Her marriage had lost its meaning in the rush and loneliness of her very modern life. Then she found that contentment was a state of grace bestowed on two in love who had

SARAH LITSEY June 1 1950


Her marriage had lost its meaning in the rush and loneliness of her very modern life. Then she found that contentment was a state of grace bestowed on two in love who had

SARAH LITSEY June 1 1950



Her marriage had lost its meaning in the rush and loneliness of her very modern life. Then she found that contentment was a state of grace bestowed on two in love who had


ROOM 338,” the floor nurse said. “If you’ll wait I’ll have someone take you.”

Isabel Carriker didn’t wait. “Thank you, I don’t need anyone.” And she went alone down the corridor—rooms 334, 336—doors closed. The antiseptic odor of cleanliness was something almost solid. Far off the elevator clattered open, clanged shut. The door of room 338 was partly open. Isabel Carriker went in.

It was a small room painted grey, and a screen sat like an afterthought in the centre. Isabel looked at the screen. Beyond it a nurse stood with her back turned. She didn’t look around.

Isabel said, “I’m Mrs. Carriker. They told me at the desk this was my room.”

“Carriker?” The nurse was rigging up something on a rod and she didn’t stop. “That’s right; that’s your bed.”

Isabel flushed. She was small and dark with the light-boned slenderness of a girl but her face showed older. It was very tanned which made her green-blue eyes remarkably attractive. At the moment they were cold. Still holding her bag she went over to the nurse.

“There’s been some mistake. I told Dr. Wane I wanted a private room.”

“This is all Dr. Wane could get.” The nurse fastened a bottle of something upside down on the rod. “There now, we’ll have you fixed up in a minute, Mrs. Vavrek.”

Isabel just caught sight of an old grey face on a pillow, the cheekbones shaped like mountains. She turned, put down her bag and made quite a point of adjusting the screen so that she wouldn’t see the face again. This arrangement contrived to shut out all the light of the lovely sunny summer afternoon. She undressed, her heart thumping with anger. If Jonathan Wane found this sort of thing amusing, she didn’t. It was one thing for him to say she was neurotic; this was

taking unfair advantage. “Dr. Wane will be in later,” the floor nurse said. Fine, let him come. She lay down in the queer high bed and the pain came and bruised across her body and went away, leaving its residue of thought concerning Dr. Wane. “Is that comfortable, Mrs. Vavrek?”

Isabel found herself listening for an answer. None came; only light labored breath which was something to be shut up with; and that rod with its unpleasant bottle sticking above the screen. She ignored it; looked at the ceiling.

The nurse said, “I can adjust the flow if that’s too fast.”

“It’s all right.” The voice was as grey as the face. Isabel shut her eyes but that didn’t keep out the voice. “A quart of blood costs fifty dollars, doesn’t it?”

“That’s right, Mrs. Vavrek.”

“My son gave this, my youngest; Ernie that is.” “You’re lucky. Okay, Mrs. Vavrek, you’re all set for an hour.”

The nurse went out.

Isabel thought, am I invisible? Prone on that flat bed, she felt as if she’d thrown herself away on a raft; and the pain came back with its aimless wandering through her.

“But where does it hurt?”

“I tell you, I don’t know.”

“Isabel, you’re neurotic,” Jonathan Wane had said.

She opened her eyes and watched the■ contents of the bottle by the next bed creep down the sides. For some reason she thought of Derrick, his tacit, five-year-old face, his current slang. Nanny dragging him by the fist

“Come say good-by to Mommy.”


“She’s going away to the hospital.”

“So what?”


“Oh, let him alone, Nanny, what difference does it make? And if Mr. Carriker phones, tell him he can pick up my car at the hospital if he wants it.” “Not tell him you’re taken sick, Mrs. Carriker?” “I’ve been sick for weeks. It doesn’t matter to him.” She took up the smell blond bag and saw

instantly that Derrick’s eyes were mutely hostile.

The bottle was half gone. There was something very strange about this procedure. To watch it made her feel hollow in the middle and yet she couldn’t stop. It was backward, that’s what was wrong; a son giving back life

Dr. Jonathan Wane came in. He passed her; he went behind the screen. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Vavrek.”

