On a Wind and a Prayer


On a Wind and a Prayer

Three to one—that was the ratio published at the beginning of fall semester. Ten to one was more like it. Susan Taylor twisted and pulled herself into a half-lotus position just minutes before midnight, grabbed a yellow, ruled tablet, a no. 2 pencil, and scribbled her New Year’s resolution: “Get a date; get two; get engaged; get married.”

Straightening her spine into correct posture and breathing correctly, she lowered her head within inches of the floor, at the same time forcing her arms into an unnatural, towering position above her contorted body.

Nineteen seventy-four clocked out and 1975 clocked in while she held her breath. Nostalgic dance-band music, filtering into her bedroom from downstairs, signaled the New Year. Hanging full-length on the wall, the mirror reflected her 19-year-old freshman image. She stood, swiveling gracefully from side to side. Would the guys notice? She was slimmer; she seemed taller and prettier. But still, her legs were straight, her shoulders narrow. She had, however, learned to disguise figure faults. Now her brown hair caressed her shoulders. Her new dresses fell full and easy at her ankles.

“If it weren’t for Cynthia,” she thought, “I might have a chance.” Cynthia stalked from male to male—sweet-talking, smooth-walking Cindy lured admirers to her like a spider, trapping them in filmy webs of flattery. Thanks to her, Susan had sat dateless for 12 weeks, eating almond-studded chocolate bars.

But the New Year brought new hopes.

The New Year’s bells could have been campus bells, so swiftly did the time pass for Susan. She and 5,000 other students had blown into Rexburg on a wind and a prayer. They settled down and snuggled in for the winter.

Susan hesitated at the water fountain near the open door of COB 478, her first class of the new semester. She listened for her cue.

“Quiet, please. I’d like to …”

Head held high, Susan swung into the room, swishing an ankle-length plaid skirt. Sashaying, she dipped in and out of regimented rows of students, working toward an empty desk near the window, while the teacher and the students looked on. She flipped the last corner with a flourish, confident she was making a good impression.

Then suddenly an overhead projector loomed large in her way. She stumbled over it, catching her skirt on the neck of the projector. She hit the linoleum with a thud, her straight legs scissored under a row of desks, her skirt bunched at her knees. Students snickered.

“Welcome to class, Miss … uh?” the teacher said with a smile.

“Taylor,” Susan volunteered with a blush and a gulp.

“Did you hurt yourself, Miss Taylor?”

“No, sir. At least I don’t think so.” She pulled herself up.

Phase 2 followed on the heels of her clumsy beginning. It was easy—three public telephones in three boys’ dorms, three slips of paper on which she had written in her best hand, “A cute coed is waiting by a telephone for your call. Why not give her a ring? 356-9927.”

Susan slipped into the dorms early on a Saturday morning. Assuring herself no one was there, she walked on feline feet to the booths, pushed back the doors as quickly and quietly as she could, and stuffed her notes in the coin return slots. After all, who doesn’t look in the slot when he hears the false drop of a coin? It was easy; it was sure. Now all she had to do was wait. Carried along by the early morning wind, she bounded back to her apartment, took the stairs three at a time, and only then caught up with her breath as she sank into a vinyl-covered chair by the phone.

Painting her nails, styling her hair, she waited. Each ring vibrated in her ears and set her to jittering in the chair. Linda’s parents called from Salt Lake; two boys called for Cindy; Susan waited for a fourth call.

Ring! Susan lunged for the receiver.

“Hello?”

“Hello, cute coed,” the masculine voice drawled. “This is the call you’ve been waiting for. What’s your name?”

“Sue.”

“Sue what?”

A flutter of the heart and a pause.

“Sue Taylor. What’s your name?”

“Joe.” The voice continued, “Joe McIntire.” And then irritatingly, “I repair phones. Now quit abusing the telephone system or I’ll report you!”

Click!

Downstairs the lounge was quiet except for the soft shuffling of papers as Sister Calder sorted through an old cardboard box. Susan shrank past her to the door. She didn’t want to talk to anyone just now, least of all to a successfully married dorm parent. Outside in the hall she slipped a dime in the vending machine, pulled the button, and waited for the sliding and drop of a chocolate bar. She stuffed it into the pocket of her coat, turned up the fur collar around her neck and ears, and walked out into the wind.

