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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Alice Munro

Alice Munro
(Ian Willms for The New York Times)
no copyright infringement intended

They've being married for almost fifty years - time to share joys and sorrows. He's been in the academia, together with her, and now they're enjoying their retirement, living in a big cottage surrounded by woods, skiing together during the long winters - actually they are together all the time. Her name is Fiona. Born far away, in Iceland, where snows are as immaculate and endless as here in the Northern part of Ontario. Evenings, her head on his knees, a book of Icelandic stories between them.

Unfortunately she has an incipient Alzheimer. Not big deal yet. Now and then she doesn't remember a word, he's there to help, discreet presence, now and then she puts the pan in the fridge instead of closet, he's taking care after she leaves the kitchen. Only these things don't remain in the early stages forever. One day she goes out for a walk and suddenly finds herself far away on the turnpike, totally confused. Now a hospice is necessary.

It's a hospice for people with means, clean, elegant, high quality personnel. There is also an upper floor, for those in an advanced stage of illness: it won't be the case with Fiona. All in all, everything sounds fine, but one rule of the place: visits are not allowed in the first month - time for patients to integrate in the new environment.

The husband comes to visit after this first month and has a surprise: Fiona forgot about their marriage and doesn't understand who he is any more. She did fall in love for a patient there. A guy who's much more degraded by illness: he cannot talk any more and stays only in a wheelchair. A relationship of great tenderness. She is caressing him, helps him eating, and he is drawing her face on endless papers: his eyes are telling his love, total love.

And the husband comes back daily, trying, each time unsuccessfully, to sparkle an inch of remembrance - actually he's not totally unknown for Fiona, only she cannot realize where she met him. And like always in this illness, she's trying to hide the truth, her intelligence and high distinction remained intact, it's the memory that she completely lost.

There is also the wife of the other one. She realized the lack of any way out. He will go on, however. Day by day, getting older slowly, with moments of almost giving up, coming back then, trying again and again to resuscitate her memory.

The other one is taken away from the hospice - maybe moved some other part, maybe taken home. And without him Fiona will fall very quickly and will be moved to the upper floor, the space for incurable cases. It is then when her husband realizes that there's only one thing to do: to find the other and bring him back. And he does it! And the miracle happens: Fiona's smiling and embracing her husband.

This is The Bear came Over the Mountain: one of the short-stories written by Alice Munro, who won the Nobel for Literature this year. There is a Nobel Reading List in USA Today: the Essential Alice Munro Books (http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2013/10/10/alice-munro-reading-list/2959047/ ). I've never been happier at the news of a new Nobel recipient.

(A Life in Books)



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