Not long after her eighth birthday, Elaine’s family moves to Toronto, where they’ve bought a house. Although Elaine imagines their new house will look like the perfect homes in her reader, the new place is unfinished, unfurnished, and surrounded by mud. Instead of being excited about having a room of her own, Elaine feels lonely and isolated without her brother nearby.
The family has moved to Toronto because Elaine’s father has become a professor in a university zoology department instead of a field researcher. Although Elaine’s parents used to dress similarly, her father begins to dress more formally, while Elaine’s mother begins to wear more traditionally feminine clothes.
On Saturdays, Elaine and Stephen go with their father to the university zoology department to keep them from bothering their mother. They love the huge building, which is full of many scientific curiosities, from snapping turtles to preserved ox eyes. Elaine and Stephen love looking at things under the microscopes that they know they shouldn’t–snot, scabs, and toe jam.
In the present, Elaine thinks about how difficult it is for her to get out of bed because of how depressed she feels. Lonely, she tried to call Ben the previous night, but heard only her own voice on the answering machine. She considers that if she were to die, her voice on the answering machine message would still linger.
Elaine visits the fashion district and decides she needs a new dress for the opening because the black dress she’d brought now feels too depressing. She considers a pink dress because she’s heard pink will make your enemies weaker. At a boutique, Elaine brings three dresses into the dressing room. She catches someone trying to snatch her wallet from her purse from under the dressing room door. She slaps the hand and hears giggling teenagers run away. She blames Cordelia.
Elaine and Stephen begin to attend school. Life at school divides boys and girls in a way Elaine has never experienced before. For the first time, she must wear a skirt, and the girls and boys play in separate parts of the schoolyard. When the school bell rings, the boys and girls must line up separately and enter through two separate doors labeled by gender, even though these doors lead to the same place. Everyone claims that the punishment for going in through the wrong door is a whipping.