Chapter 5 Summary

Lucille and Ruth have always gone largely unnoticed at the secondary school they attend. They are quiet, present no disciplinary issues, and earn grades neither too high nor too low to attract the attention of the faculty. Lucille begins trying to avoid school by pretending to be sick, which Sylvie allows. When Lucille is finally sent to school again the following week, she brings a note Sylvie wrote explaining her absence. In it, Sylvie accurately describes the vagueness of Lucille’s “symptoms,” as well as their brevity and lack of severity. Lucille fears the school will know she faked and decides to skip school. Ruth decides to skip with her, and the two spend their days down by the water, waiting to be caught.

On their fourth day of truancy, the girls notice Sylvie at the lake a little ways down from them. As Sylvie tends to be in her own mental world, she takes no notice of the girls. As Sylvie makes her way along the water’s edge, the girls follow her with great curiosity. Sylvie politely greets some fishermen she passes until she arrives at the great train trestle that crosses the lake. She climbs out on to the edge of the trestle and begins walking out onto the bridge, slat by slat. When she gets to the middle, she begins peering over the edge, taking no notice of the windy weather. The girls are terrified about the dangerousness of her position and debating what to do when Sylvie suddenly looks up and sees them. She walks back along the trestle and comes to meet with them, unperturbed by the fact that they are not in school. The girls know that Sylvie could have easily fallen, and the town would have taken it for a suicide (given her family history). Sylvie acknowledges that without displaying much concern over the safety hazards. Ruth is concerned that Sylvie might have intended to fall or jump, and she and Lucille become convinced of their aunt’s instability.

The next week, the girls go back to school and no one questions their absences; they seem to have gone unnoticed. At home, Sylvie moves downstairs into what used to be her mother Sylvia’s room. The girls enjoy exploring their grandmother’s drawers and find some information about their Aunt Molly’s missionary work. Ruth begins to get used to Sylvie, but Lucille seems to take a disliking to her. Sylvie occasionally gives them odd, impractical and cheaply made gifts, such as sequined ballet slippers. Lucille deliberately destroys these gifts in an act of defiance, but Sylvie continues to bestow them without any mention of Lucille’s actions.