was praying.
“In that case, I suppose you boys should bring us some blankets and pillows. Looks like we’re camping out tonight!”
We hurried inside to gather the things he wanted. Momma was crying in their bedroom. We hated to hear Momma cry and it struck us to our core. It made me angry that Daddy brought this child and it had made her cry. I watched him out the window but refused to go out again.
Will sat down beside our father and rested his head on his shoulder.
“Why’s Momma crying?”
“Because she misses Katherine.” Daddy said at last.
“Did you bring him to replace her?”
“No, son. I brought him because he needed a family and I thought we might have room in our heart for one more. It doesn’t mean we love or miss your sister any less.” I heard his voice waver and my eyes stung. “No one can take her place. Jesus is taking care of her until we get there, I thought I could show Him how much I appreciate that by taking care of this little boy here.”
“He got a name?”
“The Priest called him Bryan.”
“Can he talk?”
“I trust he will, when he gets used to us. We’re strangers to him. It’s probably pretty scary for him right now.”
Will nodded and patted Daddy’s shoulder as a sign of his solidarity. Upstairs momma continued to cry and Grandpappy called for his moonshine.
“You marrit that Damn Yankee, girl! You knew all about his crazy ideas about them coloreds!”
I went to my room. I didn’t like it when Grandpappy talked bad about my father. He might be the only Yankee in Nine Run but I was still convinced he was a heap better man than anyone else’s father.
I waited for Katherine to come but she never did show up again.
Maybe it was because she knew she’d done been replaced.