by Crème Brûlée
Note: I couldn't resist this image. She's so darned cute for one thing. For another, well, just look at it would ya? What's to resist? The letters it has inspired are not meant to relate to anything personal about the person pictured in the image - more like what I imagine such a person could have been writing while perched on the wing of that plane if say, she were writing something more interesting than flight data on a form.
How is Avery Falls? I hear you're enjoying a mild spring. It's warm here for this time of year - or so they tell me.
How's your mother's angina? Any better? I sure hope so. I know how cranky she gets when it's acting up. She's probably still mad at me, huh? You can tell her I hope she's feeling better anyway. She's never going to forgive me for the whole slug thing. It's true though, you ask anybody, keeping an open jar of beer in the garden will help with the slugs. How was I supposed to know your cat was such a lush? Most cats wouldn't have drank the whole damn jar. Was it my fault that it got sick all over your mother's favorite carpet? Who's the one that didn't let her out when she started coughing up a lung? Not me. I was here, probably coughing up a lung of my own. Did I tell you they put me in a plane with Eunice Sackler? Eunice Sackler can barely coordinate her morning constitutional, much less the controls of an airplane. I near cried from joy the first time I stepped out of a plane that woman had been piloting - I'd never been so pleased to feel tarmac beneath my feet. The third or fourth time I was relatively sure my nerves had suffered permanent damage. By the sixth time, I'd stopped caring and strangely, that helped. There's an odd method to Eunice's madness. There must be, she hasn't killed us yet. I think they're training up Eunice as a secret weapon. They'll unleash her on the enemy when they run out of ammunition and she'll scare 'em to death. In the meantime, I have to survive flying with her.
I know it's probably the war and all, but things make less sense all the time. Like in your last letter - you said that Archibald Hemlock, oh excuse me, Hemdrake... had proposed to you again. You seemed to think it was quaint or something. I just want you to know that if you do accept, I'll be forced to marry Stinky Hysman. As you know, Stinky has proposed to me every year since the fourth grade and I'll accept this year (I'm expecting his letter next month), if I so much as hear you're considering a date with Mr. Henbane - I mean, Hemdrake. Besides, he's older than Methusala's grand-nan's maiden aunt, what would you want him for? He wouldn't touch you the way I do. And when he did touch you, you'd regret it.
I can't offer you much, I know. Once this war is over they'll expect us women flyers to go back to our families and make homes for the men. Now if they meant building the home - nails, boards - that kind of home making, I might be interested. I'd build a guy any kind of home he wanted as long as he didn't expect me to follow him inside when I was done. Lots of expecting that goes on, ever notice that? I'll find a way though, you'll see. We could live in a place far away from Avery Falls - you could work in a library like you do at home and I could breed dogs. Don't laugh. I can see you laughing. Only you're not laughing out loud, you're making that half smile like you're tolerating me, but I know. You have a sense of humor Florence Bishop, it's just quiet. I like that.
Anyhow, I've been thinking about raising dogs. To sell. People pay money for it and I've done it for my dad and his hunting buddies for free since I was a kid, so I figure, why not get paid, right? I've been talking to one of the women here, Emily (Em for short), who knows somebody in Burkettsville who does it and is thinking of retiring in a few years. Did I mention that Burkettsville is where Culver is? You know - "Rah, rah Bullcats!"? Culver College? I hear they've got a pretty nice library there...
If you happen to be thinking about that time at the fair when Billy Roberts loosed the dogs out my Dad's truck and they ran right through creating what you called an "interesting" effect. You can stop now. I told you before, I hadn't trained those dogs. Those were my Uncle John's dogs that my Dad was bringing over to the fair for the show. I had nothing to do with that. No matter what Susan Halfbright, I mean, Halright says. She was sore because Skip ate her entry for the pie baking contest. And believe you me, she didn't lose any prize on Skip's account. If that dog spit it out, no one could have liked it much. Susan's always on about that day and how it's my fault she didn't get first place, because I wouldn't kiss her in High School and so she likes to gripe about me any chance she gets. Like I woulda kissed her? Even if my heart hadn't been hog tied and swiped right out from under my nose by the new librarian in town, Susan was going steady with George Moony. Now George may not be the most stunning man on the planet, but he's my cousin and well, I have a thing about that. Any news about George? I heard he was being shipped out last month, but nothing since then.
