Is your Bobby turning twenty, twenty- one? The mans voice in front of her broke in.
They wont send em over there. Get them trained up, okay. Hell, have them build a few bridges! But they wont send em.
The second man didnt answer right away and stared out the window. Emma found herself watching the strict profile of his nose and chin as if for some sign. The trees flashed past. Sure they will, he said, turning back to his companion.
It served her right. Emma sat back, annoyed at herself for listening in. She had heard it this morning and tried to forget it, had forgotten it in fact, but now here it was again. The draft had passed in Congress, and all men of serviceable age were to report to the draft boards that had sprung up in every town, little and large, like mushrooms after a rain. Not that it would matter to her, she protested to the slight reflection of her hands on her lap in the window. Will wouldnt go. He had said as much. (Though not definitively, she corrected, scrupulously honest even in her worry.) He shouldnt go, she amended. He certainly had cause to plead hardship. He was the last in line of the Fitches. He was the sole doctor for miles and she had just married him.
Anyway, he couldnt leave her. There was a central fact to everyones life, she thought, a fact from which all else stemmed. Hers was that she had been utterly alone in the world until she met Will. She had lost her mother and father and brother in the epidemic in 1918. They had died in a fever dream, and she had lived; and now, it had been so long, they might have never lived at all. There was a house on a hill, far from the sea, where she had been born. And a town she remembered full of the flappings of flags, which she realized now was her memory of the tents they all lay in, out in the field, because the hospital was gorged with the sick. The memory she might have had of her mother was blotted out by a nurse s face, wrapped in a mask, bending over her in her cot, checking to see if she breathed.
Now it would start, this next part. The orphaned girl with the serious eyes and the mole at the base of her throat was now the doctors wife, with a husband, a house, and a town. Marrying Will had pulled her through the dim gray curtain of unaccented time. The time spent in a shared room at the top of a boardinghouse, her stockings drying on the ladder- back chair. She was going home. She tried a smile in the window glass. Home. To Will.
Emma slid the Federal Writers Project guidebook on Cape Cod out from her satchel, turning to its section on Franklin: The bait at the end of the sandy hook sticking fifty- odd miles into the Atlantic, the town of Franklin waves slyly back at the shore. The first thing one loses there is a sense of direction. Ringed by the yellow- white sand dunes and water on all sides, North and South seem to switch points on the compass, and the sky is no help. It is a place swollen by fish and the smell of fish, of cod oil, of the broken spars of whale bones and masts spat back from the sea onto the broad swath of beaches behind the town. Pilgrims of one sort or another have always come: first the Puritans, then the Portuguese whalers, and then at the turn of the last century artists arrived, wrapping their scarves on the tops of old dories and painting them; and policemens daughters who have come down from Boston mixed with the parti- colored crowds, saying wasnt it fun, wasnt it something how the Mediterranean sons of fishermen walked arm and arm with the Yankee gold while the bright lights of the summer theaters glow out into the darkChrist! She flipped the book shut and stuffed it back. It was as purple as the Garnett.
Mr. Flores hunched low over the wheel, peering into the slanting light, and Emma felt the road spinning her closer and closer in. The stark white houses of Woodling passed one after another. Through the Tralpee forest they went, the squat beechwood flinging away on either side, until at last the bus reached the crest of the hill before Franklin. And as the bus stuttered at the top in the beat before descending, she sat up straight wishing suddenly, unaccountably that the line between her and this town would snap. Mr. Floress fist paused above the gearshift. The dunes spread wide around them.
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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