FLASH FICTION: Fife And Drum by Heloise West


by Heloise West

Jonathon Locke jogged down the middle of the lane that lay between the tents. Row upon row of gently billowing white canvas met his eye along this lane and the ones parallel. It was damnably hot, and he pulled the sweat-soaked linen cravat away from the skin of his throat. The breezes made the leaves in the trees above dance, dappling him with bright spots of sun. The wool of his uniform, despite the layer of linen beneath, pressed against his skin in an uncomfortably close embrace.

From afar he’d heard the drum roll calling the units together before the battle—he hated being late, but there had been a long and lingering goodbye to see him off. He grinned. The cravat hid more than the tender portions of his neck. Anxiety struck him as he ran onto the green where the fife and drum corps practiced the music that would accompany the march to the battlefield and stir them on to engage the enemy. At the moment, they sounded like someone was strangling birds and other woodland creatures. It was all in play, for he knew them to be tuneful and joyful when the moment came

Here it was midsummer, and they’d finally gathered again to join the fighting. Whatever the outcome, he had to do well. Eyes were upon him. Loving eyes, but Jonathon Locke must come through today.

The thought almost made him break into a run. That would never do. He came to a stop and adjusted his spectacles when they began to slide down his nose.

Running his finger along the inside of the linen material to pull it away from his throat again, he resisted the urge to rip it off as every stitch had been made with love. Jonathon reshouldered the musket as he stood with the others in the shade of ancient oaks and maple, the sun blazing beyond the green canopy as they waited for the call to action. Some talked softly, anxiously, and others swaggered and postured and passed comment on what they would to do to the lobsterbacks if they caught them. Tar-and-feathering was popular. The smell of woodsmoke, rum, and tobacco surrounded him, comforted him, and drove him nearer to the heart of why he was here in the bug-infested woods at midsummer dressed in wool, a French Charleville over his shoulder. He double-double checked the twists of powder in his shot bag, brushed invisible dirt from his white linen breeches, and adjusted the brown with red trim regimental coat at the sleeves and shoulder, though the fit was perfect and authentic.

His heart pounded with excitement as the sergeant ordered them to line up for inspection. Jonathon glanced past the military hustle—the cannon and fusiliers, the fife and drum corps, the other units drilling and drilling on the green. Beyond them, the civilians were gathering to watch the battle. Jonathon strained to catch a glimpse of the familiar, and unfamiliar, face, but they were too far away. He began to worry that something had happened to the man he was growing to love, and the boy, his son, he had yet to meet. The holiday traffic would be dense around the battle site— he’d run into the beginnings of it trying to get here. Had Brian changed his mind, decided Jonathan’s abiding passion was too violent for his young son? For Brian himself?

Not many understood this love of history that went so deep, he acted the part of a man who had once lived and breathed the battle they were about to re-enact. A tailor named Jonathon Locke who had survived this battle and many others. This connection to history, to Locke, and his story had become so deeply ingrained in him, he was Locke, and Locke was him. At least at this moment and during the long hours he’d spent bent over the table stitching his period clothing by hand, so immersed in ruminations about daily life in colonial America, a fire flickered on the hearth at the corner of his eye, waiting for the return of a loved one.

Some of his students were here, drawn by his stories and curiosity, and he’d endured their teasing about “going native.” It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that.

After his wife, Robin Locke, had died in childbirth leaving Jonathon a son to bring him constant regret at her passing, his journals had mentioned a friendship with a Scots-Indian man, a scout for the Continental army. An abiding friendship, Locke had written, ardent, one that had lasted through the long New England winters, short and poignant summers, the years of the war, and the aftermath. Leaving and coming home again. The diary was in poor shape—water stained, worn, and whole pages missing. He hoped for other volumes, and if this one had survived the centuries, might others as well?

“….woolgathering, Locke?”

“Ye-no, sergeant. My apologies.”

“Yer gaiter’s unbuckled.”

“I’m sure it is, sir.” He didn’t look down. He’d only fallen for that once, and it wasn’t in the script, just a cornball joke to ease the tension.

“Here they come!”

The drums roared to life as the British troops marched in perfect formation onto the green. The commanders shouted the documented lines at one another, as they did every year. The battle commenced, and he was Locke again, rushing into the noise and crush of battle.


John limped back to his tent–he’d slipped on the grass after the battle and landed hard on his left knee. For the rest of the day, workshops every hour, covering all aspects of colonial military life, went on. Once he sat in his camp chair, he’d be sewing and talking about his life as Jonathon Locke. Brian and his son were supposed to meet him there, but when he arrived, only his drama students were there, excited about the battle. They’d set up his tent and handled his equipment with familiar hands. A rack of his handmade clothing was on display. He could have had a place on Sutler Lane, selling clothing and taking orders, but that wasn’t Jonathon Locke. He was both soldier and tailor, and his journal mentioned helping to stitch men back together, too.

Where were Brian and Jeff?

Two small families arrived for the workshop and he began talking, answering their questions as Jonathon would, never breaking character. He dreamed of Jonathon and Rory Mac Gillivray, especially during war season…

Brian must think I’m crazy. Obsessed with two men who might or might not have been lovers during the Revolutionary War. That’s why he wasn’t here. Brian had given him a sweet send off this morning, but it was obvious his thoughts were elsewhere. Maybe it was his son, yet maybe it was how to say goodbye. Brian the former soldier must think all this a stupid and expensive game. It might be, but for a gay drama teacher with a primary document like the diary, it was all the more poignant that marriage equality was the law of the land now. At the last minute, he’d embroidered a rainbow heart into the tail of his regimental coat, as loving colonial wives had to remind their soldier husbands of their affection.

“Professor, wake up! He’s here!” Jane whispered as she gave him a poke in the back. She sometimes played Robin Locke. “You are so lucky.”

“Ror–Brian! Where have you–oh my God, you did it!”

Brian had outfitted both himself and his son in tricorn hats and somewhat ratty brown suede, fringed jackets. Boy and man had a swath of plaid around their hips, just as Rory Mac Gillivray had worn. The fake Indian beads added to the somewhat appalling, and touching, ensembles. John jumped up to hug Brian, who whispered in his ear, “I want to be your Rory, Jonathon.”

He couldn’t wait to begin stitching their lives together.







2 thoughts on “FLASH FICTION: Fife And Drum by Heloise West

  1. Addison Albright July 4, 2017 / 2:35 pm

    Aww! That was fascinating. I especially loved the sweet ending. 🙂


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