Anyway - I wrote this lady who raises the dogs a letter and she thinks we might give it a go if I'm really interested. She raises Labs. Am I interested?! So, we're writing about it. Her name is Beverly DuBois - only Em says you pronounce it Du-bwas, not Du-boys - I expect you knew that, but I didn't. Beverly said I could work for her for a while, learn the business, see if we get on, that kind of thing. Pay wouldn't be much starting out, but she has rooms she says I could rent and if I wanted a roommate to "defray the costs" - that's fine with her too.
Beverly seems a nice sort. Who knows? Maybe we'll get on. Maybe things will work out. It gives me something good to think about, what with the war and being so far away from friends and family. That's the funny thing - I never considered when I came here, how far away it was. Being from a small town, and never having gone farther than forty miles outside of it, I hadn't thought what it meant, not really. That I'd be missing the smells, the voices, the mist settling around the fields, you. Don't get mad, of course I knew I was going to miss you, and I write all the time so you must know I'm thinking about you (every other minute), but this kind of missing is different. I know you hate it when I'm "unnecessarily poetic", you Methodists can't stand that sort of thing, but I think it might be the knowing that I might not be coming back. There, I said it. I don't mean to scare you and we talked about it already, but I understand it in a way that's different now is all. And don't go saying "I told you so" because you kept telling me I'd probably get killed, but I guess now I know it's possible. Funny how I didn't before. Think I could get killed, that is. I still don't think I'm going to, I just know how easy it is to die now and before I thought it was kinda harder. We Dunns are a tough lot to kill off so I expect this is all nerves from having to fly with Eunice all the time and it's given me a deeper appreciation of the fact that I've been lucky up to now with my thick skull and all. And besides, I don't want you to be worrying that I've lost my courage and I wouldn't do this all again at the drop of a haybale, despite your and my mom's protests (sorry, but it's true). It's still the second most amazing thing I've ever done (the first being finding you in the stacks alone that Saturday afternoon), and as I'm finally able to be useful in a way that makes sense to me, well, it feels mighty good. And you know something else? I've got a hunch about this war. A hunch that I may be back in Avery Falls before too long. You've never been keen on my hunches, but this one, it's different. You'll see.
Well, I've waxed poetry all over your ear again... or maybe, because this is a letter, your eyes? I don't want to offend the librarian in you, I know how very particular she is. You're probably busy fining the likes of Missy Taggart about now and have to get back to work. I'll be looking forward to your next letter, as I was elated by the last one - excepting the proposal thing, of course. Give my love to everybody, but keep an extra dose for yourself.
Dear Miss Dunn,
You'd think there was something between us the way you carry on in your letters. You are mistaken if you think that I, an upstanding member of the community and a respectable employee of the Avery Falls Public Library (nearly five years your senior) would get mixed up with the likes of you... a trouble maker of the first order - who peoples her correspondences with dozens of women's names I neither recognize nor care for, well, if you think that, you've been inhaling jet fuel again.
As I am a good Christian woman who was taught kindness to strangers (and surely they don't get much stranger than you), I will humor you with another reply.
It's curious, yet kind of you to inquire after Mother's health. You never used to express much of an interest in such things when you visited me at work. In any case, her Angina is indeed acting up making life for father, Fredrick and me rather like a dance about eggshells. And while she's still sore about the carpet, she has stopped cursing your name each time she walks by the spot where Mr. Humpheries regurgitated the beer. I've given her the strictest instructions to tell me any advice you might give her in a letter before going through with it. Father says anyone who takes advice from the girl who nearly burned down Avery Falls High School while trying to launch fireworks from the Chem lab windows - well, they got what they deserved.
As you know I sometimes have trouble deciphering your penmanship (or lack thereof) but did you write that you were considering marrying Stinky Hysman? Now that would be a shame as I hear Stinky's nickname (given to him in the third grade) still describes his distinguishing characteristic.
I won't gratify you with a response on your tirade against Mr. Hemdrake, that dear man. Honestly, you sounded nothing if not livid with jealousy. And all he did was propose a walk, not marriage. You're too much. He is old enough to be my father. He's a gentleman and a confirmed bachelor and I think the only person in Avery Falls who cares to talk about the books he reads. I enjoy his conversation. And when Mr. Hemdrake suggests a conversation about the classics he does not mean an assignation in the Ancient Greek section of the library stacks - unlike some people might
It was hard to tell what you were writing about a woman named Beverly (whose name appeared frequently in your letter) because of the stains on the paper. What do you do? Wipe your mouth with it when you're done with breakfast? Don't they give you napkins?
