In 1903 Horace Quinn beat Mr. R. Keef for the office of sheriff. He had been well trained as the chief deputy sheriff. Most of the voters figured that since Quinn was doing most of the work he might as well have the title. Sheriff Quinn held the office until 1919. He was sheriff so long that we growing up in Monterey County thought the words “Sheriff” and “Quinn” went together naturally. We could not imagine anyone
else being sheriff. Quinn grew old in his office. He limped from an early injury. We knew he was intrepid, for he had held his own in various gunfights; besides, he looked like a sheriff—the only kind we knew about. His face was broad and pink, his white mustache shaped like the horns of a longhorn steer. He was broad of shoulder, and in his age he developed a portliness which only gave him more authority. He wore a fine Stetson hat, a Norfolk jacket, and in his later years carried his gun in a shoulder holster. His old belt holster tugged at his stomach too much. He had known his county in 1903 and he knew
it and controlled it even better in
He was an
institution, as much a part of the Salinas Valley as its mountains.
In all the years since Adam’s
Quinn had kept track of Kate. When Faye died, he knew instinctively that Kate was probably responsible, but he also knew he hadn’t much of any chance of convicting her, and a wise sheriff doesn’t butt his
impossible. They were only a couple of whores, after all.
In the years that
followed, Kate played fair with him and he gradually achieved a certain respect for her. Since there were going to be houses anyway, they had better be run by responsible people. Every so often Kate spotted a wanted man and turned him in. She ran a house which did not get into trouble. Sheriff Quinn and Kate got along together.
Thanksgiving, about noon, Sheriff Quinn looked through the papers from Joe Valery’s pockets. The .38 slug had splashed off one side of Joe’s heart
against the ribs and torn out a section as big as a fist. The manila envelopes were glued together
blood. The sheriff dampened the papers with a wet handkerchief to get them apart. He read the will, which had been folded, so that the blood was on the outside. He
laid it aside and inspected the photographs in the envelopes. He sighed deeply.
contained a man’s honor and peace of mind. Effectively used, these pictures could cause half a dozen suicides. Already Kate was on the table at Muller’s with the formalin running into her veins, and her stomach was in a jar in the corner’s office.
When he had seen all of the pictures he called a number. He said into the
phone, “Can you drop over to my office? Well, put your lunch off, will you? Yes, I think
important. I’ll wait for you.”
A few minutes later
when the nameless man stood beside his desk in the front office of the old red county jail behind the courthouse, Sheriff Quinn stuck the will out in front of him. “As a lawyer, would you say this is any good?”
His visitor read the two lines and breathed deep
through his nose. “Is this who I think it is?”
“Well, if her name was Catherine Trask and this is her handwriting, and if Aron Trask is her son, this is as good as gold.”
Quinn lifted the ends of
his fine wide mustache with the back of his forefinger. “You knew her, didn’t you?” “Well, not to say know. I knew who she was.”
Quinn put his elbows on
his desk and leaned forward. “Sit down, I want to talk to you.”
His visitor drew up a
chair. His fingers picked at a coat button.
The sheriff asked, “Was Kate blackmailing you?” “Certainly
“I’m asking you as a
friend. You know she’s dead. You can tell me.”
“I don’t know what
you’re getting at—nobody’s blackmailing me.”
Quinn slipped a
photograph from its envelope, turned it like a playing card, and skidded it across the desk.
His visitor adjusted his glasses
and the breath
whistled in his nose. “Jesus Christ,” he said softly. “You didn’t know she
“Oh, I knew it all right.
She let me know. For Christ’s sake, Horace—what are you
going to do with this?” Quinn took the picture from his hand. “Horace, what are you going to do with it?” “Burn it.” The sheriff ruffled the edges of the
envelopes with his thumb. “Here’s a deck of hell,” he said. “These could tear the county to pieces.”
Quinn wrote a list of names on a sheet of paper.
Then he hoisted himself up on his game leg and went to the iron stove against the north wall of his office. He crunched up the Salinas Morning Journal and lighted it and dropped it in the stove, and when it flared up he dropped the manila envelopes
on the flame, set the damper, and closed the stove. The fire roared and the flames winked yellow
behind the little
isinglass windows in the front of the stove. Quinn brushed his hands together as though they
were dirty. “The
negatives were in there,” he said. “I’ve been through her desk. There weren’t any other prints.”
His visitor tried to speak but his voice was a husky whisper.
