PART FOUR: Darius and the Clouds; And Some More; The Family of Little Feet; A Rice Sandwich; Chanclas.
15. 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.
16. 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.
Rosemary, Dalia, Lily. . .
Jean, Geranium and Joe . . .
Mimi, Michael, Moe . . .
Your mama's frijoles.
Your ugly mama's toes.
Bebe, Blanca, Benny. . .
Rachel, Lucy, Esperanza and Nenny.
17. 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.
18. 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.
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.
It's me—Mama, Mama said. I open up and she's there with bags and big boxes, the new clothes and, yes, she's got the socks and a new slip with a little rose on it and a pink-and-white striped dress. What about the shoes? I forgot. Too late now. I'm tired. Whew!
Six-thirty already and my little cousin's baptism is over. All day waiting, the door locked, don't open up for nobody, and I don't till Mama gets back and buys everything except the shoes.
Now Uncle Nacho is coming in his car, and we have to hurry to get to Precious Blood Church quick because that's where the baptism party is, in the basement rented for today for dancing and tamales and everyone's kids running all over the place.
Mama dances, laughs, dances. All of a sudden, Mama is sick. I fan her hot face with a paper plate. Too many tamales, but Uncle Nacho says too many this and tilts his thumb to his lips.
Everybody laughing except me, because I'm wearing the new dress, pink and white with stripes, and new underclothes and new socks and the old saddle shoes I wear to school, brown and white, the kind I get every September because they last long and they do. My feet scuffed and round, and the heels all crooked that look dumb with this dress, so I just sit.
Meanwhile that boy who is my cousin by first communion or something asks me to dance and I can't.
Just stuff my feet under the metal folding chair stamped Precious Blood and pick on a wad of brown gum that's stuck beneath the seat. I shake my head no. My feet growing bigger and bigger.
Then Uncle Nacho is pulling and pulling my arm and it doesn't matter how new the dress Mama bought is because my feet are ugly until my uncle who is a liar says, You are the prettiest girl here, will you dance, but I believe him, and yes, we are dancing, my Uncle Nacho and me, only I don't want to at first. My feet swell big and heavy like plungers, but I drag them across the linoleum floor straight center where Uncle wants to show off the new dance we learned. And Uncle spins me, and my skinny arms bend the way he taught me, and my mother watches, and my little cousins watch, and the boy who is my cousin by first communion watches, and everyone says, wow, who are those two who dance like in the movies, until I forget that I am wearing only ordinary shoes, brown and white, the kind my mother buys each year for school. And all I hear is the clapping when the music stops. My uncle and me bow and he walks me back in my thick shoes to my mother who is proud to be my mother. All night the boy who is a man watches me dance. He watched me dance.