(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A group of women, diverse in age and ethnicity, travel by bus each weekend to visit their husbands and lovers in prison. Their round-trip journey takes twelve hours, and they are allowed only one hour of visiting time. Spending more time traveling than visiting, they get to know one another better than they know their men.

As the women board for departure, Lourdes notices Pam, a young blond, visibly anxious in her search for a seat. Lourdes, a Mexican American, sarcastically refers to Pam as Goldilocks but is kind enough to warn Pam against her first choice: Renee’s usual seat. Renee travels with a display case of cosmetics to sell to her companions; her seat also serves as her place of business.

Lourdes offers Pam the seat by her own. Their ensuing dialogue sketches a portrait of prison wife etiquette—for example, it is allowable to ask the length of a man’s sentence, but to ask what his crime was is considered too personal. Lourdes introduces others as they arrive, such as Mrs. Tucker, who has traveled this route every weekend for thirty years, and Lee and Delphine, two nurses who enjoy an atypical crossracial friendship. In a big-sisterly way, Lourdes is amused by Pam’s naïveté and enjoys the diversion that she offers from the tedium of the long bus ride. There are awkward stretches of silence, however, and when the bus stops for lunch, there is a noticeable air of relief.

The Halfway Diner takes its name from the...

(The entire section is 590 words.)