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For her mother's funeral, Ellen is forced to wear a red-checked suit that once belonged to her cousin, Dora, whose mother, Nadine, has taken it upon herself to organize the funeral. Ellen's father asks her if she plans to tell anyone about how he made no attempts to save her mother from overdosing on her medication. Ellen is not certain that he has committed a crime, though she is sure that he has committed a terrible sin. In the car on the way to the graveyard, Ellen demands that she sit next to the window, so that she may breathe fresh air and get out quickly if necessary.
Ellen rolls down the car window and sticks her head outside of it to get some relief from Nadine's overpowering perfume. Nadine flirts with the undertaker who drives the car. Looking out the window, Ellen admires the autumn foliage and thinks that fall is the best time of the year because both the leaves and the people are changing and readying themselves for a new season. Dora, who is the same age as Ellen, wets herself and soaks the seat of the car. Ellen reports that Dora wets herself regularly, as often as once or twice a day, though Nadine accuses Ellen of being the culprit. Dora asks if the undertaker will stop the car on the way to the funeral so that she may get a snack.
Ellen wakes in her new home and wonders what she should do with her day. She smells the biscuits her new mama has been baking in the oven and decides that she will take her horse, Dolphin, for a ride in the pasture. At the breakfast table, Ellen holds her hands over the hot biscuits to warm them, and her new mama gently informs her that she is being rude. Ellen takes two breakfast biscuits with her after she finishes breakfast, one for herself for lunch and one to feed to Dolphin. Dolphin does not belong solely to Ellen, though she loves him as if she were his only caretaker. Since she has been living with her new mama and her new sisters and brother, Ellen has learned to share all of her possessions.
The funeral train passes through a "colored town" to get to the church. When they have crossed the town's border, Nadine is relieved and unlocks her car door. As they drive by rows of pretty houses with neatly groomed lawns, Ellen admires them and contemplates taking home a garden fountain that she finds particularly alluring.
At the church, there are far more people than Ellen actually knows. She sees her black friend Starletta sitting with her mother and father. Ellen wishes that she could go and sit with them, but she must stay with her own family. Starletta, Ellen reports, eats dirt and chomps on clay. Once, when Ellen had tried to eat dirt, her father had slapped her.
Sitting in the pew and listening to the preacher's sermon, Ellen does not want to look at her mother lying in the casket and is continually disturbed by the thought of seeing her dead. She notes that the preacher avoids mentioning her mother's suicide, as it is a sin, but skips right to the rewards of heaven.
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