From the Improvement Era, August 1925 –
His Shoes in the Parlor
By Marguerite Cameron
Jane stooped to pick up Ed’s shoes. She had never felt so embarrassed in all her life.
“Perhaps my skirt is caught,” Mrs. Symes, Jane’s distinguished caller had excused, as she had tugged at her black serge.
“Allow me,” Jane had rushed to assist her in removing the obstacle. And there to her horror she had discovered no less an obstacle than Ed’s big everyday shoes. Dusty and scuffed they were and inside reposed his socks loosely rolled.
“However did they get here in the parlor?” Jane murmured in apology, as she hurried this telltale evidence of her husband’s untidiness out of sight. Her face, her hands, her whole body burned in shame. Of all times for Ed to change his shoe sin the parlor – just before Mrs. Symes called – and she the most critical missus on the street. And the idea of rolling up his socks inside. She had always told him –
After Mrs. Symes left, Jane deliberated. She was mortified. Perhaps she could speak to Ed. He would be so sorry to have distressed her. But in the end Jane spoke only to her mother.
“If I come into the house anytime after Ed has changed for tennis,” she complained, “I am sure to find his hat, coat, trousers, necktie, shoes, strewn anywhere form the parlor to the kitchen, never in the bedroom or hung up in the clothes closet, where they belong.”
“Now your father –” acquiesced Jane, “he is neat. I’m just sure such things are born in men.”
“You’ll likely have to endure Ed untidy to the end,” poorly consoled Mrs. Brown.
“I won’t,” Jane rebelled inwardly. To her mother she said, “I’ll find a way.”
But Ed continued to spill ashes over the kitchen linoleum. He ignored the scraper and mat at the doorstep and tracked mud across Jane’s immaculate rugs.
Worst of all was this matter of clothes. Jane might arrange his chiffonnier drawers ever so neatly, the next day they presented a chaos with no earmarks of ever having been tidied. Jane might hang his clothes ever so correctly – trousers in crease, coats out of crease – Ed continued to slump everything across a chair, to coats adding the further indignity of a bulge at the back of the neck.
Jane tried various methods of reform. She thought to leave things helter skelter just as Ed left them. But he, finding no fault with himself or his wife’s new method of housekeeping cheerfully passed up the hint.
Then she tried getting after him.
“Ed, look at your muddy feet,” and “Ed, these handkerchiefs belong in the laundry basket,” and “Ed, your towel is on the floor,” and “Ed –” ad infinitum.
Such it was from morning until night. At the end of the first day both Jane and Ed looked weary, and Jane gave up. She couldn’t nag at Ed all the time.
“Perhaps we might talk over our grievances,” Jane argued with herself. “Ed is a sensible chap. And there is nothing seriously wrong with him. it is just the little things which irritate me.”
She decided to begin by asking Ed to tell her of her faults. Then she could come back at him. She’d speak of the shoes and socks rolled up inside, which he had left in the parlor the evening Mrs. Symes had called. Then the disarray of his shaving things – it was the same every morning. And every night he left his coat with the sleeves turned half inside out. Of course, it was a mess next morning unless she remembered, sometimes when almost asleep, and hied herself out of her warm bed to avert the dilemma. Oh, yes, she could catalog things by the yard. Ed would think it was time he was noticing, when she had finished speaking. What a happy home life they could expect with all their sins washed away. She would set the date for tonight, this very night.
All day long Jane planned what she would say. She and Ed would be sitting in the living room reading, after Ed had come home from his round at tennis and after she had collected and hung up Ed’s shirt, coat, trousers, necktie, collar, shoes. It would be easy, she thought, to begin then. She and Ed were so devoted to the welfare of each other, and, thank God, they were sensible – yes, very sensible.
For a fleeting second she wondered just what about her had rankled with Ed. She couldn’t think, and Jane was in no way conceited. No doubt it was with her as it had been with Ed. He had no idea that he even had these faults which so irritated her. Well, Ed would rip her up this evening. Just as a passing thought she wondered how it would feel to have Ed rip her up, but she stifled all qualms. It would work out for their mutual good.
In their five years of married life there had been times when Jane had hoped that Ed might grow tidy. The first time had been during the honeymoon. All things had seemed possible then. He had wanted so to please her.
