This is the story of a War victim who was representing the Northerners (Republicans) in the American Civil War that lasted from the year 1861 to 1865. Fought in the 19th century, this story is a narration of what Rupert’s family goes through when he is involved in the War. It is about all the goodbyes that are unwilling in the course of the destruction. However, it is just another War story that proves War is gory. And yet again poses the question that – is War necessary? What is it worth?
As William’s hand clutched the closet’s handle, Vanessa reached just in time to prevent him from opening it.
“It is not meant to be opened William! Go to bed, its past your bedtime.”
“Sorry Mama, don’t get angry. I am still a good boy. Could you please sing me to bed?”
Vanessa knew the closet was the Pandora’s box in her life. All these years, it contained the hidden War toys that were a gift to William by his father. She just couldn’t get herself to burning it all down. And she hid another of those cavalry rebel soldier toys this morning itself. It lay in the shoe box, somehow it never came to her notice and she could not hide it until today. William might have seen her open it. He was a very curious boy. Very smart though, he knew about almost everything. Except War. And his father. Vanessa had never let the darkness that touched William’s father infect William. There were photos of the three of them together, and William knew that the man holding William in his arms is his father. But his identity was just in the dark as the man himself.
5 years ago…
It was a cold windy morning, and Rupert had a big announcement to make. Yesterday was Christmas, and Rupert had been behaving very strangely. Vanessa thought it was the weather that gave him the chills. Until he gravely asked Vanessa to gather at the breakfast table at 7 a.m. They never met for breakfast at 7 a.m. Vanessa sensed Rupert was going to give a bad news today. She had been anticipating this since a very long time. And now the time has come, it was the day right after the eve of Christmas.
“Vanessa, there is something you must know”, said Rupert as his moved his fingers nervously. Touching Vanessa’s soft cheeks, he gave her the Christmas present that she never wanted.
“I will fight the American Civil War. You know the situation. You know I have always wanted to end slavery in the states. And to bring them to the Union is my goal.”
There was an eloquent pause as the words lingered in the air.
The silence was broken by a heavy voice of Vanessa- “But Rupert, War is destructive. You cannot leave me. You cannot leave our 4 year old child. The War will change you into a negative person. Why don’t you understand? Please stay. There are others to fight the War. You need not go into the battlefield. You will…”, she was interrupted by a determined Rupert, who grabbed her face harder in his palms, and said, “You don’t understand that War is not gory. Rather it is glory. I will fight for what needs to be done. This is our War and it is inevitable. I will represent the Republicans, the northerners. And I shall leave Massachusetts next week.”
Slowly and disapprovingly removing her face from the pocket of his hands, she uttered her last words for him- “No Rupert, you will leave today. And never come back to us.”
She had struggled through years to explain to him, that him fighting in the War would not be good for them as a family. After the birth of William, she thought Rupert might change his mind. But she was wrong. Even today, after the parting words, he was as determined as ever. She didn’t want him to ever come back. Because the man who would return would not be her loving husband Rupert.
William had just woken up from his sleep when he saw Rupert leaving. He ran across the hall to the doorway. William’s lips moved innocently to call him “Daddy”. And Rupert embraced him tightly. It was the longest hug. While William stood surrounded by his father’s arms, Vanessa watched the duo bid farewell to each other in words unspoken. She moved towards them, and as much as she loathed it, separated the duo, and left from there with William.
“William! Come on eat your breakfast.”
But William, though understood nothing about the War, sensed something was wrong between his parents.
“Where is daddy going, Mama?” he asked.
But Vanessa was too broken from within to get herself to answering the question. She left from there, moved to her room, and shut the door. Tears trickled down her cheeks. She cried as much as she never had.
She didn’t know whether to cling to a false hope that Rupert might return, or accept the harsh reality that will tear her down more to pieces.
When done, she opened the door, and went into the hall. Rupert was long gone. William had left his breakfast half eaten. He started playing with his toys. William was too young to care about what happened. Too innocent to know the truth about his father.
She controlled herself somehow. She knew she had a child to look after. A responsibility that was now solely her’s. And she decided to never tell William about the War or anything about his father. She feared she shall lose her only child.
5 years later in Texas…
“Kill him Rupes!” yelled Joseph.
Joseph had become a dear friend of Rupert’s during the War.
Rupert had ruthlessly killed many southerners, the democrats with his rifle musket. The weapon had become a part of him. He never parted with it. He fought with a purpose, to bring glory to himself, to the Republicans, the Union. But it felt different this time. The purpose seemed to have faded. He felt like a magnet somewhere was repelling the rifle musket from him.
