Estevan rushes to Taylor’s house to tell Taylor that Esperanza has attempted suicide by overdosing on baby aspirin. Mattie has taken Esperanza to a clinic that doesn’t require papers, something Taylor has never considered before. Estevan insists that Esperanza will be okay, though he has no way of knowing this, and explains what will happen at the hospital. Taylor suspects this has happened before.
Esperanza’s life is in danger from many sources: both her own mental health and her immigration status. Estevan’s strength here seems to come from the fact that he has confronted and survived the threat of death before. Taylor respects his calm demeanor in the face of this crisis.
Estevan and Taylor go into the kitchen, with Estevan lost in grief and Taylor unsure what to say. She offers Estevan food, the usual response Kentucky women have to a crisis, but he only wants a beer. Taylor says that she has to either make food or talk, so Estevan tells her to talk. He says, “It’s okay,” slang that Taylor has never heard him use before he started working as a dishwasher.
Taylor’s domestic habits come back in a time of crisis. Though she tries hard not to be the feminine stereotype that she grew up with in Kentucky, Kingsolver again points out that these habits do not disappear overnight. Taylor blames this on the American culture that she grew up with, a culture that also seems to be corrupting Estevan’s perfect English.
Taylor starts to tell Estevan of unimportant things, explaining that Lou Ann has gone for the night with Dwayne Ray to her mother-in-law’s house for a family reunion. Taylor mentions that Angel’s family is Catholic, and considers Angel and Lou Ann still married because they don’t believe in divorce, then realizes that Estevan must be Catholic too. Taylor suddenly switches the subject back to Esperanza’s suicide attempt, telling Estevan there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. She talks about a friend she had in high school named Scotty Richey who killed himself on his 16th birthday.
Lou Ann, though no longer a part of the Ruiz family now that Angel is gone, chooses to maintain these links to a family she once belonged to. The role that Catholicism plays in Lou Ann’s family brings Taylor back to Esperanza’s suicide: both divorce and suicide are considered sins in the Catholic church. Taylor’s reminder that Estevan could not have prevented this is both a comfort and a restatement of the novel’s argument that no one can predict or prevent all disasters.
Taylor delves into Scotty’s plight, explaining that he had no friends in any of the usual Pittman cliques. Estevan compares these cliques to the Indian caste system, where people of different castes cannot mix. Taylor agrees with this, saying that Scotty’s problem was that he was too poor to be accepted by the rich kids, but too smart to hang out with the other poor kids. Nervous at how much she is chattering, Taylor drinks half of her beer in silence before telling Estevan that Esperanza’s situation is different because Esperanza has Estevan to support her. Taylor realizes that she is furious at Esperanza, while she and Estevan sit in silence.
Estevan and Taylor’s talk of cliques and castes are another way to interpret family. While these groups might be limiting in some ways, not belonging to one is even worse in this example about poor Scotty. Taylor’s anger seems to come from how much Taylor honors family. While Esperanza has valid reasons to feel hopeless about her life, Taylor can’t handle that she is rejecting her family (as represented by Estevan) in the process.
Estevan suddenly breaks the silence to tell Taylor about the Guatemalan use of electricity in interrogation rooms. Taylor doesn’t understand until Estevan spells out that the Guatemalan police take apart an old telephone and electrocute the people they are interrogating until they confess. Taylor is horrified, and feels even worse for chattering about Scotty when Estevan has this in his background. She goes to get more beer and realizes that her crush on Estevan is completely unrealistic; he has seen so many things that she will never understand. Taylor blames her ignorance of his experiences not on a lack of caring, but on her American upbringing that shielded her from many of the hardships in life.
While Taylor has certainly experienced hardship, she is also unable to fully appreciate the hardship that other people have had to go through. Taylor somewhat callously focuses on the effect that learning about Estevan’s past has on herself. Previously, as with Angel and Lou Ann, the problem was that the man could not understand the woman he was in love with. Taylor flips that dynamic by being slightly insensitive to Estevan’s struggles, as Kingsolver points out that men and women are equally capable of making emotional mistakes.
Taylor admits that she has had it easier that Estevan because she is American, but she also tells him that Tucson is a foreign country to them both. Just then, Turtle appears in the doorway to the living room, and Taylor jokingly orders her to “hop” back to bed. Both Estevan and Taylor have to hide smiles as Turtle hops the whole way back to her bedroom.
The privilege Taylor has by belonging in America becomes a tacit agreement with American policies, even those that cause pain for Estevan. Taylor attempts to distance herself from this country because of the mistakes that Taylor sees, but Turtle’s appearance as a Native American child also seems to remind Taylor of the good parts of an American identity. Turtle’s hopping makes her seem like a rabbit, an innocent creature of nature.
