The U.S. of After Chapter 42

Kelly

Gideon got the engine running somehow.  I don’t know anything about mechanical stuff.  My husband always did that.  We were on the water early in the morning and soon we were floating down river on our way to New Orleans with the wind at our back and the sails full as Gideon would say.

I cozied up next to him as he stayed back near the engine and adjusted it when it needed adjusting.  He was glad to see me again.

“Hey Kelly,” he said, a strained smile on his face.  “Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” I told him, though things weren’t.  “I guess I just needed someone to chat with.  It’s so hot and sticky out, huh?”

He laughed again, that strained laugh that a boy left on his own to fend for himself would tend to have.  Gideon’s Dad went to war some years ago and never returned, but Gideon never really talked about that.  He would just sit at the edge of the tent village in the reeds, wearing his leaf covered gillie suit, trying to keep us safe.  He’d come in to eat once in a while, and when he did he’d come to my tent for meals.

He could have been my son.

I turned around and sitting next to me, his legs crossed over one another, his blue eyes looking out toward the shoreline passing by, was Jacob.  I didn’t really know what to say to him.  He’d sat next to me when we started out from the sand bar and hadn’t said a word since.  I just hate uncomfortable silences, so I spoke up.

“Are you alright?” I asked him.

“Right as rain on a hot day,” he offered, turning to me and focusing those kind eyes of his on me.  I didn’t feel intimidated or even the strangeness of meeting someone for the first time.  It was as if we had known each other for years.

“What happened to you?  I mean, what did they do to you?”

“Nothing that can’t be forgiven, Kelly,” he said through a genuine smile, and then put his hand on my arm.  I noticed that there was a nasty puncture wound on the back of his hand.  He didn’t seem to be bothered by it.  “What transpired was a work of God, none else.  I take zero credit, but give it all to he who made it all.  My time is soon, but there is much work to be done before then.”

He turned and closed his eyes, his mouth moving in a prayer that was silent and only known to him.  I felt a warmth that came from him, a springtime sunshine warmth.  It was a good feeling, and I wanted more of it.

I looked toward the front of the boat.  Clayton stood at the bow, his face lowered, his hands firmly grasping Jacob’s hickory walking stick.  I pointed in that direction.

“Don’t you want that stick back?” I asked Jacob.

He laughed a laugh of one who knows a secret, a wonderful secret.

“No, dear,” he said calmly.  “I don’t need that where I’m going.”

He slowly stood, using my shoulder for a slight brace as he did, but I didn’t feel much pressure.  He limped slowly to the front of the boat where he touched Clayton on the shoulder.  They sat down on the bow of the boat, Clayton facing out, dangling his feet over the edge, and talked about something I could not hear.  They spoke in low tones, their voices sounding like whispers in a cavern.  After a while, their conversation seemed to come to a close.  Clayton’s face was drawn and sullen when Jacob finished, but the old gentleman placed a reassuring hand on Clayton’s shoulder and the young man managed a smile even if it seemed forced.

I didn’t know what they talked about, but Clayton seemed changed after that.  He stood up in the front of the boat again, head bowing toward the water, hands firmly grasping the vertical hickory stick, and the old man sat peacefully, looking out toward the shoreline as it lazily passed by.

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