His captive was very aggressive and very young. Rupert felt connected to the captive. His heart beat fast as he drew the rifle musket, and pointed it in the direction of the captive. As he aimed at his target, he sensed the air around him to grow hostile. He held the trigger, and drew his shooting arm closer, and finally pulled it. The bullet whizzed past the heart of the captive. And he immediately dropped to the ground. The jerk of the rifle arm came out hard and painful on Rupert.
As the bullet was fired, Rupert’s mind flooded with memories of the times he lived with his family. His mind flooded with the soft embraces between him and his wife, there where a hundred whispers in his head. The whispers were William’s soft and innocent voice calling him “Daddy!”, the whispers were those of his wife, telling him how much she loved him. These were the memories of the good times. The sudden flashback was interrupted by Joseph.
“Hey Rupes! This is the last phase of the War. It is going to end soon here in Texas. I can go back home to my family; you can go back home to your wife and kid. Just gather a little more strength and don’t let yourself go weak. This is War. Let the thought stick with you like it has all this time. We have fought all these years for the Republicans. Don’t let what happened today, happen to you again.” Joseph sounded stubborn. He had realized what his best friend just went through.
“Jo! Did you not see what just happened?! I could not get myself to killing that kid from the South. I saw my own self in that naive boy. I saw myself from 5 years back when I had been too stupid just like the boy who now lies motionless on the ground. I joined the War against the will of my family, my wife. And now after all these years, I crave to be back home. I want to be back in Massachusetts, leading an ordinary life with my wife. I want to see the face of my child. I want to see him grow into a young handsome man. I want to live, Jo. I want to live.”
The determination of War which lasted for years within Rupert, had finally shattered. He now felt homesick.
“You will Rupert! Now come on, we have to fight the last of this War”, said Joseph as he breathed heavily. Rupert’s words had shaken him. He was not sure if they would live. But he was sure of one thing- his friend had become weak.
A month later in Massachusetts…
Vanessa had just put William to bed. There was something troubling her. She knew she was tired from all day’s work. But she could not fall asleep. So she prepared herself hot milk, poured it in a cup, and went to sit in the living room. Milk made her feel sleepy. She drank lots of milk the night of the day Rupert left her and her son to fight the American Civil War.
It was 8 p.m. And the room was filled with silence. She hated being groped by silence. Silence would bring her to the good old days she longed to return to.
Sitting alone in the hall, she tried to divert her mind by reading some of William’s poetry books. She thought she could help William the next day with his poetry lessons. As she drank the last sip of the milk from the cup, she heard a knock on the door. She wondered who it could be, because no body ever came at her door by 8 in the evening.
She opened to see a tall, dark haired American man, standing with a grave expression on his face. Apart from the looks on his face, there was something else about him that made her feel scared.
The man on the door had only one arm.
Vanessa stood surprised while the man explained the reason for his late interruption. “Hello Ma’am, my name is Joseph. I am your husband’s friend from the War. I am here to give you some news you would be unwilling to hear. Your husband, Rupert, died in one of the Ketchum hand grenade attacks. You may want to come and take his corpse for a proper burial. Please come with me.”
Vanessa stood speechless in total shock at the door of her house. She couldn’t utter a word. Motioning to Joseph with her hand to stay where he was, she woke William up. William questioned her as to what had happened. But she did not utter a word.
Together the three of them left the house.
Upon reaching the site, they noticed scores of figures dead from the War covered in blood. William grew very scared. As they moved past the corpses, Joseph pointed at one of them which was in a terrible condition. The grenade attack had terribly destroyed all the body parts of the corpse. Rupert’s face was covered in blood and dust and he lay still on the ground. His face, in spite of so much destruction, could still be figured out a little, and that led Joseph to recognizing the dead soldier as Rupert.
Vanessa, on sighting so much destruction, felt glad on having never told William a thing about it. She was glad she hid the impact of so much bloodshed and terror from her son. She was glad that her husband was wrong about War being glory. She was more glad, than she was mournful seeing her husband’s mutilated body. She just longed to leave the site and go back home with William. Her longing was similar to what Rupert had experienced in the last few days of the War.
William thought the man looked similar to the one in a photo back at home. And though he didn’t want to, William asked his mother – “Is he my father? Did he die today?”
Vanessa finally broke her silence. She replied to her son saying, “No dear, your father died five years ago when he joined the War.”
The Civil War ended. Northerners won the War because the Democrats surrendered. But was Rupert actually victorious?