Runaway

by

Alice Munro

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Runaway Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Carla is at home when she hears an approaching car and hopes it is not her neighbor Mrs. Jamieson returning from a vacation in Greece. She looks out and sees that it is, in fact, Mrs. Jamieson, and something about her neighbor’s facial expression makes Carla recoil. She wonders if her husband, Clark, is aware that Mrs. Jamieson has returned from her trip—or, if not, when he will realize. Carla predicts that Mrs. Jamieson will soon call them on the phone.
Since Carla hears the car outside before she sees it, it’s likely that she was listening for and anticipating Mrs. Jamieson’s arrival. Carla knows right away who’s in the car, suggesting that the area they live in must be fairly remote—there aren’t many cars passing by Carla and Clark’s house. Carla has a strong reaction to realizing that Mrs. Jamieson is back from vacation, implying that there’s something significant about Mrs. Jamieson being home. Since Carla thinks Mrs. Jamieson is going to call soon, it seems like Mrs. Jamieson might want something from her.
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Carla goes outside to check if the ground is dry because she is supposed to be teaching a horseback riding lesson later in the day, though she suspects the student won’t come. It’s July, and it’s been an exceptionally rainy summer so far—the trails and grass around their mobile home are flooded. The previous summer, tourists came for trail rides and horseback riding lessons frequently, but business has been much worse this summer. The rain has damaged the horse-riding ring, and Carla and Clark are both spending a lot of time and money on fixing it.
This passage paints a fuller picture of the story’s setting: Carla and Clark live in a mobile home, which means they probably aren’t affluent. They also have a horseback riding ring and trails around their property, so they live in a rural area. They make money from teaching horseback riding, and since they’re struggling due to fewer students booking lessons, it seems that this is their main income. Carla guesses that her afternoon student won’t show up, indicating that students have been canceling lessons frequently.
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Clark is inside on the computer while Carla is outside. He is looking for a way to buy roofing for the repairs. This is made difficult by the fact that they can’t go to the local supply shop, because Clark owes the owners money and once started a fight with them. Carla thinks how Clark often starts fights with people in town that result in his severing ties and relationships, much to his and Carla’s inconvenience. He got into a disagreement with a woman named Joy Tucker who boards her horse (whom she calls Lizzie Borden due to the horse’s bad temper) with them. Now Clark refuses to care for Lizzie, leaving the responsibility to Carla.
Clark’s use of the computer and internet places the story in the 21st century. The fact that he owes the local shop money is further evidence of his and Carla’s financial struggles, and the story suggests that Clark’s temper may be partly to blame for these issues. The story portrays Clark here as selfish and uncaring, including toward Carla. Carla seems to tolerate Clark’s behavior, at least on some level, as she avoids the people he’s angered and picks up the duties he's shirked. This begins to suggest that Carla has a passive role in her marriage. Munro draws a parallel between Clark and Lizzie, as both are unfriendly and quick-tempered. Joy Tucker calls her horse Lizzie Borden as a joke, after the infamous 19th-century woman who was accused of murdering her parents with an axe but was acquitted of the crime.
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Despite these hardships, what’s troubling Carla the most is the fact that their pet goat, Flora, has been missing for two days. Carla fears that a wild animal has killed Flora, and she recalls dreaming of Flora both nights that she’s been gone. The first dream was of Flora returning home while carrying a red apple, and next of Flora being hurt and running away, escaping through a fence “like a white eel.” Outside, Carla pets the horses and talks to them about Flora. A couple of them are affectionate and almost seem worried about Flora themselves, but Lizzie Borden bites Carla’s hand instead.
The story has just established that Clark and Carla have severe financial struggles and a problematic marriage, so the fact that Carla cares more about the goat than anything else suggests that Flora is more significant than just a pet. It’s possible that Carla identifies with Flora on some level. Carla’s dreams about Flora contain clear biblical imagery: Flora holds an apple in her mouth like Eve in Genesis, and Flora being “like a white eel” likens her to the serpent from the same story. In the first dream, Flora having the apple indicates that she has acquired knowledge (in the Bible, the apple represents forbidden knowledge). In the second, she represents escape and freedom. Carla’s treatment of the horses shows that she is a nurturing and caring animal-lover. She even cares for Lizzie despite her mean nature, just as Carla seems to take responsibility for Clark while getting little in return.
