E Pluribus Unum, Inspected

Was this Civil War soldier dealt a lifetime of bad hands, or did he do this all to himself?


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“There was a superstition in my regiment that anyone who went into battle with the foot of a rabbit tied around his neck was safe.”

—“Soldiers’ Superstitions: Confederates and Federals – Rabbits’ Feet – A Steel Button,” The Morning News, May 13, 1887


It was at Petersburg where I lost the arm.

A regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners burrowed beneath Elliott’s Salient, then blew the tunnel to hell, plunging the Confederate fort above into a bucolic rectum. Then General Burnside sent our outfit into that crater instead of around it. They got stuck down there. The few Rebs that survived took their time at that crater’s edge, even whizzing on our beleaguered boys after they spent their last ammunition. It was a turkey shoot, if I ever saw one.

Except, I didn’t.

I was a mile gone when the shooting began, clutching my dynamite stick like religion, heaving white blades of dawn, praying I’d make it back to Dover to take my sister to First Communion, as promised. Sweet Emma. She’s so innocent even her eyelashes are braided. She made herself into a medallion around my neck when I left, lashing me with a look. “Sad,” she said, her th pronunciation gone with her front teeth, “do you sink Christ will be rye? I don’t sink I like how rye tastes.” How do you break a heart like that? I hung a whole rabbit from my belt, not just the foot, for luck. I haven’t changed my socks in … what? Six months? I wasn’t about to die in some coal miner’s fallacy, covered in yellow Confederate whiz.

So, I crouched behind a tree. At home, by this hue of daybreak, Father would be wading into the grain while Mother sifted the day’s allotment of flour. After they died, my tantrum took me to answer Lincoln’s call to arms, and Emma’s front teeth fell out. A throng of thrush threshed in the thick thistle became A srong of srush sreshed in the sick sistle. Thy Neighbor that took us in is invested in agriculture, not articulation. “Thaddeus,” Emma’s teacher said to me before I was packaged up and shipped south, “without practice, Emma will misspeak the rest of her life.” I was just thankful she’d have the rest of one. Now, wedged into the dank underarm of Virginia, behind a tree, I recited her recitations, hoping it’d give me the rest of mine.

That’s when our lookout heard me. He raised his rifle on my squatted silhouette.

“Come out!” Cormier barked. “Or I’ll shoot you dead, you Reb son of a bitch!”

“It’s me!” I cried, hands up. “Thaddeus Radish! Don’t shoot! I … I got the shits is all!”

Thad? Well, expedite those bowels, private. Burnside says it’s time to sink Salient!”

But I stayed put, and took off east as my battalion entered the tunnel, west. However, not much later, a ditch appeared beneath me.

I fell forward, open-armed into glory, glory, hallelujah — and my dynamite.

When I woke, the sun was up. My arm was in a tree, the hand blown to infinity. It was up there and I was down here in a second hole — one I dug deeper when Burnside appeared with our unit’s sulking leftovers. “How the hell did you get out here?” he asked. I’d recognize the General anywhere. His facial hair looks like a twirling skirt of sled dogs.

“Me? Oh, I … I’m a messenger,” I said.

Burnside narrowed his eyes. “Well, where’s the message?”

“Well … I … suppose it’s up in that tree with my arm,” I said. Burnside scowled overhead.

“And how might your arm have come so gruesomely loose from your personal person?”

“That’s an excellent question,” I said.

Radish?” It was Cormier again. “Lord Almighty. Did your dynamite do this?”

“Some luck,” I said, and unclipped the rabbit from my belt, coughing up a rusty sputum.

“I loathe but two things,” Burnside said, and drew his gun. “Rednecks and yellowbellies.”

His muzzle stared me down. I smelled like Virginia mulch, poor compost. I blinked first.

Please,” I begged. “It’s just my little sister and me.”

Then I died.

* * *

Heaven is New Jersey. The angels in aprons look like nurses in the wrong light. Cormier is here, too — a one-eyed likeness of God. He’s who filled me in on the happenings at Elliott’s Salient, how the Confederates peed on our boys’ as they pleaded. He didn’t fight in that crater, only looked out across it, as he is wont to do. After Burnside spared me, shipped me north to this hospital in a wooden cart, like semi-slaughtered cattle, Cormier took shrapnel to the eye whilst looking out across a skirmish at Keedysville — an injury that has left him with a disturbance of the brain that causes oblivious fits of self-manualization. The nurses have tied his arms to his chest so he won’t knead himself raw. They gave him a coin to flip to exorcise the nuisance of his fidget. He lies on his cot, arms bound, knuckling a two-cent, his stitched eye stuck in a wink, as if everything is a secret between only the two of us.

