An airport is as good as a train for setting a story in, when that story is about change.
So here we are, in the Helsinki airport for this very short, titular story by Mavis Gallant. (And can I just say: how wonderful is the ‘net for locating images, given that I would never have thought to find a photograph of the runway.)
“We” being the readers, who are sitting in the airport with a view of two couples. One couple is watching the other couple: we, readers, are watching both. But primarily we are concerned with the perspective of the young man in the French couple.
The older American couple is having a quiet disagreement. The older woman seems to be questioning her husband’s dedication to her and to their marriage as they move through the airport. The younger man is observing their aged-ness and their disgruntled behaviour, reflecting on his and his wife’s ways of being and their relationship.
Little wonder that the young man is so attentive to his surroundings, as M. Perrigny is a journalist on assignment for a Paris newspaper. Readers may not have a view of Mme. Perrigny’s intimate thoughts, but it seems likely she has made her own observations of the older couple’s exchange, as she suddenly broaches the subject of a fractured romance in her husband’s past.
“Were you really in love with her?”
“I was the first time I saw her. The mistake was that I married her. The mystery was why I ever married her.”
Some of the older man’s disgruntledness has spread to M. Perrigny, who wonders at their still being together, at the way they are “chained” to one another in their old age.
Even the bookish bit – which might seem innocuous in another story – encapsulates a sense of frustration and anxiety:
“A gap of two hours in a strange town, in transit, was like being shut up in a stalled lift with nothing to read.”
The Perrignys are caught in a stalled lift with nothing to read. And already, even in the early days of their marriage, there is little consolation in one another’s company. “In Transit” swells with the loneliness that clouds so many of Mavis Gallant’s tales. But the clarity of her prose offers a seamless lift-off and spectacular views from the margins.
In Transit‘s stories: By the Sea / In Italy / An Emergency Case / Jeux d’Ete / When We Were Nearly Young / Better Times / A Question of Disposal / The Hunter’s Waking Thoughts / Careless Talk / The Circus / In Transit / The Statues Taken Down / Questions and Answers / Vacances Pax / A Report / The Sunday After Christmas / April Fish / The Captive Niece / Good Deed
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the eleventh story in In Transit. 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: “The Statues Taken Down”.