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Authors: Alice Munro

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Short Stories (Single Author)

Too Much Happiness

BOOK: Too Much Happiness
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The View from Castle Rock
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
The Love of a Good Woman
Selected Stories
Open Secrets
Friend of My Youth
The Progress of Love
The Moons of Jupiter
The Beggar Maid
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You
Lives of Girls and Women
Dance of the Happy Shades

To David Connelly




Wenlock Edge


Free Radicals


Some Women

Child’s Play


Too Much Happiness



Doree had to take three buses—one to Kincardine, where she waited for the one to London, where she waited again for the city bus out to the facility. She started the trip on a Sunday at nine in the morning. Because of the waiting times between buses, it took her till about two in the afternoon to travel the hundred-odd miles. All that sitting, either on the buses or in the depots, was not a thing she should have minded. Her daily work was not of the sitting-down kind.

She was a chambermaid at the Blue Spruce Inn. She scrubbed bathrooms and stripped and made beds and vacuumed rugs and wiped mirrors. She liked the work—it occupied her thoughts to a certain extent and tired her out so that she could sleep at night. She was seldom faced with a really bad mess, though some of the women she worked with could tell stories to make your hair curl. These women were older than she was, and they all thought she should try to work her way up. They told her she should get trained for a job behind the desk while she was still young and decent looking. But she was content to do what she did. She didn’t want to have to talk to people.

None of the people she worked with knew what had happened. Or, if they did, they didn’t let on. Her picture had been in the paper—they’d used the picture he took of her and the three kids, the new baby, Dimitri, in her arms, and Barbara Ann and Sasha on either side, looking on. Her hair had been long and wavy and brown then, natural in curl and color, as he liked it, and her face bashful and soft—a reflection less of the way she was than of the way he wanted to see her.

Since then, she had cut her hair short and bleached and spiked it, and she had lost a lot of weight. And she went by her second name now: Fleur. Also, the job they had found for her was in a town a good distance away from where she used to live.

This was the third time she had made the trip. The first two times he had refused to see her. If he did that again she would just quit trying. Even if he did see her, she might not come again for a while. She was not going to go overboard. As a matter of fact, she didn’t really know what she was going to do.

On the first bus she was not too troubled. Just riding along and looking at the scenery. She had grown up on the coast, where there was such a thing as spring, but here winter jumped almost directly into summer. A month ago there had been snow, and now it was hot enough to go bare armed. Dazzling patches of water lay in the fields, and the sunlight was pouring down through the naked branches.

On the second bus she began to feel jittery, and she couldn’t help trying to guess which of the women around her might be bound for the same place. They were women alone, usually dressed with some care, maybe to make themselves look as if they were going to church. The older ones looked like they belonged to strict old-fashioned churches where you had to wear a skirt and stockings and some sort of hat, while the younger ones might have been part of a livelier congregation which accepted pantsuits, bright scarves, earrings, and puffy hairdos.

Doree didn’t fit into either category. In the whole year and a half she had been working she had not bought herself a single new piece of clothing. She wore her uniforms at work and her jeans everywhere else. She had got out of the way of wearing makeup because he hadn’t allowed it, and now, though she could have, she didn’t. Her spikes of corn-colored hair didn’t suit her bony bare face, but it didn’t matter.

On the third bus she got a seat by the window and tried to keep herself calm by reading the signs—both the advertising and street signs. There was a certain trick she had picked up to keep her mind occupied. She took the letters of whatever words her eyes lit on, and she tried to see how many new words she could make out of them. “Coffee,” for instance, would give you “fee,” and then “foe,” and “off” and “of,” and “shop” would provide “hop” and “sop” and “so” and—wait a minute—“posh.” Words were more than plentiful on the way out of the city, as they passed billboards, monster stores, car lots, even balloons moored on roofs to advertise sales.

Doree had not told Mrs. Sands about her last two attempts, and probably wouldn’t tell her about this one either. Mrs. Sands, whom she saw on Monday afternoons, spoke of moving on, though she always said that it would take time, that things should not be hurried. She told Doree that she was doing fine, that she was gradually discovering her own strength.

“I know those words have been done to death,” she said. “But they’re still true.”

She blushed at what she heard herself say—“death”—but did not make it worse by apologizing.

When Doree was sixteen—that was seven years ago—she’d gone to visit her mother in the hospital every day after school. Her mother was recovering from an operation on her back, which was said to be serious but not dangerous. Lloyd was an
orderly. He and Doree’s mother had in common the fact that they both were old hippies—though Lloyd was actually a few years the younger—and whenever he had time he’d come in and chat with her about the concerts and protest marches they’d both attended, the outrageous people they’d known, drug trips that had knocked them out, that sort of thing.

Lloyd was popular with the patients because of his jokes and his sure, strong touch. He was stocky and broad shouldered and authoritative enough to be sometimes taken for a doctor. (Not that he was pleased by that—he held the opinion that a lot of medicine was a fraud and a lot of doctors were jerks.) He had sensitive reddish skin and light hair and bold eyes.

He kissed Doree in the elevator and told her she was a flower in the desert. Then he laughed at himself and said, “How original can you get?”

“You’re a poet and don’t know it,” she said, to be kind.

