Last Reviewed on March 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 943
Caridad rents a trailer home near Albuquerque from doña Felicia, an elderly woman who claims, improbably, to have “vivid memories of fighting in the Mexican Civil War.” Despite there being neither a stable nor a corral to secure her, Caridad brings along her mare, Corazón (“heart”). The skittish horse is kept tied to a post, her head through Caridad’s kitchen window.
Since her miraculous recovery, Caridad has occasionally fallen into a trancelike state during which she has visions of the future. In her first she foresees her eldest sister, Esperanza, returning unexpectedly from Washington, DC, where she has taken a job as an anchorwoman. Caridad tells her parents and La Loca that Esperanza will be going far away, that she is scared, and that they shouldn’t allow her to go. Domingo does not take his daughter seriously until Esperanza arrives from the airport a few moments later and announces that she is being sent to Saudi Arabia to report from the front lines of the war.
Domingo takes a greater interest in Caridad once her prediction proves accurate. He uses her visions, like the one where Corazón is leading a herd of 113 horses along a creek, to guide his gambling bets. He does the same when La Loca mutters during her own prayerful reveries. The otherworldly gifts of his two clairvoyant daughters win him small sums.
Caridad returns to her job at the hospital. Her coworkers are relieved that not only is she as sweet and conscientious as she had been before her attack, she has given up the “self-destructive” lifestyle that precipitated it. Still, she remains distant among friends and family, preferring Corazón’s company to anyone else’s.
Doña Felicia becomes concerned about Corazón after the horse breaks loose from her post while Caridad is at work. Someone from the sheriff’s office finds her unharmed along the backroads leaving the city, halfway to Tome. Doña Felicia encourages Sofia to take Corazón home. Although Sofia agrees that Corazón should be kept in a more suitable environment, she does not want to take away Caridad’s “only source of comfort and friendship.” Eight days later, while Caridad is working overtime, Corazón is startled by the sounds of a nearby party and again pulls herself free and runs toward Tome. A deputy finds her lying beside the road with a broken hoof and shoots her in an act of euthanasia. Despite having had a vision that Corazón would soon leave her, Caridad is devastated to learn that her “heart” is dead.
Doña Felicia is sorry for Caridad’s loss, though she is not surprised. She plans to tell Sofia that it was reckless to allow the two delicate creatures to live on their own, but first she tries to soothe her grieving tenant. She tells Caridad that she could have set Corazón’s broken bones because she has been a healer since the Revolución. She believes that Caridad has the same gift and offers to train her once she has rested. Doña Felicia helps Caridad to bed, where she sleeps “without stirring for nearly fourteen days.”
Doña Felicia explains to Caridad, her new apprentice, that the gift of healing cannot transpire without complete faith in God. Doña Felicia was not herself always religious. As a child, she had been suspicious of the existence of a deity that appeared to do nothing to help her poor, devoted neighbors in Veracruz. She did not come upon her own faith until she, too, had suffered many years of sorrow, including the loss of her mother to malnourishment and her first husband to the Revolución.
She was a young widow with two children when she remarried and had two more children with a man who earned a respectable income working on the United States railroad. When the country’s financial fortunes turned during the Great Depression, they and the other Mexican laborers who had worked legally “during the days of prosperity” were unceremoniously deported in cattle cars. The only thing they were able to take with them was the tuberculosis her husband contracted in the United States, a disease that soon killed him.
Doña Felicia joined the US Army during World War II in order to qualify for citizenship. She became a nurse in France, married a French soldier, and had another two children. After the war, she learned that her third husband was already married to a woman in Lyon. She and her children moved to America, where she found love (but did not marry) one final time. They, too, had two children, and it was the fate of this young pair—a boy kidnapped at age ten and found dead months later, and a girl raped and murdered at age nineteen—that inspired doña Felicia to devote herself to community service and faith.
Doña Felicia explains to Caridad that “everything we need for healing is found in our natural surroundings.” She teaches her the remedios (remedies) for common diagnoses, such as empacho (gastrointestinal obstruction), aigre (internal draft), and mal de ojo (evil eye). Doña Felicia also imparts to her apprentice the rhythm of ritual and self-care, “a calming force” that begins to mend Caridad’s emotional injuries.
Together, the old and young curanderas try to divine news about Esperanza, who has gone missing with her crew and is reportedly a prisoner of war. They are only able to make vague connections, and Caridad can feel nothing more from Esperanza’s faint presence than a desire to come home.