FICTION

Take It Easy

DOROTHEA MALM March 15 1945
FICTION

Take It Easy

DOROTHEA MALM March 15 1945

Take It Easy

Belinda discovered that storms are dangerous . . . they play havoc with little towns and railways . . . and with a woman’s heart

FICTION

DOROTHEA MALM

BELINDA jumped off the hay wagon, dragged her suitcase after her, shouted thank you to the driver, and as the horses moved off again looked

around her. After last night’s storm the sky was a very deep blue, the sun was bright, the birds were noisy. There was a wreckage of green leaves in the gutter, and an oak tree had been uprooted nearby, lifting four squares of sidewalk with it, and an elm tree leaned in the doorway of a grocery store. A woman in a bright-flowered smock was out taking snapshots of the damage. “Quite a storm,” Belinda said to her.

“Quite a storm,” the woman answered cheerfully, “but you wouldn’t know it now, would you? she added, glancing up at the sky.

“A person might guess,” Belinda said, grinning. “I’ve seen towns in better shape . . . Where’s the railroad station, by the way? Still here?”

“Oh yes, down a block and a block to the right . . .” Belinda picked up her suitcase again and started off. The walking was bad but her shoes were already ruined, so that didn’t matter; and the sun and the birds were a kind of heavenly encouragement after the turmoil and terror of the night before. The railroad station was red brick—a red-brick building, a redbrick platform, and two silver tracks curving away into green woods a half mile off. ’I here was a gum machine by the door, with a little dim mirror in it. She stopped before it and had a look, half expecting to find her hair had turned white overnight. But it was still bright brown; it still went well with her hazel eyes; and her face didn’t look bad in spite of the wind and rain and no powder or lipstick for nine hours. But her green suit had smears of mud on the sleeves, and her stockings were splattered, and her poor shoes were soaked wrecks. And someone was coming up to her.

He was tall and dark and late thirtyish, and he was smiling hesitantly. Nothing, in short, to be frightened of, but it had all happened before; the moment had the haunting terror of a nightmare because of last night, and she winced. And that was frightening too. It seemed almost as if she might have to be through with men for the rest of her life.

“Is the train coming?” he said.

“I don’t know,” she answered shortly.

“I thought you might have heard—”

“No,” she said in a gentle cool final way, and she picked up her suitcase and went into the station.

A typewriter was clicking in a room opening off the waiting room; a man with white hair and a noble head

and a green eye shade looked up when she put her head in. “When’s the train coming?” she asked.

“Goodness knows,” he answered simply.

“What’s wrong?”

“All the trees in Meller’s Wood seem to have fallen on the tracks,” he said, “and besides they never take much trouble for us.”

“Well!” she said blankly.

“You might as well go and have some lunch,” he said, taking a sandwich out of the paper bag in his desk drawer. “It won’t be for a couple of hours anyway.”

“Well, is there a washroom anywhere around?”

He stared at her; then he shrugged and got up and took a large key down from a nail on the wall and led the way into the waiting room. “We have to keep it locked,” he said. “The kids ...” and he finished it with a wave of his left hand as he unlocked a door and handed her the key. “Lock it up when you’re through and bring me the key,” he said.

“All right,” she said, and she opened the door, and then staggered back. The little room within was grey with dust and it stank of eucalyptus oil; it looked like something sealed up as a memento of the year 1902. But all the same it had cold running water, and that was a thing to be prized. She washed her face and combed her hair and brushed her jacket with the whisk broom in her suitcase, took off her stockings entirely and changed her shoes for a pair of brown sandals, and then, feeling somewhat civilized again, returned the key to the office. “And if you’re sure the train won’t come, where’s a good place to eat?”

“Mrs. Calvadoni’s,” he said, “a block down and a block to the right.”