The sheriff gimped to
his desk and picked up his list. “I want you to do something for me. Here’s a list. Tell everyone on this list I’ve burned the pictures. You know them all, God knows. And they could take it from you. Nobody’s holy. Get each man alone and tell him exactly what happened. Look here!” He opened the stove door and poked the black sheets
until they were
reduced to powder. “Tell them that,” he said.
His visitor looked at the
sheriff, and Quinn knew that there was no power on earth that could keep this man from hating him. For the rest of their lives there would be a barrier between them, and neither one could ever admit it.
“Horace, I don’t know how to thank you.”
And the sheriff said in sorrow, “That’s all right. It’s what I’d want my friends to do for me.”
“The goddam bitch,” his visitor said softly, and Horace Quinn knew that part of the curse was for him.
And he knew he
wouldn’t be sheriff much longer. These guilt-feeling men could get him out, and they would have to. He sighed and sat down. “Go to your lunch now,” he said. “I’ve got work to do.”
At quarter of one Sheriff Quinn turned off Main Street on
Central Avenue. At
Reynaud’s Bakery he bought a loaf of French bread, still warm and giving off its wonderful smell of fermented dough.
He used the hand rail to help himself up the steps of the Trask porch.
Lee answered the door, a
dish towel tied around his middle. “He’s not home,” he said.
“Well, he’s on his way. I called the draft board. I’ll wait for him.”
Lee moved aside and let him in and seated him in the
living room. “You like a nice cup of hot coffee?” he asked. “I don’t mind if I do.” “Fresh made,” said Lee
and went into the kitchen. Quinn looked around the comfortable sitting room. He felt that he didn’t want his office
remembered hearing a doctor say, “I love to deliver a baby,
because if I do my work well, there’s joy at the end of it.” The sheriff had thought often of that remark. It seemed to him that if he did his work well there was sorrow at the end of it for somebody. The fact that it was necessary was losing its weight with him.
He would be retiring soon whether he wanted to or not.
Every man has
retirement picture in which he does those things he never had time to do—makes the journeys, reads the neglected books he always pretended to have read. For many years the sheriff dreamed of spending
the shining time hunting and fishing—wandering in the Santa Lucia range, camping by half-remembered streams. And now that it was almost time he knew he didn’t want to do it. Sleeping on the ground would make his leg ache. He remembered how heavy a deer is and how hard it is to carry the dangling limp body from the place of the kill. And, frankly, he didn’t
anyway. Madame Reynaud could soak it in wine and lace it with spice but, hell, an old shoe would taste good with that treatment.
Lee had bought a
percolator. Quinn could hear the water spluttering against
the glass dome, and his long-trained mind
suggestion that Lee hadn’t told the truth about having fresh-made coffee.
It was a good mind the
old man had—sharpened in its work. He could bring up whole faces in his mind and inspect them, and also scenes and conversations. He could play them over like a record or a film. Thinking of venison, his mind had gone
about cataloguing the sitting room and his mind nudged him, saying, “Hey, there’s something
The sheriff heeded the
voice and looked at the room
curtains, white drawn-work table cover, cushions on the couch covered with a bright and impudent print. It was a feminine room in a house where only men lived.
He thought of his own sitting room. Mrs. Quinn had chosen,
every single thing in it except a pipestand. Come to think of it, she had bought the pipestand for him. There was a woman’s room too. But this was a fake. It was too feminine—a woman’s room designed by a man—and overdone, too feminine. That would
wouldn’t even see it, let alone put
trying to make a home, and Adam not even seeing it.
Adam so very long ago, remembered him as a man in agony. He could still see Adam’s haunted and horrified eyes. He had thought then of Adam as a man of such honesty that he couldn’t conceive anything else. And in the years he had seen much of Adam. They both belonged to the Masonic Order. They went through the chairs together. Horace followed Adam as Master of the Lodge and both of them wore their Past Master’s pins. And Adam had been set apart—an invisible wall cut him off from the world. You couldn’t get into him—he couldn’t get
out to you. But in that old agony there had been no wall. In his wife Adam had touched the living world.
Horace thought of her now, gray and washed, the needles in her throat and the rubber formalin tubes hanging down from the ceiling.
Adam could do no dishonesty. He didn’t want anything. You had to crave something to be dishonest. The sheriff wondered what went on behind the wall, what pressures, what pleasures and achings.
