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本周熱門小說

Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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Part One 

IN THE town there were two mutes, and they were always 
together. Early every morning they would come out from 
the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the 
street to work. The two friends were very different. The 
one who always steered the way was an obese and 
dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out 
wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into 
his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it 
was colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. 
His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and 
lips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute 
was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He 
was always immaculate and very soberly dressed. 
Every morning the two friends walked silently together until 
they reached the main street of the town. Then when they 
came to a certain fruit and candy store they paused for a 
moment on the sidewalk outside. The Greek, Spiros 
Antonapoulos, worked for his cousin, who owned this fruit 
store. His job was to make candies and sweets, uncrate the 
fruits, and to keep the place clean. The thin mute, John Singer, 
nearly always put his hand on his friend's arm and looked for a 
second into his face before leaving him. Then after this goodbye Singer crossed the street and walked on alone to the 
jewelry store where he worked as a silverware engraver. 
In the late afternoon the friends would meet again. Singer 
came back to the fruit store and waited until Antonapoulos 
was ready to go home. The Greek would be lazily unpacking a 
case of peaches or melons, or perhaps 
2 
looking at the funny paper in the kitchen behind the store 
where he cooked. Before their departure Antonapoulos always 
opened a paper sack he kept hidden during the day on one of 
the kitchen shelves. Inside were stored various bits of food he 
had collected—a piece of fruit, samples of candy, or the butt-
end of a liverwurst. Usually before leaving Antonapoulos 
waddled gently to the glassed case in the front of the store 
where some meats and cheeses were kept. He glided open the 


back of the case and his fat hand groped lovingly for some 
particular dainty inside which he had wanted. Sometimes his 
cousin who owned the place did not see him. But if he noticed 
he stared at his cousin with a warning in his tight, pale face. 
Sadly Antonapoulos would shuffle the morsel from one corner 
of the case to the other. During these times Singer stood very 
straight with his hands in his pockets and looked in another 
direction. He did not like to watch this little scene between the 
two Greeks. For, excepting drinking and a certain solitary 
secret pleasure, Antonapoulos loved to eat more than anything 
else in the world. 
In the dusk the two mutes walked slowly home together. At 
home Singer was always talking to Antonapoulos. His hands 
shaped the words in a swift series of designs. His face was 
eager and his gray-green eyes sparkled brightly. With his thin, 
strong hands he told Antonapoulos all that had happened 
during the day. 
Antonapoulos sat back lazily and looked at Singer. It was 
seldom that he ever moved his hands to speak at all— and 
then it was to say that he wanted to eat or to sleep or to drink. 
These three things he always said with the same vague, 
fumbling signs. At night, if he were not too drunk, he would 
kneel down before his bed and pray awhile. Then his plump 
hands shaped the words 'Holy Jesus,' or 'God,' or 'Darling 
Mary.' These were the only words Antonapoulos ever said. 
Singer never knew just how much his friend understood of all 
the things he told him. But it did not matter. 
They shared the upstairs of a small house near the business 
section of the town. There were two rooms. On the oil stove in 
the kitchen Antonapoulos cooked all of their meals. There 
were straight, plain kitchen chairs for Singer and an 
overstuffed sofa for Antonapoulos. The bedroom 

3 
was furnished mainly with a large double bed covered with an 
eiderdown comforter for the big Greek and a narrow iron cot 
for Singer. 
Dinner always took a long time, because Antonapoulos loved 
food and he was very slow. After they had eaten, the big 
Greek would lie back on his sofa and slowly lick over each 
one of his teeth with his tongue, either from a certain delicacy 


or because he did not wish to lose the savor of the meal— 
while Singer washed the dishes. 
Sometimes in the evening the mutes would play chess. Singer 
had always greatly enjoyed this game, and years before he had 
tried to teach it to Antonapoulos. At first his friend could not 
be interested in the reasons for moving the various pieces 
about on the board. Then Singer began to keep a bottle of 
something good under the table to be taken out after each 
lesson. The Greek never got on to the erratic movements of 
the knights and the sweeping mobility of the queens, but he 
learned to make a few set, opening moves. He preferred the 
white pieces and would not play if the black men were given 
him. After the first moves Singer worked out the game by 
himself while his friend looked on drowsily. If Singer made 
brilliant attacks on his own men so that in the end the black 
king was killed, Antonapoulos was always very proud and 
pleased. 
The two mutes had no other friends, and except when they 
worked they were alone together. Each day was very much 
like any other day, because they were alone so much that 
nothing ever disturbed them. Once a week they would go to 
the library for Singer to withdraw a mystery book and on 
Friday night they attended a movie. Then on payday they 
always went to the ten-cent photograph shop above the Army 
and Navy Store so that Antonapoulos could have his picture 
taken. These were the only places where they made customary 
visits. There were many parts in the town that they had never 
even seen. 
The town was in the middle of the deep South. The summers 
were long and the months of winter cold were very few. 
Nearly always the sky was a glassy, brilliant azure and the sun 
burned down riotously bright. Then the light, chill rains of 
November would come, and perhaps later there would be frost 
and some short months of cold. The winters were changeable, 
but the summers always4 
were burning hot. The town was a fairly large one. On the 
main street there were several blocks of two- and three-story 
shops and business offices. But the largest buildings in the 
town were the factories, which employed a large percentage of 
the population. These cotton mills were big and flourishing 


and most of the workers in the town were very poor. Often in 
the faces along the streets there was the desperate look of 
hunger and of loneliness. 
But the two mutes were not lonely at all. At home they were 
content to eat and drink, and Singer would talk with bis hands 
eagerly to his friend about all that was in his mind. So the 
years passed in this quiet way until Singer reached the age of 
thirty-two and had been in the town with Antonapoulos for ten 
years. 
Then one day the Greek became ill. He sat up in bed with his 
hands on his fat stomach and big, oily tears rolled down his 
cheeks. Singer went to see his friend's cousin who owned the 
fruit store, and also he arranged for leave from his own work. 
The doctor made out a diet for Antonapoulos and said that he 
could drink no more wine. Singer rigidly enforced the doctor's 
orders. All day he sat by his friend's bed and did what he 
could to make the time pass quickly, but Antonapoulos only 
looked at him angrily from the corners of his eyes and would 
not be amused. 
The Greek was very fretful, and kept finding fault with the 
fruit drinks and food that Singer prepared for him. Constantly 
he made his friend help him out of bed so that he could pray. 
His huge buttocks would sag down over his plump little feet 
when he kneeled. He fumbled with his hands to say 'Darling 
Mary' and then held to the small brass cross tied to his neck 
with a dirty string. His big eyes would wall up to the ceiling 
with a look of fear in them, and afterward he was very sulky 
and would not let his friend speak to him. 
Singer was patient and did all that he could. He drew little 
pictures, and once he made a sketch of his friend to amuse 
him. This picture hurt the big Greek's feelings, and he refused 
to be reconciled until Singer had made his face very young 
and handsome and colored his hair bright yellow and his eyes 
china blue. And then he tried not to show his pleasure. 
Singer nursed his friend so carefully that after a week

5 
Antonapoulos was able to return to his work. But from that 
time on there was a difference in their way of life. Trouble 
came to the two friends. 
Antonapoulos was not ill any more, but a change had come in 


him. He was irritable and no longer content to spend the 
evenings quietly in their home. When he would wish to go out 
Singer followed along close behind him. Antonapoulos would 
go into a restaurant, and while they sat at the table he slyly put 
lumps of sugar, or a pepper-shaker, or pieces of silverware in 
bis pocket. Singer always paid for what he took and there was 
no disturbance. At home he scolded Antonapoulos, but the big 
Greek only looked at him with a bland smile. 
The months went on and these habits of Antonapoulos grew 
worse. One day at noon he walked calmly out of the fruit store 
of his cousin and urinated in public against the wall of the 
First National Bank Building across the street. At times he 
would meet people on the sidewalk whose faces did not please 
him, and he would bump into these persons and push at them 
with his elbows and stomach. He walked into a store one day 
and hauled out a floor lamp without paying for it, and another 
time he tried to take an electric train he had seen in a 
showcase. 
For Singer this was a time of great distress. He was 
continually marching Antonapoulos down to the courthouse 
during lunch hour to settle these infringements of the law. 
Singer became very familiar with the procedure of the courts 
and he was in a constant state of agitation. The money he had 
saved in the bank was spent for bail and fines. All of his 
efforts and money were used to keep his friend out of jail 
because of such charges as theft, committing public 
indecencies, and assault and battery. 
The Greek cousin for whom Antonapoulos worked did not 
enter into these troubles at all. Charles Parker (for that was the 
name this cousin had taken) let Antonapoulos stay on at the 
store, but he watched him always with his pale, tight face and 
he made no effort to help him. Singer had a strange feeling 
about Charles Parker. He began to dislike him. 
Singer lived in continual turmoil and worry. But 
Antonapoulos was always bland, and no matter what 
happened the gentle, flaccid smile was still on his face. In all6 
the years before it had seemed to Singer that there was 
something very subtle and wise in this smile of his friend. He 
had never known just how much Antonapoulos understood 
and what he was thinking. Now in the big Greek's expression 


Singer thought that he could detect something sly and joking. 
He would shake his friend by the shoulders until he was very 
tired and explain things over and over with his hands. But 
nothing did any good. 
All of Singer's money was gone and he had to borrow from the 
jeweler for whom he worked. On one occasion he was unable 
to pay bail for bis friend and Antonapoulos spent the night in 
jail. When Singer came to get him out the next day he was 
very sulky. He did not want to leave. He had enjoyed his 
dinner of sowbelly and cornbread with syrup poured over it. 
And the new sleeping arrangements and his cellmates pleased 
him. 
They had lived so much alone that Singer had no one to help 
him in his distress. Antonapoulos let nothing disturb him or 
cure him of his habits. At home he sometimes cooked the new 
dish he had eaten in the jail, and on the streets there was never 
any knowing just what he would do. 
And then the final trouble came to Singer. 
One afternoon he had come to meet Antonapoulos at the fruit 
store when Charles Parker handed him a letter. The letter 
explained that Charles Parker had made arrangements for his 
cousin to be taken to the state insane asylum two hundred 
miles away. Charles Parker had used his influence in the town 
and the details were already settled. Antonapoulos was to 
leave and to be admitted into the asylum the next, week. 
Singer read the letter several times, and for a while he could 
not think. Charles Parker was talking to him across the 
counter, but he did not even try to read his lips and 
understand. At last Singer wrote on the little pad he always 
carried in his pocket: 

You cannot do this. Antonapoulos must stay with me. 

Charles Parker shook his head excitedly. He did not know 
much American. 'None of your business,' he kept saying over 
and over.

 7 
Singer knew that everything was finished. The Greek was 
afraid that some day he might be responsible for his cousin. 
Charles Parker did not know much about the American 
language—but he understood the American dollar very well, 
and he had used his money and influence to admit his cousin 


to the asylum without delay. 
There was nothing Singer could do. 
The next week was full of feverish activity. He talked and 
talked. And although his hands never paused to rest he could 
not tell all that he had to say. He wanted to talk to 
Antonapoulos of all the thoughts that had ever been in his 
mind and heart, but there was not time. His gray eyes glittered 
and his quick, intelligent face expressed great strain. 
Antonapoulos watched him drowsily, and his friend did not 
know just what he really understood. 
Then came the day when Antonapoulos must leave. Singer 
brought out Ms own suitcase and very carefully packed the 
best of their joint possessions. Antonapoulos made himself a 
lunch to eat during the journey. In the late afternoon they 
walked arm in arm down the street for the last time together. It 
was a chilly afternoon in late November, and little huffs of 
breath showed in the air before them. 
Charles Parker was to travel with his cousin, but he stood 
apart from them at the station. Antonapoulos crowded into the 
bus and settled himself with elaborate preparations on one of 
the front seats. Singer watched him from the window and his 
hands began desperately to talk for the last time with his 
friend. But Antonapoulos was so busy checking over the 
various items in his lunch box that for a while he paid no 
attention. Just before the bus pulled away from the curb he 
turned to Singer and his smile was very bland and remote—as 
though already they were many miles apart. 
The weeks that followed didn't seem real at all. All day Singer 
worked over his bench in the back of the jewelry store, and 
then at night he returned to the house alone. More than 
anything he wanted to sleep. As soon as he came home from 
work he would lie on his cot and try to doze awhile. Dreams 
came to him when he lay there half-asleep. And in all of them 
Antonapoulos was there. His hands would jerk nervously, for 
in his dreams he was talk-8 
ing to his friend and Antonapoulos was watching him. 
Singer tried to think of the time before he had ever known his 
friend. He tried to recount to himself certain things that had 
happened when he was young. But none of these things he 
tried to remember seemed real. 


There was one particular fact that he remembered, but it was 
not at all important to him. Singer recalled that, although he 
had been deaf since he was an infant, he had not always been 
a real mute. He was left an orphan very young and placed in 
an institution for the deaf. He had learned to talk with his 
hands and to read. Before he was nine years old he could talk 
with one hand in the American way—and also could employ 
both of his hands after the method of Europeans. He had 
learned to follow the movements of people's lips and to 
understand what they said. Then finally he had been taught to 
speak. 
At the school he was thought very intelligent. He learned the 
lessons before the rest of the pupils. But he could never 
become used to speaking with his lips. It was not natural to 
him, and his tongue felt like a whale in his mouth. From the 
blank expression on people's faces to whom he talked in this 
way he felt that his voice must be like the sound of some 
animal or that there was something disgusting in his speech. It 
was painful for him to try to talk with his mouth, but his hands 
were always ready to shape the words he wished to say. When 
he was twenty-two he had come South to this town from 
Chicago and he met Antonapoulos immediately. Since that 
time he had never spoken with his mouth again, because with 
his friend there was no need for this. 
Nothing seemed real except the ten years with Antonapoulos. 
In his half-dreams he saw his friend very vividly, and when he 
awakened a great aching loneliness would be in him. 
Occasionally he would pack up a box for Antonapoulos, but 
he never received any reply. And so the months passed hi this 
empty, dreaming way. 
In the spring a change came over Singer. He could not sleep 
and his body was very restless. At evening he would walk 
monotonously around the room, unable to work off a new 
feeling of energy. If he rested at all it was only during a few 
hours before dawn—then he would drop bluntly into 

9 
a sleep that lasted until the morning light struck suddenly 
beneath his opening eyelids like a scimitar. 
He began spending his evenings walking around the town. He 
could no longer stand the rooms where Antonapoulos had 


lived, and he rented a place in a shambling boarding-house not 
far from the center of the town. 
He ate his meals at a restaurant only two blocks away. This 
restaurant was at the very end of the long main street and the 
name of the place was the New York Cafe. The first day he 
glanced over the menu quickly and wrote a short note and 
handed it to the proprietor. 

Each morning for breakfast I want an egg, toast, and coffee 

$0.15 

For lunch I want soup (any kind), a meat sandwich, and milk 

— $0.25 
Please bring me ut dinner three vegetables (any kind but 
cabbage), fish or meat, and a glass of beer— 

$0.35 

Thank you. 

