It had all cracked slightly, with her request. Not audibly, but noticeably enough for Iris to recognize that the doctor was going to need some prodding: that the capacious room notwithstanding, Dr. Broad lacked imagination. He was happy to examine her, he told her, leaning back in his chair. But why the piece of paper?
I would have thought every man might like to have such a thing? she suggested.
Dr. Broad cleared his throat.
Perhaps thats a bit familiar of me, she concluded aloud, watching the man across the desk from her inch his hands along the arms of his chair, making as if to rise.
Why dont we begin? He smiled and did rise, bringing the interview to a halt.
So she had not had a chance to answer the question fully. And opening the door between the examining room and his office, she could see, by the studied lifting of his head from what occupied him at his desk, that she d not be given another chance. He was very busy. She was just one of many women he tended to.
Please, he said, have a seat.
Everythings in order?
Youre perfect, he answered.
His eyes remaining on the paper before him, he took it up and handed it across the desktop to her. Will that do?
She reached and took the page in her hand and looked down. This is to certify that Miss Iris James was examined on 21 September 1940 and found to be Intact.
She had been right. Thered been no skimping on the paper. Dr. Broads stationery was beautifully creamy, nearly linen. And though hed obviously had little enthusiasm for the project, hed written it all out wonderfully. She thought he might have won a handwriting prize in school.
Its perfect, she smiled up at him. Thank you.
Glad to help, he said, and graciously stood behind his desk as she rose and moved to the door. For several moments he remained standing, listening to her there on the other side of the door, asking for her coat from Miss Prentiss, and then for the quickest bus route from here to South Station. Their voices were light and agreeable, the lilt and tone of which he usually managed to ignore while working inside. Then the outer door opened and shut, and, after a pause, Miss Prentiss resumed her typing. He walked over to one of the two windows facing down into the Public Gardens.
He almost missed her. She had emerged so quickly from his building that she was across the street and around the corner pillars of the Gardens, walking swiftly away from him up the outer walk. She carried herself like someone under review, shoulders thrown back, her head pulled up. What a queer character, he mused. He followed her the fifty- odd feet she remained in sight, until eventually she was swallowed up by the city and the distance. He turned back around to his desk. I thought every man should want such a thing, she had said right there. And bombs were falling on Coventry, London, and Kent. Sleek metal pellets shaped like the blunt- tipped ends of pencils aimed down upon hedgerow and thatch. What was a hedgerow? Where was Coventry? In History and Geography, Hitlers army marched upon the school maps of Europe, while next door in English, the voices recited from singsong memory I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. Bombers flew above the wattles, over an England filled with the songs of linnets and thrush. There were things being broken we had no American names for. There was war. What did it mean, War? Stretched out upon the pages of Life, the children of Coventry stared up into an inquisitive camera. We could see them. They looked unafraid there in the ditch dug for safety. Their hands spread- eagled against the dirt walls for balance, the two girls still in skirts. There was a boy with no expression. He looked back at us straight, and the collar of his jacket was fastened by a safety pin. He was already there, in the war.
Excerpted from The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Blake. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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