From the Relief Society Magazine, 1959 –
The New Day
by Hazel K. Todd
For quite some time now Lynn had sat there by the train window, her eyes on her hands resting idly in her lap. The sunlight streaming through, together with the vibration of the streamliner, as it fled over the countryside, brought vividly, now and then, sudden glints of light from the diamond on her finger. She had been watching it half consciously, wrapped in a lovely warmth for David whom she had left yesterday in Chicago.
Now she gazed curiously out the window at the once familiar landscape. Nine years was a long time. And yet how well she remembered the long line of poplars. More real now than the lost love it signified, it stretched away to the high school building at the top of the hill, still too far away to be anything but a vague red dot. The spring breeze moved the leaves on the trees outside.
It had been just such a day as this another time long ago. Warm sunshine, and gentle wind, children scattering papers and books, and sing-songing:
No more pencils, no more books,
No more teachers’ angry looks …
And high school students pairing off on the grass. Suddenly it was only yesterday she was sitting beside Johnny under the lilacs, on the grass by the tennis court. He was writing in her year book. As she peeked over his shoulder she gave a gay little laugh at the string of tiny hearts drawn on the side of the page, each with a cupid’s dart piercing its center. The page was filled with writing, and he was just beginning the next leaf.
“But, Johnny,” she laughed, “there won’t be any place left for anyone else. You’re filling the whole book! Besides, you must save something to write in MayRee’s book.”
“So what?” he said, ignoring the suggestion about MayRee, and making a lacy valentine sort of thing at the side of the page. (Johnny always doodled on the margins of her books.) “No one else matters anyway. The truth is, Lindy, no one else should be allowed to write in your year book. I’m just to the Valentine dance. There is still the prom, the senior hop, and …”
“Wasn’t this your stop, Miss?”
Lynn looked up with a start. The train had stopped. And the older gentleman who sat beside her was looking at her with a peculiar sort of smile. Earlier in the day she had talked a little with him and told him about her home town she was coming to visit after nine years of absence.
“Oh-h,” she stammered. “I guess I was dreaming.”
And then, in a minute she was standing beside her luggage, ignoring the taxi waiting before her. She was looking up the block at the old familiar sign, “Jensen’s Drug Store.”
She turned then, to the cab, a sudden impulsive decision formed in her mind.
“Just to the drug store up at the corner,” she said.
It was like some old dream, walking through the open door. And then she was sitting in the booth where she and Johnny had sat over their sodas even when they were sixth graders. She rubbed her hand fondly over the table surface almost as she would have done over a beloved keepsake. Her eyes went to the edge of the seat where she sat. She gave a sharp little gasp. Yes, they were there, hers and Johnny’s initials, where they had so boldly carved them. And Mr. Jensen had scolded them roundly. Good old Mr. Jensen! He had scolded them, but he had never sanded away those initials!
“Lindy Marlow! Or is it a ghost!” Mr. Jensen was rubbing his hand excitedly over his chin exactly as he used to do when something disturbed him. Lynn recalled how she and Johnny once had spilled their sodas over the floor and broken the dishes when they had been scuffling over a pink straw. It all came back so vividly, how he had stood there rubbing his chin, while they shamefacedly cleaned up the mess.
“All you need,” he said, “is Johnny sitting there beside you, and I would know I had been dreaming all these years.”
For a brief moment Lynn’s eyes fell to the carved initials. “No, you haven’t been dreaming, Mr. Jensen,” she said.
His eyes were on her diamond. She felt embarrassed and slipped her hand into her lap. He sat down opposite her table.
As she looked into his dear, familiar face, a flood of questions rushed to the tip of her tongue. “Is it like it used to be?” she asked eagerly. “Do the students still come for sodas after school? The Martin twins, are they still freckled as turkey eggs? Or have they all grown up and gone away? Do the new ones sit on the stools and sing, ‘A root beer float like a tippy boat,’ and ‘Pink ice cream that makes me scream’?”
She was laughing gaily.
He looked at her so closely, she suddenly stopped. “Now, Mr. Jensen, don’t tell me you didn’t like our songs?”
His eyes were twinkling merrily. “Of course I liked your silly songs. I still like them. I was just looking to see if your nose still wrinkles up like a prune when you laugh.”
“You never told me that!”
“I didn’t dare,” he said with a sly wink. And then he leaned over the table toward her. “But, tell me, what brought you to Springdale after all these years of silence? Must have been something very unusual.”
“It was Aunt Polly.” She was quite sober now. “She has been writing such peculiar letters. Is she all right? Have you seen her lately?”
He was rubbing his hand over his chin thoughtfully. “Why, yes, Lindy, as a matter of fact, she’s been in several times lately.”
