Little Miss Vitamin D
THERE WAS a full-length mirror in Nancy Van Raalte’s bedroom. Once, standing before it, appraising herself, she said mournfully: "You have plenty of sex but no appeal for the right man, at any rate.”
The right man was David Mercer, M.D. He was close by. He had a suite across the hall. Their doors faced each other. Each had an office and living quarters. He was a general practitioner and she a consulting dietitian. For him, however, she was general handyman when needed. He imposed. And she jumped when he lifted a finger. She kept telling herself that she wouldn't put up with it, but she always did. His office girl was a moron, he said. He had to have someone else. And she was it.
He was what made her heart leap. She loved every crisp curl of his brown hair and every gesture of his long fingers. For him she was just someone to order about, and it didn’t matter how much work of her own she had to do when he wanted something done. She might lx* in the midst of writing diets that had to be completed at once, but he would come in and snatch her away. Sometimes it was to help hold a child who wouldn’t lx nice while the doctor put in stitches. Sometimes it was to make a live-mile hop to the other side of the city to act as nurse during his visit. Once he left her at such a place overnight, and she thought he had his nerve. But she never complained. He might have walked on her quite literally and left the imprint of his heel. and she wouldn’t have complained.
There was only one thing she was terribly afraid of, and that was that some day he would decide to get married to someone and ask her to arrange the wedding business. This sounds silly, but she had got to the stage where she never knew what he might ask her to do. 1 le would certainly have asked her anything he would ask a sister, and she groaned when she realized that that was exactly the way he treated her like a sister.
He was always on the go. He had a large practice for a young man. although they didn’t pay their bills very well. His waiting room was always filled during office hours, and after he was done if the m<xxi was right and there were no calls to make he would come striding across the corridor and ring her bell: tum tiddy-um tum-turn tutu; and come barging in. hollering for tea and cakes for an exhausted, starving man what needs tiding over till suppertime. And then, like as not, he would stay to supper. too. Oh, he had his nerve.
She didn't mind all this: she would have put up with it without limit: but when this Luetta Starling person stepped into the picture, that settled everything and she wouldn’t stand for it any longer.
ON A CERTAIN day in February, a bright red coupé drove up to the d<x>r of the apartment house and out got a very magnificent jxrson in sleek furs. She was a tall, gorgeous, hateful creature. She was greeted by Dr. Mercer, who hastened, actually ran, out of the house into the bitter cold without hat or coat. The gorgeous person, without regard for propriety, flung her arms about David Mercer
and gave him a lingering kiss.
Nancy, at her desk by the window, flung her pencil to the floor and broke its point. Dr. Mercer and the gorgeous creature entered the building.
Half an hour later he came barging in with his hat on and haste bristling all over him. Nancy sulked, but he paid no attention.
"Nancy, call up the theatre or an agency and get me two tickets for ‘Jezebel’ for tonight, will you? I’m in a hurry now. Just had someone drop in on me an old friend.”
“So I noticed,” she remarked sourly. The doctor cocked a curious, surprised glance at her.
“Better get them about the ninth row if you can,” he said. “See you later.”
He was gone. Nancy flung down the telephone book and jumped on it. “ Jezebel !’ ” she exclaimed. “I’ll get him tickets for ‘Jezebel !’ What does he think I am - an office girl? He can’t order me around like that—kissing what drove up in a fire-engine. I’ll show him!”
They had two good seats in the ninth row. They would hold them at the box office for Dr. Mercer. She worked savagely on diets all evening and sulked over a glass of hot milk before turning in at one o’clock. At two her doorbell rang.
She leaped out of bed and ran out. ‘‘Who is it?” she demanded through the closed door.
“It's I.” said Dr. Mercer. "Let me in.”
“I won’t.” she declared warmly. “I’ve gone to bed.” “Well, get up,” he returned. “I’ve an emergency and I’ve got to have you. I've been trying for ten minutes to get a nurse on the phone and can’t. You’ve got to come. And you may have to be a good girl and stay overnight. They’ll get someone else in the morning. Come on. Step on it. I’m in a hurrv !”