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Three years ago, when Carla moved into the mobile home with Clark, she grew excited about redecorating. Clark even went along with making home improvements for a time. Now, Carla sometimes feels down when Clark is in a bad mood, as he stares at the computer and refuses to interact with her. In these moments, she goes out to the barn with the horses. This is also where they normally keep Flora, whose friendly presence always lifts Carla’s spirits. Clark bought Flora from a farm when she was young, and at first, she followed him everywhere. As she aged, she bonded more with Carla, instead, but also gained more awareness and autonomy. Flora “allowed [Carla] no sense of superiority.” Now, Carla heads inside and asks Clark if there’s any news on the “lost goat” notice he posted online. He says no and suggests that Flora might have run away to mate.
The fact that Clark ignores Carla when he’s in a bad mood is further evidence that he’s a neglectful partner to her. Carla is sensitive to Clark’s moods, and when she’s feeling down, she goes outside to her animals for comfort instead of seeing friends. This habit shows that she’s socially isolated. Flora’s origin story mirrors Carla’s, in that both left their homes at young ages to live with Clark. Flora was very attached to Clark at first, and Carla still is. Notably, the story ascribes Flora human traits like wisdom and awareness. The fact that she used to follow Clark around everywhere subtly mirrors Carla’s own dynamic with him, as she seems to long for his attention in spite of his cold treatment of her. As an older goat, though, Flora no longer affords her owners any “sense of superiority,” which suggests that Flora refuses to be put in a passive role like the one Carla seems to occupy in her marriage. Given that Carla’s dreams in the previous passage symbolically associated Flora with knowledge and freedom, the story seems to be suggesting that it would be wise for Carla to break away from Clark, as Flora has, but that something is stopping her from doing so. On another note, it’s clear that Flora is very important to Carla, so the fact that Clark doesn’t seem worried about the animal further characterizes him as cold and uncaring.
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Clark says that Sylvia (Mrs. Jamieson) called while Carla was outside and asked if Carla could come over to help clean the next day. He says that he agreed on her behalf, and that she should call back to confirm. Carla doesn’t want to call Sylvia and tries to change the subject. The two argue about it briefly—Clark is insistent—and Carla goes to take a shower. She emerges to find Clark sitting at the computer, and she hugs him and starts crying, pleading for him not to be upset with her. This annoys Clark, who hardly responds to the emotional outburst, simply telling Carla to make dinner. She obeys and starts cooking, but she keeps crying too much to continue. She goes outside, avoiding the barn so as not to be reminded of Flora. Lizzie whinnies at her with disregard.
Whereas Carla refers to Sylvia as “Mrs. Jamieson,” as a young person would, Clark calls Sylvia by her first name, indicating that Carla is less mature and is perhaps infantilized in her marriage. This passage reveals Clark’s controlling behavior toward his wife, as he orders her around and is completely apathetic to her desires and emotions. He wants her to go to the Jamieson’s (though it is not clear why he’s so insistent) and doesn’t back down even when Carla cries. Carla doesn’t push back on this dynamic. Though she’s unhappy in the relationship, she wants to please Clark, which suggests that she’s overly attached to and dependent on him. Given Carla’s passivity and lack of autonomy at home, her preoccupation with Flora might go beyond missing her companion. Her distress could also be tied to the fact that she identifies with the animal— given that they’ve both felt beholden to Clark—and longs for the sort of freedom Flora has found by running away (hence the story’s title). On another note, Lizzie’s reaction to Carla symbolically associates her with Clark, as both are callous and indifferent.
