In the summer of 1919, Krebs returns to his hometown in Oklahoma after having fought in World War I. He is one of the last soldiers to come back, as he stayed on the Rhine until the second division left for home. Though the other soldiers had been greeted with a celebratory welcome upon their return, by the time Krebs arrives home, the hysteria has settled.
Initially, Krebs does not want to talk about his experiences in the war. When he finally does want to talk, nobody in town is interested in listening, as they have already heard graphic tales from the other soldiers. In order to attract an audience for his stories, Krebs feels he must lie about the war, adopting on the experiences of other men and exaggerating his own. However minor, these lies make him feel nauseated and distasteful toward his own memories.
Krebs listlessly passes the time by sleeping late, wandering around his town, eating, reading, playing clarinet, and going to the pool room. His mother seems to want to understand her son’s experience in the war, but when she comes into his room to ask about it, her attention wanders. His father, a businessman, is “non-committal.”
Most things in the town have not changed: the family motor car that Krebs was not allowed to drive before the war is “still the same car.” The only noticeable change that Krebs observes is in the local girls, who have grown up. He watches them from his front porch as they walk past. Though Krebs “vaguely” wants a girl, he believes getting to know one—and having to talk to her—is not worth it, and would only lead to telling more lies.
Along with watching the girls, Krebs also reads a history book about the war. He especially enjoys looking at the maps. By reading about the war, he starts to get a better sense of what happened and feels he had been “a good soldier.”
One morning Krebs’s mother enters his bedroom and tells him that she and his father have decided to let him take out the family car. Krebs then goes down to the kitchen for breakfast, where his favorite younger sister, Helen, teases him about sleeping late. When she asks Krebs if he loves her, he says, “Sure.” She asks if he will come over to the schoolyard that afternoon and watch her play baseball, teasing him that if he doesn’t come over to watch her play, he doesn’t really love her.
After Helen leaves, Krebs’s mother, appearing worried, starts asking Krebs if he knows what he is going to do. She encourages him to start working and says that she’s been praying for him. She then mentions that Krebs should go see his father in the office after they’re done talking. When she asks Krebs if he loves her, Krebs responds, “No.” His mother starts crying, prompting Krebs to say that he doesn’t love anybody, and then that he didn’t mean it. His mother’s emotions make Krebs feel sick. His mother then makes him pray with her, though he says he cannot.
Krebs feels sorry for his mother and reflects that she made him lie. He thinks that he will go to Kansas City and find a job but won’t visit his father; he wants his life to “go smoothly.” Before leaving, he will go over to the schoolyard and watch his sister play baseball.