Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1106
The Six O’Clock Ritual
‘‘The Woman Who Came at Six O’Clock’’ takes place in a small diner-style restaurant over a period of about thirty minutes. The story starts when the clock strikes six and a prostitute walks through the door, as she does every day at six o’clock. José, the fat restaurant owner, calls the woman ‘‘queen,’’ a pet name that he usually uses to address her. He wipes the counter with a rag, as he does after every customer comes in.
The woman is obviously on edge and says that José needs to be more of a gentleman—indicating that he should light the unlit cigarette that is between her lips. José lights her cigarette and tells the woman she’s beautiful. She says that flattery will not get her to pay him, and he mistakes her disagreeable mood for indigestion. He offers her a steak, but she says she can’t pay. He says that she never pays him anyway, but he still feeds her every day when she comes in at six o’clock. She says that today is different.
Turning Back the Clock
José gives an explanation of their daily dinner routine, which the woman agrees is correct. However, she tells him that she didn’t come in at the regular time today. He protests, saying that the clock is right, but the woman insists that she arrived fifteen minutes before six. José accuses the woman of being drunk but the woman tells him she’s been sober for six months. José finally gives up and says that if she wants to say she’s been there for longer, he doesn’t care, because it does not make any difference.
The woman says it does matter, and increases the time difference between her stated arrival time and actual arrival time by five more minutes. José agrees with her, saying that he would give her even more time if it would make her happy, and professes his love to her.
The woman gets agitated—which José once again mistakes for indigestion—and says that no woman could stand to sleep with José because he is too fat. José is hurt by this comment, even though he tries to hide this fact by starting to clean the restaurant. He tells her that she’s being grumpy, and that she should just eat and go take a nap. The woman says she isn’t hungry, and changes her voice, becoming soft. She calls José Pepillo, a pet name, and asks him if he really loves her. Although he is hurt by her comments about his weight, he says that he does love her, so much so that he would not go to bed with her. Furthermore, he says that he would kill the man who does sleep with her.
Justifying a Murder
The woman playfully accuses José of being jealous, but he only says that she doesn’t understand him this afternoon. He says that he loves her so much that he doesn’t like her working as a prostitute, and repeats the fact that he would kill one of her customers. The woman says that she didn’t know he was a murderer and acts like she is scared by this. However, even when he tries to change the subject, the woman brings it back to the idea of José murdering one of her customers, and asks if he would defend her if she killed one of her customers.
José waffles a little, saying that it depends on the circumstances, and the woman notes that José has such a reputation for honesty that the police would believe anything that he said. José is confused by this conversation, especially when the woman looks at the clock and waxes serious, asking point blank if José would lie for her. José starts to understand what the woman is getting at, and asks what the woman has gotten herself into.
She reassures him that he may not have to kill anybody, says that she can’t work as a prostitute anymore, and tells him that she is going away tomorrow. José thinks she is being crazy, but remarks that being a prostitute is a dirty business. At this point, she begins to ask José questions about the supposedly hypothetical situation of a woman murdering a man, and trying to get him to say that this woman would be justified in doing it. She starts out by asking José if it would be okay to kill a man she has slept with because she was disgusted with herself. He says no. She asks him if it would be justified if she felt she couldn’t wash away her disgust. He still says no. Finally, she asks if it would be okay if the man forced himself on her, even after she says that the man disgusts her. José doesn’t believe that any man would do this, but the woman keeps pressuring José to say that in this hypothetical instance, the woman would be justified in stabbing the man.
He finally caves in and agrees with her and, when the woman pressures him some more, says that he would lie for a woman who did such a thing in self-defense if he loved her enough. He becomes distracted by the clock and starts to wonder about his other regular customers.
A Going-Away Present
The woman repeats the fact that she is leaving town to go where there aren’t any men to sleep with her. José comes out of his trance and starts to realize the seriousness of this idea. The woman says that if José lies for her, saying that she got to the restaurant earlier than usual, she will leave town and the business of prostitution, although she notes that she will be jealous if she comes back and sees another woman on her stool. José says that she will have to bring him a present if she comes back.
The woman pressures José again, trying to get him to agree to say that she arrived fifteen minutes before six o’clock. When he caves in again, she says that she is ready to eat and he starts to cook her a farewell steak. While he is cooking it, she asks again if he will give her all that she has asked, as a goingaway present. José doesn’t understand her, and she says that she wants another fifteen minutes. He still doesn’t understand, and the woman tells him that all he needs to remember is that she has been there since five-thirty.
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