Chapter 9

Irma Willard’s good people. Don’t ever doubt it. Little hard of

 hearing. We try and get her to use the hearin’ aid but she says she

 likes it quiet.”

      The dust cleared and there was the house. Like a vision from a

 paint catalog. There was a lively weather vane a top a proper

 roof. White lace curtains swayed in fresh painted windows.

 The perimeter flower bed agreed with the window boxes.

 The porch had a swing and a rocker and in the rocker sat a solitary

 and unoccupied Irma Willard.

     The women stepped out of the truck.

      “Lookee what I brought ya Irma. This here is your new tenant,

 Celia. Found her on the road so I picked her up and brought her to

 you. Special deeeelivery.”

      Celia and Penny waited for a response, any response.

 Irma rocked, staring forward. Her smile was one of content.

 She felt happiness was for children. Irma was content. Her home

 was content and the whole picture oozed content. It smelled of

 content and Celia was as awed of this as if standing before

 Niagara Falls.

       Irma rocked her last deliberate rock and rose, straightening her

 skirt and delicately descending the 3 porch steps, she approached

 the girls.

     “Well that’s just fine Penny. Thank you very much. How do you

 do? I’m Irma Willard. This is my home and you are welcome to it.

 You must be Celia.”

     Celia’s eyes and thoughts darted around. This was an unbelievable

 moment she was living in. A perfect moment without artifice or

 pretense. The house and the women and the scenery were all

 beautiful and not threatening. Perfect.

     “Yes, how do you do? I’m Celia. Thank you. Yes. Your home is

 really lovely!”

     Celia extended her hand unconsciously, a habit. This created an

 awkward moment. Irma didn’t really know how to shake. It was not a

 custom for women of her generation or locality to shake but as she

 aspired to be always, the best possible host, she put her hand in

 Celia’s and submitted to this foreign ritual. She straightened her

 skirt and sweater again disguising the reflex to somehow wipe or

 sanitize her now altered personal self.

       “Can I get you a cold drink Penny? I just made a fresh pitcher

 lemonade expecting Celia here.” Irma smiled with her hands

 clasped together.

     “Thank you darlin’ but I have to get back to costuming our school

 play and it is a pile of work I don’t mind telling you”

      Before the word ‘play’ was entirely past Penny’s teeth, Celia’s

 head snapped around like she heard her mama calling.

    “Well the Lord loves your devotion honey so you get right back to

 work. We girls will get acquainted by ourselves. How about a

 lemonade for you Celia? Special Deelivery.”

    “Thank you, that sounds great Irma. Yes please.”

      Irma smiled and turned, remounting the stairs up the porch and

 silently slipping into her perfect home by way of the screen door.

     Celia thought “Wow, a screen door”. Penny returned to her truck.

       “ I’ll be seeing you cowgirl. If’n you need anything you look me

 up. I figure you going to know where I live by bout noon on

 Monday and remember, Miles, so keep drinking.”

       Penny opened her door and slipped back into her truck. Before

 the door closed Celia called out, “Hey, where’s the Post Office?”

       Penny popped back out, her engine already running. She pointed

 to the flag waving over and past the trees.

 

 Ardensville

                          Chapter 10

Celia Stax, nee’ Stayavon, was not what one might call,

 un-traveled. She had been up and down the East Coast,

 the West Coast, she had been to Chicago and a couple of other

 larger U.S. Cities, all for the purpose of theatre. She had been to

 much of Europe when in between semesters of school plus a

 generous splatter of vacation destinations, when her Dad was alive.

       Never ever had she been anywhere like this. Only stepping out

 of her dropped house into the land of OZ could top this.

 No Medieval hamlet even came close. And the sky, the sky went on

 forever.

         Except where the house interrupted, she could see for miles in

 pretty much all directions and except for the water tower, declaring

 “Ardensville”, none of that view included any advertising.

 Was this because no one was buying or no one selling? Who cares?

 Not the breeze bringing the air of the planting fields. Not the song

 birds too numerous in presence to count or song to isolate. Celia sat

 on the steps for an everlasting second, swooning in the experience

 of having forgotten herself completely for maybe the first time in

 her adult life. Inhale. Exhale.

      “ Enjoying our scenery young lady? It is a fine fine day.”

       Irma descended the 3 stairs again, the rail in one hand and

 lemonade in the other. Celia jumped up, another polite reflex.

     “You stay right where you are honey. I know the wonder of the

 wonder of creation when I see it and I’m going to sit here right next

 to you and enjoy you knowing it. Just like prayin’.”

       Irma handed Celia the lemonade, pretty as a picture with the

 elegant crystal glass already sweating beads of joy. Celia raised her

 glass to Irma, “My landlady” and took a deep refreshing drink.