“Very much please. Hey. Nancy, you aren’t going back on me, are vou? I thought I could depend on vou. Honestly, I did.”
“Oh. all right.” she said.
That’s the way she was with him: clay, putty, anything soft and malleable in his hands. Probably he’d make a loop of first finger and thumb some day. "Jump through that !” he'd say. And she’d jump. She yanked a run into her stocking getting dressed in a hurry.
She sat sullenly beside him as they flew along on their way to the call. Then he began it. He began to tell her about the tall woman in the fire-engine. He told her that she had been the most gorgeous thing on the campus and that she was crazy about him. Imagine—poor him ! When
she could have had any of six dozen wealthy, handsome gents. Funny the way the world is. Yes, funny world— isn’t it so?—the way some women fall for some men.
HE WAS impossible. He was a nitwit. He might be a good doctor, but otherwise he was an oilcan. He couldn’t tell quality from quantity. He had been picked up on the campus and he was flattered. Some day she would set him down on the campus again, very hard. She was that kind. And he didn’t know what was good for him. Here were worship and loyalty and everything, handed to him on a platter, and he didn’t see it. Or if he did see it, he took it for granted. Probably he expected she would go on worshipping and being loyal and everything while he went out and became the grandfather of a fire-engine’s grandchildren. Probably. Well, go climb a tree, my fine young physician. Her nostrils quivered with anger and she itched for a fight, so that she could tell him.
She got the fight. She used the first pretext. She sulked beside him in the car. His cigar ashes blew into her face and got in her eye. She snapped at him and he laughed at her. And then she didn’t need a pretext any more. She
kicked away the props. All she needed was plenty of room. No hornet was ever madder. She all but bit off his ear. And he, could he see that this was the end? Not he ! He laughed, as at an unreasonable woman.
“Stop the car!” she shouted. “Stop the car and let me out!”
He laughed. “What for? We’re going somewhere.” “No. we aren’t. You’re going somewhere. I’m going home. Stop the car ! Let me out !”
“With a child about to be bom and you needed? You wouldn’t desert me now. Here; look. I’ll throw the cigar aw*ay.” He threw the thing into a gutter. “Now everything’s all right.”
As if the cigar had anything to do with it ! Now, is your eye all right? Are you all right? Will you please forgive me? Just—everything is all right. Sun, stand still.
“Let me out !” she ordered. “Stop the car !”
“You don’t want to get out.” he said. “You’re just a little peeved about nothing. Here, I’m sorry for ^whatever I did if I did anything. Could I help a little cigar ashes? Be a good sport. We’re almost there anyhow. You can’t back out on me now.”
She laughed a few tears. It meant, almost without any doubt, that the fire-engine had gone away. He was ordering her about; to a good time, true, but ordering her, nevertheless. Oh. well, take your cake and be glad you got it. Perhaps the fire-engine was gone for good. Anyhow, nothing seemed to matter. She was stepping out with him. This would lx* the first
She sulked. He drove up to the place they were heading for. A man was hanging anxiously out a window*. The doctor hurried in. “Bring my bag.” hie called over his shoulder. As to a valet. She followed with the bag.
He was right. She did have to stay overnight -while he went home. She w*as doubly mad because she had forgotten her toothbrush. And she had to sleep on a window seat that went round a comer. When morning came she felt like something any respectable cat would sneer at. She had more diets to write today than she could write if she were rested and healthy, and here she was feeling as rested and healthy as a discarded floor mop. He returned first thing in the morning. He brought—thank heaven -a trained nurse. She grouched all the way home. He tried to jolly her out of it. She only grunted at him. She got home and sat down at her diets. The brain balked. It sat down to rest. She whipped the thing to its feet. An hour and a half later he slipped a note under her door.
