Down to the P.O.

May 11, 1994|By HELEN CHAPPELL

OYSTERBACK, MARYLAND — Wouldn't you know that it was Mrs. Reverend Briscoe who would tell Wimsey Jump that his wife Hagar and Professor Shepherd were doing something un-Christian down to the P.O. when the window is closed at lunchtime? Professor Shepherd, as we know, was teaching Good Literature when he lost his tenure at the college and had to start living on his boat down to the harbor, where things have been going downhill ever since.

We used to have the post office in the front room at old Miss Inez Bugg's house on Black Dog Road, but after she retired and moved to Arbutus to live with her daughter, the government built us the present P.O., which is an ugly red brick building with a flag out in front.

The front room at Miss Inez's was a lot more interesting, because when you went in to get your mail, you could smell what she and Mr. Frank had for dinner last night, and see whether she had watered her African violets and dusted the light-up picture of Our Lady over the TV. Since the Buggs were Seventh Day Adventists, it was hard to figure out why the Virgin Mary was there, but it sure did give everyone something to talk about around here, like they didn't have enough already.

Hagar Jump is our postmaster now, and after she gets the mail up about 8:30, she posts a daily update on the ''Young and the Restless'' for those who have to work and miss the stories on TV, which many around here feel is a genuine community service, right up there with the fire department and the life support, especially Chief Briscoe who got hooked on it while recovering from his piles operation.

Hagar likes having the new P.O. building, even though the old folks say it's just not the same. It's just that Wimsey would hate having the P.O. in his living room. Wimsey teaches algebra over to the high school and is home all summer puttering around with his garden. He likes to take a nap on the sofa in his underwear on hot afternoons, and you can't have ladies like Nettie Leery and Carlotta Hackett watching you snore in your tiger print boxers smelling like 10-05-10 and tomato vines when they're mailing out the V.F.D. Newsletter. I would imagine, too, that the P.O. people have rules about that kind of thing.

Nonetheless, Wimsey got mildly curious about what was going on, and left off planting his Silver Queen one afternoon to see what Hagar had got up to now. She fancies herself artistic, and sometimes Wimsey has to calm her down, you see.

As it happens, before he goes to his state clam-checking job down to the harbor, Professor Shepherd drops by the P.O. to pick up his mail and ends up watching the stories with Hagar. Professor Shepherd is a man who is easily distracted, especially from checking the temperature of manose clams. I suspect, although we can't prove it, that they also read everyone's magazines before she puts them up. Why else is my People always a day late?

Anyway, when Wimsey went in the P.O. lobby at lunchtime, he could hear the two of them back there trying to figure out if Vicki and Cole will ever get back together or if Victor is really going to dig up Eve's body or not. Hagar told Professor Shepherd he ought to work for the stories, because he's already good at predicting where the plots will go. He was the one who figured out Vicki was getting ready to turn into Nicki again on ''One Life to Live'' long before anyone else around here figured that Dorian didn't murder Victor.

From time to time, Professor Shepherd has tried to get Hagar interested in what he calls Good Literature, but he isn't having much luck with it. He tried to start her off with Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, but it didn't take.

''I didn't understand that 'Why I Live at the P.O.' story at all,'' she complained. ''They would never let you live at the post office, and that Stella Rondo just ought to have been shaken, that's all. Now, 'A Lady of Fashion' by Rebecca Baldwin, that was a good story. I like those Regency Romances. There's enough ugliness in real life, without having to write about it. When you work at the P.O. you just see all kinds of heartbreak and drama,'' she added darkly.

It makes you wonder whether she's been reading your bills through the envelopes, or sneaking a peak at those letters from your ex's lawyer over to Chestertown. We know she reads all the postcards that come in.

Good Literature hasn't been all that good to Professor Shepherd either. Maybe he ought to write one of those Regency Romances Hagar likes so much, because things have been really dull on the stories lately. So that on the day Wimsey came checking up, the two of them were setting back there and waxing philosophical during the commercials.

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