From the Relief Society Magazine, July 1934 –
One Day Off
By Gwenevere Anderson
“Tomorrow. Tomorrow perhaps I’ll bring her back with me, dear little Lucy! Oh, if I only could!” Mrs. Donner kept saying over and over to herself as her hands deftly slipped cards in and out of books and placed the stamp of the library on them.
But the words, for some reason, did not seem to bring her comfort. Although the library was clean and quiet as usual, although it was pervaded with its own reassuring sounds of rustling papers and hurried footsteps to and from the stacks, there seemed to Mrs. Donner to be a feeling of unrest and uneasiness in the air. The familiar smell of dirty books and old paper seemed to carry something unusual and electric – an indefinable foreboding of disaster. she tried to shake it from her, but even as she looked up to see Mrs. Bray waiting her turn – Mrs. Bray, with her correct and cultured look – she felt uneasy.
Mrs. Bray waited with her two new rental books under her arm. She was thinking how peaceful the library and its workers seemed and congratulating herself that though she had given her husband no children, she at least always gave him a well-read and keen-minded companionship, despite the rush of her social obligations. What a well-ordered life Mrs. Donner must live – calm, with nothing of the whirl and storm of life to break it!
“You are looking a little tired today, Mrs. Donner,” Mrs. Bray said in a voice that congratulated itself on its cultured quality.
“Am I?” the gray eyes that looked up from the card file did look tired – or perhaps worried. “Well – I have my day off tomorrow.”
“You must rest then. Thank you. Good day.”
“Good day. Next, please.”
One day off from work! One day away from those grinding hours to see her dear little Lucy! What did the day hold that had changed the joyous anticipation of a week ago to a feeling but little removed from dread? Only a foolish hunch, of course – only that she was too tired, or depressed by this gloomy morning; for the only thing that suggested morning was the hour itself. It was neither bright nor fresh, but foggy and murky, with an almost invisible drizzle of rain or falling mist.
Lights glimmered in the railroad station as though to deny that it actually was the beginning and not the tired end of the day.
“From Rock River, here, to Melb’ry, and return, lady, is four sixty-two,” said the sleepy-eyed ticket agent.
“And when does the last train come back?” her voice quavered a little. Perhaps Lucy would be with her then!
“Five fifteen’s the last.”
Mrs. Donner gathered up her change and her ticket, placing them in her neat brown purse as she started out toward the rain again.
The wheels going over the silver shining rails made a monotonous sound, and the rain drizzled ceaselessly against the pane. Mrs. Donner sat tensely erect in her seat, and her eyes seemed to look fixedly at the unseen, as if to pierce the veil of the future and see what the day was to hold.
The doctor had said that on her next visit to the sanitarium, he would be able to tell her when her Lucy would be well. For nearly two years now, she had been hoping that each visit would be the last – for nearly two years of loneliness in a lonely little room. It had sorely tested her faith sometimes to have to bear the anxiety alone. What a happy time and what a cheery home she and Lucy would have when they could be together again! That was worth waiting for until the time when it would be safe to bring Lucy home — when, as the doctor put it, “she had responded to the treatment.”
The head nurse at the sanitarium came forward smilingly as she recognized Mrs. Donner. (Oh, blessed relief, everything must be all right then!)
“Lucy is looking for you,” the nurse said brightly. “And Dr. Wilborough was just saying this morning that he may take the weights off next Thursday.”
At the word “weights,” Mrs. Donner seemed to see a scene that was printed indelibly on her mind – the little form under the sheet, with the limbs stretched over the end of the cot and held there by heavy weights. She knew of course that they hoped to clean the infection from the hip joint by stretching it apart and giving it a chance to heal. But it seemed as if they must stretch the youth and life out of the frail child’s body, too. And now to have them off! How could she have dreamed of disaster?
Mrs. Donner followed a younger but equally bright nurse out onto the sun porch, where many little white cots were arranged. The sunshine, after the early morning shower, was so bright that before Mrs. Donner saw Lucy, she heard the child call:
“Mamma! Oh, it’s my dear, dear Mamma!” and a moment later the mother was holding the child’s dark, curly head close to her own graying one.
“You can’t guess, Mamma,” Lucy whispered, her arms still clinging about her mother’s neck, “what Dr. Will is going to give me for a birthday present next week.” And then, her voice shaking a little, “The weights off my legs! Oh, Mamma, won’t we be glad! And wouldn’t my Daddy have been glad!”
“So glad, dear.” Through her tears, Mrs. Donner was seeing another Lucy – two years old, her legs chubby and fat, as she was tossed high in a man’s strong arms. Perhaps it was best that Joe had not lived to see those little legs grow so helpless and thin. Perhaps now he could understand all this – why it had to be, and how best to bear it.
When Dr. Wilborough came in that afternoon, he found the mother reading to the child, both faces glowing with happiness. He smiled at Lucy, but his face grew grave when he greeted Mrs. Donner. (“Perhaps,” she thought, with sudden insight, “he hates to see Lucy go.”)
“I must talk to you about taking Lucy home,” he said. But when he had led her into his office, he hesitated a moment before he went on rather gruffly, “I think that I can let you take Lucy back home next week.” He cleared his throat. Why was he so hesitant? What more could be said beyond this joyous news? Then he went on, “She will never walk again, Mrs. Donner.”
It took a full minute for the bright hope to fade from her eyes and leave them looking at him dully.
“But I thought –” she began in a voice that seemed to belong to someone else, “that you said – you were going to take the weights off – Thursday.”
“Yes. I have decided that it will be useless to continue the treatment. You see –” His voice went on, still gruff through its gentleness, explaining in scientific terms what had happened to the bone. She caught something about a wheelchair, about a bright sunny home for Lucy. “It’s in your power to make her life happy and useful,” he said. And even as she winced as though beneath a blow, she understood the pain, the deep sorrow, in the doctor’s voice.
When she turned away at last, she was a weary and aging woman.
“Tell her I had to catch my train,” she said, and went out into the road to walk to the railway station and wait there two hours.
It had begun to rain before the train reached Rock River. The wheels on the gleaming rails and the slithering drops against the window pane seemed to say over and over, “She will never walk again, Mrs. Donner. She will never walk again, Mrs. Donner.”
Her head ached. She considered that in the morning, before she went to work at the library, she must go out in the drizzle and smoke and fog to look for a sunny place where she and Lucy could live together. If only Joe were here!
She must have dozed for a moment, for someone seemed to have said to her, “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. …” Was she always to have to walk in the shadow, then? Was there never to be any happiness for her and those dear to her? What was the rest of that, anyway? “… for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
She held her head high as she got off the train.
“Good morning, Mrs. Donner,” Mrs. Bray said brightly. “Did you enjoy your day off yesterday?” (How nice of me to remember that! she thought.)
“I went to see my little girl,” Mrs. Donner answered.
“How nice!” (How calm her life is! If I didn’t have so many social affairs and charities to see to – And a little girl of her own, too!)
“She’s going to be home with me again now!”
As Mrs. Bray turned away, she wondered vaguely what strange quality made the librarian’s voice sound so odd and broken. It was not joy – but a sort of half-defiant faith.