Subtle Sovereignty is a short-short that I have been working with for many years. I completed it, let it sit, did a rewrite and have edited it many times after. It’s more prose than it is a short story, but there is a beginning, a middle and an end. This is one of my favorite pieces that I have ever written. I literally hand-picked each and every word so that the meaning of the sentence was in clear detail and every word giving meaning to the next. It’s not a piece for everyone, but I hope all of you can find some enjoyment from it. clh
In the center of a dense forest, in an unnatural clearing of land, stands a sixteen-foot statue of Colonel Buford W. Simcox III. He was the third Simcox to have served in the armed forces, but the only Simcox to become a Colonel. The statue’s weathered frame looms as a watchman for the smaller, weaker headstones in the family cemetery.
In autumn, the Colonel’s favorite of the seasons, the cemetery entertains fewer birds. Grave blankets of newly fallen leaves provide less pecking areas. September’s depressed air had turned bitter with an early northerly movement, a rarity in the south. The Sycamore and Elms, the Oaks and Sugar Maples, and even the beloved Cypress, barely had the chance to follow God’s intended cycle to slowly evolve from shades of green, to shades of red, yellow, orange and brown. Early brownies broke away from tree limb to earth in one night’s darkness.
The separated leaves seemed alive, not yet suffering the lack of moisture that cycled leaves would have endured. Piles of leaves pushed down against the heads of blooming chrysanthemums that had been planted generations earlier to adorn granite markers of deceased loved ones. These leaves would remain longer than those of previous years, not easily moved by fall winds.
Colonel Simcox’s surviving wife sat upon a chilled garden bench, wrapped in her heavy wool-blend coat she had purchased years ago at the Montgomery Ward Department Store in nearby Bennington Bay Village. Her mittened hands held a worn out copy of The King James Old Testament. Dementia moved through her like a tortoise, time the hare. Mrs. Simcox became agitated that she had selected mittens instead of the deerskin gloves that the Colonel had made for her over fifty years earlier from the hide of his six-point kill. With her fingers confined, she was unable to turn the pages of the Good Book. Several frustrating minutes later, she gave up trying, completely unaware of the option to remove the mittens to accomplish her goal.
Mrs. Simcox’s attention diverted to a Monarch butterfly as it gracefully fluttered in front of the Colonel’s statue, flirting with the idea of landing on the Colonel’s raised sword. Instead, it caught a down draft of wind and rode it in toward Mrs. Simcox. It circled above the Bible that she held on her lap, making the circle smaller with every round, until its microscopic feet landed on the sun-warmed black cover. Mrs. Simcox removed her mitten and gently touched finger to wing tip. After what seemed a still moment in time to Mrs. Simcox, the Monarch lifted in flight, fluttering upward with apparent delight, and came to rest upon the tip of the Colonel’s sword. Mrs. Simcox opened the Old Testament to the passage she read to her husband ever afternoon since his passing five years ago. Not too long ago she would have had to use the book only as a comfort tool for her hands to fondle while she recited the scripture from memory. But time had passed and that the memory snatching disease forced her to finger every word while she read them aloud. When she came to her favorite line in the passage she raised her voice softly. The butterfly responded by lifting himself high in the air. He danced around the Colonel’s large frame and descended to where she sat and did the same, right in front of her face.
Mrs. Simcox watched the movement with joy. “Colonel, is that you?”
A gust of northerly wind followed immediately and Mrs. Simcox lifted her hand from the Bible to hold her hat down and keep it from taking flight. The pages of King James shuffled in the swirl causing the pages to fall open to a new page. The wind ceased the circle of dried leaves calmed and once again the birds landed to the ground.
A slightly disheveled Mrs. Simcox cleared her throat and blinked quickly to regain moisture in her eyes so she could continue reading. She looked at the pages of the book to place her finger on the familiar words but ending up sitting motionless as if lost in time. The tortoise creeping through her thoughts. The unfamiliar words on the not so familiar pages of King James had temporarily paralyzed her. As if on cue, the butterfly reappeared and fluttered wildly around the open pages. With the help of a gentle breeze the pages mysteriously shuffled back to open on the page where Mrs. Simcox had been reading. She sun came out from behind a cumulous cloud, behind the Colonel, causing the statue to cast a shadow over Mrs. Simcox. She looked down at the pages and saw the shadow, the shadow of the tip of the Colonel’s sword marking the very word she had left off on before the wind had taken over. She placed her finger upon the word and continued to read.
The sun had warmed the garden area. The birds pecked and fluttered while Mrs. Simcox began to read once again to the Colonel. When she had finished, she closed the book and her eyes, tilted her had upward and smiled as the warm sun fell upon her skin. She stood to leave and the butterfly reappeared. He wind danced around and behind her, all the way up the garden path to the house.