by Alice Munro
Fifty years ago, Grace and Avie were waiting at the university gates, in the freezing cold. A bus would come eventually, and take them north, through the dark, thinly populated countryside, to their homes. Forty miles to go for Avie, maybe twice that for Grace. They were carrying large books with solemn titles: “The Medieval World,” “Montcalm and Wolfe,” “The Jesuit Relations.”
This was mostly to establish themselves as serious students, which they were. But once they got home they would probably not have time for such things. They were both farm girls, who knew how to scrub floors and milk cows. Their labor as soon as they entered the house—or the barn—belonged to their families.
They weren’t the sort of girls you usually ran into at this university. There was a large School of Business, whose students were nearly all male, and several sororities, whose members studied Secretarial Science and General Arts and were there to meet those men. Grace and Avie had not been approached by sororities—one look at their winter coats was enough to tell you why—but they believed that the men who were not on the lookout for sorority girls were more apt to be intellectuals, and they preferred intellectuals anyway.
They were both majoring in history, having won scholarships enabling them to do so. What would they do when they were finished? people asked, and they had to say that they would probably teach high school. They admitted that they would hate that.
They understood—everybody understood—that having any sort of job after graduation would be a defeat. Like the sorority girls, they were enrolled here to find somebody to marry. First a boyfriend, then a husband. It wasn’t spoken of in those terms, but there you were. Girl students on scholarships were not usually thought to stand much of a chance, since brains and looks were not believed to go together. Fortunately, Grace and Avie were both attractive. Grace was fair and stately, Avie red-haired, less voluptuous, lively, and challenging. Male members of both their families had joked that they ought to be able to nab somebody.
By the time the bus came, they were nearly frozen. They worked their way to the back, so they could smoke what would be their last cigarettes until after the weekend. Their parents would not be suspicious if they smelled it on them. The smell of cigarettes was everywhere in those days.
Avie waited until they were comfortable to tell Grace about her dream.
“You must never tell anybody,” she said.
In the dream, she was married to Hugo, who really was hanging around as if he hoped to marry her, and she had a baby, who cried day and night. It howled, in fact, till she thought she would go crazy. At last she picked up this baby—picked her up, there never was any doubt that it was a girl—and took her down to some dark basement room and shut her in there, where the thick walls insured that she wouldn’t be heard. Then she went away and forgot about her. And it turned out that she had another girl baby anyway, one who was easy and delightful and grew up without any problems.
But one day this grown daughter spoke to her mother about her sister hidden in the basement. It turned out that she had known about her all along—the poor warped and discarded one had told her everything—and there was nothing to be done now. “Nothing to be done,” this lovely, kind girl said. The abandoned daughter knew no way of life but the one she had and, anyway, she did not cry anymore; she was used to it.
“That’s an awful dream,” Grace said. “Do you hate children?”
“Not unreasonably,” Avie said.
“What would Freud say? Never mind that, what would Hugo say? Have you told him?”
“Good God, no.”
“It’s probably not as bad as it seems. You’re probably just worried again about being pregnant.”
It had been Avie, really, who had persuaded Hugo that they should sleep together, or have sex, as people would later say. She thought it would make him seem more manly, more assured. He was a nice-looking, eager boy with dark hair flopping over his forehead, and he had a tendency to pick out people he could worship. A professor, a brilliant older student, a girl. Avie. If they slept together, she thought, she might fall in love with him. After all, neither of them had ever had that experience with anybody else. But what sex had led to, chiefly, was fright about certain accidents, worry about late periods, and the monstrous possibility that she might be pregnant.
The truth was that she would rather have had Grace’s boyfriend, Royce, who was a veteran of the Second World War. Unlike Avie, Grace was in love. She believed that her virginity and her refusal to let Royce dispose of it—not what he was used to—was a way of keeping him interested. But at times he was ready to give up on her, and to divert him from such bad moods she had learned to distract him with gossip or jokes about people like Hugo, whom he rather despised. In fact, Grace had got into the habit of making up stories about Hugo that weren’t anywhere near true. Both legs in one pant leg, after a session ofharried lovemaking—nonsense like that. She hoped that Avie would never find out.
In the early summer, Royce got on a bus and went to visit Grace on her parents’ farm. The bus had to pass the town where Avie lived, and by chance from his window he saw Avie, standing on the sidewalk of the main street, talking to somebody. She was full of animation, whipping her hair back when the wind blew it in her face. He remembered that she had quit college just before her exams. Hugo had graduated and got a job teaching high school in some northern town, where she was to join him and marry him.