       Abruptly, her throat closed. Something died in her mouth, whoah.

    ”Is this woman trying to kill me?”

       Irma smiled broadly. Her lemonade was famous you know. Celia

 still had a mouthful and it was not going to stay there long.

 She looked around desperately. Where could she secretly discharge

 this and not kill any flowers. Oh well. Betting on Irma’s hearing she

 let it go over her shoulder and hoped the chrysanthemums were

 hardy or maybe, artificial. Celia started to breathe again.

      “ How’s that tastin’for ya honey?”

         Celia smiled approval wondering, if she ate  the caterpillar

 inching on the rose branch behind Irma would it kill the taste?

      “Your rooms are upstairs, around back. You just set and finish

 your lemonade. Take your time and have as much as you like, then

 we can go see your new quarters and get you settled in. That good

  for you?”

      “You betcha”

      Irma turned hearing, infrequently as she does, a car backfire

 somewhere on the road. Celia’s lemonade went over her shoulder

 into the shrubs. “Man-up boys.Whoah.”

      They walked around to the back of the house. Though in shade at

 this hour of the day, the back was as detail perfect as the front.

 Instead of facing the road and the small amount of traffic or activity

 Ardensville had to offer, it faced fields. Fields and distance. Couple

 of trees but Celia could not tell how far they might be. Or how

 close. Considering all of this, Celia resolved the back was

 preferable to the front. She did not think a two step porch with a

 one seat swing any kind of indignity. In fact, she thought it paradise.

     “Well go on in honey” Irma announced with something like

 newlywed joy. Celia gestured that she did not yet have the key.

     “Oh, well here’s the key”, reaching into her apron pocket, “but

 nobody locks anything round here. Go on in.”

      Celia opened the screen door and the inner door was already ajar.

 She looked back and giggled in childlike amazement. There was a

 small modest foyer with a coat rack and side table next to a stair

 case. Along the staircase were a few pictures. Family local type

 pictures, Grandpa with a tractor. That sort of thing. Some pictures

 had been removed, their relocation evidenced by an unused picture

 nail or two

       All the while Irma was explaining that it used to be one home for

 one large family. They were all gone now. She was the last. “These

 were the back stairs.” Folks from town helped with the renovation

 so Irma could have a little extra income from an apartment, “If’n

 anyone moved to Ardensville.”

     Irma called it the upstairs. Celia knew it as an apartment.  

 An apartment that could never exist in New York. As it included the

 entire upper floor, there were windows on all sides. With the interior

 doors all open, one could, from strategic locations see 360 degrees.

 It was a great clean white space. Brand spankin brand new and

 happily genuinely antique. The sweet breezes from all directions

 moved past Celia like arias. She watched Irma move around the

 rooms, looking for the people and events that no longer were.

 That was a little sad but as long as their taxidermied bodies did not

  reside in the fruit cellar, Celia would not object to the company of

 family ghosts. They were permanent fixtures and she believed

 herself to be otherwise, but, for the moment, home sweet home.

 

 

 Chapter 11

By herself now, the endless white walls did not call to

  Celia. She would not biograph on these blank walls.

  Somehow, she felt her inner self on a kind of vacation.

  These walls did not compress her issues and conflicts into

  eruption. Hmmmm.

        She unpacked her bags into not half the drawers of a

  dresser and barely any of the closet in the room with the

  bed. This bedroom had windows on two super scenic sides.

  One of those windows had a near by Elm tree that one could

  climb up or down from, to the window. She had such a tree

  as a teenager in Connecticut. She also had a boyfriend.

      3 pages of a calendar was all she brought. Figuring,

  outside, this gig would not take longer than that. She

  magneted them to the fridge with some charity magnets she

  bought at the bus station by the airport, way back on the

  other side of the day. One tried to be a corn cob. One was a

  farm animal, probably. The last was simply not identifiable.

  She liked that one best.

       In the shower Celia imagined Irma, dressed as a man,

  pulling back the curtain and murdering her. Nice. Didn’t

  happen. Not long after getting out of the shower there was a

  yoohoo from the bottom of the stairs and there was Irma

  with a tray of sandwiches and a pitcher of cold milk.

       It seemed like unbridled hospitality to Celia and it seemed

  Irma wanted to sit in those rooms again and belong there.

     “Was this where she played, where she first kissed her

  cousin Farley or, maybe her cousin Loretta? Stop, she is a

  sweet old woman and her demons are not my concern when

  only her angels bring me sandwiches and milk” thought

  Celia.

        Church bells, pardon, bell woke Celia in the morning. It

  may have been a tire rim struck with a crow bar but it got

   her up just the same.

