Thursday, November 10, 2022

Nurse in Residence

By Arlene Hale, ©1968 

Lovely April Douglas grew up haunted by the disappearance of her father. What kind of man was he? Why had he left his wife and infant daughter? Had he really perished at sea, his body never found? That ghost of the past now came to trouble April again, turning her dream of a job as nurse in a luxury rest home into a nightmare. Sign after sign pointed to her father’s having returned alive, yet the handsome architect who claimed April’s heart only mocked her belief that her father was somewhere tantalizingly near. Even the attentive young doctor who kept coming out second best in April’s affections would not help her in her hunt. And now April was forced to face not only painful doubts about her father, but about all the men in her life, as she wondered if she would ever know a love that did not fail the test of her need.


“It was good to let Reon tell her what to do, to lift the burden from her shoulders.” 

“What goes on in that nurses’ office, anyway? I thought you were there to look after patients, not have necking sessions with the doctor!”

“Don’t be a flirt. Ain’t becoming in a woman, and it gets a man in a peck of trouble.”

“You don’t know how it is when you get old, April. You start looking back and see all the mistakes you’ve made—and if ti’s not too late, you try to do something about them.”

“For the rest of the day, I want your mind on nothing but me. Okay?”

It’s an impressive talent that can fill 160 pages without really saying anything at all, and Arlene Hale is just such a writer. Nurse April Douglas is an orphan, only child of a woman with no first name who died ten years ago. Her father was a sailor who she believes died when she was five—but then she gets a visit from Maude Pringle, who had been her mother’s best friend. Maude has suddenly decided to visit April to give her some breaking news—her father, Frank Douglas, may still be alive! Ten years ago he was seen in Britton Beach, the very town April is now living in! You see why Maude rushed right over! 

April is dating architect Reon Wheeler, and the pair tell each other that they’re in love, but he’s a distant sort of guy who’s busy a lot, plus he works with this hot interior designer named Olga. April has another man hanging around, though, Dr. Keith Foster, and he’s always grabbing April and pressing his fingers painfully into her arms and kissing her even when she tells him not to. Nothing says true love like sexual assault, so we are not surprised that April’s knees have an annoying tendency to go to jelly when he’s around. Soon she’s kissing him back and going out to dinner with him when Reon is in New York “on business” with Olga. On one of her dates with Keith, he tells her he loves her and proposes. “I don’t like being unfaithful,” she tells Keith, and then the pair kiss a lot.

Then crotchety Sam Sullivan moves into the old folks’ home where April works. She tries repeatedly to make friends with the old goat, but he is just not having it. Finally she can stand him no longer, and huffs, “Why do you reject every overture of friendliness I make?” in her usual informal, folksy way. 

Then April decides she’s going to spend all her savings to try to track down her father, without any real explanation of why it’s so important to her. “We could get acquainted,” is all she has to say about it. Then someone breaks into her apartment and gets into a box in which she keeps personal items, and moves an ivory statuette that her father had once sent her mother from the top of the pile to the bottom! That’s the end of that, and then April finds a clue, a letter from her father headed “aboard the SSBR.” This very skimpy clue is supposed to help the detectives find a ship her father had been on, locate other crewmen and interview them to see if they know what happened to Frank Douglas. Then some flowers mysteriously turn up on her mother’s grave, sent from Britton Beach. “Did she dare to suppose it might be her father?” She did! And then it turns out the janitor in the old folks’ home has a tattoo that says SSBR—with her mother’s name, too! Before she can act on this clue, however, Reon is trapped in a building cave-in, and has to be dug out—but it turns out that Olga the interior desecrator is more worried about Reon than April is.

Nurse in Residence is a longish story with nowhere to go and no real engine to drive it, since we’re never really given much understanding about why April is so insistent on tracking down her father. Maybe it’s understandable, but a paragraph explaining her need would have been helpful. The scenery along the way is also fairly dull, as the “clues” are fairly lame, and it’s hard to see how they can be helpful—papers shuffled in a box? Flowers sent to a woman’s grave ten years after her death? It was hard to care much about this fairly dull “mystery,” much less its central romance, so it’s hard for me to recommend that you spend much time with it yourself.


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