By Beatrice R. Parsons
Synopsis: Lorna Ashton, an orphan living with a cousin, marries Dr. Matthew Wire, who has completed his internship at General Hospital. Soon thereafter Matthew is called back to his hometown, Westfield, Nevada, by the illness of his uncle, a doctor, which makes it necessary for young Matt to take over the practice temporarily. Lorna fears that there will be no place for her in Westfield, and that Matthew’s friends and relatives will mean so much to him that he will no longer be wholly hers.
The next few days were a blurred confusion to Lorna, filled with the excitement of getting to know Uncle John and Nurse Hallie, and with meeting Matt’s friends. Sometimes Lorna’s mind whirled with everything that was happening. She smiled until her smile seemed pasted on her face. Not that she wasn’t trying to understand and like Matt’s friends. Only that she was still frightened, a stranger in Westfield.
She liked Uncle John. He had greeted her with a gentle kiss, standing bent and worn with the aid of his cane. His welcome had warmed where Nurse Hallie’s crisp greeting had chilled her. As Matt had predicted, she was fearful of Nurse Hallie’s starched uniform, and capable actions. But there was honest affection in the elderly woman’s eyes when she smiled at Matt’s teasing. Lorna knew they were very fond of each other and of Uncle John. This fondness was a part of Matt’s past, and so shut Lorna out. But she knew he was overjoyed to show her his home.
He apologized a little when he showed her the house. “It’s not new-fashioned. But it’s strong, durable. Why, some of the first stones my great-grandfather dug from his land go to make up the walls.”
The walls were thick and cool. The deep silled windows gathered the last rays of the setting sun, making the room seem flooded with pink light. A strange thought crept into her mind. The sun which had shone against Matt’s great-grandmother’s cotton sunbonnet still shone against Matt’s dark cap of hair. He stood there and the long fingers of dying sunlight caressed his head in a sort of benediction. Outside the windows the leaves of the cottonwood stirred in a sudden breeze. She wondered if those trees had been planted by Matt’s great-grandfather. It struck her, forcefully, that Matt and his great-grandfather looked much alike, comparing the faded painting on the wall with Matt’s clean-cut profile.
Lorna moved restlessly and thought, his roots are as stubborn as the roots of the yucca out there in the desert. She knew she had never had any roo0ts at all. But she wanted no roots here in this desert. It frightened her so that she moved restlessly.
“Surely,” she said, looking around with a distasteful glance, “someone will take the house off your hands.”
Matt was shocked by her voice. He turned quickly from the window and his features were blotted out in the shadows. His voice sounded queerly hollow when he spoke.
“Uncle John will … buy … it, Lorna,” then after a long pause, “if we decide to take that office at Doctors’ Center.”
He was very quiet as he led her toward the building which housed the offices. She was surprised to find anything so up-to-date and modern in Westfield. There were great, gleaming machines, enameled tables, a porcelain sink, examination tables – everything of the very latest design. The waiting room shut out the sun with neat, white Venetian blinds. it was furnished with easy chairs and plastic upholstered divans. It opened into two offices. Uncle John’s name was lettered on one. The other was Matt’s. Lorna read it proudly.
DR. MATTHEW WIRE … PHYSICIAN … OFFICE HOURS 10 UNTIL 5
“And after hours, Matt! Until seven, eight, even midnight! A country doctor can’t call his time his own.” Her voice was sharp, but Matt’s grin was agreeable.
“My first memories of wanting to be a doctor go back to riding in the old buckboard with my grandfather. I used to wake when he had a call. Sometimes Dad let me go with him, if Mother didn’t object.” His smile turned inward, lighting the depths of his eyes with sadness. “She didn’t object very often,” he added tenderly. “She knew how I felt.”
Lorna gave him a sharp glance. Was he hinting that she, also, knew how he felt?
It had been different when he was a child. This had been his mother’s home. She had always lived in Westfield, and she didn’t dislike the thought that Matt would turn out to be a country doctor like his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather.
Matt had told her that there had always been a doctor in the family.
And, of course, there would be one again as soon as Uncle John was well again. Lorna felt brighter as Matt took her into the well-equipped laboratory – Hallie’s domain, he called it – and showed her the white refrigerators.
When he opened them Lorna discovered that everything – penicillin, sulpha, and other drugs she had never heard of, were neatly packaged, and labeled in Hallie’s precise, old-fashioned writing. Matt talked of Hallie with an affectionate smile on his lips.
“She’s a great old girl, darling! when you know her, you’ll love her as much as I do. She looks cold and frightening, but she’s not. You should see her handle a sick child, or a crying baby.” He grew reminiscent. “After Mother died, she looked after me with all the devotion in the world. She even let me come into her lab – it wasn’t new and sparkling like this at that time – and play with her bottles and beakers.”
Lorna watched the play of expressions on Matt’s face, and felt a queer, tugging loneliness. She wondered if she could be jealous of Hallie. Hallie who would be at Matt’s side when the Honson twins were born! She spoke almost pleadingly.
“Why didn’t I study nursing at the U, instead of those other things, Matt? Then I could help …”
“You do help,” said Matt, dropping a kiss on the top of her bronze curls, “just by being my wife.”