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Recently, leading up to this rift, Clark and Carla read Leon Jamieson’s (Sylvia’s husband) obituary in the paper. Leon was much older than Sylvia, and he was a poet, while she was a professor of botany. Clark and Carla learned from the obituary that before he died, he had won a significant cash prize for his poetry. Clark responded to this by formulating a plan to threaten Sylvia and make her pay them. Carla tried to brush his idea off, but he insisted. He made Carla promise to “break down and tell Mrs. Jamieson the whole story.” This is typical of Clark, who often becomes obsessed with impractical schemes.
It becomes clear that Clark wants Carla to go to the Jamieson’s house because he thinks they can get a sum of money out of Sylvia. The exact nature of Clark’s scheme, and what “the whole story” entails, remain cryptic. The scheme seems dishonest, though, since it involves threatening Sylvia, and Carla is not eager to participate. This is yet another example of how Clark tries to intimidate and control not only Carla but also other people around him. That Carla tries unsuccessfully to brush him off again suggests that Clark has a great deal of control over her—she seems unwilling or unable to effectively advocate for herself.
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Carla reflects on the story Clark wants her to tell Mrs. Jamieson—the story is, in reality, a lie she told Clark. She told him that when Leon was sick and dying, he tried to sexually molest Carla when she was at their house. Carla has told Clark numerous accounts of this, finding that the fabricated story excites them both. She knows she can’t now go back on the lie and feels that sometimes she almost believes it’s true herself. It is true, though, that she regularly went to the Jamiesons’ to help around the house, but Leon never abused her. Carla has continued to go to the Jamiesons’ house even after Leon’s death, and though she hates going, she is grateful that Sylvia pays her.
Here, the puzzling scheme finally becomes clear: Clark believes that Leon tried to molest Carla before he died, and that Sylvia will pay Carla and him off to keep quiet about it. The story seems to imply that Carla’s account of Leon’s abuse is a lie Carla told in a desperate attempt to make Clark jealous (or simply get his attention) and, as a result, revive her troubled marriage. But in fact, Clark apparently finds the idea of Carla being molested exciting rather than disturbing. He didn’t try to stop her from going to the Jamieson’s house when he thought she was being molested there, after all. Only when he believes there is money involved does he try to intervene, showing how little he cares about Carla. He seems to view women (at least Carla) as sexual objects, which is perhaps why he also automatically assumes that Flora (a female goat) has left to find a mate.
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At the Jamiesons’ house, Sylvia is looking forward to seeing Carla. Sylvia enjoys Carla’s presence and is grateful for Carla’s help cleaning the house and clearing it of Leon’s belongings. One day, Carla kissed Sylvia’s head as they cleaned, which has stuck in Sylvia’s mind. Now, Carla arrives and talks about Sylvia’s trip to Greece. Sylvia gives Carla a figurine of a horse that reminded her of Carla. In Greece, Sylvia told her friends about Carla, and they called Sylvia’s fondness for the girl a “crush,” which annoyed her.
Up until now, Munro’s third-person narration closely followed Carla, relaying mostly Carla’s own inner thoughts and feelings. At this point, it changes and becomes closer to Sylvia’s perspective, so that the reader has more insight into Sylvia’s thoughts. Sylvia doesn’t fully understand her own affection for Carla, but by suggesting a “crush” and focusing on how Carla kissed Sylvia’s head, the story implies subtle romantic undertones to Carla and Sylvia’s relationship.
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Carla seems distracted as she and Sylvia talk, and eventually the conversation turns to Flora. Carla starts sobbing uncontrollably, which Sylvia finds off-putting. Carla reminds Sylvia in this moment of her “soggy” university students. Carla’s crying is so intense that Sylvia questions whether it’s really about Flora. Carla discloses that she can’t stand living with Clark and that she feels like he hates her. Sylvia suggests that Carla leave, which Carla brushes off at first as impossible. Then she says that if she had enough money, she would leave immediately for Toronto. Sylvia offers to pay for the journey and says Carla can stay with Sylvia’s friend Ruth in the city. Sylvia calls Ruth to let her know, lends Carla clothes, and makes her lunch.