One night her mother died suddenly, of an embolism. Doree’s mother had a lot of women friends who would have taken Doree in—and she stayed with one of them for a time—but the new friend Lloyd was the one Doree preferred. By her next birthday she was pregnant, then married. Lloyd had never been married before, though he had at least two children whose whereabouts he was not certain of. They would have been grown up by then, anyway. His philosophy of life had changed as he got older—he believed now in marriage, constancy, and no birth control. And he found the Sechelt Peninsula, where he and Doree lived, too full of people these days—old friends, old ways of life, old lovers. Soon he and Doree moved across the country to a town they picked from a name on the map: Mildmay. They didn’t live in town; they rented a place in the country. Lloyd got a job in an ice-cream factory. They planted a garden. Lloyd knew a lot about gardening, just as he did about house carpentry, managing a woodstove, and keeping an old car running.

Sasha was born.

·  ·  ·

“Perfectly natural,” Mrs. Sands said.

Doree said, “Is it?”

Doree always sat on a straight-backed chair in front of a desk, not on the sofa, which had a flowery pattern and cushions. Mrs. Sands moved her own chair to the side of the desk, so they could talk without any kind of barrier between them.

“I’ve sort’ve been expecting you would,” she said. “I think it’s what I might have done in your place.”

Mrs. Sands would not have said that in the beginning. A year ago, even, she’d have been more cautious, knowing how Doree would have revolted, then, at the idea that anybody, any living soul, could be in her place. Now she knew that Doree would just take it as a way, even a humble way, of trying to understand.

Mrs. Sands was not like some of them. She was not brisk, not thin, not pretty. Not too old either. She was about the age that Doree’s mother would have been, though she did not look as if she’d ever been a hippie. Her graying hair was cut short and she had a mole riding on one cheekbone. She wore flat shoes and loose pants and flowered tops. Even when they were of a raspberry or turquoise color these tops did not make her look as if she really cared what she put on—it was more as if somebody had told her she needed to smarten herself up and she had obediently gone shopping for something she thought might do that. Her large, kind, impersonal sobriety drained all assaulting cheerfulness, all insult, out of those clothes.

“Well the first two times I never saw him,” Doree said. “He wouldn’t come out.”

“But this time he did? He did come out?”

“Yes, he did. But I wouldn’t hardly have known him.”

“He’d aged?”

“I guess so. I guess he’s lost some weight. And those clothes. Uniforms. I never saw him in anything like that.”

“He looked to you like a different person?”

“No.” Doree caught at her upper lip, trying to think what the difference was. He’d been so still. She had never seen him so still. He hadn’t even seemed to know that he would sit down opposite her. Her first words to him had been “Aren’t you going to sit down?” And he had said, “Is it all right?”

“He looked sort of vacant,” she said. “I wondered if they had him on drugs?”

“Maybe something to keep him on an even keel. Mind you, I don’t know. Did you have a conversation?”

Doree wondered if it could be called that. She had asked him some stupid, ordinary questions. How was he feeling? (Okay.) Did he get enough to eat? (He thought so.) Was there anyplace where he could walk if he wanted to? (Under supervision, yes. He guessed you could call it a place. He guessed you could call it walking.)

She’d said, “You have to get fresh air.”

He’d said, “That’s true.”

She nearly asked him if he had made any friends. The way you ask your kid about school. The way, if your kids went to school, you would ask them.

“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Sands said, nudging the ready box of Kleenex forward. Doree didn’t need it; her eyes were dry. The trouble was in the bottom of her stomach. The heaves.

Mrs. Sands just waited, knowing enough to keep her hands off.

And, as if he’d detected what she was on the verge of saying, Lloyd had told her that there was a psychiatrist who came and talked to him every so often.

“I tell him he’s wasting his time,” Lloyd said. “I know as much as he does.”

That was the only time he had sounded to Doree anything like himself.

All through the visit her heart had kept thumping. She’d
thought she might faint or die. It costs her such an effort to look at him, to get him into her vision as this thin and gray, diffident yet cold, mechanically moving yet uncoordinated man.

She had not said any of this to Mrs. Sands. Mrs. Sands might have asked—tactfully—who she was afraid of. Herself or him?

But she wasn’t

When Sasha was one and a half, Barbara Ann was born, and, when Barbara Ann was two, they had Dimitri. They had named Sasha together, and they made a pact after that that he would name the boys and she would name the girls.

Dimitri was the first one to be colicky. Doree thought that he was maybe not getting enough milk, or that her milk was not rich enough. Or too rich? Not right, anyway. Lloyd had a lady from the La Leche League come and talk to her. Whatever you do, the lady said, you must not put him on a supplementary bottle. That would be the thin edge of the wedge, she said, and pretty soon you would have him rejecting the breast altogether.

Little did she know that Doree had been giving him a supplement already. And it seemed to be true that he preferred that—he fussed more and more at the breast. By three months he was entirely bottle-fed, and then there was no way to keep it from Lloyd. She told him that her milk had dried up, and she’d had to start supplementing. Lloyd squeezed one breast after the other with frantic determination and succeeded in getting a couple of drops of miserable-looking milk out. He called her a liar. They fought. He said that she was a whore like her mother.

BOOK: Too Much Happiness
4.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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