(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sarah Wilson has spent her life in Kinley, a rural community in that area north of Raleigh, North Carolina, and south of Richmond, Virginia. She has left the area only for the four years she spent in college preparing to become a teacher. When she finished her training, she had no real reason to return to Kinley. Both her parents were dead, and she was their only child. She decided to take the best offer when she entered the job market, but instead took the first offer. It came from Nathan Wilson, who had been principal for three years of the school in Ogburn, the next small town from Kinley. She married him that June before she began her first and only teaching job.

As the story opens, Sarah is in an open field at night beside the railroad tracks. She sits in her car, and at eight o’clock, she flashes the lights. Someone comes running down the embankment, through the high grasses, to her car. It is Ella Scott, her former student, now an eighteen-year-old woman, who thinks that Nathan is in the car. Sarah has come because when Nathan came home drunk, she found an unsigned note in his pocket, arranging the meeting.

When she shows Ella the note, she comments that Ella’s handwriting has improved. The meeting between them is remarkably calm. Ella is properly respectful of Sarah, and she is totally candid in telling her about the relationship between herself and Nathan. Sarah, accustomed to hurt and disappointment, is not going to allow her emotions to control this tense situation.

It is hot, and she suggests to Ella that they will be more comfortable if they drive around and talk. Ella gets into the car, and as they drive the story of her meetings with Nathan, which now have been going on for eight months, unfolds, as does the story of Sarah’s childhood and eventual marriage to Nathan.

Sarah drives toward the railroad station, which at this time of night should be closed, because the last train of the day...

(The entire section is 800 words.)