by Vera Leff

Marie had a sleepless night, and had only just fallen into a deep restful sleep when, from many years’ habit, she knew it was nearly seven and time to get up. She dressed and scarcely looked at her pale face in the mirror, catching only a glimpse of fair hair straggling untidily from the gay scarf she had knotted round her head. At the door she turned and went back to her shabby dressing table. She opened one of its many old-fashioned little drawers, and took out comb, powder and lipstick.
“I’d be no good for him!” she thought, giving herself a really dazzling make-up, “Or him for me, for that matter!” With determined fingers, she re-arranged her scarf until it looked as smart as a “Vogue” cover-design. “But I’m blowed if I’m going to look miserable over it!”
“Marie. . . breakfast is ready!” her mother called up the stairs in a softened voice, so as not to disturb her husband. It was a long time now since he had been in bed on a week-day morning, when all the others were up and away to work.
“How is he?” asked Marie anxiously, taking tea and bread and marge. standing up at the kitchen table.
“He seems all right, but I wish Dr. Anderson would hurry!” Mrs. Roberts glanced out of the kitchen window as she served her son and daughter with the meal, but she knew quite well that Dr. Anderson always had a long list of visits to make each day, and it was only in extreme cases of life-or-death that he could upset his routine. “Still I can’t help worrying!” she said, almost to herself, and Marie noticed with sudden sympathy the deep lines on her mother’s forehead.
“Cheer up, Mum!” Bob picked up his school-books; “It’s sure to be all right!” With the sublime and thoughtless optimism of youth, he went off, and they heard him whistling as he slammed the gate. Marie felt much older than her twenty-one years as she waved to him through the window.
“I must be going too!” She put her cup and saucer beside the kitchen sink.
“But I wish I could stay with you today, Mum!”
“Oh no, Marie!” said her mother anxiously. “You must be off to work now. I’ll be all right. Dr. Anderson promised to get him into a hospital today. I wish it could be St. Margaret’s. Then it wouldn’t cost fare-money to visit him!”
She smiled to Marie, and started to clear the table. “I think I’ll turn out the kitchen cupboard today I” she said, and Marie felt a little happier about her.
“Fasten up your coat now!” she called after her, and suddenly remembered that she had never asked Marie the Doctor’s verdict after her visit. “And she never said a word to me!” thought Mrs. Roberts; but if it had been anything serious? No, it couldn’t be. The thought of another one ill in the household seemed too much for her. Anxious as she was about her daughter, she put the idea from her. Marie was all right, she knew. What she needed was a steady young man to take her out a bit, go to the pictures, brighten her up. She smiled to herself, washing up the dishes. It was grand that Marie was stilI young and carefree.
“Elsie! Elsie! She heard her husband’s voice, strangely hoarse, calling her from the bedroom.
“I’m coming, Harry!” Fixing the smile on her face, she went in to him. As she passed the kitchen window, she glanced out, anxiously but hopelessly.

All day Marie stood at her bench, doing her work with mechanical fingers that never made a mistake, although her mind was on anything but her job. She had only two thoughts that day, each in their own way causing her unhappiness. As the hours passed, she wondered about her father, imagining him being carried on a stretcher, bumped and jolted through the busy streets, and finally being taken away in the depths of some dark and winding hospital corridor. And poor Mum with no-one to comfort her; only some cool crisp nurse – “Visiting day is Tuesday”; speaking like a gramophone record, with a voice but no heart, and disappearing in a whisk of white apron before the anxious questions could even be spoken. Yes, Marie knew what the hospitals were like. It was a misfortune the day ill-luck or ill-health brought you past the spiked iron gates. . . although the doctors and the nurses do their best, she re-assured herself. Only they can’t help the way things are run. Or can they?
With a sudden warm flush she remembered Donald Anderson again. How many times this day had she tried to put all thoughts of him out of her head? She had made up her mind not to meet him, not to see him again, and that was that. Yet here were her thoughts by whatever road they wandered, coming back to him always. And each time there he was more vivid than ever, with his frank, steady gaze, and his enthusiasm about building a new sort of medical system. “As though it was something as dear to to him as … as a wife!” thought Marie. “And him a doctor, or nearly, and the son of a doctor. . . and taking me out on bus rides and things!” Marie’s feelings were confused, but one thing she was sure of, she was not going to meet Dr. Anderson’s son again.

The Granada cinema was one of those super-luxury buildings that by its sheer magnificence inside and out dwarfed everybody and everything that came within its towering presence. Even the new block of shops that were ranged alongside its car-park seemed shoddy by comparison, and it was no wonder that the people living in the dingy uncomfortable Victorian houses in the nearby streets escaped as often as they could to the velvet comfort of the warm and perfumed interior of The Granada. And after all, if your attention happened to wander from the extra large silver screen, you could always gaze upwards to the star-studded ceiling, or the romantic imitation Spanish galleries which decorated the inside walls of the cinema. And all that for a shilling!
While Donald walked impatiently round and round the marble entrance hall of The Granada, he figured out what such a place must have cost in labour and materials. Supposing it had been given over to one of the new health centres! He pictured it, with sunlight-rooms, rest-rooms, physical culture rooms, all fitted out with the very best equipment, luxury equipment, every bit as luxurious as The Granada. Donald was quite enjoying himself now, leaning against the elaborate gold-fish pond in the centre of the hall. “And all this not for a shilling, but free!” He looked up guiltily, wondering if he had spoken his thoughts aloud; but no one in the queue at the box-office even noticed him; they just moved up doggedly and patiently, and the money clinked over the little counter.
Donald looked at his watch. It was nearly eight-thirty. He went out on to the busy pavement, and looked up and down the windy street. There was no sign of Marie. For a moment he was furious with her, and intensely eager to see her and tell her so. In fact, he almost started off in the direction of her home, when he remembered the meeting. It was his duty to be there with his comrades; and besides, he had just had a taste of what desertion meant.
With his usual firm tread, he went off down the narrow sidestreet that led to the Union Hall where their local meetings were held. The glamorous light which The Granada shed around did not reach very far, and he was soon walking along the familiar dismally lit road, with its tottering old houses and open drainage at the corner, which Dr. Anderson Senior had condemned in his own mind thirty years before, and which Anderson Junior was determined to do something about now, “before another generation of children have their health polluted as their fathers did!”

