The next day at school, Sal watches in sympathy as Phoebe, so obviously sad and worried, tries to act normally. In English class that day, Mr. Birkway has his students draw their souls in fifteen seconds. The class is surprised by how similar the drawings are; each has a central, basic shape with a design in the middle. Sal and Ben discover that they have made the same drawing, a circle with a maple leaf inside.
Sal spends the night at Phoebe's, and in the morning looks on as Phoebe tries to convince Mr. Winterbottom that she is too sick to go to school. Everyone rushes around, clearly missing Mrs. Winterbottom's presence. Sal remembers that her household felt the same way when her mother left. At school, Phoebe finds herself lying to her friends about Mrs. Winterbottom's whereabouts and snapping at Sal when Sal tries to comfort her. Still sympathetic, Sal recalls the times she has lied rather than divulge what has happened to her mother. On the way home, Sal silences the friends trying to pry more information from Phoebe by repeating the message stating that everyone has their own agenda. At home, Phoebe, convinced that Mrs. Winterbottom has been kidnapped, roams the house looking for clues, and Sal recalls manufacturing a story that her mother was wandering around Lewiston, Idaho with amnesia. When Prudence and Mr. Winterbottom arrive at home, they find that Mrs. Winterbottom has carefully stored casseroles with baking directions in the freezer for her family, further evidence, Phoebe's father argues, that she left intentionally.
When Sal starts off for home, Mrs. Cadaver calls out from next door, inviting Sal to have dessert with her and her father. Sal refuses flatly. When her father meekly joins her on the walk home, foregoing dessert with Margaret, Sal feels as if she has won a small victory. Sal tells her father about Phoebe's theories about Mrs. Winterbottom's departure, asks her father if someone possibly forced Momma to go to Idaho, and idly wishes that they had stopped her from going. Her father sadly tells her that they had had to allow her mother to do as she pleased. They sit miserably on the porch step, looking out into the night.
As Sal and her grandparents approach the Badlands, Sal reveals to us that her mother chose to travel to Lewiston to visit a long-lost cousin who, she thought, could help her remember who she was before she became a wife and a mother. Sal and her grandparents stop the car and look at the jagged beauty of the Badlands. Gram's breathing is troubled, and Gramps spreads out a blanket for her. Sal sees a pregnant woman, which triggers another, crucial memory of her mother. When her mother was eight months pregnant with Sal's little sister, Sal fell from the high branches of a tree a good distance from the farmhouse, broke her leg, and fell unconscious. Sal's mother found her, carried her home, and rushed her to the hospital to be fitted in a cast. At home later that night, Sal's mother went into a difficult labor. The doctor arrived too late: the umbilical cord had strangled the baby, and Sal's mother was hemorrhaging badly. Both she and Sal ask to hold the dead baby, and her father tells the guilt- ridden Sal that carrying her to the house had not caused her mother to go into an early labor. Sal's mother had to undergo a hysterectomy to save her life.
Looking out at the Badlands, Sal finds herself remembering a Native American legend her mother had told her. Napi, who created humans, decided whether they would live forever or die by choosing a rock and dropping it into the river. If the stone floated, human beings would live forever; if it sank, they would die. Of course, the stone sank. People, Sal sadly acknowledges, die.
That night, the travelers, much to their amusement, sleep on waterbeds at a hotel. Sal imagines she is floating down a river on a raft and dreams about her mother, who is asking how it is possible that they are all dead. The next day Sal once again takes up Phoebe's story. Another message, explaining that "you can't keep the birds of happiness from flying overhead, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair," appears on Phoebe's doorstep. Phoebe continues to lie about Mrs. Winterbottom's whereabouts at school. In English class, Ben delivers an oral report on the myth of Prometheus. Prometheus, a member of the Greek pantheon, stole fire from the Olympian gods and gave it to humans. As punishment for this infraction, Zeus sent man a troublesome woman, Pandora, and chained Prometheus to a rock, where vultures ate at his liver for all eternity. That night, Sal eats supper at Mary Lou's, and her father blandly tells Sal he will eat at Margaret's.