Pages 316-323 Summary
Karl Adare has always “traveled light.” His habit has been to throw away or leave behind worn clothes, finished books, old correspondence, and records he is tired of listening to; but things have changed. He has “outlived something careless” in himself. Most men Karl’s age grow dissatisfied with the things they have accumulated. Karl is the opposite. He wants everything he has left behind him.
After months of dissatisfaction, Karl realizes that what he really wants is the futures of all the people he knows. When Celestine’s note about the Beet Queen candidates reaches him, he is ecstatic and proudly shows everyone his daughter until his manager is sick of hearing him and asks when he last saw Dot. Karl quits his job and packs everything he owns in his Plymouth.
After he has a revelation of some sweetness he once had but has since lost, he knows he has to go immediately to Argus to see his daughter crowned Beet Queen. The last time he saw Dot, she gave him a slight concussion by throwing a can of oysters at his head. Wallace Pfef is the kind of man Karl has always disdained, subservient and unselfish. And yet Karl is going back to them.
Karl arrives in Argus at dawn on the day of the parade and parks in the shade of some grain elevators and remembers the day he and Celestine got married. After their civil ceremony, he took her and Dot to the finest restaurant in Rapid City and hoped Celestine might relent and let him come live with her again, but she confirmed that their marriage was “only a formality.”
This morning he is “disreputable, unshaven, unwashed, covered with road dust,” and hungry. At the diner, he watches the backs of the people as they watch the parade pass by; although he cleans up in the bathroom, Karl still looks like a “bleary old bum.” He sees a truck advertising The House of Meats behind the grandstand. Karl sees Sita sitting in the truck and thinks that she looks younger than her years, regal and elegant in her “rich red garnet necklace.”
The necklace causes him to remember his mother, and Karl decides to visit with Sita. He slides into the driver’s seat and is suddenly overcome with tiredness. The air conditioner is on and it is quiet, so Karl dozes for a moment. When he wakes, Sita is gazing straight ahead, so he looks, too, and sees Pfef sitting in the dunking booth. Then Karl sees Dot, dressed up but looking like a sailor on shore leave, looking for a place to unleash some pent-up anger.
He watches Dot hit the target and Pfef sink to the bottom of the tank. Immediately Karl sees that Pfef is “out cold” and runs as fast as his broken-down body will let him. Pfef is “sick to the bone with amazement” when he sees Karl has rescued him. Karl drags him close and makes amends.