(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins in retrospection. The adult Larry remembers his idyllic and blissful early childhood at home with his mother while his father was away during World War I. Larry, confident of his mother’s full attention, accompanied her throughout each day, prayed unfailingly for his father’s safe return, and urged his mother to brighten up the house by bringing home a baby. This Edenic existence is abruptly lost when his father returns home from the war. Suddenly, Larry finds that he has been demoted: His mother is attentive to his father and inattentive to him. He is repeatedly asked to be quiet while his father speaks and to be careful not to wake him up in the morning. In short, he finds that he must at all times play second fiddle to a rude and monstrous stranger whom his mother seems to favor for some reason mysteriously related, Larry concludes, to “that unhealthy habit of sleeping together.” Larry regrets his many prayers for his father’s safe return. “I couldn’t help feeling that if this was how God answered prayers, he couldn’t listen to them very attentively.”

One morning, when Larry awakens his father by screaming, his father tells him to shut up. Larry is so shocked by this presumptuousness that he yells back, whereupon his father slaps him. Thereafter, the two of them are “enemies, open and avowed.” They engage in a series of skirmishes: In one of these, Larry announces to his mother that he will one day marry her and...

(The entire section is 431 words.)