“You must have been so brave,” the nurses say, sponging my shoulder stump.

“Yeah, well,” I say. Cormier bites his lip and winks.

We got to be chums, he and I. What else is one to do in here other than use the bedpan?

War delivers its own continuum. Soldiers are hands of a different timekeeper. Clock time? God’s time? War is but a hiccup in their general tickings. On the battlefield, here in the hospital, we lose all assertion over our clock and God. We play cards. We use the bedpan. Cormier tries to get at his tackle, rub it into a long bruise. I write left-handed to Emma: We play a lot of cards. Thy Neighbor writes back: Sis wants to know why your penmanship is sloppy. God, she’s growing up and I can’t do a good goddamn thing about it.

In another letter, Thy Neighbor writes: Emma wants to know how you became sad?

How do I articulate the enormity of my blackened heart to someone so little, with limited articulation? How do I keep the world a small blue marble for her? Especially when it is so very flat? How do I explain I’ve been a tourist on these battlegrounds, clutching a rabbit like she does her favorite doll made of flour sacks, hiding behind horse corpses, pissing into my socks, as nearby bodies belch their last gases, crying for their mommas, too? The only difference between innocence and ignorance is the amount of teeth, and Emma is missing her two front. And that’s when I realize Thy Neighbor’s error in dictation.

I reply: Thad was Grandpa’s name. You became Emma because it was Mother’s middle.

At night, I fall asleep reciting Emma’s recitations, and dream of the day that I’ll make sure that Jesus isn’t rye. I’ll make sure He’s a big ol’ flapjack drenched in syrup — the good body and blood. I’d give my right arm all over again for that.

I wake, thinking my heart is dragging out of my bandaged stump. My neck tendons tighten into poor arithmetic. Nurses are holding me down. “You were crying for your mother,” they say. They pour tisane with sassafras down my throat. For euphoria. But I spit it out, feeling flush — and looking so, it seems. “He must be allergic,” the nurses confer.

“I’m superstitious,” I say. “Father was prescribed sassafras by a doctor in Philadelphia for his bladder malady.” How could it only and already be more than a year since I last saw him in the outhouse, kicking its walls? In agony, alive. He’d bounce his knees, afraid of the outhouse. He’d bounce Emma on those knees, clucking his tongue like a galloping horse, her giddy. I explain to the nurses that, after the train struck their carriage full of Amish sassafras, passengers detected a strong aroma of licorice as they chugged by.

It must help that the nurses are sisters, too. When I’m convalesced, they gift me my dead arm, pulled from the pile of lost-and-found misfits, washed and wrapped in resin and linen, and fitted with a hickory hand. It smells better than my socks.

Cormier is released, too, fettered and eye-patched. We’re transferred to the Invalid Corps, established by Lincoln. While the abled run into each other, stubbing themselves like toes on the fruited plains, we already-stubbed take their posts, patrolling warehouses, guarding captives, and marching in parades — like our first pomp in Trenton at the Cooper and Hewitt factory to inspire the boys there working long hours, forging Union gun metal.

I sling the dead arm like a rifle, right shoulder arms. Cormier’s elbows are bound to his ribs under his greatcoat, his empty sleeves drooping like basset hound ears. We march to a snare drum while dainty women weep and slack-throated men huzzah, waving teensy flags. What face would I make had I crawled out of that whiz-filled crater? I decide puckered, as if I was sucking a lemon. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Cable tells those of us still with knees to lift them high, to about face with the face we got left, tooting his whistle from his bath chair drawn by an arrogant Shetland. He punches his thighs when it rains. A cannonball took his shins while charging Antietam. I bang my only elbow on purpose, coming as close as I can to Cable’s kind of cold-bone tingle, puckering my flaccid face into something sour.

At the parade’s end, we salute the flag, still stitched with stars for our Southern brothers — again, Lincoln’s bright idea. The Rebs look at that flag like it’s a goddamn dare. The Trenton crowd shouts for us to rip off the eleven Confederate stars, saluting the other twenty-three — one being Delaware, Emma. I aim to keep her on that flag, in place. She believes Mother and Father are Amish now, off to greener pastures. In her letters, she asks when will I be home, when can we be Amish, too? Soon, I respond. My wooden hand against Cormier’s forehead salutes the cause. Once upon a time, idiots from the North and South both kissed the feet of King George III. From many foolishnesses, history provides but one point of view: behind.

