But when she saw the cars parked, saw the number, it was too late to turn around. Noise seeped out around the closed door and she had to ring the bell twice.
She was greeted by a woman who seemed to have been expecting somebody else. Greeted was the wrong wordthe woman opened the door and Greta said that this must be where they were having the party.
"What does it look like?" the woman said, and leaned on the doorframe. The way was barred till sheGretasaid, "May I come in?" and then there was a movement that seemed to cause considerable pain. She didn't ask Greta to follow her but Greta did anyway.
Nobody spoke to her or noticed her but in a short time a teenage girl thrust out a tray on which there were glasses of what looked like pink lemonade. Greta took one, and drank it down at a thirsty gulp, then took another. She thanked the girl, and tried to start a conversation about the long hot walk, but the girl was not interested and turned away, doing her job.
Greta moved on. She kept smiling. Nobody looked at her with any recognition or pleasure and why should they? People's eyes slid round her and then they went on with their conversations. They laughed. Everybody but Greta was equipped with friends, jokes, half-secrets, everybody appeared to have found somebody to welcome them. Except for the teenagers who kept sullenly relentlessly passing their pink drinks.
She didn't give up, though. The drink was helping her and she resolved to have another as soon as the tray came around. She watched for a conversational group that seemed to have a hole in it, where she might insert herself. She seemed to have found one when she heard the names of movies mentioned. European movies, such as were beginning to be shown in Vancouver at that time. She heard the name of one that she and Peter had gone to see. The Four Hundred Blows. "Oh, I saw that." She said this loudly and enthusiastically, and they all looked at her and one, a spokesperson evidently, said, "Really?"
Greta was drunk, of course. Pimm's No. 1 and pink grapefruit juice downed in a hurry. She didn't take this snub to heart as she might have done in a normal way. Just drifted on, knowing she had somehow lost her bearings but getting a feeling that there was a giddy atmosphere of permission in the room, and it didn't matter about not making friends, she could just wander around and pass her own judgments.
There was a knot of people in an archway who were important. She saw among them the host, the writer whose name and face she had known for such a long time. His conversation was loud and hectic and there seemed to be danger around him and a couple of other men, as if they would as soon fire off an insult as look at you. Their wives, she came to believe, made up the circle she had tried to crash into.
The woman who had answered the door was not one of either group, being a writer herself. Greta saw her turn when her name was called. It was the name of a contributor to the magazine in which she herself had been published. On these grounds, might it not be possible to go up and introduce herself? An equal, in spite of the coolness at the door?
But now the woman had her head lolling on the shoulder of the man who had called her name, and they would not welcome an interruption.
This reflection made Greta sit down, and since there were no chairs she sat on the floor. She had a thought. She thought that when she went with Peter to an engineers' party, the atmosphere was pleasant though the talk was boring. That was because everybody had their importance fixed and settled at least for the time being. Here nobody was safe. Judgment might be passed behind backs, even on the known and published. An air of cleverness or nerves obtained, no matter who you were.
And here she had been desperate for anybody to throw her any old bone of conversation at all.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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