Grace had told Royce that Avie had had a bad scare, and it had caused her to come to this decision. Then it had turned out to be all right—she wasn’t pregnant—but she had decided she might as well go ahead anyway.
Avie didn’t look like anybody trapped by a scare. She looked carefree, and in immensely good spirits—prettier, more vivid, than he ever remembered seeing her.
He had an urge to get off the bus and not get on again. But, of course, that would land him in more trouble than even he could contemplate. Avie was sashaying across the street in front of the bus now anyway, disappearing into a store.
They had waited supper half an hour for him, at Grace’s house, and even at that it was only five-thirty. “The cows are boss around here, I’m afraid,” Grace’s mother said. “I suppose you’re quite a stranger to farm life.”
She looked nothing like Grace, or Grace looked nothing like her, thank God. Scrawny, cropped gray hair. She scurried around so, she didn’t ever seem to get a chance to straighten up.
A schoolteacher, she had been, and she looked it. A schoolteacher watching out for whatever wrong thing she hasn’t caught you doing yet. The father seemed anxious to get to the cows. The grown son wore a sneer. So did the younger sister, who was supposed to be a genius on the piano. Grace sat mute and shamed, but lovely, flushed from the cooking.
What were his plans, the mother wanted to know, his plans now that he had graduated? (Grace must have told them that lie; she must have concealed the fact that he’d walked out on his last exam because the questions were idiotic. Had she thought that mere bravado?)
Right now, he said, he was driving a taxi. There was not much to do with a degree in philosophy. “Unless I decide to become a priest.”
“You a Catholic?” the father said, so startled he almost choked on his food.
“Oh. Do you have to be?”
Grace said, “Just kidding.” But she sounded as if all the kidding had gone out of her.
“Philosophy,” the mother said. “I didn’t know you could study just that for four years.”
“Slow learner,” Royce said.
“Now you’re joking.”
He and Grace washed the dishes in silence, then went for a walk in the lane. Her face was still rosy from embarrassment or the kitchen heat, and her teasing nature seemed to have turned to lead.
“Is there a late bus?” he said.
“They’re just nervous,” she said. “It’ll be better tomorrow.”
He looked up at some feathery, slightly Oriental-looking trees, and asked her if she knew what they were.
“Acacia. Acacia trees. They’re my favorite trees.”
Favorite trees. What next? Favorite flower? Favorite star? Favorite windmill? Did she have a favorite fence post? About to inquire, he figured it would hurt her feelings.
Instead, he asked what they would be doing the next day. Maybe a picnic in the woods, he hoped. Somewhere he could get her alone.
She said that they would be making strawberry jam all day.
“You don’t choose here,” she said. “You just deal with what’s ready. Follow the seasons.”
He had counted on helping with some farmwork. He was good with machinery, which surprised people, and he had a real interest in how others earned a living, even though he shied away from making a commitment of that kind himself.
In fact, it had occurred to him—of all things—that the father might be getting past it and the brother would prove to be some sort of dunce (Grace had spoken of him scornfully) and that he, Royce, right now at loose ends and neither stupid nor lazy, might slip into a bucolic life amid picturesque dumb animals and bursting orchards, with time on his hands all winter to cultivate his mind. Sabine farm.
But he could tell that the father and the brother were not going to be keen to have him around. No time for him. And they wouldn’t think of farming, even efficient farming, as a restorative for the soul. He would be stuck with the strawberries. Unless the younger sister, the genius piano player, hauled him in to turn her pages.
“All my children have their gifts,” the mother had said to him, as they got up from the table, and the pianist was excused from the dishes. “Ruth has her music, Grace has her history, and Kenny, of course, is the one for agriculture.”
In the lane he tried putting his arm around Grace, but the embrace was awkward, with some stumbling in the narrow ruts of the track.
“Is this how it’s going to be?” he said.
“Never mind,” she said. “I have a plan.”
He couldn’t see what that could be. The room where he would sleep was off the kitchen. The window was stuck about a quarter of the way up—it didn’t open far enough for him to sneak out.
“Tomorrow we make the jam,” Grace said. “All day, likely. Ruth will be practicing—she’ll drive you crazy, but never mind. Next day, Mother has to take her into town for her examination. Then all the kids who have been examined have to sit and wait till the last one’s done, and that’s when they give out the results to everybody. See?”
