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Uncertain Possession — Chapter 1 (of 8)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 15, 2013

There is almost no detail of this story that I don’t find intensely annoying. How’s that for creating anticipation?

From the Relief Society Magazine, 1952 –

Uncertain Possession

By Beatrice R. Parsons

Chapter 1

The car crossing the Nevada desert was small and dark in the great waste of gray sand. It clung to the highway like a huge bug. A Utah license hung at the back of the car, and on the front was a physician’s caduceus. Dr. Matthew Wire and his bride of a month were alone in the car.

Lorna was extremely happy. She kept thinking: Just Matt and myself! that’s the way I always want it to be. Lorna Ashton Wire and her husband Dr. Matthew Wire. She moved a little closer to her husband’s side and put her hand on his arm in an odd, possessive little gesture.

Matt’s eyes caressed her as he looked down at her hand. “What is it, Lorna? What’s troubling you?”

How could she tell him? How could she explain her small fears and worries? how could she make him understand that she was afraid of his home town, Westfield, Nevada, of the whole of Sky Valley?

Lorna’s fears were foolish fears – fears Matt would laugh at! She found herself afraid of what she imagined about the big, old stone house Matt had described, of elderly Nurse Hallie who had taken care of Matt as a child, of Matt’s Uncle John – Dr. John Wire, who was ill with arthritis and had written asking Matt to take over his practice until he was well again.

These things and others frightened Lorna. She was worried about Matt’s old friends. The girls he might have married if he had stayed in Westfield. Matt had mentioned Anne Clayton, Jeane Betty, and Margaret Rogers. Margaret was not well, as the result of an attack of rheumatic fever when a child.

Matt had been so eager to see his old friends again. They had all grown up together, had gone to school picnics, parties, and dances. They had been such close friends, had shared so many things. Lorna couldn’t help being a little jealous when she remembered that she had not shared in the fun and happiness.

She had watched Matt’s face light up when he had read his uncle’s letter. Matt had just finished his internship at General Hospital. Now that they were married he was looking around for a place to start his own practice. He had been offered an office in the almost completed Doctors’ Center. As soon as the building was finished, just a Matter of a few weeks, he could move in. Matt was making his plans when his uncle’s letter arrived. He had read it eagerly, and Lorna knew then that it interested him.

“I must confess, darling,” he said when he had finished, “that I’m interested. I’ve always wanted to take you to Westfield, introduce you to all my friends. Let them see what a beautiful bride I chose for myself.” His eyes looked into distances which she could not follow, and he added wistfully: “Uncle John was so good to me after Dad died. He helped me finish my education. Now I can repay him a little.”

Remembering Matt’s words, Lorna stirred restlessly at his side and found that he was still waiting for her answer. She sighed deeply, looking at the sand, the mirage of water ahead of their wheels.

“I’m glad we’re not going to be there long. Just long enough to see your uncle recovered, back in practice. We’ll sell the old house …”

“Sell it?” Matt’s tone was sharp. “I’ve never meant to sell it, Lorna. Why, it’s been in the family for generations. My great-grandfather started to build the house with the stones he dug from his land. He drove his bride into Nevada in a covered wagon to bring a doctor’s skill to the six families in Sky valley.”

“We won’t need it,” she said reasonably, “after we’re through in Westfield. It would just be a burden, something to worry you when you’re settled in your new office.”

She saw that Matt wasn’t exactly convinced. So she hurried on, painting a pleasant picture of the new office, the small apartment which they meant to furnish until Matt made a lot of money so that they could buy a house.

“It’s a chance in a million, Matt,” she urged. “You’ve always dreamed of an office like that. Things will be easy for you. Office hours from ten until five. No calls in the middle of the night. A great hospital close by.”

She didn’t want Matt to be just another country doctor like his father before him, or like Uncle John, who was a combination obstetrician, pediatrician, and all-around psychiatrist, overworked, underpaid.

At Doctors’ Center, Matt would be a part of a group of important doctors who were going places, earning prestige, meeting wealthy patients. He’d make money. He’d be more successful than his father, or his grandfather.

She gave him a warm smile. “A man must be ambitious, Matt. He must have a sense of accomplishment. In Westfield you’d have practically no time to call your own …”

She broke off, surprised to discover that Matt wasn’t listening. His attention had focused on a huge, gray hawk which seemed pinned against the blue of the sky some distance in front of their car. When it was buffeted by the wind, it moved easily, yet with grim determination.

“That’s the way a man should be, Lorna. Free, strong, with nothing to keep him from doing what he wants to do …”

“Matt!”

Her cry, interrupting his voice, was so piercing, that it was as though it had carried into the sky. As though it had heard, the hawk swept into wide circles and disappeared among the gray hills.

