Part Three: Addie and Lute Loved by God

Lute returns from Part One and Addie from Part Two to ride the Mark Twain Riverboat in a purgatory cruise to the Civil War’s siege of Vicksburg. During adventures on both sides of the lines they fall in love while nursing the wounded soldiers and civilians of both sides. As hellish as the war is in this purgatory, return to our world means Addie returns to her wheelchair and Lute returns to face the Vietnam era draft.

 

Addie and Lute Loved by God

by

J.M. Miles

 

While growing up, Lute and his family returned to Disneyland every summer and sometimes for Christmas. This year, the summer he graduated from high school, he and two friends, came on their own as sort of a last time before they went their separate ways: Darrell and Tracy to UCLA, and Lute maybe to a junior college before transferring to a four-year university.

While in the ticket line, they watched a security guard telling a long-haired young man he couldn’t enter the park wearing a Levi jacket with a peace sign on the back. Lute looked at the scene and then observed the crowd’s reaction, mostly satisfaction.

“It’s just a peace sign,” said Tracy. “It’s not like he was protesting or anything.”

“Peace-niks not welcome,” said Darrell. “Not an enlightened policy, but still one must carefully choose one’s battlegrounds, don’t you think, Lute?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess. I don’t know. Maybe he has a right to wear a peace sign and want no more wars, but there’s a lot of military guys here who are going to Vietnam or maybe they’ve come back from there. Dad says we should show our support for them.”

“I think,” said Hanna, “the best support we can show is by protesting the war and not sending those poor boys over there in the first place.”

Lute’s father had also discussed the fairness of someone waiting out the war by going to college while other less fortunate young men took their chances of surviving a war, maybe a just war, maybe not. It didn’t matter, what did matter was how Lute would feel when all was said and done.

They reached the ticket booth and entered the park. Immediately, being veteran Disneyland visitors, they headed straight to the currently most popular ride in the park, The Haunted Mansion. After a brisk walking pace put them ahead of most of the morning crowd, they entered the newly opened attraction with only a short line ahead of them. They shuffled along and noted the humorous touches, the funeral wagon drawn by an invisible horse, the pet cemetery, and the busts of departed characters. Lute stared at one and became lost in thought.

“Hey, Lute,” said Darrell, “Come on, the line is moving.”

“Huh? Yeah, it’s just that I remembered something. It’s kind of funny, but the first time I came here with my family, I bumped my head, knocked myself out for a moment, maybe just a couple of seconds. At least, I think I was out. I must’ve been, because I had the weirdest, the most vivid dream.”

“You had a vivid dream in just seconds?” asked Tracy.

“Yeah, I must’ve. I dreamed I was in some kind of afterlife and these ghosts of famous writers took me on their rides.”

“Ooh, freaky,” said Darrell. “It figures that you had a far-out imagination even as a kid.”

 

The three friends did a good job of getting in as many rides as they could before the arrival of the afternoon crush of people and envelopment of southern Californian summer heat. After lunch in New Orleans square, they elected to ride something peaceful and restful, the Mark Twain riverboat. When the boat arrived and the gate opened, they rushed to the bow where they secured places at the very front. Just as the boat was about to be cast off, Lute sensed someone behind him. He turned around and looked at a young woman in a wheelchair.

“Hello, would you like take my place? You’ll have a better view.”

“Thank you,” said the middle-aged woman behind the wheelchair.

Lute couldn’t tell if the young woman in the wheelchair smiled up at him as her caretaker moved the wheelchair up. He stood aside and behind the two women.

“Lute, we’re going to the top floor,” said Darrell. “You coming?”

“Top deck, you mean,” said Tracy.

“Nah, I think I’ll just hang out down here.”

When his friends left, Lute took their place which was right next to the two women. Though the young woman had her head tilted at an odd angle, Lute felt as if she were studying him. Her caretaker definitely smiled pleasantly at him, just like most of the mothers of his friends did. He had that effect on mothers.

“This is Addie’s favorite ride. She insists on coming here every time.”

“Yeah, I like it too. It reminds me of being a boy again.”

The woman seemed amused, maybe thinking that Lute was still pretty much a boy. Ahead of them the water sparkled under the noonday sun. The reflected light suddenly became intense, blindingly so. With his eyes squeezed shut Lute tightly gripped the railing. A strange feeling came over him. The day became twilight and the air cool on his face. He mumbled to himself, “Ooh, spacey.”

“What did you say?”

Lute turned to face the voice expecting to see the middle-aged woman but saw instead the young woman standing. He stared and she looked back at him, her expression not of surprise but a mix of contentment and a tiny bit of curiosity.

“You’re not freaking out? You must’ve been here before.”

“Yeah, a long time ago. I remember now. It wasn’t a dream. But why again?”

“Charles told me it’s always for something important.”

“Charles?”

“Charles Dodgson; Lewis Carroll. He and Samuel Clemens were sort of my guides.”