“I don’t see your mother agreeing to leave us alone,” Royce said. “Or isn’t this the plan I’m thinking it is?”
“It is,” Grace said. “I have to go and see my friend Robina. Robina Shoemaker. I’ll have to go on my bike, so it’ll take a while. She lives on the other side of the highway. We’ve been friends since we were little, and now for two years she’s been crippled. A horse stepped on her foot.”
“Good Christ,” he said. “Rural calamities.”
“I know,” she said, not seeming to care about matching his tone. “So I am supposed to be going to see her, but I actually won’t be. After Mother and Ruth are gone, I’m turning the bike around and coming back and we’ll have the house to ourselves.”
“And this exam is long?”
“I promise you. Long. And then they are going to take some strawberries to Grandma, and that always takes at least an hour. Are you following me?”
“I hope so.”
“Can you be good all day tomorrow? Don’t be sarcastic to Mother.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I promise.”
But he had to wonder. Why now rather than any of those times last winter when he could easily have got her up to his room and arranged for his room-mate to be out? Or last spring, when she drove him crazy in the dark corners of the park? What about her vaunted virginity?
“I have pads,” she said. “How many do you usually need?”
To his surprise, he had to say he didn’t know.
“Virgins aren’t my cup of tea.”
She hugged herself, laughing, the way he was used to her.
“I didn’t mean to be funny.” Really he hadn’t.
Her mother was sitting on the side steps, but surely she couldn’t have heard. She asked if they’d had a nice walk and said that she herself always looked forward to the cool of the evening.
“We’re lucky here—not holed up in the heat like you city folks.”
When he woke up in the morning he thought that he had ahead of him one of the longest days of his life, but in fact it went easily. The jugs were lowered in their racks into the bubbling hot water. The strawberries were hulled and heated till they boiled and developed a pink froth like midway candy. The work was organized amiably, with the three of them quick to see when another needed help lifting a pot or coming to another’s aid with a handy movement of the strainer. The kitchen was murderously hot, and first Royce then Grace then Grace’s mother thrust their faces under the cold-water tap and came up dripping.
“Why did I never in my life think of that before?” the mother said, standing there with witch tails stuck to her forehead. “It takes a man to think of things that smart, doesn’t it, Grace?”
The piano was being played all day long by the child who was to be examined, reminding each of them, in their different ways, of the trials and promises of the day to come.
At the end of the afternoon Royce was given the keys to the car and drove five miles to the nearest store, where he bought sliced ham and ice cream and ready-made potato salad for supper. It seemed that potato salad not made at home was something unknown in that house.
Warm jam was poured over the ice cream.
The mother in her water-spotted dress was fairly giddy with the labor and the achievements of the day.
“Royce here is the type to spoil a woman,” she said. “Anybody with him around would be getting the work done whiz-bang and then be enjoying ice cream every day. We’d be spoiled.”
The brother said that Grace was spoiled already—she thought she was smart because she had went to college.
“Gone,” the mother said.
Grace threatened to dump a spoonful of potato salad down his shirt. He grabbed it away and ate it from his fingers.
Grace said, “Yuck.”
The mother warned them.
The next day the father and the brother were stooking early oats in the acres they owned on the other side of the highway. They took lunch with them, and counted on the woman who rented the place to supply them with drinking water. All this Grace had figured out.
Ruth was made to stand very still while her mother fixed her hair up with braids and ribbons to set off her doomed expression. She said she couldn’t eat anything. The mother said, “Nerves,” and wrapped up some soda biscuits in waxed paper. Just a few minutes before the car drove away, Grace got on her bicycle and waved goodbye. The mother said to give her love to the girl who was crippled. A jar of the fresh jam was wrapped up to keep it safe in the bicycle’s basket, to provide a treat for her.
Royce had been told that he deserved a day off, after yesterday’s work. But the tall brick house, so impressive from the outside, had not a scrap of grace or comfort within. The furniture was simply stuck here and there, as if nobody had ever had time for a plan. The front door was partly blocked by Ruth’s piano. At least there were books to read in the living room. He took “Don Quixote” from a shelf of classics, behind glass, and yelled “Knock ’em dead!” to Ruth, who didn’t answer. His ears followed the car down the lane, then heard it turn toward the highway. He read a few words, letting the house change over, switch itself to his side. The pattern of the oilcloth on the kitchen table seemed to be conspiring, the flypapers were as fresh as Ruth’s curls, the radio turned off, everything waiting. Without any haste, he walked to the room off the kitchen, where he felt it proper to tidy the bed and hang up his few clothes. He pulled the blind down to the sill, took off everything he had on, and got under the quilt.