The proprietor read the note and gave him an alert, tactful 
glance. He was a hard man of middle height, with a beard so 
dark and heavy that the lower part of his face looked as 
though it were molded of iron. He usually stood in the corner 
by the cash register, his arms folded over his chest, quietly 
observing all that went on around him. Singer came to know 
this man's face very well, for he ate at one of his tables three 
times a day. 
Each evening the mute walked alone for hours in the street. 
Sometimes the nights were cold with the sharp, wet winds of 
March and it would be raining heavily. But to him this did not 
matter. His gait was agitated and he always kept his hands 
stuffed tight into the pockets of his trousers. Then as the 
weeks passed the days grew warm and languorous. His 
agitation gave way gradually to exhaustion and there was a 
look about him of deep calm. In his face there came to be a 
brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very 
sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the 
streets of the town, always silent and alone.10

\_f N A black, sultry night in early summer Biff Brannon 
stood behind the cash register of the New York Cafe. It was 
twelve o'clock. Outside the street lights had already been 
turned off, so that the light from the cafe made a sharp, yellow 
rectangle on the sidewalk. The street was deserted, but inside 


the cafe there were half a dozen customers drinking beer or 
Santa Lucia wine or whiskey. Biff waited stolidly, his elbow 
resting on the counter and his thumb mashing the tip of his 
long nose. His eyes were intent. He watched especially a 
short, squat man in overalls who had become drunk and 
boisterous. Now and then his gaze passed on to the mute who 
sat by himself at one of the middle tables, or to others of the 
customers before the counter. But he always turned back to 
the drunk in overalls. The hour grew later and Biff continued 
to wait silently behind the counter. Then at last he gave the 
restaurant a final survey and went toward the door at the back 
which led upstairs. 
Quietly he entered the room at the top of the stairs. It was dark 
inside and he walked with caution. After he had gone a few 
paces his toe struck something hard and he reached down and 
felt for the handle of a suitcase on the floor. He had only been 
in the room a few seconds and was about to leave when the 
light was turned on. 
Alice sat up in the rumpled bed and looked at him. 'What you 
doing with that suitcase?' she asked. 'Can't you get rid of that 
lunatic without giving him back what he's already drunk up?' 
'Wake up and go down yourself. Call the cop and let him get 
soused on the chain gang with cornbread and peas. Go to it, 
Misses Brannon.' 
'I will all right if he's down there tomorrow. But you leave that 
bag alone. It don't belong to that sponger any more.' 
'I know spongers, and Blount's not one,' Biff said. 'Myself—I 
don't know so well. But I'm not that kind of a thief.' 
Calmly Biff put down the suitcase on the steps outside.

11


The air was not so stale and sultry in the room as it was 
downstairs. He decided to stay for a short while and douse his 
face with cold water before going back. 
'I told you already what I'll do if you don't get rid of that 
fellow for good tonight. In the daytime he takes them naps at 
the back, and then at night you feed him dinners and beer. For 
a week now he hasn't paid one cent. And all his wild talking 
and carrying-on will ruin any decent trade.' 
'You don't know people and you don't know real business,' 
Biff said. "The fellow in question first came in here twelve 


days ago and he was a stranger in the town. The first week he 
gave us twenty dollars' worth of trade. Twenty at the 
minimum.' 
'And since then on credit,' Alice said. Tive days on credit, and 
so drunk it's a disgrace to the business. And besides, he's 
nothing but a bum and a freak.' 
'I like freaks,' Biff said. 
'I reckon you dol I just reckon you certainly ought to, Mister 
Brannon—being as you're one yourself.' 
He rubbed his bluish chin and paid her no attention. For the 
first fifteen years of their married life they had called each 
other just plain Biff and Alice. Then in one of their quarrels 
they had begun calling each other Mister and Misses, and 
since then they had never made it up enough to change it. 
Tm just warning you he'd better not be there when I come 
down tomorrow.' 
Biff went into the bathroom, and after he had bathed his face 
he decided that he would have time for a shave. His beard was 
black and heavy as though it had grown for three days. He 
stood before the mirror and rubbed his cheek meditatively. He 
was sorry he had talked to Alice. With her, silence was better. 
Being around that woman always made him different from his 
real self. It made him tough and small and common as she 
was. Biff's eyes were cold and staring, half-concealed by the 
cynical droop of his eyelids. On the fifth finger of his 
calloused hand there was a woman's wedding ring. The door 
was open behind him, and in the mirror he could see Alice 
lying in the bed. 
'Listen,' he said. "The trouble with you is that you don't have 
any real kindness. Not but one woman Fve ever known had 
this real kindness I'm talking about'12 

'Well, I've known you to do things no man in this world would 
be proud of. I've known you to------' 
'Or maybe it's curiosity I mean. You don't ever see or notice 
anything important that goes on. You never watch and think 
and try to figure anything out. Maybe that's the biggest 
difference between you and me, after all.' 
Alice was almost asleep again, and through the mirror he 
watched her with detachment. There was no distinctive point 


about her on which he could fasten his attention, and his gaze 
glided from her pale brown hair to the stumpy outline of her 
feet beneath the cover. The soft curves of her face led to the 
roundness of her hips and thighs. When he was away from her 
there was no one feature that stood out in his mind and he 
remembered her as a complete, unbroken figure. 
"The enjoyment of a spectacle is something you have never 
known,' he said. 
Her voice was tired. "That fellow downstairs is a spectacle, all 
right, and a circus too. But I'm through putting up with him.' 
'Hell, the man don't mean anything to me. He's no relative or 
buddy of mine. But you don't know what it is to store up a 
whole lot of details and then come upon something real.' He 
turned on the hot water and quickly began to shave. 
It was the morning of May 15, yes, that Jake Blount had come 
in. He had noticed him immediately and watched. The man 
was short, with heavy shoulders like beams. He had a small, 
ragged mustache, and beneath this his lower lip looked as 
though it had been stung by a wasp. There were many things 
about the fellow that seemed contrary. His head was very 
large and well-shaped, but his neck was soft and slender as a 
boy's. The mustache looked false, as if it had been stuck on for 
a costume party and would fall off if he talked too fast. It 
made him seem almost middle-aged, although his face with its 
high, smooth forehead and wide-open eyes was young. His 
hands were huge, stained, and calloused, and he was dressed 
in a cheap white-linen suit. There was something very funny 
about the man, yet at the same time another feeling would not 
let you laugh. 
He ordered a pint of liquor and drank it straight in half an 
hour. Then he sat at one of the booths and ate a big 

chicken dinner. Later he read a book and drank beer. That was 
the beginning. And although Biff had noticed Blount very 
carefully he would never have guessed about the crazy things 
that happened later. Never had he seen a man change so many 
times in twelve days. Never had he seen a fellow drink so 
much, stay drunk so long. 
Biff pushed up the end of his nose with his thumb and shaved 


his upper lip. He was finished and his face seemed cooler. 
Alice was asleep when he went through the bedroom on the 
way downstairs. 
The suitcase was heavy. He carried it to the front of the 
restaurant, behind the cash register, where he usually stood 
each evening. Methodically he glanced around the place. A 
few customers had left and the room was not so crowded, but 
the set-up was the same. The deaf-mute still drank coffee by 
himself at one of the middle tables. The drunk had not stopped 
talking. He was not addressing anyone around him in 
particular, nor was anyone listening. When he had come into 
the place that evening he wore those blue overalls instead of 
the filthy linen suit he had been wearing the twelve days. His 
socks were gone and his ankles were scratched and caked with 
mud. 
Alertly Biff picked up fragments of his monologue. The 
fellow seemed to be talking some queer kind of politics again. 
Last night he had been talking about places he had been— 
about Texas and Oklahoma and the Carolinas. Once he had 
got on the subject of cat-houses, and afterward his jokes got so 
raw he had to be hushed up with beer. But most of the time 
nobody was sure just what he was saying. Talk—talk—talk. 
The words came out of his throat like a cataract. And the thing 
was that the accent he used was always changing, the kinds of 
words he used. Sometimes he talked like a linthead and 
sometimes nice a professor. He would use words a foot long 
and then slip up on his grammar. It was hard to tell what kind 
of folks he had or what part of the country he was from. He 
was always changing. Thoughtfully Biff fondled the tip of his 
nose. There was no connection. Yet connection usually went 
with brains. This man had a good mind, all right, but he went 
from one thing to another without any reason behind it at all. 
He was like a man thrown off his track by something.14 

Biff leaned his weight on the counter and began to peruse the 
evening newspaper. The headlines told of a decision by the 
Board of Aldermen, after four months' deliberation, that the 
local budget could not afford traffic lights at certain dangerous 
intersections of the town. The left column reported on the war 
in the Orient. Biff read them both with equal attention. As his 


eyes followed the print the rest of his senses were on the alert 
to the various commotions that went on around him. When he 
had finished the articles he still stared down at the newspaper 
with his eyes half-closed. He felt nervous. The fellow was a 
problem, and before morning he would have to make some 
sort of settlement with him. Also, he felt without knowing 
why that something of importance would happen tonight. The 
fellow could not keep on forever. 
Biff sensed that someone was standing in the entrance and he 
raised his eyes quickly. A gangling, towheaded youngster, a 
girl of about twelve, stood looking in the doorway. She was 
dressed in khaki shorts, a blue shirt, and tennis shoes—so that 
at first glance she was like a very young boy. Biff pushed 
aside the paper when he saw her, and smiled when she came 
up to him. 
'Hello, Mick. Been to the Girl Scouts?' 
'No,' she said. 'I don't belong to them.' 
From the corner of his eye he noticed that the drunk slammed 
his fist down on a table and turned away from the men to 
whom he had been talking. Biffs voice roughened as he spoke 
to the youngster before him. 
'Your folks know you're out after midnight?' 
'It's O.K. There's a gang of kids playing out late on our block 
tonight.' 
He had never seen her come into the place with anyone her 
own age. Several years ago she had always tagged behind her 
older brother. The Kellys were a good-sized family in 
numbers. Later she would come in pulling a couple of snotty 
babies in a wagon. But if she wasn't nursing or trying to keep 
up with the bigger ones, she was by herself. Now the kid stood 
there seeming not to be able to make up her mind what she 
wanted. She kept pushing back her damp, whitish hair with 
the palm of her hand. 
'I'd like a pack of cigarettes, please. The cheapest kind'. 
Biff started to speak, hesitated, and then reached his 

IS 

hand inside the counter. Mick brought out a handkerchief and 
began untying the knot in the corner where she kept her 
money. As she gave the knot a jerk the change clattered to the 


floor and rolled toward Blount, who stood muttering to 
himself. For a moment he stared in a daze at the coins, but 
before the kid could go after them he squatted down with 
concentration and picked up the money. He walked heavily to 
the counter and stood jiggling the two pennies, the nickel, and 
the dime in his palm. 
'Seventeen cents for cigarettes now?' 
Biff waited, and Mick looked from one of them to the other. 
The drunk stacked the money into a little pile on the counter, 
still protecting it with his big, dirty hand. Slowly he picked up 
one penny and flipped it down. 
'Five mills for the crackers who grew the weed and five for the 
dupes who rolled it,' he said. 'A cent for you, Biff.' Then he 
tried to focus his eyes so that he could read the mottoes on the 
nickel and dime. He kept fingering the two coins and moving 
them around in a circle. At last he pushed them away. 'And 
that's a humble homage to liberty. To democracy and tyranny. 
To freedom and piracy.' 
Calmly Biff picked up the money and rang it into the till. 
Mick looked as though she wanted to hang around awhile. She 
took in the drunk with one long gaze, and then she turned her 
eyes to the middle of the room where the mute sat at his table 
alone. After a moment Blount also glanced now and then in 
the same direction. The mute sat silently over his glass of 
beer, idly drawing on the table with the end of a burnt 
matchstick. 
Jake Blount was the first to speak. 'It's funny, but I been seeing 
that fellow in my sleep for the past three or four nights. He 
won't leave me alone. If you ever noticed, he never seems to 
say anything.' 
It was seldom that Biff ever discussed one customer with 
another. 'No, he don't,' he answered noncommittally. 
'It's funny.' 
Mick shifted her weight from one foot to the other and fitted 
the package of cigarettes into the pocket of her shorts. 'It's not 
funny if you know anything ahout him,' she said. 'Mister 
Singer lives with us. He rooms in our house.' 
'Is that so?' Biff asked. 'I declare—I didn't know that'16 

Mick walked toward the door and answered him without 


looking around. "Sure. He's been with us three months now.' 
Biff unrolled his shirt-sleeves and then folded them up 
carefully again. He did not take his eyes from Mick as she left 
the restaurant. And even after she had been gone several 
minutes he still fumbled with his shirt-sleeves and stared at 
the empty doorway. Then he locked his arms across his chest 
and turned back to the drunk again. 
Blount leaned heavily on the counter. His brown eyes were 
wet-looking and wide open with a dazed expression. He 
needed a bath so badly that he stank like a goat. There were 
dirt beads on his sweaty neck and an oil stain on his face. His 
lips were thick and red and his brown hair was matted on his 
forehead. His overalls were too short in the body and he kept 
pulling at the crotch of them. 
'Man, you ought to know better,' Biff said finally. 'You can't 
go around like this. Why, I'm surprised you haven't been 
picked up for vagrancy. You ought to sober up. You need 
washing and your hair needs cutting. Motherogod! You're not 
fit to walk around amongst people.' 
Blount scowled and bit his lower lip. 
'Now, don't take offense and get your dander up. Do what I tell 
you. Go back in the kitchen and tell the colored boy to give 
you a big pan of hot water. Tell Willie to give you a towel and 
plenty of soap and wash yourself good. Then eat you some 
milk toast and open up your suitcase and put you on a clean 
shirt and a pair of britches that fit you. Then tomorrow you 
can start doing whatever you're going to do and working 
wherever you mean to work and get straightened out.' 
'You know what you can do,' Blount said drunkenly. *You can 
just------' 
'All right,' Biff said very quietly. 'No, I can't Now you just 
behave yourself.' 
Biff went to the end of the counter and returned with two 
glasses of draught beer. The drunk picked up his glass so 
clumsily that beer slopped down on his hands and messed the 
counter. Biff sipped his portion with careful relish. He 
regarded Blount steadily with half-closed eyes. Blount was not 
a freak, although when you first saw him he gave you that 
impression. It was like something was 


deformed about him—but when you looked at him closely 
each part of him was normal and as it ought to be. Therefore if 
this difference was not in the body it was probably in the 
mind. He was like a man who had served a term in prison or 
had been to Harvard College or had lived for a long time with 
foreigners in South America. He was like a person who had 
been somewhere that other people are not likely to go or had 
done something that others are not apt to do. 
Biff cocked his head to one side and said, 'Where are you 
from?' 
"Nowhere.' 
*Now, you have to be born somewhere. North Carolina — 
Tennessee—Alabama—some place.' 
Blount's eyes were dreamy and unfocused. 'Carolina,' he said. 
'I can tell you've been around,' Biff hinted delicately. 
But the drunk was not listening. He had turned from the 
counter and was staring out at the dark, empty street. After a 
moment he walked to the door with loose, uncertain steps. 
'Adios,' he called back. 
Biff was alone again and he gave the restaurant one of his 
quick, thorough surveys. It was past one in the morning, and 
there were only four or five customers in the room. The mute 
still sat by himself at the middle table. Biff stared at him idly 
and shook the few remaining drops of beer around in the 
bottom of his glass. Then he finished his drink in one slow 
swallow and went back to the newspaper spread out on the 
counter. 
This time he could not keep his mind on the words before him. 
He remembered Mick. He wondered if he should have sold 
her the pack of cigarettes and if it were really harmful for kids 
to smoke. He thought of the way Mick narrowed her eyes and 
pushed back the bangs of her hair with the palm of her hand. 
He thought of her hoarse, boyish voice and of her habit of 
hitching up her khaki shorts and swaggering like a cowboy in 
the picture show. A feeling of tenderness came in him. He was 
uneasy. 
Restlessly Biff turned his attention to Singer. The mute sat 
with his hands in his pockets and the half-finished glass of 
beer before him had become warm and stagnant. He18 


would offer to treat Singer to a slug of whiskey before he left. 
What he had said to Alice was true—he did like freaks. He 
had a special friendly feeling for sick people and cripples. 
Whenever somebody with a harelip or T.B. came into the 
place he would set him up to beer. Or if the customer were a 
hunchback or a bad cripple, then it would be whiskey on the 
house. There was one fellow who had had his peter and his 
left leg blown off in a boiler explosion, and whenever he came 
to town there was a free pint waiting for him. And if Singer 
were a drinking kind of man he could get liquor at half price 
any time he wanted it. Biff nodded to himself. Then neatly he 
folded his newspaper and put it under the counter along with 
several others. At the end of the week he would take them all 
back to the storeroom behind the kitchen, where he kept a 
complete file of the evening newspapers that dated back 
without a break for twenty-one years. 
At two o'clock Blount entered the restaurant again. He 
, brought in with him a tall Negro man carrying a black bag. 
\The drunk tried to bring him up to the counter for a 
drink, but the Negro left as soon as he realized why he had 
been led inside. Biff recognized him as a Negro doctor who 
had practiced in the town ever since he could remember. 
He was related in some way to young Willie back in the 
kitchen. Before he left Biff saw him turn on Blount with 
a look of quivering hatred. 
The drunk just stood there. 