        It was a glorious morning streaming in every window.

  Having had an excellent night’s sleep and feeling secure

  Irma had not poisoned her, which would make this a

  pleasant afterlife, the spirit of adventure filled her sails, got

  her quickly dressed and out the door. “Let’s see this town”

  She started walking towards the flag pole which she

   assumed to be the downtown area.

       There were no sidewalks. No parking signs and no

  streetlights. A few homes and fewer businesses were all in

  good repair. Not the equal of Irma’s but most respectable.

  Folks were looking at her. She knew this and confessed to

  herself she would have to be unconscious not to know it.

  They smiled and tipped there hats but they didn’t come

  close and they weren’t tossing flowers.

         The flag pole rose from what was most likely the center

  of town. It stood in front of the far end of an odd building

  who’s other end seemed to be the church steeple. Then she

  listened. “No bats in that belfry. Bats couldn’t stand the

  singing, not that singing.” There were not many voices but

   in solo moments or in the aggregate, that was the worst

   church singing Celia never imagined. “Wow.”

         Across from the church thing building was what Celia

   was looking for;

                                                  Aunt Babby’s Café

                                                 If We Don’t Cook It

                                                     You Don’t Eat It

                                       Native Americans Welcome

         When Celia came through the screen door, conversation

  stopped. She froze, not knowing what to do. Coming from

  the kitchen was a powerful voice that  didn’t yell but in a

   voice so resonant and authoritative that it shattered the

  silence came,  “Billy Ray, where’s my rye toast with the

  eastern omelet?” Conversation resumed. Celia tried to be

  invisible and that was impossible. She decided to sit at the

  counter and choose a stool that seemed to have a view of

  the establishment. Conversation stopped again. That was

  Babby’s seat. Nobody sat in Babby’s seat.

       Something Celia discovered in that moment was a small

  mirror mounted in front of her in a funny sort of way. It was

  not hidden nor was it visible to all. Mostly it was visible to

  the one person sitting on that stool and the mirror showed

  the door.

          An imposing leonine woman of color came around the

  corner of the kitchen and looked Celia right in the eye.

         “Good morning” said Babby

     “Yes thank you good morning” returned Celia.

        “I see a cup of coffee in your future” said Babby.

         Never losing eye contact, Babby’s powerful hands

  stealthily vanished beneath the counter. One returned first

  with a mug. The other followed with a pot of coffee. She

   poured and returned the pot to its station. Babby slid the

   little milk pot and sugar over to Celia.

        “Thank you no, black, I mean I drink it black, black

  coffee, thank you, yes.”

          Celia sipped the hot coffee trying to retain both eye

  contact and smile.

       “Wow, that’s good coffee!!”

        Conversation stopped again. Babby flared her nostrils

  and conversation began again.

    ’  “What else do you see in my future if you don’t mind me

  asking?” Celia gave up and closed her eyes while inhaling

  the vapors coming up from the best cup of coffee she could

  remember.

      “Your Miles’ new help at the P.O. Your staying upstairs at

  Irma Willard’s. It’s your first day in town and you’re

  looking for breakfast.” Babby sipped her coffee.

        Celia displayed a little consternation now.

         “What am I, wearing a sign or something?”

         “ What would you call that shirt?”

           Both women sipped.

         “Okay okay, you got me there.” Celia put down her

   coffee and cocked her head. “Hi, I’m Celia Stax. I’ll be

   working at the Post Office. I’m new in town. I’m staying

   upstairs at Irma Willard’s. Is there a menu?”

     “A huh. I’m Babby Hopperyn. This is my place. You’re in

  my stool. In addition to letting you live another day, I’m

  gonna buy you your first breakfast in my café only forget

  the menu. Everybody in America knows what they want for

  breakfast. What do you want? If this is a hard question I

  guess I won’t be seeing my mail for awhile.”

          Both women alternately sip and tap there knuckles on the

   counter.

         “A huh, Okay, then how about fried eggs and grits.”

         “Grits is the south, honey chile. This ain’t the south and

   neither are you. You just drink your coffee. I’ll get your

   breakfast since your not paying for it and you just think of

   something new to say, something embarrassing. Really, I’m

   enjoying this.”

        Babby went back to the kitchen where she could be heard

   mostly, not seen. The waitress came by the window, picked

   up some plates, refilled Celia’s mug and kept going.

     “Woman runs a tight ship alright.”

           Didn’t take long. Babby was back with the breakfast. It

   looked spectacular. Celia had dined at New York’s finest

   and then some. Nothing she recalled beat what was now

   before her and the first fork was not yet in her mouth. When

   it got there it exploded in her mouth. It danced on her

   tongue, sang upon her taste buds. “Wow. Wow wow wow

   wow wow.’Where did you learn to cook like this?”