He had not come unequipped, even knowing that his chances might be slim. No lack of readiness now. The hush felt momentous. How far would she think it necessary to go before she turned back?
The kitchen clock struck one, the time that Ruth was due at the music teacher’s. Now surely, surely.
He heard the bike on the gravel. But the kitchen door did not open as soon as he expected. Then he understood that she was pushing the bike around to the back of the house, to hide it.
Her footsteps entered, very lightly, as if not to waken anyone sleeping in the house. Then a shy movement of the door, which, as he had already noted, had no locks of any kind. He stayed quite still, his eyes open just a slit. He gave her time. He had thought she might get into bed with her clothes on, but no. She was taking off every stitch in front of him, head bowed, lips pressed together, then moistened with her tongue. Very serious.
What a darling.
They were far enough advanced not to have heard the car. At first he had made quite an effort to be quiet, not because he believed in any danger but just because he meant to go easy, be very gentle with her. This notion, however, was on the point of being left behind. She didn’t seem to require such care. They were making enough noise themselves not to hear anything outside.
They would not have heard the car anyway—it had been left a distance down the driveway. Likewise, the footsteps must have been soft, the kitchen door carefully opened.
If they had heard even the kitchen door they might have had a moment to prepare. But as it was the door of the room was flung open, before they could understand that such a thing had happened. And, in fact, it took them a minute to stop and register the mother’s face gaping, somehow huge, right at the foot of the bed.
She was not able to speak. She shook. She stuttered. She steadied herself by holding the bed frame.
“I cannot,” she said when she could. “Cannot. Cannot. Believe.”
“Oh, shut up,” Royce said.
“Do you—do you—do you have a mother?”
“None of your business,” Royce said. He heaved Grace to one side without looking at her, reached down for his pants on the floor, and worked them on under the quilt before he got out of the bed. His movements kicked Grace away from him. He could not help that, hardly noticed it. She had her head buried in the sheets, her bare buttocks now somehow exposed.
“What have you done?” the mother said. “We take you into our family. We make you welcome in our home. Our daughter—”
“Your daughter makes up her mind for herself.”
“You hear him?” the mother cried at Grace’s buried head, her hands clutching at the dress she had put on specially for the piano examination. There wasn’t anywhere for her to sit down, except for the bed, and she couldn’t sit on that.
Royce responded to this by gathering the things that belonged to him, tidied up in Grace’s honor. Once he had to say “Excuse me” to the mother, but his tone was brutal.
When Grace heard him zip up his bag she turned over and put her feet on the floor. She was perfectly naked.
She said, “Take me. Take me with you.”
But he had gone out of the room, out of the house, as if he hadn’t even heard her.
He walked out to the road in such a rage that he could not think where to turn for the highway. When he found it, he hardly remembered to keep to the gravel, out of the way of the cars that might come along on the paved road. He knew he’d have to hitch, but for the moment he could not slow down to do it. He didn’t think he’d be able to talk to anybody. He remembered whispering to Grace the day before when they were doing the strawberries, kissing under the rush of cold water when her mother’s back was turned. Her fair hair turning dark in the stream of water. Acting as if he worshipped her. How at certain moments that had been true. The insanity of it, the insanity of letting himself be drawn. That family. That mad mother rolling her eyes to heaven.
When he got weary enough and sane enough, he slowed down and put out his thumb for a ride. There was little conviction in the gesture, but a car did stop for him.
He continued to be lucky during the day, though most of the rides were fairly short. Farmers wanting a bit of company, on their way to town or their way home. There was general conversation. One farmer at the end of a ride said to him, “Say, can’t you drive?”
Royce said sure. “Just recently I’ve been driving taxis.”
“Well, aren’t you getting a bit old, then, to be hitching rides? You got through college and all—aren’t you of the opinion that you should be getting a real job?”
Royce considered this, as if it were a truly novel idea.
He said, “No.”
Then he got out, and he saw across the road in the cut of the highway a tower of ancient-looking rock that seemed quite out of place there, even though it was capped with grass and had a small tree growing out of a crack.
