SYNOPSIS

If you don’t want to know how the novel ends, you’ll want to skip the last paragraph.

RIGOBERTO CALDERÓN is a mechanic of great skill but otherwise ordinary qualities—except for a silver tongue and bedroom eyes.  He boasts one day to Mike, a gringo driving through Mexico with his second wife, that he too has two spouses, only he hasn’t divorced the first.  He claims this Mexican way of simultaneous unions is more humane than sequential ones—no one gets hurt.

Yet there’s a cloud on Rigoberto’s otherwise cloudless horizon.  While in San Martín he’s admired as a successful man—his skills have earned him the title of maestro, his business thrives, his family is secure—his other woman, EMMA, sequestered down the road in Puebla, wants more for their children than to grow up mechanics.  It’s an idea that touches Rigoberto’s self-worth and it’s ruining his tranquility.  One day, longing to be free of irksome responsibilities, he wishes both his women dead.  Not long after, one of them, his acknowledged wife, CARMEN, suddenly dies.

Rigoberto blames himself for Carmen’s death.  Grief and guilt rob him of his pluck.  He’s not allowed to dither for long, however:  his wife died in the arms of another tourist, a social worker from San Francisco named SHULA, who takes seriously her promise to the dying woman to see that her children are looked after.  When Shula learns, through Rigoberto’s senior apprentice, JUAN, of the collateral mate and their children, she exhorts Rigoberto to merge the two families as the obvious solution.  Instead, he goes to pieces and flees to the mountains, to hide out in a remote cave while trying to sort through his options.

While hiding out he injures himself and is only saved from death by a chance encounter with CILLO, a vagabond so shy he would leave Rigoberto to die rather than face strangers if he weren’t such a moral soul.  He takes Rigoberto to a mountain village where BERNARDO, a shaman with a foot in two realities, undertakes to cure the wound to Rigoberto’s soul that made him flee.

Meanwhile, Shula rounds up Emma, all Rigoberto’s children, Juan and the other young apprentices, and goes looking for him.  She becomes the shaman’s instrument for curing Rigoberto, but the process causes the tragic death of CHINO,  the mechanic’s dearest apprentice.  Juan and the convalescing Rigoberto drive the dead child back to San Martín on Christmas Eve, and residents believe they see a saintly glow from the body of the boy who gave his life for his master.

Many years later, likewise on Christmas Eve, Mike The Gringo comes back with yet another wife.  An aged Rigoberto tells him the story of his flight and return, but later, in different ways, two former apprentices who’ve grown to manhood confide to Mike that grief and guilt sent Rigoberto back to a conventional life where no one lived completely happily ever after, though in the end order was restored in their universe.

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