Antonio awakens to the sound of his father leaving in his truck. He hurries down to ask permission to go, but his father is already gone. He turns and looks down the slope of a hill on which his family's house sits. He sees the green of the river. Then he looks further and sees the town of Guadalupe. He sees the church tower and makes the sign of the cross. The other visible building is the schoolhouse. He will be going to school in the fall.
Antonio is sad to be leaving his mother for school. He runs to the pens near the molino (the mill) to feed the animals. He changes the rabbits' water, feeds the chickens, milks the cow and turns her loose to graze along the highway. The cow has only failed to return home at night a few times. When she doesn't return, Antonio has to search for her in the hills where bats fly and where he is sad and afraid to be alone. He collects the eggs from the chicken house and takes them to his mother. She gives him his breakfast. He and his sisters eat atole (cereal) and hot tortillas with butter. Antonio rarely speaks to his sisters. They are older and very close to each other. They spend their time playing with dolls and giggling. Antonio says, "I did not concern myself with those things."
Antonio's mother tells them their father has gone to get Ultima. She warns them to show good manners toward la Grande. She tells them to address her as la Grande. Deborah asks if she is a witch. Her mother scolds her for her rudeness in asking the question. She begins to cry. Antonio notices that his mother always cries when she thinks her children are learning the ways of their father. She tells them that Ultima worked hard for the villagers and that she, their mother, would never have survived the years on the llano without Ultima's help. She tells them they are honored to have Ultima stay with them. She tells her daughters to sweep Eugene's room. On saying his name, she prays and crosses herself. Eugene, along with Antonio's other two brothers are at war. Eugene is the youngest.
Antonio asks his mother if Ultima was present at his birth. She cries out "Ay Dios mÃo! (Oh, my God!). She comes over to Antonio and caresses his head. She says Ultima was at his birth as she was at all her children's births. Antonio also asks if his uncles from El Puerto were there. She says her brothers have always been there for her when she needed them. She begins to say they have always hoped she would bless them with a priest, but before she says the word priest, Antonio interrupts her with more questions. He does not want to hear it because he his hearing the sounds of his dream again. He feels sick. He asks if his father's brother and other vaqueros were there. He asks if there was a fight. His mother rages against the vaqueros whom she calls drunks. Antonio remembers her doing this for years. Antonio knows the truth of his dream is confirmed. He knows now that "Ultima knew." His mother tells Antonio that he will not be like the MÃ¡rez, but will be like the Lunas and may be a priest.
Antonio thinks of what it would be like to be a priest. He thinks of holding mass like father Byrnes does. He only says, "Perhaps." He wonders who will hear his confession. He does not wait for the answer. He wants to run. He runs to JasÃ³n's house. He feels cleansed by the air and wind. When he gets to JasÃ³n's house, his mother says he is not home. She tells him JasÃ³n has gone to the river in the northwest direction. Antonio knows the river goes through the hills where old Indian grounds are, holy burial grounds, JasÃ³n has told him. An Indian man lives in an old cave there. Everyone calls him JasÃ³n's Indian. He is the only Indian in town and will only speak to JasÃ³n. Antonio knows that JasÃ³n's father had done everything he can to keep JasÃ³n from being with the Indian, even beating him. Nevertheless, JasÃ³n continues to see the Indian. Antonio describes JasÃ³n as a good boy, who is usually quiet and moody, but sometimes "wild, loud sounds come exploding from his throat and lungs" for no apparent reason. Antonio sometimes feels like shouting like JasÃ³n does, but he never does so.
Antonio returns home and works in the garden while he waits for his father to return home. Working in the garden is Antonio's daily task. He clears rocks from a few feet more of the earth every day. The soil is not good for a garden. It is llano land. Yet, Antonio works to make a garden because it makes his mother happy to have a garden. It is hard work and makes Antonio's hands bleed. He fills the wheelbarrow with rocks and carries them to be dumped at the retaining wall. As he works, he hears the truck and sees it is his father and Ultima.
He calls out to his mother who comes out with Theresa and Deborah. Theresa says she is afraid. Her mother says she has too much MÃ¡rez blood in her. She is very dark and she talks all the time. She has learned English in school an speaks nothing else. Antonio's mother runs to the truck and greets Ultima. They embrace and exchange greetings. Antonio remembers her from the dream. Antonio's mother calls the children to greet her according to custom. Deborah and Theresa show good manners. Antonio knows a family is judged by its manners. Ultima praises their beauty. His father calls Antonio. He steps forward and takes Ultima's hand. He looks into her clear eyes and sees they are the eyes of a child. She calls his name. As she takes his hand, he feels a whirlwind around him. Ultima looks around at the hills and through her eyes, Antonio sees the beauty of the hills and the magic of the green river. He feels the song of the mockingbirds and hears the grasshoppers' sound mingle with the pulse of the earth. "The four directions of the llano met in me, and the white sun shone on my soul." He feels the sand under his feet and the sky above him "dissolve into one strange, complete being." He has an impulse to cry out and run in the beauty of it all.
His mother prods him. He greets Ultima by her given name. He knows Ultima holds the secret of his destiny. His mother is shocked that he has been so familiar with Ultima instead of calling her Grande. Ultima, however, tells her to let him be. She says he is the last child she pulled from MarÃa's womb and that she knew there would be something between them. Ultima tells Antonio she has come to spend her last days with them. Antonio tells her she will never die.
Gabriel urges her inside the house and tells her to consider it her own. Antonio sees his father carry in Ultima's blue tin trunk. He would later know that it contained all her possessions: her clothes and her herbs. As she walks past Antonio, he smells the sweet scent of herbs. Years later, after Ultima was long since dead, Antonio would awaken in the middle of the night and smell her fragrance in the night breeze.
An owl comes with Ultima. Antonio hears it singing outside her window. He knows it is hers because the llano owls never came so close to the house. At first, he and his sisters are disturbed by it. Antonio thinks his father would get up and shoot the owl but he did not. Antonio has heard the cuentos (stories) about the owl as one of the disguises of brujas (witches). However, Ultima's owl is not frightening. It has come to watch over the family.
That night Antonio dreams of the owl. La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint
of the town of Guadalupe, is lifted by Ultima's owl and flown to heaven.
Then, the owl returns and gathers all the babies from Limbo and flies
them to heaven. The Virgin smiles at the goodness of the owl.