Last Reviewed on March 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1389
New Mexico is filled with the “pungent, nostalgic aroma of roasting chiles” the month Fe marries her “true fated love,” Casimiro. The smell will come to remind everyone of how Fe finally achieved her dreams—marriage, a home in the suburbs, respectability—only to die just after her first wedding anniversary.
Casey was born into an “old, prestigious” family of sheepherders whose descendants have been forced to find careers better suited to the modern economy. Casey is a “hard worker [who makes] a decent income” as an accountant, and he and Fe “settle into a three-bedroom, two-car-garage tract home in Rio Rancho with option to buy.”
Fe, too, has found work in a new field. Her boss at the bank had been unwilling to place her in a public-facing role on account of her screaming-induced speech impairment, and she left after being passed over for two promotions. It was one of her former coworkers who had told her about Acme International, a new subcontracting company that paid well and promoted quickly. What the coworker did not say, maybe because of “the migraines clogging up her sense of reason,” was that many of the women working for Acme International seemed to be developing a peculiar set of symptoms.
Fe has always been a reliable, efficient worker, but never before Acme International has her dedication been rewarded. She excels at each manufacturing task and is quickly promoted from assembler to materials dispatcher trainee to “specialty person.” Within each “station," she uses “some nasty smelling chemical or another” to clean pieces of plastic and metal that will ultimately be used to build high-tech weapons for the Pentagon.
Within months of beginning her new job, Casey begins to notice a sweet smell on his wife’s breath, “like glue.” When Fe is later assigned to a project in the basement isolation room, a job given only to her on account of her being a specialist, she does not want to sound ungrateful, but between her breath, the red ring around her nose, her increasing lethargy, and her terrible headache, she feels entitled to know what kind of chemical is in the unlabeled bottle she will be using. “Ether,” her foreman says. He assures her that it may make her sleepy, “but that’s all.” She discovers that the ether eats through not only her gloves, but also her fingernails.
Sofia is alarmed by the state of Fe’s health. When the couple visits Tome, she notices that her daughter’s legs are covered in dry patches and that she is popping indigestion medication into her mouth “like candy.” Casey adores his wife and is glad to find “an ally in this mysterious struggle he [is] having with Fe and her loyalty to Acme International.” Sofia insists that they see both a doctor and a lawyer right away. At the hospital, they discover that Fe has multiple advanced cancers, inside and out, “which no amount of Rolaids would have ever helped.” They also learn that she had melanoma before she took the job at Acme International, which means she cannot sue the company for the subsequent malignancies so clearly caused by chemical exposure. Fe responds poorly to her agonizing treatments, but she continues to work whenever she is able.
Fe is subpoenaed by federal agents whose case holds her personally responsible for the use of an illegal substance, the chemical she had been told was ether, which she had unknowingly poured down the drain and into the water table, where it “worked its way into people’s septic tanks, vegetable gardens, kitchen taps, and sun-made tea.” They show no concern for what had been absorbed into the “lungs and liver and kidneys” of the woman in front of them, turning her insides to “acid.”
When Fe dies at home in Tome at age twenty-six, she does not “resurrect”...
(The entire section contains 1389 words.)
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