In the early 1950s all sorts of salesmen came to the door during the day. Mrs. Patterson’s habit was to personally entertain as many as she could manage. It was said in the neighborhood that the Fuller Brush man had his route taken away for spending too much time in her house.
Her husband didn’t sleep with her. He said he respected her too much. Instead, he slept with secretaries and barmaids, and female desk clerks when he traveled. When they were first married it bothered her, but Mrs. Patterson had learned to compensate.
She subscribed to Life and Saturday Evening Post, and invited the boy who took her order into her house each week when he delivered her magazines. In those days, magazines were brought to the door by the salesman who signed you up. It was a personal service. The magazine boy had never slept with anyone before, and at first he made up for inexperience with his enthusiasm. But he had very little imagination and by renewal time there were no surprises left. She let the subscriptions lapse, although for a while he kept coming around anyway.
Most women in the neighborhood avoided her because of her reputation, but she did have one friend. The young wife next door, Brenda was her name, lived alone because her husband was in the army in Korea. Brenda had become distraught because she found out he had a Korean concubine, and she spent many hours shedding tears over cups of coffee at Mrs. Patterson’s kitchen table. Mrs. Patterson gave her a gift subscription to Colliers. That worked out well for everyone. The boy transferred his affections readily because at that age they are all testosterone and fickleness.
Sometimes, when she saw him scuttling up the front walk to Brenda’s house carrying his bag of periodicals, Mrs. Patterson would come outside and tease him, asking if he wanted to stop by and show her his wares, in case she wanted to subscribe to something new. His face would bloom with heat and he would rush to Brenda’s door, while Mrs. Patterson stood on her walkway, one hip cocked to the side and her arms folded below her breasts.
Brenda got pregnant while her husband was still in Korea. She told Mrs. Patterson, licking at her tears as they ran by the corners of her mouth, and clutching a glass of Olympia beer from the quart bottle Mrs. Patterson had set in the middle of the kitchen table at the sight of her puffy eyes and tragic expression. Mrs. Patterson first experienced a surge of righteous pleasure at the thought of the cuckolded soldier. But her second feeling was more compassionate, and when Brenda had collected herself enough, Mrs. Patterson wiped the circles of condensation from the table and helped her compose a letter to her husband, expressing a perfect proportion of heartbreak at his betrayal, and contrition for her own understandable response.
When Brenda’s husband came home on leave three months later, Mrs. Patterson watched from her window as he got out of the taxi and hoisted his duffle bag onto his shoulder. Half way up the walk he stopped and stared at his house and Mrs. Patterson held her breath. Then Brenda came out the front door onto the porch and he dropped his bag, straightened up tall like the soldier he was, and strode towards her. After they embraced, he stepped back and put his hands on her belly, and Brenda rested her own hands on his.
Mrs. Patterson smiled, satisfied, then turned and went to the kitchen to check on the cookies she was baking for the new greengrocer route driver.
Harley Crowley has eliminated most of the distractions in her life and is now enjoying writing short fiction. She lives with her husband in an enviable spot near the water, between a great independent bookstore and an old Carnegie Grant library.