It was a very small sort of tea room, that had once been the parlor in a house, and it was very crowded. The only waitress showed her to a little red table by the front window and handed her a menu, written in green ink, which offered her a choice between steak, potatoes, veg., and bev., and bev., veg., potatoes and roast pork. She chose the roastpork,feeling exceedingly hungry. Everybody was talking about the storm, talking over the uprooted trees, the broken telephone poles and Mrs. Bostrom’s miscarriage; the air was a babble of thunder and lightning. And then, glancing out of the window, she saw her friend of the station platform just turning in the door. He was, she thought dolefully, attractive; he looked nice. But men, as she ought to know well enough, were never really nice; and she returned with a grimace to her roast pork, which happened to be very good. A moment later the waitress came up to her.

“Do you mind if someone else sits here too, since we’re so crowded ?” she enquired, and Belinda saw the man waiting by the door.

“Yes, I do,” she said, and the waitress looked blank for a moment.

“Well, you don’t really have a choice,” she said. “I just asked as a matter of form,” and she beckoned to the man at the door, and he came toward the table, smiling hesitantly and hopefully again, and looking very handsome.

“I hope you really don’t mind,”he said,sitting down.

“It appears,” she said, “that it doesn’t much matter if I mind or not.”

He stared at her. Then he said, “My, but you’re rude!”

“What’ll you have?” the waitress said amiably, nipping the menu neatly out from under the edge of Belinda’s plate.

“What she’s having,” he said. “Look, I’m not pursuing you, you know. I didn’t follow you here. This Ls purely accidental. You must have a complex or something.”

She thought of saying nothing but couldn’t stick to it. “I just don’t believe,” she said with dignity, “in speaking to strangers.”

“Don’t, then,” he said, and he lit a cigarette and

leaned back in his chair, waiting for his order in silence.

She occupied herself in polishing up a few cool courteous phrases to throw at him at the next opportunity, but she didn’t get an opportunity, and then she began to regret her haste for a moment. She had so much to talk about, so much had happened to her— as soon as she got home, the first thing she’d do would be to find a friend and start pouring her heart out and getting reassurance—and he looked like the kind of person who could become a friend. He had an attractive face, he had nice hands and a nice voice; but right now he was scowling; and besides . . . and besides ... No, it didn’t pay to trust any man, least of all far from home like this, in a town full of strangers . . . No indeed . . .

She finished her sherbet, gathered up her things, and went out. On the sunny steps of the house she stood for a moment and wondered where to go now, and finally decided to try the railway station again.

The old man with the noble head and the green eye shade was still unhopeful. “Last1 March,” he said, “when we had the blizzard, they didn t get through to us for nine days. Anything for an excuse, 1 guess they figure. We don’t count. We might as well be off the map entirely. Maybe we are off the map. Maybe that’s why. Well, I don’t know,” he said, and he turned back to his typing.

She returned to the platform and sat down on her suitcase and lit a cigarette. It was a beautiful day, with sharp fresh shadows falling across the green grass beyond the tracks, and the air sunlit and warm. She would have welcomed the whistle and roar and rush of a train coming around that distant silver bend . . . She would have welcomed the homely sounds of city traffic . . . After a while she heard footsteps on the platform. He was there again.

“I feel,” he remarked to the air, “like a satellite of Venus or something, circling around like this. I mean of Mars,” and he circled himself pointedly into the station, out of sight. There was more silence, and she was sick of silence. After a while he came out and hesitated as if he meant to speak and she stiffened all over, but he walked away without saying anything.

More time passed. She finished her third cigarette, and then the noble old man came out afid stood in the doorway, luxuriously rubbing his hands up and down his ribs. “Well!” he said when he saw her. “Didn’t he tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“No train today. Positively no train today. We’re cut off,” he said with a certain melancholy and a certain satisfaction, “from the outside world for the time being. Mrs. Bostrom’s is a good place to sleep. A block down and a block to the left.”

“But she’s just had a miscarriage!” Belinda protested, dazed.

“Oh no, that’s her daughter-in-law. A fine girl too. ... It’s only a dollar a night for a room. Two dollars for a single occupancy, if you wanted it.”

“Well, I should hope so,” she said snappishly. “Who did you expect me to double up with?” She stood up and threw her cigarette hard at the tracks. “Look, I’ve had a nightmare of a night and now it seems as if I’m going to have another. Isn’t there any way out of this cursed town.”

