A Pair of Shoes
A story of modern marriage
NEWLIN B. WILDES
IT WAS AT the station early in the morning, so early that her eyes were still not really open, blinking in the bright fresh sunlight, that Johnny Garland turned to her in the front seat, kissing her quickly, glancingly, with a mumbled automatic “ ’Bye; see you at the fiveten,” already half out of the little car; and she said, “Johnny, wait a minute,” hurriedly before he could get away; and he half turned, waiting, his blond head at the car window.
He was so tall, standing there, so tall and blond with his lean face very serious and his hat tilted low over his blue eyes, tilted just the way he had worn it at college, and his shoulders so very broad under the grey flannel that draped away easily and was only a little worn at the cuffs. Just a very little worn.
“What is it?” he asked; and she said haltingly, “Johnny, I’ll have to have some money. I . . and he frowned, glancing for the train that was not yet in sight.
“Gee, Linda, I ” reaching for his wallet, not meeting her eyes, “how much do you need? I’ve only got five dollars,” and she could see the bills crumpled in the fold.
“Let me have two,” she said, her voice very low because there were other cars parked near-by. She had been going to ask for five, she needed five for stockings and a wave and a manicure, but this would do. It would have to do; and she took it from him, tucking it into her pocketbook on the seat beside her, glancing up to see him already stepping to the platform, not looking back at her.
She swung the car away quickly, a small, straightshouldered figure there behind the wheel, her face delicately sensitive, finely featured, beneath the crisp dark swirling curls, a very lovely face marred only by the frown that creased above dark eyes and drooped the corners of her vivid mouth.
She hated to ask Johnny for money, she had always hated to, even in those days that now seemed so long ago, those days seven years ago when they had first been married. But it had been different then, everything had been different, with a closeness between them, a comradeship, that had made everything so gay, so bright and fresh and eager; with so many plans that they had had together, she and he, so many things that they had been going to do together, always together, and not enough time, not nearly enough time, to do them all. Money hadn’t seemed so important then, it hadn’t mattered.
But all that had been long ago, so long ago that it seemed never to have happened, long before things had begun
slowly to tighten up around them, to overwhelm them. Before little Pat had been born, with the bills so much heavier than they had counted on. They had struggled under those bills for the next year or two, with the raises not coming as they had hoped, and with other bills piling up until it seemed that there was nothing but worry any more, with all the romance, all the fun, all the glamor, crushed out, forgotten.
That was what had happened to them, to her and Johnny, seeing other people go ahead faster than they had, leaving them behind, dissatisfied, tired, bickering. Slowly but surely they had turned, each of them, to other things, to outside interests, outside friends, not sufficient to each other any more, not relying on each other as they had once in those days which seemed so long ago. And she remembered all at once a chance remark heard at a party, that “the seventh year was the one to get through; that was the one that told the tale”-—and perhaps, with a wry little smile, perhaps it was.
AT THE post office now she got out, slender and trim in her clinging dress of red, her head held high, defiantly almost, only to turn away disconsolately when there was nothing in the mail, nothing but bills, the same bills they got every month. Most of them had little notes which said, “Please” or “We must ask.” She was stuffing them into her bag and was turning away when someone close behind her said, “Hello, Linda,” with forced, early-morning brightness, and Kay Brackette was smiling down at her, smiling coolly with that little hint of mockery glinting in grey blue eyes. A tall girl, Kay Brackette, smooth and svelte and graceful, with something always left unsaid behind her words—your friend but not always your friend.
“Don’t forget,” she said, “that you and Johnny,” with a careful slurring over of his name, “are coming for dinner tonight. The whole crowd and”—eyes going through her mail “and Kirt Knowlton, just for an extra man.”
And Linda Garland said, “Grand, darling, we’ll be there,” very evenly, and wanting with a sudden almost overwhelming impulse to laugh out loud and say, “It’s all so perfect, darling, so transparent—Kirt Knowlton for me, so that you and Johnny can slip off together. All so nicely arranged and planned. Why don’t you just say so and get it over with?” Instead, she smiled sweetly and got into the little car that was shabby and bent, with the nicked mudguards and the rust on the bumpers.
