All Good Women: A Novelby Valerie Miner
As World War II rages abroad, a group of women forge the bonds of sisterhood in America
In 1938, while tensions in Europe are reaching a boiling point, four young women with big ambitions enter secretarial school in San Francisco. Motivated to attain the financial stability that eluded their parents, they go to battle for their futures. Moira, of/b>… See more details below
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As World War II rages abroad, a group of women forge the bonds of sisterhood in America
In 1938, while tensions in Europe are reaching a boiling point, four young women with big ambitions enter secretarial school in San Francisco. Motivated to attain the financial stability that eluded their parents, they go to battle for their futures. Moira, of Scottish descent, dreams of being an actress. Ann yearns for the education her Jewish immigrant parents provided for her brother, but not for her. Japanese American Wanda experiences firsthand the racial injustices running rampant in the United States. And Teddy, who left the Dust Bowl for sunny California, comes to startling realizations about herself as the war progresses. These women will be both buoyed and challenged by their dreams, experiencing love, loss, and everything in between. Against the backdrop of a nation gripped by fear and paranoia, Miner eloquently captures the spirit of wartime on the home front.
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All Good Women
By Valerie Miner
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Valerie Miner
All rights reserved.
Spring 1942, San Francisco
AMERICANS SURRENDER ON BATAAN RAF BOMBS LUBECK BRITISH LAND IN MADAGASCAR AMERICANS DEFEAT JAPANESE AT MIDWAY
'SHE'S GOING TO HATE this. She's going to hate us,' said Moira, her damp eyes on the faces of the two friends beside her as she steered down Borden Street. Her cheeks were flushed and her normally bouncy red hair straggled over the padded shoulders of her green polka dot dress. 'She'll never talk to us again.'
Three years, thought Moira. The four girls had shared a house in San Francisco like family for three years and now they were being split apart.
Gently, Ann squeezed Moira's chin and moved her friend's face back in the direction of traffic. 'She'll feel even worse when we don't make it alive.'
Ann's voice was low, as if she had one of her headaches. Teddy noticed that Ann's olive skin looked even darker at times like this, as if the migraine cast a shadow.
'Maybe Moi's right,' drawled Teddy, who always sat near the window when they borrowed Randy Girard's Studebaker so as not to block the view since she was the tallest of the four women. Three women, now that Wanda was being interned, arrested, imprisoned, evacuated with all the other Japanese Americans. None of the words sat well with Teddy, who was feeling especially blond today. She thought of those thin, grey men who hid behind FBI files, sidling up to the house to protect the USA from Wanda. Ridiculous, the curfew which meant she had to be home before eight o'clock every night and the order that all her people had to turn in 'contraband' such as binoculars and cameras. The orders became crazier and crazier and now this; now they were taking Wanda away.
'Moira,' scolded Ann, pointing again to the road. 'This was your idea, remember?' She spoke with affectionate exasperation. 'You were the only one clever enough to find out where the bus was leaving from.'
'It's just that Wanda can be, you know, so private,' Moira worried, 'and she's not exactly going off to college while we wave pompons.' She grew quieter. 'Where's she going, anyway?'
'I told you yesterday.' Teddy tried to steady her voice. She didn't want to be short, but Moira's frenzy left no room for anybody else to be agitated. '"An assembly center", whatever that means.' Teddy spoke directly to the two gardenias she had brought for Wanda and her mother, Mrs Nakatani. Their warm sweetness saturated the car, enveloping them all in a spring which refused to dawn this foggy April morning. If she closed her eyes and inhaled the heavy perfume, she could pretend this was all a dream, that Wanda had never left home, that they were all sleeping safely in the Victorian house on Stockton Street.
Yet, thought Teddy, this was as irrevocable as Mr Nakatani's death. Suicide, not death. She was just becoming aware of the importance of precision. Words cut sharply during a war.
