Some time later, Blanche is writing a letter to Shep Huntleigh, her former beau, threatening coquettishly to pay him a visit. Upstairs, Eunice and Steve can be heard fighting.
Stanley asks Blanche if she knows a fellow named Shaw. This Shaw is an acquaintance of Stanley's, and he claims that he knew a loose woman who used to keep rooms at a hotel called the Flamingo in Laurel. Blanche says she knows of the Flamingo by reputation and would not set foot in it, but the accusation has been made. Stanley leaves.
In a panic, Blanche asks Stella what she has heard regarding her reputation. Blanche admits that she misbehaved somewhat after the loss of Belle Reve. She feels that she is too soft and no longer attractive enough for her softness to work. Stella fixes Blanche a drink while Blanche gets sentimental – her behavior is somewhat erratic in this scene. She insists that she won't overstay her welcome at the Kowalskis, and screams when she drops a drink.
Blanche talks about her relationship with Mitch, and how she hasn't told him her real age and won't let him do more than give her a goodnight kiss. She wants to bait him into marriage, for security. Stella assures her that it will all work out, and leaves.
A paperboy stops by to take a collection, and Blanche is immediately interested. He is wary of her advances, but she is drawn to his youth, and kisses him briefly. He runs off. Mitch appears for their date, and Blanche greets him gaily.
Blanche's deceptions begin to crumble in this scene, as Stanley reveals his investigations into her background. He comes close to an outright accusation, but chooses to instead make sure that Blanche knows that he knows, and to let her sweat while wondering exactly how much he has been told. Blanche's shadowy past has been foreshadowed since early in the play, but now we begin to see the truth about her background. Blanche is the last member of that long line of aristocrats with "epic fornications" that led so disastrously to the family's downfall. Stella escaped both the responsibility for the family's estate and the burden of its common sin, while Blanche is truly one of the family.
Blanche expresses to Stella her anxiety about her reputation – she does not want to confess, but wants to find out what Stella already knows. And, tellingly, rather than apologizing she rationalizes her behavior. In a moment of self-awareness – of seeing realistically rather than romantically – she admits that she is a soft person, not hard or self-sufficient, but with her waning attractiveness she doesn't know how much longer she can sustain the illusion. Or, in her interesting choice of words, how much longer she "can turn the trick." This choice of idiom implies that Blanche is prostituting herself – not literally, most likely, but rather that she is using her body and her charms to buy stability and comfort and association in a cruel world, and she is aware that this is a commodity with its expiration date fast approaching.
But this moment of poetic lucidity is followed by a moment of imbalance, as Blanche shows uncomfortably strong emotion for her sister and then cries out as her drink spills. Stella sees for the first time that her sister is perhaps not quite mentally stable, as her emotions ride far out of sync with the content of the exchange. The heightened unreality that will characterize the tone of the second half of the play first begins to show here. Although we do not yet hear the Varsouviana or see the shadows on the wall, the cracked inside of Blanche's mind is beginning to show from her behavior on stage.
Blanche blames her nerves on worry about her relationship with Mitch, making clear her intention to win his hand, to turn one last trick with her faded propriety and buy herself some permanent stability. Her affection for Mitch is real, but her concerns for her personal welfare and security are more real, and they drive her to manipulate Mitch into behaving as she desires.
Her intentions are undermined in the last part of the scene, before Mitch arrives, when we see a glimpse of just what it means when Blanche says she "wasn't so good the last two years or so." Culture looks more kindly on female nymphomaniacs than male – Blanche does not appear to be a predator as she flirts with the paperboy, so much as sad and pathetic. She is drawn to children, children who are innocent and gay as she imagines herself to be. Trapped emotionally in a fictional past – was her childhood so innocent with the epic fornications of her family, or her youthful love so pure with her "degenerate" husband? - she grasps at the straws of youth that she sees in the paperboy and countless other youths before him.