You Can Be the One
A story of modern marriage and the loyalty that is the price of love —and of happiness
CLARA WALLACE OVERTON
FROM LONG force of habit Terry’s hand went out to stop the ringing alarm. It was still dark in the apartment bedroom and a damp chill air came in the window. A good morning to sleep. But Terry’s years of hospital training rode briskly over any such indulgence. She found her bedroom slippers between her bed and the one next to it where her husband, Dave Wilson, was still asleep. Or pretending to be. In the first weeks after he had been dropped from the city engineering department as the result of an economy move, Dave had got up when Terry did. They had had coffee together in the red and white kitchen that Terry had assembled so lightheartedly as a bride a year and a half ago. Then if it happened to be raining, Dave would bring her rubbers and put them on her feet.
“I can’t have you get sick. Who would support me then?”
It was a joke they could laugh at together for they had money saved from Dave’s salary—enough for several months. And before that Dave would have his job back. He had been promised he would be taken on again at the first opening. It had been Terry’s idea that she should take a private case at the hospital once in a while. She hadn’t worked since their marriage, and Dave didn’t think it w'as necessary now. They w'ere in no danger of starving for a while.
“Well, I’ll take just one case.” Terry had said. “After all w-e live so near the hospital ...”
That had been seven months ago, and she had been on private duty almost continuously since then. Terry liked working, or at least she always had; but now she resented getting up in the half-darkness and chill of a dense morning while Dave gave no sign of having heard her. It had come upon her slowly—this change in him. Gradually she could see now he had slipi>ed away from that first good-tempered, cheerful determination to make the best of things. One evening when she came home she noticed that he hadn’t shaved. And soon after that he began leaving whatever dishes he had used during the day just w'here he had finished w'ith them. The apartment greeted her each night now with a general air of disorder. Filled ashtrays, papers discarded on the floor, unmade beds.
Today it was raining, so he w'ould probably sleep until noon; and it being Sunday he might not go out at all. As far as she knew now he wasn’t making an effort to look for a job, even on weekdays. At first he had gone out diligently every day. had told her each evening of the rebuffs and half-promises. She had protested that she didn't mind working. Perhaps he thought she still didn’t mind it . . . For all he ever says about it now this is fine, she thought, as she drank the hot coffee she had made.
There was enough of it so that she might have taken Dave a cup, and she had plenty of time to do that, but instead, she poured what was left into a bowl. He could heat that, or drink it cold or make some more. She scalded the metal pot and let it clatter in the porcelain sink; she hoped the noise had disturbed him, but she didn’t go into the bedroom again. It was still raining, so she got her rubbers and umbrella from the closet. The navy felt sport hat she put on was one she had taken on her honeymoon, but no such tender thought touched it this morning. Her dark blue eyes were as sunless as the day outside. She walked through the light rain, a fine trim girl in her goodlooking fitted tweed coat. But the irritation of her spirit wras as unmistakable in her face as gravel in a shoe.
THE PRIVATE hospital where Terry worked was a few blocks dow'n. It was on the upper floors of a medical office building, and its hospital atmosphere was subordinated as much as possible to a hotel-like service that impressed the patients and their friends. Terry’s present patient, Linda Parker, was now convalescing, so her friends came in for luncheon, tea, and even dinner. Terry judged that it w'as as hard for Linda’s crowd to take time out for sickness as it was for poorer people to take time away from their jobs. Two or three weeks in the hospital for Linda meant that she had missed the opening of a new supper club and got far behind in her regular rounds; it meant that Linda could only look on while her friends adopted new hair-dos, reconstructed their figures and even their lives.
But most important of all it meant that Linda’s husband, the somewhat adolescent Bob Parker, was on the loose.
“Now don’t worry about Bob—we’re taking care of him, Linda. You can trust us—we’re your friends.” Terry heard those slim, dramatically accented young women consoling Linda.
“You’re my friends and I trust Bob,” Linda had told them with her quick good-natured comeback.
