Here’s another installment in Marjorie’s story. The setting is the Corrigan front porch, after Marjorie’s fainting spell at the Orpheum Theater has ignited rumors that she’s “in the family way.” (To read the first episode, go here . Episode 2 is here.)
The misty evening enveloped Richard and me as we sat on the front-porch swing after dinner at Kerryville’s lone restaurant, the Tick-Tock
Cafe. Sundown had done nothing to dispel the steamy heat, not even a hint of a breeze, and Richard appeared uncharacteristically casual in shirtsleeves. The ruffles on my pale ivory skirt hung listlessly, and my bare arms lay vulnerable to the mosquitoes. Nonetheless it was easier to talk on the porch than to move indoors, with inquisitive ears around every corner.
Richard had taken Eugenia’s rumor remarkably well under the circumstances.
“Time will prove her wrong, of course,” he said with his usual faultless logic. “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.”
But at the moment he wasn’t laughing. Neither was I. The harsh social consequences of an out-of-wedlock birth, even a mere rumor, cast a dim light on our (mostly my) virtue. Still, there was nothing we could do except wait it out.
“Good thing the Hospital Auxiliary tea is coming up,” Richard said, giving the swing a push with his legs. “That’ll give the other doctors’ wives a chance to meet you and see for themselves how sweet you are.”
“Oh, Richard, do I have to go?” I blurted before thinking. Unfortunately I did that a lot.
He adjusted his spectacles, something he did a lot, particularly when annoyed. “What do you mean, do you have to? I should think you’d be pleased. A personal invitation from Mrs. Cavendish doesn’t come along every day.”
I shifted on the hard seat. “I know. Of course I’ll go. I understand how important it is to you that I make a good impression. I just feel so . . . I don’t know. Like I’m being interviewed for a position. Like they’ll cross-examine me to see if I qualify as your wife. I’m sure some would have liked to match you up with their own daughters.”
Richard chuckled. “You’ve nothing to worry about. I only have eyes for you. Once they meet you, they’ll understand why you’re the perfect match for me.”
“Will they?” Breathing in his familiar scent of bay rum and cloves, I wished I shared his confidence.
“They will. Trust me.” He lifted my chin so I could see my face reflected in his spectacles. I readied myself for his kiss, but instead he said, “Of course, I don’t like it one bit that you fainted in public. I don’t detect any other symptoms, but I wish you’d see Doc Perkins, just to rule out anything I might be overlooking.”
“My goodness, I feel like one of your patients.” I turned away from his gaze. “Everyone is making too big a fuss over this.”
“You’ve been under a strain, You’re working too hard, that’s all. Maybe it’s time to give up your job at the store.”
I sat up straight. “Give up my job? You mean—now?”
He touched his spectacles. “Why not? You’ll be quitting soon anyway. The wedding’s only a few months away.”
I squirmed, my blouse sticking damply to the back of the seat. “Well, yes, but I didn’t think I’d stop working right away. Maybe when we start our family . . . ”
Richard rocked the swing. “You’ll have plenty to keep you busy, even before children come. Ask the other doctor’s wives. They’ll tell you. Committee meetings, socials, volunteer work.” His voice took on a certain stiffness, and a little vein throbbed in his temple. “Besides, you won’t have to work. I’m fully prepared to support my wife.”
“Of course you are, but Pop needs me at the store.”
He patted my knee. “I’m sure he’ll manage fine, sweetheart. Helen’s old enough to help out after school. Isn’t it almost time for summer break, anyway? She’ll need something to do besides loafing around, reading movie magazines.”
“Helen can’t replace me. She doesn’t have my experience.”
He smiled. “Really, darling, how much experience does it take to measure out a length of cotton and choose some buttons to match? ”
I braced my legs to stop the rocking, which was making me seasick. “There’s more to the job than that,” I protested.
“Now, sweetheart, don’t take it the wrong way. I know you’re good at what you do. But you oughtn’t keep working if your health is compromised. And the only way Helen will get any experience is by actually doing the job.”
“I suppose she’d appreciate the pocket money,” I said. “But I won’t have her taking over because of my health. My health is just fine, thank you.”
We sat in silence for a while, except for the droning of mosquitoes and the occasional slap as they met their demise. The sticky air made it hard to breathe. I felt tired, unusually tired. I leaned back against Richard’s arm. Maybe he was right. Maybe I did need a rest. It might be nice to not have to work, to spend the summer sketching new dress designs and doing some sewing. But how would Pop and Charlie manage the store without me?
Finally Richard yawned. “Ah, well, sweetheart, this is your last summer as a single girl. Enjoy it while you can. Before you know it, you’ll be Mrs. Richard Brownlee.”
“Mrs. Richard Brownlee.” The words felt strange on my tongue. “Marjorie Brownlee.” There was security in becoming Mrs. Richard Brownlee. A bright future stretched before me. A prosperous husband. A fine house. Pretty clothes. A shiny automobile. Children.
So why did I feel reluctant to stop being Marjorie Corrigan?
He draped his arm heavily around my shoulder. Scads of girls would kill to be in my place. What difference would it really make if I had to give up my little job, when I was blessed in so many other ways?
I looked up at his handsome profile and said, “I’m the luckiest girl in the world.” Wasn’t that the sort of thing leading ladies said to leading men as they sat on porch swings in the moonlight?
Richard smiled. “No, sweetheart, I’m the lucky one.” At last he kissed me.
But as he did, the same heavy weariness I’d felt earlier with Frances settled over me again. Where was the delicious shiver I’d felt so long ago with Jack? Was this what grown-up love was like? Sensible and practical? I’m the luckiest girl in the world, I repeated silently. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.
Somehow I could not imagine the French farm girl, in the arms of John Gilbert, needing to remind herself how lucky she was.