Where our boys were not going. The president had promised. He spoke bluntly, as if he were one of the people, but he wasnt, thank God. Nobody thought so. When he said the boys would not fight in foreign wars, we believed him, though we had listened to the names of the French towns falling the way people listen to the names of medicine before they are taken ill themselves. Now the talk was of a German invasion. Would England stand? Their tanks and trucks, their guns, hulked useless on the other side of the Channel where theyd left them at Dunkirk. But when we were told the Brits had dragged cannons out of the British Museum, wheeling them down to the Thames, we nodded. Bombs had crashed down on London now for sixteen nights. Buses were stopped in the street. Babies hurled from their beds, we were told. Still, in the morning, one by one, Londoners crept back out into the light and we cheered them. England would stand. Nobody knew the ending. Buchenwald was as yet only a town in Germany, where sunlight splattered the trees. Auschwitz. Bergen- Belsen. Simply foreign names. It was the end of summer and the lights were still on. In South Station, Iris made her way toward the train for Buzzards Bay, amusing herself by watching the transfer of mailbags into the freight cars at the back. It happened rarely that she traveled with the mail, but it gave her exquisite pleasure to take a seat in the foremost car, the very front seat if she could manage it. All these letters, all these words scratched out one to the other, spinning their way toward someone. Someone waiting. Someone writing. That was the point of it all, keeping the pure chutes clear, so that anybodys letter finding its way to the post office, into the canvas sacks, the many-hued envelopes jostling and nestling, shuffling with all the others could journey forward, joining all the other paper thoughts sent out minute by minute to vanquish
The stationmaster announced the departure of the Buffalo Express and she gazed up at the clock and watched the hand stitch one second to the next. In another minute her train would be called, and shed join the crowd boarding, pulled back into the shape of her name and of her person. Shed be Iris James, again. Postmaster of Franklin, Massachusetts.
Where Harry was. And the new place in her chest that seemed to have been made by him that flipped and moved when she caught sight of him on the street, or in line behind others at the post office bounded. A year ago, hed just been Harry Vale, the town mechanic, nice enough, good for a spare tire and a chat. And then, one day, he wasnt. He was something else. For he had walked into Aldens Market not too long ago and come slowly up behind her so that when she turned around, a can of creamed corn in one hand and plain in the other, there was nothing to do but raise them both to him, offering a choice. He looked at her and then down at the cans, seeming to consider the two very carefully. Finally, he put his thick hand out and pointed to the plain. She nodded. Hed have to tip his head up to kiss her, Iris found herself thinking.
Shed never imagined it would come to her, but here it was Harry Vale had looked at her with the look that signaled somethings on. And he had done it in plain sight. Never mind Beth Alden watching at the counter. Never mind the heat bolting from the canned goods at the back of the store. She patted her pocketbook. Was it odd what she had done? Well, so what if it was. What she had said to the doctor was Gods own truth any man would want to know he was the first, she was sure of it and she could give Harry the paper, beautiful and clean as a white dress at the end of an aisle, which she was too old for, and anyway white was her least becoming color.
At Nauset, Iris descended the Boston train and walked the four blocks through the central town on the Cape to find the bus out to Franklin. Mr. Flores sat in the shade cast by the bus and pushed himself up onto his feet, ambling forward. She had reapplied her lipstick and combed her hair as the train had pulled into the station, which was a good thing because he was staring.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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