One cold December afternoon in 1943, four years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, the waiter in Doña Rosa’s café, La Delicia, throws out a pale, feeble, poorly dressed man who is unable to pay his tab. The waiter disobeys Doña Rosa’s orders, however, to beat the man as a lesson for his impudence. The wretch is Martín Marco, a freelance writer down on his luck. After having offered to leave a book in payment, Martín continues on his customary nightly wandering though Madrid. Everyday existence is hardscrabble and bleak for the people of Spain ever since the Fascist dictator, Generalísimo Francisco Franco, assumed power after a bloody three-year conflict that ravaged the country and left its citizenry deeply divided. Stopping before a show window of toilet fittings, Martín reflects on the gross class disparities of his day. He idealistically ponders the unlikely possibility of a socialist utopia. Tired, cold, and hungry, and with his brain in turmoil, Martín purchases a few chestnuts with his remaining pocket money. He proceeds to the apartment of his poor but sympathetic sister, Filo. Since her husband, Roberto González, has yet to arrive, Martín is sure to be able to eat at least one fried egg that she will lovingly prepare for him. The two discuss Martín’s good fortune in arriving while González is still at work, for the brothers-in-law have long disliked each other. Hurrying out to avoid encountering the man he always refers to as “that beast,” Martín meets his friend Paco, and they exchange reading material.
Later that night, Martín bumps into an old acquaintance, La Uruguaya, a prostitute in the company of a free-spending client. He accepts their invitation to have a drink reluctantly, for he finds the woman vaguely repugnant. Subsequently, he continues on his way through Madrid. Passing through one of the city’s red-light...
(The entire section is 767 words.)