Anne says there has always been Steven because she had danced with him seven years before.
Anne does not love John. John is devoted to Anne, but not passionately in love with her. Anne is dissatisfied with her marriage, and spends her time alone in their farmhouse brooding, trying to paint their bedroom door to renew the love in her marriage.
Steven is a family friend supposedly, but he is really Anne’s old flame. He comes over to play cards with John sometimes, but must be interested in Anne still.
John and Anne’s marriage is empty.
[Sometimes] she asked herself, why sit trying to talk with a man who never talked? Why talk when there was nothing to talk about but crops and cattle, the weather and the neighbours?
Anne’s loneliness finally gets to her on that cold winter night when John does not come home. John does not come, but Steven does.
She [arrives at an understanding of] the unfulfilled woman that until this moment had lain within her brooding and unadmitted, reproved out of consciousness by the insistence of an outgrown, routine fidelity.
Anne focuses on Steven’s smile, his “still-boyish face” and the “worldly wise assurance of one for whom a woman holds neither mystery nor illusion.” He is still the boy she danced with “six or seven times.” He represents what she doesn’t have, and she cheats on her husband because there is nothing to their marriage. John returns and seems to see this, because he goes back out in the cold and dies.