Stricken by a sudden illness, Granny Weatherall, an octogenarian, has been confined to bed. She is being examined by Dr. Harry, much to her annoyance. Denying there is anything wrong with her that requires a doctor’s care, she dismisses him in the petulance of old age—“The brat ought to be in knee breeches”—only to hear him and Cornelia, her daughter with whom she now lives, whispering about her. Granny imagines herself giving Cornelia a good spanking.
Granny’s mind wanders to things that needed to be done tomorrow—dusting, and straightening, and going through the box in the attic containing love letters from George, the fiancé who jilted her, and John, her long-deceased husband, and her letters to them. She does not want the children to know how silly she had been when she was young.
Granny thinks how clammy and unfamiliar death must feel, but she refuses to worry about it now. After all, her father lived to be 102 years old. She decides that she will live just to plague Cornelia a little more. Thoughts of rationalizing that she is not too old to be self-sufficient—she often thinks of moving back to her own house where there would be no one to remind her that she is old—are intertwined with memories of all the work she has done in her long life, the meals cooked, the clothes sewn, the gardens made. Especially vivid is her memory of herself as a young widow fencing in a hundred acres, digging the postholes herself. She wished the old days could be back, with the children young and everything still to be done.
Granny is overtaken by the memory of the innocent green day with the fresh breeze blowing, when she waited to marry George, who did not come. A whirl of dark smoke covered the bright day; for Granny, that was hell. For sixty years she has fought against remembering this central trauma of her life. “What does a woman do when she has put on the white veil and set out the white cake for a man and he doesn’t come?”
In her growing confusion, Granny hallucinates about her dead daughter, Hapsy, holding a baby on her arm. It is as if the baby is Hapsy and Granny at the same time, before the image becomes gauzy and Hapsy says close in her mother’s ear, “I thought you’d never come.” Unable now to make herself understood to her children by her bedside, Granny mistakes Father Connolly’s administering of extreme unction for tickling her feet and thinks, “My God, will you stop that nonsense? I’m a married woman.” Granny realizes that death has come for her and she is not ready for it. Her affairs are not in order. She hopes to see Hapsy again but fears that she may not. She asks God for a sign, but there is none. Her last thought is of the cruel pain of George’s rejection.