From a Summer Morning in 1864
It was July. When morning came, the Georgia moon, one day short of full, had not given up its light. It hung watchfully over the horizon, wavering in the heat as if it were being reflected off a shallow pool or viewed through the haze of a dream. First rays of light began filtering through oak and cypress trees, and the sweet, sticky smell of wilting mimosa became noticeable in the air.
The boy wore a light-blue cotton shirt tucked into thin black trousers, and a clumsy pair of boots that were two sizes too big. Leaving his father's cabin, he gently shut the door behind himself so as not to awaken the old man. His father was sick, but, because of the war, doctors were scarce; one could have never been persuaded to leave the war, go into the hills, and tend to the needs of a dying man. The boy smiled, thought his departure had gone unnoticed, and stepped absent-mindedly over the dog lying in his way. The boy was in love.
He was sixteen years old; his hair was curly and wet with perspiration, and, from time to time, he ran his fingers through it to keep it out of his eyes. His face was strong and angular, almost Indian. Had he known his mother, he would know that it was to her side that his looks belonged. On the right, the boy passed the last cabin before a great expanse of pines. He carried with him an old wicker basket containing stale biscuits, some cured ham, and a bottle full of goat's milk.
The boy had been walking for forty-five minutes now, the basket swinging in his hand like a pendulum, the heat from the sun increasing with each passing step. He listened to a hymn chanting rhythmically in his mind:
O'er yonder the fields are teeming
He did not know to what memory this strange song belonged, and now he could not even recall when it first came into his head.
Cut down the sinners! Cut down the sinners!
It began to rain, a brief summer shower that would last only a few moments, so the boy rested beneath the boughs of a tall pine tree. From the basket he retrieved a bit of ham, which he ate while he thought. This was not the first time he had been in love, the boy conceded, but this time was different. Now he was in love with someone he actually knew, a different thing altogether than with the girl in the photograph that he kept under his bed. Now he was in love with someone he could touch, someone who could touch him.
The boy smiled, leaned back against the tree, and wearily listened to the rain, the soft droning of a nearby hornets nest...
At the boy's cabin, the old man's soul rose up like waves of heat and dispersed into the morning sky, invisible, unnoticed...
At the edge of the pines, the boy reached his destination, the place where the wounded soldier lay hidden in the shelter of branches placed over him by the boy, three days before.
As the boy approached, he called out to the man, "You feelin' any better today?"
The soldier was still as the air around him. Thick swarms of gnats hovered nearby like storm clouds. The ground smelled damp.
The boy called out again, "Hey, how you feelin'?"
Again, the soldier was silent.
Reaching down, the boy carefully put the bottle of milk to the soldier's lips, stroked the soldier's soft brown hair, and began humming a Baptist hymn -- a sad song that had been stuck in his head earlier that morning. The soldier's eyes remained closed: It seemed he was listening.