Author: idairma PM
"'Aw, don't worry about that, chickadee. Father will come home. He always does,' says Aaron reassuringly. He envelops her in a hug. But he bites his lip. Aaron is also worried. This was worse than Mabel had thought." Historical fiction, set during the War of 1812. How much to pay before winning a war?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Angst/Family - Words: 3,651 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 02-27-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3104685
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Mother is worried.
Mabel can tell her Mother is trying hard not to look worried. But it is always easy to tell when Mother is most worried because Mother tries so hard not to look worried. Her mother talks too quickly, and talks too much, and she skitters around the kitchen making dinner, trying too hard to do everything that is normal, asking too many times, "Are you sure you're okay, Mabel dear? Nothing too terrible happened today?"
"Not at all, Mother," she answers again, staring out the window. She is waiting for her brother to come home—her brother sometimes works late at the docks, which is good for the family's finances but makes Mabel feel lonely. Especially because Father has not come home in the past two months.
He was supposed to come home a week ago, to be honest.
"Why hasn't Father come home yet?" Mabel asks Aaron that night, while her eighteen-year-old brother is tucking her into bed. She's now worried too. You can never trust estimates for when a trip will be over—she's only eight but her Father, being a merchant, goes on an annual trip across the sea to Europe to trade. He is usually a month later than predicted. But she can't help worrying.
"Aw, don't worry about that, chickadee. Father will come home. He always does," says Aaron reassuringly. He envelops her in a hug. But he bites his lip. Aaron is also worried.
This was worse than Mabel had thought.
Father doesn't come back. Mabel's mother is more worried than ever. Aaron, too, is worried. He gets a full-time job at the port where Father used to keep his ship, the Charity, to keep money into the household, since Father obviously will not be bringing anything back from his trip to Europe. Mother starts quilting.
Mabel waits for Father to come back. Father has to be coming back. Fathers don't just disappear. But she remembers how the Avery children's father, who used to be Father's friends, disappeared around six years ago and never came back. And she remembers rumors that the boys in the schoolyard tell her, the boys with the wooden swords who say that it is Britain's fault that sailors are not coming back and that there will be a war.
The boys aren't known for being truthful, but on this one occasion, they are. And soon there's a message in the newspapers that President Madison has declared war on England.
"I'm worried," she tells Aaron.
"Don't be, chickadee," says Aaron, as always.
"War is such a scary word."
"Maybe, maybe. But it's what we need right now. President Madison is smart and we're going to win this, and Britain will stop bothering us. Chickadee, Mother would be upset if I told you but you need to know. The British took Father. And they'll keep taking other fathers until we do something—and we are. There will be a solution. And everything will be okay." says Aaron, his eyes shining.
Mabel wonders if war is really the only solution there is. But she trusts her brother. So she nods. And she doesn't ask the question she really wants to. But will Father come back?
The war has lasted for four months already. It's funny how time passes. Her birthday comes and goes and she turns nine without Father and much festivities either.
"I'm sorry, Mabel, are you sure you're okay about not having a party this year?" her mother clucks. "I'm so sorry, but times are tough with the war and all this and your father being—but let's not talk about that, hm, are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, Mother," Mabel replies. In reality she's a bit sad, because her friend Sarah whose father is perfectly at home and works as a shoemaker had a party and a father. But what can Mabel say when Mother is already too worried and she knows Aaron works hard to make sure that they all have food at the end of the day? What can Mabel say?
Christmas without Father. It's not the same. It's lonely with just the three of them in the house, so when the Averys, who have also lost their father, invite them over to Christmas dinner they jump at the chance.
It's not much of a Christmas, but better than she expected. There are four Avery children, Benjamin and John and Lewis who are all older than Adam. Benjamin and Lewis are even married, and they bring their wives, Mary and Alice, who is pregnant. Then there is little Prudence who is exactly her age. Mother seems to be more relaxed than usual, chattering less and laughing a bit—real, warm, Christmasy laughter.
Before she leaves, she hears Mrs. Avery tell Mother, "I know this'll sound awful, but you'll get used to it soon. And this'll probably sound even more awful, but your husband is not going to come back. And the sooner you realize this, the faster you'll recover."
