Sophia Abington had always known that she would never marry. She knew it in the same way she knew the birthmark on her left ankle would never wash off in the bath. It was neither a sad nor a happy thing. It was simply an indelible fact of Sophia.
But when she was about twelve years old, she began to have a vision of her future. She would see herself in some grown up time, walking down a street with a doctor’s bag in her hand. She would have spent her day in her surgery, doing small, helpful things with an easy expertise. There would have been no tragedies nor crises, but she would be tired and looking forward to home.
Home, she dimly imagined, would be through a little gate and up a short set of steps to a door that led to a narrow hall with a parlor on one side and a dining room on the other. It would be modest but comfortable, much like the house in which Sophia had grown up. And waiting for her at the dining table would be another person; smiling as she walked into the room; pulling out a chair for her to sit; asking about her day; dining quietly and pleasantly; sitting in the parlor playing the piano or reading for an hour or two, and retiring chastely to a shared bed.
This other person would not be a husband, but another woman who would never marry. They would live together in devoted friendship like some of the women she knew who taught with her parents at the Friends school.
Great passion did not enter into her vision. If Sophia had a great passion, it was music. But she had learned quickly from her practical parents that while the piano was a pleasant diversion for an otherwise serious girl to have, it must remain at most, a secondary interest to something that moved humanity forward towards a better world. Her parents had chosen to teach towards this better world, having learned at the knees of their own staunchly Quaker parents that service and duty to that vision of the future was the only thing worth living for.
So she had decided early that she would be a doctor. She would be a doctor with a piano in her parlor, but she would spend the majority of her prodigious intellect upon learning to do something helpful for the world; something that would move women as a species forward towards the better future, while giving her the satisfaction of a challenge different from, but as difficult as Chopin’s “Harp” etude.
Now, in spite of these plans, passion had arisen in her, taking her uneasily by surprise. Eden Smith was no mere devoted friend with whom Sophia wanted to live quietly in chaste spinsterhood. Eden Smith made her doubt her loyalty to the convictions her parents had fed her upon from birth. For Sophia was certain that if ever she was made to choose, she would discard every plan she had ever laid, every goal she had ever set, and follow Eden to the end of the earth.
In the light of this fact, the purchase of the phonograph had not been shocking. But in view of Sophia’s usual conservativeness in matters of consumption, the expensive, frivolous machine was an extravagance of historic proportions.
She had been on her way to find some new music to play on Eleanor Stephens’s piano when she saw the thing in the music shop window. Its golden bell gleamed in the slanting afternoon sun and the wooden box upon which it sat was richly polished.
“It’s like Eden” Sophia had thought to herself, without knowing exactly why. It might have been only that every beautiful thing Sophia had looked at in the past month had called Eden to her mind—and several lesser things too. But it might have been the sense of sleek modernity the machine cast about itself like a halo. As old-fashioned as Eden might be in matters of lighting, there was something supremely 20th Century about her neat trousers and short hair. If ever, in the history of the world, a woman had done what Eden was doing, Sophia had never heard of it. It felt like the world was turning faster every year, but Eden rode the very cusp of everything that was new and wonderful. The music shop owner proudly cranked the phonograph arm and when Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony began to sound through the bell, Sophia knew she had to share it with her new love.
She had tried to do penance for her extravagance with long nights of work in the library. But on the day the phonograph was delivered, duty fled before desire and she found that dancing with Eden in her little boarding house room was as lovely in its own way as playing for Eden in Eleanor’s grand Beacon Hill music room.
Perhaps Sophia would yet someday become a doctor. Certainly, she would never marry. But quiet and chaste she no longer wished to be. What she wished to be was Eden’s, whatever that required of her, and as long as Eden would have her.