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She stood there, waiting, and she wasn’t even sure what for. One foot on the grill, one on the solid sidewalk, she watched people walk by. Not too many for that time of day. An oddity. She wondered where everyone was, where the few stragglers were going, what they were doing, what their futures held. An old cab drove by, an aged, antique model that she’d never seen in real life, only in the movies. The checkers on the side, bright yellow dimmed by time, the driver maybe even older than the car itself. Their eyes met for a brief moment, and for a second she felt as if she could see into his soul, his whole life of pain, torment, wars, soldiers, Nazis, pain, suffering, but also the love of a good woman, meeting her on leave, bringing her flowers, dates, love, family, children, grandchildren, one great-grandson and as quickly as he drove by and he broke eye contact the moment and the visions were gone. She tugged at the black sleeve of her cardigan and scraped the cement with her left boot tip, looked down into the grill and saw trash accumulated in the underground sewer. When she looked back up she was once again curiously alone on the street.
The men all sat to one side, dressed much more casual than their female counterparts, avoiding the talk of new clothing lines and the coupon section of the newspaper.
None of them knew each other, but this was to their liking more than taking part in a garden party. They talked of manly topics such as the new Ford, baseball and work. One of them, a car salesman, tried to convince them they all needed the ’44 that was coming in next week. Another, a soldier on leave, spoke of the war and regaled them with bloody stories full of bullets and bombs and explosions.
They watched from afar as their lady folk drank tea from fancy little cups and ate tiny desserts squeezed between their fingers.
Both sides checked on each other here and there. A husband nodded to his wife from across the ornate garden. A wife smiled and raised a teacup to her husband or pointed out a fancy statue of a cherub. One young woman had a camera and shot a photograph of her husband, the soldier.
It was like a school dance, but they were adults, at a garden party.
I made it. Wildwood, New Jersey. The cousins’ house is beautiful, right on Central Avenue, and I even have my own room! It’s a shame I did not know, or I would have brought more to decorate with. All I brought was that one photograph of Charles, so I put it on my mirror and kiss it every morning when I wake up and every night before I sleep.
Oh, the cousins are calling me, it’s time for the beach! I’ll write more later.
Frank, Beth and I were sitting outside on the patio when I met their neighbor, Margaret. They warned me she was a little weird. She lives across the street all alone, which is odd because she’s twenty-one (or so Beth says) and she works at some sort of factory off-shore. She’s a little bit shorter than I, but she liked my cardigan (it was a bit chilly, Frank said a cold breeze usually comes off the ocean at night) and asked me a lot of questions, especially about Charles. But I like talking about him, so I was pleased. She invited me to tea at her house tomorrow, and I accepted.
I still have to write Charles, but I can’t find the paper where I wrote the address where he’s stationed in Italy. Where on earth did I put it?
I had tea with Margaret, and we talked for hours! At first it was mostly about Charles, but then she started telling me about her life, her job (I can’t believe she really works, I thought Frank was pulling my leg). She says women should not have to depend on a man to live, which is an odd thing to say, but I guess she has a point. She works and has this house, so I guess it is okay.
We went for a walk on the beach, but Margaret does not own a bathing suit! I could not believe it. I offered to go shopping with her, but she did not seem to like the idea. She said she did not like being looked at by all of the men on the beach in that way. I always kind of liked it, but did not say anything. I did not want to hurt her feelings.
Now where did I put that address?
Sorry it has been a few days, but life has been exciting! Margaret has become my new best friend, and even though she is three years older than I, she seems to understand me. She works during the week, so I go to the beach with Beth (Frank goes with his friends, and usually they torment us a bit) and after dinner I go to Margaret’s to play cards. She is so interesting, I have trouble agreeing with her thoughts on life sometimes, but overall, she is fascinating. I’m supposed to leave in a day or two, but Margaret invited me to stay with her, so we will see.
Tonight Margaret took me to the boardwalk and treated me to some rides. We went on the ferris wheel and then the carousel, then she brought me to the shooting gallery. She is very good with a gun, she did not miss once! She even let me point out what she should shoot, and in the end gave me the teddy bear she won. I will sleep with it every night from now on.