He shifted his behind to ease the pressure on his leg.
The house was still except for the bouncing coffee. Adam was long coming from the
draft board. The amused thought came to the sheriff, I’m getting old, and I kind of like it.
Then he heard Adam at
the front door. Lee heard him too and darted into the hall. “The sheriff’s here,” said Lee, to warn him perhaps.
Adam came in smiling
and held out his hand. “Hello, Horace—have you got a warrant?” It was a damn good try at a joke.
“Howdy,” Quinn said. “Your man is going to give me a cup of coffee.”
Lee went to the kitchen and rattled dishes.
Adam said, “Anything wrong, Horace?” “Everything’s
wrong in my business. I’ll wait till the coffee comes.” “Don’t mind Lee. He listens anyway. He can hear
through a closed door. I don’t keep anything from him because I can’t.”
Lee came in with a tray.
He was smiling remotely to himself, and when he had poured the coffee and gone out Adam asked again, “Is there
anything wrong, Horace?”
“No, I don’t think so. Adam, was that woman still married to you?”
“Yes,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
“She killed herself last night.”
Adam’s face contorted and his eyes swelled and glistened with tears. He
fought his mouth and then he gave up and put his face down in his hands and wept. “Oh, my poor darling!” he said.
Quinn sat quietly and let him have it out, and after a time Adam’s control came back and he raised his head. “Excuse me, Horace,” he said.
Lee came in from the
kitchen and put a damp towel in his hands, and Adam
sponged his eyes and handed it back.
“I didn’t expect that,” Adam said, and his face was ashamed. “What shall I do? I’ll claim her. I’ll bury her.” “I
Horace. “That is, unless you feel you have to. That’s not what I came about.” He took the folded will from his pocket and held it out.
Adam shrank from it. “Is
—is that her blood?” “No, it’s not. It’s not her blood at all. Read it.”
Adam read the two lines and went right on staring at
the paper and beyond it. “He doesn’t know—she is his
“You never told him?” “No.”
“Jesus Christ!” said the sheriff.
Adam said earnestly,
“I’m sure he wouldn’t want anything of hers. Let’s just tear it up and forget it. If he knew, I don’t think Aron would want anything of hers.”
“ ‘Fraid you can’t,”
Quinn said. “We do quite a few illegal things. She had a safe-deposit box. I don’t have to tell you where I got the will or the key. I went to the bank. Didn’t wait for a court order. Thought it might have a bearing.” He didn’t tell Adam he thought there might
be more pictures. “Well, Old Bob let me open the box. We can always deny it. There’s over a hundred thousand dollars in gold certificates.
There’s money in there in bales—and there isn’t one goddam thing in there but money.”
marriage certificate.” Adam leaned back in his chair. The remoteness was
coming down again, the soft protective
himself and the world. He saw his coffee and took a sip
of it. “What do you think I ought to do?” he asked steadily and quietly.
“I can only tell you what I’d do,” Sheriff Quinn said. “You don’t have to take my advice. I’d have the boy in right now. I’d tell him everything—every
thing. I’d even tell him why you didn’t tell him before. He’s—how old?” “Seventeen.”
“He’s a man. He’s got to
take it some time. Better if he gets the whole thing at once.” “Cal
Adam. “I wonder why she made the will to Aron?”
“God knows. Well, what do you think?”
“I don’t know, and so
I’m going to do what you say. Will you stay with me?” “Sure I will.”
“Lee,” Adam called,
“tell Aron I want him. He has come home, hasn’t he?”
Lee came to the
doorway. His heavy lids closed for a moment and then opened. “Not yet. Maybe he went back to school.”
“He would have told me. You know, Horace, we drank a lot of champagne on
Thanksgiving. Where’s Cal?” “In his room,” said Lee. “Well, call him. Get him
in. Cal will know.”
Cal’s face was tired and his shoulders sagged with
exhaustion, but his face was pinched and closed and crafty and mean.
Adam asked, “Do you
know where your brother is?” “No, I don’t,” said Cal. “Weren’t you with him
at all?” “No.”
“He hasn’t been home
for two nights. Where is he?” “How do I know?” said
Cal. “Am I supposed to look after him?”
Adam’s head sank
down, his body jarred, just a little quiver. In back of his eyes a tiny sharp incredibly bright blue light flashed. He
said thickly, “Maybe he did go back to college.” His lips seemed
heavy and he
murmured like a man talking in his sleep. “Don’t you think he went back to college?” Sheriff Quinn stood up. “Anything I got to do I can do later. You get a rest, Adam.
