Until this year, six-year-old Palmer has been a somewhat reluctant participant in the town's Pigeon Day festivities. Not yet old enough to put the birds “out of their misery” himself, Palmer spends two years watching the older kids from the stands. He doesn't like the idea of killing the birds, even though he knows he is supposed to. This year, Palmer avoids the festival at the soccer field altogether and spends the day at the playground with Dorothy.
Although Palmer is called a sissy and thrown to the ground by Arthur Dodds (Beans) at the playground, he does not seem particularly affected until later that evening, when he climbs onto his father’s lap.
As often happened, Palmer would wind up in his father’s lap. It was his favorite place in all the world, where he was safe from everything. But on those days he could smell the gray and sour odor of the gunsmoke. The closer he nuzzled into his father’s shirt, the more he could smell it. gray and sour odor even when his father wasn’t there, even when Pigeon Day was over. It might happen in the morning as he sat in school, or at night as he lay in bed. It could even happen in his father’s lap in the middle of winter, when the shotgun had been locked away for months.
Pigeon Day makes Palmer uncomfortable in ways he cannot make sense of, and the smell of smoke confirms that his father is complicit in the event. His father’s lap, still a place of comfort, feels different somehow.
The smell was sure to come on his birthday. It did not spoil his birthday, as it did not spoil his father’s lap, but it changed those things so they did not feel quite as good as before.
It isn’t the only change. Palmer wants to join Beans’s group but is never allowed to play with them. He’s teased for his size and for being friends with Dorothy. The final paragraph of chapter 10 foreshadows the dilemma Palmer will face in the chapters to come: is it better to fit in, or to stand up for what you believe in?
Beans kept asking, “You gonna be a wringer?”
Every time, Palmer would look straight into that crayon box of teeth and say, “Sure thing.” And every time he said it he could feel his heart thump. For among all the changes in his life, one thing stayed the same. It was something he had known since his second Pigeon Day, when he sat with Dorothy Gruzik on the swings: He did not want to be a wringer.