There Is Still Time
By Margery S. Stewart
Synopsis: Elizabeth Anderson is disturbed by a strange dream in which she sees herself and her friend walking on crutches. She tells the dream to Brent, her husband, and explains to him that something is lacking in their lives. Brent, however, is so much interested in making money, that he does not want to understand Elizabeth’s plea. Grandmother Anderson comes to live with the family, and, during her illness, Elizabeth and the children begin to appreciate the blessings of sacrifice and service. Elizabeth succeeds in persuading the children to go with her to Sunday School and sacrament meeting, and she feels that, as a family, they are making progress, although she is heartsick at Brent’s indifference.
Sometimes her friends came with flowers and jelly and murmured polite phrases of regret, but Karen Jones, beautiful as a camellia, was frank in her disapproval.
“How you stand it, is beyond me …” She looked with wonder at the lines and hollows in Elizabeth’s face. “Honestly, you’ll look like your own mother in another month.” She touched her own glowing, pearl perfection with a long, graceful sweep of painted nails. “Do you know it took me two solid hours this morning of massage and eye pads to get rid of the Jamisons’ party. Honestly, you should have seen my eyes.”
Elizabeth looked gently at the extraordinary beauty of Karen’s blue-green eyes, her brilliant red hair. “I can’t imagine you with a flaw, Karen, I really can’t. You’re my despair, really. When I get all dressed up for a party, I think of you and just wilt. I suppose most of your own friend do, too.”
Karen smoothed her wide, yellow skirts. “Beauty is it own excuse for being.” She laughed, “Wish I could remember who wrote it, someone is always quoting it to me, and they never know either. But, frankly, Elizabeth, you’ve got to stop this Florence Nightingale business and come out in the sun again.”
Elizabeth passed fruit juice and cake. “I will. She’s much, much better.” She smiled. “Someone told me they were going to ask you to help out on the Red Cross drive. Did Mary tell you?”
Karen shook her head. “No, and she can save her breath. I’ve found the most marvelous new reducing salon, and they are going to keep me tied, simply tied there for three months. Do you know, Elizabeth, I’ve gained three inches around my hips.”
Elizabeth watched the dismay smooth away on Karen’s forehead. It must be fun to walk into a place looking like her and have every head turn. I had a dream about her once … let me see … Oh, yes, that awful one about the crutches.
“… You haven’t heard a word I’ve said. I’ve been telling you about the luncheon Mary is having. She said she’d call you. Do come, darling. It will do you so much good.” She was gone in a flutter of skirts and a fragrance lingering and lavish.
From overhead came the impatient thumping of the cane by Grandma Anderson’s bed. Elizabeth ran to answer it.
But, at last, to everyone’s delight, Grandma Anderson was permitted to be up and around. She fluttered about the house like a winged bird, chirping constantly. “Did you know, Elizabeth, that Lin only worked three hours on the garden yesterday. You pay him for five.”
“I told him he could leave early. He was expecting a brother from Tokyo.”
“Hmph. A long way for very little. They’d both be much better off saving their money. Did you know Matilda threw out that sack of crusts from your party? She never did put it into a bread pudding like I told her.”
Elizabeth put down her mending and rubbed her forehead. Her head ached. Her mind ached from scrabbling a thousand times a day for excuses, reasons, blandishments.
“Grandma, why don’t you make Donna a dress? You’re such a good seamstress.”
“Dress! Land sakes alive! That young one has more dresses than she’ll ever wear out.”
“Why don’t you make a quilt, then? One of your specials.”
Grandma Anderson considered. “Well, I might, not that anyone around here would appreciate it.”
Elizabeth rose and fled. She took Elaine’s car and drove aimlessly toward town. It’s my nerves, they really took a beating in that long illness. It’s the let down of a big job done and three women trying to do the work of one. Matilda runs that house with one hand tied behind her, that leaves Grandma Anderson and me to haggle about the little tasks and to pick on everything the youngsters do. She took a deep breath. now somebody very wise would make this predicament profitable for everyone. But I’m not very clever. I only know I’m happiest when I’m doing a big job … like nursing Grandma Anderson, or the twins when they had measles, or having a dinner for twenty.
