(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Only a few days into her vacation at a villa on Italy’s southern coast, Eileen is becoming tired of her companions—her grown son, Mark, and his girlfriend, Penny. Weary of their small “irksome” habits, she is lost without the props of her work and her own friends and she wants to go home. By the third day, she cannot even sleep but cannot decide whether or not to leave.

The next day the three companions are together on the beach. After they return to their villa, Penny cuts her bangs as Mark holds a mirror for her. Afterward, she leaves her hair cuttings on a table, which Eileen soon finds herself cleaning. The incident contributes to Eileen’s growing desire to leave the couple.

As the three companions return from dinner that evening, Eileen complains about Penny’s driving, the cost of the villa, the hair trimmings, the cost of their rental car—about virtually everything that concerns their holiday. “We can’t go on like this,” she tells Mark, who reacts strongly in order to protect Penny from his mother’s attack. Eileen feels that in that moment she is losing her son forever in a most violent way.

The next day Eileen encourages Mark and Penny to go sailing together, as she wishes to be alone. After the young couple leave to follow her suggestion, Eileen ventures into town alone with an Italian dictionary in order to shop. There she is surrounded by chattering children and is harassed by a simple-minded man on the beach. After youths on motorcycles chase her through a glade, she makes her way back to the villa and the weather suddenly turns ugly. With a violent storm threatening, Eileen reaches the villa worried that Mark and Penny may be in danger on the open sea.

Just as Eileen is imagining every possible disaster that might have befallen her son and Penny, the couple return. Filled with high spirits, they tell Eileen that they abandoned their plan to go sailing because of the weather and instead went to a restaurant, where they want to take Eileen that evening. So contagious is the young couple’s enthusiasm, that by the end of the story they have “forgiven” her—“she who could never find it in her heart to forgive herself, or another.”