In the morning, Hagar wakes up feeling stiff and sore. She feels “tempted” for a moment to head back home, to the comforts of the house she shares with Marvin and Doris, but then becomes determined not to give up—or to allow herself to be sent off to Silverthreads. Hagar is overcome by an intense thirst—she hasn’t had a drop of water in over a day. Nevertheless, she rises from bed “almost gaily” and heads out the door, where she takes in the golden morning light and the wet greenery all around.
On this journey, Hagar keeps encountering obstacles that make her wonder if she would be better off giving up and giving in to Marvin and Doris. Ultimately, though, even in the face of fear, discomfort, and danger, Hagar decides that her independence is more important than her safety.
Hagar spots an old rusty bucket which has collected some rainwater, and she brings some water to her mouth with her hands, drinking it despite its terrible taste. Hagar walks down the little path towards the sea and watches two young children play on the beach, arguing angrily as they pretend the shells they’re collecting are plates and bowls. As the little girl bosses her friend or brother around, Hagar wishes she could tell the little girl to “watch out [or] lose him.” When Hagar calls out to the children and offers them some of her biscuits, they become scared and run away. Hagar realizes that the children must have seen “only a fat old woman” when they looked at her, like the witch from Hansel and Gretel.
Once again, Hagar’s image of herself does not align with how she appears to others. She keeps forgetting the toll the years have taken on her body, and can’t seem to believe that her life has both passed her by and transformed her into someone she doesn’t recognize—someone others might even fear.
Hagar sits on the beach and eats some of her snacks, but quickly feels a horrible taste flood her mouth—she hasn’t moved her bowels in days, and nausea grips her as she stands and walks back into the forest. As she makes her way through the woods, she stumbles and falls, scratching her legs on some rough bark. Hagar cannot get herself up this time, and begins crying. She becomes enraged, “curs[ing] like Bram,” and through her anger summons the strength to at last “yank [her]self upright.”
Hagar always hated Bram’s brash personality and crass vocabulary, but in a moment of weakness and pain, she finds that channeling his defiant energy is the only thing that makes her feel strong.
Hagar walks a little before deciding to rest on a fallen tree trunk and enjoy nature. As she sits and looks around the forest, however, she grows anxious and antsy, noticing all of the insects, sounds, and fungus around her. She thinks about the children playing house down on the beach—and then recalls “some other children, once, playing at house, but in a somewhat different manner.”
Hagar’s increasingly frequent retreats into memory are triggered not just by sights or sounds that remind her of her past, but also by the desire to escape the moments of intense anxiety and discomfort that more and more often define her present.
Hagar retreats into memory again. After Bram’s death, she recalls, she wrote to Mr. Oatley to ask him for a few more weeks’ leave—she didn’t feel she could leave John just yet. However, as the days went by, she saw less and less of her son: he was always out. Hagar cleaned the house top to bottom to occupy herself, and even came upon some of Bram’s first wife’s things in the attic. She resolved to give the box to Bram’s daughter Jess, and took out the wagon, driving three miles to the girl’s home.
Hagar stayed at the Shipley house to make sure that John was all right. Her growing concern for her son’s well-being and her meddling in his life and affairs mirrors the investment Marvin and Doris now have, in the present day, in her own life.
At Jess’s house, Hagar was surprised to find, as she passed the kitchen window, that John was sitting in there with his half-sister. They were talking about Bram, and it became evident from listening in that their sister Gladys felt neither of them did enough to care for their father—though she didn’t do very much to help in Bram’s time of need, either. John asked Jess to comfort him with stories about Bram from Jess’s own childhood, and became emotional at her remembrances.
As Hagar overhears her son reminiscing with his half-sister about their separate but equally powerful relationships with the father, she realizes that she was not as much a part of her son’s life as she’d thought she was—and that despite her attempts to separate him from Bram’s influence, he came to love, admire, and want to emulate the man.
Unable to take anymore, Hagar knocked at the kitchen door, interrupting John and Jess’s emotional conversation. She gave Jess the box containing Clara’s things. Jess was grateful, but John was angry that Hagar had come to “fetch” him. She insisted that she hadn’t known he was here, but John angrily left the kitchen, and together the two of them headed for home.
Hagar fears that though she always felt a kind of ownership over her favorite son, she really didn’t know him at all and never did.
One night, to Hagar’s surprise, Arlene brought John home in her father’s car. John was drunk and nearly passed out, and Arlene struggled to get him out of the front seat and inside. Hagar could not “muster [any] disapproval” for the two of them, though it did surprise her that John and Arlene had apparently been seeing each other regularly. Together, the two women helped John to lie down on the couch, and then Arlene left somewhat brusquely.
Though Arlene and Hagar both clearly worry about and care for John, there is an unspoken hostility between the two women, which will only grow deeper.
The next morning, John remembered that he’d attended a dance in town, but couldn’t recall anything about how he’d gotten home. When Hagar told him that Arlene had brought him back, he remarked that though Arlene had long liked to “fool around with [him] because she wasn’t meant to,” he was surprised that she would stay with him in a moment of real need. John then revealed that he’d gotten into a fight at the dance—in front of Arlene as well as her parents, and most of the rest of the town.
