Edna Ferber: Fanny Herself


From the first of December the floor of the Haynes-Cooper mail room looked like the New York Stock Exchange, after a panic. The aisles were drifts of paper against which a squad of boys struggled as vainly as a gang of snow-shovelers against a blizzard. The guide talked in terms of tons of mail, instead of thousands. And smacked his lips after it. The Ten Thousand were working at night now, stopping for a hasty bite of supper at six, then back to desk, or bin or shelf until nine, so that Oklahoma and Minnesota might have its Christmas box in time.

Fanny Brandeis, working under the light of her green-shaded desk lamp, wondered, a little bitterly, if Christmas would ever mean anything to her but pressure, weariness, work. She told herself that she would not think of that Christmas of one year ago. One year! As she glanced around the orderly little office, and out to the stock room beyond, then back to her desk again, she had an odd little feeling of unreality. Surely it had been not one year, but many years--a lifetime--since she had elbowed her way up and down those packed aisles of the busy little store in Winnebago-- she and that brisk, alert, courageous woman.

"Mrs. Brandeis, lady wants to know if you can't put this blue satin dress on the dark-haired doll, and the pink satin. . . . Well, I did tell her, but she said for me to ask you, anyway."

"Mis' Brandeis, this man says he paid a dollar down on a go-cart last month and he wants to pay the rest and take it home with him."

And then the reassuring, authoritative voice, "Coming! I'll be right there."

"Coming!" That had been her whole life. Service. And now she lay so quietly beneath the snow of the bitter northern winter.

At that point Fanny's fist would come down hard on her desk, and the quick, indrawn breath of mutinous resentment would hiss through her teeth.

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