One might say that Margot was playing Barbara’s game of “Apples and Oranges”, choosing between a nice house and a fresh start.

1990; Penguin, 1991

1990; Penguin, 1991

But if one said too much about Margot’s choice, spoilers about “Wigtime” would wriggle into the discussion. Margot has made choices, indeed, but they are best discovered as the reader is meant to learn of them.

Both Margot and Anita were raised as farm girls. On their way home from school, they would stop at the store on the highway that Teresa ran,  “a ramshackle haven”.

They would warm their legs there, having dressed like the town girls, leaving their skin exposed. “They would risk freezing rather than risk getting themselves laughed at for such countrified contrivances.”

(Echoes of Rose and Del and the autobiographical tales in “Dear Life”: the tension between town and country and the between-spaces is a recurring theme in Alice Munro’s fiction.)

There, they listened to Teresa’s stories, occasionally seeing her husband, Reuel, who drove the schoolbus. Teresa spoke of having had two miscarriages, of heartbreak, of things that their mothers did not speak of.

It seemed as though Anita and Margot were years away from experiencing such grown-up matters themselves. They are at that in-between stage, too, longing for what lies ahead.

“They could never be deeply unhappy, because they believed that something remarkable was bound to happen to them. They could become heroines; love and power of some sort were surely waiting.”

But something happens which pulls them into the kind of decisions that even adults make a poor job of, adults with more life experience behind them to instruct and inform.

“She made up her mind that day. But she felt it was second best. She would rather have been chosen. She would rather have been pinned down by a man and his desire and the destiny that he arranged for her. She would rather have been the subject of scandal.”

It is similar to the way that Rose felt about wanting Patrick to want her, in “The Beggar Maid”. A desire to be chosen, pinned down, a prearranged arc.

“Was that how Patrick saw Rose? Was that how she could be? She would need that king, sharp and swarthy as he looked, even in his trance of passion, clever and barbaric. He could make a puddle of her, with his fierce desire.”

It is similar to the way that Joan feels about the scandal that Matilda inspires in “Oh, What Avails”, with her older beau, the way that Joan yearns to be yearned for, as though everybody is watching.

A night of memories and sighs. Rose and Joan, and Anita and Margot: they share these imaginings.

And, yet, as with “Five Points”, there is a practical side to all of this.

Rather than the progress of love, there is the economy of love: to weigh and to measure.

“Bargaining. Bargaining, calculations, houses and money. Anita could not imagine that. How did you turn love and betrayal into solid goods? She had opted instead for arrivals and departures, emotions at the boiling point, a faithfulness to one kind of feeling, which often involved being faithless to almost everything else.”

And how does one weigh and measure faithfulness and faithlessness? Both states are embodied in what some of the characters in this story come to call ‘wigtime’, but it is the reader who does the weighing and measuring.

Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, as I read through her work-to-date. She is one of my MRE authors and this is the last story in Friend of My YouthPlease feel free to check the schedule and join in, for the series, or for a single story; I would love the company.

The other stories from this collection appeared as follows:
Friend of My Youth
Five Points
Hold Me Fast, Don’t Let Me Pass
Oranges and Apples
Pictures of the Ice
Goodness and Mercy
Oh, What Avails