Mrs. Vavrek was certainly getting all the breaks. It was nice to be Mrs. Vavrek. Isabel watched the doctor’s blunt bronzed hand making some slight adjustment on the bottle.

“How goes it, Isabel?”

“I thought you knew I wanted a private room.”

“This was what they had; I mean how do you feel?”

“The same.” The pale tweed of the doctor’s coat set off his summer tan. Isabel briefed it with a practiced eye. “The fashion plate of the medical profession very nice.”

He came beside the bed, without comment removed the diamond watch and took her pulse.

“How’s Robert?”

“Robert’s always well,” she said.

“And .Derrick?”

“A brat, but all right.”

“He’s your child, Isabel.”

Her thin, sensitive lips were redder than they should have been; they smiled with a touch of caution. “On the whole, you aren’t being very kind to me, Jon.”

“A doctor who’s worth his salt puts cure ahead of kindness.”

She looked at the high, narrow brow, the grey eyes, remembering in each detail the first time she had seen them, in the hall of her own home five months ago.

IT WAS a cool April day and she came down the stairs and saw the front door open. A tall man was going out with Derrick in his arms, done up in blankets. She stopped on the third stair from the bottom.

“Where are you taking my son?”

He turned and faced her.

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“To the hospital where he belongs.”

“I don’t think he’s as ill as that.” The man said, “He’s very ill.”

“I phoned for Dr. Carlson.”

“Dr. Carlson is out of town. I

She knew this was Jonathan Wane. He was young and new in town and Isabel Carriker was young and far from new. The beach club set the

“best set” swung around her.

“So I see.”

Nanny came down the stairs, “I’m ready, doctor.”

In the back seat Nanny held Derrick and the blankets. There was no place for Isabel except by Dr. Wane. He drove fast; he said nothing. She had come with no coat and was cold. Once she glanced at him and wished with surprising violence that she’d get pneumonia herself as a result of this ride. She, of course, got nothing except at the end of 10 days a remarkably well child.

NOW Jonathan Wane sat on the edge of her bed looking, thought Isabel, as though he were on the terrace at the club.

“I told you months ago you ought to have Derrick’s tonsils out. It would improve his disposition.”

“I don’t seem to get around to it.” “What do you get around to, Isabel, besides golf and bridge?”

“I’ve gotten around to a first-rate pain in my middle if you’d believe me.” “I believe you or you wouldn’t be here. We start X-rays in the morning tnough I’m not at all sure, Isabel, it’s the kind of pain I can cure.” lie stood up, glanced at his watch. “I’ll be getting on, it’s five.”

He left.

After early supper, Isabel sat with the bed cranked up, watching light fade from the grey walls. She thought of Robert alone in the study. She saw him by the mantel, remembered how they seldom had anything to say to one another now. At times his creased sleeve, the sharp line of white cuff frightened her. Each evening he brought from the city this groomed and armored look. He used to be pleasant enough by dinnertime. Did either of them know just what had happened? The truth was, nothing had happened; nothing except seven years of marriage other people, other tilings. And then Derrick liad pneumonia and Dr. Wane came instead of Dr. Carlson.

There was some commotion at the door of room 8,'38. Someone was coming; Robert, after all? Not with commotion, not Robert. Women, three of them. With her smallest smile, Isabel watched them sail in, two of them dark ind thin and one big, high-bosomed olonde, who happened to be saying, “And I said to Mike, ‘I won’t pay four dollars for a steak,’ and he said, What you put in your stomach’s well put.’ Hello, Anna! How’re you? What ilo the doctors say?”

“Not much.”

“Will you hear that? We’d better gone to the movies, girls.”

“Look at Anna lying in bed not working.”

Mrs. Vavrek said, “I guess I worked too long.”

"Didn’t we say? You could have give up the island when Oscar died and lived nice and easy in town like us. Rut no, you had to kill yourself on that island. Well, this’ll learn you.”

"I want to go back to the island,” said Mrs. Vavrek. “I wish I could see

“He’d come, only he smells so fishy he’s ashamed.”

“Ain’t he a sketch, though? How’s he ever going to get him a girl?”

“I wonder, couldn’t one of you comb my hair; the nurses are so busy . ” “Now Minnie, your hair’s right nice. A new do, ain’t it?”