As we salute, I overhear two gentlemen, guffawing from the sidewalk:

“What is this? P.T. Barnum’s traveling menagerie of freaks? Ha-ha!”

“Indeed! I believe we have stumbled upon an exhibition of the most ridiculous bodies!”

“That one there reminds me of Sum Total.” The gentleman points his cigar at one of us.

“Ah, Sum Total!” the other says, shaking his head solemnly. “Your beloved race horse.”

“Which I shot in the face,” one says.

“A decency owed for a broke leg,” the other says. “For what good is a lame horse?”

Glue!” jests the first gentleman.

My heart bashes inside its birdcage. I bend the spring hinges on my hickory fingers, forming a fist while concurrently looking for something to hide behind. Meanwhile, Cormier is bawling. “My cheeks tickle, Radish,” he whimpers, as tears fall down them, “and I can’t wipe or scratch them.” So, I wipe and scratch his cheeks on his behalf with a wooden knuckle as Edward Hogg, up front, bugles through a hole in his throat.

“Hogg is playing ‘Taps,’ for us,” Cormier continues, and sniffles.

“No,” I say. “He’s playing it for those who won’t make it home.”

“If you say so,” Cormier says.

* * *

After a couple months of this flatulent pageantry, we march to a Camden outpost in a lumberyard along the waterfront that stinks of fish and yeast. We’re guarding tons of flour and a pyramid of stale loafs. A bread shortage in the South has sent its women rioting and thieving. I think of how Mother’s cheeks were always white from her own floury handprints, some specter of surprise, as she rested pies on a sill, turning her face up to the sun, or toward that train. I feel my heart in my jaw hinge. I write Emma. I don’t tell her about the trains because I can’t bear to look at them. I feel their steam whistles in my stump and bladder. I report to her the flocks of seagulls that stalk the riverbank in one long furrow, birds we have been ordered to routinely shoo from picking our nation’s prized mounds of rye, white, pumpernickel, and whatnot. I promise to steal her some Christ in the form of honey wheat. I describe the ladies and gentlemen clutching their parasols and top hats as they ferry across the windy river to Philadelphia, the ways in which the sunrises and sunsets beam and boast through the luminescent textile factories’ chemical hazes, swirling high in grand pinks and purples — Emma’s favorite colors. So goes a month or so with no reply. Then, finally, a correspondence arrives:


We took the train up to see the grand pinks and purples. We’re about to hop on the ferry when Emma starts to cry. I turn and look to where she is looking, and there I see in the lumberyard two soldiers playing Rock, Paper, Scissors, one with an eye-patch with his arms tied down, like he is some kind of rump roast. That lad only made scissors, squashed by the other’s wooden fist. Emma says it was you, the rock. I saw the resemblance but barely. We took her right back to Dover where she ripped out her eyelash braids. Looks like every other Dover gal now, I’m afraid. Don’t think you’d recognize her either. Courted by a fine man, too. Next year, they’re off to the Kansas State Agricultural College, where he’ll study. Wants to specialize in thresher mechanics. They intend to wed come spring. I blessed their union as I bless yours.


Thy Neighbor

 P.S. She took the Sacrament. She said to tell you that rye isn’t so bad after all.


I must’ve read that letter for months. It’s winter. My heart beats counterclockwise. Hogg bugles “Reveille” from his throat hole at pink sunup and “Taps” at purple sundown. Cormier asks why my head is so low, and I say, “It’s Emma, still around my neck.” I show him the letter with its nary a misspeak: She’s off to thresh the thick thistle.

“How is this possible?” I say, through tears. “How long have I been gone?”

“Did you think the world was going to wait for us?” Cormier says, turning over his coin.

“I suppose I half-expected her to, at least,” I say, pinching myself with the hickory hand.

“Well,” Cormier says, “at least the other half has got some sense left.”

* * *

Cable gets correspondence: Turns out Major General Sherman has strutted into Georgia and burned it so bright people are tanning their asses on it. He announces as much as he punches his thighs, breaking frost on his folded pant legs. His Shetland looks like a chandelier, its mane thick with ice. I’ve got a glove on my wooden hand, it’s that cold.

Just then, seagulls burst into the sky from across the lumberyard.

Followed by the hollering of our patrolmen: “Thieves! Thieves!”