She stopped at the Farmer’s Market, sat in the sun and ate a lemon cream tart. it was delicious. She wandered about the booths, bought a breadboard from Sweden and sandals from Mexico. Still reluctant to turn homeward she found a movie. The usher waved her to a place beside a girl in her early twenties.
A pretty blonde girl, but sleepy. Elizabeth found herself stealing worried glances at her neighbor.
Suddenly the girl’s head jerked up. She opened her eyes. She looked at Elizabeth and smiled in embarrassment.
“We’ve been so short of help at the hospital that I’ve been working through for a week. I’m bushed. But I did want to see this movie.”
“Are you a nurse?”
The girl nodded. “Wish I were five of them. We could use them all on my division.”
“Why the shortage?”
The girl shrugged. “New hospitals every week or so, it seems, more sick people than I’ve ever seen before, and fewer people to want to do the grubby things that nursing demands.” She wriggled into her jacket, still yawning. “I guess I should try to stay and see it through again, but I just can’t make it.”
Elizabeth ached for her. She knew from experience that utter fatigue of body and mind and the stubborn will that persisted in driving the aching bones to newer tasks.
She moved her knees to let the girl by, but the movie had lost its charm. She felt the drama on the screen was vapid in comparison to the real life drama of the weary girl making her way toward the exit.
They had not even missed her. Brent had been called out of town, Elaine had gone to a dinner dance the Mutual was giving, and Grandma had taken the twins and Donna to Primary and then down the corner to get some ice cream.
Matilda served a warmed-over dinner. “It just did you a world of good to get out of here, Mrs. Anderson, you just ought to do it more.”
Elizabeth pushed aside her dinner and leaned her face in her palms. She was tired to the bone.
Matilda grumbled as she took away the plate. “Appetite like a bird. Why don’t you go out and play, Mrs. Anderson, play golf again, or go to some of those parties they’re always invitin’ you to?”
Grandma Anderson came home with three flushed and excited children. Johnny ran ahead. “Did you know that Grandma played with a real live buffalo calf when she was little?”
Jennie shrieked louder. “She saw a mountain lion once when they were camping.”
Elizabeth looked at Grandma Anderson. She was radiant, flushed with responsibility and pride. “Land sakes alive. These poor little children haven’t been to an ice-cream parlor for years.”
“We have ice cream all the time at home.”
“Fiddle-dee-dee! Cold stuff in a dish.”
Jennie jumped up and down. “Grandma says she would take us to Griffith Park, if you’d let us … on the bus.” She made it sound like six golden horses all aglitter in the sun.
Elizabeth blinked. Buses and ice cream parlors … all the beloved things of her childhood were just as much of a treat to her spoiled trio, and Grandma Anderson seemed to thrive under the admiration of her grandchildren. She needs a job to do, the same as I do, Elizabeth realized. Now how are we going to bring this all about?
Elizabeth did try golf, but the game was not enough to absorb her energies. She tried other things, charity drives, luncheons.
Karen Jones gave the most fabulous luncheons. Elizabeth often felt that she was walking into a dream, walking into Karen’s living room with its white rugs and draperies, its apricot and green couches and chairs, the exquisite Chinese tapestry she had above the beautiful fireplace.
Today, Karen was wearing peacock blue. It intensified the red of her hair and the blue of her eyes. The luncheon was mainly fruit. Karen’s newest craze was diet, and she went on interminably relaying the latest taboos from the new doctor she had found.
Elizabeth listened idly, enjoying the food, the surroundings, and the beauty of the women around her, feeling happy in her own new brown suit of raw silk and the absurd little brown velvet hat. It was fun to watch the other women wait like birds upon a branch for a pause in Karen’s steady flow of words.
She stopped for breath and Katherine James and Delores Moser both started in talking. Neither would surrender, so the guests good naturedly listened to both and then concentrated on the most interesting.
Delores was describing the hilarious adventures of herself and her husband in Mexico over the weekend. “… On our way back we stumbled over Maria.”
“Not Maria Lindsey?” She had everyone’s attention.
