I read this from Deep-Holes, a short story by Canadian writer Alice Munro. It's about a mother who lost contact with her son since he dropped college and left his family. They met for the first time after many years. The son is leading his mother to his apartment. There was a fire in that neighborhood and the son appeared in the news on the fire scene. That's how they got in touch. And——

“Do you still smoke your pipe?” she said, sniffing the air and remembering how he had taken up pipe smoking in high school.

“Pipe? Oh. No. It’s the smoke from the fire you smell. We don’t notice it anymore. I’m afraid it’ll get stronger, in the direction we’re walking.”

“Are we going to go through where it was?”

“No, no. We couldn’t, even if we wanted to. They’ve got it all blocked off. Too dangerous. Some buildings will have to be taken down. Don’t worry, it’s okay where we are. A good block and a half away from the mess.”

“Your apartment building?” she said, alert to the “we.”

“Sort of. Yes. You’ll see.”

**He spoke gently, readily, yet with an effort, like someone speaking, as a courtesy, in a foreign language. And he stooped a little, to make sure she heard him. The special effort, the slight labor involved in speaking to her, as if making a scrupulous translation, seemed something she was meant to notice.

The cost.**

As they stepped off a curb he brushed her arm—perhaps he had stumbled a little—and he said, “Excuse me.” And she thought he gave the least shiver. AIDS. Why had that never occurred to her before?

I have a hard time understanding the paragraphs from "he spoke gently" to "the cost" and I'll try to express what confuses me:

First of all, does "the cost" refer to the son's effort of talking to his mother? Like it cost him a lot to talk?

Secondly, does the above paragraph mean that he talks like he is trying to translate his idea into a foreign language?

Thirdly, does "she was meant to notice" mean that she couldn't help notice how hard her son tried?

  • If my answer helped, you can accept it unlesd you are waiting for another answer :)
    – DialFrost
    May 18, 2022 at 10:25

1 Answer 1


Yes your first interpretation is correct, where "the cost" refers to the effort it took the son to talk to his mother.

The paragraph is trying to convey how the way he spoke was like someone politely speaking in a foreign language.

"she was meant to notice" means that she probably supposed to notice how much effort it took him to speak to her, but she did not notice it, therefore using "meant to".


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