.Don't you know you can't bring no nigger in a place where
white men drink?' someone asked him.
Biff watched this happening from a distance. Blount was very
angry, and now it could easily be seen how drunk he was.
'I'm part nigger myself,' he called out as a challenge.
Biff watched him alertly and the place was quiet. With his
thick nostrils and the rolling whites of his eyes it looked 
a
little as though he might be telling the truth.
'I'm part nigger and wop and bohunk and chink. All of those.
'
There was laughter.
'And I'm Dutch and Turkish and Japanese and American.' He
walked in zigzags around the table where the mute drank his
coffee. His voice was loud and cracked.

Tm one who knows. I'm a stranger in a strange land.' 

.Quiet down,' Biff said to him. 
Blount paid no attention to anyone in the place except the 
mute. They were both looking at each other. The mute's eyes 
were cold and gentle as a cat's and all his body seemed to 
listen. The drunk man was in a frenzy. 
.You're the only one in this town who catches what I mean,' 
Blount said. 'For two days now 1 been talking to you in my 
mind because I know you understand the things I want to 
mean.' 
Some people in a booth were laughing because without 
knowing it the drunk had picked out a deaf-mute to try to talk 
with. Biff watched the two men with little darting glances and 
listened attentively. 
Blount sat down to the table and leaned over close to Singer. 
There are those who know and those who don't know. And 
for every ten thousand who don't know there's only one who 
knows. Thaf s the miracle of all time—the fact that these 
millions know so much but don't know this. It's like in the 
fifteenth century when everybody believed the world was flat 
and only Columbus and a few other fellows knew the truth. 
But it's different in that it took talent to figure that the earth is 
round. While this truth is so obvious it's a miracle of all 
history that people don't know. You savvy.' 
Biff rested his elbows on the counter and looked at Blount 
with curiosity. 'Know what?' he asked. 
"Don't listen to him,' Blount said. 'Don't mind that flat-footed, 
blue-jowled, nosy bastard. For you see, when us people who 
know run into each other mat's an event. It almost never 
happens. Sometimes we meet each other and neither guesses 
that the other is one who knows. That's a bad thing. It's 
happened to me a lot of times. But you see there are so few of 
us.' 
'Masons?' Biff asked. 
'Shut up, you! Else 111 snatch your arm off and beat you 
black with it,' Blount bawled. He hunched over close to the 
mute and his voice dropped to a drunken whisper. 'And how 
come? Why has this miracle of ignorance endured? Because 
of one thing. A conspiracy. A vast and insidious conspiracy. 

Obscurantism.
'
The men in the booth were still laughing at the drunk20


who was trying to hold a conversation with the mute. Only
Biff was serious. He wanted to ascertain if the mute really
understood what was said to him. The fellow nodded
frequently and his face seemed contemplative. He was only
slow—that was all. Blount began to crack a few jokes along
with this talk about knowing. The mute never smiled until
several seconds after the funny remark had been made; then
when the talk was gloomy again the smile still hung on his
face a little too long. The fellow was downright uncanny.
People felt themselves watching him even before they knew
that there was anything different about him. His eyes made 
a
person think that he heard things nobody else had ever heard,
that he knew things no one had ever guessed before. He did
not seem quite human.
Jake Blount leaned across the table and the words came out as
though a dam inside him had broken. Biff could not
understand him any more. Blount's tongue was so heavy with
drink and he talked at such a violent pace that the sounds were
all shaken up together. Biff wondered where he would go
when Alice turned him out of the place. And in the morning
she would do it, too—like she said.
Biff yawned wanly, patting his open mouth with his fingertips
until his jaw had relaxed. It was almost three o'clock, the most
stagnant hour in the day or night
The mute was patient. He had been listening to Blount for
almost an hour. Now he began to look at the clock
occasionally. Blount did not notice this and went on without 
a
pause. At last he stopped a to roll a cigarette, and then the
mute nodded his head in the direction of the clock, smiled in
that hidden way of his, and got up from the table. His hands
stayed stuffed in his pockets as always. He went out quickly.
Blount was so drunk that he did not know what had happened.
He had never even caught on to the fact that the mute made no
answers. He began to look around the place with his mouth
open and his eyes rolling and fuddled. A red vein stood out on
his forehead and he began to hit the table angrily with his
fists. His bout could not last much longer now.



'Come on over,' Biff said kindly. "Your friend has gone.
'


The fellow was still hunting for Singer. He had never seemed
really drunk like that before. He had an ugly look.
'I have something for you over here and I want to speak with
you a minute,' Biff coaxed.
Blount pulled himself up from the table and walked with big,
loose steps toward the street again.
Biff leaned against the wall. In and out—in and out. After all,
it was none of his business. The room was very empty and
quiet. The minutes lingered. Wearily he let his head sag
forward. All motion seemed slowly to be leaving the room.
The counter, faces, the booths and tables, the radio in the
corner, whirring fans on the ceiling—all seemed to become
very faint and still.
He must have dozed. A hand was shaking his elbow. His wits
came back to him slowly and he looked up to see what was
wanted. Willie, the colored boy in the kitchen, stood before
him dressed in his cap and his long white apron. Willie
stammered because he was excited about whatever he was
trying to say.
'And so he were 1-1-lamming his fist against this here brick w-
w-wall.
'
'What's that?
'
'Right down one of them alleys two d-d-doors away.
'
Biff straightened bis slumped shoulders and arranged his tie.
'What?
'
'And they means to bring him in here and they liable to pile in
any minute------
'
'Willie,' Biff said patiently. 'Start at the beginning and let me
get this straight.
'
'It this here short white man with the m-m-mustache.
'


.Mr. Blount. Yes> 
'Well—I didn't see how it commenced. I were standing in the 
back door when I heard this here commotion. Sound like a big 
fight in the alley. So I r-r-run to see. And this here white man 
had just gone hog wild. He were butting bis head against the 
side of this brick wall and hitting with his fists. He were 
cussing and fighting like I never seen a white man fight 

before. With just this here wall. He liable to broken his own 
head the way he were carrying on. Then two white mens who 
had heard the commotion come up and stand around and 
look------'22 

'So what happened?' 
'Well—you know this here dumb gentleman—hands in 
pockets—this here------' 
'Mr. Singer.' 
'And he come along and just stood looking around to see what 
it were all about. And Mr. B-B-Blount seen him and 
commenced to talk and holler. And then all of a sudden he 
fallen down on the ground. Maybe he done really busted his 
head open. A p-p-p-police come up and somebody done told 
him Mr. Blount been staying here.' 
Biff bowed his head and organized the story he had just heard 
into a neat pattern. He rubbed his nose and thought for a 
minute. 
"They liable to pile in here any minute.' Willie went to the 
door and looked down the street 'Here they all come now. 
They having to drag him.' 
A dozen onlookers and a policeman all tried to crowd into the 
restaurant. Outside a couple of whores stood looking in 
through the front window. It was always funny how many 
people could crowd in from nowhere when anything out of the 
ordinary happened. 
'No use creating any more disturbance than necessary,' Biff 
said. He looked at the policeman who supported the drunk. 
'The rest of them might as well clear out.' 
The policeman put the drunk in a chair and hustled the little 
crowd into the street again. Then he turned to Biff: 'Somebody 
said he was staying here with you.' 
'No. But he might as well be,' Biff said. 
'Want me to take him with me?' 
Biff considered. 'He won't get into any more trouble tonight. 
Of course I can't be responsible—but I think this will calm 
him down.' 
'O.K. I'll drop back in again before I knock off.' 
Biff, Singer, and Jake Blount were left alone. For the first 
time since he had been brought in, Biff turned his attention to 


the drunk man. It seemed that Blount had hurt his jaw very 
badly. He was slumped down on the table with his big hand 
over his mouth, swaying backward and forward. There was a 
gash in his head and the blood ran from his temple. His 
knuckles were skinned raw, and he was so filthy that he 
looked as if he had been pulled by the scruff of the neck from 
a sewer. All the juice had 

23 

spurted out of him and he was completely collapsed. The mute 
sat at the table across from him, taking it all in with his gray 
eyes. 
Then Biff saw that Blount had not hurt his jaw, but he was 
holding his hand over his mouth because bis lips were 
trembling. The tears began to roll down his grimy face. Now 
and then he glanced sideways at Biff and Singer, angry that 
they should see him cry. It was embarrassing. Biff shrugged 
his shoulders at the mute and raised his eyebrows with a what-
to-do? expression. Singer cocked his head on one side. 
Biff was in a quandary. Musingly he wondered just how he 
should manage the situation. He was still trying to decide 
when the mute turned over the menu and began to write. 
// you cannot think of any place for him to go he can go home 
with me. First some soup and coffee would be good for him. 

With relief Biff nodded vigorously. 
On the table he placed three special plates of the last evening 
meal, two bowls of soup, coffee, and dessert. But Blount 
would not eat. He would not take his hand away from his 
mouth, and it was as though his lips were some very secret 
part of himself which was being exposed. His breath came in 
ragged sobs and his big shoulders jerked nervously. Singer 
pointed to one dish after the other, but Blount just sat with his 
hand over his mouth and shook his head. 
Biff enunciated slowly so that the mute could see. 'The 
jitters------' he said conversationally. 
The steam from the soup kept floating up into Blount's face, 
and after a little while he reached shakily for his spoon. He 
drank the soup and ate part of his dessert. His thick, heavy lips 
still trembled and he bowed his head far down over his plate. 
Biff noted this. He was thinkng that in nearly every person 


there was some special physical part kept always guarded. 
With the mute his hands. The kid Mick picked at the front of 
her blouse to keep the cloth from rubbing the new, tender 
nipples beginning to come out on her24 

breast. With Alice it was her hair; she used never to let him 
sleep with her when he rubbed oil in his scalp. And with 
himself? 
Lingeringly Biff turned the ring on his little finger. Anyway 
he knew what it was not. Not. Any more. A sharp line cut into 
his forehead. His hand in his pocket moved nervously toward 
his genitals. He began whistling a song and got up from the 
table. Funny to spot it in other people, though. 
They helped Blount to his feet. He teetered weakly. He was 
not crying any more, but he seemed to be brooding on 
something shameful and sullen. He walked in the direction he 
was led. Biff brought out the suitcase from behind the counter 
and explained to the mute about it. Singer looked as though he 
could not be surprised at anything. 
Biff went with them to the entrance. 'Buck up and keep your 
nose clean,' he said to Blount. 
The black night sky was beginning to lighten and turn a deep 
blue with the new morning. There were but a few weak, 
silvery stars. The street was empty, silent, almost cool. Singer 
carried the suitcase with his left hand, and with his free hand 
he supported Blount. He nodded goodbye to Biff and they 
started off together down the sidewalk. Biff stood watching 
them. After they had gone hah* a block away only their black 
forms showed in the blue darkness —the mute straight and 
firm and the broad-shouldered, stumbling Blount holding on 
to him. When he could see them no longer, Biff waited for a 
moment and examined the sky. The vast depth of it fascinated 
and oppressed him. He rubbed his forehead and went back 
into the sharply lighted restaurant. 
He stood behind the cash register, and his face contracted and 
hardened as he tried to recall the things that had happened 
during the night. He had the feeling that he wanted to explain 
something to himself. He recalled the incidents in tedious 
detail and was still puzzled. 
The door opened and closed several times as a sudden spurt of 


customers began to come in. The night was over. Willie 
stacked some of the chairs up on the tables and mopped at the 
floor. He was ready to go home and was singing. Willie was 
lazy. In the kitchen he was always stopping to play for a while 
on the harmonica he carried 

around with him. Now he mopped the floor with sleepy 
strokes and hummed his lonesome Negro music steadily. 
The place was still not crowded—it was the hour when men 
who have been up all night meet those who are freshly 
wakened and ready to start a new day. The sleepy waitress 
was serving both beer and coffee. There was no noise or 
conversation, for each person seemed to be alone. The mutual 
distrust between the men who were just awakened and those 
who were ending a long night gave everyone a feeling of 
estrangement. 
The bank building across the street was very pale in the dawn. 
Then gradually its white brick walls grew more distinct. When 
at last the first shafts of the rising sun began to brighten the 
street, Biff gave the place one last survey and went upstairs. 
Noisily he rattled the doorknob as he entered so that Alice 
would be disturbed. 'Motherogod!' he said. 'What a night!' 
Alice awoke with caution. She lay on the rumpled bed like a 
sulky cat and stretched herself. The room was drab in the 
fresh, hot morning sun, and a pair of silk stockings hung limp 
and withered from the cord of the window-shade. 
'Is that drunk fool still hanging around downstairs?' she 
demanded. 
Biff took off his shirt and examined the collar to see if it were 
clean enough to be worn again. 'Go down and see for yourself. 
I told you nobody will hinder you from kicking him out.' 
Sleepily Alice reached down and picked up a Bible, the blank 
side of a menu, and a Sunday-School book from the floor 
beside the bed. She rustled through the tissue pages of the 
Bible until she reached a certain passage and began reading, 
pronouncing the words aloud with painful concentration. It 
was Sunday, and she was preparing the weekly lesson for her 
class of boys in the Junior Department of her church. 'Now as 
he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew 


his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 
And Jesus said unto them, "Come ye after me, and I will make 
you to become fishers of men." And straightway they forsook 
their nets, and followed him.'26 

Biff went into the bathroom to wash himself. The silky 
murmuring continued as Alice studied aloud. He listened. \ .. 
and in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He 
went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. 
And Simon and they that were with Him followed after Him. 
And when they had found Him, they said unto Him, "All men 
seek for Thee." ' 
She had finished. Biff let the words revolve again gently 
inside him. He tried to separate the actual words from the 
sound of Alice's voice as she had spoken them. He wanted to 
remember the passage as his mother used to read it when he 
was a boy. With nostalgia he glanced down at the wedding 
ring on his fifth finger that had once been hers. He wondered 
again how she would have felt about bis giving up church and 
religion. 
'The lesson for today is about the gathering of the disciples,' 
Alice said to herself in preparation. 'And the text is, "All men 
seek for Thee." ' 
Abruptly Biff roused himself from meditation and turned on 
the water spigot at full force. He stripped off his undervest 
and began to wash himself. Always he was scrupulously clean 
from the belt upward. Every morning he soaped his chest and 
arms and neck and feet—and about twice during the season he 
got into the bathtub and cleaned all of his parts. 
Biff stood by the bed, waiting impatiently for Alice to get up. 
From the window he saw that the day would be windless and 
burning hot. Alice had finished reading the lesson. She still 
lay lazily across the bed, although she knew that he was 
waiting. A calm, sullen anger rose in him. He chuckled 
ironically. Then he said with bitterness: 'If you like I can sit 
and read the paper awhile. But I wish you would let me sleep 
now.' 
Alice began dressing herself and Biff made up the bed. Deftly 
he reversed the sheets in all possible ways, putting the top one 
on the bottom, and turning them over and upside down. When 


the bed was smoothly made he waited until Alice had left the 
room before he slipped off his trousers and crawled inside. 
His feet jutted out from beneath the cover and his wiry-haired 
chest was very dark against the pillow. He was glad he had not 
told Alice about what had happened to the drunk. He had 
wanted to talk 

to somebody about it, because maybe if he told all the facts 
out loud he could put his finger on the thing that puzzled him. 
The poor son-of-a-bitch talking and talking and not ever 
getting anybody to understand what he meant. Not knowing 
himself, most likely. And the way he gravitated around the 
deaf-mute and picked him out and tried to make him a free 
present of everything in him. 
Why? 
Because in some men it is in them to give up everything 
personal at some time, before it ferments and poisons—throw 
it to some human being or some human idea. They have to. In 
some men it is in them—The text is 'All men seek for Thee.' 
Maybe that was why—maybe—He was a Chinaman, the 
fellow had said. And a nigger and a wop and a Jew. And if he 
believed it hard enough maybe it was so. Every person and 
every thing he said he was------
Biff stretched both of his arms outward and crossed his naked 
feet. His face was older in the morning light, with the closed, 
shrunken eyelids and the heavy, iron-like beard on his cheeks 
and jaw. Gradually his mouth softened and relaxed. The hard, 
yellow rays of the sun came in through the window so that the 
room was hot and bright. Biff turned wearily and covered his 
eyes with his hands. And he was nobody but—Bartholomew 
—old Biff with two fists and a quick tongue—Mister Brannon 
—by himself. 

