Chapter 3 Summary

The great aunts carefully construct a letter to Sylvie asking her consider coming to Fingerbone to spend some time with the girls. Though they are anxious for Sylvie to stay on, they try to present their plan as merely hypothetical. After weeks of no contact from Sylvie, Lily and Nona begin to fret about the possibility that Sylvie might say no, or never respond at all. Unexpectedly, Sylvie knocks at the door and the old women let her in, clucking and fussing over her. Sylvie is in her mid-30s and is inadequately dressed for the harsh winter weather. Sylvie eats some eggs as the aunts loudly discuss their approval of her as though no one in the room could overhear them. Lucille and Ruth help their aunt take her belongings to her room. She promises to get them some kind of present and then bids them good night.

Lucille and Ruth are used to having the house to themselves in the mornings, so they are surprised to find their aunt sitting at the kitchen table in the dark in her rain coat. She jokes about her preference for the dark, and then makes the girls’ breakfast. Ignoring an agreed-upon gradual protocol, Lucille bluntly asks Sylvie about their mother. Sylvie offers a few details, but nothing along the lines of a complete picture of their mother. Sylvie makes it clear that she and Helen had very limited contact after Helen got married. The girls also ask about their father, and Sylvie has even less information about him. Ruth remembers her father’s disappearance and Bernice delivering to Helen a letter from him. When she thought she was alone, Helen tore up the letter (envelope included) without opening it. She explains to the girls that it is for the best. The girls are now doubly frustrated because Sylvie’s estrangement from her sister means she won’t be able to shed any light on their father’s whereabouts.

Sylvie abruptly announces she’s headed downtown for some errands, and Lucille thinks Sylvie is going to sneak off on the train. The girls throw on their winter gear over their nightgowns follow Sylvie downtown. After watching her throw some ice at a clutch of noisy, mangy dogs, they see Sylvie go to the train station. When they confront her about what appears to be her departure, she insists that she simply came in to the station because it was warm. She then tells them that she’s decided to stay, and buys them a snack. She takes them home, and the great aunts fuss about their collective disappearance. Nevertheless, the two old women pack up their things, and are picked up at the end of the day to be taken back to their home. Sylvie has been left in charge of Ruth and Lucille.