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A middle-aged Englishman named Mallory sits at a table in an Italian bar in William Trevor’s short story “Cheating at Canasta”. So far in my reading of Trevor, this seems to be a common situation -but he makes it work.
Mallory sits in this bar at the request of his wife, Julia, whom we learn suffered from an “affliction” that caused her to not remember much. Though, Trevor doesn’t specifically say, I had the distinct impression that Julia has now died. The couple frequented the bar during their visits to Italy and Julia told Mallory to visit it again for the both of them.
The title of the story represents the love Mallory had for Julia when they played cards during her sickness. He always let her win and she always enjoyed it.
During his visit, Mallory overhears an American couple arguing at a nearby table. They are the kind of people that Julia would have called “Scott Fitzgerald” people, “a surface held in spite of an unhappiness”. The female of this couple refers to her sister and brother-in-law, Geoffrey. I think a lesser writer would have had difficulty going through these relational levels from Mallory and Julia to the American couple to Geoffrey and his wife. It could have been confusing, but Trevor never veers from the central focus of Mallory.
A sadness exists throughout the story as Mallory fulfills Julia’s wish. Trevor expertly combines the sense of loss and the sense of comfort in visiting a place that holds memories of someone who can no longer visit the place with us:
Tomorrow what has been lost in recollection’s collapse will be restored as she has known it: the pink and gold of Sant Giobbe’s Annunciation, its dove, its Virgin’s features, its little trees, its God. Tomorrow the silenced music will play in the piazza of San Marco, and tourists shuffle in calles, and the boats go out to the islands. Tomorrow the cats of Venice will be fed by ladies in the dried-out parks, and there’ll be coffee on the Zattere.
Trevor also used a painting of The Annunciation in his beautiful short story, “After Rain”.