She loved hearing him say it, but she wasn’t content. She turned, coaxing, “I insist that you take me with you, Matt. Take me with you when you go out on calls …” She saw that his glance had turned sharply towards her, and she explained hurriedly: “I can meet people that way, Matt. Get to know them.”
He smiled and nodded. “I want you to meet all my old friends. I want them to love you as I do.” His dark eyes glowed into hers, and he spoke thoughtfully, almost as though he were unaware that he was revealing his thoughts. “There’s something about being a general practitioner, like my father before me, that fascinates me, Lorna. There’re always so many things to learn. And I keep thinking that here in Westfield I’ll be the pupil and all my friends will be my teachers. It’s not only their illnesses that will concern me. It’s their joys and sorrows, their triumphs and their fears.”
Fears! Lorna’s mind snapped at the word and she knew that her own fear was growing with Matt’s words, with the look in his serious, dark eyes.
“Oh, Matt,” she burst out woefully, “there’s so little I know about medicine. Penicillin, ACTH, and Cortisone are just words, although Uncle John does take them to control his arthritis! I’ve made up my mind to study Hallie’s Nursing Dictionary. I need to learn, because back in Doctors’ Center they will expect a doctor’s wife to know something!”
Matt agreed quietly, although his voice was a little gruff. He glanced from the big windows in front, and remarked lightly, “We’re going to have our very first visitor, Lorna. I see Carole crossing the street. Shall we go out and meet her?”
Lorna saw the little girl with the roller skates coming towards them. Her brown braids were pushed out behind her as she flew along the sidewalk, and there was an eager interest in her wide blue eyes.
“Are you really going to live here, Dr. Matt?” she cried when she saw him. “Are you really going to be our doctor?”
He nodded gravely. “I really am, Carole.” Then he introduced Lorna and said: “I do hope you two are going to be fast friends.”
“We are,” announced Carole firmly, and put out her small hand. “Can I call you Lorna?” she asked as they shook hands. “I think that’s a very pretty name.”
Lorna’s smile told her that she could. Then Lorna looked at the small, golden cocker which trailed the child’s skates and asked his name.
“Chews!” said Carole, smiling and showing the place where her front tooth was gone. “I call him that because that’s what he always does. I love him very, very much. He’s my most-best p’session!”
“Possession?” Matt repeated the word laughingly, and teased her, “I’ll bet you heard that somewhere. I’ll bet you don’t even know what it means.”
“It means,” said Carole triumphantly, “that I own him. No one can take him away from me.” She frowned, trying to go on, and looked to Lorna for help.
“It means you love him very, very much, and want to keep him all for yourself, and never want anyone else to have him,” said Lorna gravely. “Just like the way I feel about my china kittens,” she added thoughtfully.
“Kittens?” Matt caught at the word with a puzzled tone. “I didn’t know you had any kittens.”
Lorna wished she hadn’t mentioned them. Carole’s eyes, too, were filled with a puzzled look. Lorna’s face was pink as she said, “Someone gave them to me when I was about Carole’s age. I loved them – still love them very much. I brought them with me to put on my dresser so that I’d never forget how I used to feel about being alone. I had no one. Nothing else to comfort me. Cousin Em was kind, but we were never close. So I clung to my kittens. They became a symbol of ownership.”
Matt protested bluntly, “Any psychiatrist could tell you, Lorna, that it’s not good for anyone to possess – really possess – anything. Carole doesn’t really possess her little dog. He loves her, looks to her for kindness, food, other things. But she doesn’t really possess him. He’s a free little creature. He belongs to himself. Nothing worth having is worth possessing!”
He finished a little harshly, then as if he felt he had been almost too forceful about it, he caught Lorna’s hand and said lightly, “Come and look at the rock garden, darling. The cactus is in bloom. You’ve never seen cactus blooming before, have you?”
She was glad to hide her face, the strained look in her gray eyes, as she leaned over the brilliant flowers. They were as big as pottery cups, and just as colorful with their delicate, icy-looking pinks, golds, and ivories. They were deceivingly lovely, and with a little cry of delight, Lorna put out her hand to examine them. Carole’s warning came too late.
“Look out, Lorna!”
But, already, she had run a cactus spine into her slender finger. A sharp, biting, stinging pain swam up her arm. Matt caught her hand and quickly drew the little spine out of the pale flesh. But the pain went on spinning through her hand. Carole stared at the tiny drop of blood which Matt had squeezed from the spot, and spoke gravely.
“Once Chews tried to smell a cactus flower, and Dr. John had to op’rate on his little nose.”
Lorna stared at the tiny spot and wondered how anything could be so cruel. It was something like life – all bright and beautiful on the surface, but quick to thrust sharp points to wound and surprise her. She couldn’t understand all the things that were happening to her.
Here were beautiful, waxy-looking cactus blossoms and she must not touch them. Back in the old stone house were two dearly loved china kittens, and she had no right to want to possess them. Perhaps, someday, she’d get over being hurt and surprised by cactus spines, circling pain, and wild hawks. But she knew she would never be able to give Matt up to those who had a prior right to his mind, his thoughts, his attentions.
But she knew, also, deep in her heart, even as she rejected the thought, that she would never find real happiness here in Westfield, nor back in Utah, to which she dreamed of returning, unless she learned to let Matt go a little, learned to share him freely with those who also needed him.