We Are Frantic in Baton Rouge by Barry Basden04 Apr 2017, Posted by Fiction in
WE ARE FRANTIC IN BATON ROUGE
When I get to the docks, the negroes are burning the cotton. They cut open the bales and pour buckets of liquor over them. They set them ablaze and push them into the river. The bales, puffing like little steamboats, float off into darkness. The owners stand in the torchlight watching their livelihood, their way of life, drift away. When it’s over they order the rest of the whiskey dumped in the gutters to frustrate Yankee thirst.
I feel the house shake from cannons firing down by the library. I go to the piano in my nightgown and play some of the old hymns. It is a comfort. In the afternoon a Yankee ship sails into view around the bend. Men scurry across the decks. Its guns belch smoke and flame. Shells scream overhead to fall on the unfortunate.
I hide in the root cellar. I pray. When the city surrenders, I have only cornmeal and marmalade in my cupboards. I run to the market. The doors are thrown open, the shelves empty.
I pack a running bag and leave the house after midnight, aiming to sneak through the lines into the interior. Old Mr. Sarter stops me at the corner. It’s impossible, he says. They hanged three guerrillas yesterday, just schoolboys they were. Nothing to do but go home.
Today, a new proclamation. Henceforth I will need a pass signed by the commanding general to leave my house. Imagine that. The same kind of pass we give our negroes. Rumors are flying that the Federals will soon arm them against us.
Yankees are everywhere, marching up and down, sleeping on the sidewalks, gambling, swearing dreadfully. At the commons, in front of a line of tents, a bluecoat officer comes up to me with two negroes I do not recognize. Both are wearing colorful head scarves tied Creole style to celebrate the occasion.
The one with green eyes steps closer. She touches my necklace, smiles, lifts it gently over my head.
Barry Basden lives in the Texas hill country with his wife and two yellow Labs. He is coauthor of Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II. His shorter work has been published widely, both online and in print. His latest flash collection is Wince.
“We Are Frantic in Baton Rouge” was previously published in Defenestrationism.