From the Relief Society Magazine, 1956 –
There Is Still Time
By Margery S. Stewart
It was the dream that awakened her. Elizabeth opened her eyes quickly. She felt suffocated from the quick beating of her heart. She sighed with relief at sight of familiar pale green draperies, white bars of Venetian blinds through which night flowed darkly.
She was trembling. It was only a dream, she told herself, but the fear persisted – the building-on-quicksand feeling that was with her so much of the time. Brent, beside her, turned over, mumbled in his sleep.
Elizabeth crept out of bed, put on robe and slippers. She slipped down the hall to the twins’ room. They were fiercely asleep, Johnny with the red Indian paint still showing on his forehead, Jennie with her new set of Gene Autry guns on the blanket over her stomach.
Elizabeth went quietly to her oldest daughter’s room. The door was firmly closed. She lifted her hand to knock, but thought better of it. Elaine was impassioned these days about her right of privacy, “… after all, when one is sixteen!” She spoke it in caps all the time, as though the year sixteen was a gateway into a land no one else had ever entered and out of which she would never emerge.
But there was one room which held no fears, and, as yet, no annoyances – Donna’s room. It had originally been intended for a dressing room and was rather small, but Elizabeth had seen its possibilities at once and the result was almost as charming as its occupant.
Donna opened her eyes when Elizabeth bent above her bed. she smiled sleepily in welcome, her dark eyes luminous, her dimples showing, “Can I really go to school when it’s September?”
“Really, my darling.”
“I’ll be awful big then, won’t I?”
Donna smiled and turned over on her side, her dark curls slipping across her cheek. Elizabeth pulled the sheet higher over the small, out-flung arm. Love made a soft singing inside her.
I should go back to bed, she thought, the dream was just one of those frightening ones. She stamped her feet lightly. You see, she scolded herself, your feet are strong and well, nothing wrong with them, nor with your legs, nor you, for that matter. But still the soft winds of apprehension brushed along her neck. She felt her way down the stairs, crossed the enormous living room and the almost as large dining room into the kitchen. Here she felt free to turn on the lights, bang the refrigerator door, rattle pots and pans. She felt a slight pang in the small tasks. Once she had been queen of the kitchen, but now Matilda, large and dark and bustling, had full command. The twins were slavish in their adoration. It was, “Let’s ask Tildy to make us some lemon cookies … Maybe Tildy will make us some taffy this afternoon.”
Elizabeth lit the fire under the milk.
“Make some for me, too.”
She whirled, then relaxed at sight of Brent, short, stocky, his thick light curly hair rumpled, the overhead light twinkling on his glasses. He draped himself on the stool.
“Wake the whole house when you go tiptoeing around.”
“I do not.”
“Certainly do. Johnny had a coughing spasm right after you left … Jennie started yelling something about the Khyber Pass, and Elaine came out to demand, and haughtily, that the family leave her in peace.”
Elizabeth laughed. “But I didn’t even go near Elaine. I only stood outside her door.”
“She said she could hear you breathing in the hall.”
“You know she did. You know very well that even the way we eat soup these days is more than she can bear.”
Elizabeth tightened the cord of her robe. “Too true.” She brightened. “But Donna was glad to see me.”
Brent smiled wryly. “So glad that she is now in our bed … in the exact center … and we are homeless for the night.”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. She got down another cup and saucer. “Toast?”
“No, thanks. I think I’ll have some of Matilda’s banana bread. Any left?”
“Confound it! I told him to leave at least a crust.”
“He forgot. I’ll tell her to make some more tomorrow.”
“But I wanted it tonight.” His good humor was melting away. The sharp impatience that possessed him so much of the time, lately, edging back.
She said quickly, “There’s cake. Here, let me get it for you.”
He scowled. “Kids never give you a thought, just themselves … all the time … selfish … thoughtless. Look at all I give them. New bikes for the twins just yesterday. They hardly said thanks.”
“Brent! they were thrilled to death. It’s just that they’re used to getting things.”
“Bert Neibar’s boys really stand around for him … follow him around like a couple of puppies.”
She bit her tongue. She would not say again, “But Bert Neibar gives the boys more than things … he gives them himself … games, hiking, Church on Sundays … the three of them.” She took a deep breath. “What about the lot of us going on a picnic, come Saturday, down to the beach?”
“Take the boat out?”
“Go down to San Diego to the zoo?”