J. HE sun woke Mick early, although she had stayed out mighty 
late the night before. It was too hot even to drink coffee for 
breakfast, so she had ice water with syrup in it and cold 
biscuits. She messed around the kitchen for a while and then 
went out on the front porch to read the funnies. She had 
thought maybe Mister Singer would be reading the paper on 
the porch like he did most Sunday mornings. But Mister 

Singer was not there, and later on her Dad said he came in 
very late the night before and had company in his room. She 
waited for Mister Singer a long time. All the other boarders 
came down except him. Fi-28 

nally she went back in the kitchen and took Ralph out of his 
high chair and put a clean dress on him and wiped off his face. 
Then when Bubber got home from Sunday School she was 
ready to take the kids out. She let Bubber ride in the wagon 
with Ralph because he was barefooted and the hot sidewalk 
burned his feet. She pulled the wagon for about eight blocks 
until they came to the big, new house that was being built. The 
ladder was still propped against the edge of the roof, and she 
screwed up nerve and began to climb. 
'You mind Ralph,' she called back to Bubber. 'Mind the gnats 
don't sit on his eyelids.' 
Five minutes later Mick stood up and held herself very 
straight. She spread out her arms like wings. This was the 
place where everybody wanted to stand. The very top. But not 
many kids could do it. Most of them were scared, for if you 
lost your grip and rolled off the edge it would kill you. All 
around were the roofs of other houses and the green tops of 
trees. On the other side of town were the church steeples and 
the smokestacks from the mills. The sky was bright blue and 
hot as fire. The sun made everything on the ground either 
dizzy white or black. 
She wanted to sing. All the songs she knew pushed up toward 
her throat, but there was no sound. One big boy who had got 
to the highest part of the roof last week let out a yell and then 
started hollering out a speech he had learned at High School 
—'Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend me your ears!' There 
was something about getting to the very top that gave you a 
wild feeling and made you want to yell or sing or raise up 
your arms and fly. 
She felt the soles of her tennis shoes slipping, and eased 
herself down so that she straddled the peak of the roof. The 
house was almost finished. It would be one of the largest 
buildings in the neighborhood—two stories, with very high 


ceilings and the steepest roof of any house she had ever seen. 
But soon the work would all be finished. The carpenters 
would leave and the kids would have to find another place to 
play. 
She was by herself. No one was around and it was quiet and 
she could think for a while. She took from the pocket of her 
shorts the package of cigarettes she had bought the night 
before. She breathed in the smoke slowly. The cigarette gave her a drunk feeling so that her head seemed heavy 
and loose on her shoulders, but she had to finish it. 
M.K.—That was what she would have written on everything 
when she was seventeen years old and very famous. She 
would ride back home in a red-and-white Packard automobile 
with her initials on the doors. She would have M.K. written in 
red on her handkerchiefs and underclothes. Maybe she would 
be a great inventor. She would invent little tiny radios the size 
of a green pea that people could carry around and stick in their 
ears. Also flying machines people could fasten on their backs 
like knapsacks and go zipping all over the world. After that 
she would be the first one to make a large tunnel through the 
world to China, and people could go down in big balloons. 
Those were the first tilings she would invent They were 
already planned. 
When Mick had finished half of the cigarette she smashed it 
dead and flipped the butt down the slant of the roof. Then she 
leaned forward so that her head rested on her arms and began 
to hum to herself. 
It was a funny thing—but nearly all the time there was some 
kind of piano piece or other music going on in the back of her 
mind. No matter what she was doing or thinking it was nearly 
always there. Miss Brown, who boarded with them, had a 
radio in her room, and all last winter she would sit on the 
steps every Sunday afternoon and listen in on the programs. 
Those were probably classical pieces, but they were the ones 
she remembered best. There was one special fellow's music 
that made her heart shrink up every time she heard it. 
Sometimes this feEow's music was like little colored pieces of 
crystal candy, and other times it was the softest, saddest thing 
she had ever imagined about. 
There was the sudden sound of crying. Mick sat up straight 


and listened The wind ruffled the fringe of hair on her 
forehead and the bright sun made her face white and damp. 
The whimpering continued, and Mick moved slowly along the 
sharp-pointed roof on her hands and knees. When she reached 
the end she leaned forward and lay on her stomach so that her 
head jutted over the edge and she could see the ground below. 
The kids were where she had left them. Bubber was30 

squatting over something on the ground and beside him was a 
little black, dwarf shadow. Ralph was still tied in the wagon. 
He was just old enough to sit up, and he held on to the sides of 
the wagon, with his cap crooked on his head, crying. 
'Bubber!' Mick called down. 'Find out what that Ralph wants 
and give it to him.' 
Bubber stood up and looked hard into the baby's face. 'He 
don't want nothing.' 
'Well, give him a good shake, then.' 
Mick climbed back to the place where she had been sitting 
before. She wanted to think for a long time about two or three 
certain people, to sing to herself, and to make plans. But that 
Ralph was still hollering and there wouldn't be any peace for 
her at all. 
Boldly she began to climb down toward the ladder propped 
against the edge of the roof. The slant was very steep and 
there were only a few blocks of wood nailed down, very far 
apart from each other, that the workmen used for footholds. 
She was dizzy, and her heart beat so hard it made her tremble. 
Commandingly she talked out loud to herself: 'Hold on here 
with your hands tight and then slide down until your right toe 
gets a grip there and then stay close and wiggle over to the 
left. Nerve, Mick, you've got to keep nerve.' 
Coming down was the hardest part of any climbing. It took her 
a long time to reach the ladder and to feel safe again. When 
she stood on the ground at last she seemed much shorter and 
smaller and her legs felt for a minute like they would crumple 
up with her. She hitched her shorts and jerked the belt a notch 
tighter. Ralph was still crying, but she paid the sound no 
attention and went into the new, empty house. 
Last month they had put a sign out in front saying that no 
children were allowed on the lot. A gang of kids had been 


scuffling around inside the rooms one night, and a girl who 
couldn't see in the dark had run into a room that hadn't been 
floored and fallen through and broken her leg. She was still at 
the hospital in a plaster parish cast. Also, another time some 
tough boys wee-weed all over one of the walls and wrote 
some pretty bad words. But no matter how many Keep Out 
signs were put up, they couldn't run

 31


kids away until the house had been painted and finished and 
people had moved in. 
The rooms smelled of new wood, and when she walked the 
soles of her tennis shoes made a flopping sound that echoed 
through all the house. The air was hot and quiet. She stood 
still in the middle of the front room for a while, and then she 
suddenly thought of something. She fished in her pocket and 
brought out two stubs of chalk—one green and the other red. 
Mick drew the big block letters very slowly. At the top she 
wrote EDISON, and under that she drew the names of DICK 
TRACY and MUSSOLINI. Then in each corner with the 
largest letters of all, made with green and outlined in red, she 
wrote her initials—M.K. When that was done she crossed 
over to the opposite wall and wrote a very bad word— 
PUSSY, and beneath that she put her initials, too. 
She stood in the middle of the empty room and stared at what 
she had done. The chalk was still in her hands and she did not 
feel really satisfied. She was trying to think of the name of 
this fellow who had written this music she heard over the 
radio last whiter. She had asked a girl at school who owned a 
piano and took music lessons about him, and the girl asked her 
teacher. It seemed this fellow was just a kid who had lived in 
some country in Europe a good while ago. But even if he was 
just a young kid he had made up all these beautiful pieces for 
the piano and for the violin and for a band or orchestra too. In 
her mind she could remember about six different tunes from 
the pieces of his she had heard. A few of them were kind of 
quick and tinkling, and another was like that smell in the 
springtime after a rain. But they all made her somehow sad 
and excited at the same time. 
She hummed one of the tunes, and after a while in the hot, 
empty house by herself she felt the tears come in her eyes. Her 


throat got tight and rough and she couldn't sing any more. 
Quickly she wrote the fellow's name at the very top of the list 
—MOTSART. 
Ralph was tied in the wagon just as she had left him. He sat up 
quiet and still and his fat little hands held on to the sides. 
Ralph looked like a little Chinese baby with his square black 
bangs and bis black eyes. The sun was in his32 

face, and that was why he had been hollering. Bubber was 
nowhere around. When Ralph saw her coming he began 
tuning up to cry again. She pulled the wagon into the shade by 
the side of the new house and took from her shirt pocket a 
blue-colored jelly bean. She stuck the candy in the baby's 
warm, soft mouth. 
'Put that in your pipe and smoke it,' she said to him. In a way it 
was a waste, because Ralph was still too little to get the real 
good flavor out of candy. A clean rock would be about the 
same to him, only the little fool would swallow it. He didn't 
understand any more about taste than he did about talking. 
When you said you were so sick and tired of dragging him 
around you had a good mind to throw him in the river, it was 
the same to him as if you had been loving him. Nothing much 
made any difference to him. That was why it was such an 
awful bore to haul him around. 
Mick cupped her hands, clamped them tight together, and 
blew through the crack between her thumbs. Her cheeks 
puffed out and at first there was only the sound of air rushing 
through her fists. Then a high, shrill whistle sounded, and 
after a few seconds Bubber came out from around the corner 
of the house. 
She rumpled the sawdust out of Bubber's hair and straightened 
Ralph's cap. This cap was the finest thing Ralph had. It was 
made out of lace and all embroidered. The ribbon under bis 
chin was blue on one side and white on the other, and over 
each ear there were big rosettes. His head had got too big for 
the cap and the embroidery scratched, but she always put it on 
him when she took him out. Ralph didn't have any real baby 
carriage like most folks' babies did, or any summer bootees. 
He had to be dragged around in a tacky old wagon she had got 
for Christmas three years before. But the fine cap gave him 


face.
There was nobody on the street, for it was late Sunday
morning and very hot. The wagon screeched and rattled.
Bubber was barefooted and the sidewalk was so hot it burned
his feet. The green oak trees made cool-looking black shadows
on the ground, but that was not shade enough.


'Get up in the wagon,' she told Bubber. 'And let Ralph sit in
your lap.
'
'I can walk all right.
'
The long summer-time always gave Bubber the colic. He
didn't have on a shirt and his ribs were sharp and white. The
sun made him pale instead of brown, and his little titties were
like blue raisins on his chest.
'I don't mind pulling you,' Mick said. 'Get on in.
'
*O.K.
'
Mick dragged the wagon slowly because she was not in any
hurry to get home. She began talking to the kids. But it was
really more like saying things to herself than words said to
them.
'This is a funny thing—the dreams I've been having lately. It's
like I'm swimming. But instead of water I'm pushing out my
arms and swimming through great big crowds of people. The
crowd is a hundred times bigger than in Kresses' store on
Saturday afternoon. The biggest crowd in the world. And
sometimes I'm yelling and swimming through people,
knocking them all down wherever I go— and other times Fm
on the ground and people are trompling all over me and my
insides are oozing out on the sidewalk. I guess it's more like 
a
nightmare than a plain
On Sundays the house was always full of folks because the
boarders had visitors. Newspapers rustled and there was cigar
smoke, and footsteps always on the stairs.
'Some things you just naurally want to keep private. Not
because they are bad, but because you just want them secret.
There are two or three things I wouldn't want even you to
know about'
Bubber got out when they came to the corner and helped her
lift the wagon down the curb and get it up on the next



sidewalk. 
'But there's one thing I would give anything for. And that's a 
piano. If we had a piano I'd practice every single night and 
learn every piece in the world. That's the thing I, want more 
than anything else.' 
They had come to their own home block now. Their house 
was only a few doors away. It was one of the biggest houses 
on the whole north side of town—three storiesi* 
high. But then there were fourteen people in the family. There 
weren't that many in the real, blood Kelly family— but they 
ate there and slept there at five dollars a head and you plight 
as well count them on in. Mr. Singer wasn't counted in that 
because he only rented a room and kept it straightened up 
himself. 
The house was narrow and had not been painted for many 
years. It did hot seem to be built strong enough for its three 
stories of height. It sagged on one side. 
Mick untied Ralph and lifted him from the wagon. She darted 
quickly through the hall, and from the corner of her eye she 
saw that the living-room was full of boarders. Her Dad was 
there, too. Her Mama would be in the kitchen. They were all 
hanging around waiting for dinner-time. 
She went into the first of the three rooms that the family kept 
for themselves. She put Ralph down on the bed where her Dad 
and Mama slept and gave him a string of beads to play with. 
From behind the closed door of the next room she could hear 
the sound of voices, and she decided to go inside. 
Hazel and Etta stopped talking when they saw her. Etta was 
sitting in the chair by the window, painting her toe-nails with 
the red polish. Her hah- was done up in steel rollers and there 
was a white dab of face cream on a little place under her chin 
where a pimple had come out. Hazel was flopped out lazy on 
the bed as usual. 'What were you all jawing about?' It's none of 
your nosy business,' Etta said. 'Just you hush up and leave us 
alone.' 
'It's my room just as much as it is either one of yours. I have as 
good a right hi here as you do.' Mick strutted from one corner 
to the other until she had covered all the floor space. 'But then 
I don't care anything about picking any fight. All I want are 
my own rights.' 


Mick brushed back her shaggy bangs with the palm of her 
hand. She had done this so often that there was a little row of 
cowlicks above her forehead. She quivered her nose and made 
faces at herself in the mirror. Then she began walking around 
the room again. 
Hazel and Etta were O.K. as far as sisters went. But Etta was 
like she was full of worms. All she thought about was movie 
stars and getting in the movies. Once she had 

35 
written to Jeanette MacDonald and had got a typewritten letter 
back saying that if ever she came out to Hollywood she could 
come by and swim in her swimming pool. And ever since that 
swimming pool had been preying on Etta's mind. All she 
thought about was going to Hollywood when she could scrape 
up the bus fare and getting a job as a secretary and being 
buddies with Jeanette MacDonald and getting in the movies 
herself. 
She primped all the day long. And that was the bad part. Etta 
wasn't naturally pretty like Hazel. The main thing was she 
didn't have any chin. She would pull at her jaw and go through 
a lot of chin exercises she had read in ft movie book. She was 
always looking at her side profile in the mirror and trying to 
keep her mouth set in a certain way. But it didn't do any good. 
Sometimes Etta would hold her face with her hands and cry hi 
the night about it. 
Hazel was plain lazy. She was good-looking but thick in the 
head. She was eighteen years old, and next to Bill she was the 
oldest of all the kids in the family. Maybe that was the trouble. 
She got the first and biggest share of everything—the first 
whack at the new clothes and the biggest part of any special 
treat. Hazel never had to grab for anything and she was soft. 
'Are you just going to tramp around the room all day? It makes 
me sick to see you hi those silly boy's clothes. Somebody 
ought to clamp down on you, Mick Kelly, and make you 
behave,' Etta said. 
'Shut up,' said Mick. 'I wear shorts because I don't want to 
wear your old hand-me-downs. I don't want to be like either of 
you and I don't want to look like either of you. And I won't. 
That's why I wear shorts. I'd rather be a boy any day, and I 
wish I could move in with Bill.' 


