Party of Lincoln
by Frederick Barrows
“...wuzword? ’mongst verylash ... flash ’cross ... graceman’s mind ’fore...?”
She wanted to know what death sounded like. Leery of snakes slithering through the thick, untamed grass, nine-year-old Ida May Baine stood beneath the half-open, back bedroom window of the small house. How lonely it looked in the expanse of blue-green fields. The dying man’s feverish ramble made little sense but that hardly mattered. She was determined to snare a death-rattle.
“...’f-fore ... Father butchered ... butcher ’n’ watch-man, he ... wore ... hats. Not ’ere. Win-chester...”
The dying man’s name was Mr. Parker and he was a carpenter. Ida’s father had recently brought a wobbly chair to him in need of repair. When word of Mr. Parker’s illness got around, Ida’s mother, contentedly riding the smooth rocker, had said: “More than half go to their reward and leave nothing of productive consequence in this world.”
“Used to watch ... piss-toll polish. Shine-n ... shin-nuh boots. Great-ring. Keys hip. So many. Thought ... could unlock any door ... world had offer. Suchaman! Took too long ... master horse. Dissa-pointed. Wish ’e’d said ... it. Out-right...”
Ida bore a jar recently emptied of fireflies. With it, she hoped to trap the man’s final breath. Surely none of her friends, with their beetles and frogs and butterflies, could claim something more special than a last gasp. Ida was barely three when her younger brother, Charlie, had died. There was no memory. She’d been fast asleep when her grandmother passed, the previous winter. Death was all around but strangely distant. Mr. Parker’s demise would likely temper her morbid disposition. How relieved mother would be! Ida planned to bury the jar near the cherry tree and then join her friends at the pond.
If only he’d get on with it.
“Widest smile cannuh eclipse ... dar-kiss’d-darknesss ... The horse ... half-a-hand
toohigh. Sim’lar span ... sep-rate ... man’s life from...”
The jar felt slick in Ida’s hands. The sun was high and mean; the clouds little more than lazy whipping ribbons.
“...reliable trade. Nobl’r craft. Th’ pistol! Boots! Such tall boots! Peace-keeper on hip. Walk proud ’mongst civilfolk. How can ... such a thing bee deemed ... rot-tun?”
Perhaps she’d finally touch bottom, pelt doubting sourpuss Jamie Grier with a fistful of wet clay.
“Scorn! Shush little mouse in pee-poll’s house. Cruel woman! Knew she was hurting. Better to have shirked meet-up. To be dressed-down ... No honorable way t’ salvage it. Put beneath paup’r’s grave. God knows, buried under roots most foul and eternal-cursed!”
Someone entered the room. Ida heard a woman’s quavering voice. Likely Mrs. Parker’s. Florence Beets swore Mrs. Parker’s middle name was America but Ida didn’t believe her. America was too big to belong to just one person.
“Taltavull’s ... could’ve stopped hassome devil. Right. Then-there. Duty done. But ...no. Too deep inna cups. Outside box? Charmed ’iz way passst, mose like. Hand-some devil. Far-worse. God-awful. No end t’it. Cast-off idle hands. Re-formed! Table-mak’r. Great sturdy tings... Oh, God!”
Ida anxiously rotated the jar’s lid.
“Shall not let ... triumphfff. Go to savor ... satis-fied. Made best world, for me ... me and ... Keysonhip! Jangle. Jangle so bright!”
The woman in the room let out an awful wail and Ida dropped her jar. It struck something harder than itself and cracked apart.
“Girl! Away from there!”
The whispered shout emanated from Mr. Twohy. He and his stuck-up wife were walking along the trail leading to the pond. Ida’s father clerked for Mr. Twohy. Papa spoke ill of the man at the supper table but acted nice as could be to his face.
Ida examined glass remnants through parted weeds.
“There ... Oh! toon ... Conduct’r Sousa-band ... thepost ... luv-luv-luv-lay melodeee ... take-care. List ... lissend...”
Mrs. Parker’s sobs were too dreadful to bear.
“Sockdologizing? Yesss ... sock-dolo-giz-ing...”
Ida abandoned the ruined vessel and dashed across the yard, lagging behind the fancy-dressed couple.
“Mrs. Harrison was supposed to be at the piano recital. Libby maintained she’d be there...”
“Well, love, with her husband’s troubles in the Dakotas, I’m sure she has little time for frivolities.”
“Frivolities? As if those savages could appreciate culture! The president must know the importance of...”
“He does, dearest. I am quite certain of it.”
Ida spontaneously broke off the path.
Shrieking excitedly, she cut across the field, her arms flung wide, in purest flight.
Frederick Barrows has published stories online and in print. Via Lone Argonaut (loneargo.com), his creative outlet, he has published three novels and a collection of short stories. He lives in New Orleans.