Sylvia’s feelings toward Carla change immediately and drastically when Carla starts crying, and Sylvia is reminded that Carla is still young and immature. Carla says she’s not actually crying about Flora, but in a way, she is—Flora’s escape represents the freedom Carla craves, though Carla may not consciously know this. It’s notable that Carla says she is unhappy because she feels like Clark is always mad at her, but she doesn’t say that he controls and manipulates her—she doesn’t realize this is the case. Sylvia doesn’t seem to understand the extent of Clark’s emotional abuse either, since she assumes that Carla leaving Clark is an obvious and simple solution. In a very short time, Carla goes from believing it would be impossible to leave Clark to impulsively and excitedly preparing to board the bus to Toronto, which suggests that she’s wanted to escape her marriage for some time but hasn’t been able to do so. On another note, Sylvia seems unbothered by the idea of Carla leaving town, even though she clearly cares about Carla. This shows that Sylvia, an older and more mature woman, isn’t as dependent on other people as Carla is (Carla, after all, is desperate to get Clark’s attention and please him).
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Carla and Sylvia drink wine and formulate a plan for Carla’s departure. In a note for Sylvia to drop off to Clark, Carla mistakenly writes, “I will be all write,” leading Sylvia to believe that Carla is more disoriented than she originally thought. As they drink, Carla divulges information about her past. She shares that when she was 18, she fell in love with Clark while they were both working at a horse stable. Now she thinks maybe she wasn’t in love and that their relationship was “probably just sex.” Clark worked odd jobs his whole life, and Carla’s parents didn’t like him. They wanted her to go to college, but instead she ran away with him and lost contact with her family.
As Carla reveals more of her true nature to Sylvia, first with the sudden crying spell and now the misspelling, Sylvia comes to see her more as she really is: inexperienced and barely out of adolescence. Earlier, it was revealed that Carla moved in with Clark three years before the events of the story. So, if she was 18 when they met, then Carla is around 21 in the story’s present. There are several details in this passage that hint at Carla and Clark’s unhealthy relationship: first, the fact that Clark has worked many different jobs might imply that he’s significantly older than Carla. Their age difference, especially given Carla’s inexperience and naivete, could create an unbalanced power dynamic in their relationship and make it easier for Clark to manipulate Carla (as he’s been shown to do). Next, Carla’s reflection that their relationship wasn’t founded on love, but “probably just sex,” suggests that neither of them genuinely values each other. Finally, one partner isolating another from family and friends is a classic sign of an abusive relationship, so it’s possible that this is another aspect of Clark’s control over Carla. Together, these underlying factors make it clear that running away from Clark may not be the straightforward escape plan Sylvia believes it will be, since Clark has a great deal of power over Carla.
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Later, after Carla has boarded the bus to Toronto and Sylvia drops off the note to Clark in the mailbox, Sylvia goes for a walk and reminisces about how she used to go on walks with Leon. She feels irritated and anxious thinking about Carla. She calls Ruth first to warn her of Carla’s aloof attitude, and then again to see if Carla has arrived, but no one answers the phone either time. She goes to bed on the couch, not having slept in her and Leon’s bed in months, and dreams of being on a bus. She awakes to a knocking on her door.
Sylvia’s perception of Carla flipped completely: she used to find Carla’s presence invigorating but is now annoyed by the thought of her, as she’s realized how immature Carla is. But Sylvia still does a lot for Carla, showing Sylvia’s kind and generous nature. On another note, while Sylvia clearly misses Leon (she avoids the bedroom they shared together), she seems emotionally stable and relatively undisturbed by his death. This is notably different from how distraught Carla was over Clark’s treatment of her earlier in the story, when she cried and pleaded with him and then sobbed when she arrived at Sylvia’s house. Carla is frantically attached to Clark, while Sylvia seems to be a stable, complete person even amid her grief over Leon, which again speaks to Carla and Clark’s unhealthy relationship dynamic. This is especially important given that the story has established Carla as immature and naïve, and Sylvia as a mature and somewhat maternal figure to Carla. These contrasts between the two women suggest that healthy, stable relationships—in which people genuinely care for each other but aren’t overly dependent on each other—are important parts of maturity.
