Rosacoke Mustian is striving to win Wesley Beavers as her lover. They are both riding on Wesley’s motorcycle to the funeral of Mildred Sutton, a young African American woman and Rosacoke’s lifelong friend. Bored with following the funeral procession, Wesley revs his bike and speeds ahead of the rest of the procession to the local African American church in rural Warren County, North Carolina. Once they arrive at the church, Wesley ignores Rosacoke completely and turns to work on his motorcycle as she walks into the church to wait for the others to arrive and for the funeral to begin.
At the funeral, Rosacoke is entirely preoccupied with Wesley, looking out the church window constantly to keep an eye on his movements. When the preacher asks Rosacoke to say a few words about her friend, Mildred, she is so distracted by Wesley’s revving of his bike’s engine that she falters in her eulogy, disappointing Mildred’s family and friends. Wesley roars off on his bike from the church’s dirt lot and disappears down the road, leaving Rosacoke behind in the church. Rosacoke wanders off after him. Her journey takes her into the familiar woods where she and Mildred once went walking. As she walks through them, she recalls being there in the past.
In flashback, Mildred and Rosacoke discover a clear spring in the woods and stumble upon a young deer, a sign of innocence and mystery. While Rosacoke is staring at the spring, she hears footsteps and hides. Peering out from the trees, she sees Wesley and comes out of the woods to meet him. After a brief conversation between the innocent Rosa coke and the experienced Wesley, the two hop on Wesley’s motorcycle and ride off to a Sunday afternoon picnic where they join Rosacoke’s family and a few friends. After everyone else leaves, Rosacoke and Wesley find themselves alone, and Wesley attempts to seduce Rosacoke, unsuccessfully.
Disappointed by her lack of willingness to have sex with him, Wesley recklessly drives Rosacoke back to her house on his motorcycle. He soon goes off to Norfolk, where he sells motorcycles and sleeps with multiple women. Mistaking his desire for her as the evidence of his incipient love for her, Rosacoke writes him several letters, telling him about life in their little town and also searching for some clue about his feelings for her. When she finally does hear from him, it is in the form of a short letter that does not answer any of her probing questions.
Rosacoke goes about everyday life in Afton. She helps her brother prepare for his wife’s pregnancy; visits Sammy, the caretaker of the elderly Mr. Isaacs, the town’s wealthy landowner; pays calls on Mary, Mildred Sutton’s mother; and attempts to help care for Mildred’s baby. She ponders ways that she can catch Wesley and hold onto him. Wesley remains in Norfolk; he does not contact Rosacoke further after his short letter to her.
Not long before Thanksgiving, Wesley returns to Afton with Willie Duke Aycock—likely a former lover—and her fiancé, Heywood Betts. The townsfolk note Wesley’s return: They ask Rosacoke at church whether...
(The entire section is 1274 words.)