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A Vest Pocket Tragedy

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 10, 2013

From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1937 –

A Vest Pocket Tragedy

By Elsie C. Carroll

Frank’s grey suit which she had been going to sponge and press slipped from Peggy’s arms, as with a little gasping sob she took in the significance of the note she had found in the vest pocket.

Frank, old Pal,

I can’t let you slip out of my life after all the days and nights we’ve spent together. I shall be in Tremonton Thursday on the 11:15. Can’t we arrange a little trip such as we used to take – off by ourselves? There are things I must talk over with you.

Don’t fail me.

Yours as of old,

Jen.

Peggy knew she must be dreaming. Such a thing couldn’t happen to her! And yet there it was – a letter to her husband from another woman, suggestively intimate, asking him to meet her.

She felt cold and hot and smothering all at once. The old, old tragedy shattering her life – and less than two months after her wedding day.

Her first impulse was to call the office and ask Frank to come home. Yet could there be an explanation to a note like that? Besides, she suddenly remembered, Frank wasn’t at the office. He had told her he might have to go over to Thurston to finish up a deal his employer had left when he had been called to Chicago, and a little before noon just as she had returned from the corner grocery, the office girl had called to say that Mr. Demming had tried to get her before he left, and that he would not be home until late in the evening.

“I shall be in Tremonton at 11:15 on Thursday.” O, it was all too plain. They were off on their little trip now.

Peggy wanted to scream as she threw herself upon the yellow and orchid bed and gave herself up to hysterical weeping. Through her tortured mind raced story after story she had heard or read, of other deceived women. The magazines and movies were full of them. And so was life. There had been her own Aunt Deborah, never dreaming of her Uncle Peter’s interest in his stenographer until it had developed into a crisis after long years of deception. And there was Florence McCormick who had been so sure of Jim’s love and loyalty that she wouldn’t even believe that odious woman who had stolen him from her, until Jim himself confessed his faithlessness.

But Frank!

And he had seemed especially dear when he had kissed her goodbye this very morning – holding her as though he would never let her go and telling her how sweet and absolutely perfect she was.

And all the time – this letter there in his pocket – and him knowing he was going to meet this other woman.

Peggy sat up and tried to think what she should do. There was only one thing, of course. She must go away.

But the thought of going home was intolerable – the humiliation after all her ravings about Frank’s perfections. She had painted for her folks their life and love as a paradise of bliss.

She couldn’t go to some big city and find a job for she’d had no experience; she had no references; she had only a few dollars. She went for her purse and found that the exact amount it contained was $10.87.

In her desperation she thought of Cousin Letitia. She could get to Granger for $7.10. Letitia would be surprised, of course, but it would give her time to think, to plan.

The tightness in her throat felt like a burning band. Her head was throbbing. She wished she could die. She went about all afternoon in a tortured daze, doing the things that needed to be done in the apartment; washing out things she would need to take with her.

As she was getting out of the bath, the clock struck eight and she realized that the next train south would not leave until 11:43. She wanted to get away as soon as possible, but she still had her bag to pack and her farewell note to write to Frank. All afternoon she had been trying to think what she should put in that note.

At last she sat down at the little mahogany desk and took out some stationery. A flood of memories swept over her as she recalled the day she and Frank had selected the desk at Lannin’s. A month ago – and now the end. In one of the drawers were Frank’s letters – one for each day of that month after graduation before their marriage. Bitterly she wondered if he had been writing to this girl Jen at the same time. Probably she had been right there in Kemmerer with him – “Their glorious nights.”

Page after page Peggy wrote and tore into shreds. The coo-coo clock, Frank’s birthday gift, struck nine, then ten, then half past. She must get away before Frank returned – if he should come before morning. The girl at the office had said he would be late.

In desperation Peggy finally wrote a single line – “This will explain why I have gone away,” and placed it with the letter she had found in his pocket on the yellow and orchid bed.

She would go to the station at once; she couldn’t bear the sight of all the intimate things that reminded her of her lost happiness.

She put on her hat and coat and switched off the bedroom light. She reached for her bag which she thought she had placed on a chair by the window. It wasn’t there. She must have taken it to the entrance hall when she had gone for her scarf. In the darkness she started for the living room.

Her heart stopped beating as she heard a key in the lock. The door opened and light flooded the room as Frank’s voice boomed:

“Why, you’re all ready! You must be a little mind-reader! I’ve been hurrying my head off to get back so we could go to the station. I couldn’t even remember that I had told you that Jen was coming.” He had given her a tight embrace and a quick warm kiss as he was speaking.

“But what – who – ?”

“The note I got yesterday from Jenkins Mallory, my old war buddy. He’ll be here on the 11:15 and we must have him up. You’ll fall for old Jen like a million dollars. Come on, honey, we’ll have to hurry. I didn’t even turn the ignition off Lizzie.”

“O – all right – but – I – I – must get – a handkerchief.” In the tiny bedroom three swift movements sent a traveling bag skidding under the bed, a crumpled sheet of paper into the wastebasket, and a note to the vest pocket of a grey suit.



4 Comments »

  1. Jen being a man was one of my first thoughts when I read the note.

    Comment by HokieKate — July 10, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  2. You’ve read and seen more stories, HokieKate, than those naive readers of 1937!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 10, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

  3. Seems to be a pretty mushy note for a man to write to a war buddy!

    Comment by deb — July 11, 2013 @ 6:37 am

  4. While it might be mushy, it is not atypical of men in past generations. One of the interesting things about TEAM OF RIVALS was the open affection with which men addressed one another back in Lincoln’s day.

    At what point did men start being more circumspect with one another? Is it homophobia? I don’t know.

    Comment by Naismith — July 11, 2013 @ 10:51 am

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