“I’ve got enough monkeys in my own house.” His smile vanished. “I think they’re planning a new tract over in the valley. I’m going to go look at it. I want to make a good bid. If I get to build those houses you and the kids can wear ermine this winter.”
She put the cup of milk before him. “I don’t want to wear ermine.”
“A’right a’ready! Four o’clock in the morning, and you decide to be unreasonable. What’s the matter with you lately … no gratitude? Nothing in this house but arguments and fights … the kids fight … we fight … everybody growls all the time.”
She spoke quickly, before her courage could ooze away, “When are we going to start rearing them together? They need you, Brent. When are we going to start doing for them all the things we’ve meant to do, Church, family days …?”
“Now, Eliza, you know you’ve been just as busy as I have, trying to get us where we are today. Besides, I just can’t start any projects now. I’ve got enough on my hands.” He drank his milk swiftly, tension beginning to show in the working muscles of his jaw. “All I ever get around here is criticism.”
She said swiftly, throwing him the new thought as a caged man might throw a bone to a pacing lion. “I had the strangest dream. That’s what woke me up … the strangest dream.”
He looked at her with lackluster eyes. “Everybody gets weird dreams.”
She sat on the other stool. “This will make you laugh. I dreamed we were having a party … oh, a really gala affair, like the one that the Jeffereys’ had last week.”
“That was something!” He stopped the cup at his lips. “Butlers all over the place. I’ll bet that cost old man Jefferey …”
“It was like that, only more beautiful. the grounds were so green and velvety and there were pieces of statuary here and there. I was waiting to receive my guests … and Brent …” She put her cup down. “I looked down at myself and I was leaning on a pair of crutches.”
“Yes, but they weren’t ordinary. They were gold and silver crutches … really beautiful.”
He reached for more cake. “It was the junk Lois served us tonight. Honestly, how that woman gets by serving the stuff she does …”
“Lois’ buffet was delicious, Brent. Anyway, I hardly touched it. But Brent, listen, this is the strangest part of my dream. When the guests came, they walked on crutches, too, all of them.”
“What a dream!”
“Karen Jones, you know how beautiful she is?”
Brent nodded appreciatively.
“She was wearing crutches, too. Hers were ivory with amethysts and rubies … and Mr. Jefferey. Oh, you should have seen his!”
Brent laughed. “His were pure uranium, I’ll bet.”
“Some kind of silver metal.”
Brent stood up and stretched. “Nice dream. If it were only true, we could have our guests park their crutches and forget to take them.”
“No.” Elizabeth moved toward him, put her arms around him. “It wasn’t like that at all. I was leaning on my crutches and, suddenly, they crumbled and fell. I couldn’t stand by myself … I had been leaning such a long time …” To her dismay, tears blurred her voice.
Brent shouted with laughter. “Page Freud, darling. You’ve probably been harboring some suppressed fixation and it popped out in a dream.”
She wanted to pull understanding from him. “Brent, it was so awful, the feeling when the crutches crumbled. I was so helpless. I felt it was my fault.”
Brent shook her lightly. “Darling child, you just keep right on leaning on our bank roll. It’ll never let you down. I’m going to get the bid for that new tract, and you can fly to Europe and buy diamonds that’ll put the eyes out of Karen Jones.”
“But I don’t want diamonds.”
His face darkened with anger. He dropped his hands. “You never want anything. If it weren’t for me you’d still be sitting in Beaver, Utah, waiting for Saturday night and the big dance at the ward house.”
“Those were fun days, and I wish they were back again. Oh, Brent, it isn’t that I don’t appreciate everything you’ve given me and the children. but our life isn’t right. There’s something missing … something lacking.”
“What’s lacking?” He was instantly defensive. “What could you possibly want that you don’t have?”
“It’s something I can’t go down to Bullock’s and buy,” she stormed, furious with herself with quarreling, angry with him for his unwillingness to understand and be patient.
He turned to the door. “When you find out what it is, let me know and I’ll get it at a discount.”
The swinging door rocked sharply with his going. Elizabeth put down the now cold cup of milk. What a fool I am to quarrel with Brent. I’m unreasonable. I do have everything, she told herself.
She drew her housecoat closer about her and went out on the patio. it was beginning to be morning. In the hibiscus bush a mocking bird chirped sleepily. The swimming pool looked cold and dark. Elaine had forgotten to close the garage doors, and the small sports car she loved glinted bright red. Elizabeth looked about. The neighborhood was like a park, trim and green and fresh, beautifully cared for by the patient Japanese gardeners.
