Riverboats and Roses

This is a sample of the short story, "Riverboats and Roses" by author, William F. Powers.

The Sorrow

There was a gentle knock on the door. She drew her handkerchief away from her eyes.


The door opened a little. “Are you ready, Mother?” he asked softly.

“Another few minutes please, Charles.”

“Yes, Mother.” He could tell she had been crying. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I have everything I need.”

“I'll wait for you in the parlor.”

“Thank you, son. I'll be down directly.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” He gently pulled the door closed and started down the steps.

Martha slowly turned back toward the vanity. It was hard to look into the mirror, but after a pause, she lifted her eyes to meet her reflection. The tears made the image blurry, but after blinking several times, she could see what remained to be done. A little powder would cover the redness, and there were a few other “lady's advantages” at her disposal, neatly arranged on the vanity top.

Presently, Charles heard his mother coming down the staircase. He stood and walked into the hall just as she completed her descent.

“I am ready now, Charles.”

His own heart was grieving too; he could only imagine what dark shadows must be tormenting her soul.

“I am so sorry for you, Mama.” It had been years since he had called her that. As a young lad that is what he called her, but when a boy reaches a certain age, society's decorum calls for a formality which gradually becomes more comfortable, even if it is stiff and uneasy at first.

She had liked that endearing term too. She didn't realize how much she missed hearing it until this vulnerable moment. Briefly, a tender smile graced her distraught countenance. Then she reached over her shoulders, lifted the veil up and over her hat and down over her weary face.

“I have the carriage ready out front,” he said, offering his elbow. She grasped the arm of her now-grown son, with gratitude that he was strong enough to share her grief—able to be a comfort to her rather than needing her comfort, as would have been the case in the days when he had called her Mama.

They walked out of the house into the cool, spring-morning air and down two steps to the waiting surrey. He helped her up into the carriage, then climbed up and sat beside her. After picking up the reins, he turned to his passenger. They shared a momentary glance of sorrow; then he nodded his head slightly, tapped the leather straps onto the horse's back, and made several clicks with his tongue.

They were off to the church—a familiar place—a place they went regularly but rarely in as solemn a disposition as today. Martha went almost every week, as did Charles. He had sat next to his mother until almost a year ago when he began to find sitting with Katharine Barton to be more important. Martha approved; she had thought highly of Katharine for many years. In two weeks, the young couple was to be married.  

Eventually, Charles and Katharine began sitting next to his mother, especially on those Sundays when she was alone. Although Martha's husband Anderson also went to church when he was home, he would sometimes be away for several weeks at a time. He was a riverboat captain—that is, he WAS a riverboat captain until the accident last week. Now Martha was on the way to bury her beloved husband of twenty-four years.

As the surrey swayed gently on the dirt roadway, her mind wandered back to the day when she first met Anderson Fairbanks. She was at the church speaking to a friend before the start of the meeting. At the appearance of his handsome, six-foot-two-inch frame stepping through the doorway, she stopped her conversation in mid-sentence. Thoughts of finding a way to get his attention faded like mist in the morning sun when two little girls came in behind him and he began to introduce them to one of the other parishioners. Dreams revived, however, when she found out that the children were his nieces, not his own. He had arrived in town with his sister and brother-in-law late the night before and had brought the young ones to church while the couple rested from the journey and from hurriedly moving their belongings into the house ahead of last night's rain.

Martha Clement was sixteen; Anderson Fairbanks was nineteen. By the time they had each gained another year, they were married and setting up a home of their own. Two years later, Charles and his twin sister Charlotte were born.

A dip in the roadway caused the surrey to lurch, interrupting Martha's dream of the past and restoring her to the nightmare of the present. Now Martha was on the way to bury the love of her life. She was a few weeks shy of her forty-second birthday and already she had seen the passing of half of her family. When the twins were six years of age, Charlotte came down with typhoid fever and died within a couple of weeks. Sorrow rolled over Martha in a huge wave. It was too much for her to bear!

What poured acid into her wounded soul was that before Anderson left for what would be his final riverboat journey, they had argued. It was not a bad fight she reasoned; they only had three of those in the entire marriage. But this one WAS a heated quarrel. She had gone upstairs to the bedroom and slammed the door. When she came down a few minutes later, he was gone. Now however, the more she thought about it, the more she realized there had NOT been three bad fights in their marriage—there had been four. She so desperately did not want to think of their last moments together as being some of the angriest of their marriage, but denial has no impact on reality. She had let her dream walk out the door without telling him she loved him; three days later, the boiler on his boat exploded. Now he was gone.

It had taken them several hours to find his body. The blast had thrown Anderson overboard, but his clothing had snagged on an old fallen tree. Finding his body at least gave the closure of knowing for sure.

The casket was at the front of the church where she had been standing when she first saw him so many years ago. She became aware of the casket as she walked in through the doorway at the back where Anderson had entered that memorable day long ago. Oh, how she wished their positions were as they had been on that first day—that they were starting over again. How she would do things differently!

That impossible fantasy held her for a moment until she felt Charles gently take her arm and lead her forward. The evaporation of that isle of tranquility was replaced by the flood of guilt with which she had struggled ever since she came down the steps to find that the Captain had already left the house. And that flood of guilt had become a raging torrent when the news of his death arrived.

She had not seen the people gathered outside who now began to follow her and Charles into the church. Nor did she see the folks who were already inside. She only saw the casket. That changed as they walked down the aisle. Friends touched her arm to gain her attention, then hugged her and wept in solidarity with her grief.

In time, she made it to the front of the church. Her friends had helped distract her momentarily, but now, there she was, almost within reach of the wooden case which contained the earthly home of the one she loved.

Charles stood patiently as she took a deep breath, let it out with a soft moan, and then took two steps. Everyone watched as she stood there. Everyone saw as she reached out her trembling hand and laid it on top of the box. But no one saw under the veil as her lips moved in a quiet whisper, “I am so sorry, Anderson .” She paused. “I am so sorry. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.”

{End of Sample}

Thank you for your interest in "Riverboats and Roses". The complete story is available for Kindle, Nook, and in other formats. .



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