Last Updated on February 26, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555
The story opens as Beth confronts her neighbor, Lil, in a literal fistfight in order to reclaim control her drunken husband, Casey. Casey is a little bit broken from a really strange experience he had thirty years prior, when he had to sleep with—and possibly kill—a little old woman in the woods, Aunt Granny Lith. Although Casey is not unfaithful to Beth, Beth suspects that Lil is attempting to seduce him. Beth protects him and their marriage from Lil, who seems to be a town temptress of sorts. Beth and Lil fight hard, and
As [Lil] fell, Beth gripped a handful of her long red hair and yanked. The hair tore loose, several strands still clinging to a chunk of scalp. Lil’s head bounced. Her jaw was swollen and bloody. "You won’t bushwhack no drunks for a while," Beth said. "Leastways not mine."
With this, Beth frees her husband, saving him from himself and from Lil at the same time. Later, Beth recalls her past with Casey. Specifically, she recalls an event that took place when they were first married. At the time, Beth was young and less confident, and she went to her mother, Nomey, for advice:
Nomey had told her it [marriage] meant being loyal—to a certain point. If he hit her, he lost his claim. If he didn’t come home once in a while, Beth could do the same, but she had to be careful. That sort of thing was harder for women than men. Nomey chuckled then and said that most things were, and that’s why women were smarter than men.
Despite Casey's protectiveness of Beth and desire to prevent the same sort of tragedy that killed his first two wives from befalling her, it is Beth who ultimately has to protect Casey. When Casey tells her the strange story about how he accidentally put his ring on Granny Lith's hand—thinking it was his friend's—and jokingly pledged to be her husband, Beth and Nomey realize what is happening. Casey, of course, does not, confirming Nomey's claim about women being smarter and more intuitive than men. Beth, in addition to providing food for Granny Lith, eventually offers her one night with Casey; it is a steep price, but if it will protect their growing family, it is worth it to her. She goes to Granny Lith's cave and calls out:
"Aunt Granny Lith," Beth said. "I’m calling your name. I want my family left alone. You think we’re married to the same man, but we ain’t. He lives with me. I’ll send him here tonight and you’ll have a man for one night, not no more. You’re too old to be a wife but you won’t die like you were born. You got my word."
This apparently works, as Granny Lith asks Casey to kill her after they sleep together that night. It is left unclear whether he actually goes through with killing her, though it seems likely that he did given his tortured state after his return and the fact that Granny Lith never bothers Beth or Casey again. Beth successfully saves herself, her husband, and her unborn children from the old woman's revenge, despite Casey's desire to be the one who does the protecting.