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Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

 

 

Somebody Else’s Child

The spokes on the wheels were still spinning when Octavia rushed from the house. Dress and petticoat lifted, she made her way across the yard to meet the wagon.

"He’s home," she said. "Thank you, Jesus."

Octavia, stilled by the pine box, touched the wood gingerly. Drawing a breath and forgetting convention, she hoisted herself up into the bed of the wagon. "Dear Lord," she whispered, eyes tearing. Her voice became direct and sharp as she turned to the men gathering and said, "Open it."

"Octavia, dear . . . "

She only glanced at her husband, Charles, making his way to her. Her attention returned to the many dark faces staring at her. She repeated her request.

Charles climbed up beside her. "Octavia, no. You shouldn’t see him like this."

"Open it!"

A man worked a thin pole of metal around the edges of the wooden box until the lid was loosened, then he and others moved it aside.

Octavia looked in. She gasped and then she fainted.

**

"Octavia, please. You must get out of bed. The service has been planned; every detail as you wished."

"Charles, you cannot be serious! How in the world could you expect me to carry on as if everything were fine? That is not my son!" Octavia was silent in thought, then her face grew bright. "Perhaps, it means Edward is alive —"

Charles shook his head. "Sending us the wrong body was a mistake, but Edward still alive? No. He has died in this war."

"Oh, how could this have happened? You must write a letter, Charles. Edward must be brought home. He must have his proper burial. He must!"

**

A day passed, another threatened, and still Octavia refused to rise from her bed.

Her minister.

Her doctor.

Her husband.

She simply said, "No."

**

The afternoon of the funeral service, Mam went into the bedroom, threw the heavy drapes open and then the doors of the mahogany armoire. She pulled out a dress proper for a funeral and gathered a corset and petticoat.

From the depths of her covers, Octavia watched. When Mam stood over her, Octavia said, "Give me one good reason why."

"He’s in need of a church going away."

"But he is not my son!" Octavia declared.

"You remember Lloyd?" Mam asked.

"Lloyd?"

"My last chile."

Octavia thought on it. "The boy Daddy said he wouldn’t sell," she recalled, sitting up in the bed.

Mam nodded as she pulled the covers away. "Do you remember what you told me that day he was taken away, Miss Octavia?"

Octavia stared into Mam’s dark eyes. She nodded. She did remember.

"Daddy, please. Daddy." Thirteen-year old Octavia glanced over her shoulder at the woman. Turning back to her father, Octavia continued. "You promised her you would keep Lloyd. Daddy, you promised."

Taylor Richardson glanced at the woman in the distance, despair darkening her face even further, then at his daughter. He looked away. "I know what I promised," he said, his tone sharp with guilt. "But there are circumstances . . . circumstances that change everything." He sighed. "I’m sorry." He left the yard.

Octavia turned, watched as Mam collapsed to the ground. She ran to her.

"Oh, Mam, please . . . please . . . " Octavia wiped at the woman’s cheeks.

"Oh, Lord . . . five children . . .gone, all five . . ." Mam wailed.

Octavia wrapped her arms about the woman and rocked with her. "I’m sorry Lloyd has been sold, but you have me, and the other children. Surely you could learn to love somebody else’s child."

 

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