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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019

“The Girls” opens with two sisters going through the personal belongings of their parents’ houseguest, Arleen, while she is in the shower. They are looking for her journal. They find the book, but Arleen finishes her shower before they can read anything so they flee downstairs. Arleen appears later and...

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“The Girls” opens with two sisters going through the personal belongings of their parents’ houseguest, Arleen, while she is in the shower. They are looking for her journal. They find the book, but Arleen finishes her shower before they can read anything so they flee downstairs. Arleen appears later and asks if the cat litter pan can be taken out of the bathroom because it smells. The girls are shocked at this request because they believe their cats can do no wrong. They dislike Arleen and wish she would leave so they ask her about her home. Arleen tells them it has very steep stairs which sometimes discourages her from going out because then she has to climb the stairs to return home. They also ask her how her birthday was, but their question is sneering because they feel that “The Birthday was more or less an idiotic American institution.” A few days earlier, on the evening of Arleen’s birthday, Arleen and Father Snow gave their house gift to the girls’ parents. It was a cocktail shaker, and the girls embarrassed everyone by showing off the other ten cocktail shakers their parents have already received as gifts.

Arleen leaves the girls to join Father Snow in the garden. The girls think about Father Snow, whom they feel is too indulgent in his grief. Holding their two cats, the sisters watch Arleen and Father Snow from a window and are convinced that she is in love with the sad man. The girls retire to the enclosed porch where they work on collages using found and stolen objects. The girls love the old house they live in with their parents but resent the fact that their parents have houseguests coming and going all summer long. The girls have never been interested in any of the houseguests except for one young woman who was an artist. None of the guests ever returns for a second stay—except for Father Snow, who is on his third visit. When Arleen first arrived, they did not think much of her, but now they dislike her.

Mommy calls her daughters to her and tells them Arleen saw their cats maim a mockingbird in the garden. The girls tell Mommy that their cats would never do that because they are nice house cats, even though they know the cats have already killed a dozen songbirds so far this summer. The sisters then leave for the beach where they lay in the sun, nude and admired, talking about their parents. They are worried that their parents are aging badly. When they return home, the house is quiet. Mommy has left a note telling them they are napping, and Father Snow and Arleen have gone out for ice cream. The girls immediately go upstairs to investigate their guests’ rooms. In Father Snow’s room, they find two smooth black stones which they think might represent him and his dead lover Donny. In Arleen’s room, they find her journal. Arleen appears just as they are about to start reading, and she tells them what she has written. It is about their mother. The girls find this very odd, and when Arleen mentions Mommy’s dreams, they do not believe her. Arleen takes her journal and leaves.

The girls go to their third-floor room to bathe before dinner. They come downstairs for cocktails and overhear Daddy telling Father Snow about a previous houseguest who had out-of-body experiences. The sisters do not think they can bear another night of their parents mingling with Father Snow and Arleen. Father Snow stirs the martinis and offers a prayer and then a toast for “those not with us tonight.” Father Snow, still profoundly unhappy, confesses that he is thinking of resigning. The girls repeatedly say awkward or insulting things about Donny, but Father Snow does not seem to hear them. Bored, the sisters change the topic of the conversation, asking Mommy to tell everyone about how Daddy proposed to her. Mommy tells them about his sentimental proposal, but the girls want to hear the whole story so they tell it themselves.

It was winter and Daddy was in a hurry to meet Mommy for their date. He hit a man on the side of the road and did not stop because he did not want this new life which lay before him to be disrupted. Father Snow is deeply disturbed by this account. Mommy and Daddy are ashamed that their secret has been let out. Mommy tries to smooth it over with Father Snow, who is profoundly uncomfortable. The girls, meanwhile, are happy because they like this grotesque little tale about the beginning of their family. Mommy says she wants to do something about this accident after all these years, and Father Snow preaches about the meaning of the word repent and how inadequate it is. Daddy makes no apologies, stating, “We’ve had a good life . . . Full. Can’t take that away from us.”

The cats enter the room and jump on Arleen’s lap. She pets them, pulling a bloodsucker off of each, which the girls think is disgusting and falsified. They do not believe their cats would carry around such nasty little creatures and accuse her of being a magician. Arleen tells them she is a companion and adviser, and Father Snow praises her ability to listen and make decisions. Arleen suddenly turns to Mommy and tells her to get rid of her daughters. “High time for them to be gone.” She tells the girls that they are killing their mother. The girls are astonished, and no one knows what to say. Mommy tries to pass out more crackers and cheese, but the girls tell her to sit down. She does so, but her face goes strange, and she slides to the floor, taking a lamp with her and hitting her head on the fireplace lintel. Arleen and Father Snow get down to tend to her, but she is dead. Father Snow shakes off his depression and returns to his professional demeanor as he prepares to aid the newly dead.

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