Peter’s ladyfriend is not properly named, she is viewed simply as an adjunct to Peter. Perhaps she is what Erika once was. Or perhaps she is what Erika would have wanted to be. Or perhaps she is what Erika sought to avoid being.
This woman is no different than the other parents whom Erika has viewed, however. When viewed with her daughters, she is distant and dissatisfied.
Erika seems smugly satisfied by the other woman’s dissatisfaction. Which is, perhaps, more important than whether Erika is actually any happier.
“I did not meet her children, but I saw her with them in a tearoom: two plump girls of about fourteen, in clay-colored tights and long pullovers that covered their sturdy hips. […] They were choosing eclairs, pointing discontented and curt. Their school had not yet taught them manners, and their mother, with a stiff smile on her lips and her sunglasses hiding her opinion, could see only the distance between what they were and what they ought to be.”
This gap is significant, not only between the expectations and reality of the mother, but the gap between Erika’s expectations and the reality of her relationship with Peter.
What makes the story interesting is that readers don’t know much about Erika’s expectations or about the reality of that relationship; instead, readers know more about the gap, feeling Erika’s loneliness and disconnect as truly as if it had been named.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the third story in The Pegnitz Junction. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next story, next week: “Ernst in Civilian Clothes”.