Margaret Atwood’s memoir, Remembering Marian Engel, details her relationship with another Canadian writer, Engel. In this intimate account, she revisits the friendship in the years before Engel’s death. In straightforward narrative, Atwood suggests the pride Engel sustained up until her untimely death.
“Once, during a bad spell, I was visiting her in a hospital, and a medical crisis really did strike. Buzzers were sounded, nurses hurried in, and I had to leave. As I did as she was being lifted, stuck with needles in the midst of all that, she winked at me.
This wink demolished me. It was so typical of her, but also so gallant and doomed, bagpipers going in to battle, the Polish cavalry charging the tanks on horseback. It was meant, I knew, to cheer me up, but it said other things too: that no matter how gruesome things were, they had a funny side; that there was a conspiracy going on, between us, behind the doctors’ backs. The doctors and her body were engaged in some solemn business or other that was of concern to her, but it wasn’t the whole story.
Despite the alterations made in her by the illness and drugs, here was the same expression I’d first caught her at, on that book cover: mischief, fun. Relish was a word she liked; “I’ve been naughty,” she would say, with some pleasure. So there was something to be had, savoured, seen, understood, even at such a moment. She would not have found this wink of hers courageous. Unless somebody else had done it, of course.”
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