Xavier tells Hester about her mother, Josie, and how she used to wander around the bog singing in gibberish and wearing very little clothing. Hester counters that she always heard that Xavier had an interest in her mother, but Xavier insists that it was always "Christian compassion." He suggests that he used to leave food and money so Hester and her mother would not starve, and suggests that Josie was negligent and abusive in many ways. Hester denies this, but Xavier continues to list all the ways that Josie failed her daughter. He talks about the fact that Josie once bit a woman's nose off, and discusses the fact that Hester's father never claimed her either.
At the end of his explanation, Xavier takes out an envelope and gives it to Hester, before leaving with Caroline. Hester sits and drinks, looking up at the sky. Josie comes on in her Communion dress, prepared to go to her father's wedding, and asks Hester whether she liked her own mother, Josie. Hester tells her, "Ya know the last time I seen me mother I was wearin' me Communion dress too, down by the caravan, a beautiful summer's night and the bog like a furnace. I wouldn't go to bed though she kept tellin' me to. I don't know why I wouldn't, I always done what she tould me. I think now—maybe I knew." Hester tells Josie that she intends to wait for her mother to return.
Act 2. Xavier Cassidy's house. The Catwoman is sitting at the table, which is laid for the wedding dinner, lapping up wine. A waiter, named Dunne, enters and makes conversation with the Catwoman. He tells her he wants to be an astronaut, but he will likely work on the bog like his parents before him. As Dunne exits, the ghost of Joseph Swane, Hester's brother, enters with blood all over him from a throat wound.
The Catwoman tells him to leave her alone, before asking who he is. He tells her he is Joseph Swane of Bergit's Island, Hester's brother. He tells her he wants to be alive again, and that he died when he was only 18. Catwoman informs Joseph that it's her day off, but promises to take him to Hester, who can also see ghosts. They go off, as Caroline and Carthage enter, discussing Caroline's elegant mother. Caroline cannot stop thinking about Hester and her desire for Josie not to come to the wedding.
Carthage tells Caroline he wants Hester to give him full custody of Josie, and Caroline becomes concerned that Carthage can think so callously of his ex-partner. She tells him that he's more attached to Hester than she had believed. Caroline expresses her feeling that their wedding is "walkin' on somewan's grave," as Mrs. Kilbride enters, wearing what looks like a wedding dress. She insists one taking photographs with Carthage, before taking photographs of her shoes, which she says cost her 150 pounds.
Monica and Xavier come in with Josie. Xavier and Monica discuss the fact that the reverend keeps a gun in the church, and then they discuss their children who are gone: Monica's son, and Xavier's son, as well as his wife. "Strange what these weddin's drag up," Monica says. Josie goes to Mrs. Kilbride and asks for her Communion money, as Catwoman and Father Willow, the reverend, enter with their arms linked. They talk about how they want to go on a trip to Burgundy.
Carthage asks Catwoman what she predicts about their marriage and she tells them she's predicted nothing. Xavier gives some welcome remarks, and Mrs. Kilbride interrupts to give her own speech about what a good boy Carthage was, especially after his father died.
Hester's pride and stubbornness are challenged a bit when she comes into contact with Xavier, who tries to remind her of her difficult childhood. While she maintains a staunch pride about her family and her upbringing—indeed, it is what motors her sense of entitlement to her house and the bog—Xavier suggests that her mother and father were both negligent and terrible parents. She suggests that she is meant to be in the Bog of Cats, as Xavier conjures images of her mother, Josie Swane, a violent drunk, who would leave Hester chained to the door while she was gone.
There is a kind of symmetry in the play between Hester's relationship with her own long-gone mother, Josie Swane, and her relationship with her daughter, whose name is also Josie. Hester seems to be a more attentive mother to Josie than her mother was to her, but she shares many of her mother's qualities—erratic behavior, impulsive rage, a tendency to drink. Furthermore, there are circumstantial parallels. Hester is struggling against a prophecy that she will either die or have to leave the Bog of Cats by the end of the day. Her mother abandoned her when she was seven years old and wearing her Communion dress, she tells her daughter—who is seven and wearing a Communion dress. This begins to make us wonder if young Josie will suffer the same cyclical fate as her mother.
In this sense, the play is about inherited trauma and the cyclical nature of pain and harm. Hester was abandoned and mistreated by her mother, but she fails to fully address this pain and so runs the risk of passing that same trauma on to her daughter. Hester's confidants, the Catwoman and Monica, as well as her enemies, Carthage, Caroline, and Xavier, all seek to convince her to break this cycle and move on. Thus, Marina Carr's play is a meditation on the ways that people have the choice to either reproduce the structures and dynamics that have made them who they are, or else try to break the chain and carve out a unique destiny for themselves, liberated from their own trauma.
The second act begins with a rather supernatural scene, that of the Catwoman sitting at the wedding table at the Cassidys', visited by the grisly ghost of Hester's brother, Joseph. The Catwoman seems to have some special connection with the ghosts that haunt the bog, a gatekeeper between the worlds of the living and of the dead. Throughout the play, it is not only the living characters who are represented as having unfinished business; the dead ones do, too. They wander into spaces looking for redemption or some kind of conclusion for the parts of their lives that have remained unfulfilled or emotionally "unsolved."
At the end of this section of the play, the wedding between Carthage and Caroline begins. It is a chaotic affair, with many different internal quibbles between characters. Additionally, Caroline fears that they are getting married in unfortunate circumstances. Seeing that Hester refuses to leave the past in the past, Caroline deduces that Carthage is still more attached to his ex than he has let on, which gives her pause. Mournfully, she realizes that her wedding day will not be the happiest day of her life, as it is traditionally expected to be. Carthage is arriving with too much baggage for that.