Linda drove slowly homeward, thinking now of Kirt Knowlton, thinking thoughts that drove away the weariness, the boredom, and brought a brightness to her eye, a sparkle. It was fun always, seeing him, exciting. She wondered why sometimes, why seeing him did that for her.
Perhaps, she thought, perhaps it was because he was older, more mature, with that easy poise, that sureness which comes from having money and from having had it always; that and because he talked to her of scenes and happenings which were new and interesting and so far apart now from her life.
Because too he remembered the little things, little things that weren’t important probably but that she craved and drank in as a parched plant drinks in water, thankfully, eagerly. Things like noticing her hair and any new little swirl or twist in the way she fixed it, and remembering her flowers—he always had a corsage of them at her place when they dined at his house—remembering that she liked caviar in tiny blocks of ice because she had seen it that way
in the movies once. All those little things he could do because he had the money and because he thought to. It was going back seven, eight years, and there was a thrill again.
She thought about him several times throughout the day throughout the afternoon at the bridge club where she, endured a barrage of gossip and misplays.
JOHNNY GARLAND was already at home when she arrived after her late appointment at the hairdresser. He was stretched out in a big chair, his long legs half across the floor, his head back as if he were too tired to hold it up.
“We’re not going out tonight, are we?” he said, eyeing her smooth coiffure. She said “Yes,” shortly. “Kay Brackette is having a dinner. Didn’t you,” the irony very light in her voice, “didn’t you remember?” He sighed, closing his eyes.
“I’d forgotten,” he said listlessly, and she wanted suddenly, involuntarily, to say, “Well, why do we go then? Why don’t we stay here just by ourselves?” but not saying it, quite. And then small Patricia came into the room, looking at him hesitantly, questioningly, a book half behind her back.
She was a quiet little thing, Patricia, just under six, with dark thick curls that Linda Garland never could seem to keep brushed, and long legs that were scratched and scarred and brown, and seemed much longer than they really were because her dresses were outgrown and ridiculously short. Really absurdly short, with a bright band of material at the hem where Linda Garland had let them down. New dresses were so expensive, and Patricia outgrew them so fast that it was silly, really, hr keep getting them. Particularly when you never seemed to have the money. A sensitive little thing she was, Patricia, with her big dark eyes seeming never quite sure of anyone, even of her father and mother, hesitating always on the threshold of friendship yet looking for it eagerly.
She stood there in the doorway now, her eyes going from one to the other of them, and then she said, “Will you read this to me, daddy?” holding out the book; and Johnny Garland shifted heavily in his chair, glancing at his watch.
“Gee, Pat,” he said, “I can’t now, honey; I’ve got to dress and go out for dinner. Tomorrow night maybe;” and she turned and walked away quietly, saying nothing.
It was always that way, Linda Garland thought with a sudden pang, always something that they had to do, or that they were too tired, or that it was time to go to bed now. Always like that.
But it was half past six and she went upstairs to dress, getting out the organdie that was candy-striped in yellow and brown. It brought out the lights in her dark eyes and the glimmer in her dusky hair. Kirt Knowlton liked that dress, he had said so, and perhaps the slippers would do again. They would have to do. They were scuffed a bit and faded but—and she smiled to herself wryly again because it was the same old story—no money for new ones. Not this week.
THEY WERE the last to arrive, she and Johnny. He had driven over silently with his eyes straight ahead on the road and the sullen little lift to his jaw. All of the crowd were there already. The same old crowd that had been at all these parties for years past and would be for years to come, with nothing to discuss except themselves, and nothing much to say even about that.