Hygiene and table manners aside, as I know that's where you prefer them - do you think I'd let you run off to some strange woman's "rooms" by yourself? I wouldn't go with you out of any heartfelt emotion as much as to make sure you weren't getting yourself mixed up in any unseemly business. I'll never forget the time I had to borrow my brother's car to come get you out of that jam in Billford. You'd think a grown girl would have figured out that playing poker with a bunch of strange men in a boxcar wasn't a swift idea. That near killed your mother. Only, I would have thought she would have been more concerned with your shenanigans than the fact that you lost four dollars. But then, there's a lot that I don't understand about your mother. I was over visiting the other day and she asked me if I'd figured you out yet. I said, "As far as I could tell, that wasn't possible." She said, "Good." And smiled that smug smile that runs so strongly through your family line. What do you think she meant?
You say you can't offer me much like you think you're proposing marriage. I'm not the domestic sort. Neither are you, so I don't know how that's supposed to work out. Though what it is I'm thinking about working out I'm not quite sure. What are we getting ourselves into? I'm the spinster librarian - you're the reckless tomboy from across town. What's a future for two people like us? And with the war on, should we be thinking about a future at all? I always feel so guilty when I read the paper and there's all that news of death and suffering. Some mornings I wish someone would kill Hitler so that we could all just go home, but I know it's not that simple. Or is it? I'm so tired of it all and I miss you so much. I could care less about the rationing - the daily trials are bearable, it's all of the death and you being so far away and in some aeroplane hundreds of feet above the earth. Everything's so crazy. I'm sorry to carry on this way, I know you're doing what you think is right and I'm so proud of you, but I hate you not being safe and sound and at least nearby where I can bail you out when you need it.
Of course, if you didn't rush headlong into hornets' nests, you might need less bailing out. Which brings Susan and George to mind. I suspect your mother's already told you but they married two days before George shipped out. Somehow Susan's managed to recover from the beating her heart took from you
to marry into your line - poor girl. She's never been very keen on me so I don't see why I should be compassionate, still, even after growing up in this town I'm not sure she knows what she's getting herself into. I do think she loves George and that you were a passing fancy of an age. She's stopped coming into the library to glare at me from the reference section, in any case. George has developed into quite the gentleman in the last few years (that growth spurt his senior year and his filling out have made him very popular with some of the girls). And there's the Dunn charm to go with. And while there are those who would view that as a liability, there are some who would argue otherwise.
By the way, your brother Bud says hello. Do you know, I think he may end up as odd as you are? I went into the barn and found him hanging upside down by one of the rungs on the ladder to the hayloft. Just hanging there. I walked over and asked him what it was he thought he was doing and do you know what he told me? Well, you must because he said you told him to do it... he told me he was working on a puzzle and needed extra cells in his brain so he'd turned upside down to borrow them from other parts of his body. I told him he was doing nothing more than causing the blood to rush to his head and looking like a vampire from that "Dracula" book. I rue the day I laid eyes on that book - I'm still having nightmares. In them, I'm the vampire and when I try to get into your room, I stumble over two of your dogs and run smack into the wall. And the whole time you're mocking me from your bed while wearing that awful navy blue dress your aunt gave you for your birthday two years ago. That's the last time I read anything you recommend.
As to all of this talk in your letter about mortality, I thought I made my views on that matter perfectly clear: You, Grace Dunn, have an outstanding fine of 15 cents at the Avery Falls Public Library. Until you've returned and paid that fine in full, your life is not your own to lose. As you know, I take these matters seriously and I doubt very much that you'd wish to disappoint me in this regard. Going off to fly aeroplanes in the war effort is all well and good, but losing your life in the process is unacceptable.
You like to boast about your impertinences in the stacks of the library as if they're something to be proud of. I should think that a grown woman in the US military would have more grave matters on her mind, but I'll tell you this: I can promise you that if you return to me intact - those impertinences, as shocking as they were, will hardly compare to the memories that I'll fill your mind with upon your return. Like the Dewey Decimal System, you can count on it.