Mick scrambled under the bed and brought out a large hatbox. 
As she carried it to the door both of them called after her, 
'Good riddance!' 
Bill had the nicest room of anybody in the family. Like a den 
—and he had it all to himself—except for Bubber. Bill had 
pictures cut out from magazines tacked on the walls, mostly 
faces of beautiful ladies, and in another corner were some 
pictures Mick had painted last year herself at the free art class. 
There was only a bed and a desk in the room.JO 
Bill was sitting hunched over the desk, reading Popular 
Mechanics. She went up behind him and put her arms around 
his shoulders. 'Hey, you old son-of-a-gun.' 
He did not begin tussling with her like he used to do. .Hey,' he 
said, and shook his shoulders a little. 
'Will it bother you if I stay in here a little while?' 
'Sure—I don't mind if you want to stay.' 
Mick knelt on the floor and untied the string on the big 
hatbox. Her hands hovered over the edge of the lid, but for 
some reason she could not make up her mind to open it 
'I been thinking about what I've done on this already,' she said. 
'And it may work and it may not.' 
Bill went on reading. She still knelt over the box, but did not 
open it. Her eyes wandered over to Bill as he sat with his back 
to her. One of his big feet kept stepping on the other as he 
read. His shoes were scuffed. Once their Dad had said that all 
Bill's dinners went to his feet and his breakfast to one ear and 
bis supper to the other ear, that was a sort of mean thing to say 
and Bill had been sour over it for a month, but it was funny. 
His ears flared out and were very red, and though he was just 
out of high school he wore a size thirteen shoe. He tried to 
hide his feet by scraping one foot behind the other when he 
stood up, but that only made it worse. 
Mick opened the box a few inches and then shut it again. She 
felt too excited to look into it now. She got up and walked 
around the room until she could calm down a little. After a 
few minutes she stopped before the picture she had painted at 
the free government art class for school kids last winter. There 
was a picture of a storm on the ocean and a sea gull being 
dashed through the air by the wind. It was called 'Sea Gull 
with Back Broken in Storm.' The teacher had described the 


ocean during the first two or three lessons, and that was what 
nearly everybody started with. Most of the kids were like her, 
though, and they had never really seen the ocean with their 
own eyes. 
That was the first picture she had done and Bill had tacked it 
on his wall. All the rest of her pictures were full of people. 
She had done some more ocean storms at first —one with an 
airplane crashing down and people jumping out to save 
themselves, and another with a trans-Atlan

37 

tic liner going down and all the people trying to push and 
crowd into one little lifeboat. 
Mick went into the closet of Bill's room and brought out some 
other pictures she had done in the class—some pencil 
drawings, some water-colors, and one canvas with oils. They 
were all full of people. She had imagined a big fire on Broad 
Street and painted how she thought it would be. The flames 
were bright green and orange and Mr. Bran-non's restaurant 
and the First National Bank were about the only buildings left. 
People were lying dead in the streets and others were running 
for their lives. One man was in his nightshirt and a lady was 
trying to carry a bunch of bananas with her. Another picture 
was called 'Boiler Busts in Factory,' and men were jumping 
out of windows and running while a knot of kids in overalls 
stood scrouged together, holding the buckets of dinner they 
had brought to their Daddies. The oil painting was a picture of 
the whole town fighting on Broad Street. She never knew why 
she had painted this one and she couldn't think of the right 
name for it. There wasn't any fire or storm or reason you could 
see in the picture why all this battle was happening. But there 
were more people and more moving around than in any other 
picture. This was the best one, and it was too bad that she 
couldn't think up the real name. In the back of her mind 
somewhere she knew what it was. 
Mick put the picture back on the closet shelf. None of them 
were any good much. The people didn't have fingers and some 
of the arms were longer than the legs. The class had been fun, 
though. But she had just drawn whatever came into her head 
without reason—and in her heart it didn't give her near the 


same feeling that music did. Nothing was really as good as 
music. 
Mick knelt down on the floor and quickly lifted the top of the 
big hatbox. Inside was a cracked ukulele strung with two 
violin strings, a guitar string and a banjo string. The crack on 
the back of the ukulele had been neatly mended with sticking 
plaster and the round hole in the middle was covered by a 
piece of wood. The bridge of a violin held up the strings at the 
end and some sound-holes had been carved on either side. 
Mick was making herself a violin. She held the violin in her 
lap. She had the feeling she had38 
never really looked at it before. Some time ago she made 
Bubber a little play mandolin out of a cigar box with rubber 
bands, and that put the idea into her head. Since that she had 
hunted all over everywhere for the different parts and added a 
little to the job every day. It seemed to her she had done 
everything except use her head. 
'Bill, this don't look like any real violin I ever saw.' He was 
still reading—'Yeah—?' 
'It just don't look right. It just don't------' 
She had planned to tune the fiddle that day by screwing the 
pegs. But since she had suddenly realized how all the work 
had turned out she didn't want to look at it. Slowly she 
plucked one string after another. They all made the same little 
hollow-sounding ping. 
'How anyway will I ever get a bow? Are you sure they have to 
be made out of just horses' hair?' 'Yeah,' said Bill impatiently. 
'Nothing like thin wire or human hair strung on a limber stick 
would do?' 
Bill rubbed his feet against each other and didn't answer. 
Anger made beads of sweat come out on her forehead. 
Her voice was hoarse. 'It's not even a bad violin. It's only 
a cross between a mandolin and a ukulele. And I hate 
them. I hate them------' 
Bill turned around. 
'It's all turned out wrong. It won't do. It's no good.' Tipe down,' 
said Bill. 'Are you just carrying on about that old broken 
ukulele you've been fooling with? I could have told you at first 
it was crazy to think you could make any violin. That's one 
thing you don't sit down and make —you got to buy them. I 


thought anybody would know a thing like that. But I figured it 
wouldn't hurt yon if you found out for yourself.' 
Sometimes she hated Bill more than anyone else in the world. 
He was different entirely from what he used to be. She started 
to slam the violin down on the floor and stomp on it, but 
instead she put it back roughly into the hatbox. The tears were 
hot in her eyes as fire. She gave the box a kick and ran from 
the room without looking at Bill. 
As she was dodging through the hall to get to the back yard 
she ran into her Mama. 

39 

'What's the matter with you? What have you been into now?' 
Mick tried to jerk loose, but her Mama held on to her arm. 
Sullenly she wiped the tears from her face with the back of her 
hand. Her Mama had been in the kitchen and she wore her 
apron and house-shoes. As usual she looked as though she had 
a lot on her mind and didn't have time to ask her any more 
questions. 
'Mr. Jackson has brought his two sisters to dinner and there 
won't be but just enough chairs, so today you're to eat in the 
kitchen with Bubber.' 
'That*s hunky-dory with me,' Mick said. 
Her Mama let her go and went to take off her apron. From the 
dining-room there came the sound of the dinner bell and a 
sudden glad outbreak of talking. She could hear her Dad 
saying how much he had lost by not keeping up his accident 
insurance until the time he broke bis hip. That was one thing 
her Dad could never get off his mind —ways he could have 
made money and didn't. There was a clatter of dishes, and 
after a while the talking stopped. 
Mick leaned on the banisters of the stairs. The sudden crying 
had started her with the hiccups. It seemed to her as she 
thought back over the last month that she had never really 
believed in her mind that the violin would work. But in her 
heart she had kept making herself believe. And even now it 
was hard not to believe a little. She was tired out. Bill wasn't 
ever a help with anything now. She used to think Bill was the 
grandest person in the world. She used to follow after him 


every place he went— out fishing in the woods, to the 
clubhouses he built with other boys, to the slot machine in the 
back of Mr. Bran-non's restaurant—everywhere. Maybe he 
hadn't meant to let her down like this. But anyway they could 
never be good buddies again. 
In the hall there was the smell of cigarettes and Sunday 
dinner. Mick took a deep breath and walked back toward the 
kitchen. The dinner began to smell good and she was hungry. 
She could hear Portia's voice as she talked to Bubber, and it 
was like she was half-singing something or telling him a story. 
'And that is the various reason why I'm a whole lot40 
more fortunate than most colored girls,' Portia said as she 
opened the door. 'Why?' asked Mick. 
Portia and Bubber were sitting at the kitchen table eating their 
dinner. Portia's green print dress was cool-looking against her 
dark brown skin. She had on green earrings and her hair was 
combed very tight and neat. 
'You all time pounce in on the very tail of what somebody say 
and then want to know all about it,' Portia said. She got up and 
stood over the hot stove, putting dinner on Mick's plate. 
'Bubber and me was just talking about my Grandpapa's home 
out on the Old Sardis Road. I was telling Bubber how he and 
my uncles owns the whole place themself. Fifteen and a half 
acre. They always plants four of them in cotton, some years 
swapping back to peas to keep the dirt rich, and one acre on a 
hill is just for peaches. They haves a mule and a breed sow 
and all the time from twenty to twenty-five laying hens and 
fryers. They haves a vegetable patch and two pecan trees and 
plenty figs and plums and berries. This here is the truth. Not 
many white farms has done with their land good as my 
Grandpapa.' 
Mick put her elbows on the table and leaned over her plate. 
Portia had always rather talk about the farm than anything 
else, except about her husband and brother. To hear her tell it 
you would think that colored farm was the very White House 
itself. 
'The home started with just one little room. And through the 
years they done built on until there's space for my Grandpapa, 
his four sons and their wives and chil-drens, and my brother 
Hamilton. In the parlor they haves a real organ and a 


gramophone. And on the wall they haves a large picture of my 
Grandpapa taken in his lodge uniform. They cans all the fruit 
and vegetables and no matter how cold and rainy the winter 
turns they pretty near always haves plenty to eat.' 
'How come you don't go live with them, then?' Mick asked. 
Portia stopped peeling her potatoes and her long, brown 
fingers tapped on the table in time to her words. "This here the 
way it is. See—each person done built on his room for his 
fambly. They all done worked hard during all these years. And 
of course times is hard for ever

41


body now. But see—I lived with my Grandpapa when I were 
a
little girl. But I haven't never done any work out there since.
Any time, though, if me and Willie and Highboy gets in bad
trouble us can always go back.
'
'Didn't your Father build on a room?
'
Portia stopped chewing. 'Whose Father? You mean my
Father?
'
"Sure,' said Mick.
'You know good and well my Father is a colored doctor right
here in town.
'
Mick had heard Portia say that before, but she had thought it
was a tale. How could a colored man be a doctor?


.This here the way it is. Before the tune my Mama married my 
Father she had never known anything but real kindness. My 
Grandpa is Mister Kind hisself. But my Father is different 
from him as day is from night.' 
'Mean?'asked Mick. 
"No, he not a mean man,' Portia said slowly. 'It just that 
something is the matter. My Father not like other colored 
mens. This here is hard to explain. My Father all the time 
studying by hisself. And a long time ago he taken up all these 
notions about how a fambly ought to be. He bossed over ever 
little thing in the house and at night he tried to teach us 
children lessons.' 
"That don't sound so bad to me,' said Mick. 
'listen here. You see most of the time he were very quiet. But 
then some nights he would break out hi a kind of fit. He could 
get madder than any man I ever seen. Everbody who know my 
Father say that he was a sure enough crazy man. He done 

wild, crazy things and our Mama quit him. I were ten years 
old at the time. Our Mama taken us children with her to 
Grandpapa's farm and us were raised out there. Our Father all 
the time wanted us to come back. But even when our Mama 
died us children never did go home to live. And now my 
Father stay all by hisself.' 
Mick went to the stove and filled her plate a second time. 
Portia's voice was going up and down like a song, and nothing 
could stop her now. 
'I doesn't see my Father much—maybe once a week— but I 
done a lot of thinking about him. I feels sorrier for 

I42 

him than anybody I knows. I expect he done read more books 
than any white man in this town. He done read more books 
and he done worried about more things. He full of books and 
worrying. He done lost God and turned his back to religion. 
All his troubles come down just to that.' 
Portia was excited. Whenever she got to talking about God— 
or Willie, her brother, or Highboy, her husband— she got 
excited. 
'Now, I not a big shouter. I belongs to the Presbyterian Church 
and us don't hold with all this rolling on the floor and talking 
in tongues. Us don't get sanctified ever week and wallow 
around together. In our church we sings and lets the preacher 
do the preaching. And tell you the truth I don't think a little 
singing and a little preaching would hurt you, Mick. You 
ought to take your little brother to the Sunday School and also 
you plenty big enough to sit in church. From the biggity way 
you been acting lately it seem to me like you already got one 
toe in the pit.' 
'Nuts,' Mick said. 
'Now Highboy he were Holiness boy before us were married. 
He loved to get the spirit ever Sunday and shout and sanctify 
hisself. But after us were married I got him to join with me, 
and although it kind of hard to keep him quiet sometime I 
think he doing right well.' 
'I don't believe in God any more than I do Santa Oaus,' Mick 
said. 


'You wait a minute! That's why it sometime seem to me you 
favor my Father more than any person I ever knowed.' 
'Me? You say / favor him?' 
'I don't mean in the face or in any kind of looks. I was 
speaking about the shape and color of your souls.' 
Bubber sat looking from one to the other. His napkin was tied 
around his neck and in his hand he still held his empty spoon. 
'What all does God eat?' he asked. 
Mick got up from the table and stood in the doorway, ready to 
leave. Sometimes it was fun to devil Portia. She started on the 
same tune and said the same thing over and over—like that 
was all she knew. 
'Folks like you and my Father who don't attend the 

church can't never have nair peace at all. Now take me here—I 
believe and I haves peace. And Bubber, he haves his peace 
too. And my Highboy and my Willie likewise. And it seem to 
me just from looking at him this here Mr. Singer haves peace 
too. I done felt that the first time I seen him.' 
'Have it your own way,' Mick said. 'You're crazier than any 
father of yours could ever be.' 
'But you haven't never loved God nor even nair person. You 
hard and tough as cowhide. But just the same I knows you. 
This afternoon you going to roam all over the place without 
never being satisfied. You going to traipse all arpund like you 
haves to find something lost. You going to work yourself up 
with excitement Your heart going to beat hard enough to kill 
you because you don't love and don't have peace. And then 
some day you going to bust loose and be ruined. Won't 
nothing help you then.' 
'What, Portia?' Bubber asked. 'What kind of things does He 
eat?' 
Mick laughed and stamped out of the room. 
She did roam around the house during the afternoon because 
she could not get settled. Some days were just like that. For 
one thing the thought of the violin kept worrying her. She 
could never have made it like a real one—and after all those 
weeks of planning the very thought of it made her sick. But 


how could she have been so sure the idea would work? So 
dumb? Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the 
longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them. 
Mick did not want to go back into the rooms where the family 
stayed. And she did not want to have to talk to any of the 
boarders. No place was left but the street—and there the sun 
was too burning hot. She wandered aimlessly up and down the 
hall and kept pushing back her rumpled hair with the palm of 
her hand. 'Hell,' she said aloud to herself. 'Next to a real piano 
I sure would rather have some place to myself than anything I 
know.' 
That Portia had a certain kind of niggery craziness, but she 
was O.K. She never would do anything mean to Bubber or 
Ralph on the sly like some colored girls. But Portia had said 
that she never loved anybody. Mick stopped walk-44 

ing and stood very still, rubbing her fist on the top of her head. 
What would Portia think if she really knew? Just what would 
she think? 
She had always kept things to herself. That was one sure truth. 
Mick went slowly up the stairs. She passed the first landing 
and went on to the second. Some of the doors were open to 
make a draught and there were many sounds in the house. 
Mick stopped on the last flight of stairs and sat down. If Miss 
Brown turned on her radio she could hear the music. Maybe 
some good program would come on. 
She put her head on her knees and tied knots in the strings of 
her tennis shoes. What would Portia say if she knew that 
always there had been one person after another? And every 
time it was like some part of her would bust in a hundred 
pieces. 
But she had always kept it to herself and no person had ever 
known. 
Mick sat on the steps a long time. Miss Brown did not turn on 
her radio and there was nothing but the noises that people 
made. She thought a long time and kept hitting her thighs with 
her fists. Her face felt like it was scattered in pieces and she 
could not keep it straight. The feeling was a whole lot worse 
than being hungry for any dinner, yet it was like that. I want— 
I want—I want—was all that she could think about—but just 


what this real want was she did not know. 
After about an hour there was the sound of a doorknob being 
turned on the landing above. Mick looked up quickly and it 
was Mister Singer. He stood in the hall for a few minutes and 
his face was sad and calm. Then he went across to the 
bathroom. His company did not come out with him. From 
where she was sitting she could see part of the room, and the 
company was asleep on the bed with a sheet pulled over him. 
She waited for Mister Singer to come out of the bathroom. 
Her cheeks were very hot and she felt them with her hands. 
Maybe it was true that she came up on these top steps 
sometimes so she could see Mister Singer while she was 
listening to Miss Brown's radio on the floor below. She 
wondered what kind of music he heard in his mind that his 
ears couldn't hear. Nobody 

