Read Bodily Harm Online

Authors: Margaret Atwood

Bodily Harm

Bodily Harm

“Secures her place in the upper ranks of important novelists.”


“An overwhelming novel … possessing Atwood’s usual ability to harness the energy of language and implication … with remarkable insight and sensitivity.”

Quill & Quire

“Time and again the reader is impressed by the sheer virtuosity and skill of Atwood’s writing.”

Calgary Herald

“Sophisticated, superbly orchestrated …”

Saturday Review

“Striking, stringent, sharp … infused with intelligence and insight.”

Vancouver Sun

“Skilfully written, mordantly witty and immensely readable.”

London Free Press

“What makes her book so considerable an achievement is the mature, informed accuracy of its view of life. What makes it so exhilarating is the profusion of tough wit and precise poetry that everywhere transforms its black bulletins from documentary into art.”

Times Literary Supplement


The Edible Woman
Lady Oracle
Dancing Girls (1977)
Life Before Man (1979)
Bodily Harm
Murder in the Dark
Bluebeard’s Egg
The Handmaid’s Tale
Cat’s Eye
Wilderness Tips
Good Bones
The Robber Bride
Alias Grace
The Blind Assassin
Good Bones and Simple Murders
Oryx and Crake
The Penelopiad
The Tent
Moral Disorder
The Year of the Flood

Up in the Tree
Anna’s Pet
(with Joyce Barkhouse) (1980)
For the Birds
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda

Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature
Days of the Rebels 1815–1840
Second Words
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing
Moving Targets: Writing with Intent, 1982–2004
Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Double Persephone
The Circle Game
The Animals in That Country
The Journals of Susanna Moodie
Procedures for Underground
Power Politics
You Are Happy
Selected Poems
Two-Headed Poems
True Stories
Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976–1986
Morning in the Burned House
The Door

Copyright © 1981 by O.W. Toad Ltd.

First cloth edition published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart in 1981
Emblem edition published in 1998
This Emblem edition published in 2010

Emblem is an imprint of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Emblem and colophon are registered trademarks of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the publisher – or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency – is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Atwood, Margaret, 1939–
Bodily harm / Margaret Atwood.

eISBN: 978-1-55199-488-8

I. Title.

62 2010        

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and that of the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Ontario Book Initiative. We further acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program.

McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
75 Sherbourne Street
Toronto, Ontario


For Jennifer Rankin, 1941–1979.
For Graeme, James and John.


A man’s presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. By contrast, a woman’s presence … defines what can and cannot be done to her.

John Berger,
Ways of Seeing



his is how I got here, says Rennie.

It was the day after Jake left. I walked back to the house around five. I’d been over at the market and I was carrying the shopping basket as well as my purse. There wasn’t as much to carry now that Jake wasn’t there any more, which was just as well because the muscles in my left shoulder were aching, I hadn’t been keeping up the exercises. The trees along the street had turned and the leaves were falling onto the sidewalk, yellow and brown, and I was thinking, Well, it’s not so bad, I’m still alive.

My next-door neighbour, an old Chinese man whose name I didn’t know, was tidying up his front yard. The yard in front of my house had been covered over with paving stones so you could park a car on it. That meant the street was going up rather than down, and in a few years I’d have to move; though I’d stopped thinking in years. My neighbour had pulled up the dead plants and was raking the earth into a raised oblong. In the spring he’d plant things I
didn’t know the names for. I remember thinking it was time I learned the names, if I was going to live there.

I did notice the cruiser, which they’d left beside a meter like any other car, no flashing lights, but it was a few doors away so I didn’t pay much attention to it. You see more police cars down there than you might farther north.

The front door was open, which wasn’t out of place on such a warm day. The downstairs neighbour, an old woman who isn’t the landlady but behaves like one, has cats and likes to leave the outside door ajar so they can get in and go through the cat door. “Cat hole,” Jake calls it; used to call it.

