Jack has been telling his four-year-old daughter, Jo, bedtime stories and pre-Saturday-afternoon-nap stories for two years now. He improvises the stories, riffing on popular fables and didactic tales, and using the same name for his protagonist, Roger, although varying the type of animal Roger is—e.g. "(Roger Fish, Roger Squirrel, Roger Chipmunk)" (344). The general structure of Jack's stories is that Roger X runs into a problem for which he seeks the counsel of the wise old owl, and the wise owl refers Roger X to the wizard, who then prescribes a magical solution to whatever Roger's problem happens to be that day.
On this particular Saturday afternoon, Jack's wife, Claire, is downstairs painting the trim of their living-room. Jack recognizes his obligation to go downstairs and assist his pregnant wife (pregnant with their third child) in painting the house, but he also doesn't want to be rushed through his story. His story this week is about a Roger Skunk, per Jo's suggestion. Jack is excited to tell a story about Roger Skunk; he's never used "Skunk" before. So, he tells the story of a young skunk who is ostracized from the other woodland creatures at his school because of his strong odor. Roger Skunk can't bear being an outcast, so he visits the owl for advice. The owl refers him to the wizard, who magics the smell away.
At this point, Jo assumes the story is over, and she seems both satisfied with this conclusion and also not particularly captivated by the story. She seems to be distracted, not really paying attention to what Jack is saying, and Jack takes offense. He doesn't like to be ignored. Updike writes, "Jack didn't like women when they took anything for granted; he liked them apprehensive, hanging on his words" (347). Jack continues with the story, adding an unexpected fourth act to his usual structure.
Roger Skunk returns home, where his mother, also a skunk, is furious that he's lost his skunk smell. She demands that the wizard reverse the spell and give Roger his natural scent back. Jo pitches a fit at this new development, but Jack doesn't budge. He sticks to this version of the story, where Mother Skunk forces Roger to smell like a skunk again, with the message that eventually the kids at school had to accept Roger for who he is. Jo insists that the wizard should hit Mother Skunk with his wand. She insists that the next bedtime story Jack tells will be about the wizard striking Roger's mother. Jack leaves her room, exhausted and frustrated at this failure of communication.
He goes downstairs where he is greeted by his wife, Claire, pregnant and wearing one of his old shirts as a smock. She comments that this story took longer than usual, and Updike concludes with a dreary description of the woodwork in the living-room as a cage in which Jack is trapped with his wife. He writes that Jack "did not want to speak with her, work with her, touch her, anything" (349).