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When Carla first boards the bus, she is afraid Clark will see her, but she relaxes as she gets farther from town. At Mrs. Jamieson’s house, leaving for Toronto seemed like the only good option Carla had. She feels that she has risen to meet Mrs. Jamieson’s expectations and doesn’t want to let her down. As the bus gets farther, Carla notices that the landscape looks nicer and has an urge to tell Clark about what she sees. But she realizes she won’t have a chance to speak to him again. Then, she realizes that she’ll never find out if Flora returns. The bus journey reminds Carla of when she first left home as a teenager with Clark. She recalls how she left a note for her parents, explaining her “need of a more authentic kind of life.”
Carla perceives that Sylvia has expectations of Carla’s future success, showing that Carla views Sylvia more as a parental or authority figure than a friend. Her perception reinforces her own immaturity and again implies that Sylvia’s secure attachment style is what true maturity looks like. Even though Carla followed through with leaving Clark, she still thinks about him and wants to confide in him, which suggests that he still has lingering influence over her. That Carla thinks of Flora while fleeing to Toronto again symbolically links them as a pair of “runaways” and suggests that Flora has achieved the sort of freedom Carla wants for herself deep down. Carla is trying to detach herself from Clark, just as Flora did as she grew up. Carla also reminisces about the first time she left home (her first “runaway”). This second attempt to leave home implies that her marriage to Clark hasn’t been the “authentic kind of life” she hoped for—though she’s now living the life she thought she wanted, she’s unhappy, emotionally neglected, and stagnant.
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As Carla sits on the bus thinking of Clark, she begins to cry. She imagines being alone in Toronto, how unfamiliar everything will be, and trying to get a job. She becomes increasingly overcome with emotion as she tries to imagine a future without Clark, and she concludes that she can’t live without him—everything she does is in relation to him. Without Clark, she thinks, “How would she know she was alive?” Now extremely upset and practically in hysterics, she gets up and yells for the bus driver to stop. She gets off the bus and calls Clark to come get her, and he agrees to do so.
Carla’s emotions change dramatically and quickly. She has now gone from believing leaving would be impossible, to confidently planning a move to Toronto, to realizing she can’t live without Clark—all within a day. Her belief that she can’t live without him shows the mental and emotional toll that his abuse has taken on her: he has made her dependent on him. Her thought process shows the complexity of an emotionally abusive, controlling relationship: leaving Clark isn’t the simple solution Carla and Sylvia thought it would be, as Carla has been manipulated to believe that she can’t live without her husband. On some level, she yearns for some kind of escape to a different life. But just as Sylvia’s trip to Greece didn’t resolve her grief, Carla’s attempt to run away doesn’t solve her problems.
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Back at the Jamiesons’ house, Sylvia opens the door to the knocking, but no one is there. As she looks around in confusion, she hears someone laugh. It’s Clark, who is just out of sight behind the window. Sylvia is afraid of him and realizes she should have gotten dressed before coming to the door. Clark offers her a bag of clothes, and Sylvia realizes they’re the clothes she lent Carla. Terrified, she asks where Carla is, and Clark responds that she’s at home in bed. Sylvia examines Clark’s menacing and disagreeable appearance and remembers Leon once saying that Clark was “unsure of himself.” Nonetheless, she knows that Clark could hurt her. Clark points out how scared Sylvia was when she first opened the door, and he asks if she thought he murdered Carla, to which Sylvia responds that she was merely surprised to see him.
Clark intentionally tries to scare Sylvia by hiding and laughing, and the way he approaches creates a strange and ominous mood. By intimidating Sylvia in this way, he’s trying to gain control over the situation, much like he controls Carla. Sylvia considers that Clark may be insecure, as Leon said, but he can be insecure and still threatening. And Leon was right: Clark’s intense reaction to Carla’s attempt at leaving shows that he is insecure in his marriage. In this way, the story shows Leon to be wise and Clark to be immature and unstable in his relationships, much like Carla is. Clark has not been physically violent thus far, but he himself introduces the idea that he is capable of violence when he asks Sylvia if she thought he killed Carla. Sylvia says no, but in reality, it seems like the thought may have crossed her mind. She answers that she is just surprised, which is not true—she is terrified but is trying to remain composed. 
