Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood: I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth

Stone Mattress

I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth is the sequel to Margaret Atwood’s novel Robber Bride. It is a novel I enjoyed very much, so reading this short story was pure bliss for me. 🙂 (By the way, you can enjoy this short story without having read Robber Bride)

Tony, Roz and Charis, now in their dotage, are three long-term friends whose beaux were stolen by Zenia in their younger days. Zenia is long dead now, and at present day Tony looks like a “pressed-flower pixie”, Roz has given up on expensive high heels, only to end up “shovelling money into her open mouth” at the dentist, and Charis, now moved off the Island into a duplex, is “no longer an old street bat in training”, but a vampire movie fanatic.

With their friendship still going strong, they meet up every Saturday to go for a stroll. On one fine day like that, Charis – sweet, trusting Charis – tells her friends about the dream she saw, in which Zenia had a message for her, unraveling the crafty tale of Zenia, which ends with the perfect punchline.

This story is light read and also a prime example of Margaret Atwood’s comic writing style. There were instances she completely cracked me up. This bit is about Ouida, a terrier blend dog, gifted to Charis by Tony and Roz.

Now Ouida is dashing around and barking: being in the ravine and off the leash excites her. She likes to nose under fallen logs and dodge behind bushes, evading the moment of rapture and hiding her – what to call them? Charis disapproves crass words like shit. Roz has offered poop, but Charis rejected it as too babyish. Her alimentary canal products? Tony has suggested. No, that sounds too coldly intellectual, said Charis. Her Gifts to the Earth.

It is also a story about aging and friendships that grows deep with time. Seeing how Tony and Roz go join Charis on vampire movie nights, just to keep her company, make you cherish the bond you have with friends all the more and keep your heart warm.

Charis makes mint tea and popcorn for them, and they sit on her sofa like teenagers, cramming popcorn into their mouths, feeding the occasional handful to Ouida, glued to the screen…

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