(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Cress Delahanty, a remedial dance student, is chosen to appear in the Tenant City High School Folk-Dance Festival. The fourteen-year-old girl is thrilled that she has been selected to dance alongside Bernadine Deevers, Tenant City High School’s most gifted dancer, in the dance number “Road to the Isles.” She has a vision of dancing “not only the outward steps of the ’Road to the Isles’ but its inner meaning.” Cress feels that she has achieved one of the two great goals in the life of a Tenant High School student, the other being to have Bernadine for a friend. Now that Bernadine is coming to spend the weekend with her, Cress feels as if all of her life’s dreams are coming true.

Every winter, since there is little work on the ranch, Mr. Delahanty embarks on a self-improvement program, an idea suggested and nurtured by Mrs. Delahanty. Then every spring he abandons the project as if he had never begun. Last year it was “A Schedule of Exercises to Ensure Absolute Fitness”; this schedule involved running six times around the orchard in short pants, his arms flailing and chest pumping—an embarrassing sight for Cress.

This year Mr. Delahanty’s schedule is a reading program from an encyclopedia for the purpose of acquiring all “Human Knowledge in a Year.” Mrs. Delahanty is always trying to help Mr. Delahanty to stay on his schedule—before breakfast, before lunch, before supper, and before bedtime. Cress is ashamed of this business of schedules: Her friend Bernadine is far too sophisticated for schedules, and Cress wants to see her parents become what Bernadine would want them to be. Further, Cress is worried that her father might mispronounce the dance numbers and embarrass her in front of Bernadine. Meekly, Mr. Delahanty suggests that he will not open his mouth in the presence of Cress’s friends.

Cress reminds her parents that they should address Bernadine as Nedra on Fridays. Naturally, her parents are inquisitive. Cress explains to them about the...

(The entire section is 815 words.)