‘‘Astronomer’s Wife’’ begins with Mrs. Katherine Ames waking up in the villa in which she lives. She calls for the ‘‘girl,’’ her maidservant, to bring her some coffee, and she begins to think about her husband, the astronomer. In her mind, he is distant and interested in abstract things. The maidservant interrupts her thinking by telling her that the plumber has arrived. Before readers learn why the plumber has been called, Mrs. Ames repeats her name to herself: ‘‘I am Mrs. Ames . . . I am Mrs. Ames.’’ She shows the plumber to a room that has flooded, at the same time revealing to him and to readers that she and her husband are recent arrivals to the villa. The plumber examines the flooded room and remarks that he is sure the ‘‘soil line’’ is responsible for the plugged drain.
As he leaves to go outside and look at the pipes, the astronomer makes his only appearance in the story. He remains in bed but yells at his wife that ‘‘There’s a problem worthy of your mettle!’’ Readers cannot tell whether he is referring to the plumbing or to something else. Mrs. Ames and the plumber proceed outside where the plumber notes that the drains are ‘‘big enough for a man to stand upright in them.’’ Mrs. Ames, though, is not paying attention because she is thinking about how her husband’s thoughts and the things that he says to her make her sad and make her wish that he would just not speak.
At this moment, Mrs. Ames looks at the plumber and notices that he is looking ‘‘up into her face.’’ She notices physical characteristics about him—his hair ‘‘was as light as gold,’’ he has ‘‘lean cheeks . . . rugged bones . . . firm and clean flesh.’’ He suggests that the astronomer might want to go down into the drain with him. Mrs. Ames begins to think about the difference between men who descend, like the plumber, and men who go up, like her husband. Everything about the plumber becomes appealing to her, and she continues to think about how her husband dissatisfies her. As the story ends, she steps into the drainpipe with the plumber.