Gale Thomas had laughed as much as the others. Terry, on her way in and out with trays, flowers, telegrams, had gathered from the talk that Gale was singing in a supper club since her divorce. She was limp and long and usually adorned with orchids—green ones. Terry supposed that someone regarded them as a necessity for Gale. She often dropped in to see Linda between five and six, just about the time Bob Parker got uptown from whatever he did downtown.
Together Bob and Gale amused Linda and each other. At least Terry noticed that it was always a very gay, very quickly paced atmosphere with a climax of darlings when they left. “Wish you could come along, darling . . . good-by, darling ...”
“Good - by, darling,” said Linda. But as soon as they were gone Linda’s smile would be turned off. Last evening she had said to Terry, “Oh, by the way,
I forgot to tell Mr. Parker something. Will you see if you can catch him before he gets out of the building.” But Terry had to come back and report that he was gone. She had known that Linda was uneasy and wasn’t satisfied with the good-by her husband gave her before Gale.
Well, she was going home tomorrow, thought Terry this Sunday morning as she changed her street clothes for her uniform. Dr. Stevens was keeping her in the hospital over Sunday just as a precaution. Linda was all right, but not too strong following her operation for appendicitis. Her illness hadn’t seemed to worry her very much, and she hadn’t been a fussy patient. Terry liked her well enough—naturally she was flippant, brittle, and useless, but Terry didn’t hold that against her. Linda was still fairly young and though not beautiful she had an air of smartly groomed insolence that passed for beauty. It was probably just right for the 1 i fe she had on her hands, thought Terry; a sort of society-gossipcolumn life, a modern comedy of manners in which the cue often meant to change partners. Terry never envied that kind of excitement. nor wanted it for herself.
She had wanted Dave Wilson for all her life—the Dave Wilson she had married.
rT'HE NIGHT report showed that Mrs. Parker had been given a sleeping capsule because of her restlessness last night.
She probably would sleep late. Terry was prepared to let her do that, but Linda rang for her quite early. “Mr. Parker will be in before he goes out to play golf. I want to get fixed up.”
“It’s not a very good day for golf,” Terry told her. “It’s raining.”
“Then I suppose he will play bridge all day at my brother’s house on Long Island,” said Linda. “Anyway I’d like to get my face on. I don’t see why I had to stay in here today. I’m perfectly well.”
Terry knew Linda didn't feel as strong as she pretended and that she was glad enough to be done with her dressing and make-up, and to settle down in the big chair by the window. But in the smart, striped, heavy silk housecoat and with color on her lips, Linda looked better than she felt. “What time is it?” she asked. Terry told her, and Linda set the platinum and diamond wrist watch. “This time tomorrow I'll be out of here and you'll have a vacation for a few days, won’t you?”
“I hope not,” said Terry. “I want to keep on working.” That was true. To stay at home all day now with Dave would be uncomfortable.
Linda looked at her with tentative interest. “You’re married, aren’t you?”
“Then you don’t have to take one case right after the other, do you? Isn’t it better to get a little rest between?”
Terry shrugged. “I’m not tired and I would rather not take any time off now. My husband isn't working.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, isn’t it. I mean for him. Men are so lost when they haven’t a definite routine to follow. Believe me, women should have fought to keep the twelve-Jiour working day for men. With those hours the men didn’t have time for the things that worry their wives now.” She laughed. “You’re married, so you realize how nice it is to be sure they are stuck in an office somewhere. Of course I’m willing to let them have air-conditioned offices and electrically refrigerated ice water—” She broke off, alert to a knock at the door. “Come in,” she called.
The door opened, and Terry recognized Mrs. Jameson,
Linda’s older sister. “Hello, Miss Terry.” she said, and to Linda, “How are you, dear?” She refused a chair. “No, I can't stay—really. Grover is downstairs in the car, and he said he wouldn’t come up to see you so early in the morning. I just stopped in to say hello—we’re driving out to Stuart’s house for luncheon.”
“I was just telling Miss Terry that if Bob doesn’t play golf he’ll be there, too, for the usual bridge game,” said Linda. “At a quarter of a cent his losses ought not to be more than twenty dollars and that isn’t expensive for a nice safe Sunday.”