So, we cross the lumberyard and find our soldiers locking up two bread robbers shrouded in blankets in the prisoner wagon. “Now, to clarify, ladies,” Cable says as his Shetland and bath chair slide to a halt on the sleet. “When your husbands so treasonously seceded from our great Union, you, too, forfeited said Union’s goods and services — such as our coal, our naval vessels and financial centers, as well as our goddamn delicious bread.”

“I’m no lady, sir,” the tall one says, and lowers his blanket from his head. It’s a black man in Reb grays, with a white eye and a beard full of bread crumbs. “But my wife is.” The short one blinks through a square of old crate threaded with twine into a makeshift wooden mask, two holes cut inside the Os of the word DOMINO inked above smaller words: Parlor Matches. “Name’s Brister, sir. This is Domino. She got the Phossy jaw making matchsticks in Ohio. She’s innocent in this. She can’t even eat bread no more, only soup.”

You fought for the Confederacy?” Cormier says, his empty sleeves flapping, shocked.

“Ha!” Brister says. Domino pulls a small chalkboard from under her blanket and writes: Ha! “Son, are you deaf in the eyes?” he says to Cormier. “Why on God’s green earth would we ever fight beside the Rebs? I want nothing to do with this war. It ain’t even a real war. It’s just a bunch of white neighbors wagging their dicks at each other.”

Was a bunch of neighborly dick wagging,” Cable corrects. “I got word that Lee is holed up in a courthouse in Virginia, crying Uncle. General Grant is said to meet with the traitor come Palm Sunday. This goddamn thing has just about got a bow on it.”

“Palm Sunday?” I say. “It’s April already?”

“Well, then how do you explain that?” Cormier says, and swings his sleeves toward the decorated Confederate uniform beneath Brister’s wool blanket, looking out as he is wont to do. Brister coughs, muted against all the damp, unamused lumber.

“Oh … this?” he says. “I … pulled this off a dead Reb. See?” He pokes his fingers through bloody holes in his gray overcoat. Domino writes: infantryman + drummer boy. “We’re … bounty hunters,” Brister continues. “After Domino got sacked for getting the Phossy jaw, we switched to the lucrative vocation of fugitivity. We’ve been contracted to bring to justice a quack doc that … poisoned half of Seldom, Missouri, with his goddamned concoction.” Domino writes: Dr. GoodNews’ Nifty Nerve Nostrum. “We got a witness that says the son of a bitch traveled from Philadelphia by way of this ferry. But we figured it would be … easier to … negotiate such a place like Missouri, and the betwixt territories, in these uniforms.”

Cable and the other soldiers nod in agreement at said negotiation, said story.

However, I’m familiar with Brister’s use of … pause: a half-beat heavy with half-truth.

“How’d you get that white eye, by the by?” I ask.

“That’s an excellent question,” Brister says.

“I seen a stagecoach with that name on it,” Hogg says, “headed for Baltimore.”

“Thank you,” Brister says, nodding at the locked wagon door. “Now, if you’ll kindly?”

“Afraid not,” Cable says. “You still stole bread, which is a crime against the Union.”

And so we return to camp and spit-roast the biggest Easter ham, if I ever saw one.

* * *

Except, I didn’t.

I stay put, crouching behind the sappy lumber until my brigade leaves. Then I step out.

“I thought black Confederates were a myth,” I say.

“They are,” Brister says. “Same as democracy.”

“That quack did that to your eye, didn’t he?” I say. “A doctor killed my parents.”

The half-truth, the whole truth, and nothing but, so help me God. Please, help.

“Condolences,” Brister says. “Doctors and soldiers are the only folks that can get away with murder these days. Turns out, this quack is both. I got dry eye; my wife, a toothache. The nerve syrup blinded me on this side, and rotted off Domino’s jaw when she rinsed with it. But the folks who swallowed it? Turned them inside-out.”

“That sounds like the sneaky work of General Burnside’s outfit,” I say.

“That name sounds familiar,” Brister says, rubbing his crumby beard.

“It should,” I say. “Which makes you a Reb.”

Domino writes: we are not confederates.

“Then tell me the truth and I’ll let you go,” I say.

Through the bars, Domino passes me a newspaper article by the Confederacy’s Secretary of State Toombs that reads: The worst calamity that could befall us would be to gain our independence by the valor of our slaves, instead of our own. “If a black man kills a southerner, the southerner gets steely,” Brister says. “But if a black man kills a northerner on behalf of the southerner, the southerner is made impotent.” Domino writes: we were stealing their valor + pensions. “The Confederacy wasn’t built in a day,” Brister says, “but it can sure burn in one, and much faster than Sherman’s effort. Heat is hottest on the inside.”