Then he had hurried away to war, where the camp life had “trimmed him of every careless habit.” So he had written Jane. It would be marvelous, she had thought, to have him home again – “trimmed.” And he had come on furlough. He had looked glorious – “trimmed” to a gnat’s eyelash in appearance. But that night, when Ed had come from his shower, Jane had found the bathroom in the same old clutter. She had stumbled over his soiled clothes. She had had to clean up his shaving things. And his shoes – oh, dear. Then this meticulous tidiness which the army was demanding in camp had been only veneer. For a second, bitter words had risen on Jane’s tongue, but she had stifled them. Ed was going to war. She had been glad to set about cleaning up after him.
Jane sat waiting a long time before Ed’s key rattled announcement of his coming. Buoyant, radiant, noiseless in his tennis sneakers, he came in and sank down on the davenport.
“Gee, I wish you liked to play, Jane.” His slim, athletic figure stretched back into the cushions, making no effort to reclaim the tennis racquet, which clattered to the floor, nor the balls, which hip hopped down onto the rug and off to the far corners to bump their noses against furniture and walls.
Jane thought, “What better time than this?” She opened her mouth, but no word came. She grew scared. How silly. This was to be just a little get-together of husband and wife. Married folks everywhere must have them. All over the world she could imagine such seances – and yet –
“Ed,” she finally began, “I think we ought to talk over our faults.”
He looked up, not understanding. That was a bad beginning.
“I mean,” Jane stammered on, “we each must have faults, which bother the other.”
“Uh-huh,” Ed grunted.
“Don’t you think it would be nice to tell each other? Then you won’t have to annoy me, nor I, you.”
“What’s fretting you?” Ed asked.
“Oh, not very much, but I thought everything would go so much more smoothly if – ”
“Oh, no. You must be first.”
“I can’t think of anything to say.”
“Think hard. Do I keep house the way you would wish?”
“Can’t see anything wrong.”
“Your clothes, Ed?”
He shook his head, “So far all right.”
“Haven’t I some horrid little habits?”
“Ed, the cooking, the yard, the way we go out, the way I dress – what would you suggest?”
Ed considered honestly.
“Well,” he declared, “so far as I can see, there isn’t one thing I’d change in you, or in the way you do things. You just suit me, honey.”
Jane should have glowed in appreciation, but she suddenly felt hard, cold, desolate. Why didn’t Ed pile up her faults? She, herself, could think of any number of them this very minute. She was finicky. She was too lazy to play tennis with Ed. She had a beastly disposition. Things upset her, when nothing could rob Ed of his good nature. Why, he had a wonderful disposition. Like a flash she seemed to rise out of her distress into the refreshing calm of Ed’s perpetual good nature. Whatever she did, Ed never complained. And here he had just said he wouldn’t change her if he could.
She began to think about Ed. She loved him – oh, every inch of him, as he sprawled there on the davenport, his eyes upon her. He was pure gold. Ed was a model husband, generous and true.
Ed was the unselfish one. If ever one of them had to do without a new suit or some desired thing, it was Ed who went without. Ed would have it no other way, although Jane well knew that in most families the man argued that he must be well dressed regardless of the rags in which the family appeared.
Ed brought her something on the seventh of each month, because on the seventh of May five years ago they had been made man and wife. Sometimes it was only a flower, a box of candy, a book, but it was eternal proof that his heart was never dulled to that day or to her. He had never missed. What husband in the whole world did the like? He never found fault with her. He –
What on earth had she meant to tell Ed this evening? There was positively nothing to say. If he had a fault, she could not see it in the light of his virtues. She’d like to see the person who ever could find fault with Ed – a real fault.
“What have I been doing, Honey?” Ed reached down to unfasten the laces to his tennis shoes. “Something’s got on your nerves.” He bent forward, his eyes lovingly upon her.
Jane watched him pull off his tennis shoes and place them at the end of the davenport. Every evening during all the years of their life together, wherever he happened to be – in kitchen or parlor – Ed would pull off his shoe sin the same way, and there he would leave them. He would stretch his stockinged feet and yawn in perfect comfort. Thank goodness.
Jane looked straight into his eyes. “Ed,” she said, “do you suppose I could ever play a good game of tennis – ”
His face lighted up.
“ – if I tried ever so hard?”