He leaned down to read the title of the book in her hand, still holding tight to her as he did. Her scarf had slipped off her shoulders and the long triangle of her bare skin gave off a bright heat like summer grass.
Like it? he asked.
Could they have been making love in the nineteenth century? She pulled her gaze away, offering up the last thing, least important, that had rested on the shelf of her mind.
I dont see how wed all have gotten here if they hadnt.
No, no. Look. She opened the book right there on the top step of the bus and rippled through the pages, sharply aware of his eyes on her shoulders and arms. They had kissed. They had touched each other through layers of silk and wool. Through jackets and trousers and blouses and skirts, but his eyes might as well have been hands now, her skin prickling and flushing as he put his foot on the stair next to hers and his jacket slid open. There, she pointed.
He looked down and read, Vronksy was making love
Its so naked, she said and then blushed, to say it like that.
He pressed against her. Like what?
On the page. Wouldnt the readers have been shocked? I am.
You are not, he whispered.
I am, she giggled, leaning her shoulder into his. I really am. A modern reader.
It meant something else. Everyone understood.
Courting, he answered, his smile lighting up the impossible inches between them.
Oh, she sighed happily. Well, you would know.
Come on, he put his hand under her elbow to draw her down the stairs. Lets go home.
Through the open door, a suitcase sailed off the busmans hook, flying for a moment in the air until it crashed down and split, cracking open upon the sidewalk neat as a tapped egg.
Oh! cried Emma.
Will stopped where he was at the door of the bus, staring down at the voluptuous explosion of what must be Ems underthings cascading over the popped sides of the case. They were numerous, silky, and a twilit blue, tossed and flung in a delirious striptease, showing themselves like sirens. He squeezed Emmas hand tucked in his behind his back.
No one saw, he said to her. Ill step around and help Flores. Thatll give you a minute.
Emma nodded, letting go of his hand, and slipped off the last of the bus stairs onto the pavement. She had to fight the urge to fling herself onto the smashed case and cover the strewn clothing with her body, but that woman from the bus was leaning against the railing on the pavement, watching.
Shall I help you pick up? she asked.
To her own surprise, Emma found herself nodding. The two of them kneeled down without another word to gather the stockings, the soft bras, and the slight blue panties from the ground. The woman was so quiet and so careful with Emmas things that the bride s throat closed over with tears.
Its only clothing, the other woman said quietly. It doesnt mean anything.
I know, Emma whispered back.
Then dont let him see you cry. Hell think you are ashamed.
Emmas hand hovered over a nightie and she flushed up. What did this woman know about Will or about what he would think? She tossed the thing into her case.
Im not ashamed in the slightest.
Iris heard the warning in the girls voice and glanced across the suitcase at her. Fine, she answered. And then, as an afterthought, she added, Im Iris James.
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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