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After reading "Today Will Be A Quiet Day" by Amy Hemple, I had an eerie feeling that something bad was going on behind the scenes. I feel that the father has a terminal disease and he wants to happily live out the last few days of his life. I think that there is conclusive evidence that "Today Will Be A Quiet Day" is not a happy story, but in fact a sad one.
First of all, death plays a huge role in this story. Death is brought up so many times in this story one can only conclude that there is some kind of foreshadowing going on. For example, the very first line of the story deals with disaster and death. In the first paragraph the boy talks about what would happen if an earthquake occurred while they were on the bridge. He says, "I think if the quake hit now the bridge would collapse and the ramps would be left" (1202). At the end of the first page the father remembers a boy who went to his son’s school who committed suicide. Another part of death in this story is the mention of the family dog that was put to sleep five years ago for biting a little girl. The daughter had always thought that the dog had gone to live in the mountains, but when she finds out that the dog was put to sleep, she gets all upset about her loss. Even the joke about the guillotine that the girl tells involves death. All of these examples are hints that there is a death in the near future.
The fact that the mother is not mentioned throughout the whole story implies that she is no longer around to take care of the children. The father, then, makes little hints about his departure such as, "Who will ever adopt you if you don’t mind your manners" (1204). Although, this may have been a joke it is far too serious to let go. This is a serious sign of a fatal illness.
Yet another sign of fatality is the mention of the tombstone, and this is tied directly, and significantly, to the title of the story.
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The narrator also tells us that the father feels impelled to say "dad things." The father says, "Neither of you should be eating candy before lunch" (1203). The fact that the father says "dad things" may be an implication that he wants to leave his children making sure that be knows that they will be all right. Even at the beginning of the story the father seems to want to find out how his children really are. We are told that, "That morning, before waking his children, the father had cancelled their music lessons and decided to make a day of it. He wanted to know how they were, is all" (1202). The idea that the father wants to know that they are all right implies that he will not be around much longer.
The reason the father may not want to tell his children that he is dying is because he believes that they can not handle it. We already know that the girl can not handle the death of the family dog. And the boy is too immature to know how to handle it. At the end of the story, when the are all in bed, the father remembers some bad news that he has to tell the children; however he does not. He says, "Kids, I just remembered—I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want first?" (1206). Then his daughter says, "Let’s get it over with. Let’s get the bad news first" (1206). The father then smiled as if he was satisfied that the girl was mature enough and that she could handle bad news. But he just can’t bring himself to tell them about his impending death. Instead he responds with, "I lied, there is no bad news" (1206).
The last paragraph in this story really sums all of these ideas up. In the last paragraph the father decides that his children are all right. In fact, he says, "My kids are as all right as this rain" (l206). He then says that "he doubted that he would ever feel—not better, but more than he did now" (1206). The father realized that even in his absence his kids would do very well in the future.
Hemple, Amy. ‘Today Will Be A Quiet Day." Harper Anthology of Fiction. Ed Sylvan Barnet. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Motzenbecker, Brian. "Does It Spell Disaster." Ode to Friendship & Other Student Essays. Ed. Connie Bellamy. Norfolk: VWC, 1997. 83-84.