Cannonade, by Skeeter Enright
Mark ambled along the riverbank. He wished his life was as simple today as it had been when he played here as a child.
Esthetically, it was not a pretty river. Trash lined its banks more today than it had in his youth. The water was seldom clear and it always smelled faintly of bluegills. The riverbank was not particularly quiet, but it still remained a peaceful place to walk. The sound of traffic from the road above constantly echoed down the shallow ravine to the shores, bouncing from tree to tree back and forth murmuring cross the water. He loved the old river despite its shortcomings. The muddy Maumee was his companion ever since he could remember.
As a teenager, he came here when the other kids teased him for his religious convictions. Few of his friends understood how much he loved the church, the ceremonies, the secure feeling he belonged. He had known he would be a priest since he was age twelve. He had forgiven his adolescent tormentors long ago.
Today he came to the river to say goodbye. As he walked he prayed he would be worthy of his future. In two short weeks, he would take his vows and become Father Mark. He prayed he would serve his new parish well. His prayers for his parent’s reconciliation were particularly fervent. He had hope for his parents. He knew they loved each other. He had seen it in their eyes. Before the month’s end, he was moving to his assigned parish in California. Now that he was going, his little sister Mary needed mom and dad together.
He would miss his old friend the river, but it didn’t matter. His vocation was solid. Some of his friends at the Seminary were questioning their conviction, but not him. He prayed his friend’s doubts would fade and they would feel the same dedication to their faith he had.
He was meandering along the mud flats not far from the family home, when he saw a bicycle caught in the skeletal arms of a downed tree. He quickened his steps. He could fix it up for one of the shelter kids. He loved to be able to give old things new life.
The stabbing pain in his toe when he tripped almost made him curse. He slapped a hand across his mouth stop any words escaping. He rolled over, spitting black mud, “Oh fiddle,” he finally sputtered, as he grabbed his fractured toe. The top quarter of the brownish black sphere that had tripped him protruded above the muck. It was not a rock. He dug his hand into the mud and unearthed, of all things, a cannonball.
There had been a Revolutionary War battle upstream a mile or two from here. He could hardly believe he had found a two-hundred year old relic. It was remarkably intact, the surface not even pitted. His aching foot forgotten he drew the ball into his muddy lap and…
He hated bloody Ohio. Let the British have it, says he. The place was all swamp, and mud, no use to anyone, save savages, if they even wanted it. He hated the bloody Kentucky Militia and its misbegotten dandy of a commander Colonel Dudley. Mother buggering General Clay had his head up his arse putting stout regular troops under the command of a poofing bastard who didn’t know which end of a musket to point. That fool was going to be the death of them all. The troop would have never made it even this far, if the British had not been fardled enough to trust their pickets to the heathen red savages. All of which were drunk on British rum.
Mark dropped the cannonball and shook his head. That was strange. He could have sworn he was… deep in the woods. He was still itchy from the feel of rough woolen clothes. His mind raced for answers. No, it must be the mud. His foot really hurt. He should get home. He would come back and get the bike later.
He stood up, and noticed the cannonball. His foot hurt, but he didn’t dare leave the relic. The river rose and fell in incomprehensible patterns. The ball could be lost for another two hundred years. It must be from the Battle of Fallen Timbers at the end of the Revolutionary War. How did it get here? It should have been over by the Fort, two miles upstream. He bent and picked it up, and…
Strutting Dudley figures they will have no resistance on this sortie, since the troops got past the besotted heathens. No thought to the fact that Muir himself is in charge of the British guns. A British serving officer against Dudley the ballroom Toady, and the Toady decided they should storm the canons. Take them, instead of sneaking in and spiking them as the General ordered. He could almost hear his old Mum now, “Jacob, you are the Devil’s spawn, mark my words boy, you will come to a bad end.” It seems that today the old bitch will be proven true. Dudley and the whole Kentucky Militia couldn’t take the British canons if someone shoved them up their arse. Get them all killed the fop would.
At the top of the ravine, Mark sat for a minute to ease his aching foot. He set the cannon ball down. His hand lingered on it, caressing its smoothness. He couldn’t wait to see everybody’s face when he showed them the relic. They always sneered at his riverbank finds. He’d show them, this thing was probably worth a fortune to a museum. He was going to hang on to it though. It was his.
