“I come of straightened people, madly secretive, tenacious, economical.”
“Like them, I could make a little go a long way.”
(If you’ve recently read Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid), Flo will come to mind.)
The reader thinks of children born to those who endured the Depression, of a ‘little’ being spun out, stretched to go a long way.
“A piece of Chinese silk folded in a drawer, worn by the touch of fingers in the dark.”
But the ‘little’ is actually not a tangible object.
It is not a piece of folded aluminum foil or string or Chinese silk. It is beyond measure.
It is (as is the case with so many of Alice Munro’s stories) rooted in a relationship.
“There [in Australia] I met an anthropologist whom I had known slightly, years before, in Vancouver. He was then married to his first wife (he is now married to his third) and I was married to my first husband (I am now divorced).”
It’s clear from the start: years have passed.
And, along with the actual events of the story, the narrator is considering the layered complexity of memory.
“And using just the letter, not needing a name, is in line with a system I often employ these days. I say to myself, ‘Bardon Bus, No. 144,’ and I see a whole succession of scenes.”
The story itself is constructed in this way: a succession of scenes is assembled for the reader.
There is a gradual understanding of the relationship between the anthropologist and the narrator, but in an episodic manner.
In the eighth scene, she recalls: “I went to sleep thinking the bulk of X was still beside me and when I woke I filled the space quickly with memories of his voice, looks, warmth, our scenes together.”
These memories are broad strokes, but they consistently evoke a mood for the reader, throughout the thirteen scenes.
Nonetheless, for rememberer and reader alike, the assembled scenes were, at one time, pleasurable, but later they became a plague.
“All they did was stir up desire, and longing, and hopelessness, a trio of miserable caged wildcats that had been installed in me without my permission, or at least without my understanding how long they would live and how vicious they would be.”
The story becomes increasingly uncomfortable, and the reason for that discomfort is finally and completely clear in the story’s final lines.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, beginning with with Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You and Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid). I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
The next in The Moons of Jupiter is “Prue”; one story will be discussed on each Thursday, so that “Labour Day Dinner” will fall on the Thursday before Labour Day weekend. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story.