“She was still thin-skinned about his family, even now, after he had proven there was nothing but her. His children were altogether taboo; their very names carried misfortune.”
This kind of collision is what contributes to the tension underlying the story. In one sentence, there is nothing but her; in the next sentence, there is certain something besides her. The density of the smoke and hot-water radiators is building; the sense of futility is building too.
In many ways, her dissatisfaction in this relationship echoes that of young women in Mavis Gallant’s earlier stories. A sense of frustration that a city, a picnic, a Sunday afternoon, a circus, a summer…a “insert random noun here”…wasn’t all that She…“insert random woman’s name here”…had hoped.
But there is something different about this story. At least, I think there is. A threat or glimpse of violence.
As the young woman speaks about it, readers aren’t entirely sure how to assign responsibility in the scene. The man’s response. The woman’s response. Readers’ responses. They’re all over the place.
There’s not enough information to fully understand. There’s too much information to dismiss it entirely. He warns her that she will feel differently about it later, after dark.
“She was frightened, as he had predicted, in the night. She supposed that the man who had come out of the shadows of the courtyard and was not blocking her way to the street intended to kill her.”