         “Keep it down honey, we don’t want the Times in here.”

          “ You’re not worried, the Times couldn’t find it.” Celia

   wiped the last speck of anything off her plate with the last

   morsel of biscuit.

       “At’s right cupcake, we don’t want the Times here.”

        Since she got no check, Celia left 4 dollars under her mug

   and waved good bye.

      “ Babby!” remarked the waitress, “that lady in the ugly

  shirt left 4 dollars.”

      “It’s yours. Just keep it down.  Damn foreigners.”

 

Chapter 12

       Any day might be a fine day with a breakfast like that. Celia

   looked back through the screen door making sure she had not

   merely imagined this place and that spectacular meal. Maybe the

   whole thing would vanish into time if she stepped away from the

   building.

     Carefully, not wanting to give herself a wedgie, Celia tugged her

  ugly shirt out of her now somewhat stressed pants when she

  noticed an unusual figure coming towards her from across the

  street. It was not high noon and it was definitely not Gary Cooper.

     He came from the direction of the church like building across the

   central intersection.

     He wore a ridiculous hat, sort of half way between a state

  trooper’s stiff brim and a cowboy hat. There was a bright polished

   emblem in front reflecting the sunlight. A snakeskin band and a

   wild turkey feather completed the chapeau. Shaded below the

   brim, Dirty Harry style reflecting sunglasses ministered on their

   pulpit. He was not a fat man but he did have a paunch which in

   combination with his cowboy boots and cowboy six shooter, made

   walking seem every step painful.

      The jewel in this crown however was above the obscured belt

  line. He had on a minister’s black shirt and collar. On his breast he

   had a sheriff’s star, military fashion commendations and, a cross.

      Celia was at bare minimum gob smacked.

      “Have I the pleasure of addressing our new postal mistress?”

      Celia remained unable to respond in words to this chimera.

      “Have those feeble minded postal geniuses sent me an idiot?

     Why this woman can’t communicate in English “thought the man

  from Rio Eastwood.

    “Yes, right good morning ahh, officer ah Sheriff Padre” Celia

   babbled away much like the idiot he suspected she was.

     “Excuse me. Folks around here refer to me as

                                                                                                              

    Sheriff / Minister, Sheriff / Minister Morrow, Dwight Morrow.”

    “Yes, good morning how do you do. I’m Celia Stax. Pleasure.”

   Celia reached forward to shake his hand. As Morrow was not

  accustomed to shaking hands with girls let alone touching them at

   all nor anyone else for that matter, this handshake was at very least

   tenuous.

    “Excellent, yes. Did you find your way to Irma’s without too

  much trouble I hope? And, I presume you’re settled in your

  quarters?” asked Morrow still not convinced Celia was not an idiot.

    “Oh yes, thank you for asking. Irma is very nice and her home is

  lovely. I could not ask for more, no sir” assured Celia regaining her

  wits and now perusing this man to find him even odder than he

  seemed 43 seconds ago.

     “Irma’s good people. Don’t ever doubt it. Now, pay attention,”

  he said taking an abruptly commanding tone, “if you would be so

  good as to cross the plaza to our municipal center,”

  Celia looked around and even squinted a bit trying to see a plaza

  and municipal building that he could see and she did not, “go

   around to the right by the flag pole there where you will find, I

    hope, the Post Office.”

     Getting a handle now on this significant character, the only

   individual she was forewarned of at all, Celia decided to play the

   ditz for Morrow. So she responded with a convincing and sincere

  ‘A huh’.

      Morrow peered over the top of his glasses at this pretty but dim

   woman in a very fashionable blouse though un-tidy for not being

   tucked into her trousers. He felt  sure now she was indeed another

   postal half wit and would be no trouble or very little.

     “Yes, around to the right. Go on in. It’s Sunday but Miles is

   always there. I don’t know why. You introduce yourself to Miles.

   You will report to him in the morning so he can show you the lay

    of the land today. Do you have any questions?”

    “No sir Shmeriff/inister.”  Celia was playing now, “I’ll go talk to

    Milo. Thank you.”

    “Now I hope to see you at our service next week, young lady. If

  you will excuse me I must tend to my breakfast. The work of the

  Lord does raise an appetite. You run along now and we shall talk

   again soon. Bye now and give my best to Irma.”

      Morrow tipped his ridiculous hat, turned and went into Babby’s.

     The folks already in the cafe, some of who had been to Sunday

  service treated him, coolly. Liked or loved was not on Morrow’s

  ‘needs list’ however he didn’t generate much in the way of fear

  neither. He took the stool at the counter, next to Babby’s stool

  which Celia had recently departed from. Babby had ducked into

  the kitchen knowing he would be coming in.

