So Far From God

by Ana Castillo

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Chapters 4–5

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Chapter 4

Doña Felicia and Caridad walk to Chimayo, a holy site that pilgrims visit each year during Lenten week. It is Caridad’s first pilgrimage; she has never been to Chimayo, though she has visited it in her dreams and knows the sacred history of the town that was built where a Penitente Brother found a religious relic two centuries ago. It is for this “holy reputation” that Caridad chooses Chimayo as the place where her house will be built. Her father has offered to pay for it with the money he won by betting on her visions.

The penitente procession to Chimayo, an “impressive spectacle” of Catholic devotion, pales in comparison to the overwhelming emotion Caridad experiences upon seeing a beautiful woman sitting on a wall surrounding the town’s sanctuary. Doña Felicia has to urge Caridad forward toward the church and the holy earth on its grounds. As they rub the earth on themselves, Caridad can think only of the “Woman-on-the-wall.” She blushes when doña Felicia comments that the woman, who is staring back at Caridad, may think she is a long-lost cousin. Caridad believes there is something more. She hasn’t experienced this feeling since she was with her first love, Memo. She has never fallen in love again and would not be able to recall either a name or a face of any of the men she met in the bar before she was attacked. She cannot even recall the face of her attacker, whom she remembers as a disembodied creature “that might be described as made of sharp metal and splintered wood,” heavy as a continent and “strong as a young wolf.” Doña Felicia and La Loca have seen the creature in their own dreams.

Caridad is desperate to find the Woman-on-the-wall, who is no longer sitting where she had been. She searches for twenty minutes before finding her on a hill, eating lunch with another woman. Caridad approaches the “Woman-on-the-wall-now-on-a-hill” and her companion, says “hi,” and walks away. Caridad is overwhelmed, but she knows that she is in love.

Doña Felicia and Caridad walk back to Albuquerque, arriving home on Easter Sunday. The old landlady is again worried about her apprentice, who has been cleaning feverishly and cannot sleep. The old woman stopped charging rent after the death of Corazón, but Caridad’s finances have nevertheless been poor since leaving her job at the hospital to train as a curandera. Doña Felicia gives her ten dollars and tells her to visit Ojo Caliente, a mineral spring, to relax. Caridad packs an overnight bag and leaves in her truck. Francisco el Penitente, doña Felicia’s godson, is there at the station when Caridad puts exactly ten dollars’ worth of gas in her tank. Afterward, she is not seen again for a year.

Doña Felicia, Sofia, and Domingo pray and search for Caridad. They notify communities throughout New Mexico to look for her, but they do not consult the police. Domingo has never forgiven them for doing so little to find Caridad’s attacker.

Esperanza is still missing in the Persian Gulf, and Fe, whose vocal cords were damaged by her violent and ceaseless screaming, now speaks with a voice like a “faulty World War II radio transmitter,” half of her words so soft-spoken as to be unintelligible. Fe does not appear to be concerned about either of her missing sisters and suggests to Sofia that Caridad has eloped. Sofia thinks Fe’s mind is consumed by images of bridal gowns and flowers, a perpetual dream of the wedding she never had.

It is by accident that Francisco el Penitente finds...

(This entire section contains 1215 words.)

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Caridad. While horseback riding in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, he and two companions follow traces of an old fire, bones, and jackrabbit pelts to a cave. This is where Caridad has spent the last year watching the sun rise and thinking about the Woman-on-the wall. The men try to force Caridad from the cave, but they cannot lift her, even together. Francisco prays over her, then proclaims that moving her is not the Lord’s will. Rumors of “the woman hermit” with “out-of-the-ordinary abilities” spread, with each tale of her magic becoming more miraculous than the last. Pilgrims begin to visit Caridad’s cave, ruining her view of the morning sun and breaking her trance. Doña Felicia decides to climb the mountain and collect Caridad, but before she arrives, Caridad descends, finds her truck, and resumes her trip from the year before. She doesn’t have any money to pay for a ticket to the mineral baths in Ojo Caliente, so she trades an animal pelt she made, “a flawless deer skin,” for a series of visits. 

In the changing room, a surprised attendant tells Caridad that she remembers her from Chimayo the year before. The woman has straight teeth and shiny black hair, just like the Woman-on-the-wall. She tells Caridad that when she saw her in Chimayo, she thought she was one of her cousins. Caridad confirms that it was her in Chimayo and starts to cry. She had finally found the Woman-on-the-wall, the object of her love and obsession, and she is nothing more than an ordinary woman.

Chapter 5

Francisco el Penitente has gone by many names: Frank at school, el Franky at home, Paco to his godmother, and Chico in Vietnam. All of the “Spanish boys” were called Chico in his platoon, just as the Navajo soldier was “Chief,” whether they liked it or not. He wasn't called Francisco el Penitente until his thirties, when he became a santero.

He has always looked for “signs that pointed to a special fate,” though he has at times been forced to settle for somewhat adulterated examples of divine guidance. As the seventh son in his family, but not the well-fated seventh son of a seventh son, Francisco chooses to follow his seventh-born uncle Pedro’s spiritual vocation rather than his first-born father’s agricultural one. Pedro is a santero, a man who creates holy icons by interpreting a saint’s wishes into earthly objects.

Francisco was lovingly raised in Tome by his godmother, doña Felicia, who took him in after his mother died of smallpox. He grew up helping doña Felicia administer remedios to stricken neighbors and cares deeply for the old woman, but it is his mother who has become “more akin to a celestial entity” than a “former human being” in his mind. He believes that she is watching over her children to ensure they complete the tasks she bore them to do.

After the war, Francisco met a girl who persuaded him to enroll in college, but he lost interest in his studies once his girlfriend lost interest in him. The Army trained him as a mechanic, work he still does sometimes to get by, but his tour in Vietnam left him unable to concentrate or maintain a steady job. After leaving a college course in philosophy one day, he asked his uncle to train him to carve tree branches into images of the saints, called bultos. He soon produced the first bulto of his own: Saint Francis of Assisi, his namesake. He comes to believe that this work is his calling.


Chapters 2–3


Chapters 6–8