Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
On a gray day, two poor children trudge along a riverbank path that leads away from their homes in Fiberville, a cluster of bungalows named for the paper mill where the adults work. The girl occasionally picks up pieces of trash from the ground and examines them. When the boy sees her put something in her pocket, he insists on seeing it. She refuses, however, and when he dashes at her, she slaps him. They walk on.
Eventually, the girl gives her companion a hint. She has found a baby’s foot, she says. Excited, the boy begins to speculate about how the foot was cut off of the baby. Perhaps, he thinks, some girl was forced by a boyfriend to kill her baby and cut it up. Now that the girl has the boy’s interest aroused, she tries to strike a bargain with him and asks what he will give her if she shows him her find. The boy admits that he does not have anything to offer. He suggests that she does not either and that she is making up her story about the baby’s foot.
To prove the boy wrong, the girl shows him the foot. When the boy realizes that the foot belonged to a doll, not a real baby, he angrily knocks it out of her hand. After the girl picks it up again, the children examine it together, trying to guess why someone would mutilate a doll in this way. The cut is so clean that the boy insists that the act was carefully planned—not the result of an impulse—so that it must have been performed by an adult. With evident delight, he tries to imagine what tool was used—a knife or a meat cleaver—and he again insists that an adult was involved. Finally, the girl agrees with him.
Turning back toward the settlement, the children consider other mysteries in their lives, particularly their parents’ unhappiness and the presence of angry outsiders in the neighborhood. Although they do not understand exactly what is happening in Fiberville, the children sense that the same kind of anger that would cause a man to cut off a doll’s foot has now taken control of their families and their community.