Unsurprisingly, a story named for a main character is going to be preoccupied with names and identity.
It’s also the first thing readers observe Queenie saying to Chrissy, when she arrives in Toronto and is met at Union Station.
Her husband thinks it sounds like an animal’s name, so Chrissy is asked not to call Queenie ‘Queenie’. It’s the first, but perhaps not the most surprising, indication that things have fundamentally changed for these two young women.
“It was more of a surprise to me to hear her say ‘Stan’ than it was to have her let me know she wasn’t Queenie anymore, she was Lena. But I could hardly have expected that she would still be calling her husband Mr. Vorguilla after a year and a half of marriage. During that time I hadn’t seen her, and when I’d caught sight of her a moment ago, in the group of people waiting in the station, I almost hadn’t recognized her.”
Chrissy finds it hard to articulate which elements of the situation she finds most shocking. In fact, by the time things which are truly shocking are evident, Chrissy seems inured to the presentation.
“I still couldn’t get used to her saying ‘Stan.’ It wasn’t just the reminder of her intimacy with Mr. Vorguilla. It was that, of course. But it was also the feeling it gave, that she had made him up from scratch. A new person. Stan. As if there had never been a Mr. Vorguilla that we had known together—let alone a Mrs. Vorguilla—in the first place.”
Chrissy tries to make herself comfortable in the apartment, to feel as though she is at home. But she is as uncomfortable as cousin Polly was in “Post and Beam” and perhaps as unwanted. Queenie does not seem to want eyes on her situation, although when pressed, she uses her status, her experience as a wife and woman of the world, to remind Chrissy of her inexperience.
“Well, of course he was wrong. Men are not normal, Chrissy. That’s one thing you’ll learn…”
And, yet, Queenie’s position is not an enviable one. Chrissy swears that she wil never marry, if this is marriage.
“My father and Bet. Mr. and Mrs. Vorguilla. Queenie and Mr. Vorguilla. Even Queenie and Andrew. These were couples and each of them, however disjointed, had now or in memory a private burrow with its own heat and disturbance, from which I was cut off. And I had to be, I wished to be, cut off, for there was nothing I could see in their lives to instruct me or encourage me.”
Bet was Chrissy’s father’s second wife, Queenie’s mother. Bet was a woman of the world too, possessor of bathrobes from mysterious sources. Even as a girl, Queenie seemed privy to knowledge that Chrissy lacked. Even as a girl, however, Chrissy seemed to find Chrissy’s knowledge distasteful. And strangely interwined with her lack of a father.
Chrissy’s father warned his daughter not to tease Queenie about not having a father. Chrissy naively suggests that she would not do so because she does not have a mother herself. But her father explains that this is not the same.
Perhaps because she did not have a father, Queenie becomes a certain kind of woman. And, yet, none of the women whom Chrissy has observed in relationships hold enviable positions. They are accorded a certain status, Chrissy acknowledges, but it is not a status she desires to claim for herself.
Indeed, it is not a desirable position. And it is unsurprising that Queenie/Lena vanishes and leaves Mr. Vorguilla/Stan behind.
What is surprising is that Chrissy never stops looking for her. But what makes her think that she would recognize this woman? When she looked like a completely different person after only a year and half of marriage.
I like to think that Queenie met a nice, normal man with a cozy bathrobe, but I suspect that she met a Mister who seemed to be nothing like ‘Stan’ because he looked and presented himself so differently.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the eighth story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next: “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”.
Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.