The action takes place in 1942 and is centered around a small cafe in one of the Madrid neighborhoods. In the book about one hundred and sixty characters, they appear and, hardly touching each other, disappear, picked up by the cycle of life in the giant hive of the city. Some figures are more detailed and characteristic.
The hostess of the cafe is Dona Rosa, a fat, untidy woman dressed in mourning and hung with diamonds. She has unhealthy facial skin, uneven blackish teeth, antennae above the upper lip, sucking-shaped fingers. In the depths of her soul, she hates visitors and takes her soul away, incessantly burying her employees. The affairs of the greedy and self-serving Doña Rosa are very successful, the capital is multiplied, it prefers to invest it in real estate. Doña Rosa sympathizes with Hitler and worries about the German army, in a vague premonition in which she does not dare to understand, the fate of the Wehrmacht seems to her related to the fate of her cafe.
The regulars of the cafe – people who believe that everything is going right and it’s not worth trying to improve anything – reflect on the pitiful, but pleasant and exciting little things that fill or empty their lives. Among the regular visitors to the cafe is Don Leonardo Melendez, a crook, an adventurer who lures money from the simpletons, which is promoted by his respectable appearance, ability to keep and speak with aplomb. On don Jaime Arce hail protested bills, but he does not lose the presence of the spirit and prefers not to focus on the unpleasant. The widow Isabel Montes for hours sits in a corner with a detached view, she recently lost her son who died of meningitis. Already elderly senorita Elvira lives than God will send. The trouble is that it does not send very thickly, and besides, it’s always something stagnant and useless. Dona Rosa’s right, Elvira reflects, It is necessary to get along with the old Don Pablo, although he is disgusting and boring, and then you will not last long. Playing in checkers poke fun at the judge scribe Don Jose Rodriguez de Madrid, who was lucky in the lottery. Doña Pura and her friend never tire of talking about the fall of morals. The wealthy publisher Don Mario de la Vega teaches a hungry, ingratiating neighbor – you have to work hard, then it will be for a cigar and a glass. Learning that Eloy Rubio Antofagaste – bachelor, offers him a place of proofreader, only no claims and all kinds of trade unions. And Martin Marco does not have the money to pay for coffee, and he is put out the door. The young man graduated from the university and tries to earn translations and short articles in provincial newspapers. He is interested in social... problems, but in his head he has a decent mess. He sleeps with a friend, and in the morning he goes to the bank or to the post office, it’s warm, you can write poetry, pretending to fill in telegraph forms or receipts. When you have very tight, Martin visits the sister of Filo, who pities him and feeds him. Her husband Roberto Gonzalez serves in the assembly of deputies, and in his spare time moonlighting, leading the counting books in the perfume shop and the baker. He treats Martin badly, calls him a vagabond and a parasite. The owner of the bar Celestino Ortiz is an avid book reader, his favorite book is Aurora by Nietzsche, from which he knows by heart whole pieces and quotes them to the place and to no place. The owner of the dairy Ramon Bragado is engaged in pimping. At her service Mario de la Vega resorted to which she liked the Quiz, which works as a packer. The girl was tired and desperate, in the printing shop all day on her feet, the sick woman consumes the groom worse, the mother curses incessantly, commands all, the father is a spineless person, always drunk, you can not rely on him in anything. For the sake of money, the Quiz is ready for anything.
Out of sketches and sketches, scenes and dialogues, a picture of a dull everyday life, monotonous and devoid of meaning, is formed, morals, actions, cares, dreams of the heroes of the book appear.
An extraordinary event is the appearance in the cafe of Marouhita Ranero, the former lover of the employee of Dona Rosa Consorcio Lopez, whom he once threw, the mother of his two twins. She brought her husband to Madrid for surgery and found an incorrect lover, who is ready to forgive everything. Maruhita is now a fully-fledged woman, she has a farmstead, a little land, which gives an income. Her husband has cancer, he will not last long. She is making plans how she will buy this cafe and they will heal with Consorcio, as if there were not many years of separation.
A great shock is caused by the murder of the mother of one of the frequenters of the cafe of the homosexual Suarez, the old woman was strangled with a towel in her room. The police are arresting his son and his boyfriend on suspicion of murder, and neighbors are collecting money to arrange a lavish sorrow for the lord of Suarez. The willingness of others to come to the rescue is also evident when Martin suddenly has problems with the authorities. True, he does not yet know about the troubles that threaten him, and visiting the grave on the day of the anniversary of the death of the mother, in which he already intends to start a new life.