“All I have done is run from all difficult things,” I say, wooden hand over my wooden heart, tears thawing my cheeks. I bang my elbow on a log, but can’t feel it. It was never mine to feel. I own no valor worth stealing. I barely possess a life.

Difficult is relative,” Brister says, trying his best to console me.

“I have one relative,” I say. “A sister. Emma. When I left on purpose she was but as tall as your wife. Now, she’s all grown, I guess, with many opportunities afoot. I’ll never see her again, will I?” The sun purples and Hogg begins “Taps.” “I don’t have a home to go back to anymore!” I say. “Once Grant bends Lee over that barrel, they’ll tuck me into an asylum.” I put the wooden hand against my hat badge: IC. “This?” I say. “It stands for Invalid Corps. But know what I’ve heard ferry passengers and parade-goers call it? Inspected. Condemned.

“Like spoiled meat,” Brister says, blinking his eyes, one brown, one white.

“I’m as good as glue!” I cry. “And I didn’t even earn that designation either.”

Brister squints, “What’s your name?”

“Radish,” I say. “Thaddeus Radish.”

“Thaddeus Radish,” Brister says, nodding. “Sounds about right. Do you know you’re named after Jude Thaddeus, the Apostle?” He points at my dead arm. “Do you know that Jude Thaddeus, too, carried a club? And that he was martyred with it? That’s how he became the idol of the despaired. The Patron Saint of Lost Causes.”

“That’s the first thing that’s made sense in years,” I say, and remove the glove off my wooden hand and break a finger. I pluck its spring and use it to pick the prisoner wagon’s lock. The door creaks open, and Brister and his wife step out of the cage.

“I’ll kill that doctor twice on behalf of your parents,” he says, shaking my hickory hand.

“Thank you,” I say, “and good luck.”

Then they’re both off, running.


It’s Cormier, looking out, per goddamn usual.

“What have you done?” he says, racing past me, chasing after Brister and Domino, like a chicken with its head cut off, his arms tied beneath his jacket, empty sleeves flailing. I’m chasing Cormier as well. We’re all headed toward the rail yard, the trains.

In an open freight car, lurching ahead, we see a mound of blankets. Cormier flops himself inside. A few moments later, I hurl myself into the car, too, just in time to see Cormier tackle that huddled mass — only to collide with two blanketed hay bales.

Someone whistles behind us. We peek out, back.

In another car, chugging in the opposite direction, Brister and Domino, blanketless, wave.

We’re chugging along the track too fast to jump out now — a speed I can only describe as inevitable. I am hooked into its dumb mass and inevitability, an involuntary accomplice. It’s the first time I feel the responsibility for something I cannot control.

I sit down. My blood is so hot I can smell it.

“Why did you do that?” Cormier asks me, hunched, catching his breath.

“Because I can be more than just a chickenshit,” I say, sucking in the cold air that howls into our freight car. I unknot Cormier’s ropes. No sooner do those restraints drop from his arms does he have his hands down his pants, wrestling himself.

“You were dealt a poor hand,” Cormier says, then blushes. “Oops! I didn’t — I mean, like the card games we played in the hospital? I couldn’t believe how many bad hands you got dealt. I’ve never seen such a streak of bad luck. One after another. You shouldn’t ever have been on the battlefield. You should’ve been with me. You were meant to look out.”

“I tried,” I say. “But I didn’t do my best with the time I got. And I didn’t get enough of it either. It’s unfair! All of it! I didn’t keep Emma in Delaware. Everything got taken away from me so fast I never even had time to appreciate what was lost.” I look at my pinned jacket sleeve and gasp. “Oh, my God!” I cry. “My fucking arm is gone!

“Maybe it’s not as bad as we think?” he says. “Hogg also plays ‘Reveille,’ remember?”

“You’re frigging yourself, Cormier.”

“No, I’m not,” he says, then looks down at his trousers. “Oh, damn.”

Some minutes and many miles later, the train squeals and slows as it passes through the next town. We locate up ahead a fluffy patch of vegetation, and coordinate a jump right into the arms of some saplings and brush and sucking mud.

There, I retrieve my wooden arm from the crotch of two branches, and get a whiff.

“What’s this smell like to you?” I ask, pointing at the tree.

Cormier sniffs a leaf. “Licorice,” he says.

“We landed in a bunch of sassafras,” I say, clutching my throat.

