He wakes and hears his brother Eugene shouting that he and his brothers must leave. They don’t want to work on the highway with their father, and they don’t want to follow their father’s dream to go to California. They simply want to be out on their own. Maria cries and blames their father’s wild Marez blood for their wandering, restless nature. Gabriel realizes that without his sons, he will never realize his dream of moving to California.
In the morning, despite their parents’ pleas, Eugene and Leon leave. Andrew stays behind because he knows how deeply his mother suffers the loss of her two sons. Soon he and Antonio set out — Andrew for a job at a grocery, Antonio to school. On the way, they talk of loss; Andrew says that he lost his innocence in the war; it is too late for him to become a priest. Antonio again wonders about his own innocence and when he will suffer its loss.
That spring, Antonio does so well in the first grade that he discovers, on the last day of school, that Miss Maestas hag promoted him to the third grade. He is jubilant as he meets Samuel, who suggests they go fishing. Their poles set, Samuel tells Antonio that it is bad luck to fish for carp because long ago, when the world was young, the people in this region were given all they desired because they were faithful. They could eat everything — except the sacred carp. However, during a severe drought, the people were so hungry that they ate the carp. The gods were so angry they were going to kill the people until one god pleaded their case. The gods spared the people but turned them into carp. The god who pleaded their case was turned into a golden carp.
Antonio considers the possibility that his mother has been praying to the wrong god; perhaps she should pray to the golden carp. He asks Samuel where he can see the golden carp and is told that Cico will show him the fabulous carp. From that moment on, Antonio is obsessed with the concept of the holy, golden carp.
That summer, Antonio hears rumors that his Uncle Lucas is bewitched; he has been ill all winter and now it is summer, and he is still very ill, apparently because he watched some witches (the three Trementina sisters) dancing and performing “black rites.” Ultima agrees to treat him but warns Gabriel and Maria that they will be held responsible for perhaps unleashing an uncontrollable chain of events if she tampers with Lucas’ fate. She says that Antonio will be her assistant, and Uncle Pedro stresses Antonio’s strong Luna blood.
The horned day-moon that Ultima sees on their way to El Puerto seems a good omen; the Lunas have always cared for their crops and animals according to the cycles of the moon. After agreeing to a price for her services with Antonio’s grandfather, Ultima and Antonio enter Tenorio’s saloon, where she tells the owner that she has come to lift the curse that his daughters put on Lucas and that they will suffer greatly for tampering with fate. She and Antonio leave and return to the Luna house; on the way, Tenorio dashes by them on horseback, racing home to warn his daughters.
After preparing an herbal remedy, Ultima feeds it to Lucas, who vomits it immediately. With confidence, Ultima tells Antonio that Lucas will be cured when he is well enough to eat the blue corn meal, which they are now eating. She will cure Lucas, she says, because good always triumphs over evil — even though the Church does not sanction what she does. Hearing Ultima’s owl chase coyotes away from the house, Antonio falls into a deep stupor and assumes Lucas’ sickness; he is seized by cramps, convulsions, and pain as Ultima attempts to heal Lucas by using Antonio’s strong, healthy body as a surrogate in order to purge the dark, deep-rooted curse. Then she fashions three clay dolls, covers them with wax, and dresses them; she allows Lucas to breathe on them, while they seemingly writhe. Not long afterwards, she sticks pins in them, and Lucas vomits an enormous ball of hair, mixed with green bile. The witches worked their curse by using his hair.
Ultima bags the vile mixture and plans to burn it at the site where the dancing took place. Antonio senses that their work is done.
Later that summer, while fishing and wondering why Ultima could save Lucas’ life and why the priest couldn’t, Antonio is hailed by Cico, who offers to show him the golden carp — if he will take an oath never to kill a carp. Cico also wants Antonio to recognize the golden carp as a god, but Antonio can say only that he wants to do so. He must, ultimately, as a Catholic, recognize only God, the god of the Catholic Church. They stop briefly at Narciso’s garden, eat carrots, then encounter some boys who taunt Antonio about Ultima’s being a witch. Distressed, Antonio vomits bright yellow carrot juice and froth, and the boys are so repulsed that they flee.
At a large pond up the creek, Cico points to a dark, overhanging thicket; he says the carp will emerge from there. When it appears, Cico stands as if acknowledging a ruler; Antonio is so astonished at the carp’s beauty that he feels as though he is dreaming. Both boys put their feet in the water as the gold carp watches them, then swims close to them. Cico then tells Antonio about the Hidden Lakes and about the mermaid who almost lured him to plunge into the lake. He explains about the immense power of the lakes, which is stronger than the presence of the river, and says that long ago, this land was beneath the sea, that it belonged to fish, and that someday, the golden carp will return to rule it once more. It will happen when the sins of the people weigh so heavily that the land collapses and the whole town is swallowed by the lakes. He draws a diagram, showing Antonio that their town is surrounded by lakes, and advises him to sin against no one. Ultima smiles when she hears the story and says that Antonio must find his own truths as he grows into manhood.