You’ve had a shock.” Adam looked up at him.
“Shock—oh, yes. Thank you, George. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you very much,” said Adam.
When the sheriff had
gone, Cal went to his room.
Adam leaned back in his chair, and very soon he went to sleep and his mouth dropped open and he snored across his palate.
Lee watched him for a
while before he went back to his kitchen. He lifted the breadbox and took out a tiny volume bound in leather, and the gold tooling was almost completely worn away— The Meditations
of Marcus Aurelius in English
Lee wiped his steel-rimmed spectacles on a dish towel. He opened the book
and leafed through. And he
smiled to himself,
consciously searching for reassurance.
He read slowly, moving his lips over the words.
“Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and
that which is
“Observe constantly that all things take place by
change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change things
which are and to make new things
everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.”
Lee glanced down the
page. “Thou wilt die soon and thou are not yet simple nor free from perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only in acting justly.”
Lee looked up from the page, and he answered the
book as he would answer one of his ancient relatives. “That is true,” he said. “It’s very
hard. I’m sorry. But don’t forget that you also say, ‘Always run the short way and the short way is the natural’—don’t forget that.” He let the pages slip past his fingers to the fly leaf where was written with a broad carpenter’s pencil, “Sam’l Hamilton.”
Suddenly Lee felt good.
He wondered whether Sam’l Hamilton had ever missed his book or known who stole it. It had seemed to Lee the only clean pure way was to steal it. And he still felt good about it. His fingers caressed the smooth leather of the binding as he took it back and slipped it under the breadbox. He said to himself, “But of course he
knew who took it. Who else would have stolen Marcus Aurelius?”He went into the sitting room and pulled a chair near to the sleeping Adam.
In his room Cal sat at his desk, elbows down, palms holding his aching head together,
against the sides of his head. His stomach churned and the sour-sweet smell of whisky was on him and in him, living in his pores, in his clothing, beating sluggishly in his head.
Cal had never drunk
before, had never needed to.
But going to Kate’s had been no relief from pain and his revenge had been no triumph. His memory was all swirling clouds and broken pieces of sound and sight and feeling. What now was true and what was imagined he could not separate. Coming out of Kate’s he had touched his sobbing brother and Aron had cut him down with a fist like a whip. Aron had stood over him in the dark and then suddenly turned and ran, screaming
could still hear the hoarse
cries over running footsteps. Cal had lain still where he had fallen under the tall privet in Kate’s front yard. He heard the engines puffing and snorting by the roundhouse and the crash of freight cars being assembled. Then he had closed his eyes and, hearing light steps and feeling a presence, he looked up.
Someone was bending over him and he thought it was Kate. The figure moved quietly away.
After a while Cal had
stood up and brushed himself and walked toward Main Street. He was surprised at how casual his feeling was.
He sang softly under his breath, “There’s a rose that
grows in no man’s land and ‘tis wonderful to see—”
On Friday Cal brooded
the whole day long. And in the evening Joe Laguna bought the quart of whisky for him. Cal was too young to purchase. Joe wanted to accompany Cal, but Joe was satisfied with the dollar Cal gave him and went back for a pint of grappa.
Cal went to the alley
behind the Abbot House and found the shadow behind a post where he had sat the night he first saw his mother. He sat cross-legged on the ground, and then, in spite of revulsion and nausea, he forced
himself. Twice he vomited and then went on drinking until the earth tipped and swayed and the streetlight spun majestically in a circle.
The bottle slipped from his hand finally and Cal passed
out, but even
unconscious he still vomited
weakly. A serious, short-haired dog-about-town with a curling tail sauntered into the
alley, making his stations, but he smelled Cal and took a wide circle around him. Joe Laguna
smelled him too. Joe shook the bottle leaning against Cal’s leg and Joe held it up to the streetlight and saw that it was one-third full. He looked for the cork and couldn’t find it. He walked away, his thumb over the neck to keep the whisky from sloshing out. When in the cold dawn a frost awakened Cal to a sick world he struggled home like
a broken bug. He hadn’t far to go, just to the alley mouth and then across the street.