       Joanne the waitress that morning swooped in with a cup of

   coffee without being asked, typical of life in Ardensville. She slid

   the sugar and little metal creamer in reach of the sheriff who

   nodded approval but didn’t really say thank you.

   Man ate the same thing, every morning for as many years as any

   one could remember. Salami and onions on a prune danish. Extra

  mayo. It made Babby a little ill just to say it let alone make it. And

   how he ate. No one of weak constitution could watch. Wasn’t

  eating at all, more like feeding.

      Morrow generally did not pay for his breakfasts. He would issue

  Babby a summons for something or other, tear it up with a wink

  and say, “Well this will be between us.”

       As it was a busy morning,  down a waitress and Joanne  begging

  for a help, Babby bit the bullet and went out with a bus tub

  knowing she would cross paths with Morrow. Having cleared some

  tables and returning to the kitchen with her tub loaded, Morrow,

  now standing spoke.

     “Why Babby, there you are. I see you so infrequently lately.

     How are you?”

      Babby grit her teeth but held the bus tub so to appear to need to

  get back to the kitchen without delay. She could have held 3 bus

   tubs, full.

     “I’m fine Sheriff Sinister. How are you?”

     “I’m fine, thank you for asking. How is your other waitress, uh,

   Angelina? Has she had her child yet?”

     By this time, Joanne had sidled up to Babby. Just in case.

     “No Sheriff  Minister, her due date 2 week ago but we still

   waitin.” interjected Joanne.

      Morrow blew his nose with his napkin and dropped it in Babby’s

  waiting bus tub. He straightened his hat and glasses.

      “Babby, why are you people always late.”  Leaving no tip, ever,

  Morrow turned and left.

      “One of these days I am going to go 1968 on that cracker Joanne, you betcha.”

Chapter 13

       

 

  If Irma’s house was a centerfold for 'Home and Gardens',

   the Ardensville P.O. belonged on the cover of the Postal World

   Quarterly. In fact, it was eligible for a stamp.

         There at the base of its flag pole was a little rock and flower

    display. The rocks were all the same size and the flowers were in

    orderly arrangement of yellow and purple and white. More than

    freshly painted, the pole seemed polished, all the way up.  

    The flag might have been ironed.

        Three steps and a screen door. The steps did not creak and no

     mosquito could be seen crucified on the screen door.

     Celia peered in and saw no one. She entered, paying attention to

     everything and everything everything was immaculate. A slow

      moving ceiling fan moved the air silently. It did not rock or

      shimmy like most ceiling fans that seem to threaten escape from

      their mooring and decapitating someone who lingered beneath

      too long.  

         The little stacks of postal forms were  neatly evenly piled and

      labeled, each having some kind of polished postal paper weight

      to keep them regimental. The counters shined. The photo

       portrait of the president was centrally located and the glass and its

      frame shined like a halo. A bowl of wrapped candy on the

      primary counter greeted Celia and she accepted.

           Everything in place and perfectly still, she called out,

                                               “Miles”?

          A bridge troll popped up from behind the counter  directly in

      front of Celia and she nearly took his eye out with a projectile

      butter scotch toffee.

          “Wow, yea so sorry, Miles? You must be Miles. I’m Celia,

      Celia Stax. Reporting for duty.” Celia hesitated and did not

     reach her hand out for fear of catching something. Didn't

      matter because Miles dove under a desk duty bound to retrieve

      the butter scotch.

         “How do you do, I’m Miles but you already seem to know

       that” said the troll  from under a desk. “Gotcha”. Miles rose

       from under the desk displaying his capture and gesturing if

      Celia might want it back. She declined. Miles snorted audibly,

      inhaling and exhaling as he tossed the candy in the empty waste

     basket.

        “This is what Penny was talking about, this is Miles, wow.”

        As perfect the post office was in every detail, Miles, its author

     was  opposite. He, was a mess. A most unattractive site.

      Sporting a classic ‘Larry’( “Stooges” Larry ), his hair was,

     again, just a mess. He did not show a beard but was not shaven

     either. His postal issue shirt was buttoned incorrectly, possibly

     due to the absent  buttons. One shirt tail tucked in the other not

     and the back not at all. His postal issue pants were the color

    ‘stain’, falling off and threadbare in many spots. Looking at his

     shoes anyone would guess “the man digs ditches”.

         He did not smell good. This could have been his clothes that

      needed washing or his self that needed washing or both.

     Most alarming was this; Miles snorted. He snorted like a hog

     digging around for truffles. When he snorted in he snorted out

     and so pronounced was this snorting, people thought they might

     catch a booger in the eye if they stood too close which,

     neutralized the not smelling good issue.

