Laura Jensen
The Air Raid Siren

At two o’clock on Wednesday the air raid siren blasted through the air all over the city. The sound pulsed from loudspeakers attached to telephone poles. The noise gave a very cynical description of it all - how the gravel streets were flat, all the lilac bushes, including the one in Linnea’s back yard, which were about to blossom, all the porches and mailboxes, were without shadows, without depth. No one spent hours on hospitable, good acts, because only it, the mechanical noise, existed.

Linnea kept tugging sheets over the edge of the white washing machine into the old wicker laundry basket. She balanced the basket on the washer edge. And at last the noises ended. On Wednesdays the movies always changed at the downtown theaters and at the neighborhood theaters, and in the paper in the afternoon new movie titles would be in the movie section, new illustrations, or sometimes, held over.

Sometimes the two o’clock Wednesday test siren warned Linnea that the house would be lonely when the girls were gone. In just over a year Elizabeth would be in college. They would manage college somehow. At state universities tuition cost less. But since the girls had been assigned accelerated classes where they started junior high school, university had been what they would plan on. That was settled.

Their house was a little too small and too landlocked. At Linnea’s mother’s house they saw the freighters come in the passage to the port and then go out again. How could the girls understand that when they never saw that? How could they understand how the whole bay was glowing some damp evenings with light? They never saw the fishing boats during fishing seasons, or knew why the uncles spoke about times Linnea could remember herself when the bay was full of white sails on large ships.

But Linnea could only say to them, --I never really liked the house. Linnea hoped that someday Laura and Elizabeth would live in nicer houses, ones that were bigger, more grand. Linnea wanted them to see how brilliant, large, and filled with color and promise the sky was. But she could fill the small garden with flowers, they had the lawn and the branches of the lilac that leafed out and blossomed each spring. She grew roses and daffodils and tulips and gathered these into bouquets for the living room. And she knew they could see these with their eyeglasses with the pointed corners.

But they moved to the house before Elizabeth started kindergarten so she could walk to school, so Ted could walk to the bus stop to go to work. And the house was convenient in other ways. The house had places where Linnea could do laundry.

All during the fifties at her house Linnea carried the wicker laundry basket outdoors to the clothesline on the metal posts in the backyard or upstairs through the tight curve of staircase through the girls’ room to the unfinished attic room to hang overalls, socks, towels, shirts, nightwear, dish towels, on the criss-cross of clotheslines strung all over the attic. The old wringer washer was dark green with flecks and cream-colored inside the round bowl, the whole washer was very round. When Elizabeth was ready to start high school they got a washer that spun the clothes, stark white with black inside with gray flecks. The new washer was an abrupt square, an abrupt box.

Everything was an abrupt square now. The old enamel dishpan that hung on the wooden back wall of the back porch was very oval, but the new dishpan of plastic was very square. The old-fashioned phone at ma’s was very round.

The new stove was so abrupt a square, and the dials had handles that were squared upright, more abrupt and strongly angled. The old stove's round knobs with small upraised round holders had several holes with different colors of glass inside to allow a light to glow red, green, blue, violet, for different stove temperatures. And the old stove had a round flourescent tube under a small hood that glowed when you snapped it on. The flourescent light was very white, and when the green kitchen was dark and lit faintly by its one white light alone the kitchen seemed cold but completely comforting. It was for an unheard of and an unusual time – when someone had to be up in the middle of the night.

Linnea put the clothes into the drier. Only the goldfish was home with her, the goldfish in its round globe of a bowl. Linnea took cookie dough out of the refrigerator and turned on the oven. When the cookies were done she could practice the piano in the front hall.

The Coal Window

One afternoon when Laura was very very young she was playing near the coal window beside the back steps to their house and Theodore came home from work and climbed up the back steps as though he did not see her.

Laura followed up the steps and indoors, and Theodore said soberly to Linnea, I lost my job.

Linnea put down the work she was doing at the stove.

The sense of an ending struck Laura very hard. She went away from the kitchen door, back to the sunny back porch where her mother kept geraniums beside the sheer curtains on the small window frames.

It was a dreadfully important thing not to lose one’s job.
Work was terribly important.