My own door at the top of the stairs was open too. There were people inside, men, I could hear them talking, and then a laugh. I couldn’t think who it could be, it wasn’t Jake, but whoever it was didn’t seem to care who knew they were there. The key was under the mat where I always leave it, but the edge of the doorframe was splintered, the lock was shoved right out of it. I went into the livingroom, which was still piled with the boxes of books Jake had packed but not collected. Nothing had been moved. Through the kitchen doorway I could see feet and legs, shining feet, pressed legs.

Two policemen were sitting at the table. I had that quick rush of fear, late for school, caught on the boys’ stairs, caught out. The only thing I could think of was that they were after the pot, but there were no drawers pulled open and the tea and coffee canisters were where they should be. Then I remembered that Jake had taken the whole stash with him. Why not? It was his. Anyway, surely they’d stopped worrying about that, everyone does it now, even the police, it’s almost legal.

The younger one stood up, the older one didn’t. He stayed sitting down, smiling up at me as if I’d come for a job interview.

You Miss Wilford? he asked. He didn’t wait. You’re damn lucky. He had a massive head, with the hair clipped short like a punker’s.
His was left over though, from sometime in the fifties: no green highlights.

Why? I said. What’s the matter?

You’ve got good neighbours, the younger one said. He looked like a high-school gym teacher or a Baptist, about twenty-two, earnest and severe. The one downstairs. She was the one who phoned.

Was it a fire? I said. There was no sign of it, no smell.

The older one laughed. The other one didn’t. No, he said. She heard footsteps up here and she knew it wasn’t you, she saw you go out, and she didn’t hear anyone go up the stairs. He jimmied open your kitchen window.

I put the shopping basket on the table; then I went and looked at the window, which was open about two feet. The white paint was scratched.

You could do it with a jackknife, he said. You should get those safety locks. He heard us coming and went back out through the window.

Did he take anything? I said.

You’ll have to tell us that, said the older one.

The young one looked uneasy. We don’t think he was a burglar, he said. He made himself a cup of Ovaltine. He was just waiting for you, I guess. There was a cup on the table, half full of something light brown. I felt sick: someone I didn’t know had been in my kitchen, opening my refrigerator and my cupboards, humming to himself maybe, as if he lived there; as if he was an intimate.

What for? I said.

The older one stood up. He took up a lot of space in the kitchen. Take a look, he said, pleased with himself, in charge. He had a present he’d been saving up. He walked past me into the livingroom and then into the bedroom. I was glad I’d made the bed that morning: lately I hadn’t always.

There was a length of rope coiled neatly on the quilt. It wasn’t any special kind of rope, there was nothing lurid about it. It was off-white and medium thick. It could have been a clothesline.

All I could think of was a game we used to play, Detective or Clue, something like that. You had to guess three things: Mr. Green, in the conservatory, with a pipewrench; Miss Plum, in the kitchen, with a knife. Only I couldn’t remember whether the name in the envelope was supposed to be the murderer’s or the victim’s.
Miss Wilford, in the bedroom, with a rope

He was just waiting for you, the younger one said behind me.

Drinking his Ovaltine, the big one said. He smiled down at me, watching my face, almost delighted, like an adult who’s just said
I told you so
to some rash child with a skinned knee.

So you were lucky, the younger one said. He came past me and picked up the rope, carefully, as if it had germs. I could see now that he was older than I’d thought, he had anxious puckers around the eyes.

The big one opened the closet door, casually, as if he had every right. Two of Jake’s suits were still hanging there.

You live alone, that right? the big one said.

I said yes.

These your pictures? said the big one, grinning.

No, I said. They belong to a friend of mine. The pictures were Jake’s, he was supposed to take them away.

Quite a friend, said the big one.

He must’ve been watching you for a while, said the young one. He must’ve known when you’d get home. Any idea who it might be?

No, I said. I wanted to sit down. I thought of asking them if they wanted a beer.

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