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[2 of 5] The House on Mango Street, vignettes 10-18, 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.

Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin
Those Who Don’t
There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children
Alicia Who Sees Mice
Darius & the Clouds
And Some More
The Family of Little Feet
A Rice Sandwich

Louie, His Cousin & His Other Cousin

Downstairs from Meme’s is a basement apartment that Meme’s mother fixed up and rented to a Puerto Rican family. Louie’s family. Louie is the oldest in a family of little sisters. He is my brother’s friend really, but I know he has two cousins and that his T-shirts never stay tucked in his pants.

Louie’s girl cousin is older than us. She lives with Louie’s family because her own family is in Puerto Rico. Her name is Marin or Maris or something like that, and she wears dark nylons all the time and lots of makeup she gets free from selling Avon. She can’t come out—gotta baby-sit with Louie’s sisters—but she stands in the doorway a lot, all the time singing, clicking her fingers, the same song: Apples, peaches, pumpkin pah-ay. You’re in love and so am ah-ay.

Louie has another cousin. We only saw him once, but it was important. We were playing volleyball in the alley when he drove up in this great big yellow Cadillac with whitewalls and a yellow scarf tied around the mirror. Louie’s cousin had his arm out the window. He honked a couple of times and a lot of faces looked out from Louie’s back window and then a lot of people came out—Louie, Marin and all the little sisters.

Everybody looked inside the car and asked where he got it. There were white rugs and white leather seats. We all asked for a ride and asked where he got it. Louie’s cousin said get in.

We each had to sit with one of Louie’s little sisters on our lap, but that was okay. The seats were big and soft like a sofa, and there was a little white cat in the back window whose eyes lit up when the car stopped or turned. The windows didn’t roll up like in ordinary cars. Instead there was a button that did it for you automatically. We rode up the alley and around the block six times, but Louie’s cousin said he was going to make us walk home if we didn’t stop playing with the windows or touching the FM radio.

The seventh time we drove into the alley we heard sirens . . . real quiet at first, but then louder. Louie’s cousin stopped the car right where we were and said, Everybody out of the car. Then he took off flooring that car into a yellow blur. We hardly had time to think when the cop car pulled in the alley going just as fast. We saw the yellow Cadillac at the end of the block trying to make a left-hand turn, but our alley is too skinny and the car crashed into a lamppost.

Marin screamed and we ran down the block to where the cop car’s siren spun a dizzy blue. The nose of that yellow Cadillac was all pleated like an alligator’s, and except for a bloody lip and a bruised forehead, Louie’s cousin was okay. They put handcuffs on him and put him in the backseat of the cop car, and we all waved as they drove away.


Marin’s boyfriend is in Puerto Rico. She shows us his letters and makes us promise not to tell anybody they’re getting married when she goes back to P.R. She says he didn’t get a job yet, but she’s saving the money she gets from selling Avon and taking care of her cousins.

Marin says that if she stays here next year, she’s going to get a real job downtown because that’s where the best jobs are, since you always get to look beautiful and get to wear nice clothes and can meet someone in the subway who might marry you and take you to live in a big house far away.

But next year Louie’s parents are going to send her back to her mother with a letter saying she’s too much trouble, and that is too bad because I like Marin. She is older and knows lots of things. She is the one who told us how Davey the Baby’s sister got pregnant and what cream is best for taking off moustache hair and if you count the white flecks on your fingernails you can know how many boys are thinking of you and lots of other things I can’t remember now.

We never see Marin until her aunt comes home from work, and even then she can only stay out in front. She is there every night with the radio. When the light in her aunt’s room goes out, Marin lights a cigarette and it doesn’t matter if it’s cold out or if the radio doesn’t work or if we’ve got nothing to say to each other. What matters, Marin says, is for the boys to see us and for us to see them. And since Marin’s skirts are shorter and since her eyes are pretty, and since Marin is already older than us in many ways, the boys who do pass by say stupid things like I am in love with those two green apples you call eyes, give them to me why don’t you. And Marin just looks at them without even blinking and is not afraid.

Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life

Those Who Don’t

Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous.

They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake. But we aren’t afraid. We know the guy with the crooked eye is Davey the Baby’s brother, and the tall one next to him in the straw brim, that’s Rosa’s Eddie V., and the big one that looks like a dumb grown man, he’s Fat Boy, though he’s not fat anymore nor a boy.

