Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Career For Marjorie

The child stood irresolutely at the door, her small, unhappy face framed in carefully brushed and curled brown ringlets. Her fingers, hot and damp from mixed fear and excitement, left crumple marks on the stiff white skirt of her organdy dress.


The slender woman at the dressing table turned and swept appraising eyes over the little figure framed in the doorway.

"What is it now, Marjorie? Can't you see I'm busy? Just a minute and I'll pin that sash a bit tighter. And stop twisting your skirt with your hand!"

"Mother, I--I don't want to go. Please, can't we--"

Her mother turned again, her lips set in the determined way so familiar to Marjorie.

"We've been over all that before, Marjorie. What do you think I've paid for all those lessons for? For you to stay at home on the day of the recital like a crybaby? Haven't you any idea what it's cost me to give you the lessons I never had? Now stand still, and pull in your stomach while I pin this."

"Mother, I tried to tell you--I--I can't play as good as the others." Her voice trembled on the brink of a torrent of tears.

"You're just saying that because you're scared. Now go wait for me in the living room." She reached for her lipstick. "The very idea." She carefully tucked a strand of graying hair beneath the blue hat, and kicked her houseshoes toward the bed.


The small figure reappeared in the doorway.

"Stop biting your nails, and tell me if my slip is showing."

"No. You look very nice, Mother."

"Well, so will you if you'll just stop fidgeting. How will you win that contest next month and make your acceptance speech if you don't get over that nervousness?" She picked up her bag and gave her hat a final twitch as she left the room.

Once in the car and on the way, Mrs. Harkness felt better. She had begun to have misgivings, to doubt that she would even get Marjorie to the recital, to say nothing of getting her to perform. She glanced down at the miserable child beside her. So silly to have stage fright. But she would be all right once she was seated at the piano. Mrs. Harkness sighed.

"Marjorie, you should have had blonde hair. It would look so much nicer on the stage."

The large auditorium was almost filled when they arrived. Mrs. Harkness stole a quick look at her compact, gave Marjorie a last brush, and started through the door. Miss Billet, Marjorie's teacher, rushed up and took charge of the child, giving Mrs. Harkness a bright smile that revealed her excellent dental work.

"Oh, I thought perhaps Marjorie might not be coming, Mrs. Harkness. I'm so glad you did get here on time."

Mrs. Harkness nodded her thanks rather stiffly. Didn't the woman know that she would have called and asked the program to be delayed a few minutes if something had happened? After all, she must know this was an important day to Marjorie. Mrs. Harkness had already planned polite answers to all the congratulations. She thought it might be well to feign indifference. No one need know that she was just as much determined for Marjorie to be a success as Marjorie was herself. It would make up for her not being able to have taken the music training she had so desired in her own youth.

Mrs. Harkness found a seat near the stage, and settled herself to wait. Repressed excitement sent hot flashes through her body. She hardly heard the first child who performed. The applause was generous, but not enthusiastic. Mrs. Harkness smiled to herself. Wait until Marjorie finished! She found herself wishing that she had had the time to listen to the child practice more often. She had not actually heard Marjorie play since the first few lessons.

She glanced down at the program. Marjorie was third from the bottom of the list. She wondered what she was doing now. Perhaps she should have gone backstage with her to be sure the child didn't get all wrinkled before time for her appearance.

Ah, what wouldn't she have given for an opportunity such as this when she was Marjorie's age! She remembered her passionate love for music, her desire for a chance to study. It was a feeling mixed with intense bitterness. Mrs. Harkness' mother had been dead many years now, but the memory of her still caused her daughter's mouth to twist in a wry expression of deep dislike. The stern, determined woman she remembered with uneasiness even now, had been the only barrier between her and a career in music.

She remembered the day when her piano teacher had advised her mother to give his gifted pupil the chance to develop the talent that slumbered in the fingertips of her tapering hands. She remembered her own tears and pleading, and the set lines of her mother's face as she had replied that her daughter would enter nurses training the following year, the silent manner in which she paid the teacher, a manner clearly indicating that there would be no more occasion for the weekly payments.

Mrs. Harkness shuddered, and did not notice the puzzled look given her by the man seated next to her. She was not hearing the music at all. She was thinking of how she had been trained as a nurse, just as her mother had declared she would be. She was still a nurse. And with every year that passed, with every line that deepened in her face, she grew to hate it more and to despise the memory of her mother.

Thank heaven Marjorie had not been denied so! At least she had the consolation of knowing that her own daughter would be given the chances she had never had. Her mind came back to the music, and her finger moved down the program. Three more before Marjorie. She thrust all thoughts of the past from her mind. It would do no good to remember and regret. She had her own child to work and plan for now, and in some way, through her, Mrs. Harkness would at last realize her own dream. After today would come other recitals, prizes, recognition, scholarships.

She would forget her childhood fancies after today when she saw the acclaim and the pleasure her music could bring to her. Mrs. Harkness understood that thrill. She felt it now in anticipation for Marjorie. Only one more to perform.

She thought fleetingly of Marjorie's behavior that morning. Strange. She herself would never have been afraid. Her fears had always been forgotten in the pulsing joy of the music she created. She smiled faintly, thinking of Marjorie's silly idea that she wanted to be a nurse like her mother. Children were so foolish. She was always bandaging hurt animals, splinting broken dolls' legs, playing doctor to her playmates.

Suddenly Mrs. Harkness thought again of her mother, a slender, determined woman who closed her eyes and heart to the pleas of a miserably unhappy child. She sat up stiffly, her mind a sudden confusion of pictures that began falling into a meaningful pattern. She got to her feet and pushed her way to the aisle, stumbling over feet, murmuring quick apologies, not seeing the annoyed glances thrown her way. She almost ran toward the door leading backstage.

The little girl in the stiff organdy dress sat by the window, staring out, waiting. Her short, chubby fingers, so unlike the tapering hands of her mother, clutched her skirt nervously, leaving damp crumple marks. Mrs. Harkness swallowed the ache in her throat, and the line around her mouth seemed to become softer.

"Let's go home, Marjorie."

This short story appeared in the Spring 1952 Baylorian, Mother's last semester in college.


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