Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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Chapter 1 Summary

Major Pettigrew, a man in his late sixties, has been widowed for several years. Early one morning, he received a phone call where he learned that his brother, Bertie, died unexpectedly. When the doorbell rang, he went to the door without remembering that he had put on his deceased wife’s housecoat. The caller at the door was Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani widow who ran the village shop and was looking for the payment for his paper delivery. In the middle of their discussion, Major Pettigrew blurted out that his brother had died, and then suddenly began to pass out. Mrs. Ali propped the Major up and took him into his house to sit down. The Major reflected on the racial tensions that had greeted the Alis when they first moved to the village and opened up their business. Many of the local youths would vandalize the outside of the store or call them racial slurs like “Paki.” In time, the tension had subsided, and certain members of the village went out of their way to demonstrate their tolerance. When Mrs. Ali brought tea, the Major carelessly mentioned that Bertie had died of a heart attack, forgetting that Mr. Ali had died of the same thing. When the Major tried to explain his housecoat, Mrs. Ali mentioned that she too sometimes put on some of her husband’s clothes that still smelled like him.

After she left, the Major made some phone calls. The first was to his son, Roger, who had a high-power job at an equity firm. Roger had already heard the news from Bertie’s emotional daughter, Jemima, and seemed unsure if he would be able to make it to the funeral. The Major later talked to Marjorie, Bertie’s widow, a crass woman he had never liked. He was struck that she had scheduled the funeral around her own beauty appointments. The Major also wanted to talk to her about a very valuable vintage rifle belonging to Bertie (which had been in the family for generations), but Marjorie avoided the topic and hinted at passing along some of Bertie’s clothes.

The day of the funeral, the Major sat in his car and found himself unable to drive. He was surprised by Mrs. Ali tapping on his window to see if he was alright. She recommended that he get some fresh air and brought ginger ale for him, recalling that she herself forgot to eat for several days when her husband died. When Mrs. Ali offered to drive, the Major was reluctant to take assistance from a woman, but sensing his own fragility, he relented. On the road, the Major noticed that Mrs. Ali drove like a man, which he approved of. During the ride, Mrs. Ali admitted that her family wanted her nephew to take over the shop and move her in as a pseudo-grandmother to some of the younger children in the family. Mrs. Ali sounded unenthusiastic about the prospect, but felt she had no other choice since she had no children of her own. The funeral was a solemn affair, and the Major was alternately miffed and grateful about not having to speak at the service. Roger did not attend the funeral.

Chapter 2 Summary

The reception after the funeral was typical of Marjorie’s low standards, and the Major could barely disguise his disdain. He was very surprised when his son, Roger, made a tardy entrance; the Major had not expected him to come at all. The Major was relieved when his son wanted to talk about the rifles, but he soon discovered his son had an ulterior motive. Roger had spoken to Jemima and they wanted to sell the rifles and split the profit; Roger’s reasoning was that he would eventually inherit the money from the Major anyway. Roger then said the he wanted to drive the Major home despite the arrangements made with Mrs. Ali. Marjorie let the Major know that Mrs. Ali had arrived, and was obviously displeased with her presence, making a note of her skin color.

The Major headed out to the driveway and asked Mrs. Ali to come in for tea and cake, which she politely declined. Full of regret, the Major explained his son’s change of plans and apologized for her inconvenience. After thanking her profusely, the Major...

(The entire section is 11,256 words.)