         He smiled broadly, always and his yellow teeth lined up like

     drunks around a burning trash can.

        Gob smacked again, Celia tried to reconcile how this human

    pile of wreckage could maintain this perfect P.O., exemplifying

    discipline and order.

        With every encounter, Ardensville, its residents and its

    locations appeared more and more improbable.

       “I’m so happy to meet you! I’ve been without help for quite a

     while now and as you have probably noticed, the place was

     beginning to get away from me.”

      “ I was going to say something about the knot on the flagpole

    but, it not even being my first day, I decided to let it go.”

         Miles restated his broad smile and blinked slowly signifying

     and signaling to Celia that her sarcasm was recognized and

     enjoyed. So far, Miles was Celia’s favorite.

        “Come, walk with me”. Miles pointed to the swinging waist

     high door toward the end of the counter. He turned and started

     walking to the back of the post office.

          In an orderly shelved backroom, Miles opened neatly stacked

      boxes and started pulling pants and shirts and a sweater for

      Celia, handing them to her as he went. Then, employing

      a ladder, he went to the top shelf and came down with a

      conspicuous box. He opened it, smiling broadly again. If

      Douglas MacArthur were assigned to the postal service, this

      would have been his hat.

         “ No no no no no, thank you Miles but ahh, I am not worthy.”

          Miles returned it to the high shelf. He would not wear it

      either. While still up on the ladder he reached into another box

      and pulled out a plastic wrapped and current Postal regulations,

      guidelines and practices. Thick like a phone book.

      “ This is not very good reading but I would be remiss in my

     duties if I did not give you one. If nothing else, it will put you

     to sleep on a restless night.” Miles came down the ladder and

     returned it to its hook on the side of the shelving.

       “So where are you from Celia and why come to Ardensville?”

      “Well’”, Celia wondered how much fabrication she could get

   over on Miles - other than his personal hygiene, he seemed to be

    all there and sharp - “I was working a P.O. in central Connecticut.

    There was ahh, this tattooed freak, letter carrier, a bit in love with

    me who I was not going to any truck demolitions with and when

    they finally started giving him warnings he decided to come and

    kill me. I  wasn’t working that day but he did get my goldfish

    so I asked for a transfer to anyplace just like this, and lemme

    tell'ya, this, is perfect.”

       “Huh” said Miles snorting. Celia’s arms were now loaded with

    postal costume and bible. “Here, walk with me, I want to

    introduce you to someone.”

       Miles again turned to walk further into the recesses of his post

   office. The door he opened with the push of a bar revealed

   sunlight. It was a back door which was kind of odd. 

  The configuration of the building did not seem to have a back,

   or a front. “What a strange place!’” Attached to the building was

   a shed that looked more like a small barn. Miles fiddled with the

   latch a bit and said,

      “May I introduce to you, my ole' buddy, Alexander M. Stephens”

   and Miles threw open the barn doors.

       Celia was expecting a horse or a buggy or something like that 

    Instead, there was a jeep. A WWII genuine issue open top Willys

    jeep. No particular color at all, a tall stick coming up from the

    floor board and a gas tank and spare mounted in the back.

    There were postal emblems on the sides and on the hood and two

    little American flags mounted on either side of the windshield.

      “How do you do Alexander M. Stephens” Celia was truly and

    deeply deeply in love. Like the P.O., Mr. Stephens appeared to be

    in perfect repair. The rag top was there in the back of the shed, for

     a rainy day and the jeep it’s self was backed in facing out,

     a cheetah ready to charge.

       “You start tomorrow at 9 but take Mr. Stephens for a spin

    today. If you make a right at the end of the town road and go 1.6

    mile, you’ll see Butch’s filling station. There’s a motorcycle out

    front, the kind with  big handle bars We have an account there

    for gas and if there’s a problem, Butch can fix it.”

      “So, like, Mr. Stephens is mine?”

       “In so far as you are both attached to this branch of the U.S.

     postal service, yes, you and he are - ‘an item’

        Celia dropped her load in the back and jumped right in.

    There was no door. The key was in the ignition and it started up

    immediately and commenced to purring. Celia released the safety

    brake and he just rolled out of the shed. There must have been an

   incline.

      “Please be gentle. He’s not a youngster” Miles saw something

   wild in Celia’s eyes. She gave him a little gas and the purr became

   proto-roar. She threw it into first  popped the clutch  and

   Mr. Stephens burst from the tall grass. Celia’s shrieking joy could

   be heard above the roar of a happy engine. Miles’ snorting

   became choking when the honeymoon couple’s acceleration left

   Miles in that too familiar cloud of dust.  

