Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that Virginia Brackett has won the open category of our writing contest on the theme of WOMEN'S VOICES with "Mrs. Cross".
Virginia Brackett, Professor Emeritus of English, retired in 2016 from Park University where she directed the Honors Academy and received varied teaching and service awards, including Faculty Member of the Year, 2013 for Exceptional Services to Student Veterans. She served as a discussion facilitator for the 2017 NEH-funded initiative for veterans and their families, Planting the Oar. Brackett serves on the Kansas City Veterans Writing Team and has participated in various writing workshops. She recently completed a non-fiction exploration of her relationship with her father, Captain Edmund C. Roberts, Jr, who was killed in Korea after serving in WWII. The first chapter of that work titled “In the Company of Patriots,” has been accepted for publication in the journal War, Literature, and the Arts. Brackett has edited two essay collections and published 14 additional books, which have received various citations, and more than 125 articles, both academic and popular, and stories for adult and young readers. Her electronic books, available at amazon.com, include Angela and the Gray Mare (children) and Girl Murders, a time-travel mystery. Brackett may be contacted via her website.
With homage to Tim O’Brien
Mrs. Cross walked briskly to the mailbox and pulled down the door. She reached inside, her hand closing with satisfaction around the small bundle. She pulled it out, slipped off the rubber band, and carefully placed it into her large apron pocket. Staring at some set point in space, she turned left and followed the stepping stone walk to the porch door. She walked into the screened enclosure, plunked into the ancient glider, and ignored its screech. Then she looked at the bundle and sighed. Mrs. Cross could see that it held no letter from Jimmy.
“Anything important?” her husband, Big Jim, asked, sticking his head out the front door. He had coffee in hand and made no move to join her, ignoring the second glider sitting nearby.
She shook her head.
“Gonna be a hot one.” He pulled his head back into the house.
Mrs. Cross heard the kitchen window lifted and the attic fan begin its monotonous whirl. She sat for five more minutes, listening to the relentlessly optimistic finches. The woodpeckers did their best to drown them out, but she knew neither would give ground. She heard Big Jim inside. “GD woodpeckers!”
She pushed out of the glider and tried to picture her Jimmy. He had turned 24 years old last week; she had sent a birthday card. Maybe he carried it inside the uniform that had turned him into a mystery.
Mrs. Cross had shared the news of Jimmy’s draft with Alma Holland and her husband Jerry. Alma’s husband had the poor taste to laugh. “Little Jimmy packing heat. Now that’s a thought, ain’t it?” Such a high-pitched laugh from such a big man made Mrs. Cross feel uncomfortable. She focused on Jerry’s sleeves, his underarms producing sweaty half-moons on his black T-shirt.
When she complained about that laugh later to Big Jim, he snorted. “While we froze ass in Korea, Jerry Holland polished boots at Dix. Pay him no mind.” She counted the seconds – one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand – his hand settled, a light weight on the middle of her back. It was one of his few signs of affection. She collected those signs, hoarding them like rare coins.
In their bedroom she looked in the mirror and smoothed her hair. Then she lifted the most recent note, now a month old, from the dresser. Mrs. Cross paused to smile at her own handwriting on the envelope, and then studied the stamp cancellation closely. Seven days to leave a jungle, cross an ocean and land in a USPS mail bag. She placed it in the side pocket of her purse. She had licked stamps for the envelopes – the wild birds of Massachusetts series - and carefully addressed each herself. Twenty-five notes, twenty-five envelopes, twenty-five stamps, all tucked into Jimmy’s suitcase. At the bus station, she had squeezed Jimmy, a quick hug, after his father shook his hand. Jimmy’s eyes had roved – hungry - across the small group. No doubt he was looking for that young woman, whoever she was. Mrs. Cross had stumbled upon the “Bonnie and Clyde” ticket stubs when sorting Jimmy’s laundry. She had never met any girl, although God knows she had told Jimmy that his friends were welcome.
He would write again. Jimmy was a good boy, a responsible boy.
Big Jim would want breakfast soon. Mrs. Cross took a frayed ring box from the jewelry drawer, lifted the lid, and slipped Jimmy’s baby tooth into her hand. She turned it over several times before glancing through the doorway to be sure her husband wasn’t watching. She returned the tooth to the box, adding it to her purse. When she lifted it, the tiny objects added no heft.
“Where you goin’ today?” Big Jim asked, after sitting down to eat. He stacked three strips of bacon and bit through all three, then chewed vigorously.
“Just to Food Fair for supplies. Then the church to help Gladys plan the Sunday altar.”
Mrs. Cross stood quietly.
Big Jim swallowed, staring at his plate. “Don’t you go putting him on that weekly prayer list.”
Mrs. Cross sighed. “Why not?”
Big Jim frowned. “Because a person can be too careful. Understand?”
She did not, but she nodded.
Mrs. Cross would shop, go to church, forego the list, and whisper her prayer in front of the altar. She’d watch her TV stories after lunch, and then start dinner with the radio tuned to sacred music. She hoped they would do “Amazing Grace” tonight. If she turned the volume way up, she could barely hear the news blaring from Big Jim’s TV in the den.