Runaway

by

Alice Munro

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Carla is at her mobile home in rural Canada when she sees a car pass outside and realizes that it’s Sylvia Jamieson, an older neighbor who is returning from a vacation in Greece. Sylvia’s husband Leon recently passed away, so Carla has been going to Sylvia’s house to help her with chores. Carla hopes her husband Clark doesn’t know that Sylvia is back, because he will force Carla to continue going over to help even though Carla doesn’t want to. Sylvia is paying Carla for the work, and Clark and Carla need the money. They make a living by boarding horses and giving riding lessons, but business is slow this summer because the weather is bad.

After seeing Sylvia, Carla heads outside to tend to the horses as she thinks about her situation with Sylvia and Clark. Carla previously told Clark that Leon sexually harassed Carla before he died. This is a lie, but now Clark wants Carla to tell Sylvia about it so that she will pay them off to stay silent. Despite this mess, Carla’s biggest concern is that her beloved pet goat Flora is missing. When Carla goes back inside, she and Clark argue about going to Sylvia’s house the next day. Carla ends up crying and Clark shows little sympathy.

The next day at Sylvia’s house, Carla and Sylvia are chatting when Carla suddenly starts sobbing. Carla divulges that she’s unhappy being with Clark because he is angry all the time. Sylvia proposes that Carla leave and start a new life in Toronto, which immediately enthuses Carla. Sylvia offers to help with the travel, and Carla thinks she can easily find a new job in the city. Later, Carla gets on the bus to Toronto. As she imagines a new life without Clark, she gets upset, changes her mind, and gets off the bus to go back home—unbeknownst to Sylvia.

That night, Sylvia wakes up to a knock at her door and is terrified to see that it’s Clark. He tells Sylvia that Carla is back home, and he’s angry that Sylvia interfered with his marriage. They’re having a hostile conversation about it when, suddenly, Flora runs up to them, seemingly out of nowhere. Clark says he’s going to take Flora home, but he doesn’t. When he gets home, he doesn’t mention anything about Flora to Carla.

Over the next few days, Carla and Clark get along well. Clark still doesn’t mention Flora’s reappearance and Carla thinks she’s still missing. One day Carla gets a letter from Sylvia describing how Flora appeared at her house that night. Carla suddenly realizes that Clark must have either killed Flora or taken her somewhere far away. Carla is upset, but she never mentions it to Clark.