“I’ll die“, said Robin, “I’ll die if they don’t have that dress ready.”
Tricks, from Alice Munro´s short story collection Runaway, opens with Robin´s rather dramatic announcement, which immediately draws the reader´s attention to the item, “that dress”.
Robin, aged twenty-six, works as a nurse in a small town in Canada. Her sister Joanna, aged thirty, is stunted and crippled after suffering from severe asthma in her childhood. Joanna seems revengeful towards her sister, who, apparently, is the more “fortunate” of the two of them.
Their parents died, leaving them to live under the same roof. Does Robin feel obliged to remain unmarried and take care of Joanna, who generally keeps a scornful look on whatever her sister says and does?
On this extraordinary day in June, Robin plans to watch a play by Shakespeare – As You Like It, in a nearby town, Stratford. She goes by train. Her avocado green dress, sadly, is not ready as the woman who was supposed to iron it has been away from the cleaners because of her sick child. Robin wears another dress. That damn lemon, green dress.
Watching one play every summer seems to have become her ritual. She has been doing this for five years. After the play she would walk downtown, along the river, and find a place where she can get some plain food before catching the 07.40 p.m. train home. It is her little treat, and retreat from a monotonous life.
But this time is different. Robin is meeting with Danilo Adɀic, the man with a foreign accent, after the play. Yes a foreigner. Joanna would say foreigners pick up girls that nobody else would have.
Danilo is an immigrant from Montenegro.
“We will not write letters, letters are not a good idea. We will just remember each other and next summer we will meet. You don’t have to let me know, just come. If you still feel the same, you will just come.”
Robin recalls his words, one by one, at such a slow pace that she can feel the rhythm and catch the slight tremble in his voice. Her smile so faint, almost unnoticeable, her thought flying low over the river, the narrow brick house, and settles at the train station.
“It is important that we have met,” he said. “I think so. Do you think so?”
She said, “Yes.”
He slid his hands under her arms to hold her closer, around the waist, and they kissed again and again.
Robin reaches his brick house. The horror awaiting her, however, has crushed Robin to pieces. Her little secret, her sweet portrayal of Danilo’s mysterious and exotic life in the Montenegrin mountains, his long and lingering kiss, all vanish before her, in a few minutes.
It must be the dress, Robin thinks, decades after the terrifying moment. She wore the wrong green dress.
She wished she could tell someone. Him.
Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer who won Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, is one of my beloved writers. I have read most of her short story collections. Munro is a master of revealing the sophistication of human relationships and the multidimensional nature of life. Through her intense and complex narratives, dramatic stories of the most ordinary people are being unfolded.
With piles of unread books on the floor waiting to be picked up, I rarely turn back to “old” ones. Tricks is an exception. After reading this short story for the third time, I, who has not written a book review before, wanted to make a debut on this text category.