“Dear Little Miss Vitamin D: Don’t be mad. Let’s go to a clam bake tonight. Do you like clam bakes? I like clam bakes. Say you like clam bakes. Be ready at eight. See you then. Bring along a blanket, so we can sit in the sand without sitting in the sand.
time. The heart leaped and banged away and speeded up the system and got the diets done. They were done at five o’clock; three obesities, two bland, one hypertension and a high caloric.
She had a frock that she was secretly saving for the time when he would take her out. It had almost gone out of style, but it would do for a clam bake. It would do for almost any kind of bake. It was swell. It had lines. It lent and borrowed lines. She stixxl before the full-length mirror in her room. It lent its own and borrowed hers. Together - well, beat that combination if you can. If he didn’t fall for her in this, he just didn't know the good things in life.
EIGHT O’CLOCK. He didn’t come. Eight thirty. He still didn't come. Nine o’clock. She ruined her fingernails chewing on this one and that. She thought venomously of baker! clams and sitting on sand. She scarred the walls with the things she said about him. At ten o'clock the phone rang. She flew. It wasn’t he. It was someone else. The doctor wouldn’t be able to see her tonight. He was detained at the hospital. He would ...
She banged up the receiver. It was the end. She wouldn t even speak to him again. When you can’t keep a date with me, you let me know before, not after. She practically tore off the dress. She scrubbed her teeth viciously and went to bed.
She slept. The doorbell rang. It was the middle of the night. It could be but one idiot at this hour. If he wanted lier to go out on a call, she’d tell him ! Who did he think she was the Social Mission?
“Well, what do you want?” She hollered it through the closed door.
“It’s I,” he said, and his voice sounded a little thin. “Let me in, will you?”
"Let me in,” he insisted.
She let him in, against lier better judgment. He looked ghastly. “Got any food?” he asked. “I’m sunk. And a cigarette. And coffee. Quarts of coffee.”
He flopped into a chair. She as good as ran to the kitchenette. He followed her down there. He smoked her cigarettes hungrily till the was ready. ’’ I errible case, lu* said. "Cholecystectomy with all the complications. But we pulled him through."
He ate ravenously and drank a quart of coflee. He nearly fell asleep over the last cup. t allein couldn t dent this fatigue. He said so. lie proved it. lie dangled an arm over the back of his chair and fell asleep just as he finished the last cup.
She sat with folded hands and a little maternal smile and gazed at him. He woke up and grinned a sleepy grin. "Guess I'd lx*tter lx* getting to lx*d.” One foot over the threshold into the outer hall, he slopped and said: "Sorry about the clam bake. Some other time, eh?” What poet wrote sweeter words? Six* went back to bed and couldn't sleep because she was SÍ) happy.
She had him to herself for two weeks. He was very busy during this time and imposed a great deal. He demanded diets in a rush, Ixffor others, ordered earlier, were done. He came hurrying in with a medical treatise in French because she knew French very well and said he had tí) have a translation of it in a hurry. It was thirty jxiges long and nearly drove her crazy, but she loved it. She gave him tea at all kinds of insane hours and listened to his chatter about ectomies, about the new methyl blue for cyanide and gas poisoning and about his idea for a pump siphon for measuring liquids to replace the old mouth-suction method.
She lived two divinely happy, upset weeks.
But it was too gcxx! to last. The fire-engine came back and honked her hom. He went out to meet her with a big grin and she did it again. She kissed him out there on the avenue.
Little Miss Vitamin D kicked off a shoe in a rage. The shoe flew across the rix>m and knocked over a vase. It was an expensive vase. It smashed to little splinters.
