by Matt Bell
[we resume our complex correspondence]
And at sunrise we came within half a mile of the Red Sticks. I did not know the numbers of the enemy, nor the numbers of my own troops.
[But then the militia, the volunteers, the cavalry-like wings opened out from the body of the force: What great promptitude and effect, what elegant style to the execution of the order; what dying upon the field, what prisoners taken in.]
Three hundred of their men dead, seventeen of ours.
[And I do not know the numbers of the living, not on our side or theirs.]
When they retreated we chased them with a most destructive fire to the mountains, a distance of about three miles.
[If only horses could climb, I would have annihilated their numbers.]
And by the actions of this day the men have realized the high expectations I had formed of them. But still they continue to suffer a turbulent and mutinous disposition at my inability to feed them, and it seems no two rations have recently come in succession. The cavalry will remain even if the volunteers leave. And if the volunteers leave then I do not know what I will do to them.
[Long before I loved you I dueled a newspaperman, who I let fire first so that his shot might be ruined by his haste—and now still that choice, carried high in my chest, in the hollow next to my heart—that hole you sometimes cover with your hand. And by the rules of our duel the newspaperman had to stand and await my killing of him, and if that was not my life’s longest second then perhaps it was his.]
What grudges are born here on this campaign. What great wounds will I avenge against these people. How I never know quite how I will react but how I always react with great certainty.
[Sometimes in my tent my body aches with all the lost ages it carries, the lead left to rattle and remind; and perhaps one day my old bullet will move from its lodging, make new pains from the pains I have known.]
Please know also that I send on to you a little Indian boy for Andrew, and that all the boy’s family is destroyed. The boy is about the age of Theodore. His name is Lyncoya but perhaps together we will give him another.
[And so none of our sons are of my blood, or yours. And when the Indians kill they take the children of their enemies into their lodges and there they give them new names.]
I too have earned some new title: The people here call me Sharp Knife and at first I thought it was because they did not know my name.
[Now I know they knew my name better than I did, that always I acted the chief even before I was.]
Always I have been Andrew Jackson and always I have been the chief they see in me and always I will command this body of great men in my own rough way.
[Always I am yours, no matter how hard or long the campaign. Tell Andrew and Theodore their father misses them. When Lyncoya arrives, tell him his father misses him too.]
Soon we will be reunited, after this campaign is won and this army disbanded. But first we will brave the snowy blasts and the dangers of the icy river without murmur, first we will do our duty and establish a fame by our proper conduct, so that when next we meet you may find my name much increased. But regardless of what new accolades might be added to my person remember the center quality of that self remains unchanged, still the man you married: For always I am—
[always I am Andrew Jackson]
[always I am Sharp Knife]
[and when I am Old Hickory I will always be him too]
[and when I am President of these United States then still I shall always be them all]
—always I am your loving husband, loving father to your sons. Already I miss this newest one, miss him the same as the others. I will be home for him soon, and I look forward then to seeing his lot much increased, grown strong by our constant love, by this new American life.
Matt Bell is the author of Cataclysm Baby, a novella, and How They Were Found, a collection of fiction. His debut novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods will be published by Soho Press in June 2013. He is the Senior Editor at Dzanc Books, and teaches creative writing at Northern Michigan University.Read the next story, MARTIN VAN BUREN, here.
* thanks to Amber Sparks and Brian Carr for their editorial work on this project.