“I met Charles, and also J. M. Barrie and the guy who wrote Wind in the Willows, Grahame, I think. But I got to say, it wasn’t all that important. Just something like, don’t be a jerk to my sisters. But it also put the idea into my head of designing rides.”

“After my visit to this afterlife, I decided I wanted to be a writer, to create stories for as long as my body let me.”

“Your body let you? Oh, yeah. Because back in the real world, you’re in that wheelchair… because…” Lute’s words came slower and halted.

“Most people know it as Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Please.”

Lute nodded his head and began staring straight ahead as the riverboat moved down the river that obviously no longer flowed through an amusement park. No one else stood at the bow of the boat.

“I wonder who is to be our guide for this visit?” asked Lute.

“Last time, Charles came up to me right away and explained the situation.” Addie turned around. There was no one visible on the main deck. “Maybe this time, it’s different. Maybe because we’re been here before we’re expected to find our own way.”

“Our way to where? In the real Disneyland the steamboat goes around The Rivers of America in a circle.”

“I think we’re on a specific river – the Mississippi, maybe – and I think this boat won’t be the Mark Twain. In my previous visit Captain Sam was the pilot and he couldn’t be piloting a boat named after himself.”

“No, I guess not. Well, we ought to go talk to somebody. Maybe start with the skipper. Are you okay with walking?”

“I’ll race you to the top. But first hold my hand.”

“Sure.” Lute took Addie’s outstretched hand into his and lightly gripped it. “But why?”

“I’ll explain later. Ready, set… Go!”

She bolted away and to the stairs leading to the upper decks. Lute, a long-distance runner in his school, sprinted after her expecting to catch up before she reached the next deck. But he didn’t, so he put aside his politeness and made a maximum effort. By the final flight of stairs, he’d caught up to just behind her.

“Hey, no fair! You’re blocking my way.”

“Too late!” Addie stood at the head of the stairs, her joy beaming out and infectious.

“Okay, you win. Fair and not so square. I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

“I am.” Her smile made Lute wish that she’d always win.

Addie led the way to the pilot house. She paused at the open door. Even though the man at the wheel faced away from her, she knew it wasn’t Captain Sam.

“Hello, Addie,” said a voice from behind Lute and her. “Who’s your friend?”

“Captain Sam!” she shouted.

“Not a captain on this vessel, just a paying passenger.”

“Should I call you Mr. Clemens?”

“Heavens no, call me Sam like a good friend should.”

“Sam, this is Lute. He’s from the other side, too.”

“Please to meet you, young fellow.” Sam stuck out his hand and Lute shook it.

While the two shook hands, Addie asked, “Where are we? And what year is it? I remember from last time, the year sort of moved around.”

“Well, this is definitely 1863. And you’ve gone and landed yourself plumb square in the middle of the War Between the States. Fact is, this vessel, the Panacea, is steaming downriver toward Vicksburg. We’re going to a place called Milliken Bend to transport some of the wounded.”

To the east, across the low swamp land and oxbow lakes, could be heard cannon fire. Also, to the east, in the twilight skies, they could see flashes of light, sometimes lighting up the undersides of clouds.

“Is that Milliken Bend over there?” asked Lute.

“No, I believe that is Vicksburg. General Grant has it surrounded and putting it under siege.”

For a while they watched for the explosion flashes and listened to the low rumble of the great guns. Lute and Addie could sense the slowing of the Panacea’s stern paddlewheel and the slowing of the boat as it drifted near the river bank.

“Looks like we’re going to tie up here for a spell,” said Sam. “Let us retire to the salon and maybe play some cards. Are you a gambling man, Lute?”

They entered the Panacea’s salon, crowded with blue uniformed soldiers. Several of the men stared at Lute as he followed Sam to an empty table.

“Yep, I figured you’d draw some notice. You’re of draft age, and they’re wondering why you aren’t in uniform. I’ve been passing myself off as a war correspondent.”

“Weren’t you a reporter about this time?” asked Addie.

“Yes, but out west. You see, when the war started up, I skedaddled to Nevada.”

“Weren’t you considered a draft dodger?” asked Lute.

“By the Confederate state of Missouri, I might’ve been considered and judged to be a deserter. However, Nevada being a Union territory, I was judged to be simply one more durn fool struck by gold fever. What do you say to a few hands of five card draw? We’ll just pretend bet.”

He dealt out three hands and announced a one-dollar ante. Lute and Addie picked up their cards. Each of them felt as if they were being watched by many of the men in the salon.

“This is kind of ironic in a weird way,” said Lute. “But back in the real world, we’re in a war and I’m also facing a draft.”

“Yeah? Well, I hope it’s a good war. You know, there’s good wars and there’s bad ones. It’ll be a shame to die in a bad one.”

“That’s the problem, I’m not sure if the Vietnam war – that’s where we’re fighting – is a good war.”

“I don’t think it’s a very just war,” said Addie. “Can’t you think of a way to stay out of it? What about college?”

“If I do that then somebody else will have to go in my place. It wouldn’t be fair.”

“It sounds like a real dilemma,” said Sam. “What do you think of this War of the Rebellion? Is it a just one?”

