After the interview, Elaine goes to Simpson’s Department Store for food. She looks disdainfully at the displays because she thinks modern life has too many disposable items. She gets on the wrong escalator and ends up in the girls’ clothing section.
She thinks of being in elementary school and how she would peel the skin off her feet at night because the pain gave her something to cling to during the day. Elaine remembers how afraid she felt when she had daughters. She didn’t think she knew how to handle them or protect them. To her surprise, Anne and Sarah didn’t need protecting.
Cordelia announces that she, Grace, and Carol will help improve Elaine so that she becomes like other girls. Elaine starts trying to delay leaving for school in the mornings because Cordelia, Grace, and Carol spend the entire day trying to improve her. Because Carol is in the same class as Elaine, she reports on Elaine’s behavior to the others. Elaine knows she must never tell anyone about her friends’ torment. She believes that they act this way because they’re her friends and not because they hate her.
Some days, Carol takes on the role of the girl who needs to improve, but she cries too easily. Other days, the game stops entirely, but Elaine always feels that she’s being watched.
Elaine starts making excuses to go home after school and claims she needs to help her mother around the house. She likes helping with the laundry because she enjoys running the clothes through the wringer. She imagines her hand getting caught in the ringer and coming out flattened and neat. The girls eventually catch on to Elaine’s excuses and order her to ask if she can come play. Elaine’s mother gives Elaine permission.
On Sundays, Elaine goes to church with the Smeaths. Grace reports on Elaine’s behavior at Sunday school. The girls ridicule Elaine both for doing too well on her Sunday school quizzes and not well enough.