“The same,” said Delores triumphantly. “And you’ll never guess where we found her or what she was doing.”
“Tell us. Don’t be like that.”
Elizabeth felt her own interest quickening. Maria had been most friendly at one time, coming to call, inviting Elizabeth and Brent over for dinner when they had first come to the neighborhood. Elizabeth remembered how impressed she had been with the Lindseys’ beautiful patio and pool. Then, suddenly, the Lindseys had moved away … there had been no further word.
“She’s a waitress! At Don Caro’s! Can you imagine!”
They stared at Delores. “Not really!”
“A hostess, rather,” Delores hurriedly modified the statement. “But imagine our embarrassment … our absolute chagrin to meet her like that. Made me feel horrible. Maria’s face went as white as this cloth when she saw us. Looked absolutely sick. Do you know that Don lost every penny … simply every cent?”
Karen pushed back her long, beautiful hair. “I don’t suppose there’s a chance they’ll ever make it again … get back up here with us?”
Delores shook her head firmly. “Not a chance. They did give such lovely parties, too. Right to the end. Well, that’s the way it goes … On the way home I bought the most beautiful vases … antiques and priceless …”
Elizabeth clenched her fists under the table. Was that all there was, then, to friendship? Once they had all eaten at Maria’s table and rested in her chairs, dived in her pool. Now she was pushed out of their minds by a pair of antique vases. It seemed to Elizabeth as if the floor shifted beneath her, the same helpless feeling she had known once in a dream. Oh, yes, that dream about the big party and the crutches that crumbled under her.
After the luncheon was over she drove aimlessly about, not wanting to go home until she was calm again. She still had the agonizing sensation of unsure earth beneath her. She passed a hospital and looked idly at its gray forbidding walls, remembering the little nurse in the movie and the call for help in that morning’s paper for nurses and aides.
Suddenly, on impulse, she parked the car. She went up the wide path to the stone steps. “Idiot!” she said to herself, but her feet went resolutely, almost without her volition up the stairs and down the long halls to the small sign that read, “Nurses’ Office.”
She was small, gray, and pleasant, the woman at the desk. She looked impersonally and yet inquiringly at Elizabeth’s beautiful clothes.
“I wonder … could you use an aide … perhaps in the children’s ward?”
The woman looked at Elizabeth’s brown leather bag, at her shoes that matched exactly, and the brown velvet hat. “You’ve had experience?”
Elizabeth tried to send very brisk. “My own children … and for two months I nursed my mother-in-law. Doctor Eberhardt told me I did a wonderful job …” She stopped, blushed. “I only said that to show I had had some experience. I understood you are quite short-handed. I thought … until it became easier to get help.”
The woman smiled. “Could you come tomorrow?”
Elizabeth swallowed, nodded.
“At seven? It’s seven to three, you know. You’ll be in surgery. Would you mind that?”
“No … I’m sure I wouldn’t.”
The woman looked again at Elizabeth’s slim heels. “Better wear low, white shoes. There’s a lot of walking on this job.” She handed some papers across her desk. “If you’ll just fill these out.”
Dinner that evening was a joyous affair. Jennie simply couldn’t believe that her mother had gone out as simply as to a corner drugstore and came away with a job. “But you’re so old … I mean … I thought …”
“I am just brushing forty.” Elizabeth said haughtily, but with a smile within. “And I wish you would stop reminding me of it, as if age were something I could escape, if I were a little more clever.”
“All those heavenly medics,” sighed Elaine. “So young, so utterly handsome.”
“I’ll try not to be rushed off my feet,” murmured Elizabeth.
Brent looked up. “I don’t like it,” he said abruptly, “I don’t like it at all.”
“But it’s such a simple little job, darling, and not for long, just until there’s not such a shortage of help.”
Grandma Anderson waved her fork at him. “You let her go. With me here to look after the children, there’s not a thing in the world to worry about.”
“And I’ll be home before they are,” Elizabeth interpolated quickly, “no one will ever know the difference.”
Brent laughed. “Very well, if you insist. I give you just two weeks and you’ll quit of your own accord.”
