Last Updated on March 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1310
It is two days after Sofia’s fifty-third birthday, and everything is falling apart. The screen door is broken, and now the wringer has gone out with a “shake and a clank.” Her sewing machine is also jammed, but her comadre who borrowed it hasn’t said anything about that yet. La comadre is relieved that when Sofia calls and asks her to come over, she doesn’t mention the machine.
Sofia’s tone is “businesslike” on the phone, which prompts the woman to exchange her chanclas (flip-flops) for her “going-out shoes.” She likes the idea of being summoned by el telefón to what she perceives to be a mysterious and urgent problem, and she wants to be able to convey an element of drama when she tells the other comadres about Sofia’s “emergency call.”
Poor Sofia has always done her best with her tragic circumstances, the comadre thinks as she heads to her friend’s house. It is true that her eldest, a know-it-all, “got herself missing in Saudi Arabia,” and her youngest, the “grown daughter with the child’s mind,” wanders barefoot in the snow by the acequia (canal), but her middle two girls still have a “little bit of hope.” Well, Caridad has “always been a little pathetic,” and Fe—the Screamer—has become the “the brunt of every joke” since she was “dumped practically at the altar.” But what more could anyone expect from Sofia, abandoned as she was?
Her “unkind reflections” do not end when she arrives at Sofia’s and learns that her friend plans to run for mayor. Tome is an unincorporated village; there has never been a mayor. If Sofia wants to invent a title, “Why not elect herself la juez de paz or la comandante of Tome as they had in the old days? Why not be Queen of Tome for that matter?” She does not say any of this out loud, but instead tells Sofia that she has always had a big imagination and that this talk of “community improvement” is making her sound like Esperanza. Sofia agrees. Using a word gleaned from her missing daughter, she calls her doubting comadre a conformist. If they do not do something to save themselves and their town, Sofia says, they will all end up “poor and forgotten.”
La comadre asks what they are supposed to do when their way of life keeps changing. Their children grow up and move away. Families who have lived off the land for generations are being forced to sell their farms to Anglos and outsiders. She thinks about their new neighbor, Mr. Charles, a rich gringo who has been breeding peacocks on land that once belonged to Tome’s original families. “Now, I ask you, what can you do with peacocks? Do these New Yorkers eat them, like in fancy restaurants or something?”
Sofia does not have a plan for what to do, exactly, but that is why she hopes her friend will become her campaign manager. When Domingo comes in, the women are thinking of ways to revitalize the community. It is the first he has heard of Sofia’s plan to run for mayor, which had come to her only hours earlier as she pulled her half-cleaned laundry from her broken machine. Domingo thinks they must either be drunk or making fun of him. He says it sounds like Sofia wants to be mayor of the house, not of Tome. She shows her “instinct for politico protocol” and chooses not to argue with him in front of their neighbor, the biggest gossip in town.
The comadre, now committed to the cause, mutters a dicho (saying) meant to insult Domingo. Domingo, “who usually wasn’t of the temperament to get into tangles with neighbors,” thinks the “nosey” woman is trying to convince his wife to leave him. He responds with his own dicho about keeping one’s mouth shut. They continue to exchange insults until Sofia shouts for them to stop: “¡Chingao! The way you two are fighting you’re gonna end up in bed together!” Domingo leaves, and the comadre apologizes. The friends return to their campaign plans.
Over the next several months, they talk to neighbors, parishioners, and other members of their community. They hold town meetings and debates, generating ideas about how to stimulate the local economy. Eventually, they choose to model their project on one that has been successful in a community to their north. The vecinos (neighbors) of Tome pool together money and trade services to buy equipment and land for “Los Ganados y Lana Cooperative,” a “sheep-grazing and wool-weaving enterprise.”
The co-op leads to a resurgence of financial stability and dignity in Tome. Women running the wool-weaving division are able to earn an income while caring for their children, and many take part in a program at the local community college that allows them to transfer their skills-based education into business and art credits. Those in charge of sheep-grazing and farming find a market for their hormone-free meat and organic produce. Sofia comes to be known as La Mayor Sofi, an informal title granted “out of respect.”
La Loca has a far more tolerant view than her mother’s comadre of Mr. Charles’s peacocks. To Loca, they are “the most splendid thing on two claw feet.” One of the strange creatures has taken to enjoying itself alone beside the acequia, just as Loca has done for as long as she has been able to walk. It is her place of play and solitude, the farthest she ever travels from her mother’s property. La Loca knows that when the vecinos see her there, they think she is lost. She also knows that they all think she is simpleminded, having mistaken her lack of social skills for intellectual impairment.
Fe is the first to notice Loca down by the acequia, running in circles around a cottonwood tree. Sofia fetches the terrified Loca from her “never-ending rotation” and tries to calm her, but Fe, with her “usual lack of compassion,” scolds her sister for her bizarre, humiliating behavior. Sofia is furious. “You were the one out of your mind when your boyfriend broke up with you!” she shouts. Were it not for Loca, who fed and bathed her and kept her from getting bed sores—“¡Si! Bed sores!”—Sofia would have had to put the crazed Fe in a hospital.
Fe has no recollection of her lost year. She thought that she had been sick with a virus, “like an Asian flu or something like that . . . Even the fact that she had come out of it with damaged vocal cords she dismissed as a result of her illness, which she thought must have been terrible indeed.” Her coworkers are reluctant to bring it up, but she has never been embarrassed about the reason for her absence: the “adult measles,” she says.
La Loca is still crying. She says that a lady in a long white dress told her Esperanza had been tortured and killed. The official letter arrives two weeks later, but Sofia does not need the confirmation. She believes her daughter’s playmate by the acequia is La Llorona, “Chicana international astral-traveler,” a ghostly woman from Mexican myth who lures children into bodies of water. Soon, Esperanza begins visiting her family in spectral form, though she is only able to communicate with Loca and Caridad.
Fe finds it difficult to admit that Loca can do anything better than she can, but there is one area where she has to give her credit: her sister is an incredible cook. Fe plans to marry her cousin Casimiro—Casey—and start a family soon, but she is helpless in the kitchen. Loca agrees to give her lessons, enjoying the opportunity to belittle Fe’s lack of patience.