Charlie sleeps well. He wakes to a wasp on the open window next to his bed, and fear causes him to leap out of bed quickly. He throws a book at the insect, but the book misses the wasp and closes his window. He is unsure if he locked the wasp in or out, but he is not about to stick around to find out. In the bathroom, he washes his face and puts on clothes from the day before so as to avoid returning to his bedroom. When he walks into the kitchen, his mom scolds him with her back turned and tells him that he has to go and change. He lets his silence respond for him, and his mother takes this as an acceptance even though he has no intention of changing. As he eats his breakfast, he notices that his father is quieter than usual. Charlie’s father reads the newspaper, covered in headlines about the war in Vietnam, in deep silence. Charlie’s mother tells him that he must stay either at home or at Jeffery’s house that day but won’t give him an explanation of why. Although Charlie argues with his mother, he soon realizes that she won’t budge, so he again falls silent. As soon as his mother leaves the kitchen, he gets up from the table and sneaks out the front door.
Charlie is turned away from Jeffery’s house because Jeffery is grounded once his mother learns the boy was using curse words the day before. Instead of going home and facing his mother, or the wasp in his bedroom, Charlie walks toward town. He ends up at the library, a place he hasn’t been much in recent months due to his newfound access to his dad’s personal library. The place is comforting to Charlie, who feels “a little like [he’s] visiting an elderly aunt” (82). He removes a number of books from the true-crime section. He is looking for clues about Laura’s murder. His first step is to check who took out the books before him, but he finds no discernible pattern. As Charlie reads, he learns more about prolific murders in the past. He is fascinated by what he reads, but the murders seem too far away in place and time. This leads him to newspaper articles about a more recent incident in a town nearby, where a man, called “the Nedlands Monster” by the press, killed seven people before he was caught and hanged.
Charlie is struck by the clear panic he reads in the newspaper articles about each of the killings, and wonders at how it doesn’t abate, even after the killer is caught and hanged. Charlie can’t imagine why a person might be compelled to murder in such a way, why he would want “a whole city to close in on itself” (83). He reads about the man’s troubled childhood, where he was bullied at home and at school, and this makes him think of Jasper and Jeffery. It occurs to Charlie “that people can do this to each other” (84). He asks himself, but finds no answer: “How thin is the line? Is it something we all have in us?” (84). He comes across an article about a sixteen-year-old girl named Sylvia Likens, who was tortured by a caretaker for weeks before she finally died. What strikes Charlie is the fact that the whole community knew this girl was experiencing the worst of evils, and that in fact many members of the community, including children, participated in her torture. Her little sister, who wasn’t confined to the home like Sylvia was, did not ask for help once. The neighborhood knew, but “they let it happen” (87). Why? Did they not care? Charlie becomes overwhelmed and leaves the library.
He decides to stop at the bookstore on his way home, and at the bookstore, he finds Eliza Wishart. He is automatically nervous and awkward around the girl he has a crush on. Eliza tells him that she has to get home, as she has just slipped out in order to get to the bookstore, and offers Charlie the opportunity to walk her home. He is nervous and self-conscious as he walks with her through town, but he is able to muster up the nerves to begin a conversation. They decide they would like to live in New York City, and Eliza tells Charlie that she’ll live in Manhattan, and he will live in Brooklyn, “and we’ll meet at the Plaza Hotel for high tea” (91). They walk into Eliza’s neighborhood, where the houses get bigger and the lawns are “thick and well kept” (92). Eliza tells Charlie of her sister: “She’s gone missing… We don’t know where she is” (92). Charlie doesn’t know what to say, so he stays quiet. Eliza tells Charlie that her parents aren’t coping well, and that police have been at her house all morning, which is why she left. She seems to be in shock, and as she speaks it seems as though “she’s describing someone else’s family” (92). Eliza tells Charlie that the police don’t have any idea where Laura might be, but that they are in the process of making a search party. Before long Eliza’s mother has caught sight of them, and she storms over. She is furious and sobbing and rebukes her daughter for leaving the house without telling anyone. She slaps Eliza and sends Charlie on his way, but as mother and daughter head inside, Charlie can see that their dynamic has shifted, and “Eliza is now leading her back. Her arm around her waist. Leaning in” (94). As he watches Eliza’s retreating back, it occurs to Charlie that she might know something.