Nobody new, nobody very bright, nobody—and then Linda saw him standing in a corner talking to Luke Brackette, standing tall, so perfectly dressed, his face lean, angular, a little quizzical, half smiling beneath his thick brushed, grey-tinged hair. She looked away quickly so that no one would see their eyes meet; everyone, she felt, was watching to see it.
And suddenly she felt lifted up. exhilarated, keen, as if now there were something worth exerting herself for, something inspiring. It didn’t hurt, now, to watch Kay Brackette ease her way gradually to Johnny's side, then steer him slowly to the door and out onto the terrace, very casually and walking far apart. Even that didn’t matter now, of course it didn’t; she could smile and she did smile, making it very bright and gay because she knew that it brought the color into her cheeks, turning and saying something, anything, to dull Bob Evans, knowing that Kirt Knowlton was watching her.
She would have no cocktails, she told herself, because she wanted to be able to talk to Kirt seriously, the way they liked to talk; and soon he came over, drifting but with a sure purpose, and sat down beside her.
“Hello,” he said, clipping his words the way he always did, and then, his lips scarcely moving. “I haven’t seen you for two days,” making it sound very accusing. And she said, “I know,” hoping that it wasn’t too eager, and sank back, feeling relaxed and comfortable and happy, listening to his voice, watching his face as he talked.
“I want to see you tonight,” he said suddenly when Bob Evans had moved away, “by ourselves.” Then Kay Brackette came back through the terrace door with Johnny just behind her. She threw a snatch of conversation, “I’ll have Henry clip the shoots tomorrow,” loudly to the crowd, as if that had been what they had been talking about. As if, Linda Garland thought with a thin smile, they had been talking about plants. And as if she cared.
Supper was buffet with groups of four at card tables, and they could not talk then. It was not until later, not until eleven almost, with half the crowd serious over contract and the others grouped about the piano, that Luke Brackette stood in the doorway, speaking angrily.
“Confound it, Kay,” he said, “I told you to have the maids keep those ice trays filled. Now there isn’t any ice.” and Kirt Knowlton turned quickly.
“Let me get you some,” he said. “I’m just around the corner and it won’t take a minute.” starting for the door over Luke Brackette’s feeble protest.
And then, “I ought to have some company though,” easily, smiling. “How about you, Linda? A little air? and the conversation ceased suddenly, abruptly, like a clock that has stopped ticking in a quiet room.
She could sense the eyes and ears waiting for her, with not a head turning, as. holding herself very straight, defiantly almost, she moved after him. “I’d love to,” she said. “Will I need a coat?” and then she was outside, and the air was soft and cool on her hot cheeks and Kirt Knowlton was holding open the door of his roadster, smiling down at her.
“Perhaps,” he said, “perhaps I shouldn’t have made it quite so evident, asking you;” and she smiled up at him quickly. “I didn’t mind.” she said, her voice low as he got in beside her.
His house was only half a mile away, and he drove slowly out the road that ran along the shore, with the waves
swishing up just beyond in the darkness and a silver shifting glaze stretching out and out, far out to the moon low over the water. They said nothing, either of them, the big car rumbling along easily, and Linda put her head back against the smooth sinky leather, not looking at him, sensing him there close beside her, wondering just what it was that he would say to her and how he would say it, and only just a little bit afraid. Only a very little bit.
THEN THEY were there, and he was holding the door open for her and she was stepping into the long cool hallway that ran through to the lawns beyond, a soft dull white hallway with rugs thick underfoot and a low bowl of flowers, fresh clipped, on the table, and everything so neat and perfectly kept. It was not at all like her own hallway, always a clutter of coats and sweaters and rubbers and golf clubs no matter how frequently she picked them up.
No, nothing like that; this was the way that things should be and that they could be if only you had servants and the money to keep things up. This was a house as she would have it, and she caught a quick glimpse of herself in the mirror and her eyes were very bright and her hair just lightly blown, very lightly, from the breeze.
“Won’t you sit down?” he said.
She sank into a deep corner of the divan that flanked one corner of the low-beamed living room; it was so quiet there, so far away. Then she felt his eyes upon her and he was looking down at her with a steady little smile in his eyes, and she answered it half questioning! y.
