"Awesome to have a child," Greg said. That was another word new at the time, or at least new to Greta.
"It happens," she said.
"You're so calm. Next you'll say, 'That's life.' "
"I will not," Greta said, and outstared him till he shook his head and laughed.
He told her that he had got into acting by way of his religion. His family belonged to some Christian sect Greta had never heard of. This sect was not numerous but very rich, or at least some of them were. They had built a church with a theater in it in a town on the prairie. That was where he started to act before he was ten years old. They did parables from the Bible but also present day, about the awful things that happened to people who didn't believe what they did. His family was very proud of him and of course so he was of himself. He wouldn't dream of telling them all that went on when the rich converts came to renew their vows and get revitalized in their holiness. Anyway he really liked getting all the approval and he liked the acting.
Till one day he just got the idea that he could do the acting and not go through all that church stuff. He tried to be polite about it, but they said it was the Devil getting hold. He said ha- ha I know who it was getting hold.
"I don't want you to think it was all bad. I still believe in praying and everything. But I never could tell my family what went on. Anything halfway true would just kill them. Don't you know people like that?"
She told him that when she and Peter first moved to Vancouver her grandmother, who lived in Ontario, had got in touch with a minister of a church there. He came to call and she, Greta, was very snooty to him. He said he would pray for her, and she as good as said, don't bother. Her grand- mother was dying at the time. Greta felt ashamed and mad about being ashamed whenever she thought about it.
Peter didn't understand all that. His mother never went to church though one reason she had carried him through the mountains was presumably so they could be Catholics. He said Catholics probably had an advantage, you could hedge your bets right until you were dying.
This was the first time she had thought of Peter in a while.
The fact was that she and Greg were drinking while all this anguished but also somewhat comforting talk went on. He had produced a bottle of ouzo. She was fairly cautious with it, as she had been with any alcohol she'd had since the writers' party, but some effect was there. Enough that they began to stroke each other's hands and then to engage in some kissing and fondling. All of which had to go on beside the body of the sleeping child.
"We better stop this," Greta said. "Otherwise it will become deplorable."
"It isn't us," said Greg. "It's some other people."
"Tell them to stop, then. Do you know their names?"
"Wait a minute. Reg. Reg and Dorothy."
Greta said, "Cut that out, Reg. What about my innocent child?"
"We could go to my berth. It's not far along."
"I haven't got any "
"Not on you?"
"Certainly not. What kind of a beast do you think I am?"
So they arranged whatever clothing had been disarranged, slipped out of the compartment, carefully fastened every button of the berth where Katy was sleeping, and with a certain fancy nonchalance made their way from Greta's car to his. This was hardly necessarythey met no one. The people who were not in the dome car taking pictures of the everlasting mountains were in the bar car, or dozing.
In Greg's untidy quarters they took up where they had left off. There was no room for two people to lie down properly but they managed to roll over each other. At first no end of stifled laughter, then the great shocks of pleasure, with no place to look but into each other's wide eyes. Biting each other to hold in some ferocious noise.
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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