45 
knew. And what kind of things he would say if he could talk. 
Nobody knew that either. 
Mick waited, and after a while he came out into the hall again. 
She hoped he would look down and smile at her. And then 
when he got to his door he did glance down and nod his head. 
Mick's grin was wide and trembling. He went into his room 
and shut the door. It might have been he meant to invite her in 
to see him. Mick wanted suddenly to go into his room. 
Sometime soon when he didn't have company she would really 
go in and see Mister Singer. She really would do that. 
The hot afternoon passed slowly and Mick still sat on the 
steps by herself. The fellow Motsart's music was in her mind 
again. It was funny, but Mister Singer reminded her of this 
music. She wished there was some place where she could go 
to hum it out loud. Some kind of music was too private to sing 
in a house cram full of people. It was funny, too, how 
lonesome a person could be in a crowded house. Mick tried to 
think of some good private place where she could go and be 
by herself and study about this music. But though she thought 
about this a long time she knew in the beginning that there 
was no good place. 
l_j ATE in the afternoon Jake Blount awoke with the feeling 
that he had slept enough. The room hi which he lay was small 


and neat, furnished with a bureau, a table, a bed, and a few 
chairs. On the bureau an electric fan turned its face slowly 
from one wall to another, and as the breeze from it passed 
Jake's face he thought of cool water. By the window a man sat 
before the table and stared down at a chess game laid out 
before him. In the daylight the room was not familiar to Jake, 
but he recognized the man's face instantly and it was as though 
he had known him a very long time. 
Many memories were confused in Jake's mind. He lay 
motionless with his eyes open and his hands turned palm 
upward. His hands were huge and very brown against the 
white sheet. When he held them up to his face he saw that 
they were scratched and bruised—and the veins were46 

I 

swollen as though he had been grasping hard at something for 
a long time. His face looked tired and unkempt. His brown 
hair fell down over his forehead and his mustache was awry. 
Even his wing-shaped eyebrows were rough and tousled. As 
he lay there his lips moved once or twice and his mustache 
jerked with a nervous quiver. . 
After a while he sat up and gave himself a thump on the f 
side of his head with one of his big fists to straighten himself 
out. When he moved, the man playing chess looked up quickly 
and smiled at him. 
'God, I'm thirsty,' Jake said. 'I feel like the whole Russian army 
marched through my mouth in its stocking feet.' The man 
looked at him, still smiling, and then suddenly he reached 
down on the other side of the table and brought up a frosted 
pitcher of ice water and a glass. Jake drank in great panting 
gulps—standing half-naked in the middle of the room, his 
head thrown back and one of his hands closed in a tense fist. 
He finished four glasses before he took a deep breath and 
relaxed a little. 
Instantly certain recollections came to him. He couldn't 
remember coming home with this man, but things that had 
happened later were clearer now. He had waked up soaking in 
a tub of cold water, and afterward they drank coffee and 
talked. He had got a lot of things off his chest and the man had 


listened. He had talked himself hoarse, but he could remember 
the expressions on the man's face better than anything that was 
said. They had gone to bed in the morning with the shade 
pulled down so no light could come in. At first he would keep 
waking up with nightmares and have to turn the light on to get 
himself clear again. The light would wake this fellow also, but 
he hadn't complained at all. 
'How come you didn't kick me out last night?' The man only 
smiled again. Jake wondered why he was so quiet. He looked 
around for his clothes and saw that his suitcase was on the 
floor by the bed. He couldn't remember how he had got it back 
from the restaurant where he owed for the drinks. His books, a 
white suit, and some shirts were all there as he had packed 
them. Quickly he began to dress himself. 
An electric coffee-pot was perking on the table by the

47 
time he had his clothes on. The man reached into the pocket of 
the vest that hung over the back of a chair. He brought out a 
card and Jake took it questioningly. The man's name—John 
Singer—was engraved in the center, and beneath this, written 
in ink with the same elaborate precision as the engraving, 
there was a brief message. 
I am a deaf-mute, but I read the lips and understand what is 
said to me. Please do not shout. 
The shock made Jake feel light and vacant. He and John 
Singer just looked at each other. 
'I wonder how long it would have taken me to find that out,' he 
said. 
Singer looked very carefully at his lips when he spoke-he had 
noticed that before. But a dummy! 
They sat at the table and drank hot coffee out of blue cups. 
The room was cool and the half-drawn shades softened the 
hard glare from the windows. Singer brought from his closet a 
tin box that contained a loaf of bread, some oranges, and 
cheese. He did not eat much, but sat leaning back in his chair 
with one hand in his pocket. Jake ate hungrily. He would have 
to leave the place immediately and think things over. As long 
as he was stranded he ought to scout around for some sort of 
job in a hurry. The quiet room was too peaceful and 
comfortable to worry in —he would get out and walk by 


himself for a while. 
'Are there any other deaf-mute people here?' he asked. *You 
have many friends?' 
Singer was still smiling. He did not catch on to the words at 
first, and Jake had to repeat them. Singer raised his sharp, dark 
eyebrows and shook his head. 
'Find it lonesome?' 
The man shook his head in a way that might have meant either 
yes or no. They sat silently for a little while and then Jake got 
up to leave. He thanked Singer several times for the night's 
lodging, moving his lips carefully so that he was sure to be 
understood. The mute only smiled again and shrugged his 
shoulders. When Jake asked if he could leave his suitcase 
under the bed for a few days the mute nodded that he could.48 

Then Singer took his hands from his pocket and wrote 
carefully on a pad of paper with a silver pencil. He shoved the 
pad over toward Jake. 
/ can put a mattress on the floor and you can stay here until 
you find a place. I am out most of the day. It will not be any 
trouble. 

Jake felt his lips tremble with a sudden feeling of gratefulness. 
But he couldn't accept. 'Thanks,' he said, 'I already got a place.' 
As he was leaving the mute handed him a pair of blue 
overalls, rolled into a tight bundle, and seventy-five cents. The 
overalls were filthy and as Jake recognized them they aroused 
in him a whirl of sudden memories from the past week. The 
money, Singer made him understand, had been in his pockets. 
'Adios,' Jake said. Til be back sometime soon.' 
He left the mute standing in the doorway with his hands still 
in his pockets and the half-smile on his face. When he had 
gone down several steps of the stairs he turned and waved. 
The mute waved back to him and closed his door. 
Outside the glare was sudden and sharp against his eyes. He 
stood on the sidewalk before the house, too dazzled at first by 
the sunlight to see very clearly. A youngun was sitting on the 
banisters of the house. He had seen her somewhere before. He 
remembered the boy's shorts she was wearing and the way she 
squinted her eyes. 
He held up the dirty roll of overalls. 1 want to throw these 


away. Know where I can find a garbage can?' 
The kid jumped down from the banisters. 'It's in the back yard. 
I'll show you.' 
He followed her through the narrow, dampish alley at the side 
of the house. When they came to the back yard Jake saw that 
two Negro men were sitting on the back steps. They were both 
dressed in white suits and white shoes. One of the Negroes 
was very tall and his tie and socks were brilliant green. The 
other was a light mulatto of average height. He rubbed a tin 
harmonica across his knee. In contrast with his tall companion 
his socks and tie were a hot red. 
The kid pointed to the garbage can by the back fence 

49 

and then turned to the kitchen window. 'Portia!' she called.
'Highboy and Willie here waiting for you.
'
A soft voice answered from the kitchen. 'You neen holler so
loud. I know they is. I putting on my hat right now.
'
Jake unrolled the overalls before throwing them away. They
were stiff with mud. One leg was torn and a few drops of
blood stained the front. He dropped them in the can. A Negro
girl came out of the house and joined the white-suited boys on
the steps. Jake saw that the youngun in shorts was looking at
him very closely. She changed her weight from one foot to the
other and seemed excited.
'Are you kin to Mister Singer?' she asked.
'Not a bit.
'
'Good friend?
'
'Good enough to spend the night with him.
'
'I just wondered------
'
'Which direction is Main Street?
'
She pointed to the right Two blocks down this way.
'
Jake combed his mustache with his fingers and started off. He
jingled the seventy-five cents in his hand and bit his lower lip
until it was mottled and scarlet. The three Negroes were
walking slowly ahead of him, talking among themselves.
Because he felt lonely in the unfamiliar town he kept close
behind them and listened. The girl held both of them by the
arm. She wore a green dress with a red hat and shoes. The
boys walked very close to her.



'What we got planned for this evening?' she asked. 
'It depend entirely upon you, Honey,' the tall boy said. "Willie 
and me don't have no special plans.' 
She looked from one to the other. 'You all got to decide.' 
'Well------' said the shorter boy in the red socks. 'Highboy and 
me thought m-maybe us three go to church.' 
The girl sang her answer in three different tones. 'O— K— 
And after church I got a notion I ought to go and set with 
Father for a while—just a short while.' They turned at the first 
corner, and Jake stood watching them a moment before 
walking on. 
The main street was quiet and hot, almost deserted. He had 
not realized until now that it was Sunday—and the thought of 
this depressed him. The awnings over the closed stores were 
raised and the buildings had a bare look in the50 

bright sun. He passed the New York Cafe. The door was open, 
but the place looked empty and dark. He had not found any 
socks to wear that morning, and the hot pavement burned 
through the thin soles of his shoes. The sun felt like a hot 
piece of iron pressing down on his head. The town seemed 
more lonesome than any place he had ever known. The 
stillness of the street gave him a strange feeling. When he had 
been drunk the place had seemed violent and riotous. And 
now it was as though everything had come to a sudden, static 
halt. 
He went into a fruit and candy store to buy a paper. The Help-
Wanted column was very short. There were several calls for 
young men between twenty-five and forty with automobiles to 
sell various products on commission. These he skipped over 
quickly. An advertisement for a truck-driver held his attention 
for a few minutes. But the notice at the bottom interested him 
most It read: 
Wanted—Experienced Mechanic. Sunny Dixie Show. Apply 
Corner Weavers Lane & 15th Street. 

Without knowing it he had walked back to the door of the 
restaurant where he had spent his time during the past two 
weeks. This was the only place on the block besides the fruit 
store which was not closed. Jake decided suddenly to drop in 
and see Biff Brannon. 


The cafe was very dark after the brightness outside. 
Everything looked dingier and quieter than he had 
remembered it. Brannon stood behind the cash register as 
usual, his arms folded over his chest. His good-looking plump 
wife sat filing her fingernails at the other end of the counter. 
Jake noticed that they glanced at each other as he came in. 
'Afternoon,' said Brannon. 
Jake felt something in the air. Maybe the fellow was laughing 
because he remembered things that had happened when he 
was drunk. Jake stood wooden and resentful. 'Package of 
Target, please.' As Brannon reached beneath the counter for 
the tobacco Jake decided that he was not laughing. In the 
daytime the fellow's face was not as hard-looking as it was at 
night He was pale as though 

51 
he had not slept, and his eyes had the look of a weary 
buzzard's. 
'Speak up,' Jake said. 'How much do I owe you?' 
Brannon opened a drawer and put on the counter a public-
school tablet. Slowly he turned over the pages and Jake 
watched him. The tablet looked more like a private notebook 
than the place where he kept his regular accounts. There were 
long lines of figures, added, divided, and subtracted, and little 
drawings. He stopped at a certain page and Jake saw his last 
name written at the corner. On the page there were no figures 
—only small checks and crosses. At random across the page 
were drawn little round, seated cats with long curved lines for 
tails. Jake stared. The faces of the little cats were human and 
female. The faces of the little cats were Mrs. Brannon. 
'I have checks here for the beers,' Brannon said. 'And crosses 
for dinners and straight lines for the whiskey. Let 
me see------' Brannon rubbed his nose and his eyelids 
drooped down. Then he shut the tablet. 'Approximately twenty 
dollars.' 
'It'll take me a long time,' Jake said. T3ut maybe you'll get it' 
"There's no big hurry.' 
Jake leaned against the counter. 'Say, what kind of a place is 
this town?' 
'Ordinary,' Brannon said. 'About like any other place the same 


size.' 
'What population?' 
'Around thirty thousand.' 
Jake opened the package of tobacco and rolled himself . a 
cigarette. His hands were shaking. 'Mostly mills?' 
That's right. Four big cotton mills—those are the main ones. A 
hosiery factory. Some gins and sawmills.' 
'What kind of wages?' 
'I'd say around ten or eleven a week on the average— but then 
of course they get laid off now and then. What makes you ask 
all this? You mean to try to get a job in a 
mill?' 
Jake dug his fist into his eye and rubbed it sleepily. 'Don't 
know. I might and I might not.' He laid the newspaper on the 
counter and pointed out the advertisement52 

he had just read. 'I think I'll go around and look into this.' 
Brannon read and considered. 'Yeah,' he said finally. 'I've seen 
that show. It's not much—just a couple of contraptions such as 
a flying-jinny and swings. It corrals the colored people and 
mill hands and kids. They move around to different vacant lots 
in town.' 
'Show me how to get there.' 
Brannon went with him to the door and pointed out the 
direction. 'Did you go on home with Singer this morning?' 
Jake nodded. 
"What do you think of him?' 
Jake bit his lips. The mute's face was in his mind very clearly. 
It was like the face of a friend he had known for a long time. 
He had been thinking of the man ever since he had left his 
room. 'I didn't even know he was a dummy,' he said finally. 
He began walking again down the hot, deserted street. He did 
not walk as a stranger in a strange town. He seemed to be 
looking for someone. Soon he entered one of the mill districts 
bordering the river. The streets became narrow and unpaved 
and they were not empty any longer. Groups of dingy, hungry-
looking children called to each other and played games. The 
two-room shacks, each one like the other, were rotten and 
unpainted. The stink of food and sewage mingled with the 
dust in the air. The falls up the river made a faint rushing 


sound. People stood silently in doorways or lounged on steps. 
They looked at Jake with yellow, expressionless faces. He 
stared back at them with wide, brown eyes. He walked jerkily, 
and now and then he wiped his mouth with the hairy back of 
his hand. 
At the end of Weavers Lane there was a vacant block. It had 
once been used as a junk yard for old automobiles. Rusted 
pieces of machinery and torn inner tubes still littered the 
ground. A trailer was parked in one corner of the lot, and nearby was a flying-jinny partly covered with canvas. 
Jake approached slowly. Two little younguns in overalls stood 
before the flying-jinny. Near them, seated on a box, a Negro 
man drowsed in the late sunshine, his knees collapsed against 
each other. In one hand he held a sack of melted chocolate. 
Jake watched him stick his fingers in the miry candy and then 
lick them slowly. 

