(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Elena is a nondescript, self-absorbed eleven-year-old who helps her mother run a boardinghouse. No one, including her mother, notices her unless some chore must be done. One of Elena’s responsibilities is to spy on guests to ensure that their behavior conforms to her mother’s standards. Elena and her mother speak to each other infrequently, but when they do, their conversations revolve around Elena’s reports. Her mother, as crafty as Elena, knows when the girl embellishes what she overhears and sees.

Their routines begin to change when a singer, Juan Jose Bernal, nicknamed “the Nightingale,” comes to board with them. He is different from the usual boarders, civil servants or students who lead quiet lives. Bernal needs special food, quiet hours during the day, long baths, and extra telephone service. Knowing her mother’s concern with her reputation, Elena is surprised when she rents the room to the flamboyant Bernal, but she says nothing, remaining as invisible as ever.

Although dealing with Bernal’s hours and demands means more work, Elena sees her mother begin to change. She wears perfume and buys new underwear, and she sits opposite Bernal in the kitchen, listening to his stories, smiling and laughing. Because Elena is used to spying, nothing her mother buys or does escapes her notice. Elena begins to hate the man who has claimed her mother’s attention, seeing him as a cheap scoundrel and fake artist.

One evening, Bernal appears on the patio with his guitar and begins to sing. Despite his unremarkable voice, his singing sparks a new festive air in the quiet boardinghouse. Suddenly, Elena’s mother grabs her hand and pulls her up to dance. After a moment, Elena sees that her mother is entranced by the music. Elena’s mother pushes her away and sways on the floor alone, absorbed in the mood of the night.

After that, Elena sees Bernal in a new way, as a sexual being who can evoke such response. She watches him even more...

(The entire section is 814 words.)