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Their mother identifies each girl with a favorite story she likes to tell about that daughter. She begins with a story about Carla as a young child, when the family was still quite poor. Carla wanted a pair of red sneakers, but the family could not afford any unnecessary expense. One day a neighbor received a pair of sneakers as a gift for her daughter, but the shoes did not fit. Knowing how relentlessly Carla had been pestering her mother for sneakers, the neighbor offered the shoes to the Garcías. However, Carla demanded that the shoes be red, and refused to wear them until her father secretly painted them with his wife’s nail polish.
The next story shifts to Yolanda, the third eldest girl, who holds a graduate degree and writes poetry. Her mother believed she would be “the famous one,” but Yolanda has become a literature teacher, not a poet. She still gives readings, though, which her mother attends, seemingly unfazed by the explicit sexual content of many of Yolanda’s poems. At one reading, Yolanda’s mother unknowingly sits next to Yolanda’s lover, Clive, who is the head of the Comparative Literature department where Yolanda teaches. Clive pretends not to know Yolanda, and listens to her mother tell the story of a trip the family took to New York when Yolanda was three years old. Yolanda had been accidentally left aboard a New York bus, and when her parents finally caught up with the bus after running frantically for two blocks, they found her reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” to a crowd of people.
The narrator next explains that Laura García no longer tells her favorite story about Sandra, excusing herself by saying she would like to forget the past. Sandra was recently committed to a private mental hospital called Mount Hope, where her mother told the senior psychiatrist, Dr. Tandlemann, about the beginning of Sandra’s anorexia and nervous breakdown. Dr. Tandlemann corrects Laura whenever she calls her daughter “crazy,” but he soon realizes that Sandra’s condition extends beyond her eating disorder. Sandra, who inherited the fair skin and blue eyes of a distant Swedish ancestor, became devoted to her good looks and began going on dangerous crash diets. While in graduate school, she was hospitalized. When her parents arrived at the hospital, they found her reading frantically. She explained that she needed to read as many books as possible before she turned into a monkey, and she refused to eat meat, arguing that she might become a chicken or red snapper, since evolution had reached its peak and was now reversing. As Laura tells Dr. Tandlemann the story, Carlos, who has been looking out the window, sees Sandra walking across the lawn with a nurse. Without seeing her father, Sandra suddenly breaks into panicked run, having mistaken the lawnmower as a roaring animal on a leash
The final story also takes place at a hospital, but this time at the birth of Sofía’s daughter, Laura’s first granddaughter. As Laura admires the newborn, she strikes up a conversation with a young man whose wife has just given birth. Laura begins to tell the man about Sofía, who she says has always been a smart and lucky girl. She relates how the García house was burgled on the night Sofía was born, but the police caught the men and returned the stolen items. Then she erroneously tells him how Sofía met her German husband Otto on a church trip to Perú (Sofía actually met him when she followed her then-boyfriend to Colombia).