Terry supposed that wasn’t expensive for people like Linda and Bob, but it was the kind of speech that made her hate all these people a little. They were so far removed from reality as Terry knew it.
“Well, darling, I simply must be going. You know how Grover hates to wait. Tell Bob when he comes in that we will see him at Stuart’s then. It isn’t going to be any kind of day for golf.”
But after she had gone Linda observed that it had stopped raining. “Bob may get in his golf after all,” she said. She was impatient for him to come. “Give me the polish remover and that new polish, will you, Miss Terry? I may as well do this paint job over.”
The telephone rang, and Terry heard Linda’s voice immediately take on that bright, determinedly sportive quality . . . “Hello, Bob— how are you, darling? Oh, I’m a
new woman, never better, really. Are you on your way over . . Yes, it is late , . . you’re going to play then? Good—that’s fine . . . And you're going to Stuart's afterward . . . No. No, dear, I understand. Go right ahead . . . Sure, I’m fine. If it weren’t rainy I would be out on my roller skates this morning . . . Fine, dear, I’ll see you this evening.”
Terry knew that she w’as disappointed at not seeing him this morning, but Linda whistled cheerfully as she began her nails. “Isn’t this the grandest color—it’s like fresh violets—” She stopped whistling and concentrated on the sweep of her brush. “I would have made a marvellous manicurist. Look at this hand—it’s perfection. No bubbles, no blots.” She admired her work wholeheartedly for another minute. Then she put her hand down carefully to dry, looked at Terry, her expression suddenly serious. “Do you know that I envy you, Miss Terry?”
TERRY looked surprised. She was used to patients saying almost anything, but not one of them had ever told her they envied her. “Why should you envy me?” she enquired, smiling.
“Because you’re so important to your marriage. You told me that you didn’t want to stop for a vacation because your husband is out of work. What kind of work did he do?” “He’s an engineer. He did work for the city, but they cut down a few months ago and he hasn’t had a job since then. He wouldn’t make a good salesman—what I mean is I guess it’s hard for him to find something besides what he’s trained for. Although it does seem he could get some kind of work—” She stopped, for she didn’t intend to let Linda see how she felt about it.
“No doubt he’s discouraged.”
“Yes—I think he is.”
“Men often slump and get out of sorts and are pretty awful when they want to work but can’t lind a job. I saw a friend of mine go through that with her husband. Of course, I supjxjse some of them take it better than others."
“It doesn’t do them any good,” said Terry a little shortly.
“I don’t know; when they pull out of it I think they may have more perspective. Anyway I envy you your opportunity right now.” “Opportunity?” Terry’s voice asked a question.
“Yes. Your husband is having a bad time, going through a lot of strain, probably wondering if he’s a complete failure. You can be the one to stand by; you can be so important to him. I don’t mean just earning money, but keeping him believing in himself — there isn't anyone who can take your place.”
A lot you know about it. thought Terry. It's easy to sit around with long freshly polished nails and think that you envy people who stand on their feet most of the day. It’s easy to think it’s a great opportunity to have your husband out of work for seven months; but her life with Dave could hardly parallel anything that might happen to Linda. She didn’t even want to talk about it. So she was glad a few minutes later when two callers arrived.
“Am I glad to see you.” Linda told these two young women. “You’re going to stay right here and have luncheon with me. Will you bring us the cards, Miss Terry?”
Linda really was glad to see them. They were frequent visitors and always brought the latest news and gossip of
Continued on page 31
Continued from page 11—Starts on page 10
their particular set. Terry, waiting for the luncheon order, learned that the main topic of interest today was about someone named Frances; or at least Frances’ immediate problem, which was alimony She had been married two years and certainly deserved everything she could get. “I don’t think she ought to let him off for a penny less than she can force him to pay.” They were all decided about that.
That’s the way they understand marriage, thought Terry, as she went out to telephone the luncheon order. Marriage, to Linda’s friends, had to be a paying proposition. Terry thought consciously that that was not her own point of view. She hadn’t married Dave for security. She had married him because she loved him; nor was it the lack of money that had threatened her marriage. She had earned and could earn enough to take care of them. It was the change in Dave.
