The Messenger

The cold October rain had departed, and by the time Cleo Schick stepped onto her porch in the early afternoon the clouds had given way to a warming sun. With the laundry folded in the back room and her radio shows not scheduled for another half-hour, she gave herself permission to sit and enjoy a little lemonade and Indian summer. The little corner of the neighborhood was quiet. Most of the children living on this unpaved, rutted, dead-end road were in school and the older boys were, to a man, all overseas – including her three sons now in the Pacific Theater. Cleo tried to put this out of her mind for the moment and just breathe in some of the last warm breezes of the year. But time and again, she recalled why this street was so quiet. Five houses stood on either side of this half-road, most with a candle in the window for their sons fighting in the war. The Chalmers family, the Yoders, the Pitts, and the Garrisons each had a boy in the service, while the Crenshaws and Mrs. McMillan had her two youngest sons fighting in the Pacific. But Mrs. Schick was the winner – by her candle she had three stars on a banner in the window, one each for Charles, Thurman and Johnny, her oldest three boys out of five. After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Cleo’s boys raced to enter the service the day they were eligible. Service to the country had been the

family’s legacy for generations. All the kids had listened with rapt attention while their uncles reminisced about World War I and the Spanish-American War. Now those little boys sitting at their uncles’ feet were fighting the greatest threat to the free world, as was their duty as Americans. But it was still cold comfort to have her little angels away from her, and she wished her radio stories would come on and let her forget about this for a while. Cleo took a sip of her lemonade and stared at the last few passing clouds, wondering for a second what the skies looked like in Europe, or in the Pacific. What was Thurman seeing in his skies? Or in China? Or wherever this war has taken her children. Were they thinking of her right now? The silence ended with the clatter of a car coming up the adjoining road. Bringing her head out of the clouds, she saw an old Packard slowing down to turn onto her road, stopping short of the dirt and puddles. An unfamiliar man in a dark trench coat stepped out of the car with a satchel under his arm and looked briefly at the road sign. She knew something was very wrong. It was a telegram messenger, and these days, that always meant bad news. The man started up her side of the road with a slow deliberate pace. His head turned briefly toward Mrs. Yoder’s house, two doors down, and he continued moving forward without breaking stride. Cleo

felt weak, her fear holding her to the seat. Her legs became rubbery and she could not feel herself breathing. The only distraction was a slight rattling noise – the lemonade glass in her shaking hand hitting the arm of the chair. When the man walked past the next house, she was barely able to set her drink down, and she began to pray. “Who could it be?” she thought, as images of her boys raced through her head, all pictures of childish innocence. The way Charlie would stand arms akimbo when he argued with his father, how Thurman would laugh in delight at his favorite radio shows. Johnny had a variety of smiles that varied from happiness to malicious thoughts, and now slowly weeping, she feared that she might never see any of those again. How would her husband take this -- and why couldn’t he be here now? She didn’t want to be alone at this moment, but now the messenger was at her walk. Almost at the front gate, the man turned his head to look up at the porch. Mrs. Schick sat there, unable to move as the man turned her way. His expression entirely devoid of emotion, the messenger reached for the brim of his hat and acknowledged her, then moved down the road. Only at that moment did her breath return, and her hand went to her chest for a long sigh of relief. For this moment, anyway, her little angels were safe, and she wanted to praise the Lord for keeping her children out of harm’s way. Out of joy her tears now flowed freely, and

she went to her knees to express her thanks for this moment having passed. The moment broke with a rapping on the door of the Chalmers’ house next to hers. Without rising, Cleo turned her head to see the man standing at her neighbor’s door, and she could hear Mrs. Chalmers begin to wail at her entrance. Cleo felt her gut twist as she thought about Leo, Mrs. Chalmers’ only son, who would not be coming back. Her sorrow built as Mrs. Chalmers cried on her doorstep, only made worse by the guilty relief in knowing that for this day her own children were safe.

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