(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Francie McIntyre is a slob, and Jessica, her roommate at their expensive boarding school, nags her about leaving her socks on the floor. In the middle of their bickering, Cynthia, the secretary, arrives to summon Francie to the office, where the principal, Mrs. Peck, informs Francie that her mother has died of an embolism while being treated for a broken hip in the hospital at Albany. Francie panics, having no family to rely on, and on the bus to Albany reviews in her mind her relationship with her mother, who was a “proud” woman: “Proud of her poverty. Proud of her poor education. Proud of her unfashionable size. Proud of bringing up her Difficult Daughter. Without an Iota of Help.” Francie remembers how in her interview at the prestigious private school she attends, she had imagined how stylish the other girls’ mothers must be. Thoughts of her “poor mother!” bring a few “companionable tears” to her cheeks.

In Albany, Francie visits her home, now empty following her mother’s death, finding in the sink a dirty coffee cup she had left there three weeks earlier. As she sits, pensive, at the kitchen table, her mind goes back to the day in her childhood when her mother had explained to her that her father had died when hit by a bus. Before that, his disappearance before she was born had been a mystery to her.

At the hospital, Francie is bewildered by the need to make decisions, and she tells Miss Healy, the nurse, “I just...

(The entire section is 563 words.)