In “Madeline’s Birthday”, Madeline was sent to the Tracy family’s summer home: her divorced parents are elsewhere, living Madeline-free lives.
“The Wedding Ring” tells a similar story, but from the daughter’s perspective: a first-person chronicle of the only child of a happily-divorced couple.
The story begins quietly, as though the girl is determined to order and itemize her existence.
“On my windowsill is a pack of cards, a bell, a dog’s brush, a book about a girl named Jewel who is a Christian Scientist and won’t let anyone take her temperature, and a white jug holding field flowers. The water in the jug has evaporated; the sand-and-amber flowers seem made of paper.”
But in contrast with the dried flowers, the girl cannot help but witness her mother’s bloom.
“My mother is a vixen. Everyone who sees her that summer will remember, later, the gold of her eyes and the lovely movement of her head. Her hair is true russet. She has the bloom women have sometimes when they are pregnant or when they have fallen in love. She can be wild, bitter, complaining, and ugly as a witch, but that summer is her peak. She has fallen in love.”
The story is told after many years have passed, but with an immediacy that is at odds with the reflective tone.
When comparing memories with a cousin, she is surprised that the man with whom her mother was involved that was not a middle-aged man, but only in his twenties.
As though, at the time, the adults had seemed “very grown-up” but, in hindsight, those adults were not much more than children. Making decisions to come apart and come together which should have included some wisdom but only included fancy.
As in “Madeline’s Birthday”, the summer in “The Wedding Ring” is nearing its end. People are sleeping in unfamiliar beds and Labour Day is just around the corner. Life will be both changed and defiantly unchanging.
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Mavis Gallant’s stories, as I read through her short fiction. This is the twenty-fourth story in Going Ashore. Please feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company. Next week’s story: “Thieves and Rascals”.