When she got her theory of the unpleasantness worked out she felt relieved and didn't much care if anybody talked to her or not. She took her shoes off and the relief was immense. She sat with her back against a wall and her legs stuck out on one of the lesser of the party's thoroughfares. She didn't want to risk spilling her drink on the rug so she finished it in a hurry.
A man stood over her. He said, "How did you get here?"
She pitied his dull clumping feet. She pitied anybody who had to stand up.
She said that she had been invited.
"Yes. But did you come in your car?"
"I walked." But that was not enough, and in a while she managed to offer up the rest of it.
"I came on a bus, then I walked."
One of the men who had been in the special circle was now behind the man in the shoes. He said, "Excellent idea." He actually seemed ready to talk to her.
The first man didn't care for this one so much. He had retrieved Greta's shoes, but she refused them, explaining that they hurt too much.
"Carry them. Or I will. Can you get up?"
She looked for the more important man to help her, but he wasn't there. Now she remembered what he'd written. A play about Doukhobors that had caused a big row because the Doukhobors were going to have to be naked. Of course they weren't real Doukhobors, they were actors. And they were not allowed to be naked after all.
She tried explaining this to the man who helped her up, but he was plainly not interested. She asked what he wrote. He said he was not that kind of writer, he was a journalist. Visiting in this house with his son and daughter, grandchildren of the hosts. Theythe childrenhad been passing out the drinks.
"Lethal," he said, referring to the drinks. "Criminal."
Now they were outside. She walked in her stocking feet across the grass, barely avoiding a puddle.
"Somebody has thrown up there," she told her escort.
"Indeed," he said, and settled her into a car. The outside air had altered her mood, from an unsettled elation to something within reach of embarrassment, even shame.
"North Vancouver," he said. She must have told him that. "Okay? We'll proceed. The Lions Gate."
She hoped he wouldn't ask what she was doing at the party. If she had to say she was a poet, her present situation, her overindulgence, would be taken as drearily typical. It wasn't dark out, but it was evening. They seemed to be headed in the right direction, along some water then over a bridge. The Burrard Street bridge. Then more traffic, she kept opening her eyes to trees passing by, then shutting them again without meaning to. She knew when the car stopped that it was too soon for them to be home. That is, at her home.
Those great leafy trees above them. You could not see any stars. But some shine on the water, between wherever they were and the city lights.
"Just sit and consider," he said.
She was enraptured by the word.
"How you're going to walk into the house, for instance. Can you manage dignified? Don't overdo it. Nonchalant? I presume you have a husband."
"I will have to thank you first for driving me home," she said. "So you will have to tell me your name."
He said that he had already told her that. Possibly twice. But once again, okay. Harris Bennett. Bennett. He was the son-in-law of the people who had given the party. Those were his children, passing out the drinks. He and they were
visiting from Toronto. Was she satisfied?
"Do they have a mother?"
"Indeed they do. But she is in a hospital."
"No need. It's quite a nice hospital. It's for mental problems. Or you might say emotional problems."
She hurried on to tell him that her husband was named Peter and that he was an engineer and that they had a daughter named Katy.
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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