The New Day
by Hazel K. Todd
Synopsis: Lynn Marlow, a dress designer, who lives in Chicago and is engaged to David Talbot, returns to Springdale, her home town, to visit her Aunt Polly and to find out if she has really forgotten her early love for Johnny Spencer. Johnny had married a Southern girl and she had died, leaving two children. Lynn meets the children, and finally goes to Johnny’s home to see him.
As Lynn watched, Johnny’s face became whiter. His lips moved to say her name, but there was no sound.
She didn’t know when the child slid from her lap. But, presently, she was hugging her father’s legs, and he was resting his hand on her head. But his eyes were still on Lynn, and there were tears in them.
Then she stood up, shaking. The first shock had passed. This couldn’t be Johnny. This was some strange, unknown person she had never seen before.
“Johnny,” she said in a voice that didn’t belong to her. “Johnny … I …” She floundered for words, but the right ones, if there were any, were lost.
“Why … why did you come?”
She looked from his drawn face to his shaking hand on the little girl’s head.
“I … I …”
“I asked her to come ‘cause she made Lindy a whistle.” Peter was looking curiously at his father.
Lindy blew the whistle shrilly.
Johnny leaned down and picked the little girl up in his arms. But he never took his eyes from Lynn. “If you came out of curiosity,” he said, “maybe you have been satisfied.”
His words stung her vaguely. But it was not so much his words, but something else about him that made her feel so faraway. True, they were the same eyes, the same lock of hair falling over his forehead, but he was not the Johnny who had clung so tightly to her memory.
“Peter,” he said, still watching Lynn, “you shouldn’t ask strangers into the house.”
No, it was not the Johnny she knew at all.
A strange calmness was taking possession of Lynn. All the pent-up anxiety she had felt with anticipation of meeting him seemed to melt and run away leaving her quite clear to think. She sorrowed for him standing there – this Johnny who had doodled on the margins of her yearbook, this Johnny with whom she had chased water skaters. But this man standing before her, aloof and faraway, was not that same Johnny. He was a man grown bitter and withdrawn, so distant from her that she felt she could never reach him.
“Please,” she said, “I didn’t come to annoy you. I – I came because I wanted to see you. I …”
“You never seemed very anxious to see me in the years past,” he said tersely.
“Johnny, I want to help you. I …”
“I don’t need your help, yours, or anybody else’s,” he said.
“But Johnny, you can’t …”
“Will you please go and leave us alone!”
His face was drawn and his hands were trembling. He looked old and tired. He will kill himself and ruin his children’s lives, she thought. But there is nothing I can do.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I will go.”
Lynn started toward the door. As she did so, she caught Peter’s gaze, puckered in a scowl. “You didn’t see the turkey nest,” he said accusingly.
Lynn paused involuntarily. Lindy whimpered in her father’s arms so that, without looking at her, Johnny slid her to the floor.
To Lynn’s surprise, the little girl came running to cling to her skirt, sobbing.
She forgot Johnny standing there accusing her. She leaned and picked the child up and nestled the golden head against her shoulder.
And then she remembered Johnny. He was crying, crying as though he were a little boy. When she looked at him he turned and went into the kitchen without saying anything.
She stood, holding the child, filled with conflicting emotions. Of pity to the extent that she almost wanted to run after him, and of a desire to run away from it all. It was easier to run.
She loosened the child’s arms from her neck and stood her on the floor. And then she said to the scowling boy, “I’m sorry I don’t have time to see the turkey nest. I must go.”
She walked rapidly down the path, feeling weak and confused and almost guilty for running away.
This one thing she knew. It stood out vivid and clear above the confusion. She wanted David. She wanted his calm serenity, his mature wisdom. Now she knew why he had put her off when she wanted him to come with her, why he wanted her to see Johnny without him. She had to find out for herself. Funny how time could fly so quickly. In that few minutes she had looked into Johnny’s face, she had come to know what must be an eternal truth – you can never quite go back. You must go on and on and on. The willow path, the house by the mill, the sodas, and the boy she had played with as a girl and loved as a teenager, was a lovely experience in the past. But she had grown older now, with new experiences and new needs. And it was the new needs that cried out to her.
“Oh, David,” she whispered, “I love you! I do love you! My house by the mill is a house on a hill!”
In her turmoiled thinking, she had paid no heed to the way she went, and now she suddenly realized that she had been following the path winding round the hill and had suddenly come to a dead end in a secluded nook, with a willow bench built snugly in the rocks and foliage. Thoughtfully she moved to it to sit on its rustic seat. And then she suddenly gasped in astonishment. Carved in fancy lettering like the doodles on the margins of a book was the name Lindy Marlow! Johnny had made this bench to her memory. She looked up aghast at the thought. There was an opening in the tree branches. Like a window it was, and silhouetted in the window was Aunt Polly’s house. Johnny had sat there to think of her!
She stood still, staring at the name. Since she had looked into Johnny’s face, it was as though she had been snapping the threads one by one from some tangled dream, and now suddenly she had completely broken the last strand, so that it all became very clear.
How foolish they had both been, striving to hold back the fleeting past that no one could stay. Someone must help John!
Lynn sat thoughtfully on the edge of the rustic seat. Aunt Polly had wanted to get her to come home. Not alone because she wanted to see her. She and Mr. Jensen had been trying to help Johnny. Did they hope she could be reconciled with him?
