It began, as it often does, with a woman putting her ducks in a row.
It had occurred to Iris a few weeks back at the height of summer when tourists jammed the post office with their oiled bodies and their scattered, childish vacation glee that if what she thought were going to happen was going to, she ought to be prepared. She ought, really oughtnt she, to be ready to show Harry that though she was forty, as old as the century, he would be the first. The very first. And she had always put more stock in words set down on a clean white piece of paper than any sort of talk. Talk was
Right, said the doctor, turning away to wash his hands.
Iris supposed she was meant to get up and get dressed while his back was turned, but she had not had the foresight to wear a skirt, thinking instead that her blue dress was the thing for this appointment, and no matter how thorough a man Dr. Broad was, hed have turned around from the sink long before shed gotten it over her head, and then where would they be? The leather banquette on which she lay was comfortably firm and smelled like the chairs in the reading room at the public library. No, she would stay put. She slid her gaze from the ceiling over to the little sink at which the doctor stood, rubbing his hands beneath the gurgle. He was certainly thorough. Well, there must be all sorts of muck down there anyone would want to wash their hands of. And as the next step was the certificate, she d be the first to insist that nothing chancy landed on that page by accident.
He straightened, turned off the taps, and flicked his fingers against the back basin before taking up the towel beside him. Are you decent, Miss James?
He directed the question to the wall in front of him.
Not in the least.
Right, he said again, Ill see you in my office.
For the certificate.
Nearly to the door, he paused with his hand outstretched, glancing down at her. She gave him her post office smile, the one she used behind her window, meant to invite cooperation.
Yes, he said, and he grasped hold of the handle, pushing it smartly down and pulling open the door. She waited until she heard the latch click softly after him before she rose, holding one hand to the loosened pins in her hair and the other around her front. She felt a bit as she did in the mornings, unbound by bra or girdle, herself come loose. All fine in the security of her own bedroom, but here she was in the middle of Boston, in one of the discreet buildings fronting the Public Gardens, after lunch on a Thursday in September. On the other side of the door, the steady rhythm of a typewriter clattered through the quiet. The tiles were cool under her feet and she reached first for her underthings, leaning against the banquette as she drew one stocking on, then the next, snapping the garters firmly. Hanging from the back of the chair, the cups of her brassiere pointed straight out into the room like headlights. She smiled, pulling the bra on, and for the third time that afternoon, she thought of Harry Vale.
A single rap at the door. Im ready when you are, Miss James.
Ill be right in, she called back.
Everything had been genial. Everything had been perfectly nice. The doctors office was the sort to glory in thick green curtains pulled back from high windows, just skimming a rich gray carpet. The secretary in the outer nook, typing away. The hush of order as she had taken Iriss coat and slipped it onto the wooden hanger. And the doctor, just right, too. How hed opened the door and held out his warm hand to her, half as greeting, half as a hand up from where she sat waiting. And hed led her through into his office, signaling the chair in front of his great oak desk as he continued around it to his own position. Hed even pressed his fingertips together under his chin, his serious eyes upon her as she placed her pocketbook upon her lap. Theyd spoken briefly of Mrs. Alsop, exchanging pleasantries about the woman from whom Miss James had acquired Dr. Broads name, just as if theyd all been acquaintances bumped into in the lobby of a travelers hotel. The doctor had listened and smiled, asking Iris if she got to Boston often.
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
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