"Perhaps this is how Frances came to set down on a loose sheet of letter paper, Lay me as if in some small animal's burrow, buried in needles and duff, beneath the White Pine. For there is no one from whom I take more comfort."
(Once Willard Heald said to his wife that he felt he must do the best he could for Frances, that he was her guardian angel and when his wife snapped, "I see no well-loomed wings, Willard," he nodded gravely and offered,
("Humans may be angels where angels can't be found."
(Frances was the first person he knew closely who was born in the Twentieth Century.)
"How did you come to read her letters?" said Mrs. Heald thinly.
"Almost every day she managed to detain me, Mrs. Heald," said the postman with a certain affect. "Of course she spilled the contents.
"She sent inquiries to a nunnery, and she wrote to the great American novelist Winston Churchill who himself has always fancied New Hampshire."
Mrs. Heald kept her hands busy as her husband spoke as if to deny the conversation.
"A wise and solitary heart," proclaimed the postman.
"Solitary," echoed his wife, although it couldn't be said she meant a challenge.
("Mr. Heald," called Frances. Her voice seemed to him lush for a girl, sonorous and demanding, vibrato on the horizon like before a thunder. But she had a girlish habit of making odd couplets of conversation.
("I've so few possessions. I could directly partake of the nuns' lessons."
(The postman craned his neck to see from where between the maple leaves she was speaking.
("Just this heart-shaped pendant"Heald caught sight of her hand darting birdlike as if to drink from the cup at the throat of her throat"and a Letter Writer's Kit from my cousin in Manchester.")
(He thought it was ten years ago he had delivered a maple box of writing paper. Folk were accustomed to retrieve their parcels at the post office, which was no more than an alcove of Buck Herman's store Heald used to quarter the townroughlyand sort the letters. But he had taken it home with him, the package, since they were neighbors. Her composure was a rare thing; neither shy nor high-strung like a filly or a rabbit. Now here is a child who will hold her own against the Century, had thought the postman.)
"Willard," his wife broke in. "You've stopped reading.
* * *
Dear Mr. Churchill, wrote Frances. I am a woman of the
age to decide what pursuit I must take for life. Marriage is out of the question
as I have always been ill at ease with those of Adam'sand here she
stopped and sat a long time with a still pen at the desk she borrowed from her
father, cocking her head this way and that into the dark corners of the study.
How was it that she wanted perhaps to become a writer and yet she dared not use
the word sex, which, admittedly, had been the first word to come to her
mind, and the second word she thought of was race, but in truth they were not a
different race altogetherand so she began again.
Dear Mr. Churchill, I wish to become a writer. What advice can you give to a fellow American, a woman approaching the age to choose but born and bred in a town smaller than your thumbnail, tucked between merely knuckle-sized hills?
Isabel was a school friend who had already secured a place in a nunnery. She sat upon the wooden steps of the library (it had been a schoolhouse in the postman's time) and read to Frances from Greek mythology. The postman crossed and heard Frances cry, "Give us Persephone!"
From Garner by Kirstin Allio, pages 11-25. Copyright Kirstin Allio 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Coffee House Press.
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