     “9:00 o’clock. Take it easy on him. He’s an old fella”

  Miles tried to yell it but choked mostly and it was not likely

 Celia was really listening any ways.

Chapter 14

 

             Celia was having an ecstasy moment by any measure. Now in

motion, the dust cloud rather than engulfing her was behind her.

First stop - home and out of these ridiculous clothes.

Folks turned to see this new resident with Mr. Stephens kicking

up dust even on the short ride from the P.O. back to Irma’s. She

came to a skidding stop 10 feet from her door, jumped directly

out of the vehicle leaving the keys right there in the ignition

because, well because it’s Ardensville.

The blouse didn’t go in the hamper. Went in the garbage,

express. Jeans, her boots and an old flannel shirt let her remember

who she was again. She found her sunglasses and looked in the

fridge. She did not really need to be reminded that there was

nobody home there. “A fine place to begin’”she thought.

She drove aimlessly, like a teenager. If she saw a road

she took it till the end. If there was a mailbox she slowed to read

the name. She took stock of the houses she saw and the vehicles

parked nearby. Were there barns, were there tractors or silos or

livestock? Hex signs, broken windows, little banners saying vote

this way or that? She took it all in. There was a gun shop, a farm

store, a VFW bar and a market that was something of a mutt,

cross between the general store it used to be, the supermarket it

wanted to be and the very useful store that it just was. Had a

Mexican name; Torado’s.

The landscape, no longer intimidating, began to reveal its

distinguishing features. Since vast flatness would be anyone’s

first description, colors now gave feature to one part of thehorizon or another. The green of a sorghum field was differentfrom the green of soy. Corn was another color and the sight of a sunflower field required Celia to stop the jeep, be still and re-learn the meaning of yellow. Sometimes a field would just be big brown black. This was a field just harvested and tilled or so she thought, not truly conversant yet in agrarian/rural. One might see a windmill. Not the big Dutch type but the water well kind with a little propeller. A farm house here a stand of trees there and the well delineated patches of agricultural colors. That was all and that was everything. Celia was a little surprised that Torado’s was open on a Sunday and there it was - time to shop. It was a dirt sort of parking lot where you did not really park. You stopped and turned off the engine.

No lines or handicapped signs to speak of. These steps creaked making the bell over the door superfluous. Inside had the aroma of Astoria. Garlic, oregano and cheese and coffee all sang holiest of harmony that can never be oppressive. They didn’t have 14 kinds of toothpaste. There were 3 kinds. There was beer and soda and wine but the wine\ was mostly Chianti. There was a strange variety of things: Greeting cards from another age, butterfly nets, souvenir water tower/thermometers, hex signs and a whole aisle for spam.

 There was a prepared food counter for what they called ‘home-mades’. Behind the counter was a giant bear of a man and a much smaller bald man with thick glasses who looked disoriented and lost. If the big guy bumped into the small guy, he might break him, and, he didn’t. He was rather nimble moving around the small space behind the counter. It all looked pretty good really.

 “Whacha havin young lady?”

 “He does not sound Mexican”.

She bought sopresatta and fresh mozzarella and pickled peppers and groceries and some local produce and a bottle of Beam and an air freshener thing you hang from the rear view. Celia pulled up to her door just as the sun was hitting the horizon. She stopped her grocery un-load. She stopped period. The sunset over the fields was heart stopping. Earth’s longest running show. Behind her it was already night and then night was complete. It seemed to happen that fast. Then the stars. She forgot there were that many stars. Clouds of stars and shooting stars and constellations and a crescent moon, low on the horizon and bigger than your garden variety urban moon. 

All put away or on the table, breezes through the kitchen and a non-existent radio was set to the all cricket and peeper station. Celia had the evaluation papers out and she began writing that which was asked of her. Strangely at home in this moment, Celia wrote with one hand and opened packages with the other. She peeled of a perfectly thin slice of sopresatta, folded it bite size and popped it into her mouth. Boing!! Once again. “What is going on here?” The best salami Little Italy, NYC had to offer did not hold a candle to this. And then the mozz. State of the mozz mozz. There was a deep mysterious flavor in it that could not be identified except to say it was not a mere chewy lump of milk. 

Wow and wow. 

“What the fuck is going on here”? quite sincere and out loud.

Chapter 15

 

      The postal garb wasn’t bad. Very blue but not uncomfortable.

      There were fewer folks in Babby’s and the buzz buzz did not

 change much at all when she came in and sat at the counter, this

 time next to Babby’s perch. Babby’s face was in the service

 window.

     “Well good morning”, said Babby.