Mother has been recovering lately, coming back to actual normalcy (if she remembers what normalcy is). They spend more time with the Averys now too, which is good for Mabel because Prudence turns out to be a nice kind of girl, the kind of girl that will go skipping stones and playing with her, but also the kind of girl who works hard and listens to her parents. Mabel ought to learn from her, she thinks. It's good for Mother too, because although Mrs. Avery is much older, she is being a friend to Mother. So Mabel is surprised when she comes home one day to Mother bustling around the kitchen.
"How were you today, Mabel? Are you sure you're okay? Very okay? Very fine? Oh dear did you eat lunch and are you too hungry or tired or sick?"
"I'm fine, Mother," she says. But is Mother fine? She stretches and goes to her post at the window, where she will wait for her brother, but Mother stops her.
"Your crazy brother wants to enlist in the war," says Mother.
What? Mabel is surprised, even though she shouldn't be. Aaron always speaks of the war and its necessity to the nation in glowing terms. But still, Aaron can't possibly be going—what will she and Mother do at home?
"But I won't let him," declares Mother, and Mabel lets out a sigh of relief. Because Aaron wouldn't dare to cross Mother, would he?
A year ago, this was the last day she saw Father. She remembers the day clearly. She and Aaron and Mother had all run over to the docks. Aaron had helped load the boat. She and Mother had been trying to shield their faces from the sun. One of Father's sailors, a kind man with rough cheeks who swore the least, had pinched her cheeks and said, "See you soon, little thing. I'll promise to get you something."
And Father—kind, hardworking father—had hugged her one last time and said, "Be sure to make sure Mother doesn't worry too much, huh? I'll always be coming back."
I'll always be coming back.
Then he and his sailors had one by one, all gone on the ship, the Charity, the ship named after Mother, with Father lingering on land the longest to speak with Mother until one of the sailors yelled at him and Father had run onto the ship, yelling, "I love you!"
They had all waved goodbye.
They're arguing again, Mother and Aaron. They think Mabel is asleep, but no one could sleep through that ruckus. She shivers under her covers, but not from the cold.
"You can't go! You're my son! What will happen if you go? What will happen to you? What will happen to us? How will Mabel and I make a living here at home?"
"Mother, you and Mrs. Avery are making a fine living making quilts and running the Avery's little dame school together. Besides, the nation will send home a small sum to help support you while I go off to war."
"But what will happen to you?"
"What do you mean what will happen to me? Nothing will happen to me! I'm nineteen, Mother! I can take care of myself now! And I'm going off to war, because there are bigger causes out there, bigger causes like the nation, and you can't stop me!"
Mabel shivers under her covers, but not from the cold.
Mabel can't believe it. Aaron is gone.
It took months of arguing, months of tension at the dinner table and months of no-just-go-to-bed-it-doesn't-involve-you conversations held in the middle of the night. But Aaron won at the end. And Aaron is gone.
This time, Mother doesn't go into her usual panic-mode-worry-frenzy. It's worse. Instead, Mother is slower than usual, talks more slowly or talks not at all. She lingers near the door and gazes out the window. It's terrifying. And worst of all, there is no Aaron to gently guide her through, to tuck her in at night and make sure that she is feeling alright.
The weather is damp and sticky, and after helping their mothers at the dame school where they teach younger children how to read, she and Prudence go off to a small pond to skip stones. It's a tiny little pond, but it is still enough for them to be able to happily skip stones. She's been skipping stones with Aaron on it ever since she was a little—well, littler—girl. Sometimes, even Father would come. So many memories.
"I heard your brothers are at war," she says to Prudence. Her friend nods.
"Yes, but only Lewis and Benjamin are gone. John is still around to help Mother so it's not as bad as you. Plus Mary and Alice are staying with us since they shouldn't be staying home alone. You only had Aaron and he left."
Mabel says nothing. She pulls off her stockings and stuffs them into her shoes and dangles her feet into the water, even though she knows Mother will not be happy. The way Mother's been lately, Mabel will be lucky if Mother even notices. Prudence would normally scold her, but on this day she says nothing.
