(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Six months before the story opens, Anna Harrington was told that she had six months to live. Now, sitting in the oncology department waiting room, she is suddenly overcome by the realization that she was supposed to be dead by now. Instead of elation, she feels only dread, for she does not interpret the fact that she is not dead as a reprieve but as a stay of execution. When her doctor praises her for keeping up an active life, she suddenly realizes what a lie she is living.

The doctor’s optimism only depresses her as she leaves the hospital and drives to a supermarket. It is Christmas, and she marvels at sights and sounds that she never expected to live to see, but she feels no joy. The more she tries to forget her condition, the more obsessed with it she becomes. She is overwhelmed by the irony of the fact that she is living in a body that is killing itself from within.

Back home, she is plunged into the familiar domestic routine of dealing with three energetic young children who have no idea of what she is going through. At odd moments, the horror seizes her, then recedes as family demands intervene. Recently divorced, she has the added burden of being a single parent. Tonight she is supposed to take her children to a party at the Lauranses, Jewish friends whose son Greg is a born-again Christian who is displaying signs of bizarre behavior. Soon after the Harringtons arrive at the Lauranses, Anna settles a dispute between her son Ernest and a boy who he says broke his...

(The entire section is 611 words.)