Helen and her daughter Jo are moving into a comfortless apartment in a Salford slum. Jo complains about the place, but Helen says they can afford nothing better. They bicker constantly about everything from Helen’s drinking and many boyfriends to the cold, their frequent moves, and Jo’s determination to quit school after Christmas. Helen complains about feeling sick. In unpacking, Helen finds some drawings Jo has done and thinks them quite good, but Jo resents even her mother’s praise.
Peter, a brash car salesman, arrives in search of Helen, who has been avoiding him. Peter had not known before that Helen has a teenage daughter (and is thus older than he thought) but he nevertheless asks Helen to marry him. Helen seems tempted to say yes. Jo brings them coffee and continues to make sarcastic comments. While Peter tells dirty jokes, Jo tries to discourage him from marrying Helen; he leaves without having received an answer. While the two women prepare for bed, Helen asks Jo what she thinks about her marrying Peter. Jo tells her mother that she considers it ridiculous.
Shortly before Christmas, Jo’s boyfriend, a black sailor, walks her home from school. When he tries to kiss her, she says no, though she enjoys his kisses. He proposes marriage, and she agrees. He gives her a cheap ring and asks what her mother will think, especially about his race. Jo says that she does not care how her mother might react. Nevertheless, she decides to wear the ring on a ribbon around her neck, under her clothes. Jo tells him that after she leaves school she will go to work in a bar and move out of her mother’s home as soon as possible. They arrange to meet later.
When Jo returns home, Helen guesses that she has been seeing a boyfriend. Jo asks to be told her real birth date, who her natural father was, and when Helen’s husband had thrown Helen and Jo out. Helen avoids answering and abruptly announces that she is going to marry again. When Peter arrives, Jo sarcastically calls him “Daddy” and says that his marrying Helen is crazy. While Helen is getting ready, Jo attacks Peter. She looks at the photographs in his wallet, including some of other women, and derides Peter and Helen for wanting to marry. Jo is convinced that Helen and Peter will be away for several days, during which Jo, not for the first time, will be left alone. She complains about her mother’s neglect, and Helen criticizes her for her jealousy. Peter and Helen leave, and Jo falls onto the bed, crying.
Jo’s boyfriend enters the apartment and, thinking Jo might be ill, fixes her...
(The entire section is 1057 words.)