(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Faith is preparing breakfast for both her husband and her former husband, who is back from a British colony in Africa and has slept on an aluminum cot in the living room as an overnight guest. As they talk over breakfast, it is difficult to tell the men apart. Faith privately assigns them names that make them seem like twins, so that although she calls one “Livid” and the other “Pallid,” they are otherwise indistinguishable. Faith derives these names from the way the men respond to the eggs that she prepares for them. One rejects the eggs in a livid way, the other in a pallid way, but both sigh in unison because they are disappointed in breakfast, and both are eager for a drink. Faith does not keep liquor in the house, however, and pointedly brings out her God Bless Our Home embroidery, which she seems to see as a protective talisman against Livid’s presence. The complaints about the eggs introduce a bickering note that continues throughout breakfast.

The two men share no sense of rivalry or jealousy; they are such a convivial pair that Faith seems to be the outsider. Livid has casually ceded the children to Faith’s new husband as if they are a used car he no longer wishes to maintain. Neither man takes full responsibility for the children. After establishing the shallow ties that the two rather feckless men have to the boys, the story drifts into an unsettling discussion of yet another of Faith’s old lovers, a man named Clifford, who is soon to marry. While Livid and Pallid dwell on the charms of Clifford’s new girlfriend, Faith’s silence suggests that she has unresolved issues...

(The entire section is 658 words.)