With a mental shrug she pushed all that aside and went about the business of the moment.
“It’s raining again,” said Linda after her visitors had left. “I don’t believe Bob got in much golf. He will probably be in early.” Terry knew that Linda wouldn’t get back into bed because she wanted to be up when he arrived. “I’ll rest here in this chair,” she insisted. “Will you give me that book, please.”
Terry went away and left her reading. Perhaps if Linda did sit up all day she would sleep better tonight. In the nurses’ sitting room Terry found Faith Burton with whom she had lived during their training period. Faith was older than Terry, but not enough so to account for the slightly rigid aspect she had assumed of late. She got up and adjusted a window shade as soon as Terry was settled with a magazine. “I can’t stand crooked window shades,” she observed stiffly, as if she regarded that as a personal virtue. I couldn’t live with her now, thought Terry. One of us has changed too much since I’ve been married. Faith sat down again, but she did not at once resume her reading. “Do you know, Terry,” she began presently, “I want to tell you something for your own good. I don’t think you realize it, but you’re getting to be an awful grouch around here. As a matter of fact I’ve never seen a girl change as much as you have since you came back here—the other girls have noticed it, too.”
TERRY was astonished. She did not doubt Faith’s good intention in regard to the criticism. In spite of her somewhat acrid tone Terry knew her for a friend. It amused her, too, a little, that she had been pitying Faith’s astringent ways unaware lhat Faith had even more unflattering reflections about her. It bothered Terry more than she would admit, because from her student nurse days she had always been one of the most popular girls in the hospital.
“What do you mean grouch?” she asked, carefully amiable.
“It’s right on your face. For instance, when you came this morning you looked as if you wanted to scratch somebody.” Terry flushed. She hadn’t realized that she carried her bad start of the morning over into the day. She was glad that the ringing of the telephone spared her a reply.
Faith went to answer it. “Seymour wants you at the desk,” she told Terry.
Going down the hall, Terry assumed that the assistant superintendent wanted to talk to her about another case, and she was a little surprised, as she approached the desk, to recognize Linda’s brother-in-law, Grover Jameson. He had stopped in once with his wife to see Linda when Terry was present, and it seemed a little out of the ordinary for him to be here now, especially since Mrs. Jameson had told Linda that they were on their way to the country. He bowed to her a little automatically.
“This is Mr. Jameson,” said Miss Seymour, “and I’m afraid he has some rather bad news for Mrs. Parker. I know she’s supposed to be discharged tomorrow, but this is bound to be upsetting.” She turned back to Grover Jameson. “Couldn’t you postpone telling her until morning?”
This has something to do with Bob Parker, thought Terry quickly—and she was surprised at her instant concern for Linda. She didn’t want Linda to be hurt by her husband. “What has happened, Mr. Jameson?” she asked quietly.
. “Mr. Parker had an accident with his car—he’s not hurt himself, but the people in the other car were badly hurt. In fact one man was killed outright, and Bob is being held. Technical charge, of course. The road was wet and his car skidded. He won’t be able to get in to see her this evening, and you know Mrs. Parker—she’ll start telephoning if she gets worried.” “But couldn’t you explain that he has been delayed for some other reason,” suggested Miss Seymour.
“She wouldn’t believe me,” said Grover Jameson definitely. “It’s going to be difficult to satisfy her as it is.”
He looked worried, and it came to Terry suddenly that he wasn’t telling the whole story even to them. It wasn’t an easy errand he had come on but, because Miss Seymour finally agreed there was probably nothing else to do, Terry led the way to Linda’s room. “I’ll go in first,” she said. She thought that Linda would no doubt take this badly.
“Who is outside?” she asked Terry promptly as she looked up from her book “It’s Mr. Jameson.”
“Grover ! Why is he here at this time of day?” Then she added a little sharply “Tell him to come in.”
Grover Jameson was spared any approach to his task by Linda’s directness, “What’s happened—what brings you in? Not Bob?” Terry saw her beautifully cared for hands move with fright.
“No—Bob’s all right. He’s been delayed though—had a little accident with the car Just an unavoidable thing and not Bob’s fault. He skidded into another car.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Where did it happen?”
