A mother is contacted by an unnamed "you"—a guidance counselor at her daughter's school or a teacher—informing her that her daughter is in trouble. While she irons, the mother works through her response to the summons, and has flashbacks to her daughter's childhood. Some of the things that the mother remembers in Emily's past include:
- Her father left her when she was only eight months old;
- Her mother worked for the first six years of Emily's life;
- Emily was sent away to live with relatives because her mother could not work and take care of her at the same time;
- Emily was sent away to a convalescent home where she was deeply unhappy.