“I like to look at you, sitting there.” he said. “I think about seeing you here, in my house.” Her eyes broke away from his, going around the room. “I love it,” she said. There were no worn spots on chairs that should be reupholstered, and no glass rings on the tables, all the furniture blending in so perfectly and nothing that just had to appear because it had been a wedding present or because an aunt had cast it off or because it had been cheap.
“Linda,” he said, “tell me something—do you like parties like this one tonight? Really like them-?” And she shrugged with a little shudder of distaste.
“No,” she said very honestly, “I don’t like them, I loathe them;” and he gave a quick short little nod as if he had been sure.
“I thought you’d say that. I hoped you would—because that’s the way I feel too. I’ve felt somehow that you and I would like the same things. Exciting things, gay things, Linda. Cabana parties at Cannes, waiters skating onto the ice with champagne at the little inns in the Tyrol, Noel Coward first nights —and people, Linda. People who Continued on page 34
A Pair of Shoes
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
are bright and stimulating and alive.”
He looked down at her hopefully, eagerly, and for a minute she said nothing, thoughts whirling through her head, for he had told her so many things that remained unspoken. She looked up at him, shyly almost, as if she wanted really to see him to understand him. And then she smiled a little half smile because she did like him, she liked him very much, even—even if he weren’t like Johnny.
Johnny it caught her quickly. “Johnny,” she whispered involuntarily, almost to herself, and Kirt Knowlton said quietly:
“You and Johnny aren’t getting along very well, Linda,” not questioningly but as if merely saying something that everybody knew; and she nodded slowly. “We we don’t seem to be getting anywhere together.’
And then it all came to her suddenly, what she was doing, what she was thinking, for although he had only spoken casually of cabana parties and waiters on the ice, lie knew she would understand that he was offering her all those gay exciting things and himself as well, and she was afraid.
“1 don’t go around breaking up homes, Linda,” he said quietly. “But sometimes homes break up of themselves.”
“Only if people let them,” answered Linda in a small dry whisper.
“But if you and Johnny aren’t making a go of it—divorce, for instance—I’ve thought about it a great deal. You think about it, Linda;” and as she got up quickly, saying, “I—I don’t know, Kirt; I’d have to think about it all by myself,” his hand went out to hers for a quick second. “Of course,” he said gently.
And they were halfway out the drive before she remembered suddenly what they had come for—the ice-and she sat in the car while he went back for it, his I shoulders broad against the lighted doorway. Almost, she thought, almost as broad as Johnny’s. Johnny had such broad shoulders.
IT WAS LATE the next morning when she awoke. The sun shone brightly through the faded droopy curtains, and Johnny was gone, his bed empty, his clothes scattered over the floor and the chairs, the way he always left them. She lay there for minutes, drowsily, not remembering. And then all at once her mind was clear and she did remember, suddenly with a rush, and it was all very wonderful, so wonderful that she pulled the covers up close around her throat and lay there thinking about it, wondering whether it was something that she would just think about or whether she would really do it, whether she would really go away, go to Reno perhaps, and then come back somewhere to Kirt and to everything that they would do together just as he had told hellast night.
And whether the waiters really did skate out on the ice to bring you champagne, and that Johnny didn’t like champagne because it was an acquired taste, like olives. But that didn’t matter, she remembered, because Johnny wouldn’t be there. Just she and Kirt. And Pat. Of ! course, Pat.
And then the door opened hesitantly, inch by inch, and Pat was there, peering in, her eyes very wide and quite worried because often it was dangerous to come I into their room when her father was sleep| ing late. Very, very dangerous. Linda could see her mind working, remembering I all that, and then she called, “Come in,
I darling,” and Pat was beside her in a rush.
