He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.

“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”

This passage comes at the beginning of the story when Grant and Fiona are courting. Even before it becomes apparent that this story deals with memory loss, Munro introduces the theme of the difficulty of knowing what is real. Fiona’s love of making fun of the men who court her, especially Grant, leaves Grant and the reader unsure whether her question is a genuine marriage proposal, a flippant suggestion, or a prank. Regardless, the question leads to the creation of the couple’s reality, as Grant enthusiastically accepts and they move forward into married life together. Munro’s narration leaves Fiona’s true intentions unclear, an example of the author suggesting that knowing what is real in everyday life is sometimes difficult. Here, the physical details of the setting ground both Grant and the reader in the moment, so that each may be willing to accept Fiona’s proposition as true intention.

“She’s always been a bit like this,” Grant said to the doctor. He tried without success to explain how Fiona’s surprise and apologies now seemed somehow like routine courtesy, not quite concealing a private amusement. As if she’d stumbled on some unexpected adventure. Or begun playing a game that she hoped he would catch on to.

At this point in the story, Grant is not sure whether Fiona is losing her memory or is just the same playful and distracted person she has always been. The ambiguity in his mind around Fiona’s mental health is an example of Munro’s theme of the difficulty of knowing what is real. Without a pattern of progressive decline, the doctor cannot definitively diagnose her, an illustration of the limits of knowing, even in a dispassionate medical context. This passage suggests the possibility that Fiona is experiencing a different reality that she is trying to include Grant in, an idea that calls into question the truth of the reality Grant inhabits. Though Grant has personal knowledge of Fiona that the doctor will never have access to, even he fails to offer an opinion on the potential diagnosis of dementia, which he continues to question and fails to fully accept even as he drives her to Meadowlake. 

He hauled himself out of the dream, took pills, and set about separating what was real from what was not.

Grant’s dream provides Munro another opportunity to suggest that it is difficult for anyone to know exactly what is real, aside from Fiona’s personality and her apparently declining memory. Even though the events the dream refers to are significant ones in his life, after waking, Grant still must sort out the bleak realities from the stress-induced inventions of his mind. Munro inflects the explanation that follows with Grant’s sense of injustice at not being given credit for the sacrifices he made to please Fiona and the other women. Telling this part of the story through the lens of Grant’s memory and his sense of self-righteousness shows how memory and self-interest color facts in a way that makes it hard to know what events in this time period of the characters’ lives were factual and which were invented.