"Oh," she interrupted herself. "Oh, I forgot."
She jumped up and went to get the present she had brought, which in fact she had not forgotten about at all. She had not wanted to hand it to Carla right away, she had wanted the moment to come more naturally, and while she was speaking she had thought ahead to the moment when she could mention the sea, going swimming. And say, as she now said, "Swimming reminded me of this because its a little replica, you know, its a little replica of the horse they found under the sea. Cast in bronze. They dredged it up, after all this time. Its supposed to be from the second century b.c."
When Carla had come in and looked around for work to do, Sylvia had said, "Oh, just sit down a minute, I havent had anybody to talk to since I got back. Please." Carla had sat down on the edge of a chair, legs apart, hands between her knees, looking somehow desolate. As if reaching for some distant politeness she had said, "How was Greece?"
Now she was standing, with the tissue paper crumpled around the horse, which she had not fully unwrapped.
"Its said to represent a racehorse," Sylvia said. "Making that final spurt, the last effort in a race. The rider, too, the boy, you can see hes urging the horse on to the limit of its strength."
She did not mention that the boy had made her think of Carla, and she could not now have said why. He was only about ten or eleven years old. Maybe the strength and grace of the arm that must have held the reins, or the wrinkles in his childish forehead, the absorption and the pure effort there was in some way like Carla cleaning the big windows last spring. Her strong legs in her shorts, her broad shoulders, her big swipes at the glass, and then the way she had splayed herself out as a joke, inviting or even commanding Sylvia to laugh.
"You can see that," Carla said, now conscientiously examining the little bronzy-green statue. "Thank you very much."
"You are welcome. Lets have coffee, shall we? Ive just made some. The coffee in Greece was quite strong, a little stronger than I liked, but the bread was heavenly. And the ripe figs, they were astounding. Sit down another moment, please do. You should stop me going on and on this way. What about here? How has life been here?"
"Its been raining most of the time."
"I can see that. I can see it has," Sylvia called from the kitchen end of the big room. Pouring the coffee, she decided that she would keep quiet about the other gift she had brought. It hadnt cost her anything (the horse had cost more than the girl could probably guess), it was only a beautiful small pinkish-white stone she had picked up along the road.
"This is for Carla," she had said to her friend Maggie, who was walking beside her. "I know its silly. I just want her to have a tiny piece of this land."
She had already mentioned Carla to Maggie, and to Soraya, her other friend there, telling them how the girls presence had come to mean more and more to her, how an indescribable bond had seemed to grow up between them, and had consoled her in the awful months of last spring.
"It was just to see somebodysomebody so fresh and full of health coming into the house."
Maggie and Soraya had laughed in a kindly but annoying way.
"Theres always a girl," Soraya said, with an indolent stretch of her heavy brown arms, and Maggie said, "We all come to it sometime. A crush on a girl."
Sylvia was obscurely angered by that dated wordcrush.
"Maybe its because Leon and I never had children," she said. "Its stupid. Displaced maternal love."
Her friends spoke at the same time, saying in slightly different ways something to the effect that it might be stupid but it was, after all, love.
Excerpted from Runaway by Alice Munro Copyright © 2004 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.
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