The traffic sounds irritated him. Jesus, he stunk. He was covered in river muck, and wanted nothing more than to get home and take a shower. Despite the mud, his clothes felt smooth on his skin. He picked up the cannonball and…
Mother buggering Dudley had the Bugler call the charge… no chance for surprise. The fine ‘gentleman’ didn’t have sense enough to pour piss out of a boot. Cursing himself for a fool, he joined the uphill charge running and screaming a bloodcurdling battle cry. He cut down a heathen with his saber and discharged his musket into a Gunner who was aiming at him. He dropped his next ball and patch. He was pulling his rod when he looked up; saw the maw of the cannon, the flash as the powder was touched.
He was in the air flying over the hillside his body arched at his middle. He felt nothing but surprise when he noticed the cannonball buried in his torso. He had time to think, bloody hell, Mum was right, before he hit the cold river. His rage was palpable as he fought the enveloping blackness, until all he was, was rage. And then…
His last night at home took forever. His parents tried to act civil to each other, but he saw through their act. All the long glances between them, it made him want to puke. His mom wanted him to go to the hospital for his foot, but he refused. He was tough. Mother brought ice. Dad found some crutches.
At least everyone was suitably impressed with his find. The scale showed it was a six-pound ball. His dad went on at length about Revolutionary War artillery. How this ball must have come from the War of 1812 rather than the Revolution. As if, he would know about cannons. The man had never been to war.
“Donate it to the Maumee Valley Museum,” dad told him.
Like hell he’d give it up, Mark thought. This is mine! He found himself lying. “I’ll donate it to the Museum after I show my friends at the Seminary.”
Later in the evening, his dad came to him and mentioned that he had been thinking about asking mom to re-marry. Mark outlined, in detail, what a stupid idea their getting back together would be. He reminded his father of all the things mom had said and done to him. What dad had done to her. Whom did they think they were kidding? They were divorced. Let it go.
“Besides think of what it would do to Mary. She is only twelve. She’s just getting past the family breaking up. It’s cruel to make her think you guys might get back together,” Mark said.
His Dad looked at Mark, as though he were the idiot. Then, he walked away with his back stiff and straight.
Mary had found an old sling satchel for him to carry the cannonball. He put it next to his bed while he slept. When he left the next morning, the satchel was on the seat of his car. At breakfast, he carried it into the Waffle House. Mark started to eat quickly, so as not to be late for church. Then he thought, who cares? He had been to mass almost every day for the past couple of years. He’d done his time. He lingered over breakfast.
From the back of the church, the liturgy grated on his nerves. They should really do mass in Latin as was proper. What was with the music? Why was there so much light? Church should be a dark and solemn place. After mass, Father Theodore inquired about his tardiness.
“I had some car trouble on the way here.” The lie came easily to his lips. Some deep part of him shuddered at the untruth, but his guilt was brief. It was quickly replaced by admiration. A woman with a low cut blouse passed them in the vestibule. She had the most perfect breasts he had ever seen. They were an ideal compliment to the smooth slender thighs exposed under her short skirt.
Father Theodore cleared his throat. Mark’s attention drew back to the priest.
“Don’t be nervous about your meeting with the Bishop. You’ll do fine. It is just a formality. I’ve known many deacon’s. I believe you will make a wonderful priest,” Father Ted said. He put a hand on Marks shoulder and blessed him.
“Thanks Father,” Mark replied. He was saved from more needless reassurances by a little blue haired lady who wanted to take confession. What sin could an old biddy like that have to confess, he thought as he made his escape?
He sat in the comfortable wing chair in the Bishop’s office. The satchel with the cannonball was at his feet. His toe touched the ball through the canvas. The meeting seemed endless. The Bishop questioned him about his love of Christ, and his willingness to give up a secular life… yada, yada. He put his foot on the cannonball in its bag, and mouthed the correct answers. His mind kept drifting to the woman in the short skirt. Despite what he said, he was having a great number of secular thoughts. It was almost too easy, seeing so much of a woman’s body. It left so little to the imagination. There was more mystery in long skirts and pantaloons. There was more fun in the removal of the items, one piece at a time.
“Go with God, my son,” the Bishop said, as Mark left.
Mark had a feeling something was wrong, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. What ever it was, it didn’t matter. During the meeting, he had come to a decision. He was not going to be a priest. He had places to go and things to see.
The Army recruiter had a comforting military bearing. “Son, I have to be honest with you. As infantry, it’s likely you’ll end up in a war zone. The country is currently embroiled in two wars after all.”
Mark felt a little shiver in his chest. War! He patted the lump in the satchel at his side.
“Sign me up, sir. I’m ready.”
Skeeter Enright is the pen name of a collector of experiences, high school science teacher, former scientific researcher, and freelance writer. She lives in the house she built on her farm, which includes the world’s cutest donkey and a confused pig. See more of her at her website.
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Tags: history, Skeeter Enright, war