A Woman on a Roof by Doris Lessing

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is the story of seven days during a June heat wave in London. One day, three men repairing the roof of an apartment building in the baking sun see a woman sunning herself on an adjoining roof. Taking advantage of her apparent privacy, she undoes the scarf covering her breasts. When Harry, the oldest worker, leaves to borrow a blanket to put up for shade, Stanley and the seventeen-year-old Tom let out wolf whistles at the woman, but she ignores them. At the end of the day, first Stanley, then Tom, goes to the end of the roof to spy on the woman. Stanley makes a crude remark to the others, but Tom keeps what he sees to himself.

The second day, the men look for the woman as soon as they get on the roof. She is lying face down, naked save for little red bikini pants. When Stanley whistles, she looks up, but then ignores them again. Angered by her indifference, all three men whistle and yell. After Harry calms the other two, they go to work. The sun is even hotter than the day before. That afternoon, while Harry goes for supplies, the other two men scramble over the rooftop until they are looking straight down at the woman. Stanley whistles. She glances at them, then goes back to reading her book. Stanley, furious at her rejection, jeers and whistles, while Tom stands by, smiling apologetically, trying to say with his smile that he distances himself from his mate. He dreamed about her the previous night, and in his dream she was tender to him. When the three workers make their last trip to look at the woman before leaving for the day, Stanley is so angry that he threatens to report her to the police.

The third day is the hottest yet. Harry looks for the woman first, largely to forestall Stanley, and tells the others that she is not there. The men work in the basement. Before going home, however, they climb to the roof to see the woman. Tom thinks that if his mates were not there, he would cross over to her roof and talk to her. Then Stanley screams mockingly, startling her. The fourth day they work in the basement again, but go to the roof at lunchtime for air. The woman is not there. Tom feels betrayed, for in his latest dream she invited him into her bed. The fifth day is hotter still, but the men must work on the roof; there is nothing for them to do in the basement. At midday the woman emerges and goes to a secluded part of the roof. At the end of the day, Tom sees the woman, but tells Stanley that she is not there,...

(The entire section is 694 words.)