I Linda" caught her close, holding her in an ! armful of sheets and blanket, holding her ! very close because Pat was hers, really ! hers, and would be always, no matter who I else there was. Of that she could be sure
anyway. It was the only one thing, just then, that she could be sure of, really sure, holding Pat at arm’s length and peering down into the small face with the nose that still turned up just a little and the teeth that simply must be straightened before the second ones came in.
And Linda wanted suddenly, overwhelmingly, to talk to Pat, to tell her things, everything, and to have her help to decide, but that was impossible of course, silly, and she got up impulsively, throwing back the covers.
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do, darling,” she said. “We’ll get the car, you and I, and we’ll drive way off somewhere and have a picnic on the sand, all by ourselves.” There were squeals of delight because, “We haven’t done that once all summer, mummy, not once.”
She had not meant to drive that way, really, but she found herself taking the road past Kirt Knowlton’s house, and he was there on the lawn, all in white and waving a brown arm at them, sky high, beckoning them in eagerly. But Linda shook lier head and kept on resolutely. She couldn’t see him this morning, not yet, not until she had had a chance to think things out; and small Patricia said, “Why don’t we go in and say hello to Uncle Kirt?” and Linda said, “Not now, darling,” and then, “You like Uncle Kirt, don’t you?” and Patricia nodded emphatically.
“He gives me nice things,” she said. “He gave me Rosy.” Rosy was the large doll with the real hair, and Linda looked down at her daughter on the seat beside her. It would be all right, that part of it, she thought, Pat and Kirt. They’d get along.
But it was not until later, much later, when she had lain for hours in the lee of a far-off remote dune, and when the long cool shadows of the setting sun were reaching out across the sands—it was not until then that she could decide, and then it was all clear and straight and definite in her mind. All save for one thing. She had to know about that one thing; she couldn’t make the move, not irrevocably, until she knew.
If those wonderful days she and Johnny had had together years ago could ever come back, if they could do and plan things for themselves and Pat alone, and find their pleasure by themselves and not outside, not always just with people and with things to do, then that was something worth waiting for, worth striving for, dwarfing all else.
That was the thing she had to know; and there was only one person, just one, just Johnny Garland, who could tell her if those days would come back ever or if they could never be recaptured. If they could never be again, then there was nothing. Nothing to hold her.
HE WAS at home when they got back, Johnny was, sitting in his big chair behind the paper, and he said “Hello” bleakly to Linda’s greeting, his face motionless, solid. When Pat had gone to get her supper Linda sat on the divan, sat there trying so hard to think how she could talk to him, how she could ask him, make him understand. She could see his face and his blond head over his paper, his hair sun-bleached as it was always, and the little lines that were new in these past few years, the little lines of worry and dissatisfaction, tired little lines; and she hoped, hoped more than anything, that she could make him see. could touch him.
Her eyes were intent to his and he sensed them and looked up suddenly. “Well?” he said. His voice was heavy and flat and cold, as if she were a stranger sitting there; and she got up quickly, moving away.
“Nothing,” she said, “nothing.” He
gave lier a quick glance and a shrug, retiring again behind his paper. She thought— not now, later perhaps, after dinner—and left the room.
It was a silent meal, with Johnny eating steadily, eyes straight ahead, saying nothing as the maid cleared the table. Then, with a mumbled word, he vanished toward the living room, reappearing seconds later at the front door, his hat pulled low over his eyes.
She half rose, Linda did. “Johnny, where are you going?” wanting only to stop him. Pie hesitated. Then his eyes were on hers, defiantly, stony, and he said, “I’m going over to the Brackettes’, if that matters.” The thought clutched at her heart—perhaps it’s he who’s leaving me, perhaps he wants to get away—and for a second she could say nothing, paralyzed.
Then: “But, Johnny, I want to talk
with you; I have to talk with you; I must, Johnny.” There was no flicker of feeling in his face or in his eyes.
“What about?” he said shortly, and she got up. “Come in here, Johnny,” she said, half pleading, and he followed her slowly, reluctantly.
