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The Part-Time Heart

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 11, 2013

From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1954 –

The Part-Time Heart

By Hannah Smith

Mal was taking her out to dinner later, so Evelyn hadn’t eaten with the family, but she had sat at the table with them. There was a lot of talking to catch up on, with her grandfather home again after so long a time. The dining room on a chilly California evening was a pleasant place, with the overhead light drawing the seven Adams faces into an animated circle around the table.

The words and phrases ran together: “Joe says he hates the Korea weather … you give the flag salute tonight … four years before they put the road through … pinch of rosemary in it … you can always borrow a bugle …”

Rob, her twenty-year-old brother, was teasing his mother with a far-fetched account of his pre-medical school day; nineteen-year-old Kat had a letter from Joe Hanson in Korea she kept trying vainly to read aloud, and her father and Philip were arguing in a serious, important undertone about the scout meeting in the family basement that night. Then there was Gramps; there were so many things everyone wanted to ask him, even though they had been plying him with continuous questions ever since he got back from his trip to Ecuador.

Evelyn sat with her chin cupped in her hands, her blonde hair falling forward in two soft fans on either side of her intent, pretty face, looking first at one and then another of them, but most often at her grandfather, so worn and sparse-looking, his eyesight failing, but still seeming so young, hopeful, and full of the serene happiness she always associated with him. She felt an echo of the same happiness within herself, with the family all together again at last, and ahead of her a long evening with Mal.

Mal! She caught a glimpse of the clock and gasped out loud.

“Oh, no!” She jumped up. “It just can’t be seven-thirty already! Mal’s coming at eight!”

“Hurry, hurry!” jeered Kat. “Old Sobersides will be mad if you’re late.”

“Won’t Deadpan wait for you?” Rob drawled, sticking out a long leg as if to trip her, as she started pell-mell for the door.

Evelyn gave them an absent-minded grimace and dashed for the stairs. Running up to her room, she thought wryly of their nicknames for Mal. She couldn’t wonder at them, really – there were two Mals, the reserved, stiff-faced one the family always met on his fleeting appearances in the front hall, and the Mal she knew and loved – the endearing and affectionate one who made her feel so special and priceless, the Mal she was going to marry.

She knew, though, that after what had happened Saturday, Mal would be even more stiff and uncommunicative tonight than usual. It would never do to let him know she had been dawdling at the table instead of getting ready; it would only add another point in the score he was totaling against her family. When the doorbell rang, she grabbed up her coat and purse and ran, but when she got to the landing she saw that Mal was already inside, talking to her mother. From above he looked polite enough; there was even a smile on his dark, craggily handsome face, but Evelyn went down the steps so fast she was breathless when she reached the downstairs hall.

Her mother turned a calmly pleasant face and Evelyn drew an unconscious sigh of relief.

“Evie tells me this is a big evening, Mal. A celebration.” Mrs. Adams smiled up at him as she put her arm around Evelyn. Usually Evelyn would have returned the hug, but now, with Mal’s eyes on her, she busied herself drawing on her gloves.

“I’ve been counting the minutes!” she said gaily.

“Really?” he said, and there was a faint edge of hostility in his voice. He steered her out the door with the briefest of goodnights to her mother and – just as she had feared – flared out at her before they were off the front steps.

“Counting the minutes? Is that why you broke our date Saturday night?”

“Oh, honey!” Evelyn put her hand on his topcoat sleeve, looking up at his face. Even in the dark she knew his expression – that baffling blend of reticence and hurt.

“I told you over the phone how it was, Mal! Gramps got home that evening – the first any of us had seen him for five whole years. I couldn’t have been away when he came, now could I?”

“If it hadn’t been that it would have been some other vital family affair.” Mal shook off her hand and strode ahead to open the car door. “Won’t you be seeing your grandfather every day from now on?”

Evelyn sighed, getting into the car. She turned on the overhead light so she could smile into Mal’s face as he came around and slid under the wheel.

“I love you, Mal,” she said, pleadingly. “And this is the anniversary of the night we met. Let’s not fight, darling.”

“But it wasn’t a year ago tonight,” Mal said stonily. “It was a year ago Saturday night.”

“I wanted you to come over, too – to spend the evening with all of us. We had such a nice …”

“I know. A nice family evening.”