It was because of his suicide that Wanda left Stockton Street to return to her family. And it was just three weeks after the funeral that the Nakatanis received the family 'evacuation' order. Teddy had seen her friend once in the last month, on the day Wanda and her brother Howard moved their family furniture into the Stockton Street basement for safekeeping, for 'the duration', whatever that meant. What was unimaginable in December when war was declared — that Wanda would be seen as an enemy — was only one part of the craziness now. Everywhere she turned Teddy saw headlines screaming 'Jap' this or 'Jap' that. 'Jap Invasion of West Coast Expected'. All San Francisco Japanese merchants were holding 'Evacuation Sales' hoping to sell their goods before the windows were smashed. Wanda told her some boys had scrawled graffiti outside her uncle's cannery, 'Rome, Berlin, Tokio' and 'Down with Slant-Eyed Spies'. Wanda said she was lucky the Nakatanis could store their furniture. Many of her friends had lost money selling precious belongings to unscrupulous second-hand dealers. So they had crammed as much furniture as possible into the basement and into Wanda's room.
Moving day had grown more painful with each load, as if they were taking things away rather than moving them in. Moira, Ann and Teddy stayed around to help. The storage turned into a funeral, each of the pallbearers silent until the tables and bed frames were laid in the cellar. Teddy remembered Wanda on the first day of typing class four years before — the shy, determined girl, so pert in her red suit. She had aged ten years these last two months.
Moira spotted the dispersement center as they passed San Angeleco Avenue. The large, gravelled lot was crowded with growling Greyhound buses. Such confusion: babies wailing and women squeezing 'just one more' parcels on to the buses, past the drivers who stood, arms across their chests, shaking their heads. Policemen hovered everywhere, watching. At the far end of the lot, one bus roared; the doors shut and it began reluctantly to roll, gorged with people and furniture and bundles of food.
'Oh, no, we're going to miss her,' shouted Moira. Frantically, she swerved Randy's car to the curb and switched off the ignition. 'They said they wouldn't leave until 10.00. It's only 9.30.'
Ann followed swiftly. 'Moira, I don't believe you. Where did you develop this abiding faith in the United States government?' She shook her head and rubbed a muscle at the base of her neck. She didn't believe herself. This wasn't the time to argue with Moira. They had to find Wanda before it was too late.
Too late. Ann thought of Uncle Aaron's last letter. They were taking Jews to camp, he said. Don't believe the newspapers. He'd heard rumors of torture and ... worse. At first Ann had thought he was exaggerating, suffering from the root paranoia that would hit anyone whose land was under siege. He was, after all, Mama's brother, the child of highly dramatic Galitian Jews. In this instance, Ann preferred the cool Frankfurt reason of her father's family. Yes, she dismissed Uncle Aaron impatiently. After all the Americans had kept diplomats in Berlin until last December. But as time passed and the next letter confirming their safe arrival in Amsterdam never came, Ann grew less and less confident of her doubt. This uncertainty was even more frightening because it made her believe that, with her crazed premonitions of terror, Mama had been right all along. Ann had to admit she was as scared of madness as she was of death. When the two of them coincided like this — when only through delusions could you see danger clearly — she was terrified. Her migraines had been terrible these last few weeks. Despite the fire splitting up her neck, it was Ann who saw Wanda first.
At a window seat, near the back of bus number five, sat Wanda, her eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to the turmoil in the parking lot and the cacophony on the bus. Likewise silent were her mother beside her as well as her sister Betty and brother Howard in the next seat forward. Their muteness raised a wall of privacy between them and the other eight families in the grim vehicle.
Wanda was thinking of Uncle Fumio burning memories of Japan — photographs, letters and diplomas — trying to create an innocence against the inevitable charges of subversion.
'Ba-ka-ta-re,' Papa had said. 'Stupid. Stupid to burn these pieces of paper. You cannot change who you are. All they need is one look. They will know your family does not come from Stockholm, Fumio.'
Papa would not destroy his documents. He waited, bitterly, for them to take him as they had arrested so many of the older Issei immigrant generation. And it was them — the FBI men, not his family — who found him, holding the note in his rigid hand. His body they could retain. But his spirit, his Japanese-American spirit, had already been evacuated elsewhere.