Elizabeth sighed with relief. There were no more hurdles as far as she could see. “I’m heading for bed, five in the morning will come mighty soon.”
Elizabeth had dreamed all night of bending over tossing patients, tenderly bathing foreheads, and smoothing brows. The reality was abrupt and brutal. She was sent to the fifth floor with a typewritten note clutched in her tense hand.
The elevator was automatic. It closed its doors upon her and left her alone in a long gray hall. Elizabeth looked about her. Directly opposite was an operating room where nurses were changing sheets on an operating table. They wore masks and their hair was covered by caps. Everyone seemed in an ordered hurry.
One of the nurses, hastening down the hall, stopped. “You must be Mrs. Anderson?”
Elizabeth nodded, held out the typewritten note.
The nurse read it quickly. She smiled briefly. “Come with me, please.”
She led Elizabeth to a room marked “Nurses Only.” It was a small room with a cot and a few deep chairs and a table on which reposed stacks of uniforms. The nurse burrowed through them, stopped to give Elizabeth a measuring glance.
“I wear fourteen.”
“Thirty-four. Here we are.” She tossed the uniform to Elizabeth. “We’ll have to hurry. We’re really short-handed today.”
The uniform had a deep V-neckline and string that pulled tight to form a waistline of sorts. Elizabeth looked down at herself ruefully. “I look like a sack.”
The nurse laughed, “It’s not by Dior, nor is this cap by Dache.”
It wasn’t. It fitted coldly around Elizabeth’s face, hiding every vestige of hair.
The nurse nodded approval. “Now come back upstairs, and we’ll find you a mask. You must remember to pull it up when you bring the patient into the operating room.” Elizabeth nodded.
She pushed a handkerchief into her pocket and hurried along after the nurse, who led her back upstairs. She paused before a huge blackboard. The blackboard was a maze of initials, names, and medical terms and hours. “7:30, J.C. Metcalfe, 412,” Elizabeth read, “D.C.” And below it, “8:00 R.D. Malouf, Biopsy left breast, 355.”
The nurse handed Elizabeth a paper. It duplicated the names and information on the board. Twenty-three names Elizabeth counted. She looked up inquiringly. “Twenty-three operations?”
The nurse nodded. “Your job is to get them up to us. You can start with J.C. Metcalfe, Room 412, which is on the fourth floor. Tell the nurse at the desk which patient you want. Be sure to read the tag on the patient’s wrist, compare it with the name on your paper. We can’t operate on the same patient twice in one day. Too expensive.”
Elizabeth smiled and looked up quickly, but the laughter had already fled from the nurse’s eyes.
“Bring the patient to Small Major.” She indicated the four operating rooms that opened from the circular hall. She counted them for Elizabeth, naming each one. “First minor to your left, second minor next to it, first major on your right, second major next to it, and third major right across from the elevator.”
The cart moved at the touch of Elizabeth’s finger. She placed the folded sheet on it, and moved toward the elevator door. Nervousness chilled her.
The nurse smiled encouragement. “Don’t be afraid.” She arranged the straps that would hold the patient in. “There should be someone to help you, but there just isn’t. The girl left unexpectedly … not much pay for a nurse’s aide. You’re heaven-sent, you know.”
She came with Elizabeth to the elevator, rang the bell. “Don’t be afraid,” she said again. “The patients are pretty heavily sedated. You’ll have no trouble. Room 412, remember.”
Elizabeth nodded. Her throat felt rough. The elevator door moved open silently. She stepped in quickly. The cart moved at her finger’s touch.
Room 412 was easy to find. The floor nurse helped her. The floor nurse was a tall, weary woman who did not look well at all. She was impatient with Elizabeth’s newness.
“Why on earth they can’t find someone who knows for a change.” She moved the cart beside the bed. “We’ve come to take you upstairs, Mrs. Metcalfe. Oh, come now, crying won’t help matters at all.”
The patient, Elizabeth saw with compassion, was just a girl, not quite out of her childhood. She lifted a tear-stained face. “But if someone were only here. If Bill were only here, but he’s in New York …”
The nurse patted the cart impatiently. “Hurry, Mrs. Metcalfe.”