Alyn Fordyce faces drastic changes in her way of life when her husband’s employment changes. Will she be able to cope, or is this the end of her marriage?
From the Relief Society Magazine, 1941-42 –
By Alice Morrey Bailey
Alyn Fordyce tilted her violet hat over one violet eye and took stock of her possessions – gloves, crisp white linen handkerchief, and purse. Yes, she had everything, and she looked charming in the exclusive Mangone model suit. She could almost hear the envy in Bea McIntyre’s voice: “Alyn, where in the world did you get that darling suit?” And Mary’s sigh: “Alyn, you always look so perfectly right.” Her suit would blend in with Josephine’s faintly orchid walls, be complemented by the centerpiece of violets Josephine was sure to have on her luncheon table.
Not many women of thirty-eight could wear violet, but for her it dramatized the lights in her blue-black hair, the protected delicacy of her pink-white skin. Not many women would pay eighty dollars for a suit – or could wear one advantageously when they got it. Alyn might be extravagant, as the girls often accused her of being, but good appearance offsets so many things. Cheap clothing was poor background and poorer taste. Alyn had no patience with women who bought cheap clothing.
She took one lingering look at her apartment as she drew the door shut. It was a never-ending source of delight to her, even though John, her husband, sometimes complained that it lacked hominess. “Imagine me taking off my shoes and cocking my feet up for comfort any place in this house!” he had said once. And, indeed, Alyn couldn’t. She was forced to admit that John had common urges.
Sunshine filtered through the Venetian blinds, and rays of lights were reflected here and there on polished wood and crystal trimmings. It was easy to forget that each expensive piece of furniture and each exquisite decoration represented a struggle with John – polite and well-bred, of course, but, nevertheless, a struggle. The quiet beauty of the place was worth every bit of unpleasantness. She softly closed the door and turned to meet John, face to face. At a glance, she saw that he had come home again with one of his headaches – again, when she so wanted to attend a luncheon.
“But, John!” she expostulated inanely. “I’ve already called the taxi.” How utterly unfortunate! Now she would miss the luncheon, and she had dressed so expressly … Why couldn’t he have been ten minutes later? She wished fervently that she had gotten away before John’s arrival.
“Run along,” said John, thickly, looking at her with suffering eyes. “I’ll pile up in bed with an ice cap. I’ll be all right.”
“I wouldn’t think of it,” Alyn protested, but the idea tempted her. After all, there wasn’t a thing she could do. But someone at the party was sure to ask about John – his headaches were becoming more and more frequent, and everyone knew about them. She would be placed in the unpleasant position of either lying about him or saying that she had abandoned him for a social engagement. As seriously as the girls took their luncheons, that just wasn’t done by any of them.
John stumbled into bed, Alyn helping him off with his clothes and getting the ice pack for him with more solicitude than tenderness. He glanced at her briefly, gratitude shining through the pain in his eyes.
“Thanks, Alyn,” he mumbled, “you’ve always been an awfully good sport. I wish …”
He subsided then, without voicing the wish, and she called the apartment office.
“Tell the janitor to dismiss the taxi out in front. If the driver is unpleasant, pay him something. These people are so unreasonable.” Then she called Josephine.
“Josephine, darling. This is Alyn. Isn’t this dreadful of me, but I give you my word that I was on my way there. I had the taxi waiting in front, and John came home with one of his headaches. I think it must be migraine, in spite of what the doctor says. I really am sorry. You give such wonderful luncheons. I really must have you all in. I’ll plan something for next week,” she offered.
John moaned, and she hurried to give him one of the capsules that Doctor Prentiss had left, a sedative, of course.
After twenty minutes or so, John was quiet. Alyn couldn’t tell whether or not he slept, but she knew he must be comparatively free from pain, and the capsule usually remained effective for three or four hours. The afternoon would be wasted for her. It was so annoying, for Alyn hated nothing more than idleness. “You are so active,” her friends always said. And she was, too. She went to book reviews twice a week to keep up on current literature; shopping took up a great deal of time; and social obligations were almost a full-time job. To be idle all afternoon … or perhaps she could take this time to plan the dinner she had been meaning to give ever since the McIntyres had given theirs. If she couldn’t give a better dinner than Bea McIntyre …
She would serve lamb chops – double thick, shrimp salad, and that delicious cocktail of broiled grapefruit with brown sugar and butter. The cateress could make the rolls. No one could make them better than Geraldine – and, of course, she would have Geraldine. No one knew Geraldine’s last name. She was simply listed in the directory as Geraldine, the Cateress, and was the one and only to the exclusive set. The thought of her brought up the matter of expense. John had always let her have everything within his power to give, but lately he kept harping about expense, and Geraldine was expensive. Nevertheless, Alyn would rather not give a dinner than have to scrimp. It was as much to John’s advantage as to hers to make a good showing. After all, it was John who was not getting along. Alyn was trained and equipped to uphold a man of position and wealth, but John, after nineteen years of married life, was still a man working for a salary.
