(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When Philip and Frannie Howard move into the old Victorian house next door, Florence is immediately taken with her neighbors, especially Frannie. The two women become friends, and Florence spends more and more of her time at the Howards’ house. Florence’s time with the Howards is a series of seemingly tranquil domestic moments: drinking coffee at the maple kitchen table, easy conversations while preparing dinner. The women talk of everything, it seems, except marriage, which is a mystery to Florence. Frannie never shares confidences about Philip or their life together, which makes Florence curious. Frannie tells Florence that she had several women friends before she married, but that changed immediately. She says it is as if there is no room for an intimate woman friend when there is a husband, as if Philip would have to give way if Frannie were to have a truly close woman friend.

The relationship of the three neighbors evolves beyond talk to one of easy silence. Florence often sleeps at the Howards’ and wakes up to tea and buttered toast in the morning. After Christmas, Frannie tells Florence that she and Philip are separating. Frannie moves to a small apartment, and Florence avoids Philip when she sees him in the neighborhood. When Florence visits Frannie, Frannie never talks about her marriage. Florence waits expectantly for Frannie to say something, anything that will help her to understand marriage and what happened between Frannie and Philip. When Florence and her new boyfriend, Bryan, visit Frannie, she admires his ability to ask Frannie directly whether she will go back to Philip.

Florence keeps up her regular visits to Frannie, sometimes spending the night. They have long talks about all the things they will do together. When Florence talks about her relationship with Bryan, she leaves space between her words so that Frannie can speak if she wants to, but Frannie never does. One of the few things she tells Florence is that she and Philip lost a baby. Frannie was prediabetic without knowing it; the baby died during labor. She says no more on the subject.

Looking out her window at Philip’s house, Florence wonders about him and his marriage. As curious as she is about the Howards’ marriage, she does...

(The entire section is 919 words.)