Therese is a new hire at Frankenberg's, a massive department store in New York City. It's so big, it has a cafeteria.
Today's lunch: "a grayish slice of roast beef" (1.3). Feels like we're back in elementary school. Mmm-mmm…
While chewing her mystery meat, Therese sits by herself and reads her new hire manual.
She thinks about how much she doesn't like the department store already. There are so many people there, but she imagines they are all so lonely.
An old woman who also works at the store sits across from Therese.
Therese looks at the woman's hands and, judging by how terrible they look, decides the woman attached to them is so ugly that she can't even look at her.
The old crone speaks. "You're a new girl, aren't you?" (1.15)
The voice sounds nice, so Therese looks at the woman. She's shocked to discover that the woman isn't a monster. She is even capable of smiling, although it causes "terrible creases under her eyes and around her mouth" (1.17).
The wrinkled old bat introduces herself as Mrs. Ruby Robichek, who works in the sweater department on the third floor.
After lunch Therese returns to her own department—the doll department, where women purchase dolls that wet themselves.
One evening after work Therese sees Mrs. Robichek at the doughnut shop across the street.
Wrinkly Robichek invites her to her apartment for dinner.
In her apartment, rugged ol' Robichek says she used to own a dress shop in Queens.
She has Therese try on one of her old dresses.
Therese likes it, but she can't bring herself to admit it so she just stands there silently like a weirdo.
She stands there without saying anything for so long that Mrs. Robichek thinks Therese is sick, and she tells her to stay the night.
After Mrs. Robichek falls asleep, Therese, without saying a word, sneaks out of the apartment and returns to her own place.