What I still find difficult to comprehend is that there are enough women out there like you to people your troop of women fliers. Women in the factories, I understand (speaking of which, Jeannie Henson and Mabelene Underwood say hello), but flying planes? I'm not even sure why men do it and I've always credited women with having more sense. The whole thing is lost on me, no matter how much I read about "engine thrust" and "lift". Sensible people walk to work.
Sensible doesn't apply much to you though does it? Like your friend Eunice Sackler, you've always managed to make the impracticable, work - the ungainly, gainly and all manner of things that are absolutely inappropriate somehow feel as normal as... normal. Like us. You manage the most improbable things. I can't imagine my life without you. So don't you make me try. And stop using your letters to wipe grease from the axles of planes or to wrap pastry in, your handwriting is hard enough to decipher without smudges and runs.
You're mine Grace Dunn.
And I'm yours,
As you claim only a passing acquaintance with me, but have humored me with yet another reply, I will soldier on in my correspondence.
These womens names that Ive mentioned in my letters are just that, mentioned. Some are good pals, terrific, fun girls I think youd like a lot (though I wouldnt leave you alone in the barracks with half of them, knowing your charms as I do
and knowing their characters as Ive come to like I said, theyre fun). But none of them could give you a wink of worry, not really. You play at being jealous, but youre probably the most secure person Ive ever met and if for some reason distance, or indigestion, has given you some cause for distress, then I guess I ought to reassure you - none of the women here, not one, is a librarian who holds an outstanding fine over my head. The Dewey Decimal system is not, to them, a graceful answer to the disorder and chaos of life, the card catalogue not a pillar in the vaulted ceiling of civilization books, not a salvation from the barbarity of the unschooled mind none of them are nearly as twisted as you, Florence. Theyre fine girls, sure, but not like you and so of little interest to me in that regard.
Speaking of your character, Florence - as an upstanding member of the community, you ought to be more careful about the company you keep. I've told you this time and again you oughtnt spend too much time with my mother. She's a corrupting influence. I'd hate to come back to Avery Falls and find you smoking out back with Momma, enjoying a glass of Mr. Kilby's finest (her drinking it from the jar, of course) and cursing the mayor. I'm sure the law has a file three inches thick on her (not that she's run whiskey since before I was born, but still, they remember that kind of thing - a woman cutting into profits they thought were theirs
). Its bad enough people see you in my company. Can't do much for your upstanding reputation, spending too much time with Dunns, Bud aside.
I miss Bud and his queer ways. My aunt Cecile says hes eccentric, but I think that boy's got a screw loose. He's freakishly book smart, as you know. He's the one found that dinosaur skeleton out at Gullet Creek - knew what it was too (Jim Baker and his lot at the sheriffs office thought it was elephant bones). Sometimes I think the boy absorbs information out of thin air only way to explain how he knows half of what he does. He sure didnt get his smarts from where the rest of us Dunns got ours. Mommas fairly uncanny in the way she manages things sometimes, but thats a different kind of thing to what Buds got. That boy could go to college probably - now there would be a Dunn first. And yes, I told him to hang upside down in the barn when he was scheming up another plot or experiment (as he calls them). Somehow I thought that might be a better way to do it than the one hed been doing previous, which was skipping back and forth across the peak of the barn roof talking to himself. If youre going to get Bud to change anything hes doing, youve got to convince him its scientific. By the way, I dont think Im odd at all, just especially practical.
You want odd, you take a good look at your boyfriend Mr. Hemdrake. Though well suited by looks to the profession of funeral home director, Archibald Hemdrake does nothing for a living. Or at least nothing I or anybody else in town has ever been able to figure out. That alone ought to raise your Methodist suspicions. I dont trust him, and his age does not give me much in the way of relief you underestimate your charms. And given some of the heated discussions weve had in the Ancient Greek section of the stacks, I wonder that you could.
Anyway, Im plenty interested in talking about books, its just different kinds of books that we like to read. You go for the dry, dusty volumes, I go for something a little more lively and the occasional engine manual. Ive tried sharing my interests with you, but you remain stubborn in your views some might even argue kind of snotty, narrow-minded possibly. Im not saying Id argue any such thing, as youre a forceful woman when roused, but someone else who was indifferent to your ardor might.
