Andrew Leonard of the 3rd Battalion of 27th Enniskillen Regiment of Foot

-1-

No one knows exactly what happened, but we do know

that early in the Napoleonic wars your friends

killed you, Andy.

I’m sure that everyone talked all at once when you first disappeared.

And then again when you were brought back in shackles.

It’s a sure bet that you were surrounded by laughter

and merciless sniggering

as they cleaved off each of your hands,

then chopped through your right and left legs.

I wonder whether your superior officers left them on the ground,

thereby forcing you to watch yourself rot? Or, did they exhibit

those irreplaceable chunks of you like grand, holy relics,

or like the bold and noble William Wallace?

Did they ship those butchered pieces of you from garrison

to garrison as a lesson

spelled out too bluntly for anyone to ignore? 

-2-

It isn’t clear, Andy, if you were

gibbeted alive, or gibbeted dead.

Nor was it recorded exactly why. Extant records

do not say that you were found guilty of desertion, but only

that you were accused of it. Who knows what that means?

Were you always planning to leave at the first opportunity?

Or, were you traumatized so deeply that something in your mind

fractured, causing you to run away in sheer terror?

Or, were you in some little Mediterranean cottage

sharing intimate moments

with one of the captains’ wives, or a local Sicilian’s daughter?

Nothing is said about you having been given a fair trial

with solid evidence presented against you. Nothing is said

about the possibility that you were falsely accused

of the worst crime, short of treason,

that a soldier could commit. 

You were Irish.

We all know that often wasn’t a lucky thing

to be back in those days.

-3-

Whatever happened, you were buried still locked in that iron cage.

You stayed that way until a new set of prisoners dug you up

and, based on the strength of a few buttons,

a new set of officers

christened you Andrew and put you on display again,

using the sight of you for their own, you know,

personal entertainment.

But then something changed.

Your fate was announced to moneyed

tourists strolling by. Tourists who thought being seen next to you

was fun, and somehow made them important.

They took photos of themselves with you

and shared those images on technology that zips around

the circumference of the world in less than a second.

You’re famous.

The British soldier Andrew Leonard.

-4-

Did you have a small, energic son who raced

every morning to the nearest, tallest hill,

then shaded his eyes with his hands to search

for the dust kicked up by your battalion marching home?

Did that young boy have an older sister

with air that tangled too easily, and lips that thinned

into a stern, narrow line whenever she was sent

to call him home to dinner? A dinner cooked with love

from the woman you married.  The woman

who slept alone every night afterwards, never knowing

that you were never set free, even in death.

Certainly, there was at least a mother, sitting

by the front door of her worn-out cottage,

she’d be knitting perhaps, or sewing, or more than likely

staring silently at the sun going down.

-5-

Experts in Inniskillings possess a document

indicating that you lived out the rest of your life in Australia,

that, before rediscovering your desertion, the military considered

awarding you medals for fighting in three campaigns:

Salamanca, Vittoria, and the Pyrenees.

All of which took place well after 1806, the year

you were trapped inside that cage.

The 3rd Battalion of the 27th Foot was never in Maida.

It’s nearly impossible for you to have been tortured there.

Yet even so, you’re the one who is famous now, Andy.

It’s true, that some people still smirk, still jeer, while others

sport their jaunty Santa hats for their selfies with your most.

Most of us, however,

loudly point out the enormous disgrace

that over two centuries of harsh punishment has brought

to the country which first put you in the Cage of Milazzo,

and to the country that keeps you there.

By Vera S. Scott

Based on the true story of human remains displayed in the Museum of Criminology in Rome, Italy.

Compass

Now that I can only
limp rather than
walk in a straight line,
and can seldom achieve
the end of the block without resting,
I finally bought one. It’s here

by the coffee my heart doctor
wants me to quit, and the towering
stack of blank travel journals
that will always be
empty.

Sneak Peek at current writing/editing: excerpt from Holdingfree, wip

One late morning as he wound his way home through the streets of SnakeIn after laboring to load a fishmonger’s haul into separate wheelbarrows for the city market, Alec found himself wandering through the stalls looking for something to take home to Jon. An elderly woman and child were offering various flowers for sale at a small, roughly built stand. Alec meant to walk by, thinking that it would be best to find something more tangible, such as a nice belt that fit Jon better after the weight loss caused by his injuries, or a sturdy hunting knife to replace the one Jon lost during the ambush, but an array of large, white blossoms caught his eye. He also noticed the raggedness of the child’s clothes and how the elderly woman used one hand to continually pull closed a thin shawl. He stopped and greeting the woman pleasantly and asked after the white flower buds.

“They’re closed now,” the elderly woman explained. “But they’ll open wide after the sun sets. They’re Moon Flowers.”

“They are very special to a friend a mine,” he replied. “I’d like a small bouquet, if I may.”

“Of course, Sir, of course,” the woman said happily. She waved at the child to wrap up the stems, and Alec couldn’t help but smile as he thought about the surprise that would be on Jon’s face.

When he reached the inn, he wanted to run up the stairs to their attic room, but walked up slowly, being careful not to damage Jon’s moon flowers. He tucked them behind his back with one hand as he opened the door and entered their small room. Jon was sitting in one of the upholstered chairs his sister had given them, and Erienne was organizing the medication and dishes on Jon’s table. She glanced up at Alec at the same time that Jon did, so she didn’t see Jon’s happy surprise when Alec revealed the flowers.

“Oh, they’re beautiful,” she said, her voice breathy and her eyes wide. She hurried over to claim her prize, then turned her back to the two men while she found an empty jar that she could fill with water. “I don’t think anyone has ever brought me flowers.”

