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[1 of 5] The House on Mango Street, vignettes 1-9, by Sandra Cisneros (1984)

Author: Sandra Cisneros

Cisneros, Sandra. "Vignettes 1-9" The House on Mango Street. Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2004, Arte Público Press 1984.


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The House on Mango Street is a collection of vignettes which creates a whole novel. “A vignette is a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a impression about a character, an idea, or a setting.” Here are the first nine vignettes.

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The House on Mango Street
Hairs
Boys & Girls
My Name
Cathy Queen of Cats
Our Good Day
Laughter
Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold
Meme Ortiz

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The House on Mango Street

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We didn’t always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can’t remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot. Each time it seemed there’d be one more of us. By the time we got to Mango Street we were six—Mama, Papa, Carlos, Kiki, my sister Nenny and me.

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The house on Mango Street is ours, and we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noise, and there isn’t a landlord banging on the ceiling with a broom. But even so, it’s not the house we’d thought we’d get.

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We had to leave the flat on Loomis quick. The water pipes broke and the landlord wouldn’t fix them because the house was too old. We had to leave fast. We were using the washroom next door and carrying water over in empty milk gallons. That’s why Mama and Papa looked for a house, and that’s why we moved into the house on Mango Street, far away, on the other side of town.

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They always told us that one day we would move into a house, a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year. And our house would have running water and pipes that worked. And inside it would have real stairs, not hallway stairs, but stairs inside like the houses on TV. And we’d have a basement and at least three washrooms so when we took a bath we wouldn’t have to tell everybody. Our house would be white with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence. This was the house Papa talked about when he held a lottery ticket and this was the house Mama dreamed up in the stories she told us before we went to bed.

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But the house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all. It’s small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath. Bricks are crumbling in places, and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. There is no front yard, only four little elms the city planted by the curb. Out back is a small garage for the car we don’t own yet and a small yard that looks smaller between the two buildings on either side. There are stairs in our house, but they’re ordinary hallway stairs, and the house has only one washroom. Everybody has to share a bedroom—Mama and Papa, Carlos and Kiki, me and Nenny.

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Once when we were living on Loomis, a nun from my school passed by and saw me playing out front.

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The laundromat downstairs had been boarded up because it had been robbed two days before and the owner had painted on the wood YES WE’RE OPEN so as not to lose business.

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Where do you live? she asked.

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There, I said pointing up to the third floor.

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You live there? There. I had to look to where she pointed—the third floor, the paint peeling, wooden bars Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn’t fall out. You live there? The way she said it made me feel like nothing. There. I lived there. I nodded.

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I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go.

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Hairs

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Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air.

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And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carlos’ hair is thick and straight. He doesn’t need to comb it. Nenny’s hair is slippery—slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur.

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But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. The snoring, the rain, and Mama’s hair that smells like bread.

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Boys & Girls

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The boys and the girls live in separate worlds. The boys in their universe and we in ours. My brothers for example. They’ve got plenty to say to me and Nenny inside the house. But outside they can’t be seen talking to girls. Carlos and Kiki are each other’s best friend . . . not ours.

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Nenny is too young to be my friend. She’s just my sister and that was not my fault. You don’t pick your sisters, you just get them and sometimes they come like Nenny.

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She can’t play with those Vargas kids or she’ll turn out just like them. And since she comes right after me, she is my responsibility.

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Someday I will have a best friend all my own. One I can tell my secrets to. One who will understand my jokes without my having to explain them. Until then I am a red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor.

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My Name

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In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.

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It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse—which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female—but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.

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My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.

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And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

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At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name—Magdalena—which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza.

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I would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.

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Cathy Queen of Cats

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She says, I am the great great grand cousin of the queen of France. She lives upstairs, over there, next door to Joe the baby-grabber. Keep away from him, she says. He is full of danger. Benny and Blanca own the corner store. They’re okay except don’t lean on the candy counter. Two girls raggedy as rats live across the street. You don’t want to know them. Edna is the lady who owns the building next to you. She used to own a building big as a whale, but her brother sold it. Their mother said no, no, don’t ever sell it. I won’t. And then she closed her eyes and he sold it. Alicia is stuck-up ever since she went to college. She used to like me but now she doesn’t.

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Cathy who is queen of cats has cats and cats and cats. Baby cats, big cats, skinny cats, sick cats. Cats asleep like little donuts. Cats on top of the refrigerator. Cats taking a walk on the dinner table. Her house is like cat heaven.

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You want a friend, she says. Okay, I’ll be your friend. But only till next Tuesday. That’s when we move away. Got to. Then as if she forgot I just moved in, she says the neighborhood is getting bad.

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Cathy’s father will have to fly to France one day and find her great great distant grand cousin on her father’s side and inherit the family house. How do I know this is so? She told me so. In the meantime they’ll just have to move a little farther north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in.

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Our Good Day

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If you give me five dollars I will be your friend forever. That’s what the little one tells me.

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Five dollars is cheap since I don’t have any friends except Cathy who is only my friend till Tuesday.

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Five dollars, five dollars.

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She is trying to get somebody to chip in so they can buy a bicycle from this kid named Tito. They already have ten dollars and all they need is five more.

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Only five dollars, she says.

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Don’t talk to them, says Cathy. Can’t you see they smell like a broom.

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But I like them. Their clothes are crooked and old. They are wearing shiny Sunday shoes without socks. It makes their bald ankles all red, but I like them. Especially the big one who laughs with all her teeth. I like her even though she lets the little one do all the talking.

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Five dollars, the little one says, only five.

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Cathy is tugging my arm and I know whatever I do next will make her mad forever.