“No train,” he said cheerfully.

“Well, could I hire a car somewhere?”

“Oh, the roads are impassable. The treees are down all over and the bridge over the gully is washed out. Besides you couldn't hire a car. Gas rationing. There’ll probably be a train tomorrow.”

THE afternoon was immeasurably long. She found a kind of beauty-barber shop after a while and went in and had her hair washed and waved; when she came out from the inner room she saw her friend getting a long and complicated shave, and felt his eyes follow her to the door. Well, maybe she did have a complex. Her nerves were shot, she was tired, she was digusted . . .

At six she had dinner at Mrs. Calvadoni’s, choosing steak this time; then she paid a last visit to the station, and then gave in and walked to Mrs. Bostrom’s to engage a room for the night. She had to drag herself; she felt wearier than she had ever felt before in her life—weary physically, mentally and emotionally.

Mrs. Bostrom’s was a large square white house that smelled of furniture polish and dishwater. There was a desk in the big dark hall, with a bell on it whose clapper was broken, but Mrs. Bostrom came out to answer the dull click of it. She was big and square and whitehaired, ai\d irritatingly jovial. “Hello, hello!” she said, showing her large white teeth in a grin, “I see this is going to be my busy night. You want a room, don’t you?”

“A single room.”

“That’s right. A single room. Sign here, will you? Just your name and address, that’s all,” she said generously, andsheslapped a dime-store notebook down on the desk and dipped a pen in the bottle of ink hard enough to bend the point double. Belinda wrote her name down. There was one other name freshly written on the page in neat square handwriting: Charles Waldron. Well, there he was again, but what did it matter?

“This way,” Mrs. Bostrom said, and Belinda followed her up the stairs and halfway down a hall and into a large square room with at least five doors and an enormous bed. Mrs. Bostrom looked around it for a moment, and then marched self-consciously over to the windows and pulled down the blinds and turned on the bedside lamp (which stayed unlighted). “Oh, 1 forgot,” she said. “No lights on account of the storm. Well, I’ll bring you a candle. It was quite a storm, wasn’t it?” she said with pride, her teeth flashing in the brown gloom of the room. “Did you get caught in it?”

“Oh yes,” Belinda said with feeling.

“Car trouble?”

“No.”

“The gentleman had car trouble. Car broke down completely, battery, generator, coil, and I don t know what else, but he was certainly lucky, as he said his car broke down just as he was passing Morton s garage! Wasn’t that lucky?”

“It certainly was. How about that candle?”

“I'll get it,” said Mrs. Bostrom, and she returned in three minutes with a tall green candle in a pink glass holder, and a handful of kitchen matches. “Though I suppose you always carry matches on your person,” she said elegantly. “Most girls seem to nowadays. Well, now, if you want anything else, just ring. 1 mean yell down the stairs, I'll hear you.”

“I will. Thanks,” Belinda said, and the door closed on Mrs. Bostrom, which was the best thing that had happened that day. Belinda pulled up the shades, opened the windows, kicked off her shoes, and sat down on the bed. After a while she lit a cigarette. It was pleasant to be sitting on something comparatively soft for a change, but it was a lonesome time of the evening,

Continued on page 43

Take It Easy

Continued from page 9

and the rural silence of the village made her feel very far from home and security and all of those things she wanted badly. But most of all she wanted someone to talk to. She wanted to go over all the events from noon yesterday on, in detail; she wanted sympathy and justification . . . As soon as she got home—if she ever did get home—she would get hold of Barbara or Jean or Sally and go over the whole bitter story and find out if she’d been right to make a fuss, or an idiot, a baby . . . She got up from the bed, put out her cigarette, and started looking for a closet. The first door opened on a bricked-up doorway; the second door didn’t open at all; the third was a cupboard, full of old magazines; the handle of the fourth came off in her hand; and when she opened the fifth, with a vicious yank, she found herself looking into another bedroom, with Charles Waldron sitting on the bed and smoking just as she had been doing a minute before.

“This is too much,” she said.