Alec looked at Jon with his eyes opened in astonishment and held up his open hands questioningly. Jon sighed, tipped his head back and forth as if he had no answer to the dilemma, but then waved his good hand toward Erienne to indicate that they should let her have the bouquet. Alec nodded in agreement, happy that Jon realized the meaning of the flowers, but also glad that his friend was not willing to hurt Erienne’s feelings by telling her the truth.

She moved the various items on the small table she had just organized and placed the flowers in the center proudly. Walking to where Alec still stood by the door, she went up on her tip toes, kissed his cheek, and whispered, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, Erienne,” Alec said gallantly. “But you need to thank Jon, too. He’s the one who suggested it.”

“Oh,” she said softly. She looked back and forth between the two men as tears rolled down her cheeks. “The two of you are so kind to me. Other people called me names, and some of them even spit at me. You’ve never tried to force yourselves on me. You always appreciate the few things I can do to help, and you’ve made me feel as if I have a home again.”

“You do, Erienne,” Jon told her. “Of course this is your home. You and Fia are family now.”

Fia stretched as she rose from the floor, wandered over to Erienne, and pushed her nose into Erienne’s hand. Jon and Alec chuckled with affection for the dog’s obvious concern for Erienne, and soon she was laughing, also.

“I hope dinner will be ready soon. I’m starved,” Alec said as he settled in the empty chair opposite Jon.

“I’ll run down and see,” Erienne offered as she headed toward the stairs with Fia trailing loyally behind her. “I need to go downstairs anyway, because I want to borrow a vase for the flowers, if they have one.”

When the door swung closed behind her, Alec leaned forward and rested on hand on his friend’s knee. Jon responded by quietly resting his hand on Alec’s. He missed their time alone together and was glad for this rare moment. He didn’t begrudge Erienne the flowers. He realized that she worked as hard as he did nursing Jon, answering every need as quickly as humanly possible, and he understood that her presence made all their lives easier right now. Still, an evening with only Jon and him sitting together talking or maybe with Jon already sleeping and him beside him in the uncomfortable wooden chair, or maybe with no conversation at all, but Jon’s hand resting in his, the way it was now.

He heard Erienne’s footsteps coming back up the stairs, so he squeezed Jon’s hand and rose to his feet. “I’ll like to get some of this fish smell off me,” he as he walked over to the empty buckets. “I’ll pop down and get some more water first.”

He smiled at Erienne as they passed on the stairs, but didn’t watch turn to her ascend. Nor did he notice that she paused to watch him.


### End of Sneak Peek ###

Our Story Arc

The beginning, the first time was incredibly
simple: you smirked, you rolled your eyes
and said ‘that isn’t how’
and the next time with a wider smirk and a tad more
authority ‘that isn’t what’
and weeks, months, years later there were no longer
smirks or eye rolls, instead
you glared and snarled with angry impatience,
and I walked away, so
far away that we couldn’t see each other
glancing back over our shoulders,
and will never know
if either of us did.

The Art of the Deal

It used to be more than his job. It was a career. It was his profession, his identity. No, it used to be even more…it was art. As surely as Picasso swished a brush or Michelangelo altered stone. A twist of experience, a dash of street sense. Don’t speak. Put the deal on the table and wait. He did it well. He did it easily. He thought he would do it forever. Rake in money. Toss crumbs to the cold and hungry gathered outside that fancy house he lived in. Put the deal on the table and wait. If old folks want to sell out, their house too cumbersome, their children caught up putting their children through school, make friends with the wives. Visit after all the lunch meetings when she’s just put the beef steak on the counter to thaw, covered with a bit of tin to keep the cat off. She’ll have time to talk then. Keep a ready supply of ink pens and contracts ready. Put the deal on the table and wait. Now, his Buick is parked in a great nephew’s unheated garage, and he can’t make it beyond the front stoop without his cane. From the senior van he eyeballs the value of houses on the way to buy groceries. In this market he’d be able to put in a second swimming pool, shallow enough for the babies to play in, like Margaret always wanted. He’d could take her to Belize. But he couldn’t take Margaret anywhere anymore; she lies in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. She doesn’t remember who he is. He plays cards with friends he’s made at the senior center. They bet straws and coffee stirrers. He does well. Puts the deal on the table and waits.

The Flirt

Most people who were in the mood for looking, kept their gaze on his shoulders. He knew it. He’d known it for years, and focused on it. He practiced in front of two mirrors to learn the exact way to flex them for attention, spent hours with his tailor draping fabrics across his back and arms to see whether the cloth would ripple or cling, and at the last faire, colleagues taught him a dehydration technique that thinned his skin across the shape of his muscles. Beyond all that, he made certain to exercise. His career warranted it, of course, but he put in extra, because of the stares he garnered.

He’d fathered several children, on both sides of the blanket, because of his shoulders. He’d wed twice, both times to women, although there were some fine young men in the world, and he never turned away what they offered. Neither marriage lasted. None of his relationships did. They were intense and flattering, but invariably short-lived. It wasn’t because of him. He never did anything wrong. He took care to be polite, gentle, and supportive. No, it wasn’t him. It was them. They couldn’t accept his line of work. He was successful, in fact, renowned — as renowned as someone deliberately anonymous could be. He owned a large house, ate well, and kept a smart team of fast horses. Yet, every single lover he ever had abandoned him once they discovered his line of work. He supposed, since it was so small of a city, it was inevitable that they all knew someone he’d handled professionally. Someone whose head ended up on a spike outside the city gate.  

He wondered what more they wanted. After all, it was swinging the axe that kept his shoulders so strong.