“Can I play with her?” Two-year-old Molly jabbed a pudgy finger at a rag doll in her great-grandfather’s china closet. “She pretty.”
“No, precious,” David Barker said, his eyes fixed on the ancient, faded toy.
“But, I wanna.” Molly began to wail. “I like the dolly.”
“No, precious,” Barker repeated. The firm tone dissolved into a tremble and he felt tears invade his eyes.
“Grampa, why you crying?” Molly took a gnarled hand in her own soft, baby one. David Barker glanced down into her innocent face for a moment, then back to the rag doll propped in its place of honor.
“’Twas so long ago,” he murmured, more to himself than the child. His legs felt weak. He hobbled into the living room, his cane tapping a slow tattoo of his progress. He found his favorite rocker and sank into its safe comfort. “So long ago,” he repeated.
Molly climbed up into his lap and snuggled into the crook of one arm. “Is the dolly yours?”
Barker started at the words, momentarily displacing Molly, before settling back into the chair again. She pressed her warm body against his suddenly chilled heart once again. “Is she?” Molly repeated.
“Well yes,” he started, stopped and wiped a hand across his dimming eyes. “And no.”
“Huh?” Molly asked.
“A long, long time ago,” Barker explained, “I was soldiering in the Union Army.”
“Yes. That means we … we were fighting … bad men far away.”
“Why they bad?” Molly asked.
How could he explain to his precious great-granddaughter that the president had proclaimed the southern states in rebellion by seceding from the Union? Or the dilemma in his own 16-year-old mind — knowing secession was an understood part of the Constitution against his own desire to ‘see action’?
The years of blood and disease and death had more than filled his desire for adventure. By the time he hit Georgia with Uncle Billy, U.S. General Sherman, David had had his fill. Bitterness at seeing his friends blown beyond recognition chewed at him.
During the march through Georgia, the boys chanted the popular mantra, “War is Hell,” and added, “so let’s give them Rebs lotsa hell.”
Surely the end of the world had come. David was swallowed up in the frenzied thirst for revenge. He helped burn and destroy anything in his path. He shot dogs, butchered pigs, and burned homes along with the rest.
One night, he tossed on the hard ground, remembering his best friend, Billy, blown up by a Confederate land mine just after they had left Atlanta. The next day, he plundered homes in mindless fury, trying to put Billy’s face and shredded body from his mind. He gave no heed to the pleading mother in front of him, begging the soldiers to leave food for her four babies, clinging to her tattered skirts.
As he passed them, he yanked a rag doll from a toddler. “Thank you, missy.” He grinned. “I’ll just be taking that on home with me for my little girl.” He raised his cap in mock salute. “Much obliged.”
Somehow the baby’s screams and mother’s pleas satisfied the lust for revenge. At least for that day.
What he didn’t know — couldn’t know, is that those screams would follow him. Follow him over the years and decades, through countless births and deaths. Always, he heard the baby’s screams, “My dolly! I want my Lucy.” And the mother’s pleas, “Sir, can you find it in your heart to not hurt this innocent child? Has she shot one soldier? You leave us with nothing. Nothing.”
Molly’s mother, Priscilla, walked into the room.
“Grandfather,” she cried. “What’s wrong?”
Gently David lifted Molly from his lap and set her feet on the floor.
“I have to go back, ’Cilla.”
“Go back where?”
“Grandpa, that’s insane. At your age? Why?”
David hobbled over to the china closet, felt around for the key resting on its top and unlocked the glass door. He lifted the doll from her place of honor.
“I have to take Lucy home.”
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