Part 1, Chapter 16 Summary

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Today, Wilder starts crying at 2:00 p.m. and does not quit. At 6:00, Wilder cries sitting on the kitchen floor as the rest of the family steps around him and hurriedly finishes their meal.

Babette watches the boy as she eats, knowing she has to teach her sitting, walking, and standing class in an hour and a half. She has tried every form of coercion and coaxing, and now she looks at her husband for some help. The old people will be waiting for her.

Wilder’s crying comes in short, steady bursts that grow stronger and weaker at times but never stop. The boy is exhausted and Gladney says they must stop by to see the doctor on the way to Babette’s class; she is not convinced a doctor will see a child just because he is crying.

Nothing about the situation has seemed too urgent, but now that they are going to see a doctor the Gladneys begin to worry and fret in their rush to go. Wilder’s parents review everything he has eaten or done in the last twenty-four hours in case the doctor asks and so their answers will be coordinated. (It is one of Gladney’s biggest fears that a doctor will lose interest in him and “take his dying for granted.”)

Gladney waits in the car while Babette takes Wilder into the doctor’s office. He prefers hospitals, particularly emergency rooms, because all of the ailments and injuries he sees there seem disconnected from his own eventual “nonviolent, small-town death.”

Babette and Wilder emerge from the medical building, and the boy is still crying. They are a “wretched and pathetic pair,” Babette looking defeated and Wilder determinedly crying. Gladney wonders if this is how professional mourners look.

The doctor’s only advice was to give Wilder an aspirin and put him to bed, which is exactly what Denise suggested earlier. Babette does not remember much of her conversation with the physicians and admits she lies to doctors all the time. Gladney does too, but neither explains why they do it.

Wilder now begins keening in the back seat; the sound is haunting and full of anguish. Neither parent knows what to do. Gladney suggests Babette take Wilder to the emergency room, but she just wants Gladney to take her to her class.

After giving her son a long, desperate look, Babette goes to her class. It has been six hours since Wilder started crying, and Gladney sets his son on his lap and really listens to Wilder’s wordless lament. As Gladney maintains eye contact with his son, he allows the waves of the boy’s inconsolable crying to wash over him; it speaks to Gladney somehow.

Wilder stops crying just as abruptly as he began seven hours ago, and neither parent reacts, afraid to say or do the wrong thing. The same is true at home. The family offers Wilder the “mingled reverence and wonder” normally reserved for amazing and even supernatural feats.

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