Friday, July 29, 2016


Bobby Derie

The chickens were put up in the coop, the feed buckets mucked out, and three big potatoes picked out for dinner. Clark washed his hands and face and ears, and they had dinner together as the sun came through the dining room window - pale corn and okra, fried chicken and mashed potatoes with thick brown gravy, washed down with milk and water. Ma took the dishes to the sink to wash, while the boy dried them with a towel and set them in the rack, and Pa got dressed. He returned just as the sun was a red disc on the horizon, and gave her a kiss, his American Legion hat tucked under one arm, and headed out to his meeting.

Ma came out to the dining room and switched on the light - the only light in the darkened house, and Clark came in with his schoolwork. Tonight was fractions and vocabulary. They sat at the table beneath the pale yellow light, working with flashcards and a pencil that had been sharpened to a nub.

"You're not paying attention tonight Clark," Ma said, tapping a nail against a backwards 'S'. He never knew how she could spot those from across the table.

"Ma...what did you do during the war?"

She shuffled the fraction cards in her hands, and leaned back in her chair.

"I was a newspaperwoman."

The boy waited expectantly. She flashed a card.


"I met your father in highschool, but we weren't married after we graduated. Not yet. He joined the Army. Many men did. The newspaper office was short-handed, and I'd done well in my typing courses - once thought I might be a stenographer in a law office. Mother was sick and we needed the money, so I answered an advertisement for the Smallville Ledger."

A card. "Nine...sevenths?"

"Which is?"

"One and...two sevenths."

"Good. I was a typist, at first. Not even a secretary. Farm news, mostly. It came in on the wire, sickness in crops and animals, bad weather, bad water. New scientific farming. Advertisements for seed catalogs, that kind of thing. Sometimes I even came up with the ad copy, for the personal ads. Hands needed, old tractors for sale, rooms for rent. That sort of thing. Used to spend hours going through the musty old archives, these big books, each page of newsprint laid out flat, never folded, to find out when someone was born or had died."

A card. "Six-twelfths."

"Divide by six?"

" half."

"That's right. I was never quite a cub reporter, but as things got on I did more. Once, I went out to get the scores for a ball game, and came home with such a story the editor insisted I write it up - my first article. I'd done well enough in composition in school, but it was a different type of writing. I stayed up well after midnight working on that six inches. They printed it. I cut out a copy and mailed it to Pa with my next letter. He kept it, all through the war. 'That's my gal' he said."

She shuffled the cards.

"Parts of it I didn't care for. The lists that came back, of the dead and wounded, the missing in action. There were women that came around, asking for news from the front. Men looking for work - the newspaper wasn't an employment office, but we put the job listings up for free, and would read them to anyone that couldn't. And of course, there were those that didn't think much of a girl running around with ink on her hands, or driving out to Kansas City or Wichita on her lonesome."

Ma put the cards back in the pack.

"Then the war was over, and Pa came home. Before you know it we were married - I kept up the job for a while, because we needed the money; but there were old newspapermen coming home and the Ledger had me back to typing up copy for others, and I didn't like that. One day the editor announced we were getting a pay cut - and I left. It wasn't worth my time."

She looked at the clock. "Oh Clark, your program is starting. Why don't you go catch it? I'll tidy up."

The grin split the boy's face from ear to ear, and he bolted for the front door. He jumped down the three steps of the porch and landed on the soft dirt, then launched himself straight upwards...higher and higher. At a few thousand feet he hung above the Earth and closed his eyes, focusing his hearing as a thousand radio sets tuned in to the whistling intro and "...nothing wrong Mr. Templar..."


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