All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes.

There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn’t Know What to Do

Rosa Vargas’ kids are too many and too much. It’s not her fault you know, except she is their mother and only one against so many.

They are bad those Vargases, and how can they help it with only one mother who is tired all the time from buttoning and bottling and babying, and who cries every day for the man who left without even leaving a dollar for bologna or a note explaining how come.

The kids bend trees and bounce between cars and dangle upside down from knees and almost break like fancy museum vases you can’t replace. They think it’s funny. They are without respect for all things living, including themselves.

But after a while you get tired of being worried about kids who aren’t even yours. One day they are playing chicken on Mr. Benny’s roof. Mr. Benny says, Hey ain’t you kids know better than to be swinging up there? Come down, you come down right now, and then they just spit.

See. That’s what I mean. No wonder everybody gave up. Just stopped looking out when little Efren chipped his buck tooth on a parking meter and didn’t even stop Refugia from getting her head stuck between two slats in the back gate and nobody looked up not once the day Angel Vargas learned to fly and dropped from the sky like a sugar donut, just like a falling star, and exploded down to earth without even an “Oh.”

Alicia Who Sees Mice

Close your eyes and they’ll go away, her father says, or You’re just imagining. And anyway, a woman’s place is sleeping so she can wake up early with the tortilla star, the one that appears early just in time to rise and catch the hind legs hide behind the sink, beneath the four-clawed tub, under the swollen floorboards nobody fixes, in the corner of your eyes.

Alicia, whose mama died, is sorry there is no one older to rise and make the lunchbox tortillas.

Alicia, who inherited her mama’s rolling pin and sleepiness, is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university. Two trains and a bus, because she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin. Is a good girl, my friend, studies all night and sees the mice, the ones her father says do not exist. Is afraid of nothing except four-legged fur. And fathers.

Darius & the Clouds

You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky. Butterflies too are few and so are flowers and most things that are beautiful. Still, we take what we can get and make the best of it.

Darius, who doesn’t like school, who is sometimes stupid and mostly a fool, said something wise today, though most days he says nothing. Darius, who chases girls with firecrackers or a stick that touched a rat and thinks he’s tough, today pointed up because the world was full of clouds, the kind like pillows.

You all see that cloud, that fat one there? Darius said, See that? Where? That one next to the one that look like popcorn. That one there. See that. That’s God, Darius said. God? somebody little asked. God, he said, and made it simple.

And Some More

The Eskimos got thirty different names for snow, I say. I read it in a book.

I got a cousin, Rachel says, she got three different names.

There ain’t thirty different kinds of snow, Lucy says. There are two kinds. The clean kind and the dirty kind, clean and dirty. Only two.

There are a million zillion kinds, says Nenny. No two exactly alike. Only how do you remember which one is which?

She got three last names and, let me see, two first names. One in English and one in Spanish . . .

And clouds got at least ten different names, I say.

Names for clouds? Nenny asks. Names just like you and me?

That up there, that’s cumulus, and everybody looks up.

Cumulus are cute, Rachel says. She would say something like that.

What’s that one there? Nenny asks, pointing a finger.

That’s cumulus too. They’re all cumulus today. Cumulus, cumulus, cumulus.

No, she says. That there is Nancy, otherwise known as Pig-eye. And over there her cousin Mildred, and little Joey, Marco, Nereida and Sue.

There are all different kinds of clouds. How many different kinds of clouds can you think of?

Well, there’s these already that look like shaving cream . . .

And what about the kind that looks like you combed its hair? Yes, those are clouds too.

Phyllis, Ted, Alfredo and Julie . . .

There are clouds that look like big fields of sheep, Rachel says. Them are my favorite.

And don’t forget nimbus the rain cloud, I add, that’s something.

Jose and Dagoberto, Alicia, Raul, Edna, Alma and Rickey. . .

There’s that wide puffy cloud that looks like your face when you wake up after falling asleep with all your clothes on.

Reynaldo, Angelo, Albert, Armando, Mario . . .

Not my face. Looks like your fat face.

Rita, Margie, Ernie . . .

Whose fat face?

Esperanza’s fat face, that’s who. Looks like Esperanza’s ugly face when she comes to school in the morning.

