(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Gus and Rosie Vincent arrive at Ma and Pa Vincent’s home, followed by the other aunts and uncles and cousins. Coats are taken off, there are greetings, and then the adults line all the young cousins up outside for the annual photograph. After the picture has been taken, Rosie Vincent instructs her children to go to the kitchen and greet Livia, the large, sweating woman cooking the family’s holiday dinner. Livia drills the Vincent children in the catechism, and when they do not respond, she answers her own questions.

Sophie, Bit, and Churly snitch candy from the dinner table while the adults, except for Rosie, have cocktails in the living room. Some of the children drift into this adult sphere, keeping silent while their parents and grandparents talk. Readers see the details of the room through the wandering eyes of the quiet children: books, a photograph of Ma when she was young, the portrait of Dr. Vincent over the mantelpiece, the fancy shoes with flat bows that Ma is wearing and that her granddaughters like best. Interwoven through these details is the superficial, anecdotal conversation of the adults, who talk without looking at one another.

Delilah, sticking close to her mother in this uncertain adult world, says she wants to go look at the lion. Rosie tells her daughter to ask Pa, but Delilah and Sophie cross the room to examine a shadow box rather than address their grandfather. Finally Rosie speaks for her daughter, telling Pa that the children would like to go see the lion. His affirmative response is snapped out as a threat: “Watch out it doesn’t bite you.”

A troop of cousins ascends the stairs to the third floor, where the lion lies on the floor of the farthest attic room. In the thin light, amid the scent of cedar, the cousins approach the dead animal. Bit is the only one who will dare touch the tongue, made of fired clay, and Sophie lies down next to it to touch her cheek to the lion’s soft ears.

Leaving Caitlin and Churly at the red-leather bar, Sophie, Bit, and Delilah proceed to the owl room, some of the boy cousins following. In this room are all kinds of ornamental owls. Along the hallway, stretching away from the owl room, are photographs and silhouettes of Vincent family members: Pa’s pictures of himself from his sporting, Harvard, and political speechwriting days; a picture of Pa’s famous brother. When the wandering children return to the...

(The entire section is 992 words.)