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Throughout the story, characters try and fail to accurately predict each other’s motivations and behaviors. Grant does not expect Fiona to want to marry him, yet the stability of their marriage over fifty years suggests that she was genuine in her desire for a long-term commitment to Grant when she flippantly proposed marriage in their youth. Even after fifty years, however, there is much Grant does not understand about his wife. He doesn’t know why she puts notes on the drawers listing their contents rather than just looking inside. He is taken by surprise on his visits to Meadowlake, when she ignores his gifts of expensive flowers and the carefully selected book of paintings. Even when he seems to have figured out that all Fiona now wants is Aubrey, he is wrong again.
The difficulty is not limited to Grant’s limited understanding of Fiona. Grant believes he can easily convince Marian to let him bring Aubrey to Meadowlake, since that will mean a break for her, but realizes after meeting with her that he has failed to understand what motivates her. Marian’s eventual acquiescence shows again that Grant doesn’t understand her even when he thinks he has begun to. In the sections of the story set in the past, Jacqui fails to predict that Grant will abandon her when she moves away. Grant, in turn, badly misjudges the response of the student he sleeps with, resulting in the loss of his job. Neither Grant nor Fiona understands their peers’ rush to abandon more conservative sexual morals, which Munro compares to people rushing to join an epidemic. Though Fiona is hard to predict as she begins to experience dementia, details of the past reveal many people in the story struggle to understand those around them.
The marriages of both Grant and Fiona and Aubrey and Marian are presented with serious challenges because of aging and illness. Fiona’s descent into dementia makes it difficult for Grant to connect with her. Although they share some moments of intimate connection, such as remembering skiing in the moonlight and their embrace in the final scene, more often Grant finds Fiona difficult to understand or reach, as if she has left his reality for another one. Fiona, in turn, seems sometimes not to know who Grant is at all and at other times to mistake him for someone connected to Meadowlake, rather than experiencing his presence as loving and comforting. Though they have been married for fifty years, Fiona’s mental deterioration increases the distance between them, and their marriage becomes unknowable to her.
Marian and Aubrey have had their lives upended by Aubrey’s unexpected illness and subsequent difficulty walking and talking. His inability to work places them in a precarious financial situation, one that Marian resents given how hard she has worked to keep their home up as the surrounding neighborhood declined. Grant imagines that Marian must be disappointed not to have ended up in a better position, given her marriage to a man who seemed likely to be able to provide well. Aubrey’s failures at work and his illness have left her in a position of frustration and anxiety. Though Grant expects Marian to feel jealous when he suggests reuniting Aubrey and Fiona, the challenges his illness has brought to her marriage have left her less possessive of Aubrey than resentful of the financial burden he represents to her.
In multiple parts of the story, Munro shows that sexual attraction and tension give people energy. In their youth, Grant takes Fiona up on her suggestion to get married because his attraction to her makes him feel she has “the spark of life.” Later, when the sexual revolution makes its way into his university, he finds the energy on campus invigorating, leading him to leap up the stairs, appreciate anew the beauty around him, and throw himself into reciting Icelandic poetry in his classes. On the day of his first visit to Fiona at Meadowlake, Grant wakes up with a feeling of excitement he associates with the beginning of an affair, a sense of expectation and exploration to come. However, when he finds Fiona she is flush with the energy of her connection to Aubrey. Although she seems not to recognize Grant, she is nevertheless her lively self, full of zest. In contrast, after Aubrey leaves, Fiona fades, refusing to eat or exercise, in danger of weakening to the point that she cannot stay in the assisted living portion of Meadowlake. Munro returns to the idea of the energy of sexual attraction in her description of Marian’s nervous voice in the answering messages she leaves Grant, messages that awaken in him a sense of possibility and a satisfaction that he has inspired that response in her.