Mrs. Higgins's hands shake as she lifts the kettle to pour out some hot water in a cup for herself. Her hands also shake as she lifts the cup of hot water to her lips. The shaking could be an outward expression of all the pent-up emotions she is feeling after the affair at the store: anger, shame, despair, and exasperation. Mrs. Higgins has just arrived home after being summoned at the drugstore where her son, Alfred, works. Mr. Carr, the owner of the drugstore, has told her that Alfred is a petty thief; he has stolen things like lipsticks and toothpastes from the store for quite some time. Mr. Carr had wanted to punish Alfred by reporting him to the police. However, Mrs. Higgins had managed to convince the furious store-owner to forgive Alfred and let him go with a stern warning and some advice.
Alfred has been unable to keep a job ever since he left school. He has repeatedly got into trouble and caused much pain to his parents. Although Mrs. Higgins had seemed calm and controlled in the store, Alfred is shocked to see a different her in the kitchen at home: “her face was frightened and broken, her hands trembled, and she looked very old.” In Alfred’s own words, “he knew all the years of her life by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips.” While initially he had marveled at her composure in the store, now, he is struck by her fragility. He remembers how fragile and defeated she had looked the night her sister announced that she was getting married. He finally understands that their mother puts on a brave face while silently suffering because of their misdeeds.