Winnie, a woman in her 50s, is buried waist-deep in a mound of scorched earth, with just a large, black shopping bag and a collapsed parasol. Behind her and hidden from view sleeps Willie. A bell rings and wakes her Winnie. She recites a prayer and goes through several cleaning rituals—brushing her teeth, etc.—with implements from the bag. She laments that "poor Willie" has no interest in life, but concedes that his constant sleeping is a gift she wishes she had. She tells herself that she must not complain, as she has much to be thankful for.
Winnie tries to read something written on the toothbrush handle, but can only make out "genuine pure." She pokes Willie with the parasol to wake him. She drops it, but Willie, still hidden, hands it back. She removes a revolver from the bag, kisses it and replaces it, then takes out a bottle of red medicine. She drinks from it and tosses it in Willie's direction, where it shatters. Willie sits up, and Winnie turns to see blood trickling from his bald head. Winnie tells him to put on his underwear, which he does not do. She proclaims it will be "another happy day" as he reads a newspaper. Willie reads out a headline that announces the death in the bathtub of a priest, and reads about a job opening for youth. Winnie uses a magnifying glass and finally makes out "genuine pure hog's setae," or bristles, on the toothbrush handle. Winnie sees that Willie has a postcard, and asks to look at it. She is appalled by the picture and returns it to him.
Winnie regrets not letting Willie sleep, and wishes she could tolerate being alone. She says that if Willie died or left her, she would never say another word. She anxiously wonders if she combed her hair and brushed her teeth, and locates the brush and comb in her bag. She resolves to "brush and comb them later." She stumbles when she wonders if hair is referred to as "them" or "it," and asks Willie, who answers "It." Winnie is overjoyed that Willie is speaking, and pronounces it a "happy day." She tells Willie to crawl back into his hole to avoid the sun, which he does. Winnie thanks him for reassuring her that he can hear her, as otherwise she would have only the bag. She asks Willie if he will leave her soon, but he does not answer. She says the earth around her is tightening, and wonders if she has put on weight.
She sees an ant on the ground and watches it carry a little white ball through the grass. Willie says it was eggs, and then says "Formication." Willie breaks into laughter. She joins him, but they alternate who is laughing. She says there is no better way to "magnify the Almighty" then by laughing at his little jokes, then wonders if she and Willie were laughing at different things.
Winnie asks Willie if she were ever "lovable," but he does not respond. Though it is getting late, she says it is too soon for her song. She reminds herself not to "overdo" the bag, but to use it and think about the point in the future "when words must fail." She reaches into the bag and accidentally takes out the revolver, which she disgustedly throws back. She inspects the revolver again and asks Willie if he remembers how he used to ask her to keep it away from him before he killed himself. Winnie says that she is tired of Willie, and she'll leave the revolver out from now on. She discusses her feeling that without being held down she would be sucked upward, and asks Willie if he feels that way. He does not understand, even after she explains it.
Winnie hoists, with difficulty, her parasol. She ruminates on the danger of long days with little action or conversation. She says she cannot put the parasol down—she says she requires some change in the world for to move again. The parasol catches on fire, and Winnie throws it behind her to extinguish it. She then considers that the words "temperate" and "torrid" are "empty words," as are her memories of when she had the use of her legs. She reflects that if the earth ever covers her breasts, it will be as if no one has ever seen them. She remarks that the parasol will be back again tomorrow in perfect form. Winnie saddens and takes out a music-box from her bag, and plays the waltz duet from Franz Lehár's 1905 operetta, The Merry Widow, which Willie accompanies without words at the end. She becomes happy again, and when Willie refuses an encore, she discusses the difficulty of singing when one's heart is not in it.
Winnie feels she is being watched by someone, and as she files her long nails, she thinks about a man named Shower—or possibly Cooker—with his fiancée and tells Willie her image of them: they hold hands, carrying bags in their free hands, and stare at Winnie while they question Winnie's placement in the ground, fight, argue about Willie's and Winnie's usefulness to each other, contemplate digging Winnie out, then leave.
Winnie sees that Willie is trying to crawl out of his whole. She observes that he is no longer a good crawler, and urges him on as he progresses to his spot behind the mound. She tells him she dreams he would come to the other side so she could see him, but knows he cannot. She reads her toothbrush handle, with some difficulty, and asks what a hog is. Willie tells her, and she becomes happy. He reads the newspaper and reads out the job announcements, which are the same as before. Winnie tells herself to sing, but she does not sing, and then to pray, which she also does not do.
The next day, Winnie is covered up to her neck in the mound and cannot move her head. A bell rings and she opens her eyes. Pausing continuously, she tries to talk to Willie, who doesn't respond, and surmises that Willie has died, or left her "like the others." She saddens over her current condition, and grows anxious over the absence of her arms, breasts, and Willie.
The bell rings, and Winnie asks Willie questions and, getting no response, says it's like him to not have an opinion. She recounts the story of a young girl, Mildred, who was undressing her doll in the middle of the night. Winnie reprimands Willie for not paying attention, then fearfully questions if he may be stuck in the hole. She remarks on the brief sadness she experiences after singing. She imagines Shower/Cooker with his woman, both older, as they discuss Winnie's buried body. Then they fight and leave, still hand in hand and with their bags. Winnie resumes her story about Mildred, who dropped her doll when a mouse ran up her leg. Mildred's whole family came running, but Winnie says it was too late.
Winnie sees Willie crawling toward her in a fashionable outfit. She says it reminds her of the day he proposed to her. He drops his hat and gloves and crawls toward her at Winnie's delighted urgings. He whispers "Win." She grows happy and sings the waltz duet "I Love You So" that the music box played before. She closes her eyes, the bell rings, and she reopens them. She smiles at Willie, who looks at her, and she stops smiling. They continue looking at each other through a long pause.