One afternoon, Doña Caro comes to the door and tells Abuelita Chinta and the children that they have missed a call from Mami—she often calls Doña Caro’s house, as she has one of the only phones around. Caro tells Abuelita, Reyna, Mago, and Carlos that Mami and her boyfriend have been in a car accident—Mami only has some cuts and bruises, but her wrestler boyfriend is dead. Soon thereafter, Mami returns to Iguala, though she is even more despondent than she was when she first returned from El Otro Lado. She keeps Reyna and her siblings up many nights with her sobbing, and becomes irate when the young Betty doesn’t seem to recognize her. Privately, Reyna wonders if her mother would have returned if the wrestler hadn’t died.
Mami is coming home, but only because her boyfriend has been killed. The circumstances of her return call into question whether Mami would have ever come back had her boyfriend lived—her instability is palpable as she finds herself largely unable to cope with the loss she has recently faced, incapable of holding herself together even in front of her young, vulnerable, impressionable children.
Abuelita Chinta performs a ritual cleansing on Mami to help heal her sorrow, and the next day Mami begins taking good care of herself again, bathing, putting on makeup, and heading out to find a job. She returns just a little while later and announces that she’s gotten her old job at the record store back. To celebrate, they all head into the town center along with Tía Güera and Lupita, and as Reyna plays with her siblings and cousins, she is filled with happiness and hope that things will at last return to normal.
As things slowly return to normal, Reyna and her siblings wonder whether their Mami—their true Mami—has at last come back for good. After so long without her, it seems possible that the worst is over, and all of their patience and pain is at last going to be rewarded.
Things are great for a while—Mami takes Reyna and her siblings out to movies with the money she makes at her job, and Reyna connects deeply with a movie about a poor orphan boy whose rich father lives in El Otro Lado. Reyna feels closer to Mami than ever, and is on board when Mami comes home one afternoon and announces that the government is giving away parcels of land nearby to anyone who occupies it. Mami, Mago, Carlos, Betty, and Reyna all set off for a meadow on the other side of a river, and quickly stake out their land. Mami brags that soon, she will build her own dream house on their new property.
Due to the unstable nature of Mami’s behavior, and her relationship with her children, it stands to reason that right after things swing high, they will soon swing low. Reyna and her siblings enjoy their happy times with their mother—but Reyna’s readers know enough at this point to realize that these times won’t last for long.
Mami and the children wait together for a representative from the government to come with a deed, and Mami urges everyone to think of things as an adventure. They dream aloud about their house for a while, but when everyone starts complaining about feeling hungry and tired, Mami takes everyone but Carlos back to Abuelita Chinta’s. She urges Carlos not to move from their spot, lest they lose their claim to the land.
Mami’s slightly harebrained plan actually proves a source of happiness and inspiration for the children as they dream freely and wildly about their futures. Things are about to take a turn for the worse, however, as Mami’s devotion to the dream subsumes her devotion to the things right in front of her in her real life.
For days, Carlos remains on the staked-out land with the other squatters while Mami brings him scraps of food. Carlos cannot even leave to go to the bathroom, and is miserable all day every day. Mami assures him that the government officials will come deed the land soon, and begs him to hold on just a while longer. After two weeks, though, no one has shown up. Mami insists that Carlos must stand his ground, even when he develops a cough from sleeping outside each night. At home, Mami joins Mago and Reyna in drawing pictures of their dream house and hanging them up around the shack.
Mami’s fanaticism about securing the land begins putting Carlos at risk. She refuses to let go of her dream even as it starts to threaten her family, almost manically doubling down on her belief that soon her dream house will be hers.
One day, Carlos’s cough has become so bad that the other squatters complain to Mami when she comes to visit. She gives Carlos cough syrup and VapoRub, but makes him stay put. As the days go by, Carlos worsens; the next time Abuelita Chinta goes to check on him, he is burning up with fever and has wet himself. Abuelita Chinta picks Carlos up and brings him home, even as he protests that he wants to stay and help Mami get her dream house. When Mami gets home that evening and hears what has happened, she rushes over to the meadow, but it is too late—someone else has taken their land. She comes home and pulls the drawing of her dream house off the wall, tearing it to shreds as Carlos apologizes profusely for letting her down.
Mami puts Carlos’s health directly in jeopardy as she blindly pursues her own dream. This cruelty mirrors Papi’s abandonment of the family in order to raise funds for his own dream house—but Mami’s version of her pursuit of a dream house more directly and more dangerously affects her children. Her disappointment reads as anger, causing Carlos to feel he has to apologize, when he was in fact the one who was wronged.