Doris helps Hagar get into bed, but Hagar knows she will “not sleep a wink tonight.” She resolves not to “bend meekly” to Doris and Marvin’s plans for her, and begins scheming of ways to avoid her quickly-approaching fate. She tries to recall a “quiet place” the three of them went for a picnic earlier this year, Shadow Point, but becomes “stumped” when she considers financials—she doesn’t have a cent to her name. It occurs to her, though, that there may be an unsigned social security check downstairs—in the morning, she decides, she’ll check to see if it’s still there.
Hagar is determined not to fall prey to her own past mistakes. She knows now that the choices she makes—or fails to make—ultimately define her life, and resolves to make one last choice in pursuit of her own agency, no matter the cost to her or to those she loves.
Considering fleeing Marvin and Doris, Hagar looks back on the last time she fled home—years ago, when she took twelve-year-old John and left Bram. John seemed both excited and reticent to leave—he suggested sneaking off without telling Bram, but was reluctant to help Hagar pack. When she asked him what he’d done with the pin she’d given him, he replied that it was around somewhere. John then asked if they were going to go live with Marvin. Hagar said they weren’t—they were going to find a place of their own where Hagar could find work, perhaps as a housekeeper. Thinking of how she’d be “like Auntie Doll,” Hagar laughed aloud.
Looking back on her departure from the Shipley house, Hagar is surprised by how life comes full circle again and again. When she left Bram, she was dismayed but also amused by the prospect of becoming a housekeeper like Doll—now, considering fleeing Marvin’s home, she is again struck by the irony of how the past keeps repeating through the years.
Once packed, Hagar and John went into the kitchen, where Hagar told a drunken and swaying Bram that they were leaving. Bram did not seem surprised, and did not ask Hagar to stay or show any sign of “caring about the matter one way or another.” He merely suggested Hagar boil some eggs for the train journey.
Bram did not grow angry or violent at the idea of Hagar leaving—he simply let her slip away. This shows how isolated he was within his own vices, and how he never really cared for Hagar after all.
As the train pulled out of Manawaka in the morning, Hagar was “shock[ed]” by how small Manawaka was, “and how short a time it took to leave it.” Hagar watched out the window as the train passed the cemetery and the stone angel, “sightlessly guarding” over the dead still. As the train chugged along, John haughtily told Hagar that he’d traded the pin away for a jackknife. Hagar felt the urge to cry, but stopped herself, refusing to rise to John’s “daring [her] to rage.”
For most of Hagar’s life, Manawaka was her whole world. Now, as she prepares to leave it behind, she is struck by its smallness. Her final—or what she believes to be final—look at the stone angel foreshadows that, like the angel, she may one day soon find herself more rooted to the town, incapable of leaving or changing, than she thought.
Now, back in the present, Hagar wakes up, recalling her plan, and stands up to dress herself. She moves slowly, though—the pain in her ribs has returned, and there is a terrible taste in her mouth. Doris comes and helps her downstairs. While Doris is in the kitchen, readying breakfast, Hagar sneaks into the den, finds her check, and hides it underneath her dress. After breakfast, Doris heads out to do the shopping, and before leaving asks if Hagar will be all right alone. Hagar replies that she’ll be fine, and will “just sit quietly.”
Though Hagar is physically uncomfortable and clearly in need of help, her desire to leave the house and strike out on her own is as sharp as ever.
As soon as Doris is gone, Hagar makes her way to the bank. As she stands in line, she is achy and nervous. The transaction with the teller goes off without a hitch, but as she leaves the bank, Hagar becomes confused about where she can pick up the bus to downtown. She sits on a bench and makes sure she has everything she needs—she has the money, she is wearing her special shoes with arch support, and she has a cardigan with her in case of chill.
Even simple tasks have become arduous, confusing, and fraught for Hagar. As she moves through the world, she is hyperconscious every second of her body and its limits, and aware of how dangerous the plan she’s undertaking could be.
With some help and directions from the bus driver, Hagar arrives downtown at the depot where she can purchase a ticket on another bus to Shadow Point. In the busy station, though, Hagar becomes confused and overwhelmed, and asks a young woman nearby to help her get a ticket. Someone else—Hagar doesn’t know who—helps her board the bus to Shadow Point, and as Hagar takes her seat, she feels her anxiety spike. The trip through the depot has been a whirlwind—but at last the bus is off, and after a quick nap, Hagar arrives at Shadow Point.
Hagar has to rely on the kindness of others to make what would be, for a person more able of mind and body, a simple journey, and yet she is determined to proceed forward and leave Doris and Marvin behind.
At a small gas station store just next to the bus stop, Hagar stops in and buys herself some snacks—biscuits, jam, chocolate, and cheese. After paying, Hagar starts walking down the road, following a sign with an arrow that directs her “To The Point.” She is pleasantly surprised to find that her legs are holding out better than expected, but is nevertheless relieved when a man in a truck offers her a ride to the Point. Hagar accepts, and the man tells Hagar she’s lucky he came along—it’s a three-mile distance to the Point, and Hagar would never have made it.
