Authors: Sandra Cisneros
Salvador inside that wrinkled shirt, inside the throat that must clear itself and apologize each time it speaks, inside that forty-pound body of boy with its geography of scars, its history of hurt,
limbs stuffed with feathers and rags, in what part of the eyes, in what part of the heart, in that cage of the chest where something throbs with both fists and knows only what Salvador knows, inside that body too small to contain the hundred balloons of happiness, the single guitar of grief, is a boy like any other disappearing out the door, beside the schoolyard gate, where he has told his brothers they must wait. Collects the hands of Cecilio and Arturito, scuttles off dodging the many schoolyard colors, the elbows and wrists crisscrossing, the several shoes running. Grows small and smaller to the eye, dissolves into the bright horizon, flutters in the air before disappearing like a memory of kites.
It’s the one with Pedro Armendáriz in love with his boss’s wife, only she’s nothing but trouble and his problem is he’s just plain dumb. I like it when the man starts undressing the lady because that’s when Papa gives us the quarters and sends us to the lobby, hurry, until they put their clothes back on.
In the lobby there are thick carpets, red red, which if you drag your feet will make electricity. And velvet curtains with yellow fringe like a general’s shoulders. And a fat velvet rope across the stairs that means you can’t go up there.
You can put a quarter in a machine in the ladies’ bathroom and get a plastic tic-tac-toe or pink lipstick the color of sugar roses on birthday cakes. Or you can go out and spend it at the candy counter for a bag of
, or a ham-and-cheese
, or a box of jujubes. If you buy the jujubes, save the box because when you’re finished you can blow through it and it sounds just like a burro, which is fun to do when the movie’s on because maybe somebody will answer you with his jujube box until Papa says quit it.
I like the Pedro Infante movies best. He always sings riding a horse and wears a big sombrero and never tears the dresses off the ladies, and the ladies throw flowers from a balcony, and usually
somebody dies, but not Pedro Infante because he has to sing the happy song at the end.
Because Kiki’s still little, he likes to run up and down the aisles, up and down with the other kids, like little horses, the way I used to, but now it’s my job to make sure he doesn’t pick up the candy he finds on the floor and put it in his mouth.
Sometimes somebody’s kid climbs up on the stage, and there at the bottom of the screen’s a double silhouette, which makes everyone laugh. And sooner or later a baby starts crying so somebody else can yell
¡Qué saquen a ese niño!
But if it’s Kiki, that means me because Papa doesn’t move when he’s watching a movie and Mama sits with her legs bunched beneath her like an accordion because she’s afraid of rats.
Theaters smell like popcorn. We get to buy a box with a clown tossing some up in the air and catching it in his mouth with little bubbles saying
. Me and Kiki like tossing popcorn up in the air too and laughing when it misses and hits us on the head, or grabbing big bunches in our hands and squishing it into a tiny crumpled pile that fits inside our mouth, and listening to how it squeaks against our teeth, and biting the kernels at the end and spitting them out at each other like watermelon wars.
We like Mexican movies. Even if it’s one with too much talking. We just roll ourselves up like a doughnut and sleep, the armrest hard against our head until Mama puts her sweater there. But then the movie ends. The lights go on. Somebody picks us up—our shoes and legs heavy and dangling like dead people—carries us in the cold to the car that smells like ashtrays. Black and white, black and white lights behind our closed eyelids, until by now we’re awake but it’s nice to go on pretending with our eyes shut because here’s the best part. Mama and Papa lift us out of the backseat and carry us upstairs to the third-floor front where we live, take off our shoes and clothes, and cover us, so when we wake up, it’s Sunday already, and we’re in our beds and happy.
Yours is the one with mean eyes and a ponytail. Striped swimsuit, stilettos, sunglasses, and gold hoop earrings. Mine is the one with bubble hair. Red swimsuit, stilettos, pearl earrings, and a wire stand. But that’s all we can afford, besides one extra outfit apiece. Yours, “Red Flair,” sophisticated A-line coatdress with a Jackie Kennedy pillbox hat, white gloves, handbag, and heels included. Mine, “Solo in the Spotlight,” evening elegance in black glitter strapless gown with a puffy skirt at the bottom like a mermaid tail, formal-length gloves, pink chiffon scarf, and mike included. From so much dressing and undressing, the black glitter wears off where her titties stick out. This and a dress invented from an old sock when we cut holes here and here and here, the cuff rolled over for the glamorous, fancy-free, off-the-shoulder look.
Every time the same story. Your Barbie is roommates with my Barbie, and my Barbie’s boyfriend comes over and your Barbie steals him, okay? Kiss kiss kiss. Then the two Barbies fight. You dumbbell! He’s mine. Oh no he’s not, you stinky! Only Ken’s invisible, right? Because we don’t have money for a stupid-looking boy doll when
we’d both rather ask for a new Barbie outfit next Christmas. We have to make do with your mean-eyed Barbie and my bubblehead Barbie and our one outfit apiece not including the sock dress.