You say youll never forget the time you had to borrow your brothers car to get me out of that jam in Billford. I guess I won't either, because you feel the need to remind me every other letter about it. It was just the one time Florence, just once! I never had that problem any other time I was there. Which was a good lesson, because I never mixed whiskey and beer after that night and I never lost more than a dollar again. My cousin Ham will never forget the dressing down you gave him over that - near scared the piss out of him. He thought you were his third grade teacher Miss Bartelby come back from the dead to thwack him with a ruler for letting me in the game. I thought it was a gas - until the part where you hauled me off in the car and didn't speak to me for almost a week after. Like I said, you're a stubborn woman.
Which, if I do recall, is what gets you into half the trouble you manage to get yourself into - so don't go wagging your finger at me. Who nearly lost her job for protesting the town councils decision to remove Huckleberry Finn from the library shelves? Wasnt me. And who called Jim Stevens a pompous ignoramus in front of two thirds of the county at that meeting? Wasnt me. Hes been called that and plenty more by most everybody else, but not out loud in a meeting, being as how he and the Stevens money pretty much run Avery Falls. Youre just lucky his wife likes Mark Twain as much as she does and agrees with you and everybody else about her husband, and is where the Stevens money actually comes from, anyhow.
Wouldnt living someplace else be refreshing? The more I think on it, the more Im excited about working for Beverly. Of course, now I know youre interested too, its a done deal. And Im not proposing anything as commonplace as marriage to you, Im proposing something much more complex. Us being both women and all, we may run into a hitch or two along the way if we tried the customary marriage route. So well just have to wing it, come up with something else and see how it goes.
I dont mind picking up around the house as long as you dont mind me doing it at considerable intervals. I know my room at home is a little cluttered, but Ive been picking up the rest of the place since my mother stuck a dust cloth in my fist at the age of two. And Ive been cooking since I was tall enough to reach the stovetop (standing on a step stool) Mommas not overly keen on the culinary arts either - it was a learn or starve kind of situation. So dont worry too much about the domestic side of things.
Unless youre not really worried about that and youre actually using it as an excuse to avoid what really frightens you - my decorative taste. In which case Ill agree, flat out, to defer to you on all matters decorative. You can quote me on it.
Youre probably wondering why it is that Im sounding so chipper. I havent had to do any flying with Eunice Sackler for a week. I believe theres a chance I may make it out of here alive! If the food doesnt kill me, that is. Its awful. But Ive told you that a million times so I wont bore you with it again. Thanks for the care packages, theyve helped heaps and made me fairly popular to boot. And stop worrying about the planes, theyre safer than riding a bicycle down Gooseneck Hill Rd., in the dark, three sheets to the wind which Id perfected the art of by the time I was eighteen (but gave up after that time Ham got his leg broke and we were all so drunk we couldnt get him to the hospital and thats probably why he limps like he does now).
Susan and George sent me a very nice note. Well, George did anyway (probably had to hold Susans hand to make her sign it I swear, her handwriting even looks spiteful). Anyway, seems like hes resigned to being picked at for the rest of his life, poor George. I have no sympathy for Susan, history aside, because she was bothering you at work and all (you never told me before, why not?). Youre a busy woman, fighting off the downfall of civilization as you do each day - shouldnt be bothered by the foolishness of petty women.
Give Mabelene and Jeannie a big hello. I sure wish I could see particular Miss Mabelene Underwood in a greasy factory getup. Now that would be a gas! Bet Jeannie teases her all the time. Come to think of it, Id like to see you in a mechanics uniform, all greasy and efficient, now thatd be different! Gives me something to think of before bed tonight.
Last night I dreamed about the time we walked down by Gullet Creek. A day doesnt get much better than that. Remember how warm it was? How the sky was so blue and bright? Everything seemed to be new and alive after that week of rain wed had. I often think about that day - us just sitting on that rock by the creek, awkward and not sure what to say. Until you went and broke the silence by trying to let me down easy, break my heart gently, Grace, you said, I just dont see how this can work. And then I showed you how it could, and you allowed as how maybe we ought to work on it, just to be sure.
Im probably on the verge of getting unnecessarily poetic, as you say, so Ill just end this letter (which Ive kept as clean as possible last time I had to tuck the letter in my flight suit pocket and I had a couple bolts in there from a jeep wed been fixing and you know how that is) with my customary restraint. Theres no way I could outdo what you wrote at the end of your last letter anyhow, near made me cry - shame on you. But I feel the same way.
Think of me every now and again, I cant stop thinking about you.