The Cheese Maker

There weren’t many people on the bus to Amity. Four months ago, Helen would have made up stories about them to share with Ned. But four months ago she wouldn’t have been on this bus. It was best not to think about back then. She undid the clasp on her pocketbook and unfolded the letter from George, spreading it smooth on her lap. She studied his careful cursive as if it could answer her muted nagging questions. Only a few lines above his name: he would meet her at the bus stop and they could go directly to city hall. He hoped the trip would not be tiring. She shut her eyes and breathed through her mouth. Long, slow breaths.

Her mother’s sister had put up a fuss when she heard what Helen planned to do.

“You answered an ad in the paper? It’s crazy, Helen. He could be an ax murderer for all you know. If you want to get away, you could move closer to Burlington and still be near me. Women all over are doing war work. You could get a job, support yourself.”

“No,” said Helen. “I need a new life, not some factory job where people ask questions.” She didn’t mention that Ned’s family was barely polite, that folks stopped talking when she walked into a store, and some crossed the street to avoid her.

Her aunt had seen her off that morning, the early sun slanting across her anxious face. But she had smiled as the bus began to move, and waved. A small figure in a blue dress that disappeared when the bus turned the corner.

George was much taller than she’d thought he would be. Her head barely came to the middle of his barrel chest. A broad-shouldered man with a weather-lined face and deep-set eyes, his black hair slicked back for the occasion. He shook her hand and ducked his head.

“How was the trip?” he asked as he hoisted her trunk and boxes into the truck.

“Fine.” She wanted to tell him to be careful with the boxes, but thought he might take offense.

They walked the two blocks to city hall in silence. He held the door for her and they entered, looking around. They found a young man who led them to a high-ceilinged office with a massive oak desk and narrow windows.

“Mr. Connell here is the justice,” said the young man.

“See if you can find another, Joe,” said Mr. Connell. And Joe stuck his head around the office door, signaling a woman passing in the hall.

The young man and the woman stood near the door, while the official placed George and Helen with their backs to the desk. He stood before them fumbling in his pockets until he found the much-folded paper. She watched his lips move: the words knocking against each other, dissolving like vapor. Sweat trickled down her legs, sheathed in her last pair of nylons. She felt dizzy, as she had when she and Ned had gone too many times on the merry-go-round.

“Helen?” said Mr. Connell. “Well, do you?”

She blinked and caught her breath. “Yes, I do.”

“By the authority invested in me by the state of Vermont. I pronounce you married. You can kiss the bride.”

The man next to her turned. His cold lips touched her cheek.

Missus George Hoving.

Mr. Connell and George shook hands in the stiff way men do when it’s business.

Helen Hoving.