Evans’s second (after Maggie’s Rags, not reviewed) is a bit like Cheever’s story “The Swimmer,” with less of the emotional trauma and essential mystery.
The day begins as Arlene is paged as Mrs. Rudy Handel, which is her name, though she’s not exactly thrilled by it. She’s in the town of Stanley, California, though even with her first husband Dan, she had “been from Somewhere Else, even after we’d lived in Stanley for twenty years.” While Arlene has grown comfortable here with new husband Rudy Handel, she’s not pleased with the town. And Evans’s story will become an extended complaint on the occasion of Rudy’s release from a hospital. Characteristic Arlene: When Rudy gives her a locket to celebrate his health (“You’re wearing my heart, hon”), she imagines putting pictures of old lovers in it. Arlene is an ex-teacher and met Rudy on a junket to Reno, though it was alcohol and not gambling they had in common. The daylong journey through town now becomes a trip down memory lane, with visits to children and old bosses, and though the place has long since come to seem foreign, she “yearn[s] for my country that has become simpler, more elemental, less dependent on systems and more dependent on wind and rain.” What she’ll learn is that even though she wants to leave Stanley, her time of adventure in life is over (“I don’t want to have to adjust to anything new, especially another new name. . . . What I need now is warmth, not passion”), and that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. Evans relies on her narrator’s voice to carry her off, but too often her observations are flat or just references to the observations of others: “But then again, what’s fair in love and war? which is mostly what my marriage to Dan had been.”
Arlene might find a sense of home again, but she does it without much feeling of resolution.