“Out on the North Country road.” “What was Bob doing ’way out there?” asked Linda quickly. Terry saw her brace herself slightly in her chair as she followed that question with another. “Who was with him—he wasn’t alone, was he?”
VJL TELL—NO,” said Grover uncomfortYV ably. “As a matter of fact Gale Thomas was with him. I believe Gale
telephoned Bob this morning and asked him to drive her out to her house.”
“I see,” said Linda in a suddenly flat tone.
‘‘Gale has a mean cut on the cheek; otherwise she’s all right.” Grover hurried the explanations a little. Terry knew he was glad to get past this point; she knew, too, that Linda was rigid with self-control.
‘‘Society night club singer in smash-up with Bob Parker, Jr. That’s the headline, isn’t it?”
“Now, Linda,” began Grover Jameson reasonably, “you know his being with Gale doesn’t mean anything. He was just driving her out to her house. It’s a little awkward—that’s all.”
“Yes, I know that he was just driving her out to her house and ever since I’ve been in the hospital, he’s just been taking her to dinner every night and sending her orchids every day. Bob knew what he was going to do when he called me this morning and said he was going to play golf. Why didn’t he come in and tell me this himself instead of sending you?”
“He couldn’t—that is not right away.” “Then he’s hurt. You’re not telling me the truth.” The sharp fear in her voice was unmistakable.
Terry saw that Grover Jameson was helpless—he would have to tell Linda everything. Stumblingly he told her all the facts of the accident. “And I have to get back out there now to arrange for bail. I told Bob I’d drive him into town later. We may be pretty late, so don’t wait up for us.”
It was obvious that Grover was anxious to get away, beyond Linda’s eyes. Terry would have liked to be away from them herself. It was one thing to treat a physical pain and quite another to patch up a destroyed confidence. You couldn’t do it with a glass of water. That was all Terry had at hand to offer. Linda seemed not to notice it. “Give me a cigarette, Miss Terry —and get out of here for a little while, will you?”
Terry didn’t blame her for wanting to be alone. She knew that Linda had been afraid of Gale all the time she had been in the hospital. But their kind of marriage was almost sure to wind up over some such situation as this. If it hadn’t been Gale Thomas it would probably have been some other woman, Terry decided as she went to the diet kitchen. Faith was there making some tea. “I just heard the news about your patient’s husband. It’s too bad they told her about it. Couldn’t you prevent it?”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference,” said Terry. “She would have found it out from some of her friends tonight, or read it in the papers in the morning. It’s too bad we couldn’t have kept it from her, since she’s going home tomorrow. However, I don’t know whether she can go now or not. This may put her in bed again.”
But a half hour later when she answered Linda’s bell, Terry found her hurriedly dressing. “I’m going home,” she said briefly.
Terry tried to smile her out of that idea. “I’m afraid that’s impossible, Mrs. Parker. The doctor hasn’t discharged you from the hospital yet.”
* Get him on the telephone then,” directed Linda.
“I doubt if I can reach him,” said Terry firmly. “Why don’t you wait until morning. You’re not very strong, you know.” Linda fastened the narrow red belt of her wool dress. “I’m strong enough,” she said, "and even if I weren’t I’d go home anyway. Bob is going to feel pretty awful when he gets home tonight and the whole thing dawns on him—especially about the man who was killed. His father and mother aren't going to be sympathetic either; they’ll hate the publicity—all of it. I’m going to be home when he gets there. It doesn’t really matter about Gale. She isn’t important. The important thing is that I don’t let Bob down the first time he’s ever really needed me. Get Dr. Stevens on the phone.”
Terry’s amazement was covered by this
professional task. She hadn’t expected this kind of response to the situation; Linda was calm now and quite certain, capable of handling her own problem. Terry understood that Linda would always be like this in a pinch. She was convincing the doctor steadily and quietly that she must go home tonight, and Terry was relieved when she had won her point and Dr. Stevens had agreed to come to take her home.
