HELEN SULLIVAN, a reclusive bank teller in her mid thirties, introduces us to the world of shoplifting by detailing the tricks of the trade and escorting us through department stores and boutique shops in an effort to show us her life. Though she shoplifts in her spare time, she’s every inch a professional, taking great pride in her work. Losing her job over false accusations of theft, Helen must come to terms with a checkered past which has driven her into a miserable life of virtual solitude. Offering her shoplifting mother and callous father-in-law as explanations, she attempts an understanding but shrinks from the unpleasant task.
When a black security guard by the name of ISAIAH chooses not to turn her in after catching her pocketing store merchandise, she finds herself slowly stepping outside of herself. Unmindful of his warnings to choose a better life, Helen blatantly commits herself to one theft after another until carelessness brings her into the hands of the law. Helen, once again guarded and suspicious while serving two years in a state prison, must weather the abuse of some and protect herself against the curiosity of others. But when a chatty Hispanic shoplifter, NIEVE, attempts to understand her, Helen revisits feelings she hadn’t felt towards women since she was a teenager. Before leaving prison, Nieve offers Helen a place to stay when her time is up.
Helen surprises herself by taking up Nieve’s offer only to find that Nieve lives a lonely life raising a four-year old girl, ESPERANZA, with a domineering mother who suspects Helen of being a bad influence on Esperanza. Helen engineers Nieve’s revolt from her mother until the good little girl becomes Helen’s lover. Imposing upon Isaiah who continues to encourage the cynical Helen to start her life from scratch, she and Nieve find a temporary refuge for Nieve’s precocious daughter. Nieve overcomes objections to resuming a dishonest life, only to get fingered by authorities for helping Helen. With Helen’s mental state uncertain, she imagines herself Esperanza’s mother, promising toÂ provide her with a love she’d never received. But Helen gets a wake-up call when Isaiah returns the child to the grandmother, discovering that Nieve had never been hauled off to jail. Perhaps she has another chance to begin again.