As Cora Countryman entered the room, sunlight glissaded through two six-over-six windows with red brocade drapes tied back to keep them from fading. The soft clucks of chickens invaded the still of the sitting parlor through an open window. Shelves of books lined the interior wall, some behind glass, waiting to be read as when a girl Cora had done, seated at the carved mahogany reading table, her feet dangling off the chair, her tongue between her lips while drawing pictures of sailboats, strange pyramids, and darkly clothed men from stories. Of course, that was when her father lived, before his loss forced her mother to take in boarders.
Twelve years was ample time to mourn, especially with her mother as gone as her father, though not as dead, well, not dead at all if the rumors that Edith was gambling on the Mississippi riverboats were true. Cora leaned over, touching the note’s brittle paper. The room shook under the thunder of horses so real she pivoted to face them, horses leaped over a stonewall onto pikes, men shouted as others fell, screamed, lay motionless. She removed her hand from the note, the room ceased shaking, the sounds and images vanished.
She sat at the settee, staring into the marble fireplace with its walnut mantle, her right hand spread across her chest, her breathing rapid. She lowered her hand to her side, afraid to touch the vase of dead daisies, lecturing herself on her ridiculousness.
When convinced, Cora wrapped her fingers around the vase, a withered petal fell from a long dead stem, floating to the ancient letter. Laughter erupted and swirled around the room. A young woman, a daisy chain wreathing her brow, threw her arms out, twirling until she bobbled, a dark-haired youth of near her age easing her fall. They lay together in the tall grass; he brushed a single daisy petal across her lips, until the marching of heavy footfalls brought them to their elbows.
Cora admonished herself, she was a modern woman, this was fantasy, or wishful-ness. She lifted the yellowed paper between two fingers, it wilted along a long-rotted fold.
“He is not dead, he is not,” a man in a blood-spattered coat said, his hands at the wrist of the body set before him. “Take him elsewhere, he belongs with the living.”
Another, his blue uniform filthy, positioned the dead man’s arms on his chest and with another lifted the stretcher. The two ducked out the tent flaps into cannon smoke, horses rearing in terror, and the whistle of bullets tearing by. They dropped the stretcher and ran for cover as men in gray on wild-eyed horses breached the position.
Cora’s father lay before her. Blood coursing from his wounds. A smile eked across his handsome face, a sly one. He opened one eye.
“He is not dead,” Edith Countryman said months later, the letter of notification in her right hand, she sank to the settee, placing the letter on the table. When a breeze ruffled the edges, she added the vase of daisies to hold it. “He is not dead, I have seen him, I have seen his smile.”
As Cora smoothed the skirt she wore left behind by her thieving mother, a couple appeared seated on the open deck of a paddle-wheeler. They laughed over a card trick, she looking pleased and he looking hardened, a daisy in his buttonhole.
The vase in one hand, the yellowed notification in the other, Cora set them within the glassed section of the bookcase, rattling the glass as she slammed the door, then holding it closed while turning the key. She leaned there as the wind howled down the fireplace flue and across the floor, swirling over and about the table.
Her hands on her hips at the mess created, Cora got on with the practicality of cleaning day and her boarders’ needs.