“I do seem to haunt you, don’t I?” he said pleasantly, leaning over and knocking off the ash of his cigarette into a very fancy sherbet glass on the bedside table. “But doesn’t it seem silly . . . when we could be cosily killing time together in conversation?”

“I told you I didn’t believe in talking to casual strangers,” she said. Or, she added to herself, to men in general. Because sooner or later men got tired of talking . . .

“But you could hardly call me casual,” he protested. “I’m almost becoming chronic!”

“And pretty soon you'll be conversational,” she said, “and I don’t care for it, thank you,” and she closed the door.

“Do you find me,” he called after a j moment, evidently not moving from where he sat, “so extremely repulsive?” “Not at all,” she answered honestly, and heard the springs creak in the other room, and added, “very much so,

I mean.”

“Why don’t you lock the door then?”

“There isn’t any key.”

"You could always push furniture against it.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“And I can move the dresser over on my side,” he said, and she heard a great shouting of castors and the floor trembled. “Now do you feel safe? You’ll get warning anyway if I should turn bad in the night.”

“Yes,” she said, and hesitated, and then very cautiously and quietly took a chair and wedged it under the handle of the door.

“Can you still hear me?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Then let’s have our conversation. Shall we talk about Proust, Planck, Freud’s theory of dream symbolism as applied to literature, or the chances of an early election?

She took off her jacket and hung it on the knob of one of the doors, and shook out the blanket that was folded at the foot of the bed. “That’s quite a wide ¡ range,” she said sardonically, lying down on the bed and pulling the blanket up to her chin. Being dressed in her familar clothes was a kind of shelter in all the strange country silence that enclosed her.

“Take your choice.”

“I’m goingtosleep,”shesaiddrowsily. “This breaks my record,” he remarked, and she slid into sleep on the heels of it, and dreamed a complicated dream about skiing, which went into a nightmare that continued in the wild darkness to which she opened her eyes.

The room was black, and castors were shrieking, and the floor was trembling, and someone was shouting, “Hi, you, you in there! Open the door!” It was like yesterday miserably repeated, except that the voice was fiercer.

“Go away!” she wailed.

“If you’re awake, there’s a train coming in 15 minutes—you’d better hurry!”

“Oh, go away !”

“There’s a train—do you want to stay in this hole the rest of your life? There’s a train!”

“Oh!” she said, waking up. She hurried into her jacket and felt around on the bare floor for her shoes, picked up her suitcase and ran awkwardly to the door. Her friend was in the hall; he took her suitcase and hustled her down the stairs. “Not so fast,’’she said.

“Do you want to miss it? Step lively. My, but you’re clumsy!”

And my, she thought, but you’re cross!

Outside the night was grey with the beginnings of dawn; the air was raw and chilly. She tripped over a broken branch on the sidewalk. They heard a train whistling somewhere. “Oh, hurry!” she cried.

“It’s mutual,” he said, and they hurried.

“How did you know it was coming?”

“I gave the station agent a buck to let me know.”

“That was clever.”

“Well, run then.”

They ran and got to the platform as the train came in, one engine cf doubtful provenance, one passenger coach. They were the only people in the coach. She sat down on one of the green plush seats just as the train shuddered and moved; the red-brick station walked past the windows; a cow mooed; a dog barked. She felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I can’t thank you enough for this,” she said after a moment.

“All right.” He had found a two-dayold paper tucked behind one of the seats. He looked cross.

“It was really—”

“All right!” he said with finality, having found the comic section. But he couldn’t quite leave it at that. “Even I,” he said at last, “have my limits. Even I draw the line at last,” and he said no more.

But this is what you wanted, she told herself, staring out of the window at the green fields and broken woods. “But what about your car?” she said after another moment.

“It is devoted to me,” he said crisply. “It will follow me home by instinct.”

In the next silence she looked at the back of his very nicely shaped head for a while. Then she said, “I forgot to pay for my room.”

“Mail it,” he said, and he turned round to face her. “Do you want to talk now?” he said, and then he smiled, and his smile was charming, and she shied away from it like a timid colt.

No, it wouldn’t do, it wasn’t safe, hadn’t she proved that? “No,” she said, and the smile vanished.