To be sure, the salary was a flat five hundred a month and was not to be sneezed at, as her friends were always pointing out. “Six thousand a year,” they put it, but Alyn couldn’t shut her ears to the way other men made money nor her eyes to the things it bought. The girls were too well-bred to boast outright, but comparisons were inevitable. “I always feel funny inside on the eve of one of Wif’s big deals,” was Bea’s way of putting it. “Business position has its penalties,” Josephine was always reminding them.
Alyn’s mother hadn’t wanted Alyn to marry John, but she had been so sure that it was right at the time. She wrinkled her brow, trying to remember the dim reasons why she had married John, but gave it up for the business at hand. Of course, it had been different then. Then her own family had money – the fine, old Merriweather family. She had been the lovely Alyn Merriweather, with a lively, almost certain, prospect of being wealthy in her own right some day.
John’s father hadn’t been doing so badly himself, though her mother sniffed at him as being a newcomer. He had had large holdings in mining, large enough so that he thought John’s start at two hundred a month amusing and “good for the boy” – a start, by the way, that her own father had given him simply by contact with the right people, a word spoken at the right source. John had been a bit difficult.
“I’d rather make my own place than be given something by pull,” he had objected.
“Nonsense,” her father had replied, “you’ll make your place. They won’t keep you long, even for me, if you don’t.” And John had taken the position because they wanted so badly to be married, and John simply refused to marry until he should be on a paying job.
Alyn continued to plan the dinner: There would be Will and Mary Thorpe. Will owned a chain of theatres, and they were well-to-do. Mary made a boast of her ability to economize, but everyone knew that she did so because Will ruled the family exchequer with an iron hand. No doubt they would both die young, and the children would squander the money they had saved. Alyn didn’t envy Mary, though she often found Mary’s eyes on her in what she interpreted as something of pity. Mary needn’t be so smug. Alyn wouldn’t change places with her for all the bank balance Will could put up. John was not stingy.
It was annoying, of course, not to have charge accounts at Hatterly’s and the Red Market, at Tyson’s and the other exclusive places of trade, like all the rest, but sometimes it was a distinct advantage. “Don’t think of inviting me anywhere on the first,” Doris Peterson often wailed, “I’m up to my neck in accounts and up to my ears in alibis.” “Tory was furious when the bill for that hat came in. He said I could have stuck a sweet potato in a glass of water and grown one prettier.” This from Francine Meade. Running bills was the one thing John would not tolerate, but Alyn was welcome to anything he had.
Of course, she would invite the Haywoods, Jetta and Lane; and the Martins, Ruth and Bill. The Haywoods were in the jewelry business, and the Martins owned a string of laundries. Bill had once said that he had no idea how much he was worth. They were important people, all of them. There would be Jeff Peterson and Doris. She must invite the Meades and the Welshes; she owed them both invitations. That would be twelve guests. Bea and Wif McIntyre would be fourteen; Josephine and Rufus Randolph, sixteen. There would be eighteen in all, including herself and John. Alyn sighed. She had vowed never to have more than ten or twelve guests at one time again, and John would hit the ceiling. But she was obligated all the way round, and it was either that or have two dinners.
She used the kitchen telephone extension to make a few tentative calls. She must not disturb John. She called the florist, the meat market and Geraldine, who hadn’t an opening until a week from Thursday. Thursday! It would probably be a bad day altogether. It was a nuisance to be at the mercy of these people.
“Let me check my appointments, Geraldine, and call you back.”
As she put the receiver in its cradle, she looked up to see Johns waving in the doorway, his hands at either side of his head.
“Is that a dinner I hear you planning, dear?”
“Why, yes, John. Why?”
“Will you mind very much not giving it?”
“Not give it? It’s not too late to postpone it,” said Alyn reasonably, biting back her annoyance.
“I didn’t mean postpone it. I mean not give it at all.”
“Not give it at all? Why, John, that’s absurd. Why shouldn’t I give it?”
John looked at her, something like anguish in his eyes. It was the headache, no doubt.
“Alyn, I hate to go into this, but I must have a talk with you.”
“Of course,” agreed Alyn promptly, “but you’d better sit down before you fall, and let me get you something to eat. It might help that headache. There’s nothing like drawing the congestion to your stomach …”
“No.” John waved away the thought of food and sat by her on the couch. He looked at her so long that it made her uncomfortable. What was he being so tragic about?
“Alyn, we’ve been happy, haven’t we? You love me, don’t you?”