Lynn straightened up, suddenly. Perhaps she owed Johnny this. After all, it was, in a way, her fault – a man grown morose and bitter, two motherless children. She hesitated in her thinking. Was it so much her fault that she must take the place of the dark-haired southern girl! But he had sent her away. Besides, she didn’t love Johnny any more. That love belonged back on a green hillside to David. There must be a fairer way for everyone.
She had a great longing for David. A sudden impulse to find a phone and call him possessed her. she stood up quickly, and then she sat down again. She couldn’t call David, not yet. Not until she had released Johnny from the hold she had over him. But how, when he refused to talk to her? Johnny was a stranger to her now. Someone had to help her, someone who knew this new silent and bitter Johnny. She paused again in her thinking. Johnny still went to the drug store.
Of course! Mr. Jensen would know more about him than anyone else. Maybe there was some way he could help her.
She rose from the bench without looking back, and went down the hill through the clover blooms.
Mr. Jensen’s face lighted up when he saw her.
“Lindy,” he said, “it’s wonderful to have you here again.”
“Could we sit somewhere?’ Lynn asked.
He led her toward hers and Johnny’s table.
“Oh, please,” she said, “let’s sit somewhere else.”
They sat at the opposite table.
“How is Aunt Polly?” he asked.
She looked at him calmly. “Aunt Paul is very well. I have seen Johnny.”
“So you have seen Johnny, then?” he asked a little wearily.
“Yes, I have seen Johnny and his children. What do you think I can do?”
He looked at her with deliberation.
“I had thought you could either marry him or release him from the memory he holds of you.”
She looked at him through a mist of tears. “I can’t marry him, Mr. Jensen,” she said. “I don’t love him any more. I wasn’t sure until I saw him.”
He looked at her and nodded his head slowly. “At least we have solved that part of it. You see, it was necessary to make sure you were marrying the right man, too.,”
Lynn looked down at her ring and back into his face. “I love David very much,” she said.
“I am sure you do,” he said and patted her hand.
“What – what will happen to Johnny?” Lynn asked. “He will spoil his life and his children’s.”
“You must wake him up, Lindy. Wake him up from that old dream, just as you woke yourself up. He seems to cling to it since he lost his wife.”
“But how? he doesn’t even want to see me. He ordered me out of his house.”
“I don’t know how, Lindy. You see, you have someone else. Johnny doesn’t.”
“He has his children.”
“Which is not quite the same. But it might be a way.”
That night Lynn’s sleep was filled with troubled dreams. She awoke early with a great longing for David. And why not? After all, why should she try to help Johnny? Especially when he refused to be helped. Could she help if it he built seats to her memory, if he named his children after her, if he chose to be a recluse! How unfair had he been to his wife? If she called David he would come immediately, and she could go away and forget Johnny and his unhappy life. She slipped out of bed quickly with a feeling of relief.
Wishing to avoid the disappointment in Aunt Polly’s face when she was leaving, Lynn waited until Aunt Polly had slipped through the kitchen door with her basket and old straw hat to gather asparagus. As Lynn reached the receiver from the wall phone, her heart pounded frightfully. How wonderful it would be to hear David’s voice.
“Long Distance, please,” she said to the inquiry. And then a sound at the door made her turn half guiltily, expecting to see Aunt Polly.
But it was not Aunt Polly. it was Johnny’s children. She stared, unbelieving, at Peter with a marine cap sitting jauntily on the back of his head, and Lindy with a huge bow made from a piece of cloth tucked in her golden curls.
“Peter!” she said aghast, “What are you doing here?”
She became aware of a small voice coming from the telephone receiver she held in her hand. Only half realizing what she did, she hung it back on the hook. Then she collected her wits.
“That is – I mean, did you come to visit Aunt Polly?”
“We came to get you to see the turkey nest,” the boy announced.
“The turkey nest?”
“Sure. You didn’t see it yesterday.”
There were no words in her to match this boy. He took her breath away. Under different circumstances it might even be humorous. Here she stood helpless before a very important little boy and a tiny girl, decked out to make the best impression, demanding that she come and view a turkey nest. She half laughed an odd sort of laugh and dropped into the needlepoint rocker there.
“What ya laughin’ at?” Peter demanded sternly.
Again she felt inadequate.
“I’m – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. That is, I mean I shall be glad to see the turkey nest!”
There seemed nothing else to say.
“Well, come on, then.”
Keeping hold of Lindy’s hand, Peter turned and started through the door.
There was nothing to do but follow his commands. But how could seeing a turkey nest possibly help to solve anything? And if she ran into Johnny what could she say that would do any good, especially when she felt sure he wouldn’t even listen to her? And besides, she was becoming conscious of a new worry. The children had seized eagerly onto the friendship she had offered them to fill a need that had been denied them. It would already be difficult to break away, without carrying the friendship further.
Peter turned to see if she was following. “Come on. We have to see it before dinner, ‘cause Lindy has to go to sleep after dinner.”
She began fumbling in her purse.
Peter was scowling impatiently. “Well, why don’t you come?”
“Could I please write a note to Aunt Polly?” Lynn asked much the same as she would have asked permission from someone who had jurisdiction over her.
“Well, hurry up,” Peter answered grudgingly, and watched her closely while she scribbled a few hurried words.
She folded the paper and stood it against the cookie jar where she was sure Aunt Polly would see it.