Lee heard him at the door
and smelled his
nastiness as he bumped along
the hall to his room and fell over on his bed. Cal’s head shattered with pain and he was wide awake. He had no resistance against sorrow and no device to protect himself against shame. After a while he did the best he could. He bathed in icy water and scrubbed and scratched his body with a block of pumice stone, and the pain of his scraping seemed good to him.
He knew that he had to
tell his guilt to his father and beg his forgiveness. And he had to humble himself to Aron, not only now but always. He could not live without that. And yet, when he was called out and stood in the room with Sheriff Quinn
and his father, he was as raw and angry as a surly dog and his hatred of himself turned outward toward everyone—a vicious cur he was, unloved, unloving.
Then he was back in his room and his guilt assaulted him and he had no weapon to fight it off.
A panic for Aron arose
in him. He might be injured, might be in trouble. It was Aron who couldn’t take care of himself. Cal knew he had to bring Aron back, had to find him and build him back the way he had been. And this had to be done even though Cal sacrificed himself. And then the idea of sacrifice took hold of him the way it does
with all guilty-feeling men. A sacrifice might reach Aron and bring him back.
Cal went to his bureau
and got the flat package from under his handkerchiefs in his drawer. He looked around the room and brought a porcelain pin tray to his desk. He breathed deeply and found the cool air good tasting. He lifted one of the crisp bills, creased it in the middle so’ that it made an angle, and then he scratched a match under his desk and lighted the bill. The heavy paper curled and blackened, the flame ran upward, and only when the fire was about his fingertips did Cal drop the charred chip in the pin tray. He stripped
off another bill and lighted it. When six were burned
Lee came in without
knocking. “I smelled smoke,” and then he saw what Cal was doing. “Oh!” he said.
Cal braced himself for intervention but none came. Lee folded his hands across his middle and stood silently
—waiting. Cal doggedly
lighted bill after bill until all were burned, and then he crushed the black chips down to powder and waited for Lee to comment, but Lee did not speak or move.
At last Cal said, “Go ahead—you want to talk to me. Go ahead!”
“No,” said Lee, “I don’t. And if you have no need to talk to me—I’ll stay a while and then I’ll go away. I’ll sit down here.” He squatted in a chair, folded his hands, and waited. He smiled to himself, the expression that is called inscrutable.
Cal turned from him. “I can outsit you,” he said. “In a contest maybe,”
said Lee. “But in day to day, year to year—who knows?— century to century sitting— no, Cal. You’d lose.”
After a few moments
Cal said peevishly, “I wish you’d get on with your
“I don’t have a lecture.” “What the hell are you doing here then? You know what I did, and I got drunk last night.”
“I suspect the first and I can smell the second.” “Smell?”
“You still smell,” said Lee.
“First time,” said Cal. “I don’t like it.”
“I don’t either,” said
Lee. “I’ve got a bad stomach for liquor. Besides it makes me playful, intellectual but playful.”
“How do you mean, Lee?”
“I can only give you an example. In my younger days
I played tennis. I liked it, and it was also a good thing for a servant to do. He could pick up his master’s flubs at doubles and get no thanks but a few dollars for it. Once, I think it was sherry that time, I developed the theory that the fastest and most elusive animals in the world are bats. I was apprehended in the middle of the night in the bell tower
Church in San Leandro. I had a racquet, and I seem to have explained to the arresting officer that I was improving my backhand on bats.”
Cal laughed with such
amusement that Lee almost wished he had done it.
Cal said, “I just sat
behind a post and drank like a pig.”
“Always animals—” “I was afraid if I didn’t
get drunk I’d shoot myself, Cal interrupted.
“You’d never do that. You’re too mean,” said Lee.
“By the way, where is Aron?” “He ran away. I don’t
know where he went. “He’s not too mean,” said Lee nervously. “I know it. That’s what I thought about. You don’t think he would, do you, Lee?”
Lee said testily,
“Goddam it, whenever a person wants reassurance he tells a friend to think what he wants to be true. It’s like asking a waiter what’s good tonight. How the hell do I know?”
Cal cried, “Why did I do it—why did I do it?” “Don’t
complicated,” Lee said. You know why you did it. You were mad at him, and you were mad at him because your father hurt your feelings. That’s not difficult. You were just mean.”
“I guess that’s what I wonder—why I’m mean. Lee, I don’t want to be mean. Help
“Just a second,” Lee
said. “I thought I heard your father.” He darted out the door.