“All right then,” he said, and returned to Dick Tracy.

THEY changed trains after a while;

she didn’t see him again except at noon when she caughtaglimpseofhimin the vast crowded cavernous station and saw him turn unsmilingly, away; by one o’clock she was in her own apartment, having a long hot bath. And thinking about him of all people, about him; and feeling fortified and safe now that she was in familiar surroundings far away from the mad village of uprooted trees and trainless station, and yet not feeling happy ... So when she had eaten lunch she put on a dark blue linen suit and a pair of tall-heeled red pumps and a blue linen beret and

started out in search of Barbara or Jean or Sally, just as she had planned. She still needed to talk and be justified and reassured . . .

And then, as she came out of the elevator into the long dim cool lobby, she saw Charles Waldron standing by one of the renaissance chairs, and felt so astonishingly happy that she knew why she hadn’t felt happy before. It was as if she had found a lost treasure. He saw her and at that moment she smiled, and they met by a divan and sat down and smiled again.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “You’re not actually welcoming me?”

“You must have Providence working on your side,” she said. “How did you manage the latest coincidence?”

He grinned. “Well, as a matter of fact, I followed you from the station. I said to my driver, ‘Follow that cab!’ just like in the movies, and after I found out where you lived 1 went home and cleaned up and—came back ...”

And all her feeling of safety dropped off. The man in pursuit again, and once again she wanted to run away, and the impulse filled her with despair. What was going to happen to her if she went on like this, forever wanting to run away, even in the lobby of her own hotel, and even from a man like this one?

“And now you look ready to run again!” he said, astonished. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, I don’t know what’s wrong,” she cried. “I guess maybe I have got a complex or something—it isn’t that it’s you; it’s just that I had an awful night—I don’t know what’s wrong . . . You see—” she said, and stopped, thinking over her awful night and trying to find the beginning of it so that she could explain; and then her surprising mind leaped the track and skidded way back into the past and came up with something she had thought was buried and forgotten. “You see on my first date I got kissed against my will and it scared me; I was only 15 and very bashful anyway . . .” And why, she asked herself angrily, did I drag that up now?

But he didn’t laugh, he didn’t even smile, and she would always be grateful

to him for that. “Yes,” he said encouragingly.

“Well,” she said, proceeding doubtfully with her analysis now that she had begun it, “I suppose things like that happen to everyone. But it made me even more bashful than before, I guess, and I always felt shy and I held people off—a complex, I suppose. But I thought I was pretty much over it, and then that awful night came along . . .”

“Yes,” he said, “I get more and more curious about that awful night.”

“Well, you see,” she said, and she ! thought. Now I’m telling it, now I’m j getting it off my mind, now I’ll know j whether I’m an idiot to let it bother me | or perfectly right to feel like a wreck ... “Well, you see, this man I know I met | him at my aunt’s house, and the thing is I never was in the least in love with him, though 1 liked him quite a lot— liked talking to him because he’s amusing, you know, and it seemed as if he’d be pretty well content to go on talking, which suited me down to the ground, and we both liked golf and fishing . . . and he was giving a party this week end up at his place on the lake, and he said we could do some fishing, so I went. And we drove up there Friday afternoon, day before yesterday, and it was a beautiful place, all rustic with logs, you know, and the most beautiful lake, and the others were already there, swimming, and everything went fine. 1 was having an awfully ! good time, and we went out fishing, and caught some fish too, and it was just fine until after dinner, and then it went bang.”

She stopped and looked at him soberly; he looked soberly and interestedly back at her.

“And then,” she said, “it got progressively awful. We had the fish for dinner, with sauterne on the side, and sauterne is very insidious. I guess. Because after dinner the others went out on the porch to watch the lightning, it was piling up to storm even then, and j we went to wash up the dishes, this man and me, and I was just putting the butter away in the icebox when he decided he wanted to kiss me, and it was a kind of scramble and I finally pushed him and he skidded on a bit of fish skin

or something and fell down and then I ran ” And then she stopped because he was laughing. “Is it that funny?” she said.