Until next Sunday when we are walking through the flea market on Maxwell Street and
Lying on the street next to some tool bits, and platform shoes with the heels all squashed, and a fluorescent green wicker wastebasket, and aluminum foil, and hubcaps, and a pink shag rug, and windshield wiper blades, and dusty mason jars, and a coffee can full of rusty nails.
Where? Two Mattel boxes. One with the “Career Gal” ensemble, snappy black-and-white business suit, three-quarter-length sleeve jacket with kick-pleat skirt, red sleeveless shell, gloves, pumps, and matching hat included. The other, “Sweet Dreams,” dreamy pink-and-white plaid nightgown and matching robe, lace-trimmed slippers, hairbrush and hand mirror included. How much? Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, until they say okay.
On the outside you and me skipping and humming but inside we are doing loopity-loops and pirouetting. Until at the next vendor’s stand, next to boxed pies, and bright orange toilet brushes, and rubber gloves, and wrench sets, and bouquets of feather flowers, and glass towel racks, and steel wool, and Alvin and the Chipmunks records,
Bendable Legs Barbie with her new page-boy hairdo. Midge, Barbie’s best friend. Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend. Skipper, Barbie’s little sister. Tutti and Todd, Barbie and Skipper’s tiny twin sister and brother. Skipper’s friends, Scooter and Ricky. Alan, Ken’s buddy. And Francie, Barbie’s MOD’ern cousin.
Everybody today selling toys, all of them damaged with water and smelling of smoke. Because a big toy warehouse on Halsted Street burned down yesterday—see there?—the smoke still rising and drifting across the Dan Ryan expressway. And now there is a big fire sale at Maxwell Street, today only.
So what if we didn’t get our new Bendable Legs Barbie and Midge and Ken and Skipper and Tutti and Todd and Scooter and Ricky and Alan and Francie in nice clean boxes and had to buy them on Maxwell Street, all water-soaked and sooty. So what if our Barbies smell like smoke when you hold them up to your nose even after you wash and wash and wash them. And if the prettiest doll, Barbie’s MOD’ern cousin Francie with real eyelashes, eyelash brush included, has a left foot that’s melted a little—so? If you dress her in her new “Prom Pinks” outfit, satin splendor with matching coat, gold belt, clutch, and hair bow included, so long as you don’t lift her dress, right?—who’s to know.
We’re waiting for the awful grandmother who is inside dropping pesos into
box before the altar to La Divina Providencia. Lighting votive candles and genuflecting. Blessing herself and kissing her thumb. Running a crystal rosary between her fingers. Mumbling, mumbling, mumbling.
There are so many prayers and promises and thanks-be-to-God to be given in the name of the husband and the sons and the only daughter who never attend mass. It doesn’t matter. Like La Virgen de Guadalupe, the awful grandmother intercedes on their behalf. For the grandfather who hasn’t believed in anything since the first PRI elections. For my father, El Periquín, so skinny he needs his sleep. For Auntie Light-skin, who only a few hours before was breakfasting on brain and goat tacos after dancing all night in the pink zone. For Uncle Fat-face, the blackest of the black sheep—
Always remember your Uncle Fat-face in your prayers
. And Uncle Baby—
You go for me, Mamá—God listens to you
The awful grandmother has been gone a long time. She disappeared behind the heavy leather outer curtain and the dusty velvet
inner. We must stay near the church entrance. We must not wander over to the balloon and punch-ball vendors. We cannot spend our allowance on fried cookies or Familia Burrón comic books or those clear cone-shaped suckers that make everything look like a rainbow when you look through them. We cannot run off and have our picture taken on the wooden ponies. We must not climb the steps up the hill behind the church and chase each other through the cemetery. We have promised to stay right where the awful grandmother left us until she returns.
There are those walking to church on their knees. Some with fat rags tied around their legs and others with pillows, one to kneel on, and one to flop ahead. There are women with black shawls crossing and uncrossing themselves. There are armies of penitents carrying banners and flowered arches while musicians play tinny trumpets and tinny drums.
La Virgen de Guadalupe is waiting inside behind a plate of thick glass. There’s also a gold crucifix bent crooked as a mesquite tree when someone once threw a bomb. La Virgen de Guadalupe on the main altar because she’s a big miracle, the crooked crucifix on a side altar because that’s a little miracle.
But we’re outside in the sun. My big brother Junior hunkered against the wall with his eyes shut. My little brother Keeks running around in circles.
Maybe and most probably my little brother is imagining he’s a flying feather dancer, like the ones we saw swinging high up from a pole on the Virgin’s birthday. I want to be a flying feather dancer too, but when he circles past me he shouts, “I’m a B-Fifty-two bomber, you’re a German,” and shoots me with an invisible machine gun. I’d rather play flying feather dancers, but if I tell my brother this, he might not play with me at all.
. We can’t play with a
. It’s my brothers’ favorite insult now instead of “sissy.” “You
,” they yell at each other. “You throw that ball like a