Anita, Stella, Dennis, and Lolo . . .

Who you calling ugly, ugly?

Richie, Yolanda, Hector, Stevie, Vincent…

Not you. Your mama, that’s who.

My mama? You better not be saying that, Lucy Guerrero. You better not be talking like that. . .

else you can say goodbye to being my friend forever.

I’m saying your mama’s ugly like . . . ummm . . .

… like bare feet in September!

That does it! Both of yous better get out of my yard before I call my brothers.

Oh, we’re only playing.

I can think of thirty Eskimo words for you, Rachel. Thirty words that say what you are.

Oh yeah, well I can think of some more.

Uh-oh, Nenny. Better get the broom. Too much trash in our yard today.

Frankie, Licha, Maria, Pee Wee . . .

Nenny, you better tell your sister she is really crazy because Lucy and me are never coming back here again. Forever.

Reggie, Elizabeth, Lisa, Louie …

You can do what you want to do, Nenny, but you better not talk to Lucy or Rachel if you want to be my sister.

You know what you are, Esperanza? You are like the Cream of Wheat cereal. You’re like the lumps.

Yeah, and you’re foot fleas, that’s you.

Chicken lips.

Rosemary, Dalia, Lily. . .

Cockroach jelly.

Jean, Geranium and Joe . . .

Cold frijoles.

Mimi, Michael, Moe . . .

Your mama’s frijoles.

Your ugly mama’s toes.

That’s stupid.

Bebe, Blanca, Benny. . .

Who’s stupid?

Rachel, Lucy, Esperanza and Nenny.

The Family of Little Feet

There was a family. All were little. Their arms were little, and their hands were little, and their height was not tall, and their feet very small.

The grandpa slept on the living room couch and snored through his teeth. His feet were fat and doughy like thick tamales, and these he powdered and stuffed into white socks and brown leather shoes.

The grandma’s feet were lovely as pink pearls and dressed in velvety high heels that made her walk with a wobble, but she wore them anyway because they were pretty.

The baby’s feet had ten tiny toes, pale and see-through like a salamanders, and these he popped into his mouth whenever he was hungry.

The mother’s feet, plump and polite, descended like white pigeons from the sea of pillow, across the linoleum roses, down down the wooden stairs, over the chalk hopscotch squares, 5, 6, 7, blue sky.

Do you want this? And gave us a paper bag with one pair of lemon shoes and one red and one pair of dancing shoes that used to be white but were now pale blue. Here, and we said thank you and waited until she went upstairs.

Hurray! Today we are Cinderella because our feet fit exactly, and we laugh at Rachel’s one foot with a girl’s gray sock and a lady’s high heel. Do you like these shoes? But the truth is it is scary to look down at your foot that is no longer yours and see attached a long long leg.

Everybody wants to trade. The lemon shoes for the red shoes, the red for the pair that were once white but are now pale blue, the pale blue for the lemon, and take them off and put them back on and keep on like this a long time until we are tired.

Then Lucy screams to take our socks off and yes, it’s true. We have legs. Skinny and spotted with satin scars where scabs were picked, but legs, all our own, good to look at, and long.

It’s Rachel who learns to walk the best all strutted in those magic high heels. She teaches us to cross and uncross our legs, and to run like a double-dutch rope, and how to walk down to the corner so that the shoes talk back to you with every step. Lucy, Rachel, me tee-tottering like so. Down to the corner where the men can’t take their eyes off us. We must be Christmas.

Mr. Benny at the corner grocery puts down his important cigar: Your mother know you got shoes like that? Who give you those?


Them are dangerous, he says. You girls too young to be wearing shoes like that. Take them shoes off before I call the cops, but we just run.

On the avenue a boy on a homemade bicycle calls out: Ladies, lead me to heaven.

But there is nobody around but us.

Do you like these shoes? Rachel says yes, and Lucy says yes, and yes I say, these are the best shoes. We will never go back to wearing the other kind again. Do you like these shoes?

In front of the laundromat six girls with the same fat face pretend we are invisible. They are the cousins, Lucy says, and always jealous. We just keep strutting.

Across the street in front of the tavern a bum man on the stoop.

Do you like these shoes?

Bum man says, Yes, little girl. Your little lemon shoes are so beautiful. But come closer. I can’t see very well. Come closer. Please.

