There Is Still Time
By Margery S. Stewart
The girl obeyed meekly. She lay still while Elizabeth adjusted the straps, but when they waited for the elevator she lifted her eyes. They were blue and clear, like a child’s, and full of pain and fear. “If my mother were only here … or someone. I don’t want to lose my baby.”
Elizabeth was swept with pity. She took the girl’s hand, held it tightly in her own. She smoothed the hair back from the girl’s forehead. “Listen, my child, and don’t be afraid. This doesn’t mean you won’t have your baby next time. Sometimes these things happen. But next time will be different. Just keep remembering that.”
The girl clutched her hand. “Bill and I want a baby more than anything else in the world. We were so happy.”
“You just pray as hard as you can, and I’ll pray with you and everything will be all right. I promise you.”
The girl sighed, relaxed. “You sound just like my mother. That’s what she would say.”
Elizabeth took her upstairs, remembered at the last moment to pull the mask over her face, forgot to leave the chart at the desk, but remembered the operating room. Gentle nurses took the girl, wiped away her tears, murmured encouragement. The girl looked back to Elizabeth.
“Thank you. I feel strong now. I’m not afraid.”
Elizabeth went back to the chart. She reached for the chalk and crossed out the name of Mrs. Malouf.
Mrs. Malouf, too, was alone. She was a large, silent woman. But on the elevator she opened her eyes. “Hold a thought for me,” she said.
“I will,” Elizabeth said firmly. “I certainly will.”
She watched the elevator doors open before her. She pulled up her mask. This is a little job, she thought, not very important, but I’m so glad … so very glad I have it. To walk even a little way with someone in need is happiness deeper than I have ever known.
It was three o’clock before she knew it. The nurse who had helped her with the uniform came to her. “You’ll come tomorrow?”
“Thank goodness! Tired?”
“A little. I can rest when I go home.”
The nurse smiled. “You’ll get used to the job; it will take a few days.”
“I wonder how you do it,” Elizabeth said, “it’s bitter hard work, and such responsibility.”
The nurse took off her cap and shook out her light brown curls. “Wouldn’t trade my job for the plushiest career in town.”
It was good to hurry home, to close the big front door behind her, and relax in Matilda’s bustling concern. “Here’s iced raspberry punch I’ve been saving for you and some chiffon cake I made special. Was it hard?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No. It was good. Matilda, you can’t imagine how really brave people are. How did Grandma Anderson make out?”
“My land! You never heard such singings and hummings and bustling about … happy as a mother bird with new nestlings, she was.”
Elizabeth sighed with relief. “I’m glad. It’s all going to work out fine. Know something, Matilda?”
“Everybody needs a big job to do, Matilda, work to stretch his mind and muscles. It’s good that way.”
Matilda cleared away the glass and plate. “And you need a nice little rest before the youngsters git here, and besides, you ain’t forgettin’ the dinner party tonight?”
Elizabeth jumped to her feet. “Completely forgotten it. I better run upstairs and dab some cream on my face. The dinner is at Mrs. Jones’ and you know how beautiful she is.”
Matilda’s smile was brief and white. “Mis’ Jones is one gorgeous creature, and I ain’t exaggeratin’!” She rolled her eyes. “That red hair and those green eyes and that figure!”
“Will you please send the youngsters upstairs when they come in?” she called to Matilda.
Elaine was first. She came in slowly, with the shining look around her dark eyes that Elizabeth had come to associate with: A. an unexpected compliment; B. a special date; C. the consumption of a large indigestible mound of French fried potatoes and catchup.
“You’ll never guess!” She came to light upon the bed.
“You’re in love?”
“You ate three bars on the way home from school?”
“Mother, be serious! They’ve asked me to give a dramatic reading at Mutual next week.”
Elizabeth sat up. “A what?”
Elaine nodded. “Just as I thought. No one around here cares what I do or want … or dream about. No one has even noticed that I’ve spent hours … simply hours in the garage, practicing.”
“My reading. I’m going to give ‘The Interlude.’ It’s terribly sad, about a girl who is bidding her lover farewell … he’s going to war, you know.”
Apprehension seized Elizabeth. From her own youth she conjured up memories of miserable moments brought on by her own lack of humor. “Darling, don’t you think it would be best to … sort of break it in gently … I mean, start out with something light and gay …”
Her voice trailed away, muffled by Elaine’s accusing glare.
She stood up, floated disdainfully to the door. “I might have known I could expect nothing … simply nothing from my family. No one around here …” she looked over Elizabeth’s head, “understands art, or anything, really.” She went out, closing the door firmly behind her.
Elizabeth’s listening ear followed her footsteps down the back stairs, through the kitchen … pause … slam of the refrigerator door … pause. That meant the last of the cake and a second glass of milk. The screen door slammed and the garage door screeched open. Elizabeth sank back on her pillows. Every man to his own idea, and every child to its own learning. She fell fast asleep.
