The story begins with the statement, ‘‘We liked the house.’’ It is not yet apparent who is represented by ‘‘we.’’ The unnamed narrator then states that the house is large and ancient; it preserves the memory of their youth and of the family’s past generations. In the next paragraph, the narrator explains that he and Irene (presumably part of the ‘‘we’’ referred to earlier) live in the house together. Since the house is so big, several people could live there comfortably. However, given that the house is so large, it takes him and Irene several hours each day to keep it clean. They wake at seven in the morning and clean until lunch. The narrator believes he and Irene are both single because they spend all their time maintaining the house. Irene has declined two eligible husbands. The narrator’s love, Marı´a Esther, died before the couple was to be engaged. (It is at this point that it first becomes clear that the speaker is a male.)
Both Irene and the narrator are approaching their forties. Here, the narrator reveals that Irene is his sister. He says they are symbolically married to one another, and that the family line will die with them in their ancestral home. Their distant cousins will benefit. The cousins will inherit the house and sell it for construction materials, and they will then sell the plot it is on as well. The narrator thinks it would be better if he and his sister tore the house down themselves.
After cleaning the house all morning, Irene spends the rest of her time knitting, She makes clothes for herself and her brother, even though they can afford to buy them. She never leaves the house, and the narrator buys her yarn for her. While in town, he also visits the local bookshops. The narrator enjoys French literature but remarks that nothing decent has been shipped to Argentina since 1939. Here, the narrator reveals his location and hints at the date (at the very least, it is 1940).
When the narrator is not reading, he entertains himself by watching Irene knit. He says she is wonderful at it and waxes poetic about her knitting. ‘‘It was lovely,’’ he states. The narrator says Irene has made so many shawls they could open a store, but they do not need the money. The income from the farms they own provides more than enough.
Next, the narrator describes the house, with its numerous wings and rooms. One side of the house faces the Rodrı´guez Pen˜a (an actual street in Buenos Aires). He details the tapestries, iron grating, and tiles that adorn the house. Parts of the building are connected through a series of passageways. Some of the wings feel like individual apartments. The narrator and Irene mainly live in one such apartment, separated from the rest of the house by a heavy oak door. He then says that the house is always dusty. The rest of Buenos Aires is clean, he says, but only because people spend all their time cleaning it. ‘‘There’s too much dust in the air, the slightest breeze and it’s back on the marble console tops and in the diamond patterns on the tooled-leather desk set.’’ The feather duster does little more than stir up the dust so it can resettle on the furniture after a few moments in the air.
The narrator switches subjects again, commenting: ‘‘I’ll always have a clear memory of it because it happened so simply and without fuss.’’ Once more, it is not clear what exactly he is referring to. It was eight in the evening, he says, and Irene was in her bedroom knitting. The narrator decides to go to the kitchen to make tea. In the hall, the door is half shut. On the way to the kitchen, he hears a noise coming from the dining room or possibly the library. It sounds like people talking or like furniture being overturned. Then the noise is in the hall.
Quickly, the narrator throws himself at the oak door—‘‘before it [is] too late’’—and locks it. Then he goes to the kitchen and makes his tea. Afterward, he tells Irene, ‘‘I had to shut the door to the passage. They’ve taken over the back part.’’ It is not clear who ‘‘they’’ are, but Irene understands her brother. She replies: ‘‘In that case … we’ll have to live on this side.’’ Then the narrator drinks his tea, but it takes Irene a while to resume her knitting. The narrator observes that she is making a gray vest and that he likes it.
The first few days of being cut off from the rest of the house are challenging. Both siblings left many of their belongings behind. On the other hand, their living quarters are much easier to clean. The siblings begin to sleep late, and they have more free time. Irene happily uses the extra time to knit more. However, since the narrator’s books remained in the main house, he struggles to fill his days. He decides to organize his father’s stamp collection. ‘‘We were fine, and little by little we stopped thinking. You can live without thinking.’’
The narrator notes that although he and Irene sleep in separate bedrooms, their apartment is so quiet that they can hear each other breathing, mumbling, or moving around. They both have trouble falling asleep. Aside from the siblings’ movements, the apartment is quiet. In the kitchen and the bathroom, though, Irene and her brother speak loudly or sing. These two rooms are closest to the main house, so the siblings presumably make noise there in order to avoid overhearing the mysterious sounds. Because the siblings make so much noise in those rooms, the rest of the apartment seems all the more quiet. That is also why the noises they make at night are all the more unsettling.
The narrator says, ‘‘Except for the consequences, it’s nearly a matter of repeating the same scene over again.’’ He is thirsty and goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Then the narrator hears ‘‘the noise’’ coming from either the kitchen or the bathroom. Irene sees her brother freeze and goes to stand beside him. When they are both convinced that ‘‘the noise’’ is coming from inside their apartment, the siblings run to the vestibule and slam the iron grating shut. Irene is still holding her knitting, but the yarn is in the apartment, so she drops it to the ground without a glance. Irene and the narrator have nothing but the clothes on their backs. The narrator thinks about the money in his room but knows it is gone for good. He looks at his watch and sees that it is eleven o’clock at night. He takes Irene by the waist and notes that she may have been crying. They exit the vestibule and head into the street. The narrator locks the front door and throws the key into the sewer. ‘‘It wouldn’t do to have some poor devil decide to go in and rob the house,’’ he says, ‘‘at that hour and with the house taken over.’’
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Julio Cartazar – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.