“What is it?” he said, not sitting down; and she faced him, standing very slim and straight and erect, her eyes wide and very serious. Then she spoke and the words weren’t the words that she wanted, not the ones that she hoped would come; it was wrong, all wrong, but she had started now.
“Johnny,” she said, trying, searching, “Johnny, can’t we—oh, Johnny, this all seems so futile, so far apart, so drifting farther and farther from each other. Can’t we stop, Johnny? Can’t we stop and then start all over again? Can't we? Because, Johnny, I don’t know where we’re going now, where we’re headed. Do you?” stopping and waiting, breathless almost, for his answer.
He stood there, not looking at her, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the door-jamb, and then his head went up and there was a queer twisted little smile on his lips. Pie said, “Sure, I can tell you,” and she knew suddenly that she had failed, “I can tell you, easy—we’re heading right for the sheriff and the poor debtors’ court and -and all that goes with it. Didn’t,” his smile mocking now, “didn’t you know that? I thought everybody in town knew that—Kirt Knowlton and all the rest.” She felt the blood rushing into her cheeks, and that was strange because she was cold, suddenly very cold and limp and tired. She had tried and it wasn’t any use; there was no spark there now between them, not any more, not ever again. It was over now—all over.
And then there was a voice at the head of the stairs, a small voice, shrill, the words tumbling over each other. “Daddy? I just remembered when I was in bed just now that - that tomorrow is the day that the parents—that you and mummy are supposed to come and watch us at the dancing school. They’ll all be there, all of them, and and can you come? Would you? You’ve never been there,” with a peering, hopeful silence; and Johnny Garland hesitated there in the doorway, half frowning, with Linda Garland’s eyes on his, and then he turned, speaking up the stairs, trying not to make his voice too gruff.
“I don’t know, Pat. I can’t promise. Maybe, if—if I’m down here . . .’’then sliding hurriedly out the door as if he couldn’t get away too soon, as if all these things, these entanglements, these pleas, were painful to him, something that he wanted only to avoid.
Linda Garland stood there motionless, unable to move, hearing the springs squeak gently as small Patricia got back slowly, disappointedly, into bed, hearing the little old car start and grind down the driveway and out into the street with the groaning clank and bump over the hole that she must remember to have filled.
And then she smiled to herself, a drab dreary, thin little smile, because that didn’t matter any more, and because she realized all at once that now there was
nothing to hold her; nothing to keep her from going to the telephone and calling Kirt Knowlton and telling him what he was waiting eagerly to hear, telling him that she was free now, that she had decided.
She could do that now, she could that at any minute that she wanted to, and she turned and went upstairs slowly, as if each step were a high burden, and into her room, to stand heavily, silently, with one hand on the window frame. To stand there thinking that it would all be wonderful from now on, with all the things that they would do together, she and Kirt, so wonderful that there was no reason why she should be crying. No reason at all.
QPIE COULD have called him the next O morning, the morning that broke so early and dragged so slowly and was only nine o’clock when it should have been eleven, and the telephone right there in the corner, so ready, so waiting. But she didn’t call him because it was noon finally and lunch time, and then it was two and time to get Pat ready for the dancing lesson. .
“I’ll dress her this time. Nina,” to the maid ; and it was the first time that she had done that for ever so long, the first time that she had not been too busy somehow, away or resting.
“Which dress do you wear usually, darling?” and there was a puzzled little frown on the small face with the turned-up nose.
“Well,” speculatively, “I don’t know, really, mummy—this one, I guess, usually. It's—it's the newest.” And Linda held it up, looking at it, and it was faded white almost, with only faint little patterns where the flowers had been, gay and bright, when it was new. Very faded and not crisp and fresh, and not at all the kind of dress that a little girl should wear to dancing school. Not and be proud of.
And then she sighed, Linda did. and held the dress for small Pat to get into, because there was nothing else that she could do— it was too late now to get another one.
