“That was a fascinating story, Mister Lambert.” The young African-American man lifted a mug of beer to his mouth, leaving a pale mustache against his black skin. “But there are intellectual mysteries in our past that cannot be explained as simply as the canonical effect.”
Doctor Montegro harrumphed from his stool, hand rubbing his muttonchop whiskers. “What kind of foolishness are you speaking of? Are you going to offer us math riddles in the middle of a tale of savages?” The rotund man laughed as he shifted the stethoscope that lay around his neck like a strange shawl.
The younger man flushed, his skin darkening further as he spoke over the scattered laughs from around the room. “Savages? No, sir, I would tell you a story of your own… civilized history. My name is Jonathan Freeman; I am an associate professor at the University. Surely the patrons of the Wanderer’s Club are familiar with it?”
Jonathan smiled as he continued. “My grandmother, Sarah Freeman, told me this tale, and I will vouch for its veracity. Her mind is-“
”Just fine, Jonathan, dear.” The woman stood in the doorway, surveying the room. Her dark face was wrinkled in the contour map’s ridgelines of a long, busy life. The men shifted to the side, making a path as she hobbled toward Jonathan, resting her weight on a simple wood cane. “So this is where you go of a evening, is it?” She nodded at the few other women in the room, and whispered, a little too loudly to her grandson, “At least there are some women here for you.”
Jonathan blush grew hotter. “Grandmother, I - “
”You was going to tell my story again. I know.” She squeezed between Jonathan and Dr. Montegro, her speech formalizing into schoolmarm diction. “It was a difficult task, grandson, but I did earn my degree at Oberlin through my merits, not my good looks.” She turned to the bartender. “Bourbon. Neat.”
The others in the room laughed softly as she took the glass and took a drink. Her voice melted back and forth between Southern fluidity and formal diction. “Mmm. Burbon’s a warm liquid, sirs. I crave some kind of fire to warm my bones at my age.” Her gaze wandered over the men in the room. “Don’t get old, boys! There’s so much you give up, getting to be my age. Compromising, you see. You sacrifice something - a memory, a smell, joints that don’t ache you of a morning - just so you can see another day.”
”Mrs. Freeman,” Dr. Montegro said, “I believe there was a tale in the offering. While your observations of old age are … fascinating… they are not the coin of the realm. So to speak.” The doctor looked down through his glasses at her. “We trade stories here, madam, and your grandson was going to tell one.”
The smile creased her face even further. “Why, yes, yes, he was.” Jonathan tried to guide his grandmother to an armchair, but she waved him off, settling onto a barstool. “You fine educated men know of General Sherman, don’t you? The Union commander who burned his way from Atlanta to Savannah?” Several men nodded; a few, who had betrayed Southern accents earlier in the evening, frowned. Montegro’s hand touched the silver chestpiece of his stethoscope.
Sarah looked up at the paneled ceiling for a moment, then back at the listening men. “What you don’t know is that Sherman didn’t do it all himself.”