Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The simple story contains two revelations. First, Sissy, longing to look further at the bathing migrant, realizes the extent of her loneliness and the degree to which she is missing life. Her only escape is the thought of her mother living in the big city, Los Angeles, and it is this image she nurtures as her salvation. The second revelation is for Rafer, who has managed to convince himself that he is succeeding in raising his daughter, whom he regards as having been abandoned by his wife. His life on the road as a sales representative is as lonely as Sissy’s, but his consolation is that he can return to his daughter, fill up her life with his presence. Her unexpected request for a bus ticket to Los Angeles destroys the illusion that he can keep her with him and foretells the even greater loneliness that he will be facing soon.

The story resonates with inferences and implied meanings. Nothing is said of Sissy’s mother, the boyfriend, or Sissy’s life before the recent move to this forsaken patch of Colorado farming country. Sissy’s character is revealed in short impressions—her joy at the sudden sight of the caravan of Mexicans, all poor but sustained by their large families; her instinct for justice when she sees she is being preferentially treated by the post office clerk; her dutiful writing to her mother; her sexual longings brought out by the sight of the bathing migrant; and her desperate need to talk to the migrant.

Much of the story relies on richly ornate description of the land Sissy sees or walks through as she hunts with her dog. The delicacy of Elizabeth Tallent’s observations help to reveal the sensitive mind of the young Sissy. A sense of her wonder at the unexpected vision of the naked man bathing in the field emerges in sentences such as, “Coins of light reflected from the current float over his dark shoulders like minute spotlights.” The spotlights of bright sunlight enhance the sight of his body; the value of what she sees increases like coins dropped from the sky. She cannot back away from him, as she knows she should.