Amy, the first-person narrator of Ann Beattie's short story "The Burning House," contrasts with the secondary character of the mother of the twins in Amber Sparks' short story "The Lizzie Bordon Jazz Babies."
Amy is married to Frank and surrounded by all his male friends. The mother of the twins (who is not named in the story) is widowed and remarried to "the mensware salesman." She is surrounded, in a manner of speaking, by her twins, Patty (the eldest by a minute with a splotch of a birthmark on her heel) and Cat (who always agrees with Patty, until she doesn't).
Amy occasionally smokes pot with Frank's brother Freddy; cooks; takes care of her son, six-year-old Mark; and has returned to college to earn herself an education. She is having an affair with Johnny to whom she was introduced by Frank's friend J.D., who tends toward obsession. She stares every morning at the early light refracted by the "twenty glass prisms" hung from an overhead beam above their bed. The twins' mother takes care of them and the mensware salesman, goes to church where she prays for sinners and her dead husband in "her nervous, insincere way." She always enjoyed watching her young twins dance and cavort on the front porch in their little girl way to Fats Waller jazz music until, on the threshold of puberty, the twins start gathering a crowd of overly interested men watching them, following them and sneaking into their windows.
Amy looks forward to having time with Johnny while being conflicted about Frank wanting to leave her and drift away from her like the prism lights overhead after morning light beams pass by. The mother looks forward to her girls giving up jazz and taking ballet like "nice girls do" while being mildly distracted by the sins of bathing suit wearers. Amy learns that Frank is "already gone" and "looking down on all this from space" because men think they are "Spider-Man and Buck Rogers and Superman" and are "going to the stars." The mother learns that her twins become ununited--Patty taking up the strengthening and grounding sport of tennis and Cat taking up graceful, gentle ballet--unaware that while Cat dates and falls in love, Patty continues to plot murder at the library.
Amy, despite her sorrow, depression, despondence and sense of being adrift, is alive, is perceptive, is interacting with other people's feelings and thoughts. The twins' mother, naive and gullible, is happy and fun loving and dutiful in caring for her family and in appreciating the house the mensware salesman has bought for them, but she is dull in sensibilities; praying, grieving and living insincerely, unaware of the feelings and thoughts of those closest to her, her own twins.