“How long’s it take to grow this tall?” Cormier asks, looking up.

“I wish I could see how tall my sister has become,” I say, taking off my boots and socks.

“I thought you were superstitious?” Cormier says, looking at my wet and swollen eyes.

“I’m allergic,” I say, wiping the tears with a wooden knuckle.

We move away from the tracks, pushing through the waist-high saplings, bees as fat as buttons buzzing overhead, and step into a field, a spring wedding: farmers at tables laugh and toast, eating hens and pastries and vegetables as big as musical instruments — like the fiddles of the musicians in the nearby gazebo. In step with the music, men with their pant legs rolled up take turns dancing with the bride, her dress ruined with mud.

It is a beautiful dress, I think, assume.

Remembering — sometimes it feels like bread that didn’t quite rise.

“Look!” a guest says, pointing at me. “Look at that yellowbelly!

Sweat jumps out of my neck. I clench the four remaining fingers on my wooden hand.

But Cormier nods at my stomach — both of our bellies are stained yellow from pollen.

With my back to the wedding, I unpin my folded sleeve and slide the dead arm inside it, then pin the gloved hand to the cuff, fixing it in place. I remove Cormier’s eyepatch, and put our IC hats in my pocket. I sit Cormier on the gazebo’s steps and hand him a spare bow and violin. With the impediment of the instrument tucked between his legs, he literally fiddles, no harm, no foul. He joins the band, albeit out of tune. But nobody cares. It’s a spring wedding, after all. One ill-tuned violin is the least of the rain on this drunken parade.

The guest who called us yellowbellies stumbles over and slaps my back, belching.

“Some beauteous sassafras there, eh?” he slurs. “What a wonder, how it cropped up one spring in such a heap and fit! Bless these young lovers — an equally beauteous story! She met the lad in those trees. They’d swing upside down from branches, literally head over heels!” The guest slugs his drink. “Lots to celebrate today, eh? With this war nigh concluded? But the shit of it has made for good fertilizer. All the blood spilled over this land will reap a ripe harvest, and make a beauteous future for these two lovers to thrive in, eh!”

“I suppose someone will have to thresh that harvest,” I say, and the guest slaps his knees.

Suddenly, I’m yanked away, into the frolicking masses. It’s the bride who has me by the dead arm, me one of the last men she has yet to dance with. A crown of yellow flowers dusts her golden with pollen. “How do I know you?” the bride asks. “You look familiar.”

“You do,” I say.

She looks at my bare feet and laughs. She kicks off her shoes.

“My husband and I did this as children!” she says, and splashes in the puddles.

But she is still a child. A teenage bride not much younger or older than me, in fact, I think. It’s hard to tell in all the mud and pollen how old either of us are. But she laughs like a child, foolish and flush with love and wine and sun, freckled with mud. I wonder what she thinks of the taste of rye. Does she not know the days are growing hotter? This mud is just dirt? Yet, the bride spins me, gawking a toothy smile. The dancers encircle us, stomping and clapping to the music I cannot hear now. In my sleeve, I feel the phantom of my former limb, its cold-bone tingle. I can only hear Cormier’s off-key violining, and smell the manure mingled into the mud that is just dirt, so sour a hot stench that I can taste it on my hairy tongue. There is no dignity in much of anything, ever, especially Death. He is a tireless bloodhound, and here we all are so full of blood and so often very tired. I wish my dead arm would just come off. Slip free of the sleeve and stick into the mud, cutting both the guests’ clapping and musicians short, as all things are cut short. To see the look upon the bride’s face! Trying to explain it, the physics of it. Trying to see the arm as I now see it: a weapon. Trying, already, to forget it.

I see Cormier fiddling, winking — a secret between only the two of us.

“I just cannot believe this day!” the bride continues. “What fortune! Family, friends, fare, my one and only love! I cannot wait to honor each other for the rest of our lives, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, forever, amen! Why, look at this beautiful day! How divine is God?” She bats her muddy lashes, eyes like bright blue marbles.

“He is … so divine,” I tell her.

And I lead her. We dance across this flat earth.

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  1. Zachary Vickers, I do declare your story here to be the most outrageous one I’ve ever read (and enjoyed) here of the Friday fiction selections, of which I’ve read many. It takes the reader to the edge and over as well. If this story HAD been written in the 19th century, it could have been a collaboration by Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll (perhaps) after consumption of some opium or other hallucinogens of the time for the wildest, bug-eyed odyssey involving Civil War soldiers ever written!


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