They say when Bonaparte went to Elba, after he was exiled and before he was killed, he used to look over the plans for battles he had drawn up, executed, lost or achieved. So I sit now at my desk two weeks before the AP United States History exam, recalling what been a similarly battle-ridden few months. It is cold in my bedroom, cold at my desk, and of the two seated paintings of the emperor—one in defeat, at Fountainbleu, one in success, after Egypt, both of which with a facial determination and a jacket in red—I am the latter.
Before me sits a hot chocolate—a weak attempt at self-bribery—a prepbook which wears an orange stripe not unlike a military sash and the statement in laminate ‘5 Steps to a 5,’ a textbook on whose cover revolutionaries stand in a painted terrain not unlike those I recall from weekend trips to Maine but devoid the smells. With encouraging sips from the hot chocolate, I proceed.
At Lexington and Concord I understand tensions break between residents of the 13 American colonies and the British. The British marched to seize an arms cache, an attack undertaken in April, which in Massachusetts would have been one amidst bluebells. Paul Revere was a house alarm; a lantern hung in a chapel. I read that forces met a town green, whereupon the British retreated under rifle fire, and as I do I think of my own retreat that past September, my dejection at my score on our first test.
Bunker Hill, I am told, proved that intimidating force alone would not secure victory for Britain. It was June then, when metal boxes would be rocking in the harbors looking for catch, when chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream would stain the calves of children down at the park by the Hudson. But I am not there, now, but afar, in California, thousands of miles away, and interacting with home only through a dispensing, like that of Pez candies, pills, in little bolded prints of the dates 1774, 1776, 1779 and later.
It was apparent there was to be no fall back on diplomacy. Handshakes and backslaps. A mutual and respective muffling of ego American and British. I remember then our first project, a structured debate in which we had most triumphantly prevailed, and how the score sheet we’d been returned had been a low A, a 90, and how that, like the resistance the British met at Bunker, proved the potency of the opposition.
Then came Quebec, 1775, where victories had carried the Americans far upon the swells of Lake Champlain, to the Canadian coast. Just after Christmas, I am told, it was the first major and costly defeat for the revolutionaries. And as I read that they had failed to seize Quebec, I think how I, too, back in December, had failed to secure a grade with which I was contented before New Year’s. I read that the seize of Quebec, if successful, would have made for a dramatically different Northern theatre of war, paralleling this altered theatre with my January scramble before finals.
It is cold in my bedroom, and quiet. Leaving momentarily these battles of history to proceed unobserved, I refill my hot chocolate. Upon my return, the revolutionaries and their rivals, like a paused Yakees v. Red Sox game which moves only at will of its watcher’s command, again take up arms.
I read of Charleston, where the revolutionaries succeeded not by their own merits but for the British forces finding a channel between two island too deep to wade. I read of Princeton and Trenton, wherein Americans captured New Jersey. I read of Saratoga where two battles, like bookends to freedom, were fought eighteen days apart and where a British foot soldier, a Rupert Brooke before Rupert Brooke, wrote that he and his country had been robbed of “victory, honor, glory &c &c &c.”
I read of Kings Mountain. Cowpens. Yorktown. Rhode Island, August 1778, where the redcoats left Aquidneck, like Cape Cod-ers come the beckoning of fall and thus of reality, after abandoning their siege. I wonder as I sit at this desk, this unusually cold spring drawing clouds on my window, whether Napoleon grew tired with warfare at Elba, whether it was this exhaustion which, before his hundred days and after his solitude, turned him to pen from sword.
I see AP day like a bloodshed waiting, a painting which sometime will be set, after having been fought, in a crescendo of reds and auburns, eggshells and emeralds which will achieve only three-fourths of their full effect printed in textbook paper above a caption, a bolded date, but as of yet remains undrawn. For now, however, it is cold here, and silent, empty and expectant like the day before a battle is prone, time and time again, to be, and I am calm, if momentarily, content, if uncharacteristically, to forget those battles, past or to come.
There is a certain comfort, a certain pleasure, which I imagine a revolutionary, a fellow New Englander, born and bred, might have, a hundred years and then some, have derived of recording the pattern in a fence post, dying in gray fibers and in juxtaposition to the country’s birth, a robin’s wing a red flash almost too quick to be discerned with use of its name, which is that of running at the world with the same vigor reserved for gunpowder assumed with words.
As this soldier might have traded in that minute his rifle for a feather, a scratch of ink, so I drop my Sharpe highlighter for a new page on Microsoft Word. As this soldier records a human camaraderie, a shared bit of bread, a glimpse of Massachusetts (his last) I marvel at a record of frozen faces, a crowding of dates, the unlikely examples of persistence ripe with the kind of melancholy, the kind of grace respective to fiction, and share in an atmospheric shift, which may be the sound of the approaching British, or the pounding of Lenovo keys, and make final note of the clearing, make final stanzas of the allotted waiting space.
A. A. Reinecke is a writer and poet from Westchester, NY. Her work has most recently appeared in the Claremont Review, and Pulchritude Press. She resides in Northern California where she writes every morning at 5 AM.