Now that they are out of world affairs and back where they started, Peter Frazier’s wife says, “Everybody else did well in the international thing except us.”

“You have to be crooked,” he tells her.

“Or smart. Pity, we weren’t.”

It is Sunday morning, They sit in the kitchen, drinking their coffee, slowly, remembering the past. They say the names of people as if they were magic. Peter thinks, Agnes Brusen, but there are hundreds of other names. As a private married joke, Peter and Sheilah wear the silk dressing gowns they bought in Hong Kong. Each thinks the other a peacock, rather splendid, but they pretend the dressing gowns are silly and worn in fun.

Peter and Sheilah and their two daughters, Sandra and Jennifer, are visiting Peter’s unmarried sister, Lucille. They have been Lucille’s guests seventeen weeks, ever since they returned to Toronto from the Far East. Their big old steamer trunk blocks a corner of the kitchen, making a problem of the refrigerator door;  but even Lucille says the trunk may as well stay where it is, for the present. The Frazier’s future is so unsettled;  everything is still in the air.

Lucille has given her bedroom to her two nieces, and sleeps on a camp cot in the hall. The parents have the living room divan. They have no privileges here; they sleep after Lucille has seen the last television show that interests her. In the hall closet their clothes are crushed by winter overcoats. They know they are being judged for the first time. Sandra and Jennifer are waiting for Sheilah and Peter to decide. They are waiting to learn where these exotic parents will fly to next. What sort of climate will Sheilah consider? What job will Peter consent to accept? When the parents are ready, the children will make a decision of their own. It is just possible that Sandra and Jennifer will choose to stay with their aunt.

The peacock parents are being watched by wrens.

– excerpted from The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street, by Mavis Gallant
Found in Paris Stories, published by New York Review of Books

peacocksTwo green peacocks
on the bough of a flowering tree
Ohara Koson, 1910
woodblock print