Inside the greasy and dilapidated cannery, Hagar makes a bed out of some discarded old fishnets and eats some of her provisions as dinner. She finds a pile of scallop shells and dead junebugs, and uses the objects as “jewels” to adorn her hair. She tries to ignore her swollen feet and painful stomach by remembering the events of the day, but finds that before the walk through the forest she can remember nothing.
Though Hagar has, up to this point, been confused but mostly lucid, in this passage she starts to lose her grip on reality in a more serious way.
A seagull flaps about the room, and its presence “scares and disgusts” Hagar. She flings a small wooden fish box at it, hoping to scare it away, but the box strikes the bird and bloodies its wing. Hagar is unsure if she should kill the squawking bird out of mercy, and as she languishes in indecision, she wishes Marvin were with her—he’d know what to do. She wonders where the two of them are, and whether they’ve taken advantage of her absence and sold the house.
This scene mirrors the earlier scene in which Hagar couldn’t step up and be the one to squash the suffering chicks in the Manawaka junkyard. Over fifty years later, Hagar still can’t act decisively in moments of truth.
As night descends, Hagar hears some dogs barking in the distance. As they get closer and closer, Hagar grows afraid—but just as they arrive underneath the window, right outside, Hagar hears the sound of scuffle, and their steps retreat. Hagar wants to move, but finds that she is shaking and sweating so badly she can’t stand. At the sound of the door opening, Hagar becomes outright terrified—she knows a person has entered the cannery.
Hagar’s fears of being set upon by an assailant seem realer than ever. She has ignored danger up to this point, and now may have to face it head-on.
The figure inside the cannery lights a match—it is a man. Hagar, believing the man to be a vagrant, offers him her purse, but he is just as frightened as she is. Hagar realizes the man must be off-put by the junebug carcasses and shells in her hair, and she apologizes for her appearance. The man asks what an old lady is doing all alone, and asks if Hagar’s all right. Hagar suddenly believes that Marvin and Doris have sent the man to bring her back, and she tells him that she refuses to go with him—she “won’t be lugged around like a sack of potatoes.”
Hagar apparently frightened her new acquaintance just as badly as he frightened her. Though she’s relieved that he’s not here to attack her, she can’t shake off the suspicion that he’s here to put her journey to an end and drag her back to Marvin and Doris to meet her fate. Her paranoia is symptomatic of her loosening grip on reality.
The man begs Hagar to calm down, and insists he doesn’t know her and hasn’t been sent to fetch her. He introduces himself as Murray F. Lees, and says he’s nothing but a life insurance salesman out on a walk. Hagar introduces herself, and Murray sits down beside her. Though she doesn’t quite trust him, she’s grateful for the company. He tells her that on his walk he noticed a pack of dogs fighting over a wounded bird—Hagar admits she was the one who downed it.
Murray doesn’t know who Hagar is, where she comes from, or what she’s doing in the abandoned cannery—and she is grateful for the anonymity, happy to have avoided Silverthreads yet again.
Murray shares his cigarettes and wine with Hagar, and she is grateful to have something to drink. Hagar thanks Murray for his kindness, and the two begin talking about their lives, sharing details here and there. As Murray tells Hagar about his job and his past, she finds herself slightly bored, but comforted by his voice and warmed by the wine. Murray tells Hagar about his religious upbringing and his worrywart mother who, despite her frail appearance, was tough as a morning glory—a flower which resists being weeded out.
Murray’s mother sounds very similar to Hagar, both past and present—frail and vulnerable to the world, but secretly tough as nails and not easily changed, moved, or eradicated.
Murray also tells Hagar about his wife and son, and their participation in increasingly strange religious sects which foretold that the end of the world was coming soon. Murray and Hagar both keep drinking, and Murray reveals his frustration with doctrine that tells its adherents they’re “[in] for it” but declines to tell them when the end will come. Murray reveals that one day he left church in a huff, fed up with their “malarkey,” and returned home to find that his and his wife’s house had caught fire—with their son inside.
Murray’s story takes a strange and sad turn, and Hagar comes to understand that he too has known indecision, stagnation, and terrible loss.
Murray and Hagar commiserate over the fact that they have both lost children, and then after sharing some more wine and soda biscuits, cozy up side-by-side. Hagar shivers with the cold, but insists to Murray that she’s perfectly warm enough. Hagar slips back into memory, and into the story of her own loss.
Hagar feels she has found a kindred spirit and a trustworthy friend in Murray, and hearing his painful story triggers her own memories of John. This chance encounter between two strangers thus leads to a real connection in this moment.
One afternoon, back in Manawaka, John came into the house to tell Hagar that Arlene had decided to go East for a year to work. Arlene told John she was determined to stop living off of her parents, and wanted to work for a year in hopes of beginning to pay them back. Hagar quietly said she admired Arlene’s resolve, but John was concerned that Arlene would meet “some well-fixed guy in Toronto.” He also pointed out that Hagar didn’t seemed surprised by the news, and asked if she had been “expecting it.” Hagar pretended to be confused by John’s accusation, and John told Hagar that he was planning on bringing Arlene back to the house every night during the two weeks she had remaining in Manawaka. John confessed that he hoped to impregnate Arlene soon, so that she’d be forced to stay behind.
