David, the narrator of the frame tale, is a middle-aged Manhattan lawyer. At the invitation of a senior partner, he joins a strange men's club where the members, in addition to reading, chatting and playing pool and chess, like to tell stories, some of which range into the bizarre and macabre. The club and its butler are also featured in King's short story "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands".
One Thursday before Christmas, the elderly physician Dr. Emlyn McCarron tells a story about an episode that took place early in his long and varied career: that of a patient who was determined to give birth to her illegitimate child, no matter what, despite financial problems and social disapproval. McCarron comes to admire her bravery and humor, and the implication is that he has even fallen a bit in love with her.
The patient masters Dr. McCarron's novel (for the 1930s) breathing method intended to help her through childbirth. However, when she goes into labor and is on the way to the hospital on an icy winter night, her taxi crashes and she is decapitated. McCarron arrives at the crash site and realizes that the patient is somehow still alive. Her lungs in her headless body are still pumping air, as her head, some feet away, is working to sustain the breathing method so that the baby can be born. McCarron manages to deliver the infant alive and well.
On a sweet but haunting end note, the patient whispers "Thank you" -- her decapitated head mouthing the words, which are distortedly heard from the throat jutting from her headless body. McCarron is able to tell her that her baby is a boy and to see that she has registered this before she dies. McCarron and his office nurse pay for the woman's burial, for she has no one else.
The child is adopted, but despite the confidential nature of adoption records, McCarron is able to keep track of him over the years. When the man is "not yet 45", and an accomplished college professor, McCarron arranges to meet him socially. "He had his mother's determination, gentlemen," he tells the club members, "and his mother's hazel eyes."