Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Constancia is a woman living in the present, she is caught between a past that she remembers fondly and a future that she both fears and welcomes. To her, the past represents a happier, simpler time, when she helped her mother serve meals to the workers on the ranch and was responsible for only two children—her younger brother and sister. It was a time when her husband was a young man with a future. That was long ago, however, and now Constancia is no longer free like the clouds that she observes through the window, to Justo’s annoyance. At thirty-eight, she is soon to be the mother of ten children, with one dying and another soon to be born. She will have twice as many children as her mother. She loves all of her children, but her life has been circumscribed by their numbers, very much like the rosebush that she tends in her garden, which “cannot grow with these small suckers,” for they “take the nourishment needed by the plant.”

Mary Helen Ponce’s story is set in October, when the earth and its creatures prepare for the death of winter. Constancia, too, must prepare for death, and for life, and the two intertwine inseparably in this story. The title, “Enero,” looks toward the future, toward the coming of new life to be born in the month that begins the New Year and holds the promise of the unknown future. There are other indications of a hopeful future, as Constancia makes a mental list of the home improvements that she wants to accomplish before January: new linoleum, additional clotheslines, and a yellow rosebush.

In her sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, Constancia is literally heavy with life, but her heart is filled with the coming death of Apollonia. This dichotomy between life and death is the central concern of this story, and it is a dichotomy whose resolution comes with Constancia’s decision to use the baptismal dress of her dying daughter for the formal entrance into life signified by the baptism of the baby who is to be born.