Pages 255-260 Summary
Karl likes motels with strange names, so he is disappointed to learn that the “ox Hotel” in Argus has a burnt-out F and is really just the Fox Hotel. After he gets settled, Karl dials Wallace Pfef’s telephone number. Pfef answers and says hello many times before Karl hangs up the telephone without speaking. He considers calling Mary but dials Celestine’s number instead.
He assumes his wife will recognize his voice, but he is dismayed when she suspiciously asks who it is. Karl tells her and says he is unexpectedly in Argus for the night and thinks he might stop by to see her and Wallacette. When Celestine remains silent, he suggests she could join him for a drink or he could take her and Wallacette to dinner. Finally Celestine reminds Karl that he promised to stay away. He reminds her that it has been fourteen years, and Celestine seems to relent. She agrees to meet him for breakfast the next morning. He is surprised at the longing in his voice when he agrees.
Karl wakes up too early and gets ready too soon, so he finds himself sitting alone in a booth waiting for Celestine and Wallacette to arrive. He is jittery from smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too much coffee on an empty stomach, but he is shocked to see that his daughter has become a young woman. He is surprised Celestine lets her dress as she does. He sees Wallacette looking around eagerly and watches her face fall when he steps toward them.
Karl looks has aged considerably, becoming “shrewd and hard and gray.” Celestine says she is sorry they are late, but she looks like she is sorry they came. The women watch him closely, and Karl grandly proclaims that he is paying so they should order anything they want. Wallacette just keeps staring at him, and he finally asks how old she is. Wallacette says she is fourteen and wonders why her mother has not told him she is called Dot, not Wallacette. Celestine explains that their daughter goes by the nickname Mary gave her.
Dot says Karl is not what she expected; he tells her she is not what he expected, either, which surprises her a little. The three of them sit in silence waiting to order, but the waitress seems to have forgotten them. Lots of activity is happening around them, but none of it prompts them to conversation. Karl finally asks Celestine if Dot has any kind of male influence in her life; when Celestine pauses, Karl discovers he truly wants to know the answer to his question.
Celestine says Wallace Pfef is like a father to Dot; in the ensuing silence, Dot says she goes to see her Uncle Russell sometimes, too. After they order, Karl explains he is selling hi-fi stereo equipment. Dot is uncommunicative and eats with her head down; she is determined not to make anything easy for her absentee father.