I have decided to stay. Auntie did not like the idea of me moving in with Margaret, and even went so far as to call mother! But she did not have a problem with it, so I am sharing Margaret’s place. Beth and Frank have been whispering about me, I think. But I am excited to be living with a friend for the first time. We watch the television (usually Jack Benny) and she has also has been reading to me out loud! I usually fall asleep after a while, but really like the book she’s reading me (A Lost Lady by Willa Cather) and next she says she will read me a book called The Awakening, which should be fun since it takes place in a shore town. I do not know how she knows about these books or where she hears of them, but I enjoy what I have heard so far.
Last night I woke up on the couch and Margaret had fallen asleep too, right up against me. It felt nice since I was cold. I pulled an afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped us both up in it.
I finally wrote Charles a post card, but have yet to find the address. I may have to give up and call mother. Maybe she can call his mother and get the address.
Margaret and I have taken to falling asleep on the couch every night. She reads to me until I fall asleep, and then must fall asleep soon after since I wake up every morning next to her. It is nice, and while I think my cousins disapprove (they have been visiting less and rarely ask me to the beach now). Auntie has been making an effort to invite me to lunch almost daily. She asks me lots of questions about staying with Margaret. I think she is a puzzle to them, nobody understands her. Auntie asks if she talks about any men, but I have to say I have never heard her mention any, except maybe someone named Sam whom I believe she dated. She does not speak of him often, but has slipped his name into conversation once or twice. He seems to be an old fling of hers who used to visit ever summer. I am worried he will visit soon (she said it is a possibility) because I am afraid he will take her away from me. She is the best friend I have ever had, and do not want to end up watching Jack Benny alone while she is out at the amusement park with him instead of me. Maybe she will invite me.
I got a letter from Charles, wanting to know how I am. I will get his address tomorrow, or the next day.
My fears have come true! Margaret came home today to find a note on the door from Sam. He is here for the week! I do not want to meet him, and Margaret seems uninterested in seeing him as well. I am not bringing him up at all for fear she will tell me that she will be busy with him all week. I hope not.
I found the note and read it, he signed off with “Love, Sam” which upset me. His writing looks a lot like mine, which is kind of odd.
I still need to call home and get Charles’ address. I feel terrible about it, but I am not sure what I would even tell him if I were to write him now.
All of my fears were silly! Sam is a girl. It is short for Samantha. And while I have to say she clearly does not like me, I am relieved. Although I am curious what made me think they were an item before. Samantha kept giving me dirty looks, and calling me Margaret’s girlfriend like it was a bad thing. Maybe I do not fully understand what is going on here.
I decided not to write Charles. I have nothing to say and can fill him in when I go home, whenever that will be.
Something has happened, dear diary, something I feel I can only tell you, the keeper of all of my secrets! Last night after a heated argument with Sam, Margaret was quiet. She sat in the kitchen for about an hour, and at first I thought she was crying and gave her space, but after a while I heard a crashing sound and I ran in to find her breaking dishes on the floor! I asked her what was wrong, and she said I would not understand. I sat down and refused to leave until she talked to me, and after a few minutes I realized her eyes were teary, and I knew I had to go to her and hug her. I was surprised to see her cry, she is such a strong woman.
So I went over and hugged her, and she pushed me away a bit, and then looked into my eyes. I’m almost afraid to even write this, but I know I can trust you, diary, and need to tell someone. She kissed me, hard on the lips. I was terrified and caught off guard. I did not expect it at all. I was a bit upset.
I am not upset with Margaret. I was troubled, and still am, because I liked it. And I did not stop her.
I’m sorry it’s been a few weeks! Everything has happened so fast. Margaret has taught me so much. I’ve gotten rid of the few dresses I had and am dressing more like Margaret now. A woman even asked us if we were sisters the other day! Margaret likes my new style, and I have to admit it is so uplifting to not worry about what boys think of me! I spend less time in my room primping and am really living life.
