There was the post office, with its stiff picket fence and starched, whitewashed walls. Alice pursed her lips and hesitated before walking in. Had the story she sent gotten through? Did it get lost among the heaps of mail from the war? Would she be greeted with another rejection letter, written in a prim, spidery hand, accompanied by a tight satisfactory smile from Mrs. Harris?
She glanced up nervously at the sky, then at the window. Even the spiteful Mrs. Harris could ruin a blue, sunshiny day like this, and even she could suck the joy out of the saying, “God laughs in flowers” that Alice used to lighten her mood. It wasn’t her fault she was born into a family of nit-picky old gossips who find a quarrel with everybody. And how on earth did mild, thoughtful, old Obadiah Harris get himself stuck into a marriage like that? Alice was sure there must have been some trickery, but she pushed the thought away, resisting the nosy thoughts and focusing on her manners; Mrs. Harris was excruciatingly strict about those, too. So she put on a good face and confidently walked up the steps.
The chipping yellow door screeched open, and dusty sunlight poured through the front window onto the counter, giving the post office an eerie atmosphere. Mrs. Harris frowned when she saw Alice, and looked her up and down. Suddenly Alice felt the impulse to re-pin her hat and fix her hair. She did, however, tug on her pumpkin-colored cuff and silently prayed it was stiff enough for the mail lady’s approval.
“Straighten your jacket, child, and for heaven's sakes, it’s a wonder your mother let you leave with that skirt so low.” Such was the traditional greeting from the mongoose. Alice glanced down at her skirts and inspected her jacket. It was perfectly straight over her shirtwaist.
“Mrs. Harris, how good it is to see you again. You know, I am eighteen, and I am able to wear my skirts long now.” Alice responded with a laugh, brushing it off. Then peering beyond the counter at the shelves holding the packages, she politely inquired, “Have there been any new packages?” Mrs. Harris eyed her suspiciously behind her bronze-rimmed spectacles. “You mean since yesterday?”
“Yes.” Alice flushed. She had been here nearly every day for a week, hoping to hear back from one of the ladies’ magazines she had sent her story to. Some were famous, others insignificant, but any reply was devoured--even the ones resulting in the considerable loss of spirit at times.
But Mrs. Harris gave a sharp nod before swishing to the neat square bookshelves, and carefully lifting a heavy package, wrapped to perfection in brown butcher paper and twine.
“This is addressed to a Miss Bertha Angle. I assume it is for you?”
Alice’s eyes grew wide in anticipation. It didn’t matter what Mrs. Harris with her starched up apron and prissy hair said, what mattered was in that package. So in an attempt to stifle the excitement in her eyes, Alice folded her hands carefully in front of her and answered evenly, “It is. It was my grandmother’s maiden name.”
“I believe you; I once heard of the way she ran away with her grandfather to have your mother.” The distaste was evident in the scrooge’s tone, and before Alice did anything rash, she ripped the package from the counter and hurried outside.
Perching on the iron bench outside of Anderson’s General Store, she eagerly tore the paper and untied the twine. There, lying daintily in a swath of lace, was a beautiful deep-blue copy of her novel. Gold letters were stamped in the cover, and a lovely embossed bouquet of wildflowers added a little adornment. A stiff ivory envelope accompanied the book, and tearing it open, Alice read:
Dear Miss Angle,
Many greetings to you and your family. This letter is to inform you of how beautiful and enriching I found your book. In fact, because of the surprising impact it had on the entire committee here, I have taken the liberty of publishing it straightaway, and sending you in this envelope the forty percent royalties of the first few sells, for this masterpiece merits such. I did not, however, enter the story in our weekly issue. I’m sure you will understand when I say the plot and the characters required more space for a whole story, and it was not quite suited to the style of writing we publish here at the New Monthly Belle Assemblee. Although again I congratulate you, as your story here in London is already a success. I have entered your address to the print shops and bookstores that carry it now, and all of them have agreed that the overseas address is of no concern. Thank you for your cooperation, and I look forward to furthering our business dealings. “God laughs in flowers.”
Sincerely, A.W. Wright,
Alice smiled warmly. That quote was something she had written in her book, and it was something that meant quite a lot to her when she needed encouragement; an old family friend who had been like a grandmother to her had said that one day. She picked up her skirts and quickened her pace, letting loose strands of light wavy hair fall out of the neatly braided bun. Today she didn’t care; everything was wonderful, everything was beautiful--who could take that away from her? Certainly not Mrs. Harris.
The cherry blossoms that lined the dirt road waved their branches in the breeze, and too excited for words, Alice waved back and laughed. Nearing the bridge, she slowed down and did a twirl, holding close the published copy of her book. Being an author was only something she had dreamed of when she was little; she hadn’t really expected that dream to come true. But all those hours of reading and writing in the dusty old attic apparently had paid off, and just in time for the Union to come marching home! And not even a problem other than lengthiness from the editor in England!
Nothing could ever seem dull or dark again; Father was home, her brother returning from the deep south, and now there was money she could help support them with. So ambling blithely across the bridge, singing to the birds and the lily pads, Alice prepared herself for the presentation of her novel. Would she make dinner that night and present it after everyone was seated? Or would she burst through the door and announce it like she was proclaiming it to the world? Her thoughts drifted happily away, reveling in the sun and beauty around her. The wildflowers bowed, and the apple and cherry blossoms waved. Looking brightly up at the sky, Alice whispered joyfully, “God does laugh in flowers.”