(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

After a night of solitary, heavy drinking, the protagonist, J. D. Hindle, wakes up on the couch in the living room of his house in a subdivision called Rolling Hills Homes. He has trouble getting his bearings. There are two glasses next to the empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s on the coffee table, but J. D. remembers being alone. He seems to have fallen asleep reading True magazine. The voices of a man and woman on television, actors in a situation comedy, at first seem to be talking to him. The sunlight coming through the window hurts his eyes, and J. D. pulls the drapes to darken the room. The doorbell is ringing, and it takes him a few moments to remember that it is Labor Day and that his wife, Carolyn, and children, Ronnie and Ellen, are away in Florida. When he answers the door, he finds a delivery man from a florist with a basket of roses and a printed card that reads, “My deepest sympathy.”

This opening situation is charged with implications that the unfolding of the story’s plot confirms. Although J. D. convinces the man from the florist’s shop, at least initially, that “there’s been no death in this family,” the deliveries of flowers continue. There are visits from neighbors and friends bearing food and expressing sympathy, for they have seen a newspaper account of the deaths of Carolyn Hindle and her children in Daytona Beach. Their deaths were caused by Hurricane Gloria. J. D. telephones the Breakers Hotel and Mr. Garrett, the local newspaper editor. A telegram sent from Florida that morning, obviously delayed by the weather, lets him cling to the belief that his wife and children are alive. He even accuses his friend Bill Henderson of engineering the whole affair as an elaborate practical joke.

J. D.’s unwillingness to accept the truth, implied by the details of the opening situation, arises from more than normal shock at the news of an accident. As the story develops, other details reveal that J. D.’s marriage was in trouble, and that this is the reason Carolyn took the children...

(The entire section is 833 words.)