Mrs. Murphy, office manager of Drooms and Mason Accounting firm in mid-Manhattan, tidied up at end of day, pleased that she had held the office together so efficiently while Mr. Drooms was away with his fiancée, the lovely widow, Mrs. Hapsey. Like everyone else, Mrs. Murphy was shocked, outraged, by the attack on Pearl Harbor two days ago. And though she was disheartened that the country was now at war, she faced the news as she tended to face everything – with her sleeves rolled up and ready to fight for the side of good. Once, and only once, had she acted with less than heroism in her battles with life, the memory of which still whipped her with shame every time she thought of it. But all that was long ago. She had since made it her habit to live in the moment, to take each day as it came.
She answered the knock at the office door and glanced up at the clock, noting that it was 5:10. A winded messenger leaned against the doorframe, trying to catch his breath. She greeted him with a smile, signed for the envelope, and pressed a tip into his palm. Good service was always to be rewarded. “Thank you, my good man!”
Mr. Mason, her co-worker for nearly two decades, was just finishing up with a report, and raised his head at the end-of-day delivery. Though he had been made a partner the previous year, he had a gentlemanly way of deferring to Mrs. Murphy, both because she was his senior by twenty years, and because his more ponderous personality rather enjoyed her brisk, take-charge attitude.
Mrs. Murphy waved the manila envelope in front of him, with a glint of triumph in her eye. “Just arrived by courier!”
Mason reached for the envelope and read the sender’s name with surprise. “I don’t know how you do it. I’ve asked for these files for the past two weeks. You make one phone call and they rush them right over. Well done!” he chuckled lightly. “You run a tight ship, Mrs. Murphy.”
“A mere swabber of decks, sir,” she answered, with a satisfied smile.
Mason stuffed the envelope into his briefcase, and took his hat and coat from the hall tree. “I’ll look at these tonight. Enough for today. Let’s lock up.”
“I’m all for that,” she answered, slipping on her coat. “What a day! Panic and pandemonium! Air raid sirens, people running around the streets shouting that the Germans were upon us!”
As they walked to the elevator, Mrs. Murphy made tiny adjustments to her hat and gloves, as if establishing order again after the chaos of the afternoon. “I’m glad the day is over and they can start to sort out rumor from fact.”
Mason pushed the elevator button. “I have to say, those air raid sirens completely unnerved me. I rushed home to find my wife, mother, and sisters in complete control. They had taken the children down to the basement. My mother was reading “Jemima Puddleduck” to the children as they finished their lunch; my wife was rocking the baby to sleep. The only time they appeared to be alarmed was when I ran down the stairs calling out for them like a madman. I felt quite superfluous. Seeing them all so snug and composed, I ate a sandwich, and came back to work.” He tried to laugh away his earlier fears, but a note of worry lingered in his voice. “I realized that if we were bombed, there would be no way for me to get home in time. That’s a frightening thought.”
“You’re fortunate to be surrounded by so many capable women,” Mrs. Murphy pointed out, in an attempt to allay his fears. She had become acquainted with his family over the years, and wholeheartedly approved of the spunk and spirit of his sisters and mother, and the unflappable serenity of his wife.
“Indeed, I am,” said Mason, smiling. The elevator door opened, and he allowed Mrs. Murphy to step in first.
“Good evening, Mr. Grimes,” Mrs. Murphy said to the elevator operator, also known as Fifty-Four, the supposed number of facial muscles needed to frown.
“Nothing good about it,” he muttered. He closed the inside grill with a clank, sat back on his stool, and moved the lever down.
“Oh, come now, Mr. Grimes. I’m sure you can find something good about it,” said Mrs. Murphy, who had no patience with complainers. She raised her eyebrows and continued her conversation with Mason. “I suppose if nothing else, the false alarm let us know how unprepared we are. Gives us a chance to set up shelters and stock them with flashlights and food.”
“Thank God my sister, Edith, was at home,” said Mason. “She’s in between jobs, you know, and rushed to the school to pick up the little ones.”
“Edith,” said Mrs. Murphy, trying to remember the order of Mason’s sisters. “The eldest, I believe.”
“Yes. She told me that the school had shut down and that many children were wandering around on their own. Several of the neighbor children arrived home only to find that their parents were not there.” He shook his head. “This is all new for us. It will take us a while to learn how to respond.”
Fifty-Four chimed in on their conversation. “Starting with proper air raid sirens. Those police car and fire engine sirens blowing in concert don’t carry. I couldn’t hear them in here. If we were bombed, I’d be the last to know, the last to make it down to the basement. Be bombed to smithereens. Smithereens,” he said, opening the elevator doors on reaching the lobby. “This will put a damper on Christmas.”
“Not on my Christmas,” said Mrs. Murphy. She gave him a brisk nod goodnight and stepped out of the elevator, glad to see the elevator doors close behind her.
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