The brass cannon squatted on the balcony above my front porch. The previous day my nephews had dragged it in from the garden and lugged it up the inside stairwell with only minor damage to the door facings. At that height, the trajectory of the muzzle cleared the cottonwood trees — though only barely.
That afternoon, Charlotte, my great niece, slumped on the couch, her hands clinched between her knees. To my various proddings she responded only, “You’re right” and “I know.” Her continued resort to stock answers distressed me.
“There’s nothing for you in this town,” I said, gesturing. “You need to be in a place where you’ll be challenged, somewhere a decent education is possible.”
“I know,” she said. “But what can I do?”
Malaise, endemic to this little town, held her in its iron talons, draining her spirit as it had drained the spirits of so many others. I told her the story of an old man, many years ago, who grew enormous wings but hadn’t the strength or perhaps the will to clear the power lines west of town. And only last summer William, her eldest cousin, had at last determined to leave. Packing a trailer, he hitched it to his car and departed early one morning. But his axle broke, and a team of wild horses dragged him back. Alas, he’s still here.
“This could happen to you,” I said to Charlotte. “Escape will become more and more difficult until…”
“You’re right, Uncle Otto,” she said with a sigh, “but it’s so hard.”
I sat down next to her, gave her a hug, and handed her a pen and a tablet. She scribbled a note to her parents in awkward block letters, never having learned to write in script.
Then together, we went out onto the balcony above the front porch. The leaves of the cottonwoods shimmered in the twilight.
I tied the rope to the cannon ball. Conveniently, the round missile had a little bar on it for lifting. The other end of the rope I attempted to tie around Charlotte’s ankle, but my arthritis was so bad she had to do it herself. We didn’t want to chance it coming loose.
I primed the cannon and then managed to lift the ball into the muzzle. It was the front-loading kind. I used a mop handle to ram the ball home.
By now, we both were weepy. “I’ll miss you,” I said.
She blinked back her tears and nodded.
I gave her all the cash in my wallet and then hugged her one last time. “A year,” I said. “Don’t contact anyone at least for a year. That should be enough.” Quickly, before I lost my resolve, I went behind the cannon and put a match to the flash pan.
I had hoped to hear something sooner, but a year came and went. Then, a letter. I remember leaves scraping the sidewalk as I shuffled among them on the way to the mailbox.
In the envelope was an Amtrak ticket to Atlanta, round trip, first class, and a single page.
“I want you to visit me.”
That was all the letter said in words. Of course, the linen bond, the decisiveness of the wording, the ink pen, even the faint aroma of cologne, were tantalizing hints. Yet it was the exquisite, well-formed script that spoke volumes.
Both pride and relief overwhelmed me, and I reached out to steady myself, one hand on the mailbox. And then, burning with curiosity, I scurried into the house to pack.
Good that she had sent a railroad ticket. I’d gotten rid of that cannon a few months back in a garage sale.
Gerald Warfield’s short story, “The Poly Islands,” won second prize in the first quarter of the 2011 Writers of the Future contest. The same year, his humorous story “The Origin of Third Person in Paleolithic Epic Poetry” took first place in the nationally syndicated Grammar Girl short story contest. “Happiness Everlasting” appeared in the anthology Timelines, edited by JW Schnarr. His story “Stonehenge in His Garden” previously appeared in Every Day Fiction. Gerald published music textbooks and how-to books on investing before turning to fiction. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writers Workshop (2010) and a member of SFWA.