Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526
The story opens abruptly in a beauty parlor with the animated conversation between Leota and her shampoo-and-set customer, Mrs. Fletcher. Amid a number of unrelated subjects, Leota mentions a Mrs. Pike in passing, piquing Mrs. Fletcher’s curiosity. The Pikes, Leota explains, are a couple renting a room from her and her husband, Fred. The conversation wanders from topic to topic, until Leota blurts out that someone has seen Mrs. Fletcher on the street and discerned that she is pregnant. This galls Mrs. Fletcher, and she demands to know who reported this so she can plot her social revenge. Their conversation is then interrupted by a child’s voice, who asks, “Why? What’re you gonna do to her?”
The voice belongs to Billy Boy, Mrs. Pike’s precocious son, who stays with Leota in the beauty parlor because he has been asked to leave the millinery store where his mother works. Leota finally reveals that it was the mysterious Mrs. Pike who identified Mrs. Fletcher’s condition and launches into a series of non sequiturs about Mrs. Pike’s good qualities. In the midst of her monologue, Leota mentions that she and Mrs. Pike attended the traveling freak show that came to town.
Among the freaks they encountered were a set of Siamese twins in a bottle, a tribe of Pygmies, and the petrified man, who digests his food and “before you can say ’Jack Robinson,’ it’s stone—pure stone.” As the conversation reaches its end, Leota reports their visit to a fortune-teller, Lady Evangeline, who proclaimed that Mr. Pike was faithful to Mrs. Pike and predicted that he would soon come into money. The scene ends with Mrs. Fletcher’s disparaging remark about Mrs. Pike’s looks.
A week later, Mrs. Fletcher returns for her appointment and Leota begins another gossipy conversation that winds its way through such topics as Mrs. Fletcher’s shape, a Mrs. Montjoy’s prematurely gray husband, and, finally, back to Mrs. Pike. “Well! How’s Mrs. Pike . . . who spreads it around town that perfect strangers are pregnant?” Mrs. Fletcher demands. Leota is clearly perturbed by the topic and gradually reveals the happenings of the previous week.
Mr. and Mrs. Pike, it seems, had read one of Leota’s police magazines and recognized an old acquaintance, a Mr. Petrie, as a man wanted for the rape of four women in California. Mr. Petrie turned out to be the petrified man at the freak show, worth a five-hundred-dollar reward. Leota reports that Mr. Pike at first wanted to let Mr. Petrie go, because he had once lent Mr. Pike money, but Mrs. Pike put her foot down and insisted that they turn him in to the police. Leota is distraught that she herself was not lucky enough to identify the wanted man, claiming that “that ole petrified man sure did leave me with a funny feelin’.”
The story ends with Leota taking out her frustrations on the Pikes’ Billy Boy, spanking him for his impolite manner. Billy Boy has the last word, stomping through the group of “wild-haired ladies,” shouting, “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?”