All of her waking time for these hundreds of miles had been devoted to Katy. She knew that such devotion on her part had never shown itself before. It was true that she had cared for the child, dressed her, fed her, talked to her, during those hours when they were together and Peter was at work. But Greta had other things to do around the house then, and her attention had been spasmodic, her tenderness often tactical.
And not just because of the housework. Other thoughts had crowded the child out. Even before the useless, exhausting, idiotic preoccupation with the man in Toronto, there was the other work, the work of poetry that it seemed she had been doing in her head for most of her life. That struck her now as another traitorous businessto Katy, to Peter, to life. And now, because of the picture in her head of Katy alone, Katy sitting there amid the metal clatter between the carsthat was something else she, Katy's mother, was going to have to give up.
A sin. She had given her attention elsewhere. Determined, foraging attention to something other than the child. A sin.
They arrived in Toronto in the middle of the morning. The day was dark. There was summer thunder and lightning. Katy had never seen such commotion on the west coast, but Greta told her there was nothing to be afraid of and it seemed she wasn't. Or of the still greater, electrically lit darkness they encountered in the tunnel where the train stopped.
She said, "Night."
Greta said, No, no, they just had to walk to the end of the tunnel, now that they were off the train. Then up some steps, or maybe there would be an escalator, and then they would be in a big building and then outside, where they would get a taxi. A taxi was a car, that was all, and it would take them to their house. Their new house, where they would live for a while. They would live there for a while and then they would go back to Daddy.
They walked up a ramp, and there was an escalator. Katy halted, so Greta did too, till people got by them. Then Greta picked Katy up and set her on her hip, and managed the suitcase with the other arm, stooping and bumping it on the moving steps. At the top she put the child down and they were able to hold hands again, in the bright lofty light of Union Station.
There the people who had been walking in front of them began to peel off, to be claimed by those who were waiting, and who called out their names, or who simply walked up and took hold of their suitcases.
As someone now took hold of theirs. Took hold of it, took hold of Greta, and kissed her for the first time, in a determined and celebratory way.
First a shock, then a tumbling in Greta's insides, an immense settling.
She was trying to hang on to Katy but at this moment the child pulled away and got her hand free.
She didn't try to escape. She, Katy, just stood waiting for whatever had to come next.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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