Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Elisa Allen, a woman approaching middle age, is at a point in her life when she has begun to realize that her energy and creative drive far exceed the opportunities for their expression. Her marriage is reasonably happy—when she notices that her husband is proud of selling thirty head of steers he has raised, she gives him the compliment he hopes for, while he, in turn, appreciates her ability to grow flowers of exceptional quality. There is an easy banter between them, and while they have settled into a fairly familiar routine, they are still responsive to each other’s moods, and eager to celebrate an achievement in each other’s company with a night on the town. On the other hand, their marriage is childless, and Elisa generally wears bland, bulging clothes that tend to de-sex her. Their house is described as “hard-swept” and “hard-polished”; it is the only outlet for her talents and it is an insufficient focus for her energy. She has begun to sense that an important part of her is lying dormant and that the future will be predictable and rather mundane.
Although Elisa would never consider an actual affair, when a stranger appears at their farm offering to sharpen knives and mend pots, his singularity and unconventional appearance immediately arouse her interest. In contrast to her husband, he is a kind of adventurer who lives spontaneously, a man of the road not bound by standard measures of time and place. Because he has found it useful to be able to charm his potential customers into giving him work, he is accomplished at gauging a person’s emotional needs, and he has developed a facility for the kind of conversation that verges on the suggestive. He is described as big, bearded, and graying, a man who has been around, who knows something about life and people: a man with a captivating presence whose eyes are dark and “full of brooding.”
Elisa is fascinated by his way of life, overlooking the harshness and uncertainty of his existence in her eagerness to romanticize his style. When she tries to get him to discuss his travels, he steers the conversation back to the possibility of employment. When it is apparent that she has no work to give him, however, he cannily praises her flowers, and when Elisa responds to his “interest,” he tells her that a woman he expects to see soon on his rounds has asked him to be on...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Elisa Allen is at work in the garden on the grounds of a neat farm house she shares with her husband, Henry Allen. It is December, and there is no sunshine. Rather, a “high, gray-flannel” fog hovers over the mountains, causing the valley to seem covered like a lid on a pot. Henry’s fall fieldwork is done, and now begins the time of waiting for rain to rejuvenate the ground. Elisa, however, is cutting back the old chrysanthemum stalks, inspecting the plants for pests, and transplanting sprouts for a new crop.
Elisa, who is thirty-five years old, has a slender and “strong” face with clear eyes. In her work clothes, she seems“heavy” because of their bulkiness. As she works, she is “over-eager, over-powerful,” suggesting masculinity and more energy within her than the tasks at hand require. Even the house is “hard-swept” and the windows are “hard-polished.” Occasionally, Elisa looks at the tractor shed, where her husband is talking business with two men.
Henry’s voice startles Elisa, as he notes the new sprouts and compliments her on having a green thumb—which she acknowledges, believing that she has inherited planters’ hands. Henry reveals that he has sold thirty of his three-year-old steers for a good price and suggests that they celebrate by going into Salinas for dinner and a movie. Perfunctorily, Elisa accepts the invitation, and he teasingly asks her if she would prefer to go to the fights.
Henry rounds up the steers, and Elisa transplants chrysanthemum sets. The sounds of squeaky wheels and the clop of hoofs cause her to look up. She sees a wagon drawn by a mismatched team. The driver is a tinker, or mender of household items. He is a large man with a stubble beard that, though partially gray, does not make him look old. He has dark, brooding eyes and calloused hands, and is wearing a wrinkled black suit with grease spots, and a worn hat. When asked for directions, Elisa suggests a faster way to the highway to Los Angeles, but the man volunteers that time is no concern; he travels from San Diego to Seattle and back annually, allowing himself six months each way. His apparent carefree attitude appeals to Elisa, who...
(The entire section is 893 words.)