"I think Aaron did the right thing though," she says quietly. "I'm worried too but Aaron can't possibly, possibly die; he's too good for that, and it feels nice that he can do something to get back at the men who took Father."
Prudence sits down next to her but does not dare to dip her feet in the water; she is much too well-behaved for that. "That's good," she says. "That's good."
Another birthday. She turns ten without Father or Aaron (who sends a card that comes a few weeks after the occasion is over). But she has Prudence and her brother John and Mrs. Avery. So maybe it's not too bad.
But she won't be complaining when this war is over and Aaron can come home. And maybe Father will come back too.
It isn't until January that she gets to see Aaron again. Aaron, who is thinner and looks tired.
"I told you, Aaron, you shouldn't have gone off to war! You're not good enough for this!" Mother clucks once Aaron comes in the house, the longest and by far the loudest phrase Mabel's heard come out of her mother's mouth since Aaron left.
Aaron only sighs. "Mother, I'll only be here a short while and I don't want to argue. Do you have any food?"
They eat a good, hearty family meal that night, and it's almost like everything is back to normal. Aaron laughs and tells funny stories and eats—a lot. Mabel listens, eyes wide, while Mother heaps more potatoes onto Aaron's plate that Mabel knows that they can afford. But it's Aaron and who knows when he will come again?
That night, Aaron tucks her into bed like nothing has changed and he hasn't been gone for almost half a year and for Christmas, even. Like nothing has changed. There are not even any loud arguments with Mother.
Except she wakes up the next morning and of course, Aaron is gone.
Springtime. She and Prudence go to the pond for the first time since last fall. She would normally take her shoes off but the water and weather are still a bit chilly. Instead they skip stones together.
They go home because it gets cold too fast, and then they read the newspaper together. They're both fairly good readers because their mothers co-run a dame school, and quickly search for news of the war. There is nothing major going on—it is still too cold for battle, apparently. But on the whole, the war seems to be going well—they defeated the British on Lake Erie, and they burnt the British-held town of York a while back.
"I still worry about them," Prudence admits. She does not even have to explain who she is talking about. Mabel knows. "Silly, right? Like they would ever leave us."
"Like they would ever leave us," Mabel repeats, to herself more than anyone else.
Prudence's brother John is also contemplating going to war. John is exactly twenty years old.
"I don't want him to go," says Prudence sadly. "It's not so bad that Benjamin and Lewis are gone because I don't see them too much anymore since they're married. But John is my, well, he's my favorite." She whispers the last part, as if anybody could hear them near their secluded pond.
"If he wants to go, I don't think anything can stop him," says Mabel. "It was like that for Aaron."
John does end up going to war. Mabel misses him—John had reminded her of Aaron, except gentler and less humorous. Mrs. Avery and her own mother miss him too. But Prudence misses him most.
It's all over the headlines, all the newspapers. Washington D.C. burned by the British. Sudden downpour saves the Capitol. President Madison flees Washington, DC.
Mabel remembers that conversation, from what feels like so long ago, when Aaron was still at home. He had said that President Madison was smart, and that there would be a solution. But when will that solution come? How long? Everyone seems to be gone. And they've been gone for so long. Will Father ever come back? Will Aaron ever come back?
And now President Madison himself is out of the Capitol. Thank goodness, a sudden rainstorm doused most of the flames. But so close. So close to the British winning.
But would the British winning really be that bad? Mabel isn't sure she cares anymore. Prudence is moping so much that they haven't gone to the pond in a while, and Aaron has been gone for so, so long, and it seems like Father is never coming back. If the war ended, even if they lost, at least Aaron would come home.
They go back to the pond one last time before it will freeze over and be too cold. She dips her feet in the water, and Prudence frowns.
"What would your mother say?" she scolds.
Mabel sighs. "Whatever. It's a good day. I should celebrate." It has been a good day in American history; in the newspapers are headlines on a major American victory and the Battle of Plattsburg and the Battle of Baltimore, and everything. The Capitol is more or less the same as it always was. Now if only Aaron would come home…
Prudence doesn't buy it, of course, and she wipes Mabel's feet for her and forces her to put on her stockings and shoes.
