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.)