Rachel is a young girl who has just turned eleven; today is her birthday. She begins the story by explaining the ways in which birthdays are complicated. Your new age includes all the ages you have been before, and even when you turn eleven, you don’t feel like you’re eleven. That takes time. You are still all the ages you have been, so those ages show up when you make a mistake, or are scared, or want to cry. 

Rachel wishes to be “one hundred and two” when her teacher, Mrs. Price, asks whose red sweater it is that has been sitting in the coatroom for several weeks. Mrs. Price puts the sweater on Rachel’s desk, as every other student says that it doesn’t belong to them. Rachel doesn’t say anything to her teacher, but catalogs the details of the sweater and thinks she wouldn’t claim it even if it was hers.

Another student says that she thinks it belongs to Rachel, and Mrs. Price agrees, even as Rachel protests. She knows that the sweater isn’t hers, but because the teacher is older and an authority figure, Rachel’s protests are ignored. Rachel pushes the sweater to the edge of her desk as the teacher moves on to instruction. Rachel closes her eyes and tries to think positive thoughts about the party she will have with her family at home this evening. 

When she opens her eyes, she sees the sweater on her desk, and any good feelings she has managed to muster evaporate. She imagines ways to get rid of it at recess: throwing it over a fence or into an alley or leaving it at a parking meter. Her teacher sees it hanging off her desk and insists that Rachel put the sweater on. Rachel tries again to protest, but to no avail. She dutifully puts on the sweater, distressed by its smell and texture, and imagines the germs that might be on it. 

Rachel breaks down into sobs at her desk, crying and shaking. Just before lunch, another girl remembers that the sweater belongs to her. Rachel takes it off and gives it to her. Mrs. Price does not acknowledge that anything unpleasant has taken place. 

Rachel tries to remind herself that there will be cake and presents at home this evening. But it is too late. Her experiences during the day at school have spoiled any excitement she could muster earlier. Now she simply wants to be anywhere else, far from the humiliation she has experienced.