Residents and Transients Summary
by Bobbie Ann Mason

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Residents and Transients Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mary, the thirty-year-old narrator, has moved back to her hometown in Kentucky after being away at college for several years. She has returned to Kentucky to care for her parents; after they retire to Florida, she and her husband, Stephen, move into their old farmhouse. Mary loves the land and the stately old farmhouse that “rises up from the fields like a patch of mutant jimsonweeds.” Because her mother cannot bear to think of moving her things out of the house herself, she has left Mary in charge of selling the house and their belongings.

When Stephen moves to Louisville to take another job, Mary stays in the farmhouse to prepare for the sale of the property, agreeing to join him after the house is sold. Now Mary realizes that she does not want to leave; also, she has taken a lover. After a routine visit to the dentist’s office, she has started seeing the dentist, Larry, a man with whom she went to school. Larry had been wild in high school, but he married, settled down in his hometown, and continued to live there after his divorce. Like Mary, he loves this part of Kentucky and has no desire to move.

One afternoon, Stephen calls to inform Mary that he has found a house in Louisville and wants her to join him there. Although he is eager to buy the house, Mary hesitates to make the commitment. She reminds Stephen that her father, who always warned her to avoid debt, is paying cash for his condominium in Florida. Stephen tells her that attitude is ridiculous. He is also reluctant to have Mary’s eight cats move into the house with them.

Unlike Stephen, Larry does not mind having the cats around. He visits Mary almost every day and does not even object when her cats walk on top of the bed. Mary tells Larry that she read that scientists once thought that wild cats who established territories were the strongest, while the transients were the losers. Now, she says, scientists wonder if the transients are the most curious and intelligent, and therefore the superior ones.

One evening when Mary and Larry are driving to her house, they see a wounded rabbit on the road. Mary becomes upset when she notices that the rabbit’s back legs have been crushed. It hops up and down in place, unable to move off the road. By the time they reach her house, Mary is nearly hysterical. As Larry tries to comfort her, the phone rings and Larry answers it. Stephen is on the phone; Mary tries to explain why Larry is there. In the course of the conversation, Stephen admonishes Mary to be more flexible and open to change. As she listens to him, Mary thinks that he is processing words, and envisions him as floppy like a Raggedy Andy doll.

When she hangs up the phone, Mary runs out to see Larry standing on the porch. Unable to make the choice between staying with Larry or moving to Louisville with Stephen, she looks for a sign to guide her. Just then Brenda, the cat with one blue eye and one yellow eye, comes up the lane toward the house. As she looks at the cat, she sees that the blue eye looks red and the yellow eye looks green, like the lights on a traffic sign. Mary realizes that she is “waiting for the light to change.”

Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Residents and Transients’’ is set in western Kentucky. The protagonist, Mary, narrates the story in her own voice. She announces in the first paragraph, ‘‘Since my husband went away to work in Louisville, I have, to my surprise, taken a lover.’’ From this surprising opening, Mary explains how she finds herself back in Kentucky, living in her former family home.

Three years before the story opens, Mary had returned to Kentucky (after an absence of eight years) in order to care for her ailing parents. Shortly after returning to Kentucky, she married Stephen, a word processor salesman. At the time of her marriage, she agreed to the frequent transfers his job would require, but now, she is not sure that she wants to move away from home again. Nevertheless, Mary herself feels like an outsider in her home community; her...

(The entire section is 1,100 words.)