In “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn,” a young girl describes her friend, Lucy, who smells like tortillas and chips and warm bread. One leisurely day, the narrator decides she wants to be as dark-skinned as Lucy, so she sits in the sun and tries to tan. As the day progresses, the two friends wear each other’s shoes on their hands and make dolls out of household materials. “We could be sisters, right?” the narrator asks in the last paragraph.
In “Eleven,” a girl named Rachel posits that “when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one.” On her eleventh birthday, her teacher finds a ratty old sweater in the classroom and tells Rachel that it must be hers. Right before lunch, another classmate remembers that the sweater is hers, but it’s too late: forced to wear the sweater, Rachel has already started crying like a three-year-old, wishing all the while she were one hundred and two.
The third story, “Salvador Late or Early,” simply describes a boy named Salvador, who has “crooked hair and crooked teeth.” The teacher can never pronounce Salvador’s name correctly, and the boy has no friends because he’s always helping his mother care for his two younger brothers. Noticing how run-down the poor boy seems, the narrator looks on as Salvador walks his brothers home from school, watching as the three boys shrink into the distance and the “bright horizon.”
In “Mexican Movies,” a child narrator considers the joy of going to the movies with her parents and younger brother, Kiki. When characters undress onscreen, her father gives her and Kiki quarters to use in the lobby, where the siblings delight in a moment of autonomy as they decide how to spend their new money.
In “Barbie-Q,” two young girls play with their Barbie dolls, dressing them up and even fashioning a new dress out of a sock. Later, they’re overjoyed to find new Barbie characters on sale for low prices at a flea market. The dolls have apparently been damaged in a toy warehouse fire, but the girls don’t mind because they’re happy just to finally own Barbie’s friends.
In “Mericans,” a young girl named Micaela waits with her brothers for their “awful grandmother” to emerge from church. While waiting, they encounter a foreign couple who ask them directions in garbled Spanish. When the brother responds in English, the young woman is shocked, saying, “But you speak English!” To this, the brother says, “Yeah, we’re Mericans.”
The first section, “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn,” ends with the story “Tepeyac.” The narrator of this piece describes visiting his grandfather’s store near Tepeyac, a religious destination to which people make pilgrimages. The narrator fetches his grandfather from the store and walks down the familiar streets. He then moves forward in time, skipping ahead to when he returns to Tepeyac years later to find that everything has changed and that he doesn’t know anybody.
The second section is called “One Holy Night,” which is also the title of the first story. In this piece, an eighth-grader named Ixchel lives with her Mexican grandmother in the United States and falls in love with Chaq Uxmal Paloquín, a man who calls himself Boy Baby and claims to be the descendant of Mayan kings. While selling cucumbers from a pushcart, Ixchel follows Boy Baby into his dirty bedroom behind the auto repair shop where he works. There, he tells her he’s destined to have a son who will bring back the “grandeur” of his people. When she leaves, she is no longer a virgin, and she forgets to bring the family pushcart home. She says the pushcart was stolen, but her grandmother doesn’t believe her and goes to the auto repair shop only to discover that Boy Baby has fled. Later, Ixchel learns she’s pregnant, and her grandmother arranges to have her sent to Mexico. The family later discovers that Boy Baby isn’t Mayan and that he has killed eleven girls in the last seven years, hiding all their bodies in what’s known as the Caves of the Hidden Girl.
In “My Tocaya,” a girl named Patricia tells the story of a classmate who has disappeared. This classmate’s name is also Patricia, but the narrator critiques her for going by Trish, speaking with a fake English accent, and acting like a “British Marilyn Monroe.” She claims she wouldn’t normally pay attention to Trish’s disappearance, but Trish has been acting as an intermediary between her and Max Lucas Luna Luna, a boy she likes. Right when the narrator starts warming up to Trish—using her for information about Max—Trish goes missing and, later, is found dead in a drainage ditch. Suddenly everybody in school acts like they were Trish’s best friend, a fact that annoys the narrator. Three days later, though, Trish appears at the police station. Apparently her parents were so hysterical that they mistakenly thought the corpse was their daughter. “All I’m saying,” the narrator writes, “is she couldn’t even die right.”
Section three, “There Was a Man, There Was a Woman,” begins with the story “Woman Hollering Creek,” which details Cleófilas’s relationship to a man named Juan Pedro. When the couple gets married in Mexico and decides to emigrate to the United States, Cleófilas’s father predicts his daughter will soon regret her decision and return home without her new husband. Sure enough, in the United States Juan Pedro proves himself to be slovenly, misogynistic, and abusive. As the passion in their relationship dies, Cleófilas and Juan Pedro have a son. Still, Juan Pedro continues to hit and yell at his wife, and she gets pregnant again. Finally, she tells her nurse during a pregnancy-related appointment that she’s in danger, and the nurse arranges for her friend Felice to retrieve Cleófilas at a gas station the next day and drive her to San Antonio, where she will take a bus to Mexico. When Felice arrives, she’s driving a pickup truck, and Cleófilas is astonished by the fact that this woman lives her life however she wants. On the way to the bus station, they drive over Woman Hollering Creek and Felice whoops aloud. By way of explanation, she says, “Did you ever notice how nothing around here is named after a woman?” She then adds that this is why she likes Woman Hollering Creek, saying that a name like that “makes you want to holler like Tarzan.”
