Mrs. Foster has a pathological fear of being late. Even the thought of missing a train or a plane causes Mrs. Foster's eye to twitch uncontrollably, so Mrs. Foster is ready at least half an hour before she must leave for any trip. The narrator introduces ambiguity by stating that Mr. Foster, who is irritated by his wife's behavior, may sometimes be purposefully late by a minute or two in order to irritate his wife with a "nasty private little torture of his own" (447). But, Mr. Foster understands that his wife will not call out his behavior because he has "trained her too well," (447) even though he could drive Mrs. Foster into hysterics with his lateness. But, though Mrs. Foster is a doting and loving wife, and has been for over thirty years, she is still beginning to believe that Mr. Foster may be consciously tormenting her with his lateness.
Mr. Foster, who is nearly 70, lives with his wife in a gloomy six-story house on East 62nd Street in New York City. On this particular morning, Mrs. Foster and her four servants are bustling about their house, preparing for her flight as her husband sits in his study and does not get ready. Mrs. Foster barely persuades her husband to allow her to take this trip, so she frantically paces around the room as she fears he will make her miss her flight.
On this trip, Mrs. Foster plans to visit her daughter in Paris. Her daughter is married to a Frenchman who Mrs. Foster doesn't really care for, but Mrs. Foster yearns to see her three grandchildren whom she only knows from photographs. Mrs. Foster's secret wish is to move to Paris, though she knows that Mr. Foster would never leave New York.
A few minutes before they must leave to make the plane, Mr. Foster steps out of his study and agrees to travel to the airport. After he washes his hands, he slowly descends the steps and gets into the car with Mrs. Foster, noting that her flight may be canceled due to the foggy weather. They do not talk until they cross over to Long Island, and Mr. Foster explains that he will live in the club during Mrs. Foster's trip, leaving the house empty. Mr. Foster also refuses to write to Mrs. Foster during her trip, and after the fog intensifies, he insists that she should not have bothered leaving the house as the flight will be delayed. Though Mrs. Foster arrives on time, her flight is postponed until the fog clears.
Mr. Foster decides to spend the night at home after her flight is postponed until 11 AM the following morning. Mr. Foster orders a car for 9AM the following morning, but insists that the car drive him to the club before dropping her off at the airport. The club is out of the way of the airport, but she relents and agrees to drop him off there.
In the morning, Mr. Foster is late for their car by about 20 minutes. Mrs. Foster notices that his legs are like goat legs in his pants, and right before they must leave, he remembers that he wants to give her a present, running back into the house. Mrs. Foster finds the box wedged into the seat of the car, as if someone had pushed it in, and runs to open the door so she can get her husband and arrive at the airport on time.
Before Mrs. Foster can open the door, she stops, standing motionless and tense for ten seconds and listening behind the door. Then, she springs to life and orders the chauffeur to drive to the airport without her husband. The chauffeur initially pushes back, but she convinces him to drive to the airport and she catches her plane with a few minutes to spare.
On her flight, Mrs. Foster feels very powerful and calm, and in Paris she finally meets her grandchildren. Every Tuesday, she writes her husband a letter. Once her six weeks in Paris end, she returns to her husband faithfully.
When she arrives at the airport in Idlewild, there is no car to greet her. She takes a taxi back to her home and realizes that New York is much colder and dirtier than Paris. At her door, she rings the bell but there is no answer. She opens the door with her key, and immediately sees a large pile of mail on the floor. She notices that the house is dark and cold, and more oppressive than usual due to a strange odor in the air.
Mrs. Foster turns the corner and investigates the elevator, and turns into her husband's study. She calls an elevator repairman since the elevator is stuck between the 2nd and 3rd floors, and waits patiently at her husband's desk until the repairman arrives.