Estevan asks Taylor not to judge Esperanza too harshly until she knows what Esperanza has had to go through. Taylor, confused at how they arrived at this part of the conversation, simply admits that she doesn’t know anything about either Estevan or Esperanza’s lives. Estevan tries to hide his tears as he starts to cry and whispers, “Ismene.” He explains that Ismene was the child in Guatemala whom Esperanza thought of when she met Turtle.
Estevan finally reveals that the tragedy in Esperanza’s past is the loss of her child, one of the most catastrophic events possible in the novel. Kingsolver points out the depth of a mother’s love by comparing the father’s response to the mother’s. While Estevan is definitely badly hurt by these events, Esperanza is absolutely shattered.
Estevan tells Taylor that Ismene was his and Esperanza’s daughter, and that she was taken in a raid on their neighborhood in Guatemala City. Esperanza’s brother and two friends were also brutally murdered because they were members of the teacher’s union. Taylor is too shocked at this story to even cry. When she asks why Estevan and Esperanza did not try to get Ismene back, Estevan explains that he and Esperanza would have been forced to betray all the surviving members of the teacher’s union to get her back. Ismene was probably taken as bait, he says, and then eventually adopted by a government family that could not have children.
Ismene is essentially Turtle’s twin in the novel. She was also “abandoned” by her birth family (though not by their fault) and given to a new family to start over. This perspective on Ismene’s past helps provide sympathy for Turtle’s birth family. Though the abuse that Turtle suffered was intolerable, her family might have been victim to forces outside their control.
Taylor is horrified that Estevan had to choose between saving his daughter or saving the lives of his friends. She finally starts to cry, realizing that such awful events happen in the same world that she lives in every day. Estevan holds her as she sobs, until she worries that she is getting snot on his shirt. Estevan does not know what “snot” means, and Taylor refuses to explain. Instead, she tells Estevan that her entire life, even the bad things, has actually been incredibly lucky. Chief among these lucky events are Turtle and Mattie, though Taylor previously avoided motherhood and tires at all costs.
Estevan and Esperanza essentially had to choose between their biological family (Ismene) and their chosen family (the other members of the teacher’s union). They chose the teacher’s union, supporting the novel’s argument that chosen families are just as, if not more, important than blood family. While the knowledge of the physical torture the Guatemalan government carried out was hard for Taylor to hear, this news is even worse. The true crime of this government in Taylor’s eyes is how it rips apart families.
Turtle appears again at the doorway, looking shell-shocked at her mother’s tears. Turtle goes to cuddle in Taylor’s lap and Snowboots the cat lays down in Estevan’s lap. Taylor thinks that the four of them look like a family of paper dolls that she loved dearly as a child. She gets up to put Turtle to bed, then returns to sit close to Estevan on the couch. Taylor apologizes to Estevan for seeming ungrateful about the responsibility of motherhood, now that she knows of the tragedy in his past.
Though Taylor imagines them as the “perfect” paper doll family, she also knows that each person has pain and guilt in their past that makes them human. Taylor has to learn that family, and motherhood especially, means accepting all of the things that are hard to handle about another person
Taylor guesses that the human race would go extinct if people had the option to return babies after a thirty-day trial. Estevan laughs and says he would have kept Ismene, but Taylor reminds him that he, as the father, didn’t do much of the hard work when Ismene was an infant. Estevan likes thinking of Ismene growing up somewhere else, and Taylor starts to dream unpleasantly about Turtle being raised by Virgie Mae next door. Estevan and Taylor drift in and out of conversation and sleep.
Kingsolver never shies away from the intense burden that motherhood can be. This responsibility is hard, but it is also incredibly worth it. As much as Taylor finds herself unequal to the task of raising Turtle, she also does not want Turtle to grow up anywhere else. Estevan, a father, may be able to wish Ismene the best somewhere else, but Taylor can’t even truly stomach the thought of having Turtle right next door.
When Taylor finally wakes up again, she and Estevan are curled together on the couch. Taylor holds his hand for a moment, then guiltily thinks of Esperanza struggling to stay alive in a clinic. She imagines Esperanza constantly searching for Ismene, a child who looks just like Turtle. Taylor kisses Estevan’s hand once, then leaves him asleep on the couch and goes to her own bed. The moonlight in her bedroom reminds her of “moon soup,” and Taylor hears a cat yowl and a rooster crow long before daybreak before falling asleep.
Though Taylor already knew that her feelings for Estevan were dangerous and probably hopeless, it is not until she realizes that she has a responsibility to Esperanza as a fellow mother that she finally lets her attraction go. The sanctity of marriage is not as important as the sanctity of motherhood. The rooster, though not generally a vulnerable bird, gives a wake up call that reminds Taylor of her duty to protect those who are vulnerable like Esperanza.