Study Guide

Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories A Domestic Dilemma

Advertisement - Guide continues below

A Domestic Dilemma

  • On a Thursday evening, Martin Meadows heads home on the bus from work. On Thursdays the maid works a half-day and he wants to be home to check on his wife, who hasn't been doing well.
  • Although he once relaxed at the thought of being almost home, on this day he finds himself uneasy.
  • In this winter evening, his house looks bleak as he approaches. (Welcome to another Carson McCullers story, folks.)
  • Inside, the children (Andy and the baby Marianne) are in the living room playing with Christmas lights, and greet him happily.
  • Martin chides the children for playing with electrical cords, and asks if they've had dinner.
  • Andy says that dinner was too "hot," and in the kitchen Martin sees the plates out: breakfast for dinner. Taking a bite he discovers the cinnamon toast has been accidentally made with cayenne.
  • He asks the children where their mother is, and then goes upstairs to the bedroom to find her.
  • In the bedroom, his wife Emily is drunk, though she tries to hide it from him as she says hello. Martin is angry, and she asks what's wrong, playing dumb.
  • Emily is graceful and haughty despite her state, saying she was about to go make dinner for the two of them. Martin says he doesn't want the children to see her drunk, and they fight, until he convinces her he'll bring her dinner.
  • Downstairs, Martin wonders how his wife's drinking problem even started, how she had been fine, how it had only developed quietly and slowly.
  • He think perhaps it has something to do with them having moved from their home and families in the South, how she feels isolated in the North without friends. She gets mean when she drinks.
  • A year before, he had come home from work and found Emily and Marianne in the bathroom, where Emily had dropped her. Both were crying. Marianne ended up being okay, but Emily had promised to stop drinking then and there.
  • Martin remembers how his wife had started drinking again, hiding empty bottles in hatboxes.
  • After that he'd hired a maid to run the house so he wouldn't have to worry quite as much.
  • Martin sets dinner on the stove, and then goes to check on the kids. Andy has a loose tooth, and wants to tie it to a string, and tie the string to the doorknob, and then close the door in order to pull it out. Martin agrees it should come out soon, because if Andy swallows it, he'll grow a "tooth tree."
  • Andy knows his father is teasing him, and they're having a good time together.
  • Martin hears Emily coming down the stairs, and when she comes into the living room she seems drunker than before. She begins to yell at him, and Martin pleads with her not to disturb the children.
  • Emily, not paying any attention, kneels before Andy and asks him what kinds of lies his father has been telling him.
  • Andy mentions the tooth tree, but of course this is nonsense to Emily, who goes on yelling, scaring Andy… who starts to cry. Marianne cries too.
  • Martin asks Andy to take Marianne to bed, while Emily weeps in the kitchen. Martin brings her soup, which she eats while worrying that she's scared the children. Martin says, lying, that they'll probably forget about it by the next day.
  • Martin knows that the next day, Emily will be contrite and miserable, calling his office and embarrassing him. He feels hate.
  • A little later, he goes to the children's room, where he watches Marianne try to walk, and helps Andy take out the loose tooth. Then he bathes them, feeling great love for both children.
  • Andy announces he'll be putting his tooth under the pillow for the tooth fairy, except he knows (he announces) that it's the parents who put the money there.
  • Martin puts the children to bed, and once they've fallen asleep, he puts a quarter under Andy's pillow.
  • As he cooks a late dinner for himself, he realizes that the children seemed unaffected by their mother's tantrum, although he himself is still extraordinarily angry.
  • After dinner, Martin goes to the bedroom, looks at Emily's clothes strewn about and picks them up.
  • Martin looks at his wife, her face and body, her beauty, and slips into the bed, careful not to wake her, realizing that he is watching her for the last time — it's unclear whether he plans on leaving her or killing her.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...