Matt’s eyes swept to Lorna’s pale face, and he spoke thoughtfully.

“It was almost as though you willed him to leave, Lorna.”

She had willed it. She had hated the bird’s intrusion into their close little twosome. It had frightened her to see the way Matt had withdrawn from her. She was afraid that would be the way he would withdraw after they got to Westfield. There would be so many things to keep them apart. Memories, people, old friends.

Lorna hadn’t minded the idea of Doctor’s Center. It was huge, impersonal. The people who sought Matt out wouldn’t be people he had known all his life. They wouldn’t be able to shut her out the way the people in Westfield would.

It was almost terrifying to love someone the way Lorna loved Matt. She had been very lonely until he came. Ever since her parents had died when she was a little girl, she had been lonely.

She had lived with her cousin, Emily Ashton, her father’s cousin, really, an elderly woman who ran a boarding house in one of the city’s cluttered streets. Cousin Em had had little time to shower Lorna with love and affection.

Lorna had always longed to belong to someone, to have someone, something that belonged only to her.

One Christmas when she was seven, a neighbor had given her a pair of small, china kittens. They were a symbol of ownership. She clung to them desperately, loving them, keeping them all for herself. No one else ever shared them. They were her most cherished possessions!

She thought of her kittens now as she watched Matt drive off the highway and turn into a rougher road that seemed to lift itself up into the gray hills. She had packed them in the corner of her suitcase. She hadn’t ever shown them to Matt, nor told him about them. It was always as though someone might take them away from her.

Now, as Matt stopped the car and pointed to a weathered road sign, she felt her worries and fears overwhelming her. If only she could tuck Matt into the corner of her suitcase, keep him for her very own. But he was waiting, expectantly, for her to read the sign. her voice shook a little.

“WESTFIELD, NEVADA … TWO MILES … POPULATION 2,000”

“Two thousand two,” corrected Matt smilingly, “if the Honson twins have arrived!”

Lorna tried to match his gaiety. “Oh, they wouldn’t. Matt, not without you!” Suddenly she wanted to be with Matt when the twins were born. She looked at him eagerly: “Let me go to the farm …”

He was already shaking his head. He spoke casually: “Hallie will be there, darling.

Lorna felt chilled. it was beginning already – this terrible thing which she feared! A stretching, aching silence filled the car. After a while Matt began talking again.

“You’ll like everything, Lorna. The three houses – ours, Uncle John’s, and Hallie’s – are side by side. When Dad and Uncle John set up their practice they used one of the rooms in the big house. But just before Dad died, they built the new offices, one each, and a lab for Hallie. It’s on the corner, right next door to the house.”

Lorna wrinkled her brows, trying to make a mental picture of what Matt was saying. She waited until he went on.

“Westfield doesn’t have a hospital. it was Dad’s dream that someday someone would build one. Jim Nason is the only man with money in Westfield. But he’s old – almost eighty-five – and a penny-pincher if there ever was one. He’s the only likely donor in Sky Valley. But he dislikes everything and everybody. He’s threatened to leave all his money to build a statue of himself in the middle of the valley.”

Lorna had to laugh. “He sounds impossible, Matt.”

Matt grinned. “He is impossible, Lorna. Once when I came home from medical school he met me on the street. He waved an indignant finger under my nose and shouted: “So you’re goin’ to be a doctor, be ye? Well, let me tell you one thing. You’re nothin’ but a young whippersnapper. I recall when you swiped apples off my trees. Don’t think I’ll call you in if I git sick – which I ain’t plannin’ to do!” And off he tramped, up the street, enjoying his own bad temper.”

Matt shook his head dubiously. “I hate to think of all that money tied up in a super-duper statue when it could do so much good.” He broke off, adding, “I was telling you about the arrangements. I’m to have Dad’s office. Uncle John can’t be very active for a while. But he’ll be there, handing out good advice, telling me things I need to know. Hallie guards the lab like an elderly dragon. She may frighten you with her stiffly starched uniform, her unbending curtness. But don’t be fooled, darling. Hallie is swell! Kind, thoughtful, a wonderful nurse. Why, beside the biologicals in one refrigerator, she keeps popsicles for the kids! But woe be to anyone who opens her refrigerator, or faints at the sight of blood!”

He laughed, but Lorna trembled. “Oh, Matt, I’m sure to disgrace myself!”

He patted her hand reassuringly as he guided the car through the rising hills. Lorna saw scrub oak, sage, and yucca clinging to the sand with obstinate roots. Matt went on talking.

“We’ll all work together, Lorna. Hallie and I will go on calls. Uncle John will do what he’s able. The entire set-up is connected by telephone.”

