Part 3, Chapters 31 Summary
No one wants to cook that night, so the Gladneys go to a restaurant specializing in chicken parts and brownies and then eat in their car. Eating is something they need to do, but they take no joy in it tonight, and they certainly do not need to make eye contact or conversation. All eating stops as the family conducts another inane, disjointed, and factually flawed discussion, this time about space.
The conversation eventually changes to weather, and Babette claims Russian psychics are to blame for the “crazy weather.” There has been no crazy weather, but this week a policeman saw a body tossed from a UFO and later the body of an unidentified man was discovered. The cause of death was multiple fractures and heart failure, possibly due to a “ghastly shock.” Under hypnosis, the officer (a former Vietnam veteran) maintains he saw a body plummet from a UFO to the ground and sensed a message was being transferred to his brain. The authorities will pursue this story to uncover the message. UFOs have been sighted all over the area.
The Gladneys continue to sit in their car and inhale their food, silent except for the noises associated with eating. Once their hunger is sated, they are able to look beyond themselves and see those outside the vehicle. People are leaving the restaurant with cartons of food, but soon those in the backseat grow restless and want to be home, not here. Suddenly they are not content and want to be immediately transported back to their familiar and comfortable rooms rather than sit in the back seat of a cramped automobile.
Gladney recognizes the signs of impatience and starts the car, hoping to make it home before any trouble comes from the back seat. He and Babette wait for the usual fighting to begin, followed by attacks against the adults. Babette dreads this impending conflict and talks again about UFOs, and some of the strange conversation begins to make sense to Gladney.
That night he and Babette drink hot chocolate at the kitchen table which is covered by coupons, receipts, and various pieces of mail, including a postcard from Mary Alice, Gladney’s oldest daughter. Mary Alice is Steffie’s sister (she is the product of his first marriage to Dana Breedlove, Steffie is the product of the couple’s second marriage); she is ten years older (nineteen) and has already been married twice. She lives in Hawaii and works with whales.
After a time, Babette asks Gladney how he is, her voice containing a sense of urgency. He assures her honestly that he feels fine and asks how she is. Though Babette is fine, she wishes he had not told her about his condition because now she wants two things more than anything else in the world: for Gladney not to die first and for Wilder to stay as he is forever.