Last Updated on March 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1332
Sofia’s comadre (friend) asks to borrow a sewing machine. Her husband invited her to a weekend dance in Belen, and she has only four days to make a dress. “Can you believe it?” she asks Sofi, “My husband is finally taking me out to someplace besides a wedding in the familia!”
Sofi lends the woman her forty-year-old Singer sewing machine, wistfully recalling the first time she attended a dance. She was fourteen, had not yet celebrated her quinceañera, and was not meant to attend social events like the feast day dance of Santa Flora de Cordova in Belen, but her father reluctantly permitted it. She borrowed a pink chiffon dress from her newly engaged sister and “made her unofficial debut.” One of the loveliest girls in Valencia County, a distinction she would later share with Caridad, Sofia hardly made it through the doorway of the church hall before a charming young man with “dark, sinful eyes” tried to lead her to the dance floor. Her father sent him away, keeping “la little Sofi” safely seated among family members for the rest of the evening. But she could not take her eyes off the handsome, “forbidden heartbreaker” as he flirted, waltzed, and polkaed. In the six months between that night and her quinceañera celebration, she thought of nothing and no one else.
Neither her well-respected family nor her many godparents spared any expense on her party. Amid the lavish fabrics, cakes, and flowers, however, the debutante appeared as sad as a wilted carnation. It wasn’t until her sister drew her attention toward the boy from Belen entering with a group of distant relatives that she became “no less than a princess holding court.” On her night, she was allowed to dance with anyone, even the wily boy her father disapproved of: Domingo. Three years later, the couple eloped. Her family never came around to her new husband, the gambler, a man who would soon pawn her heirloom jewelry, sell her inherited land, give her four daughters, and leave her without a word.
When Domingo returns after almost twenty years, they resume their marriage as though there has been no break in its continuity, as though they have been together so long they no longer notice each other, “like an old chair in the corner of the room or a table passed on from one generation to the next that is only there for the purpose of eating off.” They share neither their meals nor their bed.
Sofia tells Domingo about the upcoming dance and asks if he knows the last time shewas taken anywhere. It was the night of La Loca’s baptism, a year and a half before he left. Since then, she has dedicated herself to her daughters and sacrificed her own well-being in doing so. Domingo apologizes for the first time for the grief he has caused. The distance between them closes as she wipes the tears from his cheeks. Sofia wants her husband to take her to the dance in Belen. There with her “one and only honey,” she finds him as “enrapturing” as the night they first met.
Doña Felicia would have preferred to keep Caridad’s trailer just as she left it, a comforting space filled with refurbished flea market furniture and decorative objects, but “economic necessity” forces her to rent it. Ordinarily, she is proud of her ability to judge which applicants will make reliable tenants, “but this time she really [misses] the mark.” She feels compassion toward the young, unemployed couple with a baby on the way and...
(This entire section contains 1332 words.)
accepts their promises to soon pay the other half of the deposit. The money does not come, though many more people do. First, the man’s mother and teenage siblings move in with the couple; then the woman’s sister, her husband, and their three children; finally, the sister’s husband’s coworker and his vicious dog. Doña Felicia is so frightened by the animal that she begins carrying her first husband’sescopeta, a shotgun last fired during the Mexican Revolution. Each month, a larger portion of the rent is paid in excuses; before long, the accommodating landlady is given nothing at all.
One morning, doña Felicia awakens from a sound sleep to discover the tenants have fled in the night, leaving the small trailer in ruins. Regretfully, she tells Sofia that Caridad’s furniture has been stolen. Sofia and Domingo decline her offer to replace Caridad’s possessions, deeming the gesture less urgent than replacing Caridad herself. Domingo chides the old woman for being unaware that her advanced age and abundant empathy make her a target for disreputable characters. Doña Felicia does worry that the thieves will return; however, she refuses to accept that her vulnerability has left her defenseless. She begins sleeping in the living room, her loaded escopeta ready by the door.
It is from her vigilant position she springs two weeks later toward the soft sounds of an intruder in Caridad’s former home. She aims the gun at the figure in the doorway, momentarily too startled by Caridad’s weathered appearance to lower the weapon. She admonishes Caridad for leaving as she did, but her apprentice has little to say about her motivations.
Caridad’s visions, once vague, have become more illuminating throughout her disappearance. She resumes her work with doña Felicia and develops a reputation as a spiritual medium. Her sister Fe, herself experienced in love-induced madness, continues to attribute Caridad’s strange behavior to falling in love. “Caridad’s heart’s fate [is] sealed,” Fe believes, just as her own heart’s fate is now sealed—not to Tom, but to her own cousin.
“The sorrowful telling of Francisco’s demise,” the narrator says, begins with a story about two women on a road trip who are, by some accounts, responsible for Francisco’s death.
Maria and Helena live together in California. They have fallen out of love, though neither has admitted it. They maintain a sincere affection for each other but separately wonder what they will do when they return home. In the end, the narrator divulges, Maria will move to New Mexico, “her true native homeland.” She will be inspired to do so by a “gratifying visit” to her grandmother’s ranchería in Truchas, toward which she and Helena are now driving.
There are only two vehicles on the desolate country road. Helena pulls aside to allow the pickup behind her to pass, but it does not. She presses harder on the accelerator, forcing Maria’s vintage VW Beetle to pick up speed, but the truck remains on her bumper. Maria is in the passenger seat, oblivious to the fact that “the larger car [has] become the predator of the small one.” She does not notice anything amiss until the pickup begins to tap and sideswipe them, nearly sending them off the road. Helena maintains the unflinching control of a driver born and raised in Los Angeles, but she is glad to see a gas station coming into view. She looks back at the man pursuing them and barely has time to crouch low in her seat and yell, “Hit the deck!” before he fires a rifle blast directly at their car.
The “pickup-back-road terrorist” waits for the women, frightened but unharmed, to pull into the gas station, then gets out and approaches their car. He looks like a “two-legged fly in well-worn Laredo boots,” unintimidating until he flashes the gun tucked into his waistband. He angrily asks if they have come to make trouble. Helena shouts back, but the man simply sighs and walks into the store.
Maria wants to continue onward to Truchas, but Helena insists they turn back to Santa Fe. Maria foresees that one day in her future, she will need a “brave and fast-acting warrior” like Helena to protect her, but there will be no one there.