So she said, “It looks very pretty, Pat, really it does.” Pat said nothing, standing there, and then Linda said, “And now shoes, darling, your party shoes.” Pat said, “These,” pointing a curled-up toe; “sometimes Nina shines them for me,” and they were the battered and scuffed shoes she wore at play. Linda said, “But these aren’t your party shoes, darling—the patent leather ones, I mean, the slippers.”
Pat replied very simply, “I haven’t any. They’re too small, the last year’s ones; they hurt my toes,” and they were. Linda found them in the closet, far in the back, dusty and cracked, scuffed, with one strap gone entirely.
For a minute she knelt there on her knees at the closet door, with one worn-out slipper in her hand, and wanting somehow, suddenly, to cry, and trying not to, looking up at Pat who stared down at her gravely. And then she said, “Do you want to go this afternoon, Pat? Do you really care about it?” hopefully, and small Patricia nodded emphatically.
“Yes,” she said, “I do. This is the big lesson with the fathers and mothers,” and Linda got up, unsmiling.
“All right, darling,” calmly, as if nothing were wrong, “come down and we’ll— we’ll shine these up and then wee’ll go, you and I.” She found a ribbon that was bright and gay, very bright, and she sat very close to Pat in the car, very close beside the small feet that stuck straight out into the gear levers.
IT WAS IN a hall, the dancing school, with two rows of chairs, prim and straight, on each side, and at the back a place for the parents and friends to sit. Linda let little Pat go, and found a seat near the door away from the others. Some of the parents she knew, several of them, but she wanted to be by herself, where she could watch, looking at the class of twenty or more children—the girls all starched and proper and very conscious of the eyes upon
them and the pleats in their frocks; the small boys, slicked of hair and tight of collar and uncomfortable. There were snickers and whispers and much poking of sides and incipient wrestling until the dancing teacher arrived and quelled them.
Older than Pat most of the children were, and she sat almost by herself at the end of the girls’ line of chairs, speaking to no one, very serious. But when the music started, a piano tinkling, Linda could see her eyes brighten, her small foot keeping time until a boy came across the floor, urged by the teacher, and then they danced i together, hop slide and change step, very j jerkily but very gravely, slipping a little at the corners, elbows pumping, eyes on their feet carefully.
And she smiled to herself, sitting there alone by the door, Linda Garland did, because it was all very pretty really, and she had been silly to worry about shoes and the dress because those things didn’t matter, not to small children.
That was what she thought, sitting there for the first half hour, and then there was a lull in the music and dancing, a rest period, with the children sitting in the straight-lined chairs and whispering to each other across their partners, and suddenly she sensed someone in the doorway just behind her and looked up quickly to see Johnny Garland standing there, his hat in his hands, his eyes taking in the scene before him with a little half smile on ! his lips as if it were all very cunning of j course, and as if he were not quite sure what j to do about being there.
And Linda smiled at him, questioningly,
I welcomingly, with a rush of feeling glad he was there, a surprised, happy feeling. She moved over for him to sit down but he did not respond, acknowledging her only with a slight bob of his blond head, his eyes still straight ahead; and she felt pushed aside, repulsed, her smile a little vacant, her attention going quickly back to the scene before her.
For there was something wrong, something going on among the children in the front row of straight-backed chairs, among those children in their finery and their twinkling shoes. All the shoes were so trim and neat and slickly gleaming—all but one pair at the end of the row, and they seemed by contrast even shabbier than they really I were. Yes, there was something wrong j and jarring, hard to define at first, but then j you realized it had to do with those sorrowj ful little shoes. You knew it perhaps because that one small figure was sitting so very erect—little Pat, looking directly ahead, her chin up, a slow flush burning her cheeks. And then you saw a cruel childish finger pointing at the scuffed shoes that were so pathetic in the way they were drawn tightly back from the twinkling row of prim-crossed slippers as if they had no right there. You saw the rigid finger of the girl three chairs away and you saw the complacent smiles, the sidelong glances that swept carelessly and stabbed and passed on from small Pat’s shoes. And then there was a titter—oh, ever so faint, ever so quickly stifled—but enough to I make a slight thing very cruel and terrible and infinitely tragic.