In "The Way Up to Heaven," Mrs. Foster is an obedient wife that desperately fears being late. She suspects her husband is conspiring to make her late, but he knows she will not call him out, as she is faithful and respectful to him, fulfilling her expected gender role. When Mrs. Foster desperately wants to arrive at the airport on time so she can make a flight to see her daughter, her husband finally agrees to leave on time. But, like a seer, he predicts that her flight will be postponed due to the fog. Her husband's prediction is almost like a curse, as his punctuality is only predicated on his ability to correctly predict the postponement of the flight. The following day, as Mrs. Foster attempts to leave for her postponed flight, her husband again tries to make her late by insisting that he be dropped off at the club before she arrives at the airport, then attempting to retrieve a gift from their house, further delaying her. But, when Mrs. Foster leaves him and drives to the airport, she breaks with her obedience, and chooses to see her daughter and her grandchildren instead of continuing to humor her husband.
The first page of this story introduces the possible seeds of rebellion, as her husband's constant lateness "could drive her nearly into hysterics" (447) even though he believes that he has disciplined her too well for her to ever speak up. This possibility of hysteria, of a break from reality, is acted out later in the story as Mrs. Foster leaves her husband in New York. As Mrs. Foster listens at their door, something drives leave her husband behind. The story later suggests that Mrs. Foster left her husband in the elevator shaft as she calmly and tranquilly travels to Paris to see her daughter. Mrs. Foster's peaceful demeanor, and her weekly letter writing, allow her to play a faithful wife. But Mrs. Foster's break from her expected domestic roles leads her to finally find peace by breaking from her previous reality, even though she likely allows her husband to die in an elevator shaft in order to achieve this freedom.
Mrs. Foster's eye twitch further displays the troublesome effects that lateness has on her physical and mental state. Since she feels lateness as an intense eye twitch, and has "an almost pathological fear" (447) of being late, it is clear that Mrs. Foster's lateness is immensely distressing to her. In contrast, the calmness that Mrs. Foster feels once she leaves her husband shows that she can finally breathe once she breaks from his control and decides to arrive at the airport on time, rather than allowing him to cause her immense internal and external discomfort.
Right before she must leave, Mrs. Foster stops at her door, listens intently, and quickly turns around. Mrs. Foster hears a strange noise, and, in leaving him stranded in the elevator, seems to meet her husband's cruelty with her own cruel act. This act comes as particularly fitting revenge for her husband's equally passive-aggressive cruelty in making her late. When her husband is trapped in the elevator shaft, she has the chance to free him immediately. But, when she eventually calls the elevator repairman, she frees her husband belatedly. Mrs. Foster achieves a balance between her lateness and her husband's lateness through this act, exacting a specific kind of revenge.
In this story, Mrs. Foster describes Mr. Foster's legs as goat-like. This description establishes a connection between her husband and the devil. Indeed, the pleasure that her husband derives from torturing her with his lateness, and the belief he holds that she is too well-trained ever to confront him, suggests a demonic control that he attempts to hold over her. Though Mr. Foster knows how troublesome lateness is to his wife, he continues to demonically control her until she finally stops obeying him. Mr. Foster's demonic and authoritarian control over Mrs. Foster ends when she leaves him behind.
Finally, Mr. Foster's greed, cruelty, and self-centered nature establishes Mrs. Foster as a protagonist in the story, despite her final deadly act. The story begins with a suggestion that it is "hard to believe that [Mr. Foster] wasn't purposely inflicting a nasty private little torture of his own" (447) on his wife. Mrs. Foster later contends with the fact that her husband would never agree to move to Paris to be near his daughter because he does not want to leave his business, despite the fact that they are quite wealthy and he is nearly 70. This shows that Mr. Foster's greed is more important to him than his only child. His greed also extends to their servant, Walker, as Mr. Foster decides to move to the club and ask Walker to leave the house empty so he will only have to pay Walker half of his usual salary. When Mrs. Foster pushes back and tries to ensure that Walker is paid in full, taking her servant into consideration, Mr. Foster greedily and inconsiderately insists that he only wants to give him half-pay. In the end, this decision helps to kill Mr. Foster, as Walker's presence in the house would have saved him as Mrs. Foster, with the support of the ambiguous narrator, leaves Mr. Foster behind.