Excerpt of Dear Life by Alice Munro
(Page 6 of 11)
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When that time came Greta was apprehensive, but Katy made no mention at all of the absence. Greta asked her if she was hungry and she said yes, then explained to her motheras Greta had explained to her before they ever got on the trainthat they now had to take off their pajamas and look for their breakfast in another room.
"What do you want for breakfast?"
"Crisp peas." That meant Rice Krispies.
"We'll see if they have them."
"Now will we go and find Daddy?"
There was a play area for children but it was quite small. A boy and a girla brother and sister, by the looks of their matching bunny-rabbit outfitshad taken it over. Their game consisted of running small vehicles at each other then deflecting them at the last moment. CRASH BANG CRASH.
"This is Katy," Greta said. "I'm her mom. What are your names?"
The crashing took on more vehemence but they didn't look up.
"Daddy isn't here," said Katy.
Greta decided that they had better go back and get Katy's Christopher Robin book and take it up to the dome car and read it. They wouldn't be likely to bother anybody because breakfast wasn't over and the important mountain scenery hadn't started.
The problem was that once she finished Christopher Robin, Katy wanted it started again, immediately. During the first reading she had been quiet, but now she began chiming in with ends of lines. Next time she chanted word for word though still not ready to try it by herself. Greta could imagine this being an annoyance to people once the dome car filled up. Children Katy's age had no problem with monotony. In fact they embraced it, diving into it and wrapping the familiar words round their tongues as if they were a candy that could last forever.
A boy and a girl came up the stairs and sat down across from Greta and Katy. They said good morning with considerable cheer and Greta responded. Katy rather disapproved of her acknowledging them and continued to recite softly with her eyes on the book.
From across the aisle came the boy's voice, almost as quiet as hers:
They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
After he finished that one he started another. " 'I do not like them Sam-I-am.' "
Greta laughed but Katy didn't. Greta could see that she was a bit scandalized. She understood silly words coming out of a book but not coming out of somebody's mouth without a book.
"Sorry," said the boy to Greta. "We're preschoolers. That's our literature." He leaned across and spoke seriously and softly to Katy.
"That's a nice book, isn't it?"
"He means we work with preschoolers," the girl said to Greta. "Sometimes we do get confused though."
The boy went on talking to Katy.
"I maybe could guess your name now. What is it? Is it Rufus? Is it Rover?"
Katy bit her lips but then could not resist a severe reply.
"I'm not a dog," she said.
"No. I shouldn't have been so stupid. I'm a boy and my name's Greg. This girl's name is Laurie."
"He was teasing you," said Laurie. "Should I give him a swat?"
Katy considered this, then said, "No."
" 'Alice is marrying one of the guard,' " Greg continued, " 'A soldier's life is terrible hard, says Alice.' "
Katy chimed in softly on the second Alice.
Laurie told Greta that they had been going around to kindergartens, doing skits. This was called reading readiness work. They were actors, really. She was going to get off at Jasper, where she had a summer job waitressing and doing some comic bits. Not reading readiness exactly. Adult entertainment, was what it was called.
"Christ," she said. She laughed. "Take what you can get."
Greg was loose, and stopping off in Saskatoon. His family was there.
Excerpted from Dear Life by Alice Munro. Copyright © 2012 by Alice Munro. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.