Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The three characters in this story remain nameless throughout. Instead, they are identified only by their relationships to the others: father, daughter, sister, son, or brother. Also omitted is an overt explanation of the reason these three are together in this special way on this particular day. The mother is never mentioned, yet there is little doubt that there has been a divorce and that the children are visiting their father; in fact, they are spending this night with him. The father has canceled the children’s music lessons so that the three of them can spend the day together. He wants to find out how his children are doing, but will not ask them outright. He chooses simply to observe them during their day together.
The father takes his children on a long drive out of the city. Rather than attend a men’s arm-wrestling competition, the children choose to go to a modified drive-in restaurant: Pete’s—a gas station converted into a place to eat. In the car the children fall into the type of competitive banter and pseudo-arguments that siblings often share. Throughout the day the father says all the appropriate “Dad things” that fathers enjoy saying to their children, such as, “Neither of you should be eating candy before lunch.”
There are two seemingly trivial but actually important incidents in the story: The girl tells a joke about three men about to be beheaded: The first two are spared because the guillotine does not work correctly, but the third dies after pointing out the device’s mechanical problem. The girl learns that a family dog was not sent to a farm to live after it had bitten a Campfire Girl selling candy at their front door, but rather it was dead because the bitten girl’s family had insisted that it be destroyed according to California law.
After they eat, the father lets the daughter drive home. When they reach his house, they prepare to sleep on the floor of the master bedroom in sleeping bags positioned in a cozy triangle, as if around a campfire. Nothing significant happens; yet at the end of the day, the father decides that his children are coping well, that “they are all right.”