She was awakened by Brent. He sat beside her and rumpled her hair. “Hey, beautiful! how’s the nurse?”
She opened her eyes. “Hi, Brent! Is it late?”
“Six. When are we due at Karen’s?”
“Seven. Twins home?”
“Yup. In the back yard with Mother. She’s teaching them how to braid a lasso.” He got up. “I’ll get in and out of the shower. Maybe it will give me a boost.”
He passed a hand wearily over his face. “Beat. It makes me so mad when I can’t push a thing through the way I want it … past all the people who stand in the way.”
She swung out of bed. “Anything special?”
“The job. Lost out on two bids. Some new people … they are cutting their own throats just to get in, and cutting mine, too, incidentally.”
She went to him, put her arms around him. “I wish I could help.”
He turned away. “No one can help. A man is strictly on his own in this racket.”
“But he isn’t.”
He rumpled her hair. “Yes, yes, I know … I should believe in the ultimate reward. Well, I’ll go take that shower.”
She took a deep breath. “I’d give anything I possess to give you what I’m discovering. That’s just how beautiful and comforting it is.”
His mouth straightened, stubbornly. “Better be getting out your most lavish, darling. Karen is probably going to be loaded for bear.”
Karen’s dinner party was a beautiful affair. Elizabeth looked down the long white cloth, with its sparkling silver and softly flaring candles. Karen was in smoke-gray chiffon and pearls. She was laughing at something her guest on the right had said.
“Now I’m the type that doesn’t lean,” Karen was saying. “I simply can’t imagine a situation that could shrivel me. I think people should learn a complete independence.”
“But we must lean on something, someone, greater than ourselves … We need the Lord, at least I do.” The guest was Doctor Neiland, a scientist.
Karen tilted her chin defiantly. “That’s for the weak.”
“I do not consider myself exactly weak,” the scientist said dryly, “nor any number of my friends.”
Karen laughed. “How very serious we are becoming. I will not have people serious around me. There’s nothing to be solemn about … It’s roses, roses all the way.” She flashed her lovely, appealing smile on all her guests. “Let’s go to the living room. I’ve a new song I want to sing for you.”
She rose and led the way, her gray chiffon swished softly about her, the net stole floated back from her shoulders.
Elizabeth felt a trifle heavy and dull next to such electric charm. She found herself a chair and looked around for Brent. He was in close conversation with a group of men. Their faces were grave and closed.
Karen came over to her. “Accompany me. You know the song.”
Elizabeth complied. She looked through the music, lifted her eyes to Karen, awaiting her signal.
Suddenly Karen laughed and darted away. She returned in a moment, a silver candelabrum in her hand. She placed it on the piano to everyone’s amusement and bowed to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth laughed. It was all so gay and light and fun, a typical Karen evening. She swept into the music, and Karen began to sing.
It must have been, Elizabeth decided later, quite a few moments before anyone noticed the fire. It happened so suddenly. Was it Karen, or someone else? Karen ran about, flames from the candle circling madly through the flimsy stole, the fragile dress, her hair.
If she had only stood still, not run away from them. But she did, crying and dodging away from the arms that would smother the fire, until Brent caught her and forced her to the rug and wrapped his jacket around her, beating out the flames with his bare hands.
Elizabeth found herself kneeling beside Karen, sobbing … Karen covered her burned face with her burned hands.
“It’s gone!” she cried, “it’s gone!” Over and over again.
Brent’s hands were not badly burned. He would not go to the hospital, insisted Elizabeth could take care of them, and she followed the doctor’s instructions.
Brent’s thick blonde brows drew together. “Why did she keep saying, ‘It’s gone’?”
“I don’t know. Do you suppose she meant her looks?” Elizabeth caught his shoulders. “She won’t be scarred! Not Karen!”
Elizabeth went to the hospital half an hour early. She found her way to Karen’s room. It was dark. A nurse rose up from beside Karen’s bed.
“How is she?”
Karen whimpered under the heavy bandages. “It’s gone! Oh, Elizabeth, what shall I do? What shall I do? There’s nothing for me at all, if I don’t have any beauty.”
“Nonsense.” Elizabeth sat beside her. “In the first place, we’re not sure your beauty is gone, in the second place, we’ll love you just the same.”
Karen turned her head from side to side on the pillow. “No,” she said, “you won’t love me. When I was a child and fearfully ugly, no one loved me at all. But one day I started being pretty, and then it all began … the friends, the fun, my marriage … everything began when I was pretty. My whole life is built on it.”
Later, talking to Doctor Neal, Elizabeth felt better. There would be plastic surgery, and time, and perhaps, even scars, but not a hopeless disfigurement.