Since Papa's suicide, Wanda had moved as if in a trance, preparing to leave her home for the resettlement communities intended to hold tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. Sometimes she questioned what held her together. She looked over to Mama. Was there an unstated pact between them that they would not fall apart? At night, alone in bed, Wanda couldn't help wondering how her father had done it, considering where he had purchased the poison, how long he had planned his exit, how he had convinced the family to go to Sebastopol for the day, what he was thinking when he saw them off in the morning. Had the poison hurt? Was it all finished quickly? She mulled over their last evening again and again, but there had been absolutely nothing unusual. Sometimes Wanda was filled with admiration for Papa's courage. Sometimes she was furious with him for leaving them — as he had always done — to go his own way. Then, she became angry at the government for killing his pride. Lately, she had felt overcome with grief and despair. What could she do — about Papa? About the evacuation? Was she becoming like her uncle and aunt?
'Shikata ga nai,' Uncle Fumio said. 'It cannot be helped.' Each day this month, she felt stunned by the good deportment with which people accepted the move. Of course those who fought back met severe punishment. That man in Oregon who protested the curfew was thrown into solitary confinement for months. And in a way, Wanda was relieved to escape the hostility that had surrounded them since Pearl Harbor. Personally, her only persecution had been contemptuous glances in the shops and on the streetcars. But Joyce Shimasaki had been cut with flying glass from her front window. Mr Hata's nursery had been vandalized. The FBI had randomly ransacked homes for months. She did know she was glad to be with her people, apart from the Caucasians. Safe on her way to what the government described as 'havens of refuge.'
After Papa's death, the hardest part had been leaving the house on Stockton Street. She kept intending to return after they moved the furniture. But there had been a thousand delays until she realized that consciously taking leave of the house would be the ultimate violation, the real arrest. The way she had left — to tend to Mama's grief, to mourn Papa — had been a private movement in a time of deep numbness. The evacuation was an extension of that separation, spreading into a great public affliction. To leave Stockton Street fully aware that she could not return would fill her with uncontrollable rage. Instead, she telephoned. She hoped that Teddy and Moira and Ann would understand. But how could they when she, herself, did not understand? What was happening to her? To all of them? Perhaps when she awoke, the bus would have taken her back to Stockton Street. She longed to curl up on the lumpy old couch in the front room and hear Moira singing from the kitchen. She longed to step out into the small back garden and dig in the fresh, brown earth with Ann. She longed to sit quietly with Teddy at the dining room table, both of them lost in thought over steaming cups of coffee.
Wanda looked out at the gravelled lot now and remembered the stories from Moira's and Ann's parents about Ellis Island. Was being deported the same as immigrating? She should ask Emma Goldman, now there was a woman who knew both sides of the tale. Surely it looked the same. Next to bus number four, an old man was being frisked by two tall Caucasian policemen while his family stood quietly by, waiting for 'permission' to enter the bus. Over by the entrance, she watched a camera crew filming departing groups. The government was recording its own crimes. This was madness. Well, what did she expect?
Moira and Teddy raced after Ann, across the gravelled lot. Teddy noticed with dismay that the gardenias were browning on the edges where she had touched them.
They reached bus number five and waved frantically to Wanda, whose face had turned to rock. Finally Howard noticed them, grinned and swivelled to his sister. Wanda looked out and smiled thinly.
'I told you we shouldn't have come,' panted Moira, the color rising up the right side of her neck. 'She's mad at us.'
'No.' Ann spoke heavily. 'She's mourning. It's good we're here.'
'Can you come down?' Teddy shouted.
Wanda looked closer, as if staring might catch edges of an echo. Truthfully, she had heard Teddy. 'Can you come down?' Did she mean would they let her, or did she have the spirit to leave the bus, knowing she would have to climb aboard again?
'Can-you-come-down?' Teddy repeated, shaping the words carefully so Wanda might lipread.
Wanda shook her head. She stared past them, trying to re-enter the numbness of a few moments before. Oh, why had they come? How had they found the place? Of course if they hadn't come she would never have forgiven them. But she could have dealt with that later. Now their presence forced her to open up, to see them, to hear the familiar voices, to feel all the loss and confusion and anger that she was trying to evade in order to survive in one piece.