Cal heard voices for a moment and then Lee came back to the room. “He’s going to the post office. We never
get any mail in
midafternoon. Nobody does. But every man in Salinas goes to the post office in the afternoon.”
“Some get a drink on the way, said Cal. “I guess it is a kind of a habit and a kind of a rest. They see their friends.”
And Lee said, “Cal—I don’t like your father’s looks. He’s got a dazed look. Oh, I forgot.
You don’t know.
mother committed suicide last night.”
Cal said, “Did she?” and
then he snarled, I hope it hurt. No, I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to think that.
There it is again. There it is! I don’t—want
scratched a spot on his head, and that started his whole head to itching, and he scratched it all over, taking his time. It gave him the appearance of deep thought.
He said, “Did burning the money
give you much
pleasure?” “I—I guess so.”
“And are you taking pleasure from this whipping you’re giving yourself? Are you enjoying your despair?” “Lee!”
“You’re pretty full of yourself. You’re marveling at the tragic spectacle of Caleb Trask—Caleb
the magnificent, the
Caleb whose suffering should have its Homer. Did you ever
think of yourself as a snot-nose kid—mean sometimes, incredibly
sometimes? Dirty in your habits, and curiously pure in your mind. Maybe you have a little more energy than most, just energy, but outside of that you’re very like all the other snot-nose kids. Are you trying to attract dignity and tragedy to yourself because your mother was a whore?
And if anything should have happened to your brother, will you be able to sneak for yourself the eminence of being a murderer, snot-nose?”
Cal turned slowly back
to his desk. Lee watched him, holding his breath the way a doctor
reaction to a hypodermic. Lee could see the reactions flaring through Cal—the rage at insult, the belligerence, and the hurt feelings following behind and out of that—just the beginning of relief.
Lee sighed. He had
worked so hard, so tenderly, and his work seemed to have succeeded. He said softly, “We’re a violent people, Cal. Does it seem strange to you that I include myself? Maybe it’s true that we are all descended from the restless, the nervous, the criminals, the arguers and brawlers, but also the brave and independent
and generous. If our ancestors had not been that, they would have stayed in their home plots in the other world and starved over the squeezed-out soil.”
Cal turned his head
toward Lee, and his face had lost its tightness. He smiled, and Lee knew he had not fooled the boy entirely. Cal knew now it was a job—a well-done job—and he was grateful.
Lee went on, “That’s
why I include myself. We all have that heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed—selected
And so we’re
overbrave and overfearful— we’re kind and cruel as children. We’re overfriendly and
at the same time
frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed.
We’re oversentimental and realistic. We are mundane
and materialistic—and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no
sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism
to decadence without an
culture. Can it be that our critics have not the key or the language of our culture?
That’s what we are, Cal—all of us. You aren’t very different.”
“Talk away,” said Cal,
and he smiled and repeated, “Talk away.”
“I don’t need to any more,”
finished now. I wish your father would come back. He worries me.” And Lee went nervously out.
In the hall just inside the front door he found Adam leaning against the wall, his hat low over his eyes and his shoulders slumped.
“Adam, what’s the
matter with you?”
“I don’t know. Seem tired. Seem tired.”
Lee took him by the
arm, and it seemed that he had to guide him toward the living
heavily into his chair, and Lee took the hat from his head. Adam rubbed the back of his left hand with his right. His eyes were strange, very clear but unmoving. And his lips were dry and thickened and his speech had the sound of a dream talker, slow and coming from a distance. He rubbed his hand harshly. “Strange thing,” he said, “I must have fainted—in the post office. I never faint. Mr.
Pioda helped me up. Just for a second it was, I guess. I never faint.”
Lee asked, “Was there any mail?” “Yes—yes—I
there was mail.” He put his left hand in his pocket and in a moment took it out. “My hand is kind of numb,” he said
reached across with his right hand and brought out a yellow government postcard. “Thought I read it,” he
said. “I must have read it.” He held it up before his eyes and then dropped the card in his lap. “Lee, I guess I’ve got to get glasses. Never needed them in my life. Can’t read it. Letters jump around.”
“Shall I read it?” “Funny—well, I’ll go
first thing for glasses. Yes,
what does it say?” And Lee read,” ‘Dear
Father, I’m in the army. I told them I was eighteen. I’ll be all right. Don’t worry about me. Aron.’ ”
“Funny,” said Adam. “Seems like I read it. But I
guess I didn’t.” He rubbed his hand.