Charlie is also slapped by his mother upon arriving home. She calls out to Charlie’s father to tell him that Charlie has come home, and then hits her son again. She is furious that Charlie has left after she specifically told him not to, especially since he stayed out for a number of hours. She tells her son that Laura has gone missing, and when he responds “Missing or abducted?” in an effort to understand what she’s heard, she hits him again (95). Charlie pushes her off of him, which shocks her enough to send him to his room. On his way to his room, he curses at his mom, something he has never done before. He slams the door and wedges it shut with a book, which keeps his mother away for only a short amount of time. She returns with a shovel and brings Charlie into the yard, where she uses it to outline a circle about the diameter of her son’s arm span. She instructs her son to dig and is so furious at his protests that he does. Charlie is also furious: “I stab, lever, and lift, cursing my mother in the dirtiest language I can muster” (97). As he works, he thinks about Eliza and the mess he is in. He develops blisters, and as the first one bursts, he sees a centipede. This is enough to make him attempt to quit, but his mother is not having it. She makes him continue to dig.
By twilight, Charlie has been digging for hours and the hole reaches his ribcage. His mother emerges from the house, and Charlie doesn’t look at her. He’s hoping for some acknowledgment of his hard work, as he’s proud of his achievement, and some part of him “craves her approval” (103). His mother tells him he can stop digging and then points at the pile of dirt: “Now: fill it in” (103). Charlie is horrified and his mother seems to be pleased with herself. He tries to say no, that he won’t do it, but his mother tells him he can choose to fill it in, or he can choose to spend the rest of the summer in his room without his books. When he thinks his mother has left, he climbs out of the hole to begin filling it in, cursing her under his breath. She hears this, so she takes away his shovel and instructs him to fill the hole back in with his hands. By the time it is dark, Charlie has almost finished. He is so exhausted he can’t stifle a groan every time he reaches for a new handful of dirt. His father comes out into the yard and tells him he can stop the task.
Charlie’s father attempts to reason with him. He talks to Charlie “like a contemporary. A colleague,” which lessens the boy’s anger considerably (105). Charlie is pleased to be spoken to “like [he’s] smart enough to keep up” (105). He tells his son that they’re just worried, that something very troubling has just happened in their community. He tells his son to accept the rest of his mother’s punishment, which is for Charlie to go to bed without dinner that night. When his mother leaves for her bridge game, Charlie will be allowed to eat by his father. Charlie’s father tells him that his mother just wants to feel respected, and that there are more diplomatic ways for him to get what he wants: “Concession doesn’t necessarily mean defeat, Charlie” (107).
Charlie’s dad has just spent the afternoon helping organize the search party for Laura. Charlie’s dad thinks the girl will show up soon and hopes that the search party will find her that day or that she will come home of her own accord. Unlike Charlie, his father knew Laura a bit, as he had been her English teacher. He thinks it is in character for her to disappear, as she is very independent, and “there’s something about her that seems troubled and volatile… hiking on out of here on her own sounds like something she might try to do” (108). He asks his father if anyone thinks she’s been kidnapped or murdered, to which Charlie’s father responds that they are all hoping for the best, but that “with things like this when people don’t really understand what has happened, they’ll assume the worst long before they have to” (109). The assurances that Laura will turn up don’t make Charlie feel any better, because “it’s her turning up that [he’s] most worried about” (110).
That night, Charlie wonders why he hasn’t heard from Jasper yet. He leaves his window open, just in case. Earlier, he had asked his father about what he was writing in his office all those hours he spent locked away. His father denied writing anything, and now Charlie nurses his hurt as to why his father might lie. He wants to show his father that although “life might be easier if you give in a little,” it is “better if you hold on to something so hard you can’t give it up” (112). His mother arrives home in a car he doesn’t recognize. She is laughing, and Charlie thinks she might be drunk. Charlie watches her joy leave her face as she turns back to their home.
This chapter shows significant changes in Charlie’s character. The most demonstrative of the changes is an increased willingness to rebel against his parents. At breakfast, Charlie is resentful of his mother and feels as though he can never win with her: “I hate this rhetorical standoff. There is never any winning. I can’t even forge a stalemate” (79). But his mother’s usual methods of controlling his behavior don’t seem to work that day. Charlie does what he has to do to get her to stop demanding things of him even though he has no intention of meeting her demands. Although it is clear that his parents are dealing with the news of Laura’s disappearance, he doesn’t have empathy for the worry they might be feeling. He is full of anger and rebellion: “At the moment, I hate them both like I hate wasps: my father for being bewildered and useless, my mother for flying the red flag” (79). This indicates changing attitudes in the boy. First, it shows how much the incident with Jasper and Laura has changed Charlie’s self-perception, as he is unable to allow himself to be treated as he has been in the past. It also shows how he has become disillusioned with his parents as well. No matter how much love and protection they offer him, it will never be enough to undo the trauma he has just endured. This is indicated in his decision to walk to town against his mother’s wishes: “Our quiet, clean street belies its weight of oppression. An’s garden, the creeping heat, my wasp-hive bedroom, the brick in my belly, the she-devil awaiting my demise at home” (81).
