Walker wheeled his dolly through the Post Office door. A lady going out held the door for him, and he thanked her twice, embarrassed to have a door held for him by a woman.
It was a once-a-quarter chore, sending the returns back to the publisher. In order to have a variety of books to sell, the bookstore subscribed to a program by which the publisher sent them a couple cartons of overstocks, which would be displayed for three months, then returned. The bookstore paid for the invoice difference, if any. Not much this quarter. Precisely one book sold. Summer slump in a school bookstore.
He got in line and surveyed the dingy, cluttered service area. The building wasn’t very old, but the abrasion of bureaucracy had already erased any humanity the place had ever had. Walker missed the old-time Post Offices, temples of democracy with classical porticos and lots of brass. You felt like you were dealing with the majesty of the republic in those old places. You felt proud to be an American there. You scanned the wanted posters on the bulletin boards, inspired with civic zeal to ferret out wrongdoers for the good of the commonwealth.
He looked at the service windows to his left. Only two postal employees on duty, so it would be a wait. But she was on duty today. Maybe he’d luck out and be one of her customers. Maybe a Sublime Moment would happen, somehow….
Such a lovely woman. You didn’t expect to see a woman who looked like that working for the Post Office. He couldn’t guess her age. She might be in her thirties, she might be as old as fifty. Impossible to tell. With that bone structure, she’d be beautiful until the day she died. The kind of bone-deep beauty Katherine Hepburn had, though she didn’t look at all like Hepburn. A petite woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes. A kind of aquiline face, its planes clean and perfect. If she wore makeup, it wasn’t apparent.
And no wedding ring….
Helen gave the lady her receipt and looked to the next customer, saying, “Can I help you?” That customer, a guy with a beard, seemed to be woolgathering. The guy in line behind him nudged him, and he roused himself and wheeled two cartons on a dolly up to her window.
Great. Boxes to lift. Again.
Boxes of books. She knew it was books because she recognized the customer. Some sort of bookstore employee. He came in now and then, and he always wore a tie and a hat. Even on a summer day like this. Odd bird.
Too fat, but he had interesting salt-and-pepper hair, and his face looked younger than the hair indicated. She wondered what he was like. He was always polite and well-spoken. She glanced at his hand. No ring.
“All books. Media Mail,” he said.
They went through the rigmarole. As always, he didn’t want insurance or special services. He pulled out a business check and had it filled in except for the amount by the time she had a figure for him.
“If he asked me out, would I say yes?” she asked herself. “Might be interesting to find out what a guy who dresses like this is like. Probably a weirdo, though.”
“Any stamps?” she asked.
“In a separate transaction,” he said.
“Doesn’t charge his own stamps to his company,” she thought. “Minimally honest, at least. Better than my last boyfriend.”
She lifted the plastic display page. “We have these stamps,” she said.
“I’ll take a sheet of the Reagan stamps.”
She swore to herself. A bleeping Republican.
“Thank you,” she said when he paid her.
“Thank you,” he replied, wheeling his empty dolly away.
(The story above is true, except for the lies. It’s a fair description of my trip to the Post Office today, but I made up Helen’s [not her name] thoughts [certainly wrong].
Inventing scenarios like this is one of the things that make me a novelist.
Also one of the things that make me a total dork.)