The dream came vividly back to her mind. She went into the house and dressed swiftly in a sweater and skirt and flat blue shoes. She came down again with Elain’s keys in her hands. She eased the little red car out of the driveway and turned it in the direction of the sea. How still the city was in the morning, and how beautiful here along Sunset Boulevard with its curves and green hills and the fog not closing down grayly but wisping beside her like a gull’s wings.
There was one lone fisherman on the beach. She walked away from him toward the rocks which jutted out a little way into the sea. She climbed over the rocks and found a little hollow where the spray could not reach her. the morning wind was heavy with dampness. It blew against her. The waves came in heavily, driven by the wind and crashed upon the rocks.
The sea has not changed since the beginning, Elizabeth thought. It is the same as it has always been. The sand is the same consistency, and the earth and the sky and stars … but we have changed. We have gotten so far away from our beginnings that we cannot remember what it was that we were meant to be. I did not mean to be the way I am, an idle, discontented woman, with idle, discontented children. How I have twisted and distorted the girl who was myself.
She sighed and dipped sand out of the rock. What am I supposed to be? To do? Why was I placed here on this island winging between all the other islands in the sky? I do not give my children bread any more. I do not give them anything.
The fisherman edged toward her, a large fish dangling from his hand. he gestured toward her with the fish, calling to her, his hand curled around his mouth. He was an old man.
“Do you want it?” he shouted.
She nodded. the man came toward her. “I got plenty for myself.” He looked at her narrowly. “It ain’t safe for you to be here … alone like this.”
“But it’s such a beautiful place,” she protested.
He shook his head. “A beautiful place is where no ugly thing is, used to be like that, years ago. Nobody who lived around here then would hurt you. but they’ve changed, got black inside … blackness coming out in cruel dark things they do.”
“What changed them?”
The old man chuckled, showing sparse and yellowing teeth. “We used to have a sayin’ ‘so an’ so is an honest man,’ we used to say … ever hear it?”
She nodded. “My grandfather, about his neighbors.”
He put the fish in her hands. “That’s what’s wrong with us, lady. Not enough of us able to say them simple little words about each other.”
She took the fish gingerly and turned in the direction of the car. The old man was right, of course, it had been foolish to come to this lonely place. But she felt frustrated and angry, remembering the hills and canyons of her childhood where she had wandered free and safe as a bird.
She settled herself in the car and went down the ocean highway to Santa Monica Boulevard. More people were abroad now. She came to Overland Avenue, stopped for a traffic light. She looked to her left and caught her breath at the sheer beauty of tall white walls under construction. This must be the new temple. She had been meaning to come down to see the grounds ever since the papers carried the news. She turned left on the next street and made her way into the grounds.
The builders seemed to be doing everything at once. The openings which would be doors were boarded over. They were already putting in the lawns and trees. Inside and outside bore evidence of feverish activity. Palms as high as the beautiful lower walls were held in place by wires. Spruce, too, had been brought in fully grown, and these also were secured in their places by wires. The earth around them was damp and dark. Pools and fountains of soft green tile were almost finished. North of the temple stood the Harold Lloyd home, battered and beaten now from the struggle to tear it down. Elizabeth remembered herself as a child reading about the Lloyd estate, trying to imagine its beauty from the printed word.
She left the car and wandered about, picking her way over boards, broken pieces of concrete, bricks, and all the other paraphernalia of building. Morning was fully come in a burst of sunlight breaking through the fog, dispersing it. The tall tower of the temple gleamed in the sun. There were a few men about beginning the day’s work.
Elizabeth touched the polished surface of the walls, reverence in her fingers. There was something infinitely moving and beautiful about this unfinished building, she thought, reminder of a holiness implicit and absolute. She peered through the doors, trying to see the finished result from the rough beginning now apparent. Names made pictures in her mind, Kirtland, St. George, Mesa … I wish, she thought with a pang, that we had given even a brick to the building of this house of the Lord.
Such a long time since she had even been to a meeting, not going because she had not been able to endure the loneliness of going alone. The years stretched behind her to Beaver and the little meetinghouse there, to herself in bobby socks and saddle shoes being chosen queen for the green and gold ball. There had never been a moment since quite like that. The time Grandfather went on his mission. How the people had turned out. Now that had been a night of joy and tears and such oneness among neighbors and friends, that she, only a girl at the time, had trembled with gladness, drinking it up like a heavenly nectar.
What had happened? But she knew. She had always known, shutting the knowledge away in a dark room of her mind, turning the key in the lock.