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Sylvia explains that she was trying to help Carla, and Clark tells her that Carla called him in tears to come get her. Sylvia says Carla had seemed glad to be leaving. Clark tells Sylvia not to get involved in their lives anymore, and Sylvia retorts that Carla is an independent person. Clark takes a hostile and sarcastic tone, demanding an apology from Sylvia, to which she obliges. As the conversation is ending, Sylvia screams with shock as she notices something unidentifiable approaching. Both are frightened as they watch “an unearthly sort of animal” race toward them through dense fog, illuminated by a car’s headlights. As it approaches, they realize it’s Flora.
Although Sylvia doesn’t know the full story of Clark and Carla’s relationship, she still suspects that Clark is dangerous. Still, she easily apologizes and agrees to stay away from Carla, which shows the power of Clark’s manipulative intimidation. Meanwhile, Flora’s sudden reappearance suggests that Carla (who’s symbolically linked to Flora as a fellow runaway) will return to Clark, too. The goat’s “unearthly” appearance imbues her with mystery and religious symbolism, again suggesting that she is somehow wiser and purer than the humans in the story—almost like an angel.
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Clark and Sylvia are relieved to see Flora, having thought at first that there was some kind of supernatural creature. Clark is baffled, remarking that they never expected her to return, and he asks Flora if she’s been away looking for a mate. Clark tells Sylvia that goats are not as tame as they seem, especially not “after they grow up.” When Sylvia says that Flora doesn’t look matured yet, Clark responds that she won’t grow anymore. Sylvia and Clark part ways cordially, and Sylvia agrees that she won’t involve herself in his and Carla’s relationship anymore. Clark says he’s heading home with Flora. Sylvia steps inside to answer a phone call from Ruth. Later, she’s unable to sleep, kept up by thoughts of Flora’s fantastical reappearance. She wonders if the event could be related to Leon’s passing.
Clark was sure that Flora ran away to look for a male goat to mate with, now that she is older and more mature. This belief seems to symbolize his anxieties about his marriage. When he tells Sylvia that goats are not tame once they grow up, it’s implied that he’s talking about Carla too—he thinks that if Carla matures and becomes self-aware, she will leave him. Thus, it’s foreboding when Sylvia says that Flora doesn’t appear fully grown and Clark responds that she won’t grow anymore. Flora has paralleled Carla throughout the story, and Carla isn’t fully matured either. So, Clark’s response to Sylvia’s remark implies that he won’t allow Carla to grow any more. Connecting Flora to Leon again attributes supernatural qualities to Flora, as though she is ghostly or heavenly.
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Clark wakes Carla as he enters their house. He tells her that he heard something in the middle of the night and went to check on things. He says that while he was up, he returned the clothes to Sylvia, but he doesn’t mention anything about Flora. Carla is alarmed and asks if he talked to Sylvia about “any of that stuff,” to which he responds that he didn’t. She pleads for him to believe that everything she told him about Leon was “made-up,” and he says he believes her. As they get into bed, Carla notes that Clark’s feet feel like they’ve been wet, which he attributes to dew. Clark tells her how upset he was to get her note and that he would feel empty without her.
Carla’s insistence that she lied about Leon assaulting her suggests that she knows Clark fears her leaving him, especially for another man. Clark, meanwhile, lies about why he left the house in the middle of the night, as he doesn’t want Carla to know that he confronted Sylvia or that Flora came back. The story does not say what Clark did between leaving Sylvia’s and returning home, and at this point it is still ambiguous. It is strange that Clark’s feet got wet enough to soak through shoes and socks, as though he waded into a body of water. He attributes the wetness to dew, but it’s already clear that Clark is willing to lie to Carla. He doesn’t express anger to Carla but instead is nicer to her than usual, suggesting that he knows he’s in danger of her leaving and must do what he can to make her stay. His profession that he would be empty without Carla mirrors how she felt on the bus when she thought about leaving him, and it signifies that Clark is emotionally dependent on Carla—they are codependent.