Minnie, the big blonde, came over to the mirror. “The dye job’s okay but she got the curl too tight.” She dived at the crimps with her fingers. “Ernie and Oscar both of ’em alike why work when you can sit in a boat all day. No, Anna, you done the work for both of ’em.”

Mrs. Vavrek said, “All of us worked together. Could you just comb my . . .” Minnie said, prodding her crimps. “Let the men work for us is what I say.” The bold blue eyes in the mirror looked at Isabel . and that’s what you say, baby. I can tell. Isabel looked back with a sense of shock. In spite of the pouches the face was hard as granite. Something made her speak to this woman.

“Do you think it would bother the lady if I smoked?”

“Oh no. She’s no lady: she’s our sister. She don’t mind anything.” A burst of laughter. “How about it, Anna? That right?”

“I don’t mind,” said Mrs. Vavrek.

ISABEL took out a cigarette and lit it. The frail smoke hanging at the edge of the lamplight seemed to her like Mrs. Vavrek’s voice, or even like Mrs. Vavrek, dispersed by these robust creatures, hovering with her uncombed hair at the edges of their world.

A young man in a trench coat came in. He was healthy and embarrassed; he glanced at Isabel and dived out of sight. “Hello, Mom; how you feel?” If this was Ernie, he didn’t smell of fish but hair lotion. Isabel was disappointed. Vaguely, she wanted Ernie to stay on the island

“Did Ernie come with you, Steve?” “No, Mom.”

“With me gone, he’s got all the work,” Mrs. Vavrek said.

“Him and them clams,” the ladies laughed.

“Ernie give me a quart of his blood ” said Mrs. Vavrek. “They won’t let. aim give no more.”

“How about you, Steve?”

“I would; I spoke to Gladys, but she says with her and the kid, three mouths to feed and they work you hard at the bank—”

Robert, thought Isabel, had three mouths to fet'd. He never said whether they worked him hard or not.

The public address system announced that visiting hours were over.

“Good night, Mom. Take care of yourself. If there’s anything you

“Tell Ernie .”

“It’s Garson and Pidgeon; I say we might as well They were gone.

For a little longer steps and voices passed. Isabel listened. The well and strong were going home or to the movies, leaving these cubicles to night and strangeness and pain and maybe death. Soon a nurse came and filled their water bottles for the night.

"Light out, Mrs. Vavrek? There.” She glanced at Isabel’s light and went out and shut the door.

Rut beyond that, ponderous door stillness had settled a step, an

isolated voice then stillness. And here was Isabel ( arriker shut up witil somebody’s cleaning woman. An old phrase turned in her mind strange bedfellows. The full strangeness of it settled on her for the first time, n queer, eating loneliness. Mrs. Vavrek stirred. I should turn off my light and let her get to sleep Rut Isabel didn’t turn off the light. Not since she was a

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child had she been afraid of the dark.

“Nobody come to see you, did they, lady?”

It was Mrs. Vavrek’s voice. Isabel stiffened. “No.”

“Ain't you got nobody?”

“My husband and my son.” And who is she to ask me, Isabel asked herself. “I didn’t want them to come; I’m here to rest.”

It didn’t click. “I’ve got a good son,

“I’m sure he is.” Did I say that? I’m a fool! Isabel thought. I’m sure of no such thing.

“They think it’s the fish smell why Ernie don't come. It ain’t. It makes Ernie lonesome to come around where there’s people. He’s like me; he loves the island. I told Ernie I’m coming

Something was pushed discreetly past the door; the elevators made that inordinate noise, then silence.

“If I was to tell you the story of the island you could write a book about it and it would sell.”

Isabel didn’t answer We won’t

go into best sellers tonight. She reached up and turned off the light.

MRS. VAVREK took the signal.

The light rough breath took up again, wearing away at the hour. Isabel stretched; she saw an island

She and Robert had taken the sailbeat out for a week end, touched with fair frequency to call on friends who had shore-front homes, a pleasant, lazy time. They were coming back; they could see the long white line of the yacht club when they skirted the little island.

She remembered the strong small house beaten by winter storms and summer suns, tough grass and sturdy flowers bright against blue water; rows of broccoli, cabbage, turnip greens.

