Elisa is a 35-year-old, clear-eyed woman who is lean and strong and has a gift for raising beautiful flowers but is otherwise unfulfilled in her life as a farmer's wife and feels isolated and underappreciated. Since she has no children or outside job to keep her occupied, she puts all of her energy into her chrysanthemums, falling for a passing tinker's con when she thinks he wants to learn about her passion for the flowers. She lashes out at her solicitous and kind husband when she is overwhelmed by her frustration with herself and her life, her feelings of isolation and lack of fulfillment, and her sense of hopelessness.
The tinker is a rough-looking man with cracked hands, graying hair, and brooding dark eyes, dressed in a crumpled, oil-stained black suit and hat, who stops his caravan at Elisa's house to ask if she needs any knives or tools sharpened or pots repaired. When she doesn't, he cons her into giving him work by pretending to admire her garden and by taking some of her chrysanthemums, supposedly to give to a woman down the road, but he throws them out instead.
Henry is a Salinas Valley beef farmer and orchardist who lives with his wife. They have no children, so his focus is mostly on the farm. He is, however, a kind and attentive husband, joking with his wife, complimenting her on her gardening talent and her strength, and offering to take her wherever she wants. Still, he doesn't understand her anger toward him, a result of her frustration with herself and her feelings of hopelessness and isolation.