Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719
A train from the United States border arrives two hours late in Concepción, Mexico. Sara and Richard Everton are at the station expecting the arrival of their friends from the United States, Kate and Steve. They worry that something is awry when neither friend emerges from the sleeping car. After a search, Kate is spied at the top of the train’s rear platform, seemingly unwilling to disembark. Kate announces that she has come alone. Without prying, the Evertons load her luggage into their car, and they travel the road to Ibarra.
During the ride it becomes clear that Kate visited Ibarra three years earlier with her husband. Indeed, Kate is a frequent traveler who has lived in several different time zones. As Richard points out changes in the landscape since her last visit and Sara informs her that they all have been invited to attend a program for the upcoming day of the priests, Kate remains unresponsive. When she does speak, it is to inform her friends that she and her husband have separated. The reader learns that there was an accident: In an unsupervised moment Kate and Steve’s two-year-old son toddled into the street in front of their home and was killed by a passing motorist. Kate’s feelings of guilt and the long-lasting depression in the aftermath of her child’s death have led to the breakup of her marriage.
During the first three days of her visit, Kate rises from bed only after the Evertons have gone out of the house. She spends the late mornings with the cook, Lourdes, who recognizes Kate’s troubled condition and spreads talismans around her effects in an effort to reverse her ill fortune and will her spiritual redemption. Kate spends the balance of her days lying in a hammock, deep in sleep or sorrow. When Sara and Richard conspire to think of ways to lift Kate out of her depression, Sara suggests a trip by riverboat or railroad. Richard removes the hammock, and Sara takes Kate for a walking excursion to a ruined monastery at Tepozán. Kate recalls a picnic they had together at Tepozán during her previous visit with Steve.
In their continued attempts to move Kate out of her unhappiness, Richard takes her on a tour of his mine and shows her the shafts of abandoned mines in the hillsides. Sara brings her into the village, where they meet the cura and go into the newly repainted church. There they see a renovated statue of the Virgin, which came from Spain and was moved from one closed chapel to another until its arrival in Ibarra. “For her, Ibarra is only a way station,” Kate observes. Sara sees this statement, along with Kate’s memory of the earlier picnic, as a sign of her friend’s returning abilities to remember, perceive, and feel.
Kate and the Evertons attend the priests’ program as guests of honor. It is literally a watershed event. Although Kate has been repeatedly told that she will not need the umbrella that she brought with her since the rainy season does not begin until June, it begins to rain during the proceedings. Parish children perform two plays that illustrate responsibility in marriage and the various incarnations of a child who grows in faith and as he matures, commits his life to the priesthood. The plays lead Kate to question aloud the direction of her own destiny. Her itinerary lies outside the security of the Evertons’ parental presence and the hierarchies of the church, in which each person has a place in a link that leads to God.
The next morning Kate brings her train ticket to the breakfast table. The story ends as it began, at the train station in Concepción. Two trains arrive at the station, one southbound and the other headed to the north. While Richard negotiates Kate’s ticket inside the station office, Kate disappears. Instead of returning to the United States she takes the other train, leaving the Evertons a note saying “I’ve gone on.” Sara and Richard imagine where Kate might go, and Sara thinks of La Chona. In that town an ambitious gardener has pruned trees into the shapes of Ferdinand and Isabella receiving Christopher Columbus, with his three ships sailing behind.
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