Monday, 22 October 2012
Mingling with the Locals, Episode Two
2: Alice Munro Land
I have scampered out to gather drugs in this one-horse town; we have colds. I take this
moment to steal into the “expresso” bar and crack my food-encrusted MacBook.
I will tell you a story.
The Perils of Smalltown
Once there was a girl (me) who liked to shop at Mennonite thrift stores. (Think Witness
— Harrison Ford? Kelly McGillis? Anyone?)
Why? Because deals abound, they are clean, maybe no bugs yet, and yes, Santa, I
discovered they DO host public bathrooms (refer to previous embarrassing post where I
desperately pissed into three of my daughter’s diapers in the parking lot.)
I also like to shop at the church on Thursdays and occasionally go to auctions with
So about a month ago I bought a coat at the church. I love it. It is shaped like a
stingray, which suits my tall frame. It is quite elegant, has a decent collar, and is warm.
It is cream in coloir, and you can zip it up from the bottom as well as the top — very
versatile. Fourteen bucks.
Now I am in Shoppers, arms loaded up with Kleenex, drugs, diapers, etc. (Why didn’t
I get a cart? Because I am happy to not be pushing a stroller around, thank you.),
checking my iPhone shopping list when suddenly I am caught unawares by a woman,
not a day under 80, must be 80, with her friend, also 80, maybe 75 (they really look
good, actually), and she sings, from her slightly hunched frame:
“Did you buy that coat at the church sale?” Eyes shining.
In an instant a feeling of...shame, intrusion, self-judgment, general weirdness comes
over me for having been caught wearing an 80-year-old lady’s coat.
“Yes I did!” I respond cheerily, a faltering smile that says, “I love old people!”
Glancing down to meet her gaze, I take in the ragged state of the coat, unraveling
bottom zip, black crap clinging to it, the Guppins’ winter boot prints at breast level from
late-night shoulder rides, and baby food in general — it’s a mess. When I picked it up it
“It was from one of those fancy stores in Toronto, wasn’t it?” the friend asks winkingly.
“Oh yes! It’s a goood coat, nice and warm.”
The previous owner pulls the coat open to reveal the “Virgin Wool” insignia and points at
I apologize for its unkempt state.
But this lady, God, she’s beaming.
“It suits your tall frame,” she says.
And off they bustle, trying to remember what’s on their shopping lists.
I feel lost. Who am I? What am I doing here? Where is MY coat from the fancy shop in
Toronto? This would never happen in the city, you never MEET the people who have
died or donated your thrift store treasures. You don’t have to get The Story; I mean,
there is no one in Toronto putting a damper on your New Find.
The world around me dissolves and I am in the middle of an Alice Munro story: I’m
having an affair, and my lover, the school gym teacher; his Granny is Fancy Coat Lady,
who, when a girl accidentally murdered a stutterer at summer camp because her best
friend pressured her into it, and the coat was bought at the surviving stutterer twin
sister’s store years later in Toronto. Out of guilt, or hatred, or…oh God, help get me out
of Alice Munro Land!
The world re-shapes around me. I bring my empty coffee bowl to my lips. I look around.
The expresso place is empty.
I am the only one left.
I am the only one left.