Pages 22-26 Summary
The boxcar into which Karl jumps is soon separated from the train and left on the tracks. By the end of the day, Karl is hungry, cold, thirsty, and ready to die. When a man jumps inside, Karl is glad for an excuse to live. The man is wearing an old army uniform; he sits near Karl and smokes a cigarette before Karl finally makes his presence known.
The man, Giles Saint Ambrose, assumes Karl is a girl masquerading as a boy and calls him Karla. When Karl sits next to Ambrose, as requested, he sees the man is not old, just brown and leathery from the sun and wind. Karl explains he lived in Prairie Lake but his family lost everything. Ambrose sees that Karl is hungry and offers him a ham sandwich, which the boy eats with “swift ferocity.”
Ambrose jokingly says he will trade the sandwich for the stick with which Karl fought off the dog in Argus. The memory overwhelms Karl, and to his shame, he begins to cry. He leans against Ambrose and the man comforts him. Karl cries “until the fury of his grief [is] exhausted.”
Karl wakes at dusk, fearful that Ambrose has left him, and Ambrose reassures the boy. In the dark, Karl imagines the two of them living a life of adventure together and reaches for Ambrose. Karl is certain he loves Ambrose and they have a sexual encounter; afterward, Ambrose unintentionally demeans Karl’s feelings by saying “it happens” before falling into a sound sleep.
Karl is angry, even stabs the hay menacingly close to Ambrose, feeling as if his heart has been “ripped open.” His loss and grief now swallow him, but he refuses consolation. He picks up his branch and leaps out the door of the moving boxcar.