They’ll have to hire a girl. The father knows why. The daughter will no longer tolerate any housework that gets her hands dirty. She gives excuses the father doesn’t ­believe, but he doesn’t argue.

After he lost the use of his legs, the daughter learned to organize her time and energy. She took care of him, made meals, kept house, and ran the shop, small enough to be tended by a single clerk, eight hours a day. That was fifteen years ago. Since then, the father has come to believe that the daughter is disillusioned with men. He’s only heard her mention them to deplore their vulgarity, as well as other, less obvious defects she later discovers.

When they took on the new clerk—who didn’t impress the father: too polished and composed, didn’t seem like much of a hard worker—the first hints of an evolution in her views appeared.

Now they have to hire a girl.

Over the course of the day, the little sign in the window attracts quite a number of them. Rosa Esther is the definitive choice. She was brought by her father, a real criollo, native-born, and that can be taken for a guarantee.


Has the daughter spent the past fifteen years wishing she could go to the movies by herself after dinner?

“Now that you have the girl to stay home with you . . . ” she says, night after night. Each time there’s some new film or double feature that interests her—that she can’t miss.

She comes in early, just after midnight. Once, she stayed out later.

“I ran into Manuel and he asked me to have a cup of chocolate. I couldn’t see why not. You don’t have to be standoffish just because you’re the owner.”

Another evening she announces in advance that she’ll be out late. She broaches the subject almost as if asking for permission. “Manuel invited me to the casino. I’ve never been to the casino, papá. If I say no, when will I have another chance? Who else is ever going to take me?”

The father understands. But he doesn’t like it. His daughter is forty-seven years old. The employee is twenty-three.