All of us are clean for once, hair slicked back, our new kepis on, our trousers still creased, standing in the dim shop, a blue curtain draped across the wall behind us. The photo man, he makes us six press together like horses in a rainstorm. Jimmy and Henry stand on one side, then Jeremiah and me, then Will, and Sully on the end, looking even more tall and gangly next to Will. The photo man keeps telling Sully to stand still. Jeremiah's hand rests on my shoulder and my arm is round his waist. My spine shivers like we've been caught kissing in church.
The photo man finally sees what the rest of us already know about Sully and his chances of staying put. There is a burst of light. None of us jump at that, but Sully ain't still of course.
When I've given over four bits and am holding my tintype in my hand, I almost holler at Sully for ruining the picture, him nothing but a fuzzy blur leaning forward. Anyone looking will think we're good friends, all of us joined up together. Anyone will see one boy shorter than the rest, younger too maybe with that smooth face, but just as hard when it comes to the eyes. Papa will see the only son he'll ever have. Mama will see different when she gets that tintype in the mail. She will see us holding each other. She will see I still ain't ever the daughter she wanted. But all I see is me and Jeremiah, his head leaning toward mine, his fingers tight on my shoulder.
Near Flat Creek, New York: JanuaryFebruary 1862
'Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall.'
I know it when I see them. Jeremiah. The boys, Henry and Jimmy O'Malley, Sullivan Cameron. The four of them in a tight bunch across the churchyard, a bushelful of excitement between them, looking sideways with smiles only half hidden, that handbill paper all soft from too much of their hands on it. I know right then they are planning on joining up. It makes me so mad I could kick shins, but I stay put next to Betsy, listening to Mama talking about Mrs. Waite's baby, how sweet, how pretty, and her so young and her husband gone already, killed at Bull Run and his enlistment almost done.
And then I just can't stand still. I march through the snow to the boys' corner, watching their mouths clamp shut as soon as they see me coming. Jimmy hides himself farther behind Henry, always trying to stay out of a fight, and Sully snatches that paper out of Jeremiah's hands and hides it behind his back, but it's Jeremiah I want. I grab his elbow and yank.
Sully whoops, 'I told you she'd be mad!'
'It ain't like it's tough getting Rosetta riled,' Henry laughs, showing all his crazy teeth.
I don't pay them any mind. I just drag Jeremiah back around the church's corner so none of them gossiping churchladies can see.
'What you think you're playing at?' I ask.
He leans his long body against the church, reaching out to pull my hand off my hip, smiling the whole time like it's nothing, his hand cool and smooth with calluses.
'What do you mean?' he says, like I don't know. Like everyone don't. Like the men ain't been talking about the war for most of the year, my Papa standing with Mr. Cameron and Jeremiah's Pa, their voices loud, their hands moving, complaining on Lincoln or McClellan or talking about how if we had more Generals like Grant the war would be over already. Now more than ever I am wishing it was.
'What makes you think you need to be the one teaching those Rebels a lesson?' I ask him.
'Rosetta, that ain't the only thing
Excerpted from I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe Copyright © 2014. Excerpted by permission of Crown Trade, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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