From the skein, she snips off a prickly length of twine. Shell
count to ten no, twenty then allow a quick peek up. By then, she
thinks, hell be right here. Here.
Shes at twelve doubting she can last eight further counts
when a ladys treacly voice says, Frieda Mintz?
Instinct almost makes Frieda deny it. She hates to hear her name
asked as a question. In a tiny, grudging tone she says, Im her.
Good, then. Wonderful. How easy.
Get on with it, Frieda wants to say.
Get on with it and get the heck away from my counter so I can be
alone when Felix shows.
The lady has a damsels braids the color of a dusty blackboard,
as though her schoolgirl self was aged abruptly. Her smile shows a neat set
of teeth. Im sorry to have come to your workplace, she says, but its all
the information we were given. Is there somewhere we can speak more
Only now does Frieda see that Felix isnt coming, that her visitor
is who? How does this stranger know her name? The pressure in her
joints pinches tight. No, she says. Ive got to stay. Im working.
But I really must speak with you, Miss Mintz.
I had my break already, Frieda says.
Then I guess well just have to talk here. The woman shivers
slightly, hunch-shouldered and indignant, like someone caught suddenly in
the rain. Im Mrs. Sprague. Im with the Committee on Prevention of Social
Evils Surrounding Military Camps.
The long, daunting name is a gale that buffets Frieda, dizzying,
Youre familiar with our work?
Frieda manages to mumble no.
Well, were trying to do our bit to win the war. For those of us
who cant actually enlist ourselves and fight, that means supporting our boys
in every way isnt that right?
Mrs. Spragues churchy tone reminds Frieda of the man who
came into Jordans last Thursday to train a squad of four-minute speakers.
(As if Boston needs another squad! At every movie hall and subway stop
shes heard them, preaching in the same zealous accent.) When Frieda
walked past the employees room at lunch, she heard the speech coachs
red-blooded baritone (Whenever possible, address crowds in the first-person
plural. It makes them feel invested, dont we think?) and the classs steel-
trap response (We do!).
I said, isnt that right, Miss Mintz?
Frieda stares at her twine-roughened fingers. Suppose so.
You suppose. But do you really understand? The ladys smile
widens, showing more tidy teeth. Too many girls too many pretty ones
like you get their desire to help soldiers all mixed up with . . . well, with
How does she know of Friedas longing for a soldier? Did she spy
her with Felix at the ballgame? (The game was the only public place they
went.) And heres something I bet you havent heard, says Mrs.
Sprague. Have you heard that more soldiers are hospitalized now with social
diseases than with battle wounds?
Frieda, in confusion, shakes her head. How could a disease be
Most girls dont know that. Most dont want to. And if a soldiers
hurt when he goes over the top, thats the price of freedom, and well pay it.
But any man hit by this other kind of sickness well, hes crippled in his
body and his soul. The last word seems to trigger something in the woman;
she takes one of her gray braids and twists it round her thumb, as if
remembering long-ago pain. A bullet wound can heal. Not a soul.
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