It was a beautiful day for disaster. The gleaming sunlight pooling around the fluffy white clouds promised a dry afternoon. Even the poorer folk in Philadelphia turned their heads upward in unspoken gratitude, drinking in the beams of heaven like the lush green blades of grass that forked through the cracks of the outer pavement. It was 1776.
Rebecca Howe was in the middle of a performance, but nothing like the ones few could afford to watch. The widow smiled beautifully at the man on the other side of the counter as she slid him a lovely glass of his favorite rum.
“How have you been, Johnson?” She asked with familiarity.
The British magistrate nodded gently over the rim of his glass. “I’ve been just fine Mrs Howe. My two girls are growing up into fine young women,” He said proudly.
“They sound wonderful as ever, though with a good father I wouldn’t be too surprised.” She praised.
Mr Stewart chuckled. “Don’t sell yourself short, friend. Your boy wouldn’t be so fine a man were it not for your guidance.”
She sent him a silent thanks in a gentle smile. It was an odd state to be suspended in, caught between the ease of a friend's presence, and the tense danger of his position. The conversation would not be the same if Johnson Stewart knew how the aging tavern keeper brewed her rum.
The bell above the door clinked merrily. Rebecca turned to greet the new customer, but her lips dissolved into a broad smile at the face of her son. The young man grinned lopsidedly at her, holding his hat in his hand as he slipped behind the counter.
“Good afternoon, Henry.” Johnson greeted warmly.
Henry’s only response was a stiff nod in the man’s direction before gently turning his mother away, as if he was in a subtle hurry to avoid any interaction with the magistrate.
“Do you have a moment for a walk?” He asked her, sapphire eyes twinkling.
“For you? Of course.” She replied sweetly, already untying her old apron. Rebecca excused herself from Johnson’s presence, and followed her son out the door after leaving an order for one of her employees to take charge for the time being.
The two walked arm and arm down a labyrinth of pathways, and Rebecca told him about how business might be looking up for the tavern quite soon. She did not need to tell him that it would mean she no longer had to brave the danger of smuggling molasses. Henry told her about a number of pleasant and meaningless things, and she held onto every word until they lapsed into silence.
Rebecca turned her face up to the warmth of the sun, eyes closed against the bright rays. She couldn’t visit the grave of her husband as often as she would like, but she knew that if she looked up into the heavens, he would return her gaze.
Henry slowed as they came upon a secluded park, not very well groomed, yet beautiful.
“Things have been going well in the militia.” He announced.
“Good,” She smiled in tense relief. “That was something I had been worried about.”
“You shouldn’t be.” He reminded her. “But I have wanted to tell you about something else, in a place where we would not be disturbed.”
“What is it?” She asked worriedly.
“I am going to join the army.” He said delicately.
Rebecca stilled. “You will not.” She told him.
Henry looked out over the beautiful scenery, letting the murmur of the distant crowds trickle in around the foliage. “Life will continue no matter which way the war goes,” He began calmly.
Rebecca’s skin crawled in the way he called upon the war as if it were already among them.
“The sun will rise, the rain will fall, and I know the world will not stop for us, which is why I intend to change that. I don’t want anyone to struggle. I don’t want you to struggle. You’ve been forced to extreme measures through the king’s taxes.” He added in a hushed voice. “And even now the people of Boston are under siege,” He ranted. “I wish to set them free.”
“And so do I,” She assured him. “But I do not think it would be wise.”
“Don’t you wish to support me, Mother?” His eyes were still so earnest, so young. She nearly crumbled.
Rebecca closed her eyes, breathing through her nose calmingly. “As your mother it is my every wish to stand by you,” She promised, opening her eyes again to match his gaze levelly. “But it is my duty to protect you.”
Henry shook his head, confusion marring his features. “I am not one in need of protection.” He told her. “I am a militia man.”
“I know,” She said, placing a proud hand upon his shoulder. “But don’t forget that you are still my son.”
“I am more than that, I am among the Sons of Liberty.” He said, sticking out his chin proudly.
Rebecca shook her head in denial. “No you're not.” She muttered. “Liberty did not bring you into this world. Liberty did not hear your first words. Liberty did not teach you how to walk. The only thing that Liberty has done is offer you a promise of glory shrouding the whisper of death.” She said bitterly.
“I’m not fighting for glory, I’m fighting for my people! I’m fighting for us, Mother! How many more lives are we going to lose to the British? By musket fire or by taxes what will it matter? Our neighbors and our friends have been murdered!”
“And you could be the next to join them!” She exclaimed.
“Even if I fall, the Sons of Liberty will fight on! My death will not be in vain!”
“I don’t care!” she screamed. “I don’t care about a greater calling, I don’t care how many more sons and daughters take up your fallen arms! Don’t tell me that the sun will still rise if you’re gone!” She shrieked. “If you were not there to see it, I would rather the world be swallowed in darkness.” She cried.
“We already have been.” He argued, his voice shaking. “I have seen so many people struggle. I know you’ve seen them too but we can’t help them through peaceable measures if we can barely support ourselves.” He spat. “England has made her choice, and she holds no love for her colonies.”
When Rebecca envisioned the faces of those she has seen crumble, her soul writhed. When Rebecca thought of those she had lost, she could not envision the oil painted face of her king, she only saw a tired face split into the familiar smile of Mr Stewart.
She could not find it in herself to hate him. Not when she knew that he would be the one to prosecute her if he knew about the molasses. Not when she knew the things he would do if he learned that Henry served in the militia. Not when she knew he had a family to return to.
When Rebecca thought of the many lifeless eyes that would haunt her till her grave, they always became blue like twin sapphires. A parent is not meant to outlive their children. It was unnatural, it wasn’t the way of Man. She shook her head at her son.
“I cannot stand with you.” She whispered painfully. “Don’t do this Henry. Please don’t do this.” She closed her eyes, ignorant to the flickering betrayal that flashed across Henry’s features.
“You have no courage.” He told her emotionlessly.
She listened to his retreating footsteps until she was left alone in the roaring silence of his absence. Rebecca looked up into the sky, forcing the twisted fear to pool over her eyes. “What do I do?” She whispered into silence.
She heard nothing.
Rebecca slowly returned to the earth. Her heavy footfalls back into town thudded emptily. As she came upon a plaza near where her husband’s tavern stood, she found her way blocked by crowds of people.
Their rapid chatter shattered her melancholy air, filling the gaps with apprehensive curiosity. Fragments of an announcement slipped to her in bits and pieces, until she realized the nature of the paper that had just been signed.
A claim to independence, a declaration of war, what did it matter? America had made her choice. Some murmured with fear, and some looked on in disdain. Many passed unsure glances between themselves, but many more roared in triumph.
Their cheers drowned out the sound of Rebecca’s heart splintering with dread.