The sky was iron-gray, breaking only a little light through at the horizon. Patches of dirt-peppered snow crusted on the frozen grass and at the edges of the sidewalk. Gravel scratched between the walk and her shoes as she turned south toward the hilltop above the campus buildings. She shifted her body first one way and then the other, trying to escape the full force of the wind. She leaned into it, every step an effort; then suddenly, it swooped up behind her, thrusting her forward effortlessly.

“Just like the wind,” she thought, “my life is out of control. Why does everything have to go wrong?” Pulling the hair out of her eyes, she looked for shelter.

Susan passed one house, two houses, three, and then an open field. Bordering the open field, a woodshed extended beyond a garage. She pushed her way there, finding a protected log lying between two cords of wood piled eight feet high. When she straddled the log, the wind raged only three feet above her head but seemed a whole world away. Tucked away in the wood, her head on her knees, she confronted herself. Struggling against the wind had swept her clean. She whispered prayers there among the buoying smells of sawdust and raw, wintry air.

The oncoming night had nearly pinched out the rim of light when she reentered the dorm. It was bright and warm in the lounge. A couple clasped hands in front of the television; Sister Calder knelt on the floor surrounded by piles of papers and magazines. The cardboard box was empty and cast off to the side. She glanced up.

“Susan! You look absolutely frozen. Come and sit for a minute.” Sister Calder smiled broadly and patted a nearby chair.

Thinking it easier to obey than make an excuse, Susan dropped to the chair and rubbed her icy hands on the warm upholstery. She gazed vacantly at the neat piles.

“What are you doing, Sister Calder?” she asked politely.

“I’m trying to sort through some things. Don tells me he doesn’t have room to turn around in that small apartment of ours. The only problem is, I just can’t bear to throw anything away.” She laughed heartily and raised her arms in hopelessness. “Our love letters, my decorating books, these old prints—I can’t part with any of it. Not even this, though I have another copy.” She picked up a New Era that had been making its own pile. “Here, you look at it; maybe there’s something in it you can use.”

Sister Calder thrust the magazine into Susan’s lap. It fell open. Susan held it for a moment, then looking closer, she read: “Young women in Zion, worrying takes energy. Instead of worrying why you don’t date or while you’re not married, expend that energy positively. Take a class. Make a recipe or home decorating file. Join a service club. Spend 15 minutes a day with the written testimonies of the prophets. In short, develop yourself into the kind of person who attracts the priesthood bearer you desire. Happiness does not miraculously begin with marriage—it strengthens marriage. Create your happiness now, for someday it will guide you into eternity.”

Help lay before her on the page. Though printed months before, the words spoke to her at this moment. Susan held it to her.

“Sister Calder, I will keep this, if you don’t mind.”

When Susan opened the apartment door, Cynthia was draped over the couch dreaming, her legs dangling prettily over the couch’s arm. As if suddenly animated, she bounced to her feet and twirled excitedly. Her auburn hair shone in the light; her cheeks flushed with life—she looked more beautiful than ever.

“Guess what?” she exclaimed. “This fantastic guy called from one of the boys’ dorms. He said he found my phone number in the telephone booth. Can you believe that? Gosh, we talked for just hours and hours. And he’s coming over tomorrow night to see me. Oh, I can hardly wait! How will I ever be able to concentrate till then?” Cynthia fell back to the couch in a swoon.

“Hey, what happened to you?” Cynthia looked at Susan as if seeing her for the first time. “You look like you’ve been out in a hurricane. Seriously, where have you been?”

“Seriously, I’ve been learning.”

“Well, that’s what they tell us we’re here for. Just between you and me, though, I’m working toward my MRS degree.” Her secret hardly popped out like a genie long-corked in a bottle.

Susan was amused at her confession. From Cindy’s lips she could hear her own narrow view of life rumbling, tumbling down in a heap on the floor. She started for the bedroom.

“Where are you going now?”

“I need some privacy, Cindy,” she smiled brightly. “I’m rewriting my New Year’s resolutions.” As if lifted up by a breeze, Susan glided past Cynthia into the room beyond.

[illustrations] Illustrated by James Christensen