(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It is the fortieth birthday of Petra, a lower-middle-class Mexican American housewife living in Los Angeles. The plump, graying mother of two school-age children, she lives a life filled with cooking, cleaning, shopping, and caring for her family. Looking for excitement to mark this significant day, she wants to do something dangerous and prohibited—something that her children would call “far out.” The only thing that she can think of, however, is to go shopping, which would scarcely provide the excitement that she craves, particularly because she has just done it the day before. Petra decides, therefore, to invite two good friends, Tottie and Emily, to join her celebration, even though Emily, the younger of the two, is “Goody Two Shoes.” Before calling them, she bakes pumpkin bread and dusts her already spotless house. While dusting, she rediscovers the marijuana cigarette that she found in the patio after a recent visit from her nephew, a rock musician, and decides that sharing the joint with her friends will provide the perfect celebration.

While waiting for her friends, Petra carefully applies makeup and dresses in a blouse and K-Mart polyester pants. Tottie and Emily appear almost simultaneously, each curious about what surprise Petra plans to share with them. Petra, stalling for dramatic effect, first serves them chips, salsa, and wine. Although outwardly a prim and responsible housewife, Petra drops all of her inhibitions and uses raunchy slang and makes repeated references to sex, calling her birthday “the...

(The entire section is 630 words.)