.. . Was that Mrs. Vavrek’s island? There were so many all along the shore . She saw its small clean beach, the pebbles shining, the fishing boat drawn up and the brawny man with no shirt and his pants rolled up part way.

Had that been Ernie, mending a line or a net or some such; pushing fair hair from his eyes to look at them? It was neither a hostile nor a welcoming look, merely a look of one world into another. She’d been glad they went on and swam at the club with everyone they knew . . the fisherman’s eyes were the blue of distance and deep water Was

that Ernie? Undoubtedly all fishermen looked alike She dozed; she heard

Mrs. Vavrek breathing.

It seemed Mrs. Vavrek’s breath held up the island, floated it here in the dark, above the screen seen by each of

them . seen by them both together Isabel slept.

Much later, something wakened her. It was Mrs. Vavrek. Beyond the screen, closer than Isabel ever had been to suffering, Mrs. Vavrek struggled with the beast in her own body. Isabel sat up. She could ring, someone would come; but she didn’t ring. She wanted to say, “Mrs Vavrek, I’m here.” She couldn’t; as she and Robert couldn’t go that day to the little beach and swim.

WELL, Isabel, you look better,” said Dr. Wane. “Are you?” “The same, I guess.

Isabel said, “Mrs. Vavrek s out for X-ray.”

He came beside her and took her pulse. “You’re very lucky, Isabel, nothing so far in the X-rays; or aren’t you interested?”

She lit a cigarette. “Why are you horrid to me?”

Dr. Wane said, “Robert phoned me last night.”

“To ask if I’d died, by chance?”

“To ask me all about you since he couldn’t ask you.”

Smoke curled from her lips, slid over the screen and she thought of Mrs. Vavrek. “Did he say how Derrick

“He didn’t mention Derrick. He had you on his mind, Isabel he

loves you very much.”

“I can’t love .” She stabbed out the cigarette and tore the stub with her fingers. “ . I can’t laugh, I can’t cry I can’t believe

“In what, Isabel?”

“In anything . . myself.”

“That’s the first true thing you’ve said in fifteen minutes.”

She picked at the clean coarse cover, staring down. “Jon, what’s wrong with Mrs. Vavrek?”

“With who?”

She looked up with the practiced smile. “You know, my roommate.” “Oh,” Jonathan Wane laid his hand over hers. “So much that I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Won’t she get well?” She had grasped his hand. It surprised her and it must have surprised him, too; he looked singly and intently at the five red nails before he looked at her.

“While there’s life, Isabel, we fight.” he said slowly.

THAT night the sisters called on Mrs. Vavrek again. They left early, hut one of them did comb Mrs Vavrek’s hair.

Mrs. Vavrek said, “I thought Ernie might come.”

“He might yet, there’s still a hour. We got to go, girls.”

The girls went.

There was nothing to do, nothing to think about; even the pain didn’t come much anymore. Steps passed, repassed in the hall and each time Isabel looked. No one came in. Kish or no fish, why didn’t Ernie come, why didn’t he know how much she wanted

Some time later, Mrs. Vavrek moved in bed; and she always lay so still

“Do you want anything, Mrs. Vavrek?” Isabel wakened as if she had been waiting.

“No. lady: I'm just restless. I’m going upstairs to the operating room at nine in the morning.”

Mrs. Vavrek hadn’t mentioned this to the sisters. Isabel said a queer thing. “Does Ernie know?”

“Lady, if Ernie knew he wouldn’t let ’em. He’d come and carry me straight back to the island. He didn't want me to leave; it seemed nothing never went wrong there.” Mrs. Vavrek moved again; she seemed unaccountably stronger and Isabel thought from her voice she was sitting up. "I’ve a notion just to get up and run off back to the island."

“No you can’t do that." Isabel reached for a cigarette hut her hand shook, she didn't takeit. She had heard of strength like this She stiffened, but now trembling shook her body Mrs. Vavrek was getting up.

Isabel heard Mrs. Vavrek's feet fumble the floor This ÍH not my

affair I wanted a private room . . She reached with determination for the bell cord

“I'm afraid, said Mrs. Vavrek. Isabel didn't ring the liell. She got up She stood looking at thesereen but couldn't fold it back nor go around it. She drew in her breath and said, "I’m here, Mrs Vavrek, you mustn’t* be afraid

Mrs Va vrek ’s strength was gone. It wasn’t bard to persuade her back to bed

ISABEL was wakened by two internes and a nurse.

