Ray, a tall, thin, fifteen-year-old, is visiting her Native American mother in the hospital. As the two play cards, Ray realizes that Christine, her mother, cheats in order to win. Ray also notices that her mother seems suddenly smaller, as though she had shrunk. The daughter thinks to herself that this hospital visit might be different, that Christine really might have a disease. Christine’s changed image, however, is a result of her husband’s having entered the room. Elgin, Ray’s father, is an African American who has not spoken to Ray in six months.
Although both Ray and Christine exhibit signs of hope that Elgin will stay, he says he has come to return his wife’s car. Christine begs him to keep the car in order to pick her up when she is released from the hospital, but Elgin declines. Christine grows furious in the face of Elgin’s indifference. Ray, who relates the story, understands that Christine expects Elgin to reconsider. Elgin backs out of the room and Ray flees too, to avoid her mother’s furor. Later, as she crosses the hospital parking lot, Ray sees someone trying to break into her mother’s car. Only after she karate-chops the would-be thief does Ray realize it is her mother in disguise.
Christine tells Ray that the only thing she has that is worth anything is her car insurance, and because she has been reduced by Elgin to nothing, she plans to commit suicide so Ray can collect the benefits. Ray responds by calling Christine’s bluff. She tells her mother she is sure Christine is headed for Tacoma, where she always threatens to go when she is depressed, although she never actually goes.
Christine drives to Tacoma, accompanied by Ray, who refuses to remain behind. When they reach the park in Tacoma, Christine tries to get Ray out of the car, but Ray won’t move. She tells Christine, “You win. . . . Go for it. I just hope the policy is paid.” Christine hesitates, but turns her key in the ignition. Out of gas, the car will not start.
After a few awkward moments, Ray and her mother laugh at the irony and the futility of their situation, and walk together to a gas station.