Just before Christmas vacation ends, Francie tells Katie that she isn’t going back to school. Francie says that, because she is fourteen she can now get her working papers, she should help bring in income. Her mother insists that she stay in school and graduate. She also insists that both Francie and Neeley go to high school in the fall. She tells Francie that the family will manage on her income.
Francie feels that, now that Johnny is gone and she’s old enough to get a job, that she has an obligation to help support the family. She is eager to help her family eke out of poverty, while Katie insists that the best way to do this is for her to obtain an education.
When Katie consults with Sissy and Evy, Evy insists that Katie pull Francie out of school so that she can get her working papers. They both leave her a bit of money before departing. Katie does not want to take Francie out of school, knowing how difficult it would be for her to go back and graduate. One day, she gets lucky when she decides to pay a visit to McGarrity’s to thank him for the wreath. Jim McGarrity misses Johnny, particularly his storytelling. Later, he visits the Nolan apartment and offers to employ Francie as a dishwasher and bedmaker and says that Neeley can help him prepare the free lunch by peeling boiled eggs and cutting hunks of cheese. They would work only for an hour after school and half a day on Saturday. He’ll pay each child two dollars per week.
It’s important to Katie that Francie graduate from high school so that she’ll never be relegated to menial jobs, like her mother. Evy doesn’t understand Katie’s dream and is only concerned about the present fact that the family lacks money and Katie is too close to delivering a baby to continue working. McGarrity’s offer seems like a godsend, though Katie doesn’t know that he’s mainly offering the children jobs as a way to hold on to his memory of Johnny. If she knew the truth, that he was looking to use her children for companionship, she probably would have refused.
Katie is ecstatic to hear the offer. However, she lets the children decide and they agree. McGarrity then offers to pay the first week’s salary in advance, but Katie refuses the money. She thanks him, however, for his intentions and her gratitude launches him into a long talk about his boyhood in Ireland and his memories of Johnny. McGarrity talks for two hours without stopping. As he talks, he feels his lost manhood, spoiled by his unhappy marriage, stirring within him. It isn’t so much because Katie is an attractive woman, but because he feels a sense of release through talking. Before leaving, he asks Katie if he can come up to the apartment sometime, just to talk. Katie kindly refuses. McGarrity sighs and leaves.
Katie’s demonstration of gratitude puts McGarrity at ease and makes him feel that Katie would be open to befriending him or, in her gratitude, would at least be willing to listen to him. For McGarrity, his sense of self-worth comes from being listened to and respected. Mae and his children ignore him and are only interested in him because of what he can provide financially. Katie senses that McGarrity is lonely for companionship, though she may think that his intentions are sexual.
Francie is glad for the job at McGarrity’s; it keeps her from missing Johnny. After school, Francie and Neeley go to church for “instruction,” since they will be confirmed in the spring. The work at McGarrity’s is easy. McGarrity waits until the children have been working with him for a few days before he approaches them for conversation. He starts with Neeley, who looks so much like his father, but he doesn’t get very far. The next day, he goes upstairs to one of the rooms he rents out. Francie is sweeping. He sits down and she begins sweeping to the door. He realizes that she thinks that he may do something inappropriate. Francie then realizes that Jim McGarrity only wanted to talk, but she has nothing to say to him.
The “instruction” that Francie and Neeley receive is catechism. McGarrity’s disappointment with Neeley results from the fact that, in terms of personality, the boy is more reserved like his mother. McGarrity is so intent on reviving Johnny through his children that he neglects the possibility that they may have their own distinct modes of being. Francie has lingering memories of her sexual assault and is afraid to be left alone with an older man.
Mae McGarrity goes up and offers Francie something to eat. Francie lies and says that she isn’t hungry. Mrs. McGarrity insists that she come down anyway, to be sociable. Mrs. McGarrity gets a mound of rosy Jell-O and whipped cream. She cuts it in half for them to share. It is Francie’s first time having Jell-O and she loves it. Francie realizes that the McGarritys are “all right,” just not to each other.
Though the McGarritys have more money than the Nolans, Francie realizes that this doesn’t make their lives particularly better. Though she is young, Francie can sense that they have a bad marriage and that they each seek company from others due to their particular form of loneliness.
During a private conversation with her husband, Mae tells Jim that it won’t work out with Neeley and Francie. They look into each other’s eyes while they speak. She tells him to wait a couple of weeks after Katie’s child is born before letting the children go. Jim marvels at how his wife knew what he was thinking. When she leaves the room, he goes after her, wanting to hold on to that understanding between them. Then, he sees her flirting with a “husky teamster,” whose arm is around her waist. When the teamster sees Jim, she “sheepishly” removes his arm. Jim goes behind the bar and looks into Mae’s eyes again; they have no understanding in them.
Mae convinces Jim that they have to let Francie and Neeley go after Katie’s third child is born. She knows that Jim is using the children to try to replace his friendship with their father. The conversation is positive for Jim. Despite his willingness to let go of the children, he senses that he can possibly reconcile with his wife. This sense of a renewed understanding between them is spoiled when he sees Mae with another man, realizing that nothing has changed between them.
On the way home from Aunt Sissy’s house one afternoon, Francie tells Katie how Aunt Sissy doesn’t wear her strong, sweet perfume anymore. Katie notes that she no longer has to because she has her baby and her man. Francie gets the idea that wearing perfume must have something to do with having a baby. Francie is beginning to get a headache and wonders if it’s the result of her confusion about life. Katie reads her thought and tells her, aloud, not be silly. Aunt Sissy’s kitchen was too hot and that’s the reason why Katie is getting a headache, too. The coincidence causes Francie to laugh for the first time since her father died and her mother smiles at her.
Francie observes changes in her aunt. Sissy was a rather promiscuous woman Sissy and is now a domestically-oriented married woman. Francie doesn’t quite make the connection between Sissy’s wearing of perfume and the art of seduction. It feels as though there is a great deal to know about being a woman, but Katie puts Francie at ease by saying that she’s also getting a headache, which implies that she, too, identifies with Francie’s confusion.