He was on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, though he did not know that name or anything about it. But he was captivated. Why had he never been told anything about this? This surprise, this careless challenge in the ordinary landscape. He felt a comic sort of outrage that something made for him to explore had been there all along and nobody had told him.
Nevertheless, he knew. Before he got into the next car, he knew that he was going to find out; he was not going to let this go. Geology was what it was called. And all this time he had been fooling around with arguments, with philosophy and political science.
It wouldn’t be easy. It would mean saving money, starting again with pimpled brats just out of high school. But that was what he would do.
Later, he often told people about the trip, about the sight of the escarpment that had turned his life around. If asked what he’d been doing there, he’d wonder and then remember that he’d gone up there to see a girl.
Avie was near campus for one day in the fall, picking up a few books that she had left behind at her former boarding house. She went up to the university to see if she could turn them in at the secondhand bookshop there, but found that she didn’t really want to. She was surprised at first not to meet anyone she knew. Then she ran into a girl who had sat next to her in her Decisive Battles of Europe class. Marsha Kidd. Marsha told her that they had all been shocked that Avie wasn’t coming back.
“You and Grace, it’s such a shame,” Marsha said.
Avie had written Grace a letter during the summer. Then she’d worried that the letter was somewhat too frank on the subject of her doubts about getting married, and she had written a second letter that was quite witty in denying the doubts of the first. There had been no answer to either one.
“I sent her a card,” Marsha said. “I thought maybe she and I could get a room together. When I heard you weren’t going to be around. Not that I ever got any reply.”
Avie remembered that she and Grace had made jokes about Marsha, whom they saw as the sort of dim and tiresome girl who would not even mind becoming a high-school teacher and would never have a man after her in her life.
“Somebody said she had colitis,” Marsha said. “That’s when you get all swollen, isn’t it? That would be miserable.”
Avie went home and wrote thank you notes, which she had been neglecting to do. She mailed the presents that were going to Kenora. Hugo had his first teaching job there, in the high school. He had rented an apartment for them to live in. Perhaps in a year they could get a house.
In the summer, when he was working at Labatt, they’d had one of their pregnancy scares, but it had turned out to be all right. So they’d gone camping on Civic Holiday weekend, to celebrate, and for the first time it had seemed that they were truly in love. It was also the first time that they had really got pregnant, and they had announced that they would be getting married in Kenora very soon, before she began to show.
They were not unhappy about it.
In what was once called the club car, on the train from Toronto to Montreal, Avie is on her way to visit one of her daughters. She and Hugo had six children in the end, all grown now. Hugo has been dead for a year and a half. Except for those couple of years in Kenora, he spent his entire teaching career in Thunder Bay. Avie never had a job, and nobody expected her to have one, with all those children. But she had more spare time than anybody would have thought, and she spent most of it reading. When the great switch came in women’s lives—when wives and mothers who had seemed content suddenly announced that it was not so, when they all started sitting on the floor instead of on sofas, and took university courses and wrote poetry and fell in love with their professors or their psychiatrists or their chiropractors, and began to say “shit” and “fuck” instead of “darn” and “heck”—Avie was never tempted to join in. Maybe she was too fastidious, too proud. Maybe Hugo was just too much of a sitting duck. Maybe she loved him. At any rate, she was as she was, and reading Leonard Cohen wouldn’t be any help to her.
Since being widowed, however, she has read less. She has stared out of windows more. Her children say that she is withdrawing into herself. On this train ride she hasn’t bothered much with her book, though it is a good one.
The man across from her has glanced at her a couple of times, and is now studying her quite openly. He says, “Avie?”
It’s Royce. He doesn’t look so different, after all.
Their conversation is easy, covering at first the usual ground. The six children are marvelled at. He says that you’d never know it to look at her. He didn’t remember Hugo’s name but is sorry to hear that he’s dead. He’s surprised at the idea that you can live a whole life in Port Arthur. Or Thunder Bay, as it is now called.
They drink gin-and-tonics. She tells him that Hugo had no apprehensions at all. He died sitting in his chair watching the news.
Royce has travelled. Lived in various places. He taught geology, though he is now retired.
Did he marry?
No. Oh, no. And no children that he knows of.
He says this with the slight twinkle that usually accompanies this statement, in Avie’s experience.