She watched him fondly escort the woman into the building. Through her closed door she heard them laughing and chatting gaily in the corridor. They went into his office and the dix>r slammed. Little Miss Vitamin D stamped the splinters of the vase inti) fine powder. A second French treatise on her desk she tore into quarters and flung the pieces up for a snowstorm. And then she realized the absolute inanity of her actions. She sat down and wept desperately, and when she was through she was quite calm. The world had come to an end; that was all. Hysteria wouldn t do. You had to take what came.
treatise together. No jigsaw puzzle could have felt anything
but weak shame and futility beside this. She went without
supper. She boiled pot after pot of coffee. She put together
and took apart. She wracked her brain and gritted her
teeth. As each page was completed and stuck on heavy
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paper she said desperate, enormously calm words aloud. She didn’t even thank her stars that the thing was in proof form, printed on only one side. She just went on and on until it was finished—late; very late.
Her light was still going when he returned from wherever he had been. He knocked. She would not hear. He rang her bell. She would not hear. He pounded on her door. He halloed. Throughout it all she undressed slowly, half-dazed from her task.
She thought he would give up and go away. He didn’t. At length she went out, in pyjamas, robe and shuffle slippers, and opened the door.
“Well, what do you w'ant?” she asked coldly.
“Hello, Indispensable,” he greeted. “I saw your light. Wouldn't have disturbed you otherwise. Winder if you’d get this out for me first thing in the morning. A diet. It’s important. Got to have it right away. All the dope is here.”
He held out a slip of paper. She took it. There was lipstick on his cheek and chin. “Good night,” she said coldly. She closed the door in his face.
“Good night,” he called through the door. “Say, when will you finish with the treatise?”
“You'd be amazed.” she replied. She moved away from the door. He said something she couldn’t hear and that was all.
She glanced at the paper he had given her. It was too much. She sat down and called on all her control. The paper was headed: Diet for Luetta Starling. Wants to lose five to seven pounds. Present weight one hundred and thirty-two. Height, five feet six. Age, twenty-five . . .
There was a last straw. This was it. Nancy sat down at her desk and wrote the diet. It was short and to the point.
Breakfast: One large dose any standard, quick-action poison.
Lunch : Larger dose same.
That was all. She got dressed, packed a bag and went out. On the way she slipped Starling’s diet and the patched treatise into David’s mailbox. Then she walked down the street to the garage, got her car and drove out.
SHE SPENT two isolated weeks at her aunt’s place just outside of town. In the silly stupidity of half-sleep at various times during the night she would wonder why he didn’t ring the doorbell and get her out of bed to give him food or go on a call. She began to worry about what would happen to him if he ever went so far as to marry Luetta Starling. She knew that he must hate her now. after reading her diet for Starling. Oh. well; it didn’t matter. He was nothing, really, in her young life. Just Simon Legree in a shallow disguise. Just wait till he married Starling and tried wak-
ing her up in the middle of the night for something to eat or to be emergency nurse. He’d find out soon enough. Starling would tell him.
She didn’t know a vacation could be so deadly. She went visiting around town with her aunt. Real old-fashioned visiting, with the same effect as triple bromides. She read books until saturated. She went to the movies. A swain named Charlie attached himself to her. Charlie had a cowlick, a toothy grin and a great unspoken love for her. On the second day of the third week she fled the town, her aunt and Charlie without much ceremony and went back to the city.
She arrived at her place at midnight. She went to bed and lay awake waiting for the doorbell to ring. No ring. The night remained silent as the snow. In the morning she knew the reason. There was a card on his doorbell which read: “Until further
notice, for medical services, consult Dr. John Hamilton.” Dr. Hamilton’s address and telephone number were given.
She called Dr. Hamilton.
“Don’t know where he went or when he’ll be back,” Hamilton said. “All I know is, I’m handling his practice.”
She knew now. The worst had come. He had gone off with Luetta Starling. There wasn’t any other reason for deserting his medical practice. They had gone off to get married. They were honeymooning now.
If she were a drinking man, she knew that she would get plastered and forget it all. As it was, there was only one thing for her to do, and that was to bury herself so deep in her work that she wouldn’t be able to think of anything else. She tried that, with eminent success. The fact that she stopped now and then to write his name on a pad of paper a dozen or so times at a lick didn’t mean anything except that she was using this method to forget him. It was a hard day, extremely fatiguing and not exactly dry-eyed.