53 

.Who's the manager of this outfit?
'
The Negro thrust his two sweet fingers between his lips and
rolled over them with his tongue. 'He a red-headed man,' he
said when he had finished. 'That all I know, Cap'n.
'
'Where's he now?
'
'He over there behind that largest wagon.
'
Jake slipped off his tie as he walked across the grass and
staffed it into his pocket. The sun was beginning to set in the
west. Above the black line of housetops the sky was warm
crimson. The owner of the show stood smoking a cigarette by
himself. His red hair sprang up like a sponge on the top of his
head and he stared at Jake with gray, flabby eyes.
"You the manager?
'
*Uh-huh. Patterson's my name.
'
'I come about the job in this morning's paper.
'
*Yeah. I don't want no greenhorn. I need a experienced
mechanic.
'
'I got plenty of experience,' Jake said.
'What you ever done?
'
Tve worked as a weaver and loom-fixer. I've worked in
garages and an automobile assembly shop. All sorts of
different things.
'

Patterson guided him toward the partly covered flying-jinny. 
The motionless wooden horses were fantastic in the late 
afternoon sun. They pranced up statically, pierced by their 
dull gilt bars. The horse nearest Jake had a splintery wooden 
crack in its dingy rump and the eyes walled blind and frantic, 
shreds of paint peeled from the sockets. The motionless 
merry-go-round seemed to Jake like something in a liquor 
dream. 
'I want a experienced mechanic to run this and keep the works 
in good shape,' Patterson said. 

.I can do that all right.' 
'If s a two-handed job,' Patterson explained. 'You're in charge 
of the whole attraction. Besides looking after the machinery 
you got to keep the crowd in order. You got to be sure that 
everybody gets on has a ticket. You got to be sure that the 
tickets are O.K. and not some old dance-hall ticket. Everybody 
wants to ride them horses, and you'd be surprised what niggers 
will try to put over on you when54 
they don't have no money. You got to keep three eyes open all 
the time.' 
Patterson led him to the machinery inside the circle of horses 
and pointed out the various parts. He adjusted a lever and the 
thin jangle of mechanical music began. The wooden cavalcade 
around them seemed to cut them off from the rest of the 
world. When the horses stopped, Jake asked a few questions 
and operated the mechanism himself. 
'The fellow I had quit on me,' Patterson said when they had 
come out again into the lot. 'I always hate to break in a new 
man.' 'When do I start?' 
Tomorrow afternoon. We run six days and nights a week— 
beginning at four and shutting up at twelve. You're to come 
about three and help get things going. And it takes about a 
hour after the show to fold up for the night.' 'What about pay?' 
'Twelve dollars.' 
Jake nodded, and Patterson held out a dead-white, boneless 
hand with dirty fingernails. 
It was late when he left the vacant lot. The hard, blue sky had 
blanched and in the east there was a white moon. Dusk 
softened the outline of the houses along the street. Jake did 


not return immediately through Weavers Lane, but wandered 
in the neighborhoods near-by. Certain smells, certain voices 
heard from a distance, made him stop short now and then by 
the side of the dusty street. He walked erratically, jerking from 
one direction to another for no purpose. His head felt very 
light, as though it were made of thin glass. A chemical change 
was taking place in him. The beers and whiskey he had stored 
so continuously in his system set in a reaction. He was 
sideswiped by drunkenness. The streets which had seemed so 
dead before were quick with life. There was a ragged strip of 
grass bordering the street, and as Jake walked along the 
ground seemed to rise nearer to his face. He sat down on the 
border of grass and leaned against a telephone pole. He settled 
himself comfortably, crossing his legs Turkish fashion and 
smoothing down the ends of his mustache. Words came to him 
and dreamily he spoke them aloud to himself. 

55 

.Resentment is the most precious flower of poverty. Yeah.' 
It was good to talk. The sound of his voice gave him pleasure. 
The tones seemed to echo and hang on the air so that each 
word sounded twice. He swallowed and moistened his mouth 
to speak again. He wanted suddenly to return to the mute's 
quiet room and tell him of the thoughts that were in his mind. 
It was a queer thing to want to talk with a deaf-mute. But he 
was lonesome. 
The street before him dimmed with the coming evening. 
Occasionally men passed along the narrow street very close to 
him, talking in monotones to each other, a cloud of dust rising 
around their feet with each step. Or girls passed by together, 
or a mother with a child across her shoulder. Jake sat numbly 
for some time, and at last he got to his feet and walked on. 
Weavers Lane was dark. Oil lamps made yellow, trembling 
patches of light in the doorways and windows. Some of the 
houses were entirely dark and the families sat on their front 
steps with only the reflections from a neighboring house to see 
by. A woman leaned out of a window and splashed a pail of 
dirty water into the street. A few drops of it splashed on Jake's 
face. High, angry voices could be heard from the backs of 
some of the houses. From others there was the peaceful sound 

of a chair slowly rocking.
Jake stopped before a house where three men sat together on
the front steps. A pale yellow light from inside the house
shone on them. Two of the men wore overalls but no shirts
and were barefooted. One of these was tall and loose-jointed.
The other was small and he had a running sore on the corner
of his mouth. The third man was dressed in shirt and trousers.
He held a straw hat on his knee.
'Hey,' Jake said.
The three men stared at him with mill-sallow, dead-pan faces.
They murmured but did not change their positions. Jake pulled
the package of Target from his pocket and passed it around.
He sat down on the bottom step and took off his shoes. The
cool, damp ground felt good to his feet.
'Working now?'56


.Yeah,' said the man with the straw hat. 'Most of the time.' 
Jake picked between his toes. 'I got the Gospel in me,* he 
said. 'I want to tell it to somebody.' 
The men smiled. From across the narrow street there was the 
sound of a woman singing. The smoke from their cigarettes 
hung close around them in the still air. A little youngun 
passing along the street stopped and opened bis fly to make 
water. 
'There's a tent around the corner and it's Sunday,' the small 
man said finally. 'You can go there and tell all the Gospel you 
want.' 
'It's not that kind. It's better. It's the truth.' 
'What kind?' 
Jake sucked his mustache and did not answer. After a while he 
said, 'You ever have any strikes here?' 
'Once,' said the tall man. They had one of these here strikes 
around six years ago.' 
'What happened?' 
The man with the sore on his mouth shuffled his feet and 
dropped the stub of his cigarette to the ground. 'Well —they 
just quit work because they wanted twenty cents a hour. There 
was about three hundred did it. They just hung around the 
streets all day. So the mill sent out trucks, and in a week the 
whole town was swarming with folks come here to get a job.' 
Jake turned so that he was facing them. The men sat two steps 

above him so that he had to raise his head to look into their 
eyes. 'Don't it make you mad?' he asked. 
'How do you mean—mad?' 
The vein in Jake's forehead was swollen and scarlet. 
'Christamighty, man! I mean mad—m-a-d—mad.1 He scowled 
up into their puzzled, sallow faces. Behind them, through the 
open front door he could see the inside of the house. In the 
front room there were three beds and a wash-stand. In the back 
room a barefooted woman sat sleeping in a chair. From one of 
the dark porches near-by there was the sound of a guitar. 
'I was one of them come in on the trucks,' the tall man said. 
'That makes no difference. What I'm trying to tell you

57 
is plain and simple. The bastards who own these mills are 
millionaires. While the doffers and carders and all the people 
behind the machines who spin and weave the cloth can't 
hardly make enough to keep their guts quiet. See? So when 
you walk around the streets and. think about it and see hungry, 
worn-out people and ricket-legged young-uns, don't it make 
you mad? Don't it?' 
Jake's face was flushed and dark and his lips trembled. The 
three men looked at him warily. Then the man in the straw hat 
began to laugh. 
'Go on and snicker. Sit there and bust your sides open.' 
The men laughed in the slow and easy way that three men 
laugh at one. Jake brushed the dirt from the soles of his feet 
and put on his shoes. His fists were closed tight and his mouth 
was contorted with an angry sneer. 'Laugh —that's all you're 
good for. I hope you sit there and snicker 'til you rot!' As he 
walked stiffly down the street, the sound of their laughter and 
catcalls still followed him. 
The main street was brightly lighted. Jake loitered on a corner, 
fondling the change in his pocket. His head throbbed, and 
although the night was hot a chill passed through his body. He 
thought of the mute and he wanted urgently to go back and sit 
with him awhile. In the fruit and candy store where he had 
bought the newspaper that afternoon he selected a basket of 
fruit wrapped in cellophane. The Greek behind the counter 
said the price was sixty cents, so that when he had paid he was 
left with only a nickel. As soon as he had come out of the 


store the present seemed a funny one to take a healthy man. A 
few grapes hung down below, the cellophane, and he picked 
them off hungrily. 
Singer was at home when he arrived. He sat by the window 
with the chess game laid out before him on the table. The 
room was just as Jake had left it, with the fan turned on and 
the pitcher of ice water beside the table. There was a panama 
hat on the bed and a paper parcel, so it seemed that the mute 
had just come in. He jerked his head toward the chair across 
from him at the table and pushed the chessboard to one side. 
He leaned back with his hands in his pockets, and his face 
seemed to question Jake about what had happened since he 
had left.58 

Jake put the fruit on the table. 'For this afternoon,' he said. 
'The motto has been: Go out and find an octopus and put socks 
on it.' 
The mute smiled, but Jake could not tell if he had caught what 
he had said. The mute looked at the fruit with surprise and 
then undid the cellophane wrappings. As he handled the fruits 
there was something very peculiar in the fellow's face. Jake 
tried to understand this look and was stumped. Then Singer 
smiled brightly. 
'I got a job this afternoon with a sort of show. I'm to run the 
flying-jinny.' 
The mute seemed not at all surprised. He went into the closet 
and brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses. They drank 
in silence. Jake felt that he had never been in such a quiet 
room. The light above his head made a queer reflection of 
himself in the glowing wineglass he held before him—the 
same caricature of himself he had noticed many times before 
on the curved surfaces of pitchers or tin mugs—with his face 
egg-shaped and dumpy and his mustache straggling almost up 
to his ears. Across from him the mute held his glass in both 
hands. The wine began to hum through Jake's veins and he felt 
himself entering again the kaleidoscope of drunkenness. 
Excitement made his mustache tremble jerkily. He leaned 
forward with his elbows on his knees and fastened a wide, 
searching gaze on Singer. 
'I bet I'm the only man in this town that's been mad— I'm 


talking about really mean mad—for ten solid long years. I 
damn near got in a fight just a little while ago. Sometimes it 
seems to me like I might even be crazy. I just don't know.' 
Singer pushed the wine toward his guest. Jake drank from the 
bottle and rubbed the top of his head. 
'You see, it's like I'm two people. One of me is an educated 
man. I been in some of the biggest libraries in the country. I 
read. I read all the time. I read books that tell the pure honest 
truth. Over there in my suitcase I have books by Karl Marx 
and Thorstein Veblen and such writers as them. I read them 
over and over, and the more I study the madder I get. I know 
every word printed on every page. To begin with I like words. 
Dialectic materialism—Jesuitical prevarication'— Jake rolled 
the syllables 

59 
in his mouth with loving solemnity—'teleological propensity.' 
The mute wiped his forehead with a neatly folded 
handkerchief. 
'But what I'm getting at is this. When a person knows and can't 
make the others understand, what does he do?' 
Singer reached for a wineglass, filled it to the brim, and put it 
firmly into Jake's bruised hand. 'Get drunk, huh?' Jake said 
with a jerk of his arm that spilled drops of wine on his white 
trousers. 'But listen! Wherever you look there's meanness and 
corruption. This room, this bottle of grape wine, these fruits in 
the basket, are all products of profit and loss. A fellow can't 
live without giving his passive acceptance to meanness. 
Somebody wears his tail to a frazzle for every mouthful we eat 
and every stitch we wear —and nobody seems to know. 
Everybody is blind, dumb, and blunt-headed—stupid and 
mean.' 
Jake pressed his fists to his temples. His thoughts had 
careened in several directions and he could not get control of 
them. He wanted to go berserk. He wanted to get out and fight 
violently with someone in a crowded street. 
Still looking at him with patient interest, the mute took out his 
silver pencil. He wrote very carefully on a slip of paper, Are 
you Democrat or Republican? and passed the paper across the 
table. Jake crumpled it in his hand. The room had begun to 


turn around him again and he could not even read. 
He kept his eyes on the mute's face to steady himself. Singer's 
eyes were the only things in the room that did not seem to 
move. They were varied in color, flecked with amber, gray, 
and a soft brown. He stared at them so long that he almost 
hypnotized himself. He lost the urge to be riotous and felt 
calm again. The eyes seemed to understand all that he had 
meant to say and to hold some message for him. After a while 
the room was steady again. 
'You get it,' he said in a blurred voice. 'You know what I 
mean.' 
From afar off there was the soft, silver ring of church bells. 
The moonlight was white on the roof next door and the sky 
was a gentle summer blue. It was agreed without words that 
Jake would stay with Singer a few days until he found a room. 
When the wine was finished the mute60 

put a mattress on the floor beside the bed. Without removing 
any of his clothes Jake lay down and was instantly asleep. 
JL AR from the main street, in one of the Negro sections of the 
town, Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland sat in his dark kitchen 
alone. It was past nine o'clock and the Sunday bells were 
silent now. Although the night was very hot, there was a small 
fire in the round-bellied wood stove. Doctor Copeland sat 
close to it, leaning forward in a straight-backed kitchen chair 
with his head cupped in his long, slender hands. The red glow 
from the chinks of the stove shone on his face—in this light 
his heavy lips looked almost purple against his black skin, and 
his gray hair, tight against his skull like a cap of lamb's wool, 
took on a bluish color also. He sat motionless in this position 
for a long time. Even his eyes, which stared from behind the 
silver rims of his spectacles, did not change their fixed, 
somber gaze. Then he cleared his throat harshly, and picked 
up a book from the floor beside his chair. All around him the 
room was very dark, and he had to hold the book close to the 
stove to make out the print. Tonight he read Spinoza. He did 
not wholly understand the intricate play of ideas and the 
complex phrases, but as he read he sensed a strong, true 
purpose behind the words and he felt that he almost 
understood. 


Often at night the sharp jangle of the doorbell would rouse 
him from his silence, and in the front room he would find a 
patient with a broken bone or with a razor wound. But this 
evening he was not disturbed. And after the solitary hours 
spent sitting in the dark kitchen it happened that he began 
swaying slowly from side to side and from his throat there 
came a sound like a kind of singing moan. He was making this 
sound when Portia came. 
Doctor Copeland knew of her arrival in advance. From the 
street outside he caught the sound of an harmonica playing a 
blues song and he knew that the music was played by William, 
his son. Without turning on the light he went through the hall 
and opened the front door. He did not step out on the porch, 
but stood in the dark behind 

61 
the screen. The moonlight was bright and the shadows of 
Portia and William and Highboy lay black and solid on the 
dusty street. The houses in the neighborhood had a miserable 
look. Doctor Copeland's house was different from any other 
building near-by. It was built solidly of brick and stucco. 
Around the small front yard there was a picket fence. Portia 
said good-bye to her husband and brother at the gate and 
knocked on the screen door. 
'How come you sit here in the dark like this?' 
They went together through the dark hall back to the kitchen. 
'You haves grand electric lights. It don't seem natural why you 
all the time sitting in the dark like this.' 
Doctor Copeland twisted the bulb suspended over the table 
and the room was suddenly very bright. 'The dark suits me,' he 
said. 
The room was clean and bare. On one side of the kitchen table 
there were books and an inkstand—on the other side a fork, 
spoon, and plate. Doctor Copeland held himself bolt upright 
with his long legs crossed and at first Portia sat stiffly, too. 
The father and daughter had a strong resemblance to each 
other—both of them had the same broad, flat noses, the same 
mouths and foreheads. But Portia's skin was very light when 
compared to her Father's. 
'It sure is roasting in here,' she said. 'Seems to me you would 


let this here fire die down except when you cooking.' 
'If you prefer we can go up to my office,' Doctor Copeland 
said. 
'I be all right, I guess. I don't prefer.' 
Doctor Copeland adjusted his silver-rimmed glasses and then 
folded his hands in his lap. 'How have you been since we were 
last together? You and your husband—and your brother?' 
Portia relaxed and slipped her feet out of her pumps. 'Highboy 
and Willie and me gets along just fine.' 
'William still boards with you?' 
'Sure he do,' Portia said. 'You see—us haves our own way of 
living and our own plan. Highboy—he pay the rent. I buys all 
the food out of my money. And Willie—he tends to all of our 
church dues, insurance, lodge dues, and Saturday Night. Us 
three haves our own plan and each one of us does our 
parts.'tJAKSUIN 
Doctor Copeland sat with his head bowed, pulling at his long 
fingers until he had cracked all of his joints. The clean cuffs 
of his sleeves hung down past his wrists—below them his thin 
hands seemed lighter in color than the rest of his body and the 
palms were soft yellow. His hands had always an immaculate, 
shrunken look, as though they had been scrubbed with a brush 
and soaked for a long time in a pan of water. 
'Here, I almost forgot what I brought,' Portia said. 'Haves you 
had your supper yet?' 
Doctor Copeland always spoke so carefully that each syllable 
seemed to be filtered through his sullen, heavy lips. 'No, I 
have not eaten.' 
Portia opened a paper sack she had placed on the kitchen 
table. 'I done brought a nice mess of collard greens and I 
thought maybe we have supper together. I done brought a 
piece of side meat, too. These here greens need to be seasoned 
with that. You don't care if the collards is just cooked in meat, 
do you?' 
'It does not matter.' 
'You still don't eat nair meat?' 
*No. For purely private reasons I am a vegetarian, but it does 
not matter if you wish to cook the collards with a piece of 
meat' 
Without putting on her shoes Portia stood at the table and 


carefully began to pick over the greens. This here floor sure 
do feel good to my feets. You mind if I just walk around like 
this without putting back on them tight, hurting pumps?' 
'No,' said Doctor Copeland. 'That will be all right' 
'Then—us'll have these nice collards and some hoecake and 
coffee. And I, going to cut me off a few slices of this here 
white meat and fry it for myself.' 
Doctor Copeland followed Portia with his eyes. She moved 
slowly around the room in her stockinged feet, taking down 
the scrubbed pans from the wall, building up the fire, washing 
the grit from the collards. He opened his mouth to speak once 
and then composed his lips again. 
'So you and your husband and your brother have your own cooperative plan,' he said finally. 
"That's right.' 
Doctor Copeland jerked at his fingers and tried to pop 