Again, Hagar accepts the kindness of a stranger in order to continue on towards her goal. The fact that she was prepared to undertake a long walk, without knowing how long it would be or where it would lead her, shows how easily Hagar could slip into a dangerous situation out here on her own.
After the driver drops Hagar off, she takes in the sights and sounds of the nature all around her, and then begins her journey down a slightly rotten staircase made of wood and stone down into a little forest. Hagar doesn’t feel weak, though—she is so happy to be free that she “could sing.” As Hagar makes her way through the woods, though, she’s struck with a terrible realization—she’s forgotten water, or anything to drink. She can’t climb the steps again, and all of a sudden feels frail and exhausted.
Even as Hagar faces another setback—one that for the first time all day truly scares her—she does not make any attempt to go backwards.
Hagar comes upon some old abandoned buildings and decides to take shelter inside one of them, feeling “limp as a dishrag.” After a brief nap on a dusty floor, Hagar wakes up, confused, wondering whether Doris has her tea ready yet. When she remembers where she is, she becomes frightened, and realizes what a mistake she’s made in coming here at all. Hagar calms herself by having a snack, but again becomes panicked when she realizes she has nothing to drink. She explores the building a little more, and finds that though it is falling into disrepair, parts of it have clearly been recently used by “tramps or fugitives.” Hagar slowly makes her way upstairs to a little bedroom, comforting herself with the idea that she has a room of her own and has made her way someplace new—the “greatest excitement” one can know in life.
Hagar continues to face more and more threats of danger to her health and well-being out at Shadow Point, and yet she also feels a strange sense of freedom and excitement. She has made a choice to strike out on her own, and shows no signs of going back on it, no matter how many warning signs she encounters.
Hagar looks back on the past, remembering how she and John came to live at a “gigantic” house owned by a lonely old man, Mr. Oatley, who hired Hagar as his housekeeper. Hagar kept the many large, ornate rooms clean and also provided Mr. Oatley with some company, laughing at his stories and playing chess with him each night. Though his stories were often slightly macabre, Hagar listened attentively, and feels she “earned” the things that Mr. Oatley eventually left her in his will.
Having a room of her own for the first time in a long while triggers Hagar’s memories of the last time she felt such a feeling of excitement and possibility.
John and Hagar had their own separate rooms upstairs, and Hagar used her early paychecks to purchase new clothes for the both of them. John did quite well in school and told Hagar that he was making many friends, though he couldn’t bring them home to Mr. Oatley’s to play as the house wasn’t theirs. One afternoon, though, when Hagar called the home of one of John’s friends to ask when he was coming home for dinner, the woman on the other end said their family had no son. Hagar never confronted John about his lies, though for a long time “he kept on spinning his spiderwebs.”
Though Hagar was relieved and even actively happy to be on her own with John, this passage—and the lies John tells within it—make it clear that John was not as happy with their circumstances as Hagar was, and had a difficult time adjusting, making friends, and feeling normal.
John and Hagar lived in “reasonable content[ment,]” and came to learn that Mr. Oatley had made his fortune working as a smuggler, helping women immigrate from overseas. Hagar didn’t tell Mr. Oatley much about herself—only that she came from a good family. She lied and said her husband was dead, wanting to make no mention of Bram.
Though Mr. Oatley is happy to share even the shady details of his past with Hagar and John, Hagar insists on keeping her private life private—even going so far as to conceal the truth about her past.
As John entered high school, he began making friends in earnest—they would come by the house in their cars and honk for him to come out, and though Hagar suspected his friends drank, John assured her that they were “swell guys.” John grew tall and handsome and developed a “careless confidence.” He began dating, but never brought any girls to meet Hagar. One night, though, Hagar overheard John saying goodnight to a girl outside. She learned that he was lying to his friends and girlfriends, stating that he lived with his mother and his uncle. When Hagar heard John and his girlfriend begin making love in the grass, she grew embarrassed and angry, and ran back to her room. Upstairs, Hagar reflected on how though she was glad to be rid of Bram, she did miss him physically, and felt at times that she’d “return to him, just for [sex.]”
As John grows from a boy into a young man, Hagar struggles to accept the changes within him, and perhaps even fears becoming replaced in his heart by one of his girlfriends. At the same time, Hagar’s loneliness is exacerbated by the realization that her son is forging new connections outside of their relationship—while Hagar’s life remains lonely, sexless, and fairly empty after her departure from Manawaka.
Now, as Hagar falls asleep in her new little room in the abandoned building at Shadow Point, she looks out the window as the night sky rolls in and reflects on how she “can’t change what’s happened to [her] in [her] life”—but also can’t quite bring herself to believe it’s all been “for the best.”