‘‘End of the Game’’ is the story of three adolescent girls and a fantasy game they play in a field behind their house in full view of the Argentine Central Train Track. The girls, Letitia, Holanda, and the Narrator, live with Mama and Aunt Ruth, two disciplinarians who seem always to be disapproving of the girls’ activities, chasing them across the house and yelling that they will end up on the street.
On a typical day, the girls eat lunch with Mama and Aunt Ruth, and then the Narrator and Holanda help with the dishes. Often the girls cause a commotion while drying the dishes and instigate fights between Mama and Aunt Ruth. Letitia is excused from helping with the dishes because unexplained disability involves a partial paralysis. The Narrator says: Letitia waits for the girls to finish their work and then, when Mama and Aunt Ruth take their naps, the three girls sneak out past the white gate to their ‘‘Kingdom,’’ the field where they play their game.
Letitia, whom the Narrator judges the ‘‘luckiest and the most privileged,’’ is the leader of the three girls and the creator of the game, ‘‘Statues and Attitudes.’’ The game can only be played when Letitia gives a signal to the others at lunch. The girls draw lots and the two who do not win choose ornaments for the winner to wear. Once the winner is dressed in ornaments, she has to pose as either a ‘‘Statue’’ or an ‘‘Attitude.’’ Attitudes are emotions like spite, jealousy, shame, and fear. Statues are more concrete—an oriental princess or a ballerina. The winner poses and waits until the 2:08 train goes by. The two girls who are not posing get a quick glimpse of the train riders and their reactions to the poses.
Letitia’s disability limits what she can do in the game. The Narrator says, ‘‘Letitia did Statues very well, poor thing. The paralysis wasn’t noticeable when she was still and she was capable of gestures of enormous nobility.’’ However, because Letitia has difficulty bending her back or turning her head and suffers from pain, she has difficulty with Attitudes, which require more movement.
One day, during the game, a note is dropped from the train that changes everything. It says, ‘‘The Statues very pretty. I ride in the third window of the second coach. Ariel B.’’ The girls are delighted and look for Ariel the next day. They get only a quick glimpse of him, but speculate that he is between sixteen and eighteen and is coming home from an English school.
Day after day, the girls continue to play their game and look forward to more notes from Ariel. He writes that he enjoys their poses. One note says, ‘‘The prettiest is the laziest.’’ The girls surmise that Letitia is his favorite, and that he interprets her lack of movement as laziness. Letitia is pleased and begins acting like she is in love. She keeps Ariel’s note and her eyes shine during dinner that night. Even Mama and Aunt Ruth notice that Letitia is happy, and they assume that her new treatments are making her feel better.
The two other girls are envious that Ariel has picked Letitia as his favorite and they talk about their feelings before bed. That night the Narrator has a dream that she has had before in which she is on the train tracks and fearful of getting run over by a train.
One day, Ariel drops a note to say that he is going to get off the train to come chat with the girls the next day. Letitia is upset by this. Although she does not tell the others why she is upset, they understand that she does not want Ariel to know that she is disabled. The Narrator agrees, privately, that it ‘‘seemed ghastly to me that Ariel should find out,’’ but she asks Letitia to come anyway, getting ‘‘terribly gushy’’ and saying that Letitia ‘‘shouldn’t be afraid, giving as an example that true affection knows no barriers and other fat ideas.’’ However, Letitia decides not to go. She sends a note to be given to Ariel if he asks a lot of questions about her absence.
The next day, lunch seems to last for hours. Holanda gets slapped by Aunt Ruth for spilling food on the tablecloth. Finally, lunch is over and Holanda and the Narrator go out past the gate. When Ariel arrives, he is taller than they imagined, all dressed in gray, and seems shy. He reveals that he goes to the Industrial High School, not an English school, and the girls are disappointed. He praises the Statues and Attitudes, asks the girls their names and why the third one did not come. Holanda and the Narrator see that Ariel is very disappointed and distracted that Letitia is not there. Holanda gives him Letitia’s note; he puts it away and leaves shortly. Although the Narrator is curious about the contents of the note, she does not question Letitia about it or try to read it. The reader never learns what the note says.
The girls find Letitia under the lemon tree on the porch, and when they tell her about the meeting with Ariel she looks both happy and sad. Holanda predicts privately to the Narrator that the game is forever finished. As it turns out, there is one more day of the game, a final farewell. The next day, Letitia surprises the girls by giving them the signal for the game, and when they get past the gate she has another surprise. Letitia takes out of her pockets their mother’s pearl necklace, her rings, and Aunt Ruth’s ring. The other girls worry that they will get caught and punished.
Letitia asks the girls to let her be the winner that day, and they agree. They choose ‘‘lovely things that would go well with the jewels’’ for ornaments. The Narrator says that Letitia poses as ‘‘the most regal statue she’d ever done,’’ and when Ariel passes, he looks at only her, with his head hanging out of the window. When the train is gone, the girls see that Letitia has enormous tears pouring down her face. The girls put the ornaments in the box for the last time. The Narrator realizes that only in the game can Letitia look so grand, and that her disability, rather than being an advantage, will limit her life. The Narrator and Holanda go out the next day to watch for the train. Ariel’s window is empty. The girls imagine him sitting on the other side of the coach, looking at the river. Facing the reality of Letitia’s physical limitations has made all three girls grow up, and they never play their game again.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 31, Julio Cortazar, Published by Gale Group, 2010