That title was so I didn't say "The Next Bit" again. :D
The following day I started delivering telegrams. As I left the house, mother gave me a long hug. She was about to head out on her own job, and the house would be empty except for our cat, Sheila.
“Be respectful, Jack,” mother reminded me.
I nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
“Also, be compassionate. You’ll be bringing telegrams that will most likely give bad news to the families, so don’t look bored or annoyed.
I swallowed. “Yes, ma’am. Have a good day at work.”
“Thank you, Jack. I’ll see you tonight.” She left for the bus stop and I watched her go, feeling all heavy, like a cannonball. Even my feelings are relating to war, I thought, shivering, and biked down the road.
After receiving my load to deliver, I started down the road on my bike, trying to calm the beating of my heart. I felt about as ready to embark on this delivery as I would have been to embark on a war mission in Africa. My palms were sweating and the handlebars felt warm and sticky. I reached the first house.
My finger found the doorbell and I hesitantly pressed it twice in the well-known signal of a telegram. Heart thudding, I stepped back, waiting for a answer, the telegram in my sweaty palm.
In a moment, a nervous woman opened the door. “Yes?” Her voice was fearful, and her eyes darted from my face to the telegram, as if trying to discern what news I brought her.
I took a deep breath and handed her the envelope. “Telegram for Mrs. Stone.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, and shut the door.
I let out my breath in relief. At least I didn’t have to see her reaction to whatever was in that brown envelope. Mounting my bike, I started down the street, feeling the cool breeze flow refreshingly against my brown uniform shirt. The shirt was one of dad’s old ones, cut down to fit me.
Glancing around the street, I spotted Brad and another one of my friends, Gregory, walking down the street. I raised my hand and waved to them. To my surprise, they both just stared at me. Brad’s face was white and there was a touch of panic in Greg’s eyes.
I stopped my bike beside them. “Hello, fellows! What’s wrong?”
They took a step back at the same time, and it was then that I noticed their eyes were staring at my shirt, and my bag full of telegrams. My throat felt all choky as I remembered Brad’s face when he got the news about his da and I swallowed hard. “Ummm, well.... I guess I’ll see you both later.”
I could feel their eyes on my back as I pedaled off, and I could guess that Greg was hoping I would go nowhere near his house. Well, I had no telegrams for him or his mother, but even though I understood their fear, it hurt to see them look at me in that way.
Just like people would look at dad, I suddenly realized, screeching to a halt at a crossroad. Into my mind flashed the many times father and I had been together as he walked me to or from school, in his telegram uniform, and the looks people would give him. Not angry, exactly, but more fearful or uncertain.
I arrived at the next house with a sinking heart, for I knew the people who lived here. Dismounting, I walked slowly up the walkway onto the Smith’s front porch and rang the doorbell twice.
Mr. Smith answered, and for a moment seemed surprised to see me. “Jack! What are you--” Then he noticed my shirt. “Oh. I see you have a telegram.”
“Telegram for Mr. Smith,” I choked out.
He took it, one hand smoothing his white hair. I knew that his grown son, Johnnie, was in the war. Johnnie had no family, only a girlfriend he was going to marry when he returned. I just knew what the telegram was going to say. Mr. Smith slit open the envelope and scanned the contents of the telegram right in front of me. I wished he would shut the door, for I felt obliged to stay until he did.
“Oh Johnnie,” he whispered suddenly, his hand clutching at the door frame. “My poor son.”
“Mr. Smith?” I whispered. “Mr. Smith, are you all right?”
He looked at me distractedly. “What? Oh... no. No, I need to sit down.”
He looked about ready to fall, so I grabbed a porch chair and let him sink into it. “Johnnie?” I asked, then bit my tongue, wishing I hadn't said anything.
He nodded, tears glittering his in blue eyes. “He’s missing in action.”
Missing in action. The words cut at my heart. Poor Mr. Smith. He had no idea if his son was dead, alive, or captured. I touched his hand awkwardly. “I-- I’m sorry, Mr. Smith.”
He didn't answer, only started out over the street, so I turned and went back to my bike. I was about to mount when Cindy, Johnnie's girlfriend, came up the street toward me. She took one look at her fiance’s father sitting so silently on the porch and her eyes grew large.
“Jack, what happened?”
I gulped. “J--Johnnie’s missing in action. They don’t know where he is.”
Cindy put a hand to her mouth, her engagement ring catching the sun and flashing at me flauntingly. “Oh no!” she whispered. Tears rushed to her eyes, but none spilled over.
“I’m sorry, Cindy,” I mumbled, rubbing at my arms. To my surprise, she reached out and gave me a hug. Though her perfume was strong, I let her hug me, knowing she was hurting and needed someone to hold onto. I wished I was bigger, so I could hold her up, like Johnnie would have.
“I’m so scared for him, Jack,” she gasped out, as she began to cry.
“They’ll find him!” I squeaked, then tried to make my voice deeper. “I’ll bet they’re really good at finding people! Don’t worry, Cindy. Don’t despair. I know he’ll come home!”
She smiled. “You remind me of Johnnie, Jack. Thank you. I’ll try not to despair.” Leaning down, she gave my forehead a quick kiss. “I’ll go see how Johnnie’s pa is holding up.” Trying to compose herself, she hurried past me up the walkway.
I glanced around to make sure none of my friends were around, she wiped off the remains of her lipstick and mounted my bike. My eyes burned as I thought of Johnnie, missing somewhere in France, but at the same time I couldn't help wondering if anyone had ever kissed father’s forehead on the job. Probably not. Well, if it had made her feel better, then I was glad.