“No, of course not!” he said, still laughing.

“Yes, they laughed too,” she said bitterly. “The others. I ran out on the veranda, him after me, and they thought it was as funny as the Keystone Cops ...”

“You make it sound like the Keystone Cops!”he cried,and people in the lobby turned to look at them, and she supposed it must have looked odd, and would have looked odder if they had known what the joke was—a girl telling the story of her most miserable evening, and a man laughing himself into fits over it . . . And probably Barbara would have laughed too, she thought drearily. Probably everyone in the whole world would laugh, probably she was doomed to be alone for the rest of her life, taking such a silly thing seriously and thinking it awful enough to be a matter for tears . . . “Go on,” he said, “tell me more . . .”

“Oh,” she said, “it went on in the same hilarious way. He apologized all over the place, and everybody thought it was a wonderful joke, except me; and then he tried it again when we went out to the car to bring in the cigarettes, just as if I couldn’t possibly have meant it the first time, as if the only thing he’d invited me up there for was that, and I felt disgusted, and I told him off a little, and then he talked and talked and talked, all about how silly I was and what a funny girl I was, till I wanted to howl. Oh, it was a perfect riot. Everybody thought it was as funny as anything; they made frightfully funny jokes.

“And then he followed me into the closet when I was hanging up my raincoat, and it was just too much. It was just as if he’d made up his mind and was darned well going to have his way no matter how I happened to feel about it, and so finally I got into my room and locked the door on him, and then he went off looking for another key, so I took my suitcase and climbed out the window and ran, and it started to storm and I felt like someone out of ‘East Lynne’ or something, awfully comical, and I stayed in a broken-down barn until the wind and rain stopped, and then 1 walked about four miles and then I got a ride with a farmer into the village, and I wish you’d go now,” she concluded. “I don’t want to see you ever again.”

And that sobered him up completely. He looked at her. “I’m sorry I laughed,” he said.

“Oh, think nothing of it. I’m sure it’s very funny . . .”

“Oh no,” he said, and jumped up and stood over her, his eyes very dark and earnest. “You’re a darling, and 1 understand perfectly how you felt— out in the storm all night after an annoyance like that—it’s no wonder you were on edge. But you mustn’t ever say such things! I shouldn’t have laughed, but you made it sound funny, and I do understand how you feel kissing’s a very intimate thing, and why should you like it when it’s forced on you? It’s like taking a long drink of nice warm salt water, or smoking a cigarette when you’ve got the flu, or meeting a dish of lobster Newburg the day after you’ve been half-poisoned by a dish of bad lobster Newburg—but you mustn’t let the bad one orejudice you against eating— you mustn’t swear off fruit because: you . s come across a couple of lemons!” ;

He was very excited; he looked as if it ¡ were the most important thing in the I world to straighten her out, and not so | that he could get what he wanted hut so •

that she wouldn’t be bothered about it any more. The laughter had gone out of him; he was serious. And he did understand. A long drink of warm salt water, a cigarette when you had the flu—he understood the nauseating shock of it and didn’t think she was an idiot because the shock lingered. It was as if the dust of an emotional explosion had cleared away to reveal a definite cleavage: there were the men you

liked, and the men you didn’t really like that much, and kissing belonged onlyon one side of the chasm that divided them. Which was right and proper and not prudish and childish at all. Infinitely reassuring and nice . . . And perhaps it had been funny after all— the traditional pursuit with all the traditional melodramatic sound effects

crashing away outside. He had put it all in proportion; it wasn’t a nightmare any more. And he was definitely on the right side of the chasm.

“What you ought to do,” he said firmly, still excited, “is what riders do after they’ve taken a toss—get right up on the old horse and ride again. But you need someone who’ll take it very easy . . . and my middle names are ‘Slow and Easy .. . ’ ”

And she said, surprising herself, “Not too awfully slow.”

He looked down at her, startled, and then he grinned. “We’ve got all the time in the world.” And he sat down again. “After all,” he said, “I don’t even know your name yet.”

“I’m Belinda,” she said, smiling, “who is about to ride again!”