From the Relief Society Magazine, 1957 –
The Bright Star
By Dorothy S. Romney
Kathy Tracy was puffing from her steep climb up the hill by the time she reached the top step leading to the terrace. As usual since his retirement, old Phineas Fenton was seated in his big leather armchair. And, as usual, he was gazing across the waters of the Golden Gate, crimson now in the last glow of the September sun.
Without a single word of greeting, Phineas declared, “I like the crash of the waves down there. Shuts out the humdrum sounds of all those new-fangled household contraptions Grace has let herself be talked into buying.”
Kathy stood there not knowing how to begin. It was hard enough just to face old Phin, let alone ask him for a job. But it had to be done. She simply could not allow Aunt Em to go on working so hard. If only Uncle Phin were a real blood relative, instead of just a family friend … She took a step closer and began, “Uncle Phin …”
“Hmm,” he growled, “you startled me,” as if this were the first indication he had of her presence. “What do you want?”
She was saved from replying for the moment, when Grace Fenton, Phin’s daughter-in-law, came out of the house. “Why, Kathy,” she said graciously, “how nice to see you. Not that I blame anyone for not climbing up here any oftener than necessary.”
“Have to live where I can see the ocean,” old Phin muttered.
“Of course,” Grace agreed pleasantly. “It just makes it a bit hard for others to get up here to see us.”
Old Phin coughed impatiently, and Kathy surmised he was wishing his visitor would come to the point, then take herself off, so he could go back to his daydreaming.
“Aunt Em is getting old,” she began, and saw Phineas wince. I would start out wrong, she told herself. He’s a whole generation older than she is, and likes to think himself young. She forced herself to continue. “When Grandfather Tracy died years ago you told us to come to you if we ever needed anything. Uncle Phin, I need a job.”
“Don’t know that I have a job for anyone. Business is slow all over,” Phineas complained, fretting his lower lip with his teeth like a petulant child.
“You can find Kathy a job in one of your office buildings in San Francisco,” Grace said in her soft, unemotional tones. “I’m sure some small job would do to start with. Kathy’s interested in becoming an artist, and this would give her time to work on her paintings.”
“Painting!” Phineas snorted. “Same kind of malarkey Em would have gone in for, if her father hadn’t had sense enough to put a stop to it.”
Kathy wisely chose to ignore this remark.
“She’s bright and talented, too,” Grace urged loyally, and Kathy could have wept for her kindness.
“Confound you women, let me alone,” Phineas growled. He turned to Grace. “Hand me that note paper,” he said, indicating a pad on a small table a few feet away. He started scribbling, then turned to Kathy. “Here, girl, what’s your full name?”
“Kathy Lynette Tracy,” she said distinctly.
“Hmm,” he snorted, “pretty fancy. Sounds like a brand of starch.”
You’d think he hadn’t heard my name hundreds of times, Kathy found herself thinking, as Phineas tore off the note and handed it to her.
She glanced at it just long enough to make sure he was giving her a job, then stood up.
“You mustn’t go yet,” Grace protested. “Let me bring you a glass of cold orange juice.”
“Oh, thank you,” Kathy said, “but I’m afraid I must get back.”
She had a job, and felt that she’d burst if she didn’t get down and tell Aunt Em the joyful news. She stopped in front of Phineas’ chair. “You’ll never regret giving me this chance, Uncle Phin.”
He scrutinized her owlishly, then sat up straighter. “By jove,” he said, “it’s a good thing you’re pretty. The tenants like pretty girls in my buildings.”
Kathy nodded goodbye to Grace, her eyes almost brimming over with tears of gratefulness. She walked down the steps and path leading to the shrubbery.
Behind the thicket of laurel, out of sight of the Fenton mansion, was a stone bench. Kathy crumpled up on it. She fished in her sweater pocket and brought out the note. Phineas had written clearly on it: “Give this girl, Kathy Lynette Tracy, a job as switchboard operator. Pay her fifty dollars a week.” It was a small fortune, she’d be rich on this, rich enough to pay all the household expenses, and the money in the old Chinese chest could be saved for an emergency. Money Aunt Em had saved, penny by penny, through an infinity of stitching, a maze of jams and jellies sold to the village stores. Kathy never wanted to take another stitch or look at another jar of jam the rest of her life. She and Aunt Em would both be free of all this drudgery.
She started planning. She’d come home nights – commute across the Golden Gate bridge – that way she could spend all her spare time with Aunt Em. then, perhaps, Kathy’s heart gave a little plunge – stay over one evening a week to take that course in art she had dreamed of for so long.
Kathy got up and continued down the path. Ahead of her loomed home – the gray, three-storied house. The house her grandfather, Jon Tracy, had built at the turn of the century. The house Aunt Em loved so dearly. Kathy thought its three uncompromising tiers of gray wood rising from the rocky beach were just as gorgeous as the Fenton place atop the hill. Jon Tracy, who had spent his life piloting one of Phineas’ cargo vessels, had built his home as close to the ocean as was considered safe, where the noise of the surf and the foghorns could be heard constantly. Kathy was sure Miss Em would die without these familiar sounds of her childhood. She must never, never have to give up the gray house.
Kathy left the path, and finally reached the ravine made by the spring, crossed the miniature cherry-wood bridge she herself had built over the small stream. She paused with a longing look at the tiny cabin at the very feet of the waves. The cabin Jon Tracy had built and filled with the beautifully carved chests and relics he’d brought from far-off lands. The China house, as it had become known, had long been Kathy’s refuge when troubled. But she dared not go in now and sit down in the comfortable rocking chair, or she’d never get up to the house, and Aunt Em might need her.
When she finally reached the haven of the kitchen, she found that it was empty. She called “Aunt Em! Aunt Em!” Receiving no answer, she went into her aunt’s bedroom. it was empty, and so was the rest of the house, she found. “Where could she have gone?” Kathy asked herself.
Kathy collapsed in the rocking chair beside the old-fashioned kitchen range. The fog was already settling down in the ravine, and it would be dark before long. Maybe she’d better go out and look for Aunt Em, she thought, as she rose to set the kettle on the hot part of the stove. A cup of chocolate would warm her up. It was then that she saw the note, propped against the sugar bowl on the table.
She picked it up and read it swiftly: “I felt that I needed some fresh air. Please don’t worry, and go ahead with your date with Jim. I’ll be back soon.”
Jim! Kathy had completely forgotten that this was their night to go into the village for that movie date. She’d better eat a hurried bite and get ready, as Jim was never known to be late and hated to be kept waiting.
She reminded herself that Aunt Em insisted on her going out once in a while in the evening. “I won’t have you making a recluse of yourself because of me,” she’d declared. “Besides, it’s the only chance I have to catch up on my Book of Mormon reading.”
A sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate was all Kathy could possibly eat. She had barely finished when Jim’s knock came on the kitchen door.
“Hi!” he greeted. “Grab your coat and let’s get going, or we’ll miss the early show.”
Kathy got up, but stood uncertainly in the middle of the kitchen floor. “Hey, come on, you in a trance or something?” Jim prodded.
“Aunt Em’s gone out … and I shouldn’t leave until she gets back,” Kathy spoke slowly.
“What’s so unusual about Aunt Em going out?” Jim asked. “She’s always running off somewhere, isn’t she? Goodness – she knows the countryside around her like the back of her hand. She’ll be all right,” he assured her.
“I suppose so,” Kathy replied, still reluctant to leave. She had a strange foreboding – she felt sure she shouldn’t go out before her aunt returned. For one thing, she remembered how much Aunt Em had slowed down in the past few weeks, not only in her actions, but her speech was actually slower – perhaps she wasn’t well.