Morning by Thomas McGauley
Annie Eaves wakes at dawn. The fire is out. The cabin is freezing. Outside, someone steps up on the porch. Annie sits up in bed.
The door busts open. Big Harrod leans in.
“The Yankees is comin.”
Annie is out down the path. She sweeps up her skirts and follows Big Harrod.
The St. Johns River in November of ’64 is a taupe wagon cover. Flowing north. From here at the Devil’s Elbow slam clear to Jacksonville and beyond to the gilded coverlets of Europe.
Annie parts a space in the palmetto thicket. The Yankees are moving in force north along the riverside trace. Drums, fife and colors. Annie sees a woman in black sitting in a wagon. She says, “Who be that woman?”
Big Harrod says, “That woman is a physician.”
Annie looks at him. “I never heerd of a woman doctor.”
“She been doctorin in Jacksonville. Openin contraband schools. Doctorin along the river. Her son were killed up in the Old Dominion. Now she tryin to get back to Boston.”
Annie studies the woman.
“I never knowed they was women physicians. They stoppin at the landin.”
The Federal patrol stops at the wayside station. Frost in the cypress along the river. The half-rotted wharf is loaded with wood for the steamers. Annie steps from the thicket. A dusty private, eating a corn dodger, sits on the corner of the porch, rifle at his side.
Annie sees the woman doctor on a rocker on the porch. Her black bag is at her feet. Annie goes up the steps. The woman regards Annie: barefoot, in a ragged, tawny frock, hair tied back with a buckskin shoestring. The woman moves her bag to her other side.
Annie flees down the steps and back into the thicket.
Annie sees it before anyone.
Worn Rebels in patches of butternut pull to the edge of the brush on the north clearing. A twelve-pound howitzer booms and startles the dawn. Black birds rise from the pines. The cannonball tears off a corner of the station. Muskets and carbines bark from the brush: shouts, rearing horses, drifts of smoke.
A volley of bullets rips through the thicket near Annie. She stumbles and hears Big Harrod scream. She looks for him. He is gone.
Amid palmettos, she sees a shotgun, hears the hammers set; she runs back down the path to her cabin.
Big Harrod stands by the woodpile, holding his bloody shoulder.
Annie goes to him and hears something and turns.
The woman doctor, in black, holding her bag, runs up the path. A crackling of small-arms fire. The woman hunches her shoulders, and looks at Annie.
Annie waves her on, guides Big Harrod, and they all three step into the dim chill cabin. Annie kindles the fires. She says,
“They let women go to doctor schools in Yankeedom?”
The woman holds her elbows. “There is a world beyond these cotton fields.”
Annie Eaves turns to the woman.
“Big Harrod here is shot. He a good man. Can’t you hep him?”
The woman doctor studies Annie, and looks over big Harrod.
She rubs her nose and considers her bag.