John is truly growing up to take after Bram, continuing his father’s legacy of drunken carousing, hardscrabble antics, and absolute contempt for social graces and keeping up appearances in public.
Hagar soon returned to the coast to work, but came back to Manawaka the following summer to visit with John during her vacation. She was surprised to find that the place was clean and orderly—John revealed that Arlene had been coming out “quite a bit” to help out around the house. That very afternoon, Arlene came to call, and Hagar was surprised to see that the girl had grown thinner and plainer. When John went out to the barn, Hagar and Arlene talked, and Arlene revealed that though when they were children, John avoided her because she was wealthy and prissy, they were now on even ground at last—neither of them had anything to their name.
There are several parallels between Hagar and Bram’s relationship and Arlene and John’s. There are differences, too, in that Arlene seems to genuinely love John and view him as her equal—whereas Hagar always felt a sense of superiority to Bram, and had feelings of lust rather than love for him from the start.
Hagar warned Arlene not to marry John, citing his poverty and heavy drinking. Arlene retorted that John hadn’t been drinking so much lately, but Hagar responded that Arlene would be “in for a sorry shock” if she thought she could change John—“you’ll not change a single solitary soul in this world,” Hagar declared. The two argued back and forth about who knew John best, but Hagar eventually shut the fight down, and they passed the rest of the afternoon in silence.
Just as Hagar thought she would marry Bram and cause him to change his rough-talking, hard-drinking ways, Arlene believes that she can change John, too. Hagar’s advice to Arlene surely seems cruel and condescending to the girl, although it comes from a place of experience and concern.
After dinner that night, John took Arlene home while Hagar sat up waiting for him to return, looking around the house and reminiscing about her youth. When John came back, Hagar confronted him about his relationship with Arlene, demanding to know if the two were going to be married. John told Hagar that his choices were none of her concern.
Hagar sees history repeating itself through John and Arlene’s relationship, and becomes determined to stop it from going any further. John, though, does not want his mother to have any control over his life.
One day, while napping on the couch in the front room covered with a heavy blanket, Hagar awoke to the sound of whispers and footsteps. John and Arlene had come home, and after looking around for Hagar but believing her to be out of the house, began discussing their plans for the future and anticipating a time when they could “have the place to [them]selves.” Arlene suggested they pretend that the place was already theirs for a little while, and the two began making love in the kitchen. Hagar stewed silently in anger as she listened to them pretending that the house was theirs, though it was hers. She waited on the couch for the rest of the afternoon until the two went out again, and then Hagar went straight up to bed, “planning what to do.”
Hagar sees Arlene and John’s relationship—and their desire to be left alone in the Shipley house—as a direct invalidation of her own relationship with John and her own efforts to keep up the house. She also sees something of herself in Arlene—a polite girl from a well-to-do family slumming it, so to speak, with a no-good Shipley. Hagar begins scheming and plotting to tear Arlene and John apart, perhaps attempting to keep history from repeating herself and saving Arlene from making the same mistakes she herself did as a young girl in love.
The next day, Hagar called upon Lottie to discuss the relationship between their children. Lottie seemed to be fairly happy for the two of them, citing Arlene’s claims that John had “settled down.” Hagar said that she didn’t have anything against the two of them marrying in the future, but didn’t want them to do so now, when they were both so broke. At the thought of Arlene and John—and their potential children—living in squalor and destitution, Lottie grew panicked, and suggested sending Arlene East to go work for a cousin. Hagar told Lottie to make sure the suggestion came from the cousin, not from her, and then the two women moved on to a discussion of their girlhoods. When Hagar asked Lottie if she remembered stomping on the chicks at the dump, Lottie said she didn’t remember the incident “at all.”
Lottie and Hagar are both afraid of their children making a mistake in marrying one another, though for very different reasons. Hagar is particularly sensitive to this fear, as she made a huge mistake in marrying Bram—but it’s clear that Lottie, who once tried to warn Hagar about Bram, sees John as an extension of Hagar’s husband, and does not want her precious daughter to one day meet the same sad fate as Hagar has.
For the next month, Arlene came by the Shipley place every day, and her presence agitated Hagar. As a result, John and Arlene began conducting their affair somewhere else—Hagar suspects now that they spent their days in roadside ditches and fields. As she snaps from her reverie and returns to the present, she realizes that she is holding a hank of moss in her hand. She wonders how long she’s been sitting on the log—a slug is crawling across one of her shoes. The woods have grown cold, and night is coming on. Hagar reluctantly makes her way back to the abandoned house, but rather than entering it she goes across the way to an abandoned cannery, fearing vagrants and tramps.
Hagar is spending longer and longer in her memories the more painful and agitating they become. This shows that memory is not really a refuge for her—it is a form of self-abasement, and her reveries are a pastime that only serve to upset, confuse, and alienate her. At the same time, she may be exorcising necessary demons of her past by revisiting these painful memories in such a vivid fashion.