(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Joe, the narrator, relates how his mother was found up in the mountains frozen to death a week after she escaped the nursing home where she was staying. Joe tries to imagine what she was doing up there, perhaps fantasizing that she was skinny-dipping, taking her clothes off in front of some boy for the first time. Joe’s fantasy about what his mother was doing in the mountains is based on a story she told him when he was just a child. She was swimming at night, when down deep in the blackness of the water, something touched her and frightened her, but she then realized it was only the boy with whom she was swimming. That is how it is when you are frightened, she tells him, “It’s just something you haven’t understood right.”

When his mother began to get sick, Joe was barely passing his courses at Idaho State University and unable to care for her, so he dropped out, put her in a nursing home, and got a job at the home as a janitor. After his mother’s funeral, Joe invites his sister Jenny over to the family house for coffee. Joe asks Jenny what kind of life his mother must have had before she met their father, but Jenny tells him she did not have the magical life Joe has always wanted for her. Joe tells Jenny where they found their mother, sitting on the bank of the stream wearing one red sock. Jenny tells him there was nothing he could have done and that he should not blame himself. When Jenny leaves, Joe searches one last corner of the attic,...

(The entire section is 403 words.)