Now he has a peach of a retirement job. The best job ever, except for geology. In eastern Ontario, as it turns out. Where he is heading now. Gananoque.
He describes the old fort there, the fort built at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, to withstand the American invasion that never came. The most important of the chain of forts along the Rideau Canal. It has been preserved intact, not as a replica but as the thing itself. He shows people around, gives them a history lesson. It’s shocking how little people know. Not just the Americans, of whom you expect it. Canadians, too.
He has written a little book about the Rideau. It’s for sale in the Gananoque fort. He managed to get a good deal of the geology into it as well as the history. He went into the field a bit late to make his mark. But why not try to tell people about it? Now he is coming home from a trip he made to Toronto, to try to interest some booksellers there. Some of them took a few copies on spec.
Avie says that one of her daughters works for a publisher in Toronto.
“It’s uphill, really,” he says abruptly. “People don’t always see in it what you see yourself. But you’re O.K., I guess. You’ve got your kids.”
“Well, after a point,” Avie says, “after a point, you know, they’re just people. I mean, they’re yours, of course. But they’re really—they’re people you know.”
God strike me dead, she thinks.
“I remember something,” he says, much more cheerfully. “I remember I was on a bus, and I was going through the town where you lived. I don’t know if I knew beforehand that it was where you lived, but there I saw you on the street. I just happened to be on the right side of the bus to see you. I was going further north. I was going to see a girl I knew then.”
“That’s right. You were friends with her. Anyway, I saw you there on the sidewalk talking to somebody and I thought you looked just irresistible. You were laughing away. I wanted to get right off the bus and speak to you. Make a date with you, actually. I couldn’t very well not turn up where I was expected but I could meet you on my way back. I thought, That’s what I could do—make a date to meet you on the way back. I actually did know something about you, now that I think of it. I knew that you were going around with somebody, but I thought, Well, make a try for it.”
“I never knew,” Avie says. “I never knew you were there.”
“And then, as it happened, I didn’t come back the same way, so I wouldn’t have been wherever you were waiting, so it would have been botched all round.”
“I never knew.”
“Well, if you had known, would you have agreed? If I’d said, ‘Be at such-and-such a place, such-and-such a time,’ would you have been there?”
Avie doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, yes,” she says.
“With the complications and all?”
“So it’s a good thing? That we didn’t make contact?”
She does not even try for an answer.
He says, “Water under the bridge.” Then he leans back into the headrest and closes his eyes.
“Wake me up before we’re into Kingston if I’ve gone to sleep,” he says. “There’s something I want to be sure to show you.”
Not so far off from giving her automatic orders, like a husband.
He wakens without any prompting from her, if he ever was asleep. They sit in the train at the Kingston station, while people get on and off, and he tells her it’s not yet. When the train starts up again, he explains that all around them are great slabs of limestone packed in order, one on top of the other, like a grand construction. But in one spot this gives way, he says, and you can see something else. It’s what is known as the Frontenac Axis. It is nothing less than an eruption of the vast and crazy old Canadian Shield, all the ancient combustion cutting through the limestone, pouring over, messing up those giant steps.
“See! See!” he says, and she does see. Remarkable.
“Remember to watch for that if you come through again,” he says. “You can’t really look at it from a car—there’s too much traffic. Why I take the train.”
“Thank you,” she says.
He doesn’t answer but turns away, nods a little with what seems to be important assent.
“Thank you,” she says again. “I’ll remember.”
Nods once more, doesn’t look at her. Enough.
When that first pregnancy was well advanced, around Christmastime, Avie had received a brief letter from Grace.
“I hear you are married and expecting. You may not have heard I have dropped out of college, due to some troubles I have had with my health and my nerves. I often think of our talks and particularly the dream you told me about. It still scares the daylights out of me. Love, Grace.”
Avie remembered then the conversation with Marsha. The colitis. The tone of Grace’s letter seemed off kilter, with some pleading note in it that made her put off answering. She herself was feeling quite happy at the time, full of practical concerns, light-years away from whatever stuff they had talked about in college. She didn’t know if she could ever find her way back there or find a way to talk to Grace as she was now. And later, of course, she got too busy.
She asks Royce if he heard anything from Grace, ever.
“No. No. Why should I?”
“I just thought.”
“I thought you might have looked her up later on.”
“Not a good idea.”
She has disappointed him. Prying. Trying to get at some spot of live regret right under the ribs. A woman.
The New Yorker
January 31, 2011