You are a pretty girl, bum man continues. What’s your name, pretty girl?

And Rachel says Rachel, just like that.

Now you know to talk to drunks is crazy and to tell them your name is worse, but who can blame her. She is young and dizzy to hear so many sweet things in one day, even if it is a bum man’s whiskey words saying them.

Rachel, you are prettier than a yellow taxicab. You know that?

But we don’t like it. We got to go, Lucy says.

If I give you a dollar will you kiss me? How about a dollar. I give you a dollar, and he looks in his pocket for wrinkled money.

We have to go right now, Lucy says taking Rachel’s hand because she looks like she’s thinking about that dollar.

Bum man is yelling something to the air but by now we are running fast and far away, our high heel shoes taking us all the way down the avenue and around the block, past the ugly cousins, past Mr.

Benny’s, up Mango Street, the back way, just in case.

We are tired of being beautiful. Lucy hides the lemon shoes and the red shoes and the shoes that used to be white but are now pale blue under a powerful bushel basket on the back porch, until one Tuesday her mother, who is very clean, throws them away. But no one complains.

A Rice Sandwich

The special kids, the ones who wear keys around their necks, get to eat in the canteen. The canteen! Even the name sounds important. And these kids at lunch time go there because their mothers aren’t home or home is too far away to get to.

My home isn’t far but it’s not close either, and somehow I got it in my head one day to ask my mother to make me a sandwich and write a note to the principal so I could eat in the canteen too.

Oh no, she says pointing the butter knife at me as if I’m starting trouble, no sir. Next thing you know everybody will be wanting a bag lunch—I’ll be up all night cutting bread into little triangles, this one with mayonnaise, this one with mustard, no pickles on mine, but mustard on one side please. You kids just like to invent more work for me.

But Nenny says she doesn’t want to eat at school—ever—because she likes to go home with her best friend Gloria who lives across the schoolyard. Gloria’s mama has a big color TV and all they do is watch cartoons. Kiki and Carlos, on the other hand, are patrol boys. They don’t want to eat at school either. They like to stand out in the cold especially if it’s raining. They think suffering is good for you ever since they saw that movie 300 Spartans.

I’m no Spartan and hold up an anemic wrist to prove it. I can’t even blow up a balloon without getting dizzy. And besides, I know how to make my own lunch. If I ate at school there’d be less dishes to wash. You would see me less and less and like me better. Everyday at noon my chair would be empty. Where is my favorite daughter you would cry, and when I came home finally at three p.m. you would appreciate me.

Okay, okay, my mother says after three days of this. And the following morning I get to go to school with my mother’s letter and a rice sandwich because we don’t have lunch meat.

Mondays or Fridays, it doesn’t matter, mornings always go by slow and this day especially. But lunchtime came finally and I got to get in line with the stay-at-school kids. Everything is fine until the nun who knows all the canteen kids by heart looks at me and says: You, who sent you here? And since I am shy, I don’t say anything, just hold out my hand with the letter. This is no good, she says, till Sister Superior gives the okay. Go upstairs and see her. And so I went.

I had to wait for two kids in front of me to get hollered at, one because he did something in class, the other because he didn’t. My turn came and I stood in front of the big desk with holy pictures under the glass while the Sister Superior read my letter. It went like this: Dear Sister Superior,

Please let Esperanza eat in the lunchroom because she lives too far away and she gets tired. As you can see she is very skinny. I hope to God she does not faint.

Thanking you,

Mrs. E. Cordero

You don’t live far, she says. You live across the boulevard. That’s only four blocks. Not even. Three maybe. Three long blocks away from here. I bet I can see your house from my window. Which one? Come here.

Which one is your house?

And then she made me stand up on a box of books and point. That one? she said, pointing to a row of ugly three-flats, the ones even the raggedy men are ashamed to go into. Yes, I nodded even though I knew that wasn’t my house and started to cry. I always cry when nuns yell at me, even if they’re not yelling.

Then she was sorry and said I could stay—just for today, not tomorrow or the day after—you go home. And I said yes and could I please have a Kleenex—I had to blow my nose.

In the canteen, which was nothing special, lots of boys and girls watched while I cried and ate my sandwich, the bread already greasy and the rice cold.

DMU Timestamp: September 12, 2023 11:39

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