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Runawayby Alice Munro
From the story "Tricks"
For five years Robin had been doing this. One play every summer. It had started when she was living in Stratford, training to be a nurse. She went with a fellow student who had a couple of free tickets from her aunt, who worked on costumes. The girl who had the tickets was bored sick–it was King Lear–so Robin had kept quiet about how she felt. She could not have expressed it anyway–she would rather have gone away from the theater alone, and not had to talk to anybody for at least twenty-four hours. Her mind was made up then to come back. And to come by herself.
It wouldnt be difficult. The town where she had grown up, and where, later, she had to find her work because of Joanne, was only thirty miles away. People there knew that the Shakespeare plays were being put on in Stratford, but Robin had never heard of anybody going to see one. People like Willard were afraid of being looked down on by the people in the audience, as well as having the problem of not following the language. And people like Joanne were sure that nobody, ever, could really like Shakespeare, and so if anybody from here went, it was because they wanted to mix with the higher-ups, who were not enjoying it themselves but only letting on they were. Those few people in town who made a habit of seeing stage productions preferred to go to Toronto, to the Royal Alex, when a Broadway musical was on tour.
Robin liked to have a good seat, so she could only afford a Saturday matinee. She picked a play that was being done on one of her weekends off from the hospital. She never read it beforehand, and she didnt care whether it was a tragedy or a comedy. She had yet to see a single person there that she knew, in the theater or out on the streets, and that suited her very well. One of the nurses she worked with had said to her, “Id never have the nerve to do that all on my own,” and that had made Robin realize how different she herself must be from most people. She never felt more at ease than at these times, surrounded by strangers. After the play she would walk downtown, along the river, and find some inexpensive place to eat–usually a sandwich, as she sat on a stool at the counter. And at twenty to eight she would catch the train home. That was all. Yet those few hours filled her with an assurance that the life she was going back to, which seemed so makeshift and unsatisfactory, was only temporary and could easily be put up with. And there was a radiance behind it, behind that life, behind everything, expressed by the sunlight seen through the train windows. The sunlight and long shadows on the summer fields, like the remains of the play in her head.
Last year, she saw Antony and Cleopatra. When it was over she walked along the river, and noticed that there was a black swan–the first she had ever seen–a subtle intruder gliding and feeding at a short distance from the white ones. Perhaps it was the glisten of the white swans wings that made her think of eating at a real restaurant this time, not at a counter. White tablecloth, a few fresh flowers, a glass of wine, and something unusual to eat, like mussels, or Cornish hen. She made a move to check in her purse, to see how much money she had.
And her purse was not there. The seldom-used little paisley- cloth bag on its silver chain was not slung over her shoulder as usual, it was gone. She had walked alone nearly all the way downtown from the theater without noticing that it was gone. And of course her dress had no pockets. She had no return ticket, no lipstick, no comb, and no money. Not a dime.
She remembered that throughout the play she had held the purse on her lap, under her program. She did not have the program now, either. Perhaps both had slipped to the floor? But no–she remembered having the bag in the toilet cubicle of the Ladies Room. She had hung it by the chain on the hook that was on the back of the door. But she had not left it there. No. She had looked at herself in the mirror over the washbasin, she had got the comb out to fiddle with her hair. Her hair was dark, and fine, and though she visualized it puffed up like Jackie Kennedys, and did it up in rollers at night, it had a tendency to go flat. Otherwise she had been pleased with what she saw. She had greenish-gray eyes and black eyebrows and a skin that tanned whether she tried or not, and all this was set off well by her tight-waisted, full-skirted dress of avocado-green polished cotton, with the rows of little tucks around the hips.
That was where she had left it. On the counter by the washbasin. Admiring herself, turning and looking over her shoulder to catch sight of the V of the dress at the back–she believed she had a pretty back–and checking that there was no bra strap showing anywhere.
And on a tide of vanity, of silly gratification, she had sallied out of the Ladies Room, leaving the purse behind.
She climbed the bank to the street and started back to the theater by the straightest route. She walked as fast as she could. There was no shade along the street, and there was busy traffic, in the heat of the late afternoon. She was almost running. That caused the sweat to leak out from under the shields in her dress. She trekked across the baking parking lot–now empty–and up the hill. No more shade up there, and nobody in sight around the theater building.
But it was not locked. In the empty lobby she stood a moment to get her sight back after the outdoor glare. She could feel her heart thumping, and the drops of moisture popping out on her upper lip. The ticket booths were closed, and so was the refreshment counter. The inner theater doors were locked. She took the stairway down to the washroom, her shoes clattering on the marble steps.
Let it be open, let it be open, let it be there.
No. There was nothing on the smooth veined counter, nothing in the wastebaskets, nothing on any hook on the back of any door.
A man was mopping the floor of the lobby when she came upstairs. He told her that it might have been turned in to the Lost and Found, but the Lost and Found was locked. With some reluctance he left his mopping and led her down another stairs to a cubbyhole containing several umbrellas, parcels, and even jackets and hats and a disgusting-looking brownish fox scarf. But no paisley-cloth shoulder purse.
“No luck,” he said.
“Could it be under my seat?” she begged, though she was sure it could not be.
“Already been swept in there.”
There was nothing for her to do then but climb the stairs, walk through the lobby, and go out onto the street.
She walked in the other direction from the parking lot, seeking shade. She could imagine Joanne saying that the cleaning man had already stashed her purse away to take home to his wife or his daughter, that is what they were like in a place like this. She looked for a bench or a low wall to sit down on while she figured things out. She didnt see such a thing anywhere.
A large dog came up behind her and knocked against her as it passed. It was a dark-brown dog, with long legs and an arrogant, stubborn expression.
“Juno. Juno,” a man called. “Watch where youre going.
“She is just young and rude,” he said to Robin. “She thinks she owns the sidewalk. Shes not vicious. Were you afraid?”
Robin said, “No.” The loss of her purse had preoccupied her and she had not thought of an attack from a dog being piled on top of that.
“When people see a Doberman they are often frightened. Dobermans have a reputation to be fierce, and she is trained to be fierce when shes a watchdog, but not when shes walking.”
Robin hardly knew one breed of dog from another. Because of Joannes asthma, they never had dogs or cats around the house.
“Its all right,” she said.
Instead of going ahead to where the dog Juno was waiting, her owner called her back. He fixed the leash he was carrying onto her collar.
“I let her loose down on the grass. Down below the theater. She likes that. But she ought to be on the leash up here. I was lazy. Are you ill?”
Robin did not even feel surprised at this change in the conversations direction. She said, “I lost my purse. It was my own fault. I left it by the washbasin in the Ladies Room at the theater and I went back to look but it was gone. I just walked away and left it there after the play.”
“What play was it today?”
“Antony and Cleopatra,” she said. “My money was in it and my train ticket home.”
“You came on the train? To see Antony and Cleopatra?”
She remembered the advice their mother had given to her and to Joanne about travelling on the train, or travelling anywhere. Always have a couple of bills folded and pinned to your underwear. Also, dont get into a conversation with a strange man.
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