Lynn looked at him suspiciously. “What for?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said quickly. “I just meant, well – she just comes in as she always did.”
“Mr. Jensen, I think Aunt Polly is ill. Oh, she never said so exactly, but her letters, they aren’t the same. They aren’t filled with the things that go on in Springdale like they used to be. Just little notes with vague hints about things she doesn’t do. I’m sure there is something wrong.”’
“Now, don’t fret yourself, Lindy. I’m sure Aunt Polly will be all right when she has a nice long visit from you.” He looked at her fondly. “But here, you haven’t given me a chance to answer all those questions you asked. Maybe you’d better start all over one at a time.”’
“But I don’t remember what I asked. I just want to know about everybody.”
“Well, let’s see. The Martin twins grew out of their freckles, went away to school and married somebody. MayRee Richins came back about a year ago. She’s a nurse at the hospital, got interested in her career, I guess, and never married. Who else?”
Funny, how after all these years, MayRee’s name should touch a little twinge of jealousy. She looked down at the table.
“Just anybody,” she said.
He traced a pattern on the table with his finger. “Don’t you want to know about Johnny?”
She was silent a second or two. Her eyes dropped again to the carved initials, and then through the door at something across the street. “Yes, of course,” she said. Then she looked into his face. “Tell me how he is, really – I mean, is he well? Does he get along all right? Does he ever come here and …?”
Lynn stopped suddenly and looked down in embarrassment. His hand touched hers gently. “Yes, Lindy, he comes here quite often, though I don’t think he goes anywhere else much. And, yes, he sits in your seat. I have never seen him sit anywhere else. If someone is there, he waits.”
It was so foolish to want to cry. Long ago she had put the tears all away. But this place made the dead past come back so vividly. She looked down at the table again. “Alone?” she asked, thinking vaguely of MayRee Richins.
“Not always. Sometimes he brings his children. You know it has been two years since their mother died.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I used to be so sure it would be you and Johnny,” he said. “Whatever happened?”
As she looked into his dear, solemn face and saw the mist in his eyes, she remembered how, in the first of those years gone by, she had longed to throw her arms around her old friend’s neck and sob out the loneliness she had known. But that was long ago.
She said, “It’s been so long, Mr. Jensen. That’s the way things are in life. You do one thing or you do another. It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
She sighed a little then, and pushed the hair back from her forehead. “But I must get to Aunt Polly.” She looked at Mr. Jensen with a suspicious look. “You are quite sure there is nothing really serious with Aunt Polly?”
He nodded his head assuredly. “Quite. In fact, I’ll bet she can drive the Chev to get you. Shall I call her?”
“I was going to take a taxi and surprise her,” she answered. “But please do.”
And then, of a sudden, a bright thought struck her. It may have been something in the breeze floating through the door that was suggestive to her of other spring days, when she had walked home to Aunt Polly’s through the field along the path that followed the creek. Maybe the wind told of willows just right for spring whistles, and of smooth stones where the water gurgled. Or maybe it whispered other of lovers’ walks along the winding path. Whatever it was, she suddenly had an unconquerable longing to walk along the path again as she had done in those years before.
“Wait, Mr. Jensen,” she called impulsively, as he started for the phone. “Tell me, is the path still there. I mean along the creek through the willows?”
He looked at her curiously. “Must be. Most things stay the same here, same fences, maybe sagging a little, same people, a few more wrinkles, a few more homes along the upper highway. But I haven’t heard of anything being done to the path along the stream.”
She smiled at him with dreamy eyes. “You know, I think I’d like to walk along that old path again. Would you mind if I left my luggage? I’ll pick it up later.”
He smiled at her. “Lindy, I was afraid you’d be a sophisticated city girl after all these years with a fancy job and everything, but there’s still a lot of that same little child left in you that drank her first soda right there in that seat. Bet you even pull off your shoes and wade in the creek. Maybe you’ll catch the croup and Aunt Polly will have to come after croup medicine for you.”
She went out the back way then, with their laughter vibrating in her heart, across the vacant lot to the fence where the willows marched to the stream.
“But I couldn’t be the same girl, could I?” she asked herself. “Too much has happened to me.”
The little old gate was still there, its poles a little more worn, its woven lattice bleached and weatherbeaten, but still squeaking on its hinges as she opened it. She almost wanted to talk with it about the secrets it knew from her past, like the times when she and Johnny met here in summertime. For a moment her hand rested lovingly on its rustic post and then she left it with the silent secrets, and went down the path through the willow clumps. And as she walked, the years slipped away. Two long pigtail braids hung down her shoulders and she walked with bare feet over the soft dead leaves of the path.