If I’d just had a mother so I could say Mother Mother
Quentin Compson wakes up in his dorm room at Harvard, hearing his watch ticking. He realizes that it is between seven and eight o’clock in the morning. Quentin remembers his father giving him the watch and saying that the watch might allow Quentin an occasional moment when he could forget about time. He thinks about the inevitability of his own awareness of time and remembers that St. Francis called death his “Little Sister,” though, Quentin thinks, St. Francis never had a sister. Quentin gets up briefly, then goes back to bed. He has a memory of his sister Caddy’s wedding announcement: “Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the marriage of. . . .” Caddy was married in April, just two months ago.
Quentin’s roommate Shreve interrupts Quentin’s thoughts, appearing in his doorway to remind him that the class bell will ring in only two minutes. Quentin says he had no idea it was so late, and that he will hurry to class. He tells Shreve not to wait for him. When Shreve leaves, Quentin goes to the window and watches the students rushing by. He spends a moment gazing at the unhurried Spoade, a Harvard senior who once mocked Quentin’s virginity by calling Shreve his husband. He thinks about both his and Caddy’s virginity.
Quentin suddenly remembers falsely confessing to his father that he had committed incest, and that he, not Dalton Ames, was the father of Caddy’s child. He muses on Dalton Ames’s name and remembers his father telling him that his great tragic feelings were meaningless and that there was no help to be had.
Quentin breaks the glass face of his watch against the corner of his dresser, cutting his finger in the process. The watch continues to tick. Quentin cleans up the glass and then packs a suitcase. He takes a bath and shaves. He puts the key to his trunk in an envelope along with two notes, which he addresses to his father. At the post office he mails the envelope, then tucks a similar note to Shreve inside his front pocket. Outside, Quentin looks for Deacon, a black man he knows, but when unable to find him he goes to a store for breakfast. Quentin then goes into a clock shop and shows his broken watch to the proprietor, but then tells the man not to fix it. Quentin asks if any of the clocks in the window are correct, but then asks not to be told what time it is.
Quentin buys a set of tailor’s weights, hoping they will be “heavy enough,” but he does not say for what. He goes to the train station and boards a train. As he rides, he remembers counting the seconds to himself as a child in school. He remembers that he never counted correctly, and never was able to guess exactly when the bell would ring. Quentin briefly remembers the day Benjy’s name was changed from Maury. The train stops and Quentin gets off. He walks to a bridge and looks down at the water, thinking of shadows and of drowning.
Quentin sees Gerald Bland, a swaggering Harvard student, rowing across the river. Quentin goes through a series of painful memories, thinking of Caddy’s promiscuity and her marriage to Herbert Head. He remembers his mother’s letters about Caddy and Herbert, and Herbert’s promise to give Jason a job in his bank. Quentin thinks vaguely about his mother’s pride and emptiness, musing that Caddy never had a real mother and that he himself could never turn to his mother in times of need. Quentin finds Deacon, the black man he was seeking earlier. He gives Deacon the note he has written for Shreve, and asks him to take it to Shreve tomorrow.