She didn’t offer to go along with Linda. A nurse could only be in the way at the Parker home tonight. There would probably always be Linda and Bob Parker, because of Linda’s strength and understanding. Terry knew very well that Linda had been hurt by her husband’s attentions to Gale—knew that her pride had suffered and would suffer from gossip and the glib conclusions concerning today’s affair. But beyond hurt and pride was something much bigger in Linda’s feeling for her husband. Perhaps it was love. Or loyalty. It didn’t need a name. But it needed to be in every marriage.
JINDA was out of the hospital by five o’clock, and Terry went efficiently and mechanically through the routine that followed the discharge of a patient. Faith passed her in the hall. “There’s fresh coffee, Terry, if you want a cup.” Terry thanked her, but she didn’t stop for the coffee. She was in a hurry to get home to Dave. Unconsciously and indirectly Linda had shown her how great had been her failure with marriage. She’s not the useless wife, thought Terry. Iam. I’ve put Dave in the wrong and kept him there. I’ve convinced him that he is a failure. And because he couldn’t make a continuous splendid effort she had wanted him to suffer. It was dreadful to examine the different kinds of emotion that made up love. For she did love Dave. But Linda understood love better. She didn’t ask for splendid effort—only the chance to stand by in a crash.
Outside, the air was fresh and cool; the rain had stopped and there was no sign of the murky confusion of the morning. There was definite clarity and hope and need for comfort. In her own neighborhood Terry stopped before the sign in the delicatessen store window. Oysters. Dave liked oysters. She bought them, along with two baked apples and a sliver of his favorite cheese.
When she unlocked the door of the apartment she found Dave reading in the living room. He barely looked up as she came in. “Hello, Dave,” she said cheerfully.
She carried the food into the kitchen. There were no dirty dishes around, no empty cans. She saw that he had had a glass of milk and she knew now that his was an emptiness more urgent than hunger. She put away her hat and coat. “It’s lovely out. I enjoyed walking home.”
“I used to enjoy it, too—when I was working.”
He did not look at her as he spoke, but she felt the barrier in his voice. It shut her out for the moment. She went to work on the supper. She set the table, made oyster stew and salad. Dave was probably hungry now without knowing it. She made toast and opened a jar of his favorite jelly. “We have oyster stew and it’s all ready.” She was determinedly cheerful. But the meal was a failure. Dave ate in silence, his eyes on his plate. “More stew, Dave?”
“Miss Seymour had another case for me starting tomorrow, but I told her I wanted to stay home a few days. I thought we might go out to the Fair or do something else you would like.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere, Terry. Anyway you are probably tired and ought to rest up.”
“I’m not tired. I just thought we hadn’t seen anything of each other and I’d like us to have a few days together.”
He had left the table and had picked up the paper. Terry sat still while fear spread in her heart. She couldn’t cross the barrier because Dave didn’t want her any longer.
She had believed she was doing so much, but her material attitude had been useless without understanding. Even as she thought that, her eyes caught the folded section of the paper he had kept aside out of the welter of paper on the floor. The Want ads.
Abruptly Terry got up and carried the dishes to the kitchen. She had wanted to fling herself into Dave’s arms and cry and be comforted for what she had done to him, but she couldn’t. It would be a kind of trick, and tomorrow Dave would resent giving in to her tears. But she couldn’t leave it this way through another evening, another night. I have to talk to him, she thought. I have to tell him. She abandoned the dishes and went back to the living room.
“Dave, will you take me for a walk? I have a lot of things to tell you—and it’s wonderful outside.”
“I haven’t shaved. Terry.”
“That doesn't matter. Let’s go anyway. I want to talk to you.”
Quietly he got up, and when Terry was ready they went down in the smooth secretiveness of the automatic elevator. The street had a deserted Sunday night calm. Terry slipped her hand through Dave’s arm and they walked a block in silence. She thought he was lost in it again, that he might not even hear what she was going to say. Then unexpectedly he spoke to her.
“You’re different tonight, Terry.”
“I learned something today, something I’m never going to forget as long as we live —and I want us to be married that long.” “So do I.”
He drew her hand into his and they walked that way. And Terry felt Linda’s wisdom whispering under the softly returning tide—she could be the one.