The first-person narrator, Hazel Elizabeth Deborah Parker, known as Squeaky, is a young girl growing up in the Harlem section of New York City. Squeaky prides herself on her performance on the track and her ability to care for her mildly retarded brother Raymond.
A little girl with skinny arms and a high-pitched voice, Squeaky is a self-confident, cocky youngster who boasts that everyone knows she is the fastest thing on two feet. Squeaky takes her running seriously; she is not afraid to practice high stepping out on the street where anyone can see her. She is also a responsible and caring child. Although Raymond is actually older, Squeaky thinks of him as her little brother because he is less bright than she is. She is proud of her ability to care for him, protecting him from the taunts and threats of other children.
The May Day celebration in the park includes a race, but the most important event is the maypole dancing. Squeaky has refused to participate because she is uncomfortable getting all dressed up in a white dress and shoes to dance. She is a practical girl who describes herself as “a poor Black girl who really can’t afford to buy shoes and a new dress you only wear once.” She is there to compete in the track meet. Secure in her identity as a runner, she explains that she uses her feet for running, not dancing.
Squeaky’s main competition is a new girl, Gretchen Lewis, whom Squeaky has tried to size up on the basis of a few brief contacts. When Gretchen smiles at Squeaky during one of their encounters, Squeaky does not think it is a real smile, because, in her opinion, girls never really smile at each other. As Squeaky checks out her rival on the day of the race, she notices that Gretchen kicks her legs out like a pro, and she begins to look at Gretchen with respect.
As she crouches down waiting for the crack of the pistol to start the race, she notices that Raymond is on the other side of the fence “bending down with his fingers on the ground just like he knew what he was doing.” As she runs, Squeaky glances over to watch her brother running on the sidelines. He runs in a unique style, with his palms tucked up behind him, but Squeaky sees that he has the potential to be a good runner. She remembers that he always keeps up with her when she trots around the neighborhood.
When the race ends, Squeaky is thinking of how she could give up her own career as a runner to concentrate on coaching Raymond, rather than listening for the announcement of the winner. Because she already has a room full of trophies and ribbons, and Raymond has nothing, she thinks that she could help him get some recognition as a runner. Squeaky changes as she shifts her attention from herself to her brother. As she hears her name announced as the winner, she is already focusing on Raymond’s future. Although Raymond was not actually in the race, this was really his run.
When Squeaky realizes that winning is not everything, she sees Gretchen in a new light, as a person who also works hard to achieve her goals. She looks at her former rival with new respect, thinking that perhaps Gretchen is the type of person who would help coach Raymond. The story ends with Squeaky and Gretchen exchanging a big smile of respect that is “about as real a smile as girls can do for each other, considering we don’t practice real smiling every day.”