It’s a hot and overcast August morning, too early for the neighbourhood to have awakened. On another morning it might seem peaceful; this morning it feels abandoned.
The grass in the park next door is patchy and dry, even though the humidity is high and a woman with two small dogs – one black and one white – trickles along the back garden, the dogs pulling on their leads, one forwards and one backwards, sniffing and restless.
This woman always walks her dogs alone. And they are her dogs. Her husband prefers cats, she says. And they are indoor cats. Never have I seen her husband. If the woman is ever ill, presumably the dogs make do with the yard.
Because I have just been reading Mavis Gallant, I imagine a lonely marriage for the two of them. But perhaps they simply occupy different spheres in the outer world and share a warm and loving home together. But she never smiles, and although she is courteous she is not overly friendly. I wonder if she is as lonely as so many of Mavis Gallant’s characters. She doesn’t seem to be a reader – she has never commented on any book I’ve carried with me – so if she is lonely, I don’t think books keep her company.
I’m not sure if everyone in the title story of this collection is lonely, but they are all disappointed. And disappointment cleaves to loneliness, doesn’t it? Can you be lonely and NOT be disappointed in what the world holds for you?
“I never like to leave Canada, because I’m disappointed every time. I’ve felt disappointed about places I haven’t even seen.”
Billy has, reluctantly, left Canada to attend his father in a hospital in a port of France. The staff tell Billy that his father is dying, but the older man has been told only that he has an egregious form of tuberculosis.
After a couple of weeks, the story wears a little thin. Billy’s father has observed that a screen is placed around a bed on occasion and, eventually, on the other side of it, the man dies. He challenges Billy and Billy answers.
“‘I knew you wouldn’t lie to me,’ my father said. ‘That’s why I wanted you, not the others.’”