     “Well good morning”, Babby’s good morning coming back

  as if it had bounced off a mirror. Celia already had her mitts on

  a cup of coffee.

     “You having breakfast?” asked Babby studying hair, makeup,

 fingernails, teeth and well, everything on this enigmatic newcomer.

      “Thank you no, I’m good with coffee. Back for lunch though.

 What am I having?”, breathing in vapors of the best cup of coffee

 in America.

      “Short ribs n’ turnips. You like short ribs n’ turnips?” the head

 in the window asked. Babby always seemed more concerned with

 how you responded to a question rather than what your answer

 was. Your answer was only what you said, what came out of your

 mouth.

     “Well are we talking pink turnips or rutabagas. For all I know

 you might put out a shredded daikon with a maple citrus vinage….”

      “Go deliver some mail, cupcake. Miles is waiting for you.

 Don’t wanna be late yo’ first day now do ya?”

     “No, no I don’t and who knows what kind of traffic I’ll hit

 getting cross town?” Celia rose, smiling. She left 2 bucks under

 her cup, winked at Babby, said good morning to Joanne and

 headed out.

      She had parked over by the P.O. as driving back and forth across

 ‘the plaza’ seemed a little indulgent. Not too surprising, Miles had

 started loading mail sacks into the jeep. Labeled, ordered, wind

 proofed and instantly comprehensible.

   “Why isn’t this guy the mayor of New York or president?”

     Celia nearly collided with the president two steps into the door.

     “Excellent” The more Miles smiled the more pronounced a

 slight lisp became. “If you would be so good as to get those two sacks

loaded, we can begin the 9:10 meeting.”

     “What kind of meeting?” Celia cocked her head a bit confused.

     “Strategy, geography and objectives. What were you expecting,

 research and development initiatives?”

     Celia smiled and blinked slowly informing Miles that his

 sarcasm was enjoyed. “Who, may I ask will be attending, this

 meeting?”

    Miles looked around, looked at the ceiling, counted on his

 fingers, recounted, concluded his thought process. Smiling again,

 he said, “You.”

      In the back of the P.O. again, Miles had a black board set up on

 an easel. Drawn on the board was the entire district. Road numbers

 and names detailed where necessary. The map was divided into

 nine sections, districts, based on population density and distances.

 The divisions were numbered ‘1’ thru ‘9’ which corresponded to

 the numbers on the sacks. Additionally, packages not in the sacks

 had their own 1-9 designation. Miles explained everything and he

 had a pointer and with every point made his pointer percussed on

 the black board giving Miles a kind of executive marshal patina.

         “No doubt who the brains in this outfit is.”

    He warned her about dogs off the leash, at specific homes. About

 pot holes on the country roads, about mail boxes with decrepit

 hinges and all the funny habits of every last inhabitant on her route.

      If hearing chapter and verse in this presentation was not

 sufficient, Miles handed her ALL of this information, in even  keener

detail, on a clip board and printed on stationary of the

U.S. Postal service. It dawned on Celia at that moment, as Miles

demonstrated an organizational genius of a magnitude that would have

made the invasion of Normandy only an exercise, that Miles seemed to

be preparing for…an invasion.

Chapter 16

Not only had Miles' distribution system made the mail delivery

a breeze but she learned the whole county in a day. It was like

Miles was climbing through her mind. Maybe, she thought,

it’s an invasion of the body snatchers thing.

Everyone she had met thus far was a little bit from another

planet. Nobody, after the bus driver closed the doors, was just

regular or above suspicion of being inhabited by an alien entity

or force. Every new encounter reaffirmed this thesis. Penny, Irma,

Miles, Babby and Morrow-king of the aliens-were just weird.

The town folks she had not met were weird. They were polite

but distant. Not hostile and, not approachable either. Celia started

to liken it to some Kafka piece. That spooky loneliness where

nothing entirely seemed to be what it seemed to be. A tree seemed

to be a tree but that was about it.

The day went by like a breeze. She met a few more people.

Some of them did not wear the Ardensville cloak of mystery and

Celia was moderately relieved.

Finished up and back at the P.O. by 3:30, Celia reviewed her day

in her mind and her mind approved.

“Miles I’m back” She stood back from the counter expecting

him to pop up - this time his antennae not tucked under his hair.

She unwrapped a red and white mint when Miles appeared from

the back.

“You’re early, that’s good. Any problems?”

“No problems mon general!” Celia saluted.

“Tres bien mon amis.” Celia just stopped, holding her salute

and waiting to see if Miles would continue in perfect French or

any other language. He did not.

“Please, could you run these three largish pieces out to Penny

Corinth. She’s out on rte 47 about a half a mile. Just call it a day

from there and I’ll see you in the morning. Excellent first day.