Also, I got a job! Margaret helped me, and now I work in the factory with her. I do not do anything with the machinery like she does, but I have an important job nonetheless. I am in shipping, where I make sure the packages are labeled correctly and they have the right contents. I got my first paycheck and took Margaret out for dinner to celebrate. My first paycheck, I never thought I would know the feeling of ‘bringing home the bacon’ as dad always called it. It makes me feel strong.
I have moved into the main bedroom with Margaret.
I could not ask for anything more. Life is better than I ever could have hoped! I am in love, I have a great job, and I have never felt so strong and independent. And I have Margaret to thank!
I asked her the other day what we were doing, and she explained that people all over the world are like us, but that they are forced to live in secret, which made me realize we too are keeping it a secret! She never holds my hand in public, and we only kiss in her house. I did not realize until now how hard these choices would make my life. But it is all worth it, I am in love with her, and she loves me (she told me last night!)
Work is great, I love it. I’ve been doing the food shopping since Margaret never has a lot of food in the house, and we have been cooking together. She has no idea what she is doing around the kitchen! I have been trying to teach her, but mostly give her easy jobs like cutting the vegetables or shucking the corn.
All is well. I am happy.
I am home now, and miserable. I’ve never felt so horrible in my life. It all started early this morning. There was a banging on the front door, and I jumped out of bed, my heart racing, and found my father at the door. He burst through, pushing me out of the way and waking Margaret, who came out in her pajamas.
He called her all kinds of names, words I have never even heard before, and she started trying to punch him. She gave him a shiner, but he refused to hit her back, he eventually just grabbed her wrists and pushed her onto the couch. Then he grabbed me and dragged me to the car, telling me to stay there while he gathered my belongings. I sat in the car out of fear. I feel stupid. I did not even get to say goodbye to her.
I could hear him yelling, and her yelling about how I was an adult and free to make my own choices. She followed him out as he carried my suitcase, hastily packed. Father got in and started the car, and she began yelling for me to get out of the car and stay. I started crying, but could not disobey my father. I waved goodbye and mouthed “I love you” to her, and she stopped chasing the car. My heart broke as I watched her get smaller out the back window.
I have not even left my room in the ten hours I’ve been here. When I opened my suitcase, the teddy bear she won for me that night was right on top, and I grabbed him and held him as tight as I could. My family has not said a word to me. My mother would not even look me in the eye, and did not even send up any food. Peter snuck me some cookies he had hidden in his room, and he told me he loved me, which made me cry more.
Now I am writing, and formulating my plan for tomorrow. There is a factory that hires women nearby, since there’s such a shortage of men ever since the war started. I will go there and try to get a job, and then I will start looking for my own place, save up money, and someday get back to Margaret. Wish me luck, diary.
She always dreaded that the day would come. He had been serving in the army for a second tour of duty, and she would often have nightmares of that fateful moment. The men would come, dressed in their uniforms, and solemnly approach her home with that letter, the typed, impersonal apology from the United States government.
It had happened to Ethyl down the street, and she spent days there, consoling her, bringing casserole after casserole, returning home with the emptied dish every night with the knowledge that she would just have to fill it up again tomorrow, a shared sympathy. After all, it could just as easily be Ethyl bringing the casseroles to her.
And then one evening, she was sitting watching the television when she heard a car coming down the street and just knew. She got up, still dressed from her long day of shopping with Ethyl, attempting to keep her mind off of her loss, and she could see the car slowly driving down the street. She watched from the window, lights off, praying that the car would just pass her house.
It pulled into her driveway, a long, black Buick, and the headlights illumined the space around her, through the window. For some reason she grabbed her purse, an afterthought, or perhaps something to hold onto when the news came. She watched as two older men in uniform got out of the car and straightened their shirts, double-checking for perfection. Then one reached into his pocket and withdrew the envelope.
She reached out to touch him, and he smiled, just for a moment. The men were at the door now.
His smile disappeared, and he nodded knowingly, reassuringly, and she knew what he was trying to tell her. The men knocked.
She looked down at the carpet, freshly vacuumed, felt the gentle caress of his hand at the small of her back, and when she looked up he was gone.