On Sunday morning, Charlie asks his mother how Jack is doing, and Mrs. Feehan raises her voice at him for the first time as she snaps that the baby is freezing. Charlie offers to ask Mr. Redmond and Mrs. Redmond for wood, but Mrs. Feehan refuses to keep “scrounging” off the neighbors. She tells him to get out of the house, and though Charlie can tell that something is troubling his mother, her tone hurts him, so he leaves. He runs around town for an hour before returning home. When he comes inside, he sees Mr. Peacock kissing Mrs. Feehan’s neck as she cries. Charlie quietly goes to his room. That night he turns 16.
Mrs. Feehan’s worsening mental health further demonstrates how extreme poverty can affect all aspects of life. The Feehans’ dire straits after Mr. Feehan’s death forced Charlie to find a job, and they have also prompted Mrs. Feehan to yield to Mr. Peacock’s sexual extortion in order to support her children.She tries to shield this from Charlie, and he initially can’t deduce what is troubling his mother. When he sees the situation with his own eyes, the knowledge forces him to grow up even more than he already has. That forced maturity becomes literal when Charlie turns 16.
The following morning, Charlie cannot bring himself to look at his mother. He is ashamed that she would let Mr. Peacock kiss her only three months after Mr. Feehan’s death, and he believes she has no right to wear her wedding ring. He leaves quickly, but walking through the slums only worsens his mood as he takes in how Richmond’s booming industry fills the town with pollution. Over the next few weeks, Charlie throws himself into work. Running is a comfort because it “belong[s]” to him alone. He continues to avoid his mother, and he doesn’t bother putting on Mr. Feehan’s boots when he comes home anymore.
Charlie does not understand why his mother has chosen to accept Mr. Peacock’s coercion, which speaks to his loyalty to his father’s memory. It also implies that although witnessing his mother in this relationship has prematurely aged Charlie, he is still too childish to grasp the reasoning behind Mrs. Feehan’s decision. Feeling betrayed by his mother, Charlie no longer bothers to hide the boots he got from Squizzy, effectively revealing that he has joined the world of crime against her wishes. The fact that he no longer wears his father’s boots is another element of that rebellion. Charlie temporarily replaces Mr. Feehan’s boots to point out how Mrs. Feehan has let Mr. Feehan’s memory fade from their house.
One day Charlie returns home from work to find Mr. Peacock drunk and beating Mrs. Feehan. When he tries to intervene, Mr. Peacock knocks Charlie to the floor. Charlie grabs a cricket bat from his bedroom and smashes Mr. Peacock over the head. The man falls to the ground. He lays still for a long time, until finally he moves his arm. Mrs. Feehan sends Charlie to fetch Mr. Redmond, and only as Charlie runs out of the house does he realize the gravity of what he has done. He sends Mr. Redmond over to his house and then runs to Squizzy’s house. Charlie reports the incident to Squizzy and Dolly, and Squizzy promises he will send someone to Charlie’s house in case Mr. Peacock gets violent again.
Though Charlie resents his mother for entering a relationship with Mr. Peacock, he still leaps to her defense, demonstrating the strength of their bond. That bond also extends to their community, as Mrs. Feehan trusts Mr. Redmond to help in a crisis. Charlie places that trust in Squizzy and Dolly, who are outside the community. Squizzy seems to pay back that trust by promising to take care of the problem.
Charlie spends the night on Squizzy’s couch. He apologizes for being a bother, but Squizzy brushes this off because Dolly has taken a liking to Charlie. He explains that Squizzy’s men stopped Mr. Peacock from pressing charges against Charlie, and Squizzy himself spoke to Mr. Peacock and intimidated him into forgetting the whole affair. Mr. Peacock has also agreed to give Charlie wood on Saturday mornings for free. As Squizzy talks, he reminds Charlie of Mr. Feehan in his ability to make everything all right. Charlie moves to hug Squizzy, but Squizzy insists he should thank Dolly.
Squizzy continues to foster Charlie’s trust in him by using his power to sort out the trouble with Mr. Peacock. Charlie’s idolization of Squizzy escalates, and he comes to view Squizzy as a father figure, even noting the gangster’s similarity to Mr. Feehan. Squizzy, on the other hand, resists Charlie’s attempts at emotional intimacy, hinting that his attachment to Charlie is not as strong as the attachment Charlie feels to Squizzy.
Charlie goes home. Mrs. Feehan has cleaned the blood from the kitchen and is feeding Jack something Mrs. Redmond brought over. Charlie is shocked by his mother’s battered face, and he almost can’t believe that the bruised woman before him is his mother. Mrs. Feehan apologizes to Charlie, and he reassures her that everything is all right. They hug.
Charlie and Mrs. Feehan reconcile, but the situation with Mr. Peacock has altered them both. Charlie has had to grow up even more, and he takes on a parental role to his own mother as he reassures Mrs. Feehan that they will be alright. Mrs. Feehan is bruised beyond the point of recognition, which shows the extent to which Mr. Peacock’s abuse has affected her both physically and mentally.