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The weather turns over the next few days, and it’s finally warm and sunny out. Business starts to boom once again with trail rides and lessons. Clark and Carla are getting along much better than before. Clark jokes that if Carla leaves again, he’ll “tan [her] hide,” and Carla finds herself as attracted to him as ever. Joy Tucker, Lizzie Borden’s owner, comes back from vacation, and it seems like things between her and Clark are repaired. Joy asks about Flora, and Clark says she’s gone, simply remarking, “Maybe she took off to the Rocky Mountains.”
Now that the story is past its climax, the general tone changes. The weather is sunny, and everyone is getting along (Even Clark and Joy Tucker, who had a rift at the start of the story). This change is eerie and sinister, though, because Flora seemingly disappeared again, and Clark offers no explanation as to what happened to her. It’s especially ominous that Clark jokingly threatens to kill Carla and then tells Joy that he doesn’t know where Flora is. Both interactions imply that Clark most likely killed Flora after leaving Sylvia’s. As Flora represents Carla’s potential freedom, Clark symbolically killed any opportunity for Carla to gain independence.
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One day shortly thereafter, Carla finds a letter in the mailbox from Mrs. Jamieson. In it, Sylvia apologizes for getting too involved in Carla’s life and for conflating freedom and happiness. Sylvia writes that Carla should find happiness in her present situation with Clark. To Carla’s surprise, the letter goes on to describe in detail the scene when Flora appeared at Sylvia’s doorstep. Sylvia writes that the experience brought her and Clark together in friendship, and that it was a significant and marvelous occasion. She writes that Flora is a “good angel.” Immediately, Carla burns the letter to ashes and flushes it down the toilet.
Sylvia has limited knowledge of Carla and Clark’s marriage, and because Sylvia wasn’t in a toxic relationship herself, she greatly underestimates how serious and harmful Carla’s situation is. Of course, Sylvia assumed that Clark had brought Flora home and told Carla about Flora’s appearance at Sylvia’s house. She didn’t think she would be breaking this news to Carla in the letter, which was meant as a kind gesture. But Carla is shocked by the news and seems to know immediately that Clark did something to Flora. She burns and flushes the letter in order to deny this dark reality.
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Carla goes about her days ordinarily and doesn’t mention the letter or Flora to Clark. She shows him no contempt, though she has “a murderous needle somewhere in her lungs.” Sylvia moves to a new apartment in a nearby town, but she doesn’t sell the old house. As autumn approaches, Carla becomes more comfortable thinking about the possibilities of what may have happened to Flora. She sometimes considers going to search for the goat’s remains and imagines holding Flora’s skull like “[k]nowledge in one hand.” Sometimes, she considers the possibility that Clark didn’t kill Flora and instead took her somewhere far away to be free. Carla never goes searching for Flora.
The fact that Carla doesn’t do anything after finding out that Clark likely killed Flora shows that Clark has succeeded in trapping Carla in the relationship. She is very angry at him but can push the feeling away when she wants to. The story again alludes to the Bible: Flora seemed to have had a forbidden sort of wisdom, like Eve in Genesis, which is why she distanced herself from Clark and eventually ran away. In contrast, Carla chooses ignorance: she does not ask Clark what happened or go looking for Flora. Holding Flora’s skull in one hand is like possessing the forbidden fruit—it is symbolic of acquiring knowledge, just as Flora held an apple in Carla’s dream. In this case, Carla would be choosing to know for sure whether Clark killed Flora, and choosing ignorance instead allows Carla to continue imagining the possibility that Flora is still alive. Symbolically, Carla chooses not to pursue independence in favor of the safety of staying with Clark. The story thus ends somewhat pessimistically, suggesting that controlling, codependent relationships like Clark and Carla’s can be incredibly difficult to escape from. If Clark was willing to kill Flora to prevent her from running away, there doesn’t seem to be much hope that Carla will be able to achieve freedom.
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