The next day ran to the same form. And the next.
On the third night the world began to move on once more.
It was a little after midnight. She had turned in and lay awake wondering what the rest of her unhappy life would be like. The doorbell rang. Turn tiddy-um turn—turn turn! She leaped out of bed involuntarily, then seized the bedpost and began to collect her senses. Run to the door for him now? Certainly not! He probably wanted to break the good news about himself and Starling. Not to her. Not in the middle of the night. Scram, my good fellow, scram. You’re just a punched ticket now.
SHE SAT DOWN on the bed and listened.
He rang again. And again. Persistent. He said through the door. “Come on out, you! I know you’re there. Come on out!
I’ve got something to tell you. Important. ! What’s the idea — not answering?” Something to tell you. Didn’t she know it! Well, he wouldn’t tell her anything like that tonight. Go scram, Romeo! You’ve made your last night visit here.
The bell ringing ceased. Temporarily. For, say, three minutes. Then, when she had just begun to be a little bit concerned, ¡ it began again. It meant business this time. It was a steady ring. It rang for ten minutes before she realized that he must have put a I pin in it.
Very small-time stuff, that! She stamped : up and down her hallway. She got a chair ; I and stuffed the bell with a handkerchief.
! That did it. All was silent again. She listened. He couldn’t be out there. He wasn’t saying a word. Maybe, though, it ¡ was a game and he was waiting for her to peek out. Why didn’t he act like a grown-1 up? He had enough years, really.
The silence was deadly. She opened the door. He was not there. But there was a note in his handwriting, on both sides of a i prescription blank. She snatched it, closed the door again. The note said :
“Miss Vitamin D:
If you think I don’t know you’re in there, you’re crazy. You are a jealous little brat. Didn’t think so until I saw what you prescribed for Luetta Starling. What’s the idea, prescribing anything like that? I’m ragged at the edges from looking for you. I’ve been looking for you for days. If you won’t come out,
I’ll stick a pin in the bell. I can’t do without you, you little nitwit, but I’ll be darned if I’ll stay up all night when I’m as tired as this. I’m asleep on my feet right now. Haven’t slept for days. Starling means nothing to me. I’ve got a license to get married to you, but I’m pretty much disgusted and I’ve got a good mind to tear it up. I guess you don’t care a darn about me anyhow. If you did, you wouldn’t let me stand outside here like this and waste my strength on a doorbell. I haven’t slept for days, and you’ve probably been sleeping like a little pig. And you keep me ringing. All right, here goes a pin. I love you very much, fool that I am.
The reaction was horrible. First she laughed. Then she wept. Then she laughed ! and wept together. Then it was hard to tell j which of the two she was doing.
When she calmed down, she opened her door again. She went over and knocked on his door. There was no answer. She rang the bell. Turn liddy-um turn—turn turn! Still there was no answer. She began to pound on his door. Probably he had gone to sleep i with his clothes on and without washing his teeth. Probably he slept like a log. But a girl could try. She went to her own doorbell, took out the pin and put it in his.
His bell began to ring like something gone mad. It rang for ten minutes. It was music to her ears. Almost anything would have been music to her then.
And then suddenly she heard him come stamping down the hallway inside, swearing disgracefully. He was mad, raving mad. She had waked him out of a sound sleep, she could tell. Oh, was he mad!
She grinned. She was scared and yet she grinned. Oh, was he mad! She didn’t care. She didn't care about anything. In another instant he would yank open the door and tell her what a nitwit she was. But she didn’t care. She stood outside with a foolish, happy grin on her face and her heart going ninety miles or more an hour.
Then he yanked open the door. “You i little nitwit!” he cried—and stopped. Then he seized her . . .
Why, the man was brutal! But did she complain? Not she. Do you complain when you get to heaven? Certainly not ! Anyway, how can you complain when you’re frightfully busy giving and taking?