A short half-fiction
invented from an old postcard.
The screen door gave a loud crack as father came into the kitchen. "The postman came early today, Joe. Got a letter from my cousin in Slater and there's something in it for you too." He handed a card to his son.
The boy looked up from his oatmeal and frowned. He took the card and gave it a glance. "Oh geez," he groaned. "Why'd she go and send me this." He tossed the photo onto the table.
Tip smiled as he set down his coffee and reached over to rub the boy's hair. "Maybe she's sweet on you." The boy was 17 and had grown so tall this past year that he now towered over his four sisters. But they all shared their mother's blue eyes and auburn hair. "Well, I guess I got to get down to the shop now. Mr. Olson wants those two wagons finished by Saturday. He's sending them down the river to St. Louis and he might need some help. You want me to ask if he'll take you on? You'd be back Sunday night."
Joe stirred his oatmeal like he had found a fly swimming in it. "Naw, I got something else to do Pa." He watched as his father picked up his lunch pail and went out the door. As soon as he heard the side gate close, he picked up the postcard. Dumb photograph. Who did she think she was? Mary Pickford? He turned it over.
The florid handwriting made him shiver. Was she coming to Hannibal again? He wasn't exactly sure where Slater, Missouri was. He knew Pa had said it was out west, maybe 100 miles or so on toward Kansas City. His cousins ran a boarding house there. He'd seen it once when they'd gone for a visit. He remembered the house dining room filled with the bluster and clatter that came from the rowdy brakemen and firemen who lived there while waiting for their next train assignment. Lots of men sitting around, smoking, chewing, and spitting. A bit like the coarse river boatmen who stayed in the rooming houses here in Hannibal, down the next block on Broadway toward the wharfs on the Mississippi.
Here it was almost April, 1912 and last summer seemed a world away. Most of her time here, she had stayed with his sisters Gertrude, Margaret, and Juliet, their constant chatter like the chickens out back. Pa understood and found him extra work to do down at the wagon shop.
He traced the little pigtails on the initials L.S. that twisted around like the scroll of her violin. But she surely played a good fiddle though. That day when she took a turn playing for the church social, that caught his attention. Later he had taken out his cornet for her and she taught him some swell dance tunes.
But now there was Becky. He wasn't sure how he would explain this to her. She lived across the street and talked to his sisters all the time. He sure didn't want them to see this photo and start telling. He could hear them moving about upstairs. They'd be down any moment. He paced around the kitchen table.
Two hearts. Why did he ever get two? The county fair was the big feature last August, and his older sister Alice had got them tickets for near every day. They'd heard the bands, seen the animals, and went to the carnival twice. Stupid luck. His long arms could throw a ball so well and so hard, that the carnival barker said it was the best of the day. So of course he went a second time. Choose any two he said. Any two. So he picked out the little heart-shaped lockets.
He heard Gertrude's and Juliet's voices coming down the steps. He quickly went into the sitting room and over to the family bookshelf. He spotted the biggest book and flipped through the pages. He looked at the girl in the photo one last time. It was so hidden, you'd hardly notice it.
Two hearts, he had to get two. Stupid. He slipped the card in between Remiss and Reply, and closed the dictionary, putting it back on the shelf. No one will ever find it there, he thought. He wouldn't ever want Becky to see where the second heart went.
This postcard photo was sent to Joseph M.Marshall of Hannibal, Missouri. Here is an excerpt from the 1910 US Census showing his father Tip and Margaret Marshal, and three of his 4 sisters. (Alice Marshall was the oldest and is listed in the 1900 census)
In 1917, Joe filled in his draft registration and provided us with a description of the boy to whom L.S. writes. He is married now but doesn't list his wife's name. Are her initials L.S. or something different? History keeps quiet on this point.
My contribution to Sepia Saturday.
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