In “The Marlboro Man,” two unidentified speakers have a conversation about the actor who played the Marlboro Man on TV, although because the role has been filled by many people, they often get confused. Still, their conversation revolves around the iconic figure and the various celebrities with whom he consorted.
In “La Fabulosa: A Texas Operetta,” an unnamed narrator describes Carmen, an attractive woman who often catches men’s eyes because she has big breasts. While casually dating a man named José, Carmen becomes involved with a famous senator from Texas. Upon finding this out, José tries to kill her, then tries to kill himself. In the end, Carmen elopes with a wrestler, travelling to Helotes, Texas, where the narrator sees her in a bar.
In “Remember the Alamo,” a gay dancer whose stage name is Tristán writes about his own act in the third-person. He explains that every Thursday night he puts on a wonderful show, in which he dances with death herself, gloriously twirling her around. It later becomes clear that Tristán is ill, but instead of focusing on his physical decline, he fixates on the kind of love “that is never used to hurt anybody.”
In “Never Marry a Mexican,” an artist named Clemencia reflects on her long-term affair with her lover, who’s married and has a child. Though she hates that he loves his wife, she also feels powerful, asserting that he’s “nothing” without her. When his child is a teenager, she sleeps with him, too. Despite her independence, though, she remains conflicted and hurt by the fact that her lover has chosen to spend his life with somebody else. In the wake of her emotion, she watches people on the street, saying, “Sometimes all humanity strikes me as lovely. I just want to reach out and stroke someone, and say There, there, it’s all right, honey.”
In “Bread,” two lovers drive around the city while eating large loaves of bread. The narrator speaks Spanish and her lover speaks Italian, and so they share phrases with one another. As they drive, they look out the window and talk about the city; as he offers his impressions of the passing buildings, the narrator explains her memories of the same buildings. Between larges bites of bread, they give each other kisses.
The story “Eyes of Zapata” is set in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Inés, the narrator, is in love with Emiliano Zapata, an agrarian revolutionary leader and the father of her children. Though their relationship is passionate and loving, Emiliano leaves Inés for long periods at a time, attending to his duties as a leader while also sleeping with women in other towns. In her telling of the story, Inés develops the ability to lift out of her body like a bird at night and fly above the buildings. While doing this, she sees Emiliano making love to another woman. Apparently he has had children with this woman, who is also his actual wife. Nonetheless, he continues to return to Inés, and eventually takes Nicolás (the son they had together) with him to join the Revolution. At one point, his enemies burn Inés’s house, remarking, “Even the stones here are Zapatistas.” Even so, Inés goes on loving Emiliano, watching him sleep in her bed and saying, “My sky, my life, my eyes. Let me look at you. Before you open those eyes of yours. The days to come, the days gone by. Before we go back to what we’ll always be.”
In “Anguiano Religious Articles Rosaries Statues Medals Incense Candles Talismans Perfumes Oils Herbs,” the narrator advises readers not to go into the store Anguiano Religious Articles. She claims the owner is a “crab ass” because he once said she should leave because it was clear she wasn’t going to buy anything.
“Little Miracles, Kept Promises” is comprised of a group of letters left on religious altars. These letters are written by people who are either thanking various saints or asking them for something. Many of these strangers write about similar topics, such as finding a love partner, escaping illness or death, or achieving financial stability.
In “Los Boxers,” a man speaks at a laundromat to an unnamed woman and her small child, though his voice is the only one included on the page. He talks at length about how to do laundry, rambling until finally revealing that everything he knows about washing clothes comes from his wife, who is dead. “Now that she’s dead, well, that’s just how life is,” he says.
In “There Was a Man, There Was Woman,” a lonely man goes to the Friendly Spot Bar when he gets paid every other Friday. On the Fridays between his paydays, a lonely woman goes to the same bar. Both of them sit at the bar on their respective nights and hope drinking will awaken the words to describe how they truly feel, but this never happens. Every night, they both go home feeling desperately alone. Before sleep, they stare up at the same moon.
“Tin Tan Tan” appears as a prose poem by a character named Rogelio Velasco, who professes his love to Lupita. The first letter of each stanza is written in large, bold font, making it obvious that Rogelio has spelled out LUPITA.
“Bien Pretty” picks up on “Tin Tan Tan” by providing Lupita’s perspective of their love. An artist living in Texas, she meets Rogelio when he comes to exterminate cockroaches for her. After Rogelio agrees to pose for one of her paintings, the two start dating, but find it difficult to navigate their cultural differences, since he is proud of his Mexican identity while she has embraced the life of a Mexican-American. One day, Rogelio tells her he needs to return to Mexico to address family obligations, and she discovers that he has been married twice and has four children.