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Wait a minute, I say, and run inside to get the five dollars. I have three dollars saved and I take two of Nenny’s. She’s not home, but I’m sure she’ll be glad when she finds out we own a bike. When I get back, Cathy is gone like I knew she would be, but I don’t care. I have two new friends and a bike too.

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My name is Lucy, the big one says. This here is Rachel my sister.

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I’m her sister, says Rachel. Who are you?

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And I wish my name was Cassandra or Alexis or Maritza—anything but Esperanza—but when I tell them my name they don’t laugh.

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We come from Texas, Lucy says and grins. Her was born here, but me I’m Texas.

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You mean she, I say.

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No, I’m from Texas, and doesn’t get it.

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This bike is three ways ours, says Rachel who is thinking ahead already. Mine today, Lucy’s tomorrow and yours day after.

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But everybody wants to ride it today because the bike is new, so we decide to take turns after tomorrow. Today it belongs to all of us.

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I don’t tell them about Nenny just yet. It’s too complicated. Especially since Rachel almost put out Lucy’s eye about who was going to get to ride it first. But finally we agree to ride it together. Why not?

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Because Lucy has long legs she pedals. I sit on the back seat and Rachel is skinny enough to get up on the handlebars which makes the bike all wobbly as if the wheels are spaghetti, but after a bit you get used to it.

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We ride fast and faster. Past my house, sad and red and crumbly in places, past Mr. Benny’s grocery on the corner, and down the avenue which is dangerous. Laundromat, junk store, drugstore, windows and cars and more cars, and around the block back to Mango.

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People on the bus wave. A very fat lady crossing the street says, You sure got quite a load there.

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Rachel shouts, You got quite a load there too. She is very sassy.

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Down, down Mango Street we go. Rachel, Lucy, me. Our new bicycle. Laughing the crooked ride back.

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Laughter

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Nenny and I don’t look like sisters … not right away. Not the way you can tell with Rachel and Lucy who have the same fat popsicle lips like everybody else in their family. But me and Nenny, we are more alike than you would know. Our laughter for example. Not the shy ice cream bells’ giggle of Rachel and Lucy’s family, but all of a sudden and surprised like a pile of dishes breaking. And other things I can’t explain. One day we were passing a house that looked, in my mind, like houses I had seen in Mexico.

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I don’t know why. There was nothing about the house that looked exactly like the houses I remembered. I’m not even sure why I thought it, but it seemed to feel right.

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Look at that house, I said, it looks like Mexico.

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Rachel and Lucy look at me like I’m crazy, but before they can let out a laugh, Nenny says: Yes, that’s Mexico all right. That’s what I was thinking exactly.

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Gil’s Furniture Bought & Sold

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There is a junk store. An old man owns it. We bought a used refrigerator from him once, and Carlos sold a box of magazines for a dollar. The store is small with just a dirty window for light. He doesn’t turn the lights on unless you got money to buy things with, so in the dark we look and see all kinds of things, me and Nenny. Tables with their feet upside-down and rows and rows of refrigerators with round corners and couches that spin dust in the air when you punch them and a hundred TV’s that don’t work probably. Everything is on top of everything so the whole store has skinny aisles to walk through.

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You can get lost easy.

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The owner, he is a black man who doesn’t talk much and sometimes if you didn’t know better you could be in there a long time before your eyes notice a pair of gold glasses floating in the dark. Nenny who thinks she is smart and talks to any old man, asks lots of questions. Me, I never said nothing to him except once when I bought the Statue of Liberty for a dime.

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But Nenny, I hear her asking one time how’s this here and the man says, This, this is a music box, and I turn around quick thinking he means a pretty box with flowers painted on it, with a ballerina inside. Only there’s nothing like that where this old man is pointing, just a wood box that’s old and got a big brass record in it with holes. Then he starts it up and all sorts of things start happening. It’s like all of a sudden he let go a million moths all over the dusty furniture and swan-neck shadows and in our bones. It’s like drops of water. Or like marimbas only with a funny little plucked sound to it like if you were running your fingers across the teeth of a metal comb.

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And then I don’t know why, but I have to turn around and pretend I don’t care about the box so Nenny won’t see how stupid I am. But Nenny, who is stupider, already is asking how much and I can see her fingers going for the quarters in her pants pocket.

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This, the old man says shutting the lid, this ain’t for sale.

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Meme Ortiz

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Meme Ortiz moved into Cathy’s house after her family moved away. His name isn’t really Meme. His name is Juan. But when we asked him what his name was he said Meme, and that’s what everybody calls him except his mother.

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Meme has a dog with gray eyes, a sheepdog with two names, one in English and one in Spanish. The dog is big, like a man dressed in a dog suit, and runs the same way its owner does, clumsy and wild and with the limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.

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Cathy’s father built the house Meme moved into. It is wooden. Inside the floors slant. Some rooms uphill. Some down. And there are no closets. Out front there are twenty-one steps, all lopsided and jutting like crooked teeth (made that way on purpose, Cathy said, so the rain will slide off), and when Meme’s mama calls from the doorway, Meme goes scrambling up the twenty-one wooden stairs with the dog with two names scrambling after him.

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Around the back is a yard, mostly dirt, and a greasy bunch of boards that used to be a garage.

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But what you remember most is this tree, huge, with fat arms and mighty families of squirrels in the higher branches. All around, the neighborhood of roofs, black-tarred and A-framed, and in their gutters, the balls that never came back down to earth. Down at the base of the tree, the dog with two names barks into the empty air, and there at the end of the block, looking smaller still, our house with its feet tucked under like a cat.

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This is the tree we chose for the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest. Meme won. And broke both arms.

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DMU Timestamp: August 19, 2023 16:30

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