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03/10/2016 Free Radicals ­ The New Yorker FICTION  FEBRUARY 11 & 18, 2008 ISSUE FREE RADICALS Widow and intruder By Alice Munro A t first, people kept phoning, to make sure that Nita was not too depressed, not too lonely, not eating too little or drinking too much. (She had been such a diligent wine drinker that many forgot that she was now forbi
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  03/10/2016 Free Radicals - The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/02/11/free-radicals-2 1/30  A t first, people kept phoning, to make surethat Nita was not too depressed, not toolonely, not eating too little or drinking too much. (She had been such a diligent wine drinker that many forgot that she was now forbidden to drink at all.) She held them off, without sounding nobly grief-stricken or unnaturally cheerful or absent-minded or confused. She said that she didn’t need groceries;she was working through what she had on hand. She had enough of her prescription pills and enoughstamps for her thank-you notes.Her closer friends probably suspected the truth—that she was not bothering to eat much and that shethrew out any sympathy note she happened to get. She had not even informed the people who lived at adistance, to elicit such notes. Not Rich’s ex-wife in Arizona or his semi-estranged brother in NovaScotia, though those two might have understood, perhaps better than the people near at hand, why shehad proceeded with the non-funeral as she had done. FICTION   FEBRUARY 11 & 18, 2008 ISSUE FREE RADICALS Widow and intruder  By Alice Munro  03/10/2016 Free Radicals - The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/02/11/free-radicals-2 2/30  Rich had told her that he was going to the village, to the hardware store. It was around ten o’clock in themorning, and he had just started to paint the railing of the deck. That is, he’d been scraping it to preparefor the painting, and the old scraper had come apart in his hand.She hadn’t had time to wonder about his being late. He’d died bent over the sidewalk sign that stood infront of the hardware store offering a discount on lawnmowers. He hadn’t even managed to get into thestore. He’d been eighty-one years old and in fine health, aside from some deafness in his right ear. Hisdoctor had checked him over only the week before. Nita was to learn that the recent checkup, the cleanbill of health, cropped up in a surprising number of the sudden-death stories that she was now presented with. “You’d almost think that such visits ought to be avoided,” she’d said.She should have spoken like this only to her close and fellow bad-mouthing friends, Virgie and Carol, women around her own age, which was sixty-two. Her younger friends found this sort of talk unseemly and evasive. At first, they had crowded in on Nita. They had not actually spoken of the grieving process,but she had been afraid that at any moment they might start. As soon as she got on with the arrangements, of course, all but the tried and true had fallen away. Thecheapest box, into the ground immediately, no ceremony of any kind. The undertaker had suggested that this might be against the law, but she and Rich had had their facts straight. They’d got their informationalmost a year before, when the diagnosis of her cancer became final.“How was I to know he’d steal my thunder?” she’d said.   03/10/2016 Free Radicals - The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/02/11/free-radicals-2 3/30 R  People had not expected a traditional service, but they had looked forward to some kind of contemporary affair. Celebrating the life. Playing his favorite music, holding hands together, tellingstories that praised Rich while touching humorously on his quirks and forgivable faults. The sort of thing that Rich had said made him puke.So it was dealt with privately, and soon the stir, the widespread warmth that had surrounded Nita meltedaway, though some people, she supposed, were likely still saying that they were concerned about her.Virgie and Carol didn’t say that. They said only that she was a selfish bloody bitch if she was thinking of conking out now, any sooner than was necessary. They would come around, they said, and revive her withGrey Goose.She assured them that she wasn’t, though she could see a certain logic to the idea. Thanks to the radiation last spring, her cancer was at present in remission—whatever that actually meant. It did not mean gone. Not for good, anyway. Her liver was the main theatre of operations and aslong as she stuck to nibbles it did not complain. It would only have depressed her friends to remindthem that she couldn’t have wine, let alone vodka.ich died in June. Now here it is midsummer. She gets out of bed early and washes herself anddresses in anything that comes to hand. But she does dress and wash, and she brushes her teethand combs her hair, which has grown back decently, gray around her face and dark at the back, the way it  was before. She puts on lipstick and pencils her eyebrows, which are now very scanty, and out of herlifelong respect for a narrow waist and moderate hips she checks on the achievements she has made inthat direction, though she knows that the proper word for all parts of her now might be “scrawny.”   03/10/2016 Free Radicals - The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/02/11/free-radicals-2 4/30 She sits in her usual ample armchair, with piles of books and unopened magazines around her. She sipscautiously from the mug of weak herbal tea that is now her substitute for coffee. At one time, shethought that she could not live without coffee, but it turned out that it was really just the large warmmug she wanted in her hands, that was the aid to thought or whatever it was she practiced through theprocession of hours, or of days. This was Rich’s house. He’d bought it when he was with his first wife, Bett. It had been intended as a weekend place, closed up in the winter. Two tiny bedrooms, a lean-to kitchen, half a mile from the village. But soon Rich had begun working on it, learning carpentry, building a wing for two new bedrooms and a bathroom and another wing for his study, turning the original house into an open-planliving room, dining room, kitchen. Bett had become interested; she’d claimed in the beginning not tounderstand why he’d bought such a dump, but practical improvements always engaged her, and shebought matching carpenter’s aprons. She’d needed something to become involved in, having finished andpublished the cookbook that had occupied her for several years. They’d had no children. And at the same time that Bett had been busy telling people that she’d found her role in life as acarpenter’s helper, and that it had brought her and Rich much closer, Rich had been falling in love withNita. She’d worked in the registrar’s office of the university where he taught medieval literature. The first time they’d made love was amid the shavings and sawn wood of what was to become the house’s centralroom with its arched ceiling, on a weekend when Bett had stayed in the city. Nita had left her sunglassesbehind—not on purpose, though Bett, who never forgot anything, could not believe that. The usualruckus followed, trite and painful, and ended with Bett going off to California, then Arizona, Nitaquitting her job at the suggestion of the registrar, and Rich missing out on becoming dean of arts. Hetook early retirement, sold the city house. Nita did not inherit the smaller carpenter’s apron, but she readher books cheerfully in the midst of construction and disorder, made rudimentary dinners on a hot plate,and went for long exploratory walks, coming back with ragged bouquets of tiger lilies and wild carrot, 
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