Counting by 7s - Chapters 37 - 40 Summary & Analysis

Holly Goldberg Sloan
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In Chapter 37, Dell returns home to find Pattie and the children asleep in his apartment. He doesn’t recognize it. He sleeps for five hours in his room until he hears the sound of the shower running. Pattie knocks on the door. She tells him social services will be coming again in a week and that it would be easier for them to just stay there instead of her having to clean up after him. She informs him that another tenant in the building is looking for a roommate. A short time later, he finds himself talking to Sadhu in apartment 22. Sadhu agrees to let him live there.

In Chapter 38, Pattie tells everyone the arrangement is temporary until a good place can found for Willow. Willow feels bad for Dell but compares their situation to being part of a flock of birds. Although Dell is unhappy with having to move out of his apartment, Willow believes Mai has never been happier with her living arrangements. Dell is happy when Willow programs his television correctly so the colors are the right hue and the picture isn’t stretched. He asks her to review the remainder of his appliances.

One morning after they’ve moved into Dell’s apartment, Willow decides she needs to start pulling her own weight. The first thing she does is to put Pattie’s business accounts onto a new computer program. Later, when Quang-ha leaves an avocado pit in the kitchen window and Mai tells about him trying to grow avocado trees from pits, Willow begins thinking about soil composition for the first time since her parents’ deaths. As she lays in bed, she is unable to sleep. When she closes her eyes, she sees rooting hormone. She refers to the world of plants as a slippery slope where it’s hard to care just a little.

In Chapter 39, Dell comes to the apartment to watch television, as Sadhu doesn’t have one. Quang-ha agrees to let him stay if he doesn’t do anything nasty. Willow observes as the two interact with each other and the television. After awhile, she’s had enough and goes outside. She misses her garden. She wonders if there is anyone else trying to make sense out of life. Walking in front of the apartment, she sees a hummingbird. She goes back upstairs prepares some sugar water for hummingbird food and gets her red sun hat. She sits next to the flowering tree with the syrup on her fingers and waits for the hummingbird to eat from her fingers. At this point Willow decides to see only the present. In that present, she decides the Gardens of Glenwood need a garden.

In Chapter 40, Willow begins collecting a few clippings. She begins noticing gardens and lawns again on her walk to Dell’s office. He suggests going back to school but she says she’s not ready. When Dell asks her for one thing he could do to make her life better, she asks for a packet of sunflower seeds. When she gets home that day, Dell has 24 packs of sunflower seeds spread out on the kitchen counter. Willow cries as she takes the packets to her room. She realizes that Dell is a really caring person. Later, Dell and Mai help as she spreads some of the seeds out onto a moist paper towel.


This section of chapters seems to begin an uphill climb for Willow out of the darkness of her grief. She has reached a stage in her grieving process where she is becoming interested in making life easier for those with whom she lives. She’s also started thinking about plants and her love of gardening. Willow also decides she needs to live in the present, a sign that she doesn’t want to continue to be pulled down by the sorrows of the past and perhaps is beginning to realize there is nothing that will change her present circumstance. She also recognizes it will do her no good to worry about her future. Instead, she sets her mind to the positive activity of beautifying the place she now lives.

Because she’s never observed much in the way of male friendship, Willow is amused as she watches Quang-ha and Dell bond while watching television. Her father didn’t bring home friends to watch television with, so Dell and Quang-ha’s scratching, channel surfing and girl watching is a new experience to her.

Notice Willow’s observation that the word “temporary” is one that Pattie uses often. Willow has come to believe it is Pattie’s favorite word. Her custodianship of Willow is temporary; the family living in Dell’s apartment is temporary. Willow even ties the idea of temporary into Pattie’s chosen career, as she points out there is nothing more temporary than nail polish.

As Willow struggles to understand her situation, she continues to compare it to things she has witnessed in her garden. In this particular instance, she explains Dell’s willingness to go along with Pattie’s plans in terms of a flock of birds she’s observed in her garden. In a flock, the birds have lost their individual intent and move as part of the larger group. Willow makes the point that she and Dell have become like these birds and are now part of Pattie’s flock. This being part of a flock, a larger whole, is something that Willow longed for as she listened to the manicurists talk as they worked in Pattie’s salon. This “flock” that she is now part of, as unconventional as it may be, may be part of the reason that Willow’s outlook on life is improving.

Discussion Question 1

What does Willow’s renewing interest in gardening indicate about her movement through the grieving process?

Discussion Question 2

Notice the capitalization of the word “Before” in Chapter 38 as Willow refers to her life prior to her parents’ deaths. What is the significance of this capitalization?

Discussion Question 3

Discuss Willow’s interest in the bonding that is going on between Quang-ha and Dell. How is she intrigued by their behavior?


agitation, persecution, legitimate, surveillance, psychological, indigenous

This section contains 1,040 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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