Chapter 4 Summary

Within a week of the transfer of Lucille and Ruth’s guardianship from Lily and Nona to Sylvie, Fingerbone receives an unusually large amount of rain. The problem this presents for the community is that the winter temperatures have prevented the ground from thawing, so the rain begins to flood all of the homes and buildings. This flooding has long been a problem for the community, but the house in which Sylvie, Lucille and Ruth live has never been damaged by it due to its high altitude. Unfortunately, the persistence of the rain leaves the house flooded for the first time. Lucille, Ruth and Sylvie begin wearing wading boots when they are downstairs, and their every movement sends ripples and waves throughout the house. From their window, they can see people on lower land whose houses are immersed even more than their own. Lucille is particularly drawn to the various sights of the flooding and is concerned that one of the neighbor’s homes has moved off of its foundation.

With the flooding not receding, the girls and their aunt spend a lot of time upstairs playing cards. This eventually bores Lucille because she wants to go out exploring in the community. Sylvie is puzzled by her desire and attributes it to loneliness. This leads Sylvie into a long, circuitous story about a lonely woman she encountered once on a bus who claimed to have four or five children. Sylvie questions the woman’s honesty because she couldn’t understand why the woman didn’t have any children with her. The only possible solution she offers is that the woman had her children taken away by the court. This offhanded revelation makes the girls realize that they could possibly be taken away from Sylvie, an outcome that seems to bother Ruth more than Lucille. They ask why Sylvie never had children of their own, and she lightly chastises them for being impolite without giving a clear answer. Later, when they go downstairs, there is no light, and all of them must feel their way around the kitchen. When Sylvie becomes unusually still and quiet, the girls start to worry that she has gone on one of her wandering walks—or abandoned them altogether. Sylvie finally reveals her presence, and they all head upstairs to play cards.

When the flooding finally subsides, the girls’ house is far less damaged than everyone else’s. The surprising result of the flooding is that it puts Sylvie and the girls in much greater contact with the people of the community. The girls realize how isolated they have been when neighbors looking for pets and other animals show up at their door. Sylvie seems to perpetuate this isolation because she claims to know no one in town, despite having lived in this same house many years ago. Soon, most of the symptoms of the flood have vanished except for several pieces of furniture still full of water.