(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Adele Langley, the mother of twelve-year-old Crawford, drops dead while hanging a quilt on the backyard clothesline. All the family had been sure her racing heart would shorten her life. Now Crawford must face the crisis that everyone expected. The boy directs the ambulance, sends the body to the funeral home, and waits for his father, who is away on an errand, to arrive. In his attempt to become grown up, Crawford tries to assume an adult role, taking charge in his father’s absence.

Crawford analyzes each stage of his own maturation. Bravery, he thinks, is his main ambition. Rather than cry, he goes to his room to pray for strength and passes the time by reading Robinson Crusoe. When his father returns, Crawford braces himself as he prepares to break the tragic news. He worries about how his father will react to the sudden loss of his wife.

Later that night, Crawford accompanies his father on a walk in the woods. Once they forge through the trees and come to a river bank, the father suggests that drowning would be better than living. The boy reassures him that his mother is in heaven waiting for them, but the father rebuffs his attempts at comfort, answering that much of what the boy knows is a lie. The father’s sudden lack of belief frightens Crawford.

When the child asks his father to be calm, the father impulsively seizes his son by the neck. Just as suddenly, he releases his grip and walks away. When the boy asks...

(The entire section is 470 words.)