In this passage, as Hagar reflects on what would come to be a pivotal confrontation with John, it becomes evident that John knew all along that Hagar had a hand in sending Arlene away. This latest slight was, to him, just another one of his mother’s many cruel, unfair acts against him, and he lashed out in anger and sadness.
Hagar broke down, begging John to see that all she’d ever wanted was his happiness, and never wanted to see him make a mistake or “take on responsibilities beyond [his] means.” John chastised Hagar for failing, all these years, to see that Marvin was always “[her] boy,” not him.
Though Hagar has tried all her life to favor John and to help him, her efforts have seemingly been wasted—he never wanted her love, only Bram’s. In the meantime, Hagar was blind to the son who really both loved and needed her—Marvin.
Every night for several nights, John took the truck into town. One night, Hagar decided not to wait up for him, but found that when she went to bed she couldn’t sleep. She soon heard some thumping at the door, and when she went downstairs to answer it, found Henry Pearl standing there. He told Hagar to come along into town—something had happened to John. On the drive in, Henry told Hagar that John was in the hospital. John had taken on a bet in the middle of a local dance—that he could drive his truck across the trestle bridge. Apparently, though no train was due, an unscheduled freight came down the tracks towards John, and John steered the truck off of the bridge. Arlene had been in the car, and had been killed instantly. John, however, was still alive—for the time being.
The news of John’s accident must have felt horribly familiar to Hagar—she had warned him countless times about goofing off near the railroad tracks as a child, but even as an adult, he could never heed her wisdom. His drunken foolishness has also resulted in Arlene’s death—through his own folly, he has literally driven their relationship off a cliff rather than let it end naturally.
At the hospital, Hagar sat with John, whose scant superficial injuries were nothing compared to the internal ones he’d suffered. John apologized for acting “like a kid,” and begged Hagar to ask someone to give him something for his pain. In the middle of his agony, John expired. To this day, Hagar does not remember her last words to her son.
Though Hagar’s memory has, throughout the novel, been sharp and seemingly trustworthy, this moment—the most painful moment of her life—has been wiped clean.
As one of the nurses walked Hagar out, she urged Hagar to let herself cry—but Hagar shoved the nurse away, determined not to cry in front of a stranger. That night, back at the house, though, Hagar found that her tears wouldn’t come even at her own bidding—Hagar felt she’d “transformed to stone.” At John’s funeral, days later, Hagar did not go out to the cemetery to see the burial—she did not want to see her family’s plot, or the stone angel watching over them all.
Hagar has long prided herself on her stoicism and her strength, but now, even in the darkest moment she’s known, she refuses to allow herself even a moment of vulnerability. Hagar has so often chosen to ignore emotion that now, when it counts, the choice is no longer her own, but some strange mechanism inside her working on its own.
Hagar visited Lottie and Telford, but the visit was short, awkward, and painful for all of them. Over the next few weeks she packed up the Shipley place, and sent anything of value to Marvin. Hagar returned to Mr. Oatley’s and got back to work. When he, too, died in just a year, he left her ten thousand dollars in his will, with which she bought herself a house.
The events following John’s death are relayed quickly and brusquely—it is almost as if Hagar moved through the next years of her life on autopilot, relatively unfeeling even in the face of a generous gift from her employer.
Hagar snaps back to reality, realizing that she is, at last, crying. Murray comments upon how sad her story is, and Hagar is shocked to realize she’s been telling the whole thing aloud. Murray urges Hagar to let all of her feelings out. Hagar laments that John’s death was senseless and pointless—for years, she’s felt enormous anger over what happened. Murray says that though anger won’t do Hagar any good, it’s hard not to feel “empty.” Murray knows his wife will soon start to worry about him, but is overcome with the need for a nap. The confused Hagar begs Murray not to tell her son, Marvin, where she is. Murray promises, and Hagar believes him. They “slip into sleep” side by side, overcome by the cold.
After all these years, Hagar has at last allowed herself to give in to the emotions she’s guarded so long. She has defied her dark twin, the stone angel, and accepted that sometimes control must be relinquished. She is not made of stone, and this random moment of connection with a stranger has finally allowed her to give in to her humanity.
Hagar wakes up in the middle of the night feeling cold, ill, and nauseous. Her heart is pounding and she can barely breathe. She vomits onto the floor, and then hears a man’s voice beside her lamenting that she has had too much to drink. Hagar believes that the person beside her is John, though it’s still Murray sitting with her. Murray, concerned, says that Hagar needs a doctor, but she insists she’s fine. Hagar begins apologizing to “John” for being cold to him, and for telling him he couldn’t bring Arlene to the house. Hagar waits for “John’s” response—Murray tells her that he forgives her for “everything,” and urges her to get some sleep.
Hagar’s grip on reality continues to loosen. She’s no longer just confused about where she is, but is now essentially hallucinating her dead son’s presence, demonstrating how painful her trips into her own memories have made her present circumstances.