The bus sputtered into ignition although one family was still loading suitcases. The old mother spoke rapidly in high-pitched Japanese to her two sons who were approaching with a bulging duffle bag, marked with the family number.
Ann waved to Wanda, her left hand in a wiping motion.
Moira blew kisses to Wanda, Howard and Betty. Mrs Nakatani huddled in a shadow.
Suddenly all heads on the bus turned toward a tall figure in the aisle.
'It's Teddy,' shouted Moira, amused. 'Look, Ann.'
Inside the bus, an astonished driver caught sight of a blond head in his rearview mirror. 'Hey, hey, how'd you get on? You can't be in here.'
'I was helping Mama-san with her parcel,' drawled Teddy, nodding to the old woman who had been calling nervously in the yard. 'And I came to say good-bye to some friends.'
'We're leavin' any minute.' He raised his voice and stared at her firmly through the mirror. 'So you'd better make fast farewells or you're off with the rest of 'em.' He had an Oklahoma twang and Teddy noticed he looked like her brother Virgil around the eyes.
She turned to Mrs Nakatani and bowed. Then she pinned the gardenia on the woman's beige wool coat.
Wanda fought back tears as her mother nodded stiffly and said, 'Thank you, young lady.'
But Wanda could not stand and come so far as the aisle. Teddy reached over, squeezed Wanda's hand and gave her the other flower. Teddy sniffed, wiping her navy sweater sleeve across her eyes. 'Bye, Wanda. Will you write to us when you can?'
'Yes.' Wanda struggled to contain an affectionate smile. If she didn't contain it, who knew what would flood out. She would write about this in her diary tonight; then she would sort out the emotions.
'I mean it, lady,' barked the driver, opening and shutting the door several times as if flexing his muscles.
'Bye, then,' said Teddy. She winked at young Betty and rubbed Howard's shoulder, upset with herself for not bringing them presents, also. She strode down the aisle, too choked to look back at Wanda.
The bus moved the minute Teddy stepped down. So she didn't have a chance to join the others in shouting good-bye.
Wanda looked out to Ann and Moira, waving back slowly.
Then, as the bus passed Teddy, in spite of herself, she blew a kiss.
The three women stood in silence, watching the Greyhound haltingly follow another bus off the lot and then down Borden Street.
Ann and Moira turned toward the car. Teddy held back a moment, with an urge to wave to all the people on the remaining buses. Eventually she caught up with them.
'I know you'll say it's naive,' Moira was talking to Ann, 'but I can't swallow my fury about the unfairness, the bloody injustice! I mean what would Wanda or poor Mr Nakatani — of all people — have done to "threaten the national security"?'
Teddy found it odd to refer to Wanda's father as 'poor Mr Nakatani'. He seemed the toughest person she had ever met.
'Exist.' Ann answered in a voice that was colder than she intended because she admired Moira's indignation. She wanted to say more, but the headache had taken over now, with nausea as well as excruciating pain.
'You're not naive,' exclaimed Teddy. 'You're a good person.'
'That's the trouble,' Ann cut through. 'Goodness is worth nothing now. We're all so innocent. We're all good women.'
Excerpted from All Good Women by Valerie Miner. Copyright © 1987 Valerie Miner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Valerie Miner is the award-winning author of fourteen books, including novels, short fiction collections, and nonfiction. Miner’s work has appeared in the Georgia Review, TriQuarterly, Salmagundi, New Letters, Ploughshares, the Village Voice, Prairie Schooner, the Gettysburg Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the Women’s Review of Books, the Nation, and other journals. Her stories and essays have been published in more than sixty anthologies. A number of her pieces have been dramatized on BBC Radio 4. Her work has been translated into German, Turkish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, French, Swedish, and Dutch. She has won fellowships and awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Jerome Foundation, the Heinz Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, Fundación Valparaiso, the Australia Council Literary Arts Board, and numerous other organizations. She has received Fulbright fellowships to Tunisia, India, and Indonesia. Winner of a Distinguished Teaching Award, she has taught for over twenty-five years and is now a professor and artist in residence at Stanford University. She travels internationally giving readings, lectures, and workshops. Her website is www.valerieminer.com.
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