When the story opens, Rhoda is enthralled with imagining particulars about Billy Monday’s “tragedy”: He is to have “fourteen shots in the stomach as the result of a squirrel bite.” With ghoulish awe, Rhoda describes the ritual of the school principal and Billy’s mother coming to get him every day when it is time for his shot. Using the pronoun “we,” she speaks for the whole class in her descriptions. She and her best friend Letitia joke with each other about how they themselves would react to such a situation. By contrast, Billy Monday sits on a bench by the swings not talking to anybody. He is a small, pallid boy whom everyone ignored until he was bitten.
Although Rhoda is disgusted by the fact that Billy can barely read and that his head falls on the side of his neck when he is asked to do so, she is also fascinated by him. Rhoda is the only third-grader to have had an article published in the elementary school paper, and she determines to interview Billy for another article. Her first efforts at this during a noon recess cause Billy to withdraw into the shape of a human ball. Mrs. Jansma comes over to comfort him, sending Rhoda off to clean the chalkboards.
Meanwhile the school is gearing up for another paper drive to help the war effort. Rhoda jumps to her feet to be the first volunteer and to claim Billy Monday as her paper-drive partner. At home, Rhoda’s mother rewards her for volunteering to be Billy’s partner by baking her cookies. Rhoda feels pleased and goes outside to sit in her treehouse with cookies and a book. As she daydreams about becoming like her mother, it becomes clear how much she wants and needs her mother’s approval, especially with her father off fighting in the war. Her mother has been painting liquid hose on her legs, getting ready for a visit from the Episcopalian minister, and Rhoda thinks about what an unselfish person her mother is. Later she overhears the adults talking about her approvingly, in intimate tones. Rhoda smugly returns to her book with a fresh supply of cookies and loses herself in the dialogue of a romance meant for adult readers.
On the Saturday of the paper drive, there is a slight drizzle, and Mr. Harmon, the school principal—who was shell-shocked in World War I—gives the children assembled on the school playground a patriotic pep talk. The third-grade class is leading the drive by seventy-eight pounds.
As Rhoda and Billy begin...
(The entire section is 999 words.)