“Well, Mrs. Vavrek, you’re getting quite a send-off. Here you go now oops, onto the stretcher. There.” In a minute the young internes went out laughing. She hated them. Isabel sat up with fury boiling in her. Don’t they care, the fools? What have they done with her? She’d be perfectly right to run off! Why doesn’t Ernie come? Something jostled the screen.

The stretcher came sliding out. Isabel saw a blue plaid blanket, the grey plait hanging down; Mrs. Vavrek’s face was turned aside.

“Mrs. Vavrek?” Isabel said.

The face turned, the eyes looked up. “How are you, Mrs. Vavrek?”

“A little nervous.”

Isabel thought . . she doesn’t know

me! “I’m Isabel Carriker.”

“I know.”

But instead of the screen, a great, grey distance separated them. At any time the screen could have been folded, pushed aside. She had wanted the screen in place. Now she reached across this distance for Mrs. Vavrek. “You were going to tell me the story of the island.”

“I remember.” A smile as grey and powdery as a moth flicked Mrs. Vavrek’s mouth. Isabel didn’t know why it made her happy, why she suddenly knew without being told the story of the island . the perfectly simple story of work and love.

Isabel saw the island; not a lump of land in the Sound but Mrs. Vavrek’s life set in the middle of this great grey distance. Isabel reached for it, reached for Mrs. Vavrek’s hand, but the blanket was drawn to her chin. There was just the thin grey braid and Isabel touched that.

The nurse came back with the blanket she had gone for. “Well, here we go, Mrs. Vavrek, all ready for the big trip.”

Mrs. Vavrek didn’t notice. She said to Isabel, “Ernie never come, but I know why; it wasn’t the fish smell. Tell Ernie ”

Isabel said, “I’ll tell Ernie, Mrs. Vavrek.”

IN THE X-ray room at eleven o’clock Isabel stepped out of the wheel chair and said to Miss Stodgis in charge, “This all seems pretty silly.” “You feel better, Mrs. Carriker?” “The pain’s all gone.”

Miss Stodgis was shoving into place the mystical black mechanism of Xray. “That’s the loveliest negligee, Mrs. Carriker. And those red slippers, aren’t they cute! It’s a shame but you’ll have to put on that hospital

“I know,” said Isabel.

Isabel went in the dressing room and came back with the sterile lumpy garment tied on her.

“I must say it does change you.” Miss Stodgis smiled, sliding a plate in the table. “Now if you’ll just lie down; make yourself comfortable. Dr. Ignu’ll be right in.”

Isabel went to the table. She stood by it and looked at her diamond watch. It was ten after eleven. She looked at the absurd red slippers with gold tassels on the toes. She said, “It’s been over two hours I wonder

how Mrs. Vavrek is.”

“Mrs. Vavrek died,” said Miss Stodgis.

TEN minutes later the black box of the X-ray room had only one reddish light high up somewhere like an eye. Miss Stodgis’ white uniform showed and Dr. Ignu’s white coat. He wore goggles and looked like a bug. There was only one sound in the room and it was low and violent. The door opened.

The man said, “I’m looking for Mrs. Carriker.”

“Oh, Dr. Wane,” said Miss Stodgis. “Thank goodness it’s you!”

“Mrs. Carriker’s husband and little boy are here. They said on the floor that she was down at X-ray. You couldn’t tell me where ”

“She’s right here,” Miss Stodgis said. Dr. Wane stepped aside and closed the door. Darkness swallowed him. “Here?”

“We were ready 10 minutes ago,” Miss Stodgis said. “Dr. Ignu has to be upstairs at 11.30. Maybe you can

“Just a minute, Miss Stodgis, please.” Dr. Wane crossed the room.

Isabel was flung full length on the X-ray table, face hidden, the light hair scattered, her hand made into a fist. Dr. Wane put out his hand, but he rested it on the dead, hard surface of the table.

“You can go, Dr. Ignu. We won’t need these pictures.”

And to Miss Stodgis he said, “Let her alone. Let her cry.” if