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Adele Langley, the mother of twelve-year-old Crawford, drops dead while hanging a quilt on the backyard clothesline. All the family had been sure her racing heart would shorten her life. Now Crawford must face the crisis that everyone expected. The boy directs the ambulance, sends the body to the funeral home, and waits for his father, who is away on an errand, to arrive. In his attempt to become grown up, Crawford tries to assume an adult role, taking charge in his father’s absence.

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Crawford analyzes each stage of his own maturation. Bravery, he thinks, is his main ambition. Rather than cry, he goes to his room to pray for strength and passes the time by reading Robinson Crusoe. When his father returns, Crawford braces himself as he prepares to break the tragic news. He worries about how his father will react to the sudden loss of his wife.

Later that night, Crawford accompanies his father on a walk in the woods. Once they forge through the trees and come to a river bank, the father suggests that drowning would be better than living. The boy reassures him that his mother is in heaven waiting for them, but the father rebuffs his attempts at comfort, answering that much of what the boy knows is a lie. The father’s sudden lack of belief frightens Crawford.

When the child asks his father to be calm, the father impulsively seizes his son by the neck. Just as suddenly, he releases his grip and walks away. When the boy asks if he is alone, his father answers that he always was. As Crawford makes his way back home, his mind begins to play tricks on him. He suspects that his father has gone mad.

The house is dark. Crawford imagines that his father is holding a butcher knife and waiting for him in the shadows. The boy summons his courage and makes his way upstairs to his bedroom. Unable to sleep or pray, Crawford examines himself and his past actions to see if he is at fault for the tragic events that have occurred. After he slips into a fitful sleep, a light awakens him. The light he sees is not the morning sun, however, but a strange glow emanating from the hallway.

As the boy approaches his parents’ room, he sees an apparition of his mother as a young woman, looking as she did long before Crawford was born. Adele appears in the image of the girl his father loved and married; it seems her visionary presence has lulled his father to sleep. Crawford returns to his bedroom less afraid, comforted by his vision and his own memory of his mother. Although her face is gone from his daily world, Crawford decides that her memory is changeless and better in dreams.

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Themes