Excerpt from The Widow of The South by Robert Hicks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Widow of The South

by Robert Hicks

The Widow of The South by Robert Hicks X
The Widow of The South by Robert Hicks
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 432 pages
    Sep 2006, 448 pages


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Everyone had their own way of getting their mind right. We lingered there on the outskirts of Franklin, and I could see each of the men in my company going through their little rituals. There were two ways of getting ready. Most of the new men, unless they were unusually wise or strong-minded, went about tricking themselves into forgetting the possibility of death. One youngster in an almost clean uniform took a couple pieces of straw, stuck it in his hat, and began to loudly tell every joke he could remember to no one in particular, as if everything would be all right if he could keep laughing right up until the bullet got him. A few people were listening to him, but that wasn't really the point.

Listen here, I got another one. Three old men come courting a young lady, and she says, "What can I expect from a marriage to you?" And the first old man, he says, "I've got a big ol' . . ."

Other younger ones paced back and forth, hitting themselves in the chest, shaking their heads like bulls, and cursing. These were the ones who were trying to make themselves so angry and riled up that they'd run like they had blinders on and rush wherever someone pointed them without thinking about anything except throttling something or somebody. Some of these boys picked up rocks and threw them as hard as they could at the confused rabbits, squirrels, and coveys of quail flushed out of their hiding places by our noise. I caught one mountain boy with stringy auburn hair and no shoes punching and kicking at an old locust tree behind us, and I yanked him around and sat him down before he hurt himself.

Me and some of the other veterans, we had different ways. We'd all been in battle, and you couldn't go through such a thing more than a couple times without it becoming impossible to forget death. The boy I'd joined up with three years before, my best friend from Fayetteville, he'd gotten a minié ball through the eye at Atlanta. In my dreams I still see his pink round face thrown back on the ground, his mouth open and his crooked teeth bared, his straw-blond hair matted with blood. After that, I never forgot about death.

The way I prepared myself was to sit down on my pack, pick out a point on the horizon, and stare at it. This is what I did that day at Franklin. I stared and stared at what appeared to be a church steeple on the edge of the town, just at the limits of my vision, and I took stock of my place in the world. My father had died young, and my ma ran off when I was about ten. I didn't have a girl, I had no one to go back to. I was just a man, and even if I'd lived to be a hundred, I'd still be forgotten someday. Men die, that's how it is. I had lost my faith by then; otherwise, I guess I would have prayed for my safety, but I didn't. I took deep breaths, stared at that steeple, and convinced myself I didn't matter in this world. I was an ant, a speck of dust, a forgotten memory. I was insignificant like everyone else, and it was this insignificance that made me strong. If my life was insignificant and my death meaningless, then I was free of this world and I became the sole sovereign of my own world, a world in which one act of courage before death would be mine to keep forever. I could keep that from God.

When they called us up to get on line again, this time for keeps, I was ready. Men dusted themselves off, tightened their belts, and obsessively checked their cartridges and ammunition, just in case. I stood there, staring forward, silent, looking out over the rolling land, hearing the pop pop pop of pickets firing their first shots, and thinking I could almost see around the bend of the earth if I looked hard enough. It was so pretty. The hills were glowing and soft-looking, and I saw a couple of deer scatter out of the woods and leap across the fields as we moved out. I could have seen myself living in that little town in front of me, in a proper house, under a different set of circumstances and in a different lifetime. Before we stepped off, I thought, I wonder why they chose this place for me to die.

Copyright © 2005 by Robert Hicks

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