The Woman Who Came At Six O’Clock by Gabriel García Márquez, 1950
The magic trick:
Single scene, single conversation
You read a story like this, and it all seems so simple. The premise gives us a woman walking into a bar. The story then proceeds to be a single scene – that woman talking with the bartender. Nothing to it, right?
What they talk about, as you probably guessed, is the key to the story. The different balances their conversation walks is remarkable. We see shifting power dynamics. We see flirtation bordering on affection, maybe even love. We see a lifetime of experiences – disappointments, hesitations, and hopes – all conveyed through the way they talk in this bar.
And that’s quite a trick on García Márquez’s part.
“Would you tell a lie for me, José?” she asked. “Seriously.”
And then José looked at her again, sharply, deeply, as if a tremendous idea had come pounding up in his head. An idea that had entered through one ear, spun about for a moment, vague, confused, and gone out through the other, leaving behind only a warm vestige of terror.
“What have you got yourself into, queen?” José asked. He leaned forward, his arms folded over the counter again. The woman caught the strong and ammonia-smelling vapor of his breathing, which had become difficult because of the pressure that the counter was exercising on the man’s stomach.
“This is really serious, queen. What have you got yourself into?” he asked.
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