“The Civil War?” asked Lute. “Yeah, it was a real good war. I mean, it was fought to free the slaves and that’s a real good thing.”

Across the room, a young officer who had been in conversation with a group of sergeants started in their direction. Addie noticed him first. As he drew near to the table Sam followed by Lute stood up to greet him.

“Begging your pardon, Mr. Clemens,” the officer said, “May I sit with you?”

“Certainly Captain, take a chair,” said Sam. “May I introduce Lute. And the young lady, is Addie. Lute, Addie this is Captain Summers, recently of Connecticut. Hartford is your hometown, I believe.”

Before the young man sat, he touched his cap and nodded to Addie. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.” He shook Lute’s hand and sat down. He leaned forward and said “To be perfectly frank, the reason I’ve come over is to satisfy the curiosity of my men. Their discussion has become rather sharp so I thought it best to just be plain about it.”

“I appreciate your straight forwardness,” said Sam. “There’s far too much palavering about the edges of the meat of any subject which to any reasonably intelligent mind is the burning question of where in tarnation do these young people come from.”

“We’re from California,” said Addie and mischievously added, “Southern California.”

“Ah, yes, California. Even southern California ought to satisfy my boys. You see, to them the west coast of America is at once exotic and familiar. Many of them have relatives who’d sailed there and then remained to search for gold.” The captain turned to Lute. “Have you come east to join the California volunteers?”

“No, sir. I mean, back home, I thought about volunteering to join the army. But to tell the truth, I just don’t know if I could actually shoot and kill anyone.”

“It’s good that you’ve thought seriously about such a momentous act. I’ve never killed anyone either. I just hope when the time comes I will have the firmness of resolve to do my duty. Our fight is a sacred duty and a righteous cause.” He looked around the table, judging their expressions and saw nothing but agreement in their eyes. Even so, he went on to ask, “Tell me, how do you Californians stand on the issue of slavery.”

“We’re totally against it,” said Lute, “totally.”

“That’s good to hear. We have read reports of southern sympathizers in your state. I, myself, think slavery is a great offense against God.”

“Tell me, young captain,” asked Sam, “what was your calling back home?”

“I was a school teacher. My father is a Congregational minister. He wanted me follow in his footsteps, but I never heard the calling.”

“Do you like teaching?” asked Addie

“Very much so, and I’d like to relate to you all the wonderful things about my vocation, but it sounds to me like the Panacea is getting underway. Please excuse me, I must see that my company is ready to disembark.”

“Are you going to join General Grant in Vicksburg?” asked Addie.

“No, my orders are to reinforce the defensive lines at Milliken Bend. Presently they are being held by the African Brigade, a colored troop, who just fought a major battle. There are many casualties, I fear.”

“Lute,” said Addie, “let’s go up to the top deck and watch.”

“Addie,” said Captain Summers, “I strongly advise you to hide yourself on the side of the boat facing away from the right bank. There might be rebel sharpshooters near enough to our lines to try a shot.”

“Thank you, Captain. We’ll be careful.”

As the Panacea came alongside the dock at Milliken Bend, Addie and Lute climbed to the highest deck. And as they climbed the stairs, they could see on the riverside of the boat, another steamboat. It had evidently just left the dock, turned in the river and was now passing abeam of the Panacea. On each of its three decks, wounded men could be seen, a few standing by the railings, but many sitting and many lying down.

They stood by the pilothouse, but could see little from that midship vantage point, so Addie got down on all fours and crawled over to the railing where she sat cross-legged. After a moment’s hesitation, Lute followed her in same fashion whispering, “Addie, do you think you should be over here. Remember what the captain said.”

“If we don’t show ourselves above the banister, nobody can see us. Look, the captain is lining up his men. And here come the wounded soldiers.”

Lute looked down at the captain’s company of soldiers, many of them years younger than their captain. One boyish looking soldier looked back at the Panacea and then looked up, seemingly looking right at Lute.

“You see that soldier looking up at us?”

“Yeah,” said Addie. “He looks too young to be going to war.”

“It was just last year. I was coming home from visiting my uncle’s family in Oakland, and at the airport a bunch of soldiers must’ve been flying out to Vietnam, they were all in uniform and one of them looked as young as me, too young to be in the army, and he looked so scared to be leaving home, I remember thinking that he might never be coming home.”

Addie looked at Lute. She reached out and took his hand in hers. For a few moments they sat quietly holding hands.

“Remember when I asked you to hold my hand?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know if you remember this from your first visit here, but here in this purgatory, only the living, only the visitors from the real world, have body warmth. The souls and the imaginary characters have cold flesh.”

“So, you were checking to see if I was real?”

“Maybe. Maybe I just wanted to hold your hand.”

Lute looked into her eyes. He leaned forward and kissed Addie on her lips. The kiss lasted longer than a peck on the cheek, but shorter than a movie’s love scene marathon kiss. In other words, it had been a perfect kiss, one each of them would always remember and judge all other kisses by.