In his dream that night, he envisions a great lake and sees the rotting carcasses of sinners on its shores. He hears the mermaid and sees the golden carp. Waiting for the appearance of the Virgen de Guadalupe, he sees his mother, who says that those baptized in the holy water of the moon are saved. Gabriel, however, says that Antonio was baptized in the salt water of the sea, which links him to the pagan god, the golden carp. What blood runs through him — that of the moon? Or that of the sea? Ultima appears and explains that the waters of the moon gather into rivers and flow into the oceans, and then the waters of the oceans are drawn to the heavens by the sun to become waters of the moon again. Looking into Ultima’s bright eyes, Antonio understands the old healer’s wisdom.
In the fifth dream, Antonio accepts the role of a priest as his destiny and resists being with sinful women. The brothers, however, remind him that he is a Marez and that some day he too will enjoy physical fulfillment by women; just as he chooses the priesthood as his destiny, he is told by his brothers that the Marez blood will ultimately prevail. Antonio’s dream reveals an Oedipal guilt that surfaces when he sees the breasts of a young woman. His increasing understanding of sex between men and women that resulted from his last experience with his brothers is attended by fears of loss of innocence, a viewpoint attributed to his mother. Antonio’s internal conflict over his destiny is intensifying. In this dream, the three major sources of understanding in Antonio’s world compete to influence him: Maria, the priest, and Ultima.
This dream foreshadows Andrew’s decision to remain with the family but frames his stay in terms of Antonio’s loss of innocence. He will leave when Antonio has become a man. Antonio is again torn between competing viewpoints. The brothers maintain that it is natural for men to be with women and that becoming a man involves loss of innocence. In contrast, Maria sees Antonio losing his innocence by knowing about the sins of the flesh. Antonio wants to maintain his innocence and affirms that decision by refusing to enter the whorehouse. The priest, however, proclaims that Antonio is not innocent at all and must achieve innocence through holy communion with God.
Antonio’s ever-growing concern with the contamination of his purity is plainly evident in his dream. He wants to know the path that will allow him to preserve his innocence. The priest emphasizes the rite of holy communion with God, but Antonio is unsure. Overwhelmed by despair, Antonio is calmed by Ultima, who points to his roots in the plains as the location of his innocence.
Antonio’s dreams are increasingly revealing the unconscious associations he makes as he grapples with the conflicts and tensions around him and their influences on his own fears and anxieties. He wants to preserve his innocence yet unconsciously considers the possibility of being evil himself. Indeed, part of his anxiety is caused by the increasing recognition that he himself is culpable and tainted with evil, as claimed by the Church.
The next morning, Andrew and Antonio walk together into town. As they get to know each other better, Antonio has the opportunity to ask questions about his destiny. He hopes that their communion with one another will bring him understanding.
By skipping a grade in school, Antonio begins to fulfill his destiny as a person of learning. He also begins to demonstrate some independence when he decides to go fishing with Samuel. Both cognitive and emotional development combine to propel him to a level where initiation into the religion of the golden carp causes him to begin to raise doubts about Catholicism. These doubts begin just as Ultima is called upon to perform a healing. Antonio is drawn into a world of popular superstitions, magic, and the occult by virtue of the religious powers of his middle name, Juan. Ultima’s healing of Lucas intensifies Antonio’s skepticism about the power of the Catholic faith.
The conflict between good and evil becomes crystallized in the struggle between Ultima and Tenorio, both of whom embody Catholic and non-Christian views. Antonio’s struggle to move toward independent critical thinking is intensified by the cosmic struggle that occurs through Ultima and Tenorio.
Understanding of this cosmic struggle is nurtured by the pre-Hispanic and prehistoric past contained in the legend of the golden carp, the knowledge of Ultima, and the content of the tales and superstitions of the people. This prehistoric past links Antonio to the physical landscape in powerful ways. The river’s presence, for instance, is a manifestation of an “other” power. Ultima’s life is close to nature, and Antonio is realizing that the forces of nature are very much a part of him and his world.
Witnessing the golden carp for the first time, Antonio revels in the epiphany of the moment. He feels a unity with nature that hitherto he had not experienced. However, at the very moment that he considers God and His reproach of pagans, the black bass arrives signifying evil. Cico forces it to leave and harmony with nature is restored, with the boys soaking their feet in the water as the golden carp swims nearby.
As Antonio continues his initiation into the secrets of the past, he learns of the golden carp’s apocalyptic prophecy, its concern with moral degeneracy, and the importance of remaining free of sin. Antonio is learning about a different moral order, one that competes with Christianity and sets him on a course toward understanding the relativity of thought. His dream pits the two moral orders against each other, and the tempest that arises from their conflict is calmed only by Ultima, who embodies both orders in a coherent unity.
bosque a cottonwood grove; a wooded area near water.