THE HEAR! IS A LUWHL I rtuiN mis. i. 

the joints again. 'Do you intend to plan for children?' 
Portia did not look at her father. Angrily she sloshed the water 
from the pan of collards. "There be some things,' she said, 
'that seem to me to depend entirely upon God.' 
They did not say anything else. Portia left the supper to cook 
on the stove and sat silently with her long hands dropping 
down limp between her knees. Doctor Cope-land's head rested 
on his chest as though he slept. But he was not sleeping; now 
and then a nervous tremor would pass over his face. Then he 
would breathe deeply and compose his face again. Smells of 
the supper began to fill the stifling room. In the quietness the 
clock on top of the cupboard sounded very loud, and because 
of what they had just said to each other the monotonous 
ticking was like the word 'chil-dren, chil-dren,' said over and 
over. 
He was always meeting one of them—crawling naked on a 
floor or engaged in a game of marbles or even on a dark street 
with his arms around a girl. Benedict Copeland, the boys were 
all called. But for the girls there were such names as Benny 
Mae or Madyben or Benedine Ma-dine. He had counted one 
day, and there were more than a dozen named for him. 
But all his life he had told and explained and exhorted. You 
cannot do this, he would say. There are all reasons why this 
sixth or fifth or ninth child cannot be, he would tell them. It is 


not more children we need but more chances for the ones 
already on the earth. Eugenic Parenthood for the Negro Race 
was what he would exhort them to. He would tell them in 
simple words, always the same way, and with the years it 
came to be a sort of angry poem which he had always known 
by heart. 
He studied and knew the development of any new theory. And 
from his own pocket he would distribute the devices to his 
patients himself. He was by far the first doctor in the town to 
even think of such. And he would give and explain and give 
and tell them. And then deliver maybe two score times a 
week. Madyben and Benny Mae. 
That was only one point. Only one. 
All of his life he knew that there was a reason for his working. 
He always knew that he was meant to teach his people. All 
day he would go with his bag from house to house and on all 
things he would talk to them. MCUULLEKS 
After the long day a heavy tiredness would come in him. But 
in the evening when he opened the front gate the tiredness 
would go away. There were Hamilton and Karl Marx and 
Portia and little William. There was Daisy, too. 
Portia took the lid from the pan on the stove and stirred the 
collards with a fork. 'Father—' she said after a while. 
Doctor Copeland cleared his throat and spat into a 
handkerchief. His voice was bitter and rough. 'Yes?' 
'Less us quit this here quarreling with each other.' 
'We were not quarreling,' said Doctor Copeland. 
'It don't take words to make a quarrel,' Portia said. 'It look to 
me like us is always arguing even when we sitting perfectly 
quiet like this. It just this here feeling I haves. I tell you the 
truth—ever time I come to see you it mighty near wears me 
out. So less us try not to quarrel in any way no more.' 
'It is certainly not my wish to quarrel. I am sorry if you have 
that feeling, Daughter.' 
She poured out coffee and handed one cup unsweetened to her 
father. In her own portion she put several spoons of sugar. 'I 
getting hungry and this will taste good to us. Drink your 
coffee while I tell you something which happened to us a 
piece back. Now that it all over it seem a little bit funny, but 
we got plenty reason not to laugh too hard.' 


'Go ahead,' said Doctor Copeland. 
'Well—sometime back a real fine-looking, dressed-up colored 
man come in town here. He called hisself Mr. B. F. Mason 
and said he come from Washington, D. C. Ever day he would 
walk up and down the street with a walking-cane and a pretty 
colored shirt on. Then at night he would go to the Society 
Caf6. He eaten finer than any man in this town. Ever night he 
would order hisself a bottle of gin and two pork chops for his 
supper. He always had a smile for everybody and was always 
bowing around to the girls and holding a door open for you to 
come in or go out For about a week he made hisself mighty 
pleasant wherever he were. Peoples begun to ask questions 
and wonder about this rich Mr. B. F. Mason. Then pretty soon, 
after he acquaints hisself, he begun to settle down to business.' 
Portia spread out her lips and blew into her saucer of 

r ncn&i 

coffee. 'I suppose you done read in the paper about this 
Government Pincher business for old folks?' 
Doctor Copeland nodded. 'Pension,' he said. 
'Well—he were connected with that. He were from the 
government. He had to come down from the President in 
Washington, D. C, to join everbody up for the Government 
Pinchers. He went around from one door to the next 
explaining how you pay one dollar down to join and after that 
twenty-five cents a week—and how when you were forty-five 
year old the government would pay you fifty dollars ever 
month of your life. All the peoples I know were very excited 
about this. He give everbody that joined a free picture of the 
President with his name signed under it. He told how at the 
end of six months there were going to be free uniforms for 
ever member. The club was called the Grand League of 
Pincheners for Colored Peoples— and at the end of two 
months everbody was going to get a orange ribbon with a G. 

L. P. C. P. on it to stand for the name. You know, like all these 
other letter things in the government. He come around from 
house to house with this little book and everbody commenced 
to join. He wrote their names down and took the money. Ever 
Saturday he would collect In three weeks this Mr. B. F. Mason 
had joined up so many peoples he couldn't get all the way 
around on Saturday. He have to pay somebody to take up the 
collections in each three four blocks. I collected early ever 

Saturday for near where we live and got that quarter. Course 
Willie had joined at the beginning for him and Highboy and 
me.' 
'I have come across many pictures of the President in various 
houses near where you live and I remember hearing the name 
Mason mentioned,' said Doctor Copeland. 'He was a thief?' 
'He were,' said Portia. 'Somebody begun to find out about this 
Mr. B. F. Mason and he were arrested. They find out he were 
from just plain Atlanta and hadn't never smelled no 
Washington, D. C, or no President. All the money were hid or 
spent. Willie had just throwed away seven dollars and fifty 
cents.' 
Doctor Copeland was excited. 'That is what I mean by—' 

c 

'In the hereafter,' Portia said, 'that man sure going to66 

wake up with a hot pitchfork in his gut. But now that it all 
over it do seem a little bit funny, but of course we got plenty 
reason not to laugh too hard.' 
'The Negro race of its own accord climbs up on the cross on 
every Friday,' said Doctor Copeland. 
Portia's hands shook and coffee trickled down from the saucer 
she was holding. She licked it from her arm. 'What , you 
mean?' 
'I mean that I am always looking. I mean that if I could just 
find ten Negroes—ten of my own people—with spine and 
brains and courage who are wilMng to' give all that 
they have------' 
Portia put down the coffee. 'Us was not talking about anything 
like that' 
'Only four Negroes,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Only the sum of 
Hamilton and Karl Marx and William and you. Only four 
Negroes with these real true qualities and backbone------' 
'Willie and Highboy and me have backbone,' said Portia 
angrily. 'This here is a hard world and it seem to me us three 
struggles along pretty well.' 
For a minute they were silent. Doctor Copeland laid his 
spectacles on the table and pressed bis shrunken fingers to his 
eyeballs. 
'You all the time using that word—Negro,' said Portia. 'And 


that word haves a way of hurting people's feelings. Even old 
plain nigger is better than that word. But polite peoples—no 
matter what shade they is—always says colored.' 
Doctor Copeland did not answer. 'Take Willie and me. Us 
aren't all the way colored. Our Mama was real light and both 
of us haves a good deal of white folks' blood in us. And 
Highboy—he Indian. He got a good part Indian in him. None 
of us is pure colored and the word you all the time using haves 
a way of hurting people's feelings.' 
'I am not interested in subterfuges,' said Doctor Copeland. 'I 
am interested only in real truths.' 
'Well, this here is a truth. Everybody is scared of you. It sure 
would take a whole lot of gin to get Hamilton or Buddy or 
Willie or my Highboy to come in this house and 

67 
sit with you like I does. Willie say he remember you when he 
were only a little boy and he were afraid of his own father 
then.' 
Doctor Copeland coughed harshly and cleared his throat. 
'Everbody haves feelings—no matter who they is—and 
nobody is going to walk in no house where they certain their 
feelings will be hurt. You the same way. I seen your feelings 
injured too many times by white peoples not to know that.' 
*No,' said Doctor Copeland. 'You have not seen my feelings 
injured.' 
'Course I realize that Willie or my Highboy or me— that none 
of us is scholars. But Highboy and Willie is both good as gold. 
There just is a difference between them and you.' 
'Yes,' said Doctor Copeland. 
'Hamilton or Buddy or Willie or me—none of us ever cares to 
talk like you. Us talk like our own Mama and her peoples and 
their peoples before them. You think out everthing in your 
brain. While us rather talk from something in our hearts that 
has been there for a long time. That's one of them differences.' 
'Yes,' said Doctor Copeland. 
'A person can't pick up they children and just squeeze them to 
which-a-way they wants them to be. Whether it hurt them or 
not. Whether it right or wrong. You done tried that hard as any 
man could try. And now I the only one of us that would come 


in this here house and sit with you like this.
'
The light was very bright in Doctor Copeland's eyes and her
voice was loud and hard. He coughed and his whole face
trembled. He tried to pick up the cup of cold coffee, but his
hand would not hold it steadily. The tears came up to his eyes
and he reached for his glasses to try to hide them.
Portia saw and went up to him quickly. She put her arms
around his head and pressed her cheek to his forehead. 'I done
hurt my Father's feelings,' she said softly.
His voice was hard. 'No. It is foolish and primitive to keep
repeating this about hurt feelings.'68


The tears went slowly down his cheek and the fire made them
take on the colors of blue and green and red. 'I be really and
truly sorry,' said Portia.
Doctor Copeland wiped his face with his cotton handkerchief.
'It is all right.
'
'Less us not ever quarrel no more. I can't stand this here
fighting between us. It seem to me that something real bad
come up in us ever time we be together. Less us never quarrel
like this no more.
'
'No,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Let us not quarrel.
'
Portia sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
For a few minutes she stood with her arms around her father's
head. Then after a while she wiped her face for a final time
and went over to the pot of greens on the stove.
'It mighty nigh time for these to be tender,' she said cheerfully.
'Now I think I'll start making some of them good little
hoecakes to go along with them.
'
Portia moved slowly around the kitchen in her stockinged feet
and her father followed her with his eyes. For a while again
they were silent.
With his eyes wet, so that the edges of things were blurred,
Portia was truly like her mother. Years ago Daisy had walked
like that around the kitchen, silent and occupied. Daisy was
not black as he was—her skin had been like the beautiful
color of dark honey. She was always very quiet and gentle.
But beneath that soft gentleness there was something stubborn
in her, and no matter how conscientiously he studied it all out,
he could not understand the gentle stubbornness in his wife.



He would exhort her and he would tell her all that was in his 
heart and still she was gentle. And still she would not listen to 
him but would go on her own way. 
Then later there were Hamilton and Karl Marx and William 
and Portia. And this feeling of real true purpose for them was 
so strong that he knew exactly how each thing should be with 
them. Hamilton would be a great scientist and Karl Marx a 
teacher of the Negro race and William a lawyer to fight 
against injustice and Portia a doctor for women and children. 
And when they were even babies he would tell them of the 
yoke they must thrust from their shoulders—the

69 
yoke of submission and slothfulness. And when they were a 
little older he would impress upon them that there was no 
God, but that their lives were holy and for each one of them 
there was this real true purpose. He would tell it to them over 
and over, and they would sit together far away from him and 
look with their big Negro-children eyes at their mother. And 
Daisy would sit without listening, gentle and stubborn. 
Because of the true purpose for Hamilton, Karl Marx, 
William, and Portia, he knew how every detail should be. In 
the autumn of each year he took them all into town and bought 
for them good black shoes and black stockings. For Portia he 
bought black woolen material for dresses and white linen for 
collars and cuffs. For the boys there was black wool for 
trousers and fine white linen for shirts. He did not want them 
to wear bright-colored, flimsy clothes. But when they went to 
school those were the ones they wished to wear, and Daisy 
said that they were embarrassed and that he was a hard father. 
He knew how the house should be. There could be no f and-
ness—no gaudy calendars or lace pillows or knickknacks — 
but everything in the house must be plain and dark and 
indicative of work and the real true purpose. 
Then one night he found that Daisy had pierced holes in little 
Portia's ears for earrings. And another time a kew-pie doll 
with feather skirts was on the mantelpiece when he came 
home, and Daisy was gentle and hard and would not put it 
away. He knew, too, that Daisy was teaching the children the 
cult of meekness. She told them about hell and heaven. Also 
she convinced them of ghosts and of haunted places. Daisy 


went to church every Sunday and she talked sorrowfully to the 
preacher of her own husband. And with her stubbornness she 
always took the children to the church, too, and they listened. 
The whole Negro race was sick, and he was busy all the day 
and sometimes half the night. After the long day a great 
weariness would come in him, but when he opened Sie front 
gate of his home the weariness would go away. Yet when he 
went into the house William would be playing music on a 
comb wrapped in toilet paper, Hamilton and Karl Marx would 
be shooting craps for their lunch money, Portia would be 
laughing with her mother.70 

He would start all over with them, but in a different way. He 
would bring out their lessons and talk with them. They would 
sit close together and look at their mother. He would talk and 
talk, but none of them wanted to understand. 
The feeling that would come on him was a black, terrible, 
Negro feeling. He would try to sit in his office and read and 
meditate until he could be calm and start again. He would pull 
down the shades of the room so that there would be only the 
bright light and the books and the feeling of meditation. But 
sometimes this calmness would not come. He was young, and 
the terrible feeling would not go away with study. 
Hamilton, Karl Marx, William, and Portia would be afraid of 
him and look at their mother—and sometimes when he 
realized this the black feeling would conquer him and he knew 
not what he did. 
He could not stop those terrible things, and afterward he could 
never understand. 
'This here supper sure smells good to me,' said Portia. 1 expect 
us better eat now because Highboy and Willie liable to come 
trooping in any minute.' 
Doctor Copeland settled his spectacles and pulled his chair up 
to the table. 'Where have your husband and William been 
spending the evening?' 
They been throwing horseshoes. This here Raymond Jones 
haves a horseshoe place in his back yard. This Raymond and 
his sister, Love Jones, plays ever night. Love is such a ugly 
girl I don't mind about Highboy or Willie going