Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509
Rogin, a research chemist entering middle age, is on his way one Sunday evening to have supper with Joan, his fiancé. When she asked him on the telephone to buy some food, he feebly asked what happened to the money he already gave her. He begins to ponder his relationship with Joan. Although beautiful and aristocratic, she is not working and cannot—or will not—support herself without Rogin’s help. As he is paying off her debts, she is buying expensive, frivolous presents for him and her sister, Phyllis. However, Rogin thinks, he loves her too much to complain.
At the delicatessen, Rogin is pleased by the smells of the foods and the general aromas of life itself. He admires the counterman who admonishes a Puerto Rican boy in a cowboy hat about to knock over a display. As he buys the food, Rogin recalls how difficult Joan is but also how beautiful. Descending into the subway, he overhears a brief conversation between two men, one of whom confesses to the other that he is an alcoholic currently on a miracle cure. The conversation prompts Rogin to recall his own desperate need for more money.
Seated on the speeding train, Rogin observes his fellow passengers. He sees two little girls with their mothers, each with the same kind of muff, and he notes the annoyance of the mothers and the little girls’ complacency. A strange-looking foreign family next engages his attention. The mother is old and worn out, the son looks like a dishwasher. Between them sits a dwarf, an androgynous creature who at once repels and fascinates Rogin. He thinks of the chemistry of sex determination and recalls his dreams of the previous night involving an undertaker, who was cutting his hair, and a woman he was carrying on his head.
The passenger who most affects him, however, is a middle-aged man who strikes Rogin as a dandy. Dressed in expensive clothes, too ostentatiously dapper for Rogin’s taste, the stranger somehow irritates him. The man’s features remind Rogin of Joan’s father, even of Joan herself. Rogin begins to construct a fantastically hypothetical relationship between the man and himself. This man, so resembling Joan, could be what her son would look like in forty years. If Joan were the mother, then he, Rogin, would be the father of this fourth-rate model of responsibility and dullness.
From such contemplation, Rogin briefly considers the possibility of breaking off his relationship with Joan, but in a few minutes he gets off the train and walks to Joan’s apartment. When Joan opens the door, Rogin notices a vague resemblance to the stranger on the train, and he is frightened. In a minute, however, he is inside and Joan is kissing him.
In the final scene, Joan insists on washing Rogin’s hair. Still irritated by his contemplation of the stranger, he tells himself that he will rebuke Joan and sever their relationship, but when Joan begins to wash his hair, to pamper him, Rogin submits quietly and lovingly.