And by a hundred other things, thought Lorna glumly. Theirs was a triumvirate of healing that would be closed against her, just as the gray hills were closing about their car.

The road twisted, turned, then came suddenly upon a spreading valley. Lorna could scarcely believe her eyes. It was green and lush, with a checkerboard of farms and ranches, and a blue lake, and a tumbling river. Their wheels spun across the bridge, past small, brown farmhouses, then into a parade-like row of straight-limbed poplars that led the march into the heart of the town. The old stone and lumber buildings flaunted modern neon signs. Lorna read them curiously.

HARDWARE … FURNITURE … BEAUTY SALON … GROCERIES … FROCKS.

Lorna dimpled, and her gray eyes widened with anticipation as she shook her softly curling, gold-bronze hair from her flushed cheeks.

“Matt, I’m glad I packed my prettiest party dress! The pale blue one which you like so well.” It had small, puffed sleeves, a slim bodice, and a wide, swirling net skirt. She had promised herself that she would never wear it for anyone but Matt. “We’ll go dancing over there by the lake. I’ll wear it some night when the moon is a big, silver plate over the edge of the hills. We’ll be in each other’s arms. I’ll have you all to myself.”

She cuddled close to him, and he looked down at her to give her a one-sided, teasing little grin.

“More likely you’ll wear a cotton square-dance dress at a barbecue!”

“Oh, Matt!” she protested, then saw that they had left the edge of the town and were turning into a wide cottonwood-shaded street lined with very old, yet well-preserved, houses built of brick, lumber, and stone. At the end, three houses and a square office building formed a triangle set among green lawns and flower gardens. Matt’s face was shining happily.

“We’re home, darling,” he cried, and though his voice was low, it pulsed with excitement. “Uncle John and Hallie are waiting for us. We’re home at last!”

Something in the way he said it made Lorna cold. She lifted her bright head in a defiant little gesture and spoke carefully.

“Well, we’re here, Matt. We’re here at last.”

She had rejected Matt’s use of the word, home! They were here for a little while. Until Uncle John was better. But as soon as they could they’d be going back. Back to the big, white, clean-smelling office building, in Doctors’ Center!

(To be continued)



7 Comments »

  1. I can’t imagine what about this you find annoying. I myself become infuriated and panicked whenever my husband looks at a bird.

    Also, is it just me, or should a doctor perhaps realize that an old man is probably not going to “recover” from arthritis?

    Comment by E. Wallace — April 15, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

  2. “Why, beside the biologicals in one refrigerator, she keeps popsicles for the kids!”

    Bring in the local health department to shut that place down!

    This story reminds me of that saying that when you rescue a damsel in distress all you end up with is a distressed damsel. I’m sitting on the edge of my chair, wondering how the story will develop. Will Lorna get counseling to help her deal with her pathological jealousy? Will there be some form of redemption waiting for her in Sky Valley? Will she come to feel that she belongs? Or will she grate on our nerves for eight installments and make us inspect our own propensities to complain and to cling to those who show us affection? (Er, not that I do either, of course…)

    Comment by Amy T — April 15, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

  3. What’s annoying about a simpering, self-centered and insecure cardboard cutout of a female protagonist? You had me when you said just about every detail annoyed you. I haven’t followed one of these for a while, but you hooked me for this one. I’m now expecting Nurse Hallie to be a version of Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and Uncle John to be more like Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” That would be just great.

    Comment by kevinf — April 15, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  4. I don’t know why I enjoy these old dinosaurs, but it could be related to the thing that drives Matt’s enthusiasm for going home to the small town he grew up in. I used to read these serials in my grandma’s attic, searching through her old RS Magazine issues to find the next month.

    I don’t know what will happen! But I see a young, insecure, and immature newlywed woman getting primed to have some character-building experiences that will change her into a Good Doctor’s Wife who loves their small-town home. Babies may or may not be involved. (Or if not improved character, then a flaming meltdown, after which Young Doctor Wire will find a more suitable spouse.) Anticipation…

    Comment by MDearest — April 16, 2013 @ 12:10 am

  5. I don’t suppose you will share with us the time period elapsed from this chapter to the last chapter-a few weeks or some years?

    Comment by David R — April 16, 2013 @ 11:53 am

  6. Is this so you can guess which of MDearest’s predictions is most likely true? :)

    It’s been many months since I typed this up so I don’t remember the timeline exactly, but glancing through the final chapter it looks like it all takes place within a few months.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 16, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

  7. A few months will tell us that she may find out she is pregnant, which may or may not have anything to do with the story, but not enough elapsed time to be reassuring her own daughter who moves to her husband’s hometown that things have a way of working out.

    Comment by David R — April 16, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

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