(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. Spillane has received an anonymous letter telling her that her middle-aged bachelor son has been romantically involved for years with a young woman at the bank where he works. Horrified, she broods for a few weeks before questioning Benjy indirectly, by suggesting that a gossipy friend has implied that he is planning to marry someone. When he scoffs at her suggestion, she is placated and relieved. After Benjy’s spring vacation in France, however, his mother receives another anonymous letter, informing her that the young lady at the bank, Angela, went to France with him. Unwilling to confront Benjy directly, she begins steaming open his letters until she finally finds one from Angela that confirms her worst fears.

Mrs. Spillane turns to a priest for guidance but is miffed when he only suggests that she pray for Benjy’s early marriage. Certain that that idea would appeal no more to Benjy than it does to her, she takes another tack, attempting to involve Benjy in her devotion to Saint Monica, mother of the profligate-turned-saint, Augustine. Benjy, however, is more interested in the sinful chapters of Augustine’s Confessiones (397-400; Confessions, 1620) than its redemptive sections. After an argument with his mother, he takes his dog for a walk, which quickly ends at the neighborhood pub. With Benjy out of the house, the sanctimonious Mrs. Spillane enjoys the interests that she hides so as not to trouble him: brandy and betting on the ponies.

Still unwilling to confront Benjy about Angela, Mrs. Spillane resorts to deep sighs, sad smiles, and thoughtfully heating his pants in the mornings and removing his galoshes when he gets home. After three months of...

(The entire section is 697 words.)