A Bryn Mawr graduate, Corinthians (Corrie) is the first in her family to go to college. As a child, the greatest excitement in her life is taking off her stockings during the family drive on Sundays and making red velvet flowers. As an adult, her greatest excitement in life is making red velvet flowers – that is, until she gets a job as a maid in the home of Michigan’s poet laureate, Michael-Mary Graham. Corinthians, though resigned to scrubbing floors and cooking meals for a white woman, finds freedom in earning her own wages and in spending time away from her depressing family.
She eventually encounters Henry Porter (a member of the Seven Days who does yard work in the same part of town) on a bus ride home one night. At first too cool for school, Corinthians rejects his attention, but Henry Porter is one persistent man. The two go steady, and Corinthians gets to do things like go necking at the drive-in, go for walks in the park, and feel smitten. She’s not ready, however, to make their love public. She’s ashamed of Porter because he’s not the doctor everyone has told her would one day sweep her away. She won’t go to his apartment, and she has him drop her off blocks away from her house.
After getting into a fight with Porter one night, she insults him deeply. After being kicked out of the car, Corrie walks the blocks home but cannot bring herself to go inside where a world of red velvet flowers and lifelessness wait for her. She then has the best plan ever: 1) run back to Porter’s car, 2) if he won’t let her in, bang on the window, and 3) if he still won’t let her in, throw herself on the hood of his car and don’t let go, even if he starts driving a hundred miles an hour. And it works.
The first time they consummate their relationship, it’s a violent kind of love. But when Corinthians returns home early the next morning, the red velvet flowers are conquerable. She has oxygen.