(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins with the narrator being embarrassed that his seventy-eight-year-old mother likes to ice-skate in Rockefeller Center in New York City. He shortly discovers, while he is waiting with her in the Newark airport to put her on a plane to visit some friends of hers in Ohio, that she is mortally afraid of flying. His next revelation is that his older brother, more successful in business than he and their mother’s favorite, has recently developed an intense fear of high buildings, especially the elevators in them. Although the narrator’s confrontation with his mother’s phobia has given him an insight into her fragility, his brother’s neurosis—perhaps because the narrator feels in competition with him—strikes him as absurd.

The narrator is afraid of neither heights nor planes. His business requires that he fly frequently to the West Coast and to Europe. He romanticizes flying: He enjoys comparing the simultaneous activities in different time zones, the way the sky appears at high altitudes, and the way night moves across a landscape seen from the air. Without warning, however, on the way back with his wife and children from a visit in New Jersey, the narrator undergoes a strong emotional and physical reaction to the George Washington Bridge as he drives across it. From then on he is afraid of large bridges, especially high ones.

He informs the family doctor, who in effect informs him that he is being cowardly. When a psychiatrist suggests that the anxiety behind his fear will need long-term analysis, the narrator backs off, unwilling to spend the time and money, or to entrust his problem to psychiatric procedures.


(The entire section is 687 words.)