"It's too cold for that, Mabel, and you know it," says Prudence. Mabel sticks her tongue out.
The war is over. It's over. President Madison declared it. There will be no more issues with the British harassing merchant ships. And Mabel is glad. The war had some glorious moments for sure, with the Battle of New Orleans splashed all over the newspapers just a month ago, but in reality she wouldn't care if the British had won. She just wants Aaron back.
One by one, men start coming home. Benjamin and Lewis come first. Then John comes one particular day, who is received by a hug so tight that it could kill from a girl half his size. It's heartwarming and sweet, and Prudence is happy and so is Mabel, but who she is really waiting for is Aaron. Aaron.
But he doesn't come home.
Instead of her brother, she gets a slip of paper in the mail. Mother's hands are quivering as she opens it. Mother won't let Mabel see it but she takes a long time to read it. When she is done, Mother says nothing but retreats to the kitchen and begins cooking immediately. Mabel snatches the paper and reads through it quickly. Her breath quickens as she reads.
And she screams.
For the next month, she is just going through the motions. She and her mother both. She and Prudence had an argument and they're not speaking anymore. She's not really speaking with anyone. Or processing anything. She cries a lot, but Mother doesn't.
One morning, her mother packs a small basket and takes her out to the docks. Mother says nothing as she packs the basket, and Mabel doesn't say anything either as they walk together. Doesn't say anything, just listens to the merchants and sailors that are loading up the boats.
"This is where we last saw Father," she whispers to herself.
"Yes. Three years ago," Mother says.
It's the first time Mother's even mentioned anything associated with Father since Aaron… since Aaron left. Mabel looks up with surprise.
"I miss him," Mabel says in a small voice. And she doesn't just mean Father.
Mother brings her closer. "I do too."
Silence for a few seconds.
"He was sweet, your father. He was wonderful to be honest. My older sister, she had married some boring, absolutely uninteresting man. I had been so worried I would end up in a marriage like that. But then I met your father. He was… He… he'd named his ship after me." Mother begins to cry. Mabel watches with wide eyes, having never seen her mother cry. Mabel cries too, for reasons she can't exactly name.
It's amazing how so much has changed, while the pond hasn't changed at all. She sits at the pond's edge, dangling her feet in the water as usual. She usually comes with Prudence. But today she is alone.
It's been two months since she got the letter. Since she learned that Aaron would never be coming back. One month since she's accepted the fact that her father won't ever be coming back. Two months of endless people apologizing for their misfortune and telling them that her brother and father must be happy in Heaven, and blahblahblah. She doesn't care. She knows that deep down, the people are all just rejoicing that the war is over and their own loved ones are safe. None of them understand.
Even Prudence can't really understand. She got her brothers back. She remembers that when Prudence found out, Mabel had screamed at her because Prudence was saying all these lies, like everything will be okay and I understand how you feel, and Mabel had just been so tired. So tired of it all. They hadn't spoken since.
There is the soft sound of footsteps behind her. And then two other feet join hers in the water. She looks up in surprise and sees Prudence, dangling her feet in the water.
She says nothing. They don't need to say anything.
"I'm sorry," says Prudence finally.
"Don't be," says Mabel. "I'm tired of hearing that."
Prudence looks at her, as if she is going to ask are you okay and Mabel is tired of hearing that too so she almost snaps again. But then Prudence asks, "Skip stones? Come on, my feet are pruning under this disgusting water."
Mabel can't help but to smile. She stands up and stays barefoot. Prudence wipes her feet, puts her stockings neatly back on, and even wipes her shoes a bit before putting those on.
They skip stones together.
A historical note from the author:
I love historical fiction. When you skim through a history book, it seems like just dead people and lots and lots of dates, but then I start thinking, what would it really be like? And ideas are born. For more information on the War of 1812, I recommend looking it up. And I don't pretend to be a historical expert, so if you see any discrepancies, minor or (I seriously hope not) major, please let me know.