(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ruth Bowman, a young African American woman, begins her day by talking with and making love to her white lover, Paul. She feels desperately dependent on his affection, but also senses that he is slipping away. After she gets to her job as a secretary for an insurance company, she tries not to worry about Paul but fails. Her grim day is relieved when Mr. Davis, an African American executive who is about to be promoted, offers to make her his personal secretary. At noon a chance encounter leads to Ruth’s lunching with Davis. It is the beginning of a friendship that Ruth wants to welcome, but which she resists out of distrust and feelings of unworthiness. Her despair returns when Paul fails to return home that night as he has promised, and she is left alone, worrying.

Ruth wants to marry and raise children, but Paul seems to assume they will never marry. Ruth loves him, and he treats her kindly and seems to be concerned for her welfare; however, she also hates him, especially when she detects his unconscious condescension toward her gender and race. As she grows more sure that she is losing him, her reflections become more bitter. Although she wants to believe that love will release her from guilt and terror, loving Paul imprisons her in guilt. She also feels imprisoned in silence; she cannot tell Paul what she really thinks, thus calling him to account for his failures, because then he certainly will leave her sooner, as no marriage promise holds him....

(The entire section is 417 words.)