Doctor Neal shook his head. “But what good is it, if she’s going to stay in that room of her life all the time?”
“What do you mean?”
He said, “There are so many rooms of happiness in the house of our life. It’s pathetic to me to see people cling to one room, even though it’s being demolished, affords no shelter, because they don’t believe enough to open the door to another room and take a look around.”
Elizabeth went back to Karen. “He says it’s going to be all right.”
Karen turned away. “He’s just saying that.”
Elizabeth went closer. “You’ve got to believe. Think of the suffering you’ll save yourself, if you’ll only believe.”
“I can’t believe,” Karen cried from her bleak abyss. “I never could believe. I can’t just start now.”
“You’ve got to stop thinking about yourself. You can’t imagine how much you are needed in the world. Right in this hospital there are a dozen places …” She fell silent, for the door of Karen’s anguish, she had no key.
Elizabeth stopped at the temple grounds on her way home. She had grown into the habit of stopping here frequently. As the building progressed, the feeling around it changed. Not so much of peace, Elizabeth thought, but a feeling of readiness for the future.
Elizabeth looked at the high, beautiful walls of the temple, breathtaking in their height and purity of line.
I am like the house, she thought, something of me that was of the world is being broken and taken away … and in its place could stand, if only I were willing to live for it, the spiritual house.
The thought filled her with such humility and longing she could scarcely bear the pain of it. “A temple not made with hands …” They were putting in the steps. She went to stand beside them, seeing in her mind’s eye the generations of young men and women who would climb these stairs to their marriage vows, of the children who would come to be baptized for their dead fathers, the older men and women coming to do the work for their dead.
Oh, let me be a part of it, she prayed … no matter how small, no matter how humble … let my whole family be a part of it. Let Brent and me come here …
Elizabeth turned toward home. It was good to drive into her own driveway, to look at her own lawn and flowers.
She stopped short on the threshold. Brent was home … at three thirty in the afternoon, an unprecedented occurrence. She looked at her watch to make sure. “Darling, you’re not feeling well?”
Brent did not lift his head, “I feel all right,” his voice was flat, dead.
She went to him, knelt beside him, cradled his head on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Brent? Too much work?”
He pushed away from her with heavy, slow movements. “It’s gone,” he said.
Alarmed, she shook him. “What are you talking about?”
“My construction outfit. I’ve just lost it.”
She sat very still on her heels. I should have known. Flashes from the past months rose before her eyes. Brent’s frantic absorption in his business, his increasing irritability.
‘It isn’t that bad. We still have the house.”
He laughed shortly. “For about a month. It’s mortgaged to the hilt and with no business to pay for it. I thought I’d get that Lander’s bid, today. Bid as low as I dared. Lost it, and that’s that.”
I should be prostrate with fear and worry about tomorrow, she thought. But I’m not. I feel sure, so very sure that everything will come out all right, that this is doing to be taken care of.
She put her hand on his arm. “You started from nothing once before.”
He pushed her hand away. “That was twenty years ago. I’m old and I’m tired.”
He held out his hands, palms up. “I haven’t the price to get started.”
Elizabeth spread out her skirts with long, gentle fingers. “But if you had a job, and I had a job, and we worked and saved, we would soon have enough to build another house, and then two houses, just like we did before.”
He looked at her questioningly, “But what of the children? What of Elaine? What of our friends?”
The swift memory of Maria brushed coldly upon her. She pushed it away with strong insistence. “There are friends and friends. If we lose these, we’ll find some others. If we lose these, we never really had their friendship at all, so, consequently, we haven’t lost a thing.”
“But the money? We’ve lost all that money.”
She stood up and walked about the room. “Money can’t buy Karen her beauty again, nor the belief and unselfishness to go on without it. Money won’t buy us the courage we’re going to need. You’ll have to start looking for a higher place than the bank, Brent.”
Brent rose up, too, and came to her and took her in his arms. “A higher place … where you’ve been going for months and months? Elizabeth, you are a tower.”
She held him close. “I’m not strong, Brent. But I know where strength is, all kinds of strength.”
He held his cheek against hers. “I’ve watched you for a long time … watched you grow, watched the children change from selfish, screaming youngsters to nice, decent kids. Is it as simple as going to church?”
She took a deep breath. “If you’re humble and pray and do everything you can until you know. I am learning and so can you. And there is no joy to compare with it.”
Brent dropped his arms. He went over to stand before the window. “You can see the temple from here, ever notice?”
Elizabeth went to stand beside him. “It isn’t finished yet … there’s still time.”
Brent turned to her. “Time for what?” His voice was curiously gentle.
She smiled and moved within the shelter of his arms. “Time for us to help build it, my darling.”
“We’ll do that,” Brent promised huskily.