(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

To the conventional “establishment” community of Chatham’s West Vesey Place, the Dorsets are definitely peculiar. They are seen shopping in public places wearing bedroom slippers or with the cuffs of a nightdress hanging down beneath daytime clothing. Mr. Dorset washes his own car, not in the driveway or in the garage but in the street of West Vesey Place. Miss Dorset not only appears on her front terrace at midday in her bathrobe but also has been seen (through the tiny glass panels surrounding the front door) doing her housecleaning in the nude. Their home was once a mansion, but to reduce their taxes, they ripped off the third floor, tore down the south wing, and disconnected some of the plumbing—not bothering to conceal the resulting scars. Nevertheless, they are the last two of a Chatham “first family,” and in a community that prizes family above fortune, their social standing is not to be questioned.

The Dorsets were orphaned while still in their teens; afterward, they not only refused any opportunity to marry but also deliberately cut themselves off from wealthy relatives who had moved away from the town. They subsist in an odd fashion: Mr. Dorset grows figs, plentiful but juiceless, and Miss Dorset makes paper flowers, plentiful but artless, which they sell to those members of the community whom they count as their peers. Their single social gesture is an annual dancing party for the pubescent children of suitable families, and the parties have become a predebutante ritual, which all the children must undergo but which give some of them nightmares.

Arrangements for the parties are as strange as the Dorsets. Alfred goes around the neighborhood in his old car, collecting the juvenile guests; no adults have been inside the house for twenty years. Alfred and Louisa are always garbed in the latest fashion of tuxedo or ball gown, none of them ever worn twice. The house is festooned with paper flowers (perhaps to be sold later), with reproductions of somewhat lubricious artworks such as Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss and Il Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time, with lighting designed to emphasize the artworks....

(The entire section is 885 words.)