Joe Bonham feels nauseous and hears a ringing that sounds like a telephone. In a dream-memory, he stumbles through the shipping room of the bakery where he used to work, trying to reach the telephone. His mother is on the other end of the line. Joe tells Jody Simmons, the night foreman, that his father has died and he must go home.
Another worker drives Joe home through the Los Angeles streets, wet in wintertime. Joe's house is quiet. His father lies dead with a sheet pulled over him. Joe's oldest sister is crying in the corner, and his mother greets him. Joe takes the two women into the kitchen and then hears the men at the door who have come to remove the body. Joe takes one last look at his father's tired, 51-year- old face and feels pity for him. Joe returns to the kitchen and listens as the men place his father's body in their wicker casket and carry it downstairs. Joe wonders if the men are carrying it carefully and gently as his father would have.
The memory ends. Joe wonders how many times he will have to relive it in his state, with the endless ringing of the phone. Joe slowly realizes that he is not hung over, but actually sick. He realizes that everything is still and quiet aside from the recurring ringing. The telephone sounds particularly lonely, unlike any other telephone he has ever heard.
Joe becomes afraid, realizing that he is awake although he cannot see. As he begins to sweat, he is able to feel the bandages in which he is wrapped from head to toe. Joe soon realizes that he is deaf, as he cannot hear the pounding of his heart. Joe wonders what it will be like to communicate by writing on paper. He is thankful not to have to hear the sounds of war any longer.
Joe sinks back into memory. His mother and father were happy together and used to reminisce about their own courtship. Before they were married, his father used to telephone his mother on a party line from eighteen miles away. Neighbors would listen as his father would tell his mother that he loved her and as he would ask her to play a song on the piano. His mother would play a song for his father, while others would listen in and soon make their own requests. Joe feels sick as the sounds of the telephone and tinkling piano play in a lonesome fashion over a heavy silence in his mind.
Joe's mother would bake bread twice a week and would can fruit all autumn. Joe remembers her singing while she worked. On Saturday nights, when he was young, he used to run down to the store where his father worked late. His father would give him thirty cents from his paycheck, and Joe would order three hamburgers from the hamburger man and meet his father at home with them. In the fall, it would begin to snow, and Joe would play with his sled all day. In the spring, he and other kids would gather primroses.