Authors: Margaret Atwood
Tags: #Contemporary, #Adult
“Atwood is as audacious as ever … There is something irresistible about this combination of mordant humour and unswerving truth.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“[Atwood possesses] a truly remarkable array of powers.… The wilderness of
is the one we all live in – whether or not we admit it.”
Books in Canada
“These are stories that speak to all who do not close their ears, and their minds, to the late twentieth-century reality.
“Virtuoso wit and unmistakable style … Atwood the poet is alive in these stories.”
“The reader has the sense that Atwood has complete access to her people’s emotional histories, complete understanding of their hearts and imaginations.”
“[Atwood has the] ability to place her finger firmly on the pulse of what is contemporary.”
is a grimly comic, often scathing natural history of urban anxiety and middle age.”
London Free Press
“Almost every one of the ten stories in this collection superimposes the past upon the present in a unsettling, often startling manner, which conjures up a sense of the mysterious in even the most banal relationships.”
New York Times Book Review
BOOKS BY MARGARET ATWOOD
The Edible Woman
Life Before Man
Murder in the Dark
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Robber Bride
The Blind Assassin
Good Bones and Simple Murders
Oryx and Crake
Up in the Tree
(with Joyce Barkhouse) (1980)
For the Birds
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Days of the Rebels 1815
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing
Moving Targets: Writing with Intent 1982–2004
The Circle Game
The Animals in That Country
The Journals of Susanna Moodie
Procedures for Underground
You Are Happy
Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976–1986
Morning in the Burned House
Copyright © 1991 by O.W. Toad Ltd.
First cloth edition published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart in 1991
Trade paperback edition first published 1999
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Atwood, Margaret, 1939 –
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.
The content and characters in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons or happenings is coincidental.
The factual material about the Franklin Expedition and exhumation of John Torrington in “The Age of Lead” is from
Frozen in Time
, by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, Western Producer Prairie Books, 1987. There was a television program on the subject; the one in this story is imagined.
SERIES EDITOR: ELLEN SELIGMAN
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
he waitresses are basking in the sun like a herd of skinned seals, their pinky-brown bodies shining with oil. They have their bathing suits on because it’s the afternoon. In the early dawn and the dusk they sometimes go skinny-dipping, which makes this itchy crouching in the mosquito-infested bushes across from their small private dock a great deal more worthwhile.
Donny has the binoculars, which are not his own but Monty’s. Monty’s dad gave them to him for bird-watching but Monty isn’t interested in birds. He’s found a better use for the binoculars: he rents them out to the other boys, five minutes maximum, a nickel a look or else a chocolate bar from the tuck shop, though he prefers the money. He doesn’t eat the chocolate bars; he resells them, black market, for twice their original price; but the total supply on the island is limited, so he can get away with it.
Donny has already seen everything worth seeing, but he lingers on with the binoculars anyway, despite the hoarse whispers and the proddings from those next in line. He wants to get his money’s worth.
“Would you look at that,” he says, in what he hopes is a tantalizing voice. “Slobber, slobber.” There’s a stick poking into his stomach, right on a fresh mosquito bite, but he can’t move it without taking one hand off the binoculars. He knows about flank attacks.
“Lessee,” says Ritchie, tugging at his elbow.
“Piss off,” says Donny. He shifts the binoculars, taking in a slippery bared haunch, a red-polka-dotted breast, a long falling strand of bleach-blonde hair: Ronette the tartiest, Ronette the most forbidden. When there are lectures from the masters at St. Jude’s during the winter about the dangers of consorting with the town girls, it’s those like Ronette they have in mind: the ones who stand in line at the town’s only movie theatre, chewing gum and wearing their boyfriends’ leather jackets, their ruminating mouths glistening and deep red like mushed-up raspberries. If you whistle at them or even look, they stare right through you.
Ronette has everything but the stare. Unlike the others, she has been known to smile. Every day Donny and his friends make bets over whether they will get her at their table. When she leans over to clear the plates, they try to look down the front of her sedate but V-necked uniform. They angle towards her, breathing her in: she smells of hair spray, nail polish, something artificial and too sweet. Cheap, Donny’s mother would say. It’s an enticing word. Most of the things in his life are expensive, and not very interesting.
Ronette changes position on the dock. Now she’s lying on her stomach, chin propped on her hands, her breasts pulled down by gravity. She has a real cleavage, not like some of them. But he can see her collar-bone and some chest ribs, above the top of her suit. Despite the breasts, she’s skinny, scrawny; she has little stick arms and a thin, sucked-in face. She has a missing side tooth, you can see it when she smiles, and this bothers him. He knows he’s supposed to feel lust for her, but this is not what he feels.
The waitresses know they’re being looked at: they can see the
bushes jiggling. The boys are only twelve or thirteen, fourteen at most, small fry. If it was counsellors, the waitresses would giggle more, preen more, arch their backs. Or some of them would. As it is, they go on with their afternoon break as if no one is there. They rub oil on one another’s backs, toast themselves evenly, turning lazily this way and that and causing Ritchie, who now has the binoculars, to groan in a way that is supposed to madden the other boys, and does. Small punches are dealt out, mutterings of “Jerk” and “Asshole.” “Drool, drool,” says Ritchie, grinning from ear to ear.
The waitresses are reading out loud. They are taking turns: their voices float across the water, punctuated by occasional snorts and barks of laughter. Donny would like to know what they’re reading with such absorption, such relish, but it would be dangerous for him to admit it. It’s their bodies that count. Who cares what they read?
“Time’s up, shitface,” he whispers to Ritchie.
“Shitface yourself,” says Ritchie. The bushes thrash.
What the waitresses are reading is a
magazine. Tricia has a whole stash of them, stowed under her mattress, and Sandy and Pat have each contributed a couple of others. Every one of these magazines has a woman on the cover, with her dress pulled down over one shoulder or a cigarette in her mouth or some other evidence of a messy life. Usually these women are in tears. Their colours are odd: sleazy, dirt-permeated, like the hand-tinted photos in the five-and-ten. Knee-between-the-legs colours. They have none of the cheerful primaries and clean, toothy smiles of the movie magazines: these are not success stories. True Trash, Hilary calls them. Joanne calls them Moan-o-dramas.