A woman travelling to meet her lover. As I begin reading this story, my thoughts wander to this occurrence in other Munro stories.

McClelland & Stewart, 2004

McClelland & Stewart, 2004

Was it “Providence”   in which Rose plans to travel south, after her marriage breaks down, to meet her lover? Certainly in “Mischief”, she travels north, stopping at the kind of small town that Juliet describes here. And Pauline walks along the Huron shore to meet Jeffrey in “The Children Stay”.  Whereas Brenda travels inland to meet Neil in “Five Points”.

I think, too, of “Carried Away”,  and the letters which fuelled Louisa’s romantic notions. And another schoolteacher in “Accident”   who weighs the pros and cons of her entanglement with a married man.

Eric Porteous’ wife, Ann, was in an accident eight years ago too. Juliet met him on a train, travelling between Toronto and Vancouver between Christmas and New Year’s six months before the story begins.

Readers follow this meeting and recognize the in-between-ness of the scene. Between holidays, between cities, between commitments.

Juliet likely knows this story or, at least, can spin it into something with a plot-line.

“She and her father and her mother had always made it their business to bring entertaining stories into the house. This had required a subtle adjustment not only of the facts but of one’s position in the world. Or so Juliet had found, when her world was school. She had made herself into a rather superior, invulnerable observer. And now that she was away from home all the time this stance had become habitual, almost a duty.”

But as an observer, she does not necessarily reflect on herself as an actor. She does feel guilty for events in which she is at the margins of devastation and loss. But she seems capable of casting herself as a bit player too, when she is arguably the leading lady in an overt betrayal.

“Things will happen in your life—things will probably happen in your life—that will make this seem minor. Other things you’ll be able to feel guilty about.”

Or, perhaps this is not a question of betrayal, but a question of assisting Eric, much as a housekeeper assists him.

“’In a city. It is not the same. For Eric to be so good to look after his wife he must need help, do you see? I am one to help him.’”

Perhaps Juliet, though named for the quintessential lover, and a key player in a drama with plenty of references to classical mythology and tales of passion and betrayal, is simply looking to be the traditional helpmeet, consumed by her passion, pleased to be conquered territory. As unsatisfactory as that may be.

“She can tell by his voice that he is claiming her. She stands up, quite numb, and sees that he is older, heavier, more impetuous than she has remembered. He advances on her and she feels herself ransacked from top to bottom, flooded with relief, assaulted by happiness. How astonishing this is. How close to dismay.”

Somewhere I read that when she was asked about her preoccupation with adultery, Alice Munro said that she returned to the subject because it requires that one inhabit two lives simultaneously and that she felt this mirrored her experience of living as a writer.

I wonder if she would admit a preoccupation with luck and providence as well, themes which also resurface throughout her stories.

For in some ways, Juliet is debating whether to inhabit two lives; in other ways, she is leaving her decision to chance.

Or, perhaps not so much leaving it to chance as inviting it in for a dinner and then encouraging it to stay for dessert and a nightcap.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories in Runaway as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the second story in this collection. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story. Next week, “Soon”.

Note: There are spoilers in the comments below.