She ran a cajoling finger along his jaw, and he smiled reluctantly. “All right, all right,” he said. “But it seems to me sometimes that I come after all the Adams clan. You love me devotedly – part time.”

She slid her fingers between his and the steering wheel. “Where are we going? Some place special? I’m starved.”

He started the car. “Well, I made reservations at El Pollo for dinner, and I’ve got tickets for the play at the Biltmore.”

Evelyn put his cheek against his shoulder for a brief minute. “Oh, that’s lovely. Just like last year. You’re sentimental.”

“Pretty foolish,” he replied gruffly, “to be so sentimental, I mean. A man lays himself wide open when he’s in love with a girl.”

“Oh,” Evelyn laughed, “you know that’s what I like about you!”

They drove into the parking lot beside the Mexican café and Mal helped her out. “I even got the same table we had last year,” he announced.

Evelyn nodded with delighted recollection, as he seated her, wondering if the two guitarists in the balcony weren’t even playing the same music they’d played a year ago. “Everything’s exactly the same. Except that there are a lot more drippings on this candle, the proprietor looks a good bit fatter, and Kat and Joe aren’t …”

She broke off quickly, hoping Mal hadn’t heard, but when he sat down she saw that his eyes were resentful again.

“You wish they were, I suppose. Evelyn, can’t you spend even one evening away from your precious family?”

She reached out to touch his hand, to make him look at her. “Mal,” she said, holding his troubled gaze, “Mal, I promise you, you come first with me. If you really knew my family, you’d know they wouldn’t …”

“Well, well! Look who’s here!”

Neither Evelyn nor Mal had seen the tall, bald man or the little, bustling red-haired woman until the pair stopped beside their table.

“Been wanting to meet this man!”

Mal gave them a blank stare, then glanced at Evelyn. She was returning their smiles with what appeared to be joyful warmth.

“Why, hello, Aunt Laura! Uncle Fred! How nice!”

“We won’t be butting in if we sit with you, will we?” The little woman was already motioning to a waiter. “Bring a couple of chairs, will you?”

Mal had struggled to his feet; he took Aunt Laura’s coat, shook Uncle Fred’s hand. He didn’t look at Evelyn.

“My, this is a pleasant surprise,” Aunt Laura kept saying. “Been wondering when we’d see you, young man!” She wagged a coy finger at Mal, and Evelyn groaned inwardly.

“Marry into the Adams family, boy, and you’ll see relatives a-plenty!” Uncle Fred was saying, giving Mal a heavy wink. “Are those enchiladas any good?”

Mal nodded. “Very,” he said. He sounded polite enough, but the painful color in Evelyn’s cheeks deepened.

Aunt Laura kept up a steady flow of high-pitched inconsequential chatter, punctuated by Uncle Fred’s heavy rumble, and Evelyn replied, smiled, nodded, as her misery increased by the minute.

When the waitress came for their dessert order, Evelyn shook her head. “We’ll have ours somewhere after the show,” she said quickly. “We’re in a bit of a hurry; we’re going to a play.”

Out in the car she turned to Mal with a rueful smile. “Mal,” she pleaded, “I’m sorry. Aunt Laura is – well, sort of silly, I know. We don’t see them often, but they’re very good-hearted …”

Her voice trailed off, knowing her words sounded weak, defensive.

Mal laughed shortly. “Sure you didn’t tell them we were coming? That you’d feel lonesome without some of the Adams clan along?”

She sighed, “Oh, honey, what can I do to prove to you that I’m not tied to my family? That this idea is …”

“I’ll tell you,” Mal said suddenly, seizing her hands. “Evelyn, let’s get married next week. No wedding breakfast. No reception.”

Evelyn stared at him, wide-eyed. “Oh, Mal! There’s no reason for us to …”

“Isn’t there? You said once you didn’t want a big fuss. Was that just talk?”

“No! No, I meant that. But a wedding breakfast at home with just the …”

The motor roared. ”Just the family!” Mal said. he backed swiftly out of the parking lot. he gave her one bitter glance. “Just the family,” he repeated scornfully. “Not even a groom, maybe. That sums it up, I guess.”

Evelyn saw that he wasn’t driving toward the theatre, but she didn’t care. She stared straight ahead.

