Fiona said, “Oh, remember."

Grant said, “I was thinking about that, too.”

“Only it was in the moonlight,” she said.

She was talking about the time that they had gone out skiing at night under the full moon and over the black-striped snow, in this place that you could get into only in the depths of winter. They had heard the branches cracking in the cold.

As Grant drives Fiona to Meadowlake, they pass a place in the woods where they both remember skiing together. This moment illustrates the moments of beauty their life together can contain, despite its hurts and upheavals. Like other scenes of nature in the story, this memory represents freedom from the constraints and expectations of daily life. That freedom and the peaceful intimacy of the moment are rare things, just as the hollow is a place accessible only in deep winter. The presentation of their exchange before the explanation of it allows a glimpse into the intimacy they have actually built during their fifty years of marriage, which glitters on the surface but is also marred by unspoken truths. This revelation unfolds slowly as the description of the setting here foreshadows the details and revelations of their troubled marriage that are yet to be unveiled.

“Now, just as Mr. Farquhar’s house was gone, replaced by a gimcrack sort of castle that was the weekend home of some people from Toronto, the old Meadowlake was gone, though it had dated only from the fifties. The new building was a spacious, vaulted place, whose air was faintly, pleasantly pine-scented. Profuse and genuine greenery sprouted out of giant crocks in the hallways.”

This passage, from the section of the story in which Fiona first comes to live at Meadowlake, illustrates the alienating effect of changes to the buildings Grant and Fiona encounter regularly. Familiar places, like Mr. Farquhar’s house and the old Meadowlake, have been replaced by newer versions perhaps used more efficiently and also casually than their historical counterparts. The new buildings are large and pleasant but comparatively sterile and impersonal. The disappearance of the old places represents the passage of time, a connection to the story’s themes of aging and deterioration. Just as Grant sees the young Fiona within his elderly wife and imagines Aubrey seeing the same in Marian, during the month he cannot visit Fiona, he keeps picturing her in the Meadowlake building of the past. His inability to understand or fully appreciate the circumstances of his current life causes him to subconsciously pine for his perceived simplicity of the past.

Grant caught sight of two layers of front-window curtains, both blue, one sheer and one silky, a matching blue sofa and a daunting pale carpet, various bright mirrors and ornaments. Fiona had a word for those sort of swooping curtains—she said it like a joke, though the women she’d picked it up from used it seriously.

When Grant goes to Aubrey and Marian’s house, he is struck by the difference between their home and the homes he has shared with Fiona. Marian is house-proud. Her home, unlike many in the neighborhood, is well-kept, with appliances shining from daily cleaning and from their status as both new and rarely used items sent as gifts from her son and daughter-in-law as offerings for their failings to help her care for her husband. However, the style of the furnishings reflects a middle-class domesticity that Fiona has always rejected. This difference reflects the differences between the two women. Grant finds attractive in Marian qualities that are unlike Fiona, just as he finds her home appealing because it reminds him of his mother’s values. Marian’s earnest and straightforward sensuality stands in contrast to Fiona’s ironic distance and cool grace, just as Marian’s practical pride in the markers of middle-class life contrasts with Fiona’s preference for bright spaces with spare furnishings.