Charlie’s research is an important part of the chapter because reading is how Charlie learns about many difficult aspects of life. It is as though he is going back to an old habit as he approaches the library in search of information about Laura’s death. At first, Charlie feels fascinated by what he learns, but as the murders come closer to home, that fascination becomes a horror. Charlie is stuck: he doesn’t understand why someone might want to terrorize a community as a killer does. He wonders if the actions of murderers can be explained away by the situations in which they were raised, and then wonders about his friends who also face adversity. Could they be capable of evil? He wonders: “Is it something we all have in us?” (84). In one case, a man who murdered seven people says “I just wanted to hurt somebody” when asked why he did so (85). Charlie doesn’t think this is a sufficient explanation and is unable to accept that there isn’t some larger pattern or meaning in the terror. Later, when he is digging the hole in his backyard, he is able to gain more insight into the serial killer's potential motives. His powerless situation made him wonder if the killer himself wasn’t looking for some power: “maybe it was that sense of power that he wanted. After a life of being force-fed shit, of beatings and of being trodden, he wanted to turn it right round on itself” (102). Charlie wonders if maybe the killer wanted to hurt people because he had been hurt.
Learning about the girl named Sylvia’s death also affects Charlie deeply. He doesn’t understand how a whole community could fail to save the girl from her suffering. The fact that a whole community was complicit in this torture deeply disturbs him, especially since other children participate in causing her pain. Although Charlie doesn’t acknowledge it at the time, this sets up an interesting tension between respecting what goes on behind closed doors and protecting children that might be victimized. As Charlie’s father talks to him about the kind of girl Laura was, he refuses to speculate about what kind of home life she might have had, even though he seems to realize that there was trouble at home. Eliza, too, hints at this trouble when discussing how her parents were dealing with her sister’s disappearance. While we don’t know yet what kind of trouble the Wishart girls face, Charlie does ask an important question: at what point is intervention not only right but necessary? Reading about Sylvia disturbs Charlie so greatly that he wishes he could go back on opening the window for Jasper: “I want to wash my shaking hands of this… I’d tear it all out of me in a second. I’d choose to forget” (88). This mental process highlights how many people wish to dissociate from traumatizing experiences, especially when they have no reason to involve themselves.
In this chapter, we learn more about Eliza’s character, as we see her cope in the days following her sister’s disappearance. Although in the past she has always seemed to Charlie to be larger than, now she seems smaller and more vulnerable as she confides in him about her sister. Eliza’s behavior is strange for someone who has just lost her sister: she is calm, like “she’s describing someone else’s family” (92). Charlie and Eliza can’t look each other in the eye, which is significant, because it hints that both kids are hiding something from each other. Charlie is hiding the fact that he knows exactly where Laura is at that point in time, and Eliza is hiding that she knows what led Laura to be there. Eliza is “passive and calm,” even as her mother slaps her and shakes her by the shoulders. She is composed in her lies to her mother, and in many ways acts as a seasoned liar would. She is “unmoved” when her mother slaps her across the face. Although Charlie doesn’t pick up on this, this is proof that Eliza has experience receiving physical blows from her parents. Her behavior can be compared to Charlie’s, who shies away from his mother’s slaps and is not convincing when he claims to have been at Jeffrey’s house all day. Eliza’s behavior convinces Charlie that she knows something about her sister’s disappearance: “Eliza may not know what I know, but I think she has something up her sleeve” (98).
Finally, Charlie’s relationship with his mother is an important feature of this chapter. A resentment that has been building for some time seems to bubble over in this chapter. When Charlie’s mother responds with “I don’t care,” about his fears of the wasp in his room, he responds, “Well, that’s been pretty obvious for some time” (95). And after his punishment is complete, Charlie tells his dad that his mother doesn’t offer him anything a maid couldn’t. While this comes across as sexist and unappreciative, it is telling of how starved for affection Charlie is from his mother. In this chapter, Charlie fights back against her in new ways, including cursing at her for the first time. He is frustrated by she must always “win” and exert her power over him. He is also frustrated at the way she has changed in recent years: “My mother has become so hard” (99). He claims that she has lost all the warmth that used to lie beneath her cool exterior, and that she is unhappy with her life. She’s angry: “The varnish is tarnished. She can’t be bothered retouching the gloss. She’s at the end of her tether” (100). Charlie suspects that one day, his mother will go and visit her family in the city and decide not to come back at all. He suspects she is ashamed of both him and his father, and this makes him resent her—his farther is “infuriating,” but he’s also “a good an honest person,” and Charlie himself never asked to be born (101).