Donald reached the meeting in a very pugnacious frame of mind, and he threw himself whole-heartedly into the discussion that was going on.
The medical profession was represented only by Donald, and a young Dr. Knight, who was the radiologist at the local hospital, St. Margaret’s, However, there was elderly Mrs. Smithson, who in the old days had been the Sairey Gamp of the neighbourhood. She was loved and respected by all the women to whom she had given comfort and help in their difficult hours, and from the depths of her experiences she welcomed the proposed new health services with her heart and soul. “I’d gladly take a back seat!” she said. “To see young, properly trained midwives and nurses for all our mothers. And home-helps. And money benefits. It should have happened years ago!” At this point she would fix her listener with her bright, unexpectedly young eyes. “But this is one birth I’m going to help deliver with all my strength !” Yes, Mrs. Smithson was a good ally, Donald always felt, even if she was hopelessly old-fashioned in her medical knowledge. Besides, the local women knew she was their friend, and trusted her. If Marie could meet her! Donald pulled himself up. He was not going to let that pretty fair face come between himself and his notes of the discussion, but in spite of himself, all through the meeting, he could see her smiling at him as she did at the concert, or looking sad and weary as in that brief glimpse he had of her in the surgery; she tantalised him, attracted him, and challenged him.
The other people at the meeting were representatives from the local trade unions, the co-operative mixed guild, the Labour party and the Communist party.
Dr. Knight, the Chairman, summed up their discussion.
“The Tories have got the new health services on paper; but the one thing that’s needed now is to get it across to the people. It’s the people alone who can turn these paper schemes into real bricks and cement!”
“We could get one of the new health centres for our neighbourhood, if the demand was great enough!” said Donald, with sudden hopeful visions of his dream of the evening coming true.
“The need is great enough!” said Mrs. Smithson, and was about to launch into one of her lurid descriptions of the many cases of ill-health and tragedy she had witnessed in the course of her career, when the Chairman cut her short, politely but firmly.
“We all agree with Comrade Mrs. Smithson.” There were murmurs of assent. “But what we must do is to get the public to speak up for themselves!”
“We should call a Public Meeting!” suggested Linda Farrell, the member from the Communist Party. “I think I could get a number of girls from the factory to give out leaflets and help in other ways. It would need a lot of publicity!”
Publicity! Publicity! That was the problem of the evening. “If only we could hire ‘The Granada’,” said Donald. Confound that girl Marie! There she was again, never far from his mind!
“It’s a good idea!” said one of the Trade Unionists. “After all, it’s the most popular place in the district.”
“Nothing’s too good for the people!” announced Mrs. Smithson, and they all laughed, she sounded as though she had just wakened up; but she knew as welI as they did that it would never be granted for their use, although once or twice in the past, some charity organisations had been able to hire it for their own purposes.
“I think it will have to be at the Town Hall,” said Donald, and in the midst of all their busy planning, he was once more remembering that cool night breeze and the slender girl beside him, standing shyly on the steps.

The meeting finished at ten-fifteen, and at ten-thirty, breathless but determined, Donald stood and knocked at Marie’s front door.
“If it’s news about Pop!” said Mrs. Roberts anxiously, sitting by the kitchen fire and drinking cocoa. “Stay where you are. I’ll go!” said Marie, and drawing her thin dressing-gown round her, she went to the door. When Donald saw her again, framed in the light from the kitchen which came through the open door into the hall, he knew that his feeling about her had been right. She was someone who could be very dear to him,  and he wanted her to be.
“Why didn’t you come?” he asked. “Were you ill?” He looked at her steadily. “You should have been resting today. Did you?”
Marie’s face flushed, and she hoped he could not notice, but this determined young man seemed to see everything, understand everything. No, but one thing he did not understand, that if she let herself know him better, she might fall hopelessly in love with him-and “hopelessly” was, the word. Marie was still certain about that.
“I – I just didn’t come. That’s all. It’s late now!” She looked over her shoulder uneasily. “Well… good-night!”
“Did you go to work today?” asked Donald. He seemed to sense everything – and that persistency!
“My father had an accident. He’s been taken to Lane End Hospital, and he’ll be off sick for weeks now. I’ve got to go to work!” she spoke angrily now, angry with herself, and with him and with everything; miserably angry. “There’s no good you doctors saying ‘take it easy,’ ‘have a rest.’ I can’t stay off, and I won’t get well, and I don’t want to see you again, ever!” And Marie slammed the door in his face before he could see her tears.

Chapter 4

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