“Of course.” Alyn fidgeted, wishing John would come to the point.
“I’d rather die than tell you this. Would it be very bad to start all over again?”
“Whatever do you mean, John Fordyce? Start what over again?”
“Alyn, I’ve lost my job.”
“You’ve lost your job?” repeated Alyn blankly.
“Yes. I’ve known for a month, but I thought I could do something … This is really the end – now, today!”
“Well, you can get another. You didn’t like this one anyway.” Alyn smiled briefly.
“No, Alyn, you don’t understand. It isn’t so easy as all that. I’ve tried for a month. You won’t like the only thing I’ve been able to manage … I’ve pulled every string that I thought might work, and it’s no go. I’m out of a job and nearly out of money.”
“Out of money?” shrieked Alyn. “How could we be out of money?”
“How indeed?” asked John ironically. “We’ve never saved a penny … a new car every year, clothes that cost a fortune, entertaining … Oh, it has been everything – this apartment especially. Seventy-five dollars …”
“Now, John, let’s not go into that again. I know how you feel about this apartment. At least I should.” Alyn was touchy where her beautiful apartment was concerned. It was her pride, her love, from the pale green and apricot of her bedroom to the ivory and deep blue of the living room, and she kept it spotless – with the aid of the cleaning woman, of course.
John sighed. “Well, we’ve got to cut down. More than that – we’ve got to start all over, Alyn, with new surroundings, new friends, and I can’t say that I’m sorry.”
“John, you’re not asking me to give up my friends …” began Alyn.
John laughed shortly. “You won’t have to. They’ll give you up when you can’t offer competition any more, when you can’t entertain, when you aren’t in the swim.”
Alyn noted mentally that Johns aid “you” instead of “us,” and a fresh fury shook her. “After all I’ve tried to do for him,” she thought.
“My friends aren’t like that,” she informed him frigidly. “Besides, you’re talking nonsense, John. You’ll get situated in a few days. You can’t help it, and everything will go on just the same. You’re just being cowardly about this. What you need is will power, backbone …”
“Perhaps you’re right,” cut in John, “now is the time to fight. Well, I don’t feel like fighting. I’m sick of the way we live. I’m sick of a job that I’ve had to take a back seat on for the last three years. You might not know it, but I was shelved when Jacobs took over. I’ve only been kept on out of courtesy. I’ve eaten dust and humiliation. I’ve boot-licked and cringed, and I wish I’d quit before I was thrown out, but I didn’t. And why …? So you could go to your silly teas, so you could invite so-and-so because she invited you, so you could dress better than women far more able to dress well than you. We haven’t a friend who comes for the mere enjoyment of our company, and you know it. I have had enough of being apologized for. I won’t be dragged in. I don’t like it, and I never will …”
“Why, John! You’ve never talked so before.” She knew exactly what her mother would have said. John was being socially inefficient. He was anti-social, and Alyn had never known it before. What a hopeless situation!
“Isn’t it enough that I like it, John? I think you are being very selfish. It’s all I have to compensate me for …”
“I know – for not having children,” finished John brutally, and Alyn began to cry. “I don’t think you wanted children as much as you said, Alyn. With all the homeless waifs in the world … Oh, there now, honey, I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m a brute. I’ve stood about all I can stand. This thing has been preying on my mind, and these headaches …”
Alyn knew then that she had won. John could never hold out against her tears. She could afford to unbend a little herself.
“John, I will help. I know a lot of inexpensive dishes we can have, and I can get rid of the cleaning woman. With the vacuum and all the cleaning equipment … And I can cut down on clothes and ride the trolleys more.” Thank goodness the spring cleaning was done and she had her suit. Her mind raced ahead. She could retrim her expensive hats for two or three dollars and buy accessories for her old clothes instead of buying new ones. She had read of such things. certainly she would do anything within reason.
“That’s good for a starter, honey, but it will have to go much deeper than that. It isn’t really so bad. I do have a job, but not one that you would call … I got it on my own nerve, though, on my own personality. It’s horticulture. I studied it in college. Remember how keen I was about it? The job starts at $150 a month. I just walked into Intermountain Milton Nurseries, and without telling who I was …”
“A hundred and fifty a month?” said Alyn, aghast. “You don’t mean to say that you accepted …”
“Why not? Whole families live on that much, Alyn. We can make it. We may not even have to lose the car. We can move to a smaller apartment. I looked at a nice little place for thirty dollars in the Piedmont …”
“I won’t!” said Alyn flatly. “I’ll do everything else, but I won’t move out of this apartment. I’ve spent four hundred dollars on the floors alone and fifty dollars for draperies. They’ll never fit another window. Families!” she finished contemptuously. “You mean people who have no pride, no breeding. Persons! John, I will not live in poverty,” she said with finality.