Authors: Alice Munro
LIVES OF GIRLS AND WOMEN
grew up in Wingham, Ontario, and attended the University of Western Ontario. She has published twelve booksâ
Dance of the Happy Shades; Lives of Girls and Women; Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You; Who Do You Think You Are?; The Moons of Jupiter; The Progress of Love; Friend of My Youth; Open Secrets; The Love of a Good Woman; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage; Runaway
The View from Castle Rock
âas well as
, an anthology of stories culled from her dazzling body of work.
During her distinguished career, Munro has been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the W.H. Smith Award in the United Kingdom and, in the United States, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, the Lannan Literary Award, and the Rea Award for the Short Story. In Canada, her prize-winning record is so extraordinaryâthree Governor General's Awards, two Giller Prizes (one of which was for
), the Trillium Book Award, the Jubilee Prize, and the Libris Award, among many othersâ that it has been playfully suggested that as such a perennial winner, she no longer qualifies for new prizes. Abroad, acclaim continues to pour in. Both
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award (Caribbean and Canada region), and were chosen as Books of the Year by
The New York Times
Alice Munro's stories appear regularly in
The New Yorker
, as well as in
The Atlantic, Saturday Night
The Paris Review
. She and her husband divide their time between Clinton (in “Alice Munro country”), Ontario, and Comox, British Columbia.
Lives of Girls and Women
ALICE Â MUNRO
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First published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1971 Published in Penguin Canada paperback by Penguin Group (Canada), a division of Pearson Canada Inc., 1990, 1997, 2005
Published in this edition, 2009
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (WEB)
Copyright Â© Alice Munro, 1971
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Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance
to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Lives of Girls and Women
The Flats Road
We spent days along the Wawanash River, helping Uncle Benny fish. We caught the frogs for him. We chased them, stalked them, crept up on them, along the muddy riverbank under the willow trees and in marshy hollows full of rattails and sword grass that left the most delicate, at first invisible, cuts on our bare legs. Old frogs knew enough to stay out of our way, but we did not want them; it was the slim young green ones, the juicy adolescents, that we were after, cool and slimy; we squished them tenderly in our hands, then plopped them in a honey pail and put the lid on. There they stayed until Uncle Benny was ready to put them on the hook.
He was not our uncle, or anybody's.
He stood a little way out in the shallow brown water, where the muddy bottom gives way to pebbles and sand. He wore the same clothes every day of his life, everywhere you saw himârubber boots, overalls, no shirt, a suit jacket, rusty black and buttoned, showing a V of tough red skin with a tender edge of white. A felt hat on his head had kept its narrow ribbon and two little feathers, which were entirely darkened with sweat.
Though he never turned around he knew if we put a foot in the water.
“You kids want to splash in the mud and scare off the fish you go and do it someplace else, get off of my riverbank.”
It was not his. Right here, where he usually fished, it was ours. But we never thought of that. To his way of thinking the river and the bush and the whole of Grenoch Swamp more or less belonged to him, because he knew them, better than anybody else did. He claimed he was the only person who had been right through the swamp, not
just made little trips in around the edges. He said there was a quicksand hole in there that would take down a two-ton truck like a bite of breakfast. (In my mind I saw it shining, with a dry-liquid rollâI had it mixed up with quicksilver.) He said there were holes in the Wawanash River that were twenty feet deep in the middle of summer. He said he could take us to them, but he never did.
He was prepared to take offense at a glimmer of doubt.
“You fall into one of them, then you'll believe me.”
He had a heavy black moustache, fierce eyes, a delicate predatory face. He was not so old as his clothes, his moustache, his habits, would lead you to believe, he was the sort of man who becomes a steadfast eccentric almost before he is out of his teens. In all his statements, predictions, judgements there was a concentrated passion. In our yard, once, looking up at a rainbow, he cried, “You know what that is? That's the Lord's promise that there isn't ever going to be another flood!” He quivered with the momentousness of this promise as if it had just been made, and he himself was the bearer of it.
When he had caught what fish he wanted (he threw back the black bass, kept the chub and redfin, saying that redfin was a tasty fish, though full of bones as a pincushion is of needles), we would all climb out of the shady river-trough and head across the fields toward his house. Owen and I, barefoot, walked easily on stubble. Sometimes our unsociable dog, Major, followed at a distance. Away at the edge of the bushâthe bush that turned into the swamp, a mile further inâwas Uncle Benny's house, tall and silvery, old unpainted boards, bleached dry in the summer, and dark green blinds, cracked and torn, pulled down over all the windows. The bush behind it was black, hot, thick with thorny bushes and dense with insects whirling in galaxies.
Between the house and the bush were several pens in which he had always some captive animalsâa half-tame golden ferret, a couple of wild mink, a red fox whose leg had been torn in a trap. She limped, and howled at night, and was called Duchess. The coons he did not need pens for. They lived around the yard and in the trees, tamer than cats, and came to the door to be fed. They were fond of chewing gum. Squirrels came too and sat boldly on the window sills and foraged in the piles of newspapers on the porch.
There was also a shallow sort of pen, or excavation, in the dirt beside the wall of the house, with boards nailed up around it on the other three sides, to the height of about two feet. This was where Uncle Benny had kept the turtles. One summer he had abandoned everything to catch turtles. He said he was going to sell them to an American from Detroit, who would pay him thirty-five cents a pound.
“Make them into soup,” said Uncle Benny, hanging over his turtle pen. Much as he enjoyed taming and feeding animals, he enjoyed also their unpleasant destinies.
“For Americans,” said Uncle Benny, as if that explained it. “I wouldn' touch it myself”
Either the American did not show up, or he would not pay what Uncle Benny wanted, or he had been no more than a rumour in the first place; the scheme came to nothing. A few weeks later Uncle Benny would look blank if you mentioned turtles; he would say, “Aw, I'm not botherin' my head about that business no more,” as if he felt sorry for you, for being so far behind the times.
Sitting in his favourite chair just inside our kitchen doorâhe would sit there as if he hardly had time to sit down, did not want to trouble anybody, would be off in a minuteâUncle Benny was always full of news about some business venture, always an extraordinary one, by which people not very far away, down in the south of the county or as near by as Grantly Township, were making preposterous sums of money. They raised chinchilla rabbits. They bred budgie birds. They made ten thousand dollars a year and barely had to work for it. Probably the reason he kept on working for my father, though he had never worked steadily at any other job, was that my father raised silver foxes, and there was in such a business something precarious and unusual, some glamorous and ghostly, never realized, hope of fortune.
He cleaned the fish on his porch and, if he felt like eating, fried some immediately in a pan which kept its ancient, smoky grease. He ate from the pan. No matter how hot and bright it was outside he
had a light on, one single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The deep, deep, layered clutter and dirt of the place swallowed light.