“It – it would hurt Mom’s feelings …”

“Marriage is made for two. And no more,” he insisted.

Of course Mal was right. perhaps she was too dependent on her family, but how could she hurt their feelings?

They had stopped in front of her house.

“Well,” Mal said, and his voice was distant, gentle. “I guess this is goodbye, isn’t it, Evie?”

All at once she was in his arms, and he was kissing her.

“No, no,” she whispered, but that was all she could say.

The house was quiet when she opened the door, although it was still early. When she tiptoed upstairs she saw there was a light under her grandfather’s door, and she went by as quietly as she could to her room. As she sat by the front window, the clock downstairs struck eleven-thirty, then twelve. Still wide awake, she opened her door and saw that the light still shone from under her grandfather’s door. She needed to talk with someone who would understand. Then she heard a slow step and a hesitant tap on her door.

She opened the door a crack. “Yes?” she whispered.

It was Gramps, looking very small in his too-large, shabby bathrobe. “Thought I heard you moving around. Thought maybe you’d like to come over and talk a while before you go to sleep.”

His near-sighted gaze was eager and lonesome, and she thought, involuntarily, of the long years he had been gone – how she had missed him. She followed him across the hall.

“Why don’t you get into bed? I’ll read to you,” she said, knowing that his eyesight could no longer cope even with a newspaper headline.

“Fine!” he said. “That would be fine, dear.”

“Anything in particular?”

He pointed to the Bible on his bedside table. “Anything. You choose.”

She opened the book at random and began to read, her mind on Mal and her own problem. The words hardly made sense to her, but she kept her voice at a lulling, steady monotone, and in a while the old man fell asleep. She put the book down quickly and tiptoed out, conscious that some fragment of what she had read was staying in her mind, but she pushed it back as she had the rest of her thoughts. She stood at her own window again and saw Mal walking up the front steps. She ran quickly down the stairs to meet him, before he could ring the bell, wondering why he had returned.

“Oh, honey, honey, I couldn’t wait until morning,” he said. “I was so afraid you would never want to see me again.”

It was then that the words she had read to her grandfather came back to her, as sharply clear as if Mal himself had said them to her aloud. “Perfect love casteth out fear.”

“Mal,” she said, “I’m not going to have a hurry-up wedding without my family there. Tonight when we were talking, I thought you were right, that I was too entangled in my family. but now I know what is wrong between us. Mal, you’re the one with the part-time heart. You can’t trust me when I’m away from you; you won’t believe in my love. As long as you feel that way, our marriage would never succeed. We have to have faith in each other.”

He clutched her arm. “Evelyn, you make your choice – it’s I or your family.”

She shook her head. “If you went to the other side of the world to live, I’d go with you. That’s not the question; I know that now. If you’re so jealous now of my family, so suspicious, it would only be someone, something else, if we went to the end of the world together.”

He let go of her arm and drove away, while she stood watching him from the front door.

When she awakened, sun was streaming in the windows. She sat up and caught a glimpse of her pale face in the mirror, and the memory of the previous night clutched at her.

Was I wrong? she wondered. Just as she was starting to fasten the belt of her dress, the doorbell rang. She hardly noticed it, but the sound of the voice in the downstairs hall stopped her, her eyes widening with incredulous hope.

She ran into the hall and looked over the banister. Sure enough, Mal was talking to her mother. He hadn’t seen her. She couldn’t read his expression or tell anything from the tone of his voice.

“… mind calling Evelyn?” he was asking.

“Of course. She isn’t up yet, though. Why don’t you come in and have some breakfast with us while you’re waiting?”

Evelyn held her breath. Mal hesitated for a long second. Then: “Why, yes,” he answered. “Yes, I’d like to.”

Forgetting how she looked, aware of nothing but the golden miracle of the morning, Evelyn ran down the stairs.

“Mal! Mal!” she called. “Wait. darling! Wait for me!”

She caught up with him at the door and they went in to join the family together.



2 Comments »

  1. I wouldn’t trust him to change that quickly or that completely.

    Comment by Maurine — October 11, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

  2. Yeah … today we’d caution women about being deliberately isolated from family and friends by a potential abuser. I suppose this is to indicate that he is willing to change. I hope.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 11, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

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