Izzy had been devastated when Red said he wanted to hold off on their wedding, and though she was always worried about him, she didn’t let it get in the way of living. Now here she was, thriving in her new role at Rockwell Publishing: taking charge of the floor, making the schedules for the typists and clerks, taking minutes for Mr. Rockwell, training the new girls. Izzy was sharp, ambitious, professional, and confident. She was the type of woman who made things happen, despite setbacks.
Lillian put on her coat and hat, and waited for Izzy to finish explaining the filing system to one of the new girls.
“Ready?” Izzy asked, and linked her arm with Lillian’s as they headed out the door.
All the way to the café, they talked of the war, the rumors, and how quickly everything had changed. Izzy told her that on Monday, the day after Pearl Harbor, the whole city reeled as details of the attack came in.
“You wouldn’t believe it, Lilly. Storeowners were throwing out anything that was made in Japan – throwing it right out onto the sidewalks. People were gathered in groups everywhere, trying to figure out what had happened. Everyone found a radio to listen to the President’s speech, to the updates – they clustered around cars with the radios blasting, crowded in cafes, shops, everyone exchanging news, trading information. Much of it wrong. Someone said Pearl Harbor was in New Jersey – that set hearts pounding. Someone else said it was hoax, like the War of the Worlds – remember that? Others said the German Luftwaffe was on its way here. It was pandemonium. Truly frightening.”
Lillian listened to Izzy’s account with amazement. “I thought it was bad upstate – it must have been terrible here.”
Izzy shook her head. “The world has been turned up-side-down.” She opened the door to the little Italian café they sometimes lunched at. She pointed out the American flag that now hung outside the door, where last week hung an Italian flag.
Lillian whispered to Izzy. “I guess they want us to know whose side they’re on.”
“Either that, or they don’t want to lose any business,” said Izzy.
They entered the noisy café and slid into a booth. Lillian immediately noticed a difference from the last time – there was more energy, more tension in the air, more movement. Different levels of conversation mixed with the music of the radio coming from the counter. She immediately picked up on a different attitude towards the Italian owner and waiters. Even though the owner displayed a second American flag by the register, there was a decided change towards him, a wariness that had not existed before.
Lillian greeted the waiter in her usual friendly manner when she placed her order, and saw the woman at the next table shake her head disapprovingly. When the waiter came back with two cups of soup, Lillian smiled, but he seemed angry as he left.
Izzy raised her eyebrows and peered at the soup. “I guess it’s safe to eat.”
Izzy leaned forward. “I know I shouldn’t be happy about anything to do with this war, and I’m not – but they say that a lot of the Americans who joined the RAF want to come home so they can fight against the Japs.”
“Does that mean Red will come home?”
“I think there’s a good chance. That’s all I can think about.” For a moment, Izzy was her old self, bursting with enthusiasm and happiness.
“Have you had any word from him?” asked Lillian.
The carefree expression immediately vanished. “Last week. I finally got a letter, longer than the ones he had been sending. It turns out it’s more than his leg. I knew he wasn’t telling me everything.” She looked out the window and narrowed her eyes, as if she were still piecing it all together. “I think maybe he had some sort of breakdown. His letters had practically trickled off to nothing. Then in this letter he told me that two of his buddies had been killed on the same mission that he caught the shrapnel.”
“Oh, my God,” said Lillian. “How devastating for Red.”
“But that was four months ago. Something’s not right.” She shook off the feeling and started in on her soup, but her brow remained knitted. “He’s recovering in the north of England somewhere. In some enormous manor house they’ve converted into a rest and recovery hospital. He hasn’t so much as mentioned our wedding. I guess I can’t blame him.”
“I hope he comes home soon. For both your sakes.” Lillian saw the moment in Izzy’s face when she veered close to self-pity, and then decided on a different course of action.
“In the meantime,” said Izzy, “I mean to do my part. Make the best of a bad situation.” She crumbled some crackers into her soup. “I’m signing up for volunteer work. The options are endless now: air raid wardens, plane spotters, Red Cross work. I know a couple of gals working at the defense centers – the canteens. I’m going with them tonight. Serve coffee and donuts. Hand out paper and pencils to the GIs so they can write home.”
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