Linda’s heart seemed frozen in ice; she I could scarcely breathe; she was tormented j by a profound and loving pity. She could ! see only her little girl sitting all alone, so remotely alone there in the crowd, sitting with eyes blinking very fast and her hands rigid at her sides; and she wanted more than i anything else in the world to go over to the j child and take her in her arms, with nothing else mattering. But she didn’t do that. It would only make it all worse, so she sat j there, white-faced, wanting to cry. Then she turned involuntarily, blindly, toward 1 Johnny Garland. But he was moving away. Leaving her. Leaving them both.
BUT IT WAS over finally, with the last curtsies and shuffled bows, and Linda made her smile very bright—“You were
fine, darling Í was so proud of you”-—getting away q ickly and into the car, driving home with i. nail Patricia silent on the seat beside her, sombre, thinking her own thoughts.
And she decided, Linda did, that this was the time, right now, that she would go over and see Kirt Knowlton and tell him and not delay any longer, not put it off. Right now.
She was before the mirror in the living room, stopping only for a final touch to her hair, a line to her lips, when Johnny came in, hesitating at the doorway when he saw her, looking as if he wanted to speak, a white cardboard box, more oblong than square, under one arm. She turned, her face a mask, telling nothing, until his eyes wavered under her gaze, shifting, and he said, “Where’s Pat?” and Linda said, “Upstairs, I think,” very evenly, then adding curiously, “Why?”
He started uncertainly, stopping and swinging toward her. “Here,” he said, his voice gruff, embarrassed, eyes not meeting hers, “here, you give her this,” handing Linda the box.
And as he did so the cover slipped from it sideways, and inside, beneath the tissue paper, was a pair of dancing shoes, tiny and gleaming in their patent leather brightness, very handsome little shoes with shiny metal buckles.
Her eyes clung to them, dimming suddenly, with a tightening at her throat, and he said, “They’re the best they had down in the village; probably won’t fit anyway,” starting away once more; and she looked up quickly and said just one word, only one word, and very softly, “Johnny!” but it was enough because, hesitating for only a second, he was beside her, close beside her, his voice gruff but very tender in her hair.
“Aw, gee, honey ...” and that was all, that was all there had to be for minutes, for long precious minutes that Linda could never forget, never did forget. And then he was speaking again, his voice low still but packed with things he had to say.
“I didn’t get it, Linda. I was miles off— miles. I didn’t see until this afternoon, there at the dancing, that what we—that what I anyway—ought to be doing was to be giving Pat a break and a good time and a little attention, instead of, well, instead of just tearing around ourselves all the time and letting things, little troublesome trivial things, get us down. That she’s the most important thing, really, she and you too. I was missing all that;” and Linda Garland’s face went up to his, smiling now, trying to smile so very happily.
“And I was missing it too, Johnny. I was worse than you, really I was. I—”
“Perhaps,” he said, “perhaps we both were. But not any more. We’ll cut out all this running around and live the way we ought to, and things will straighten out for us, I know they will. Maybe,” with sudden inspiration, “maybe it would be better if we moved away from here, rrjoved to some other town.”
But Linda shook her head. “That isn’t it, Johnny. All towns, all places are the same, more or less. It’sit was just us,
Minutes later he laughed, really as if he could laugh now, aloud and deeply, at something that was past, something that was all over.
“Gee,” he said, “this is grand, being, well, sort of together again. You know,” looking down at her, “you know, I thought for a while you were really serious about that guy Knowlton.” Her laugh was free now too, and very joyous.
“How could I be, Johnny? He’s missed all this, all these struggles and worries that we’ve gone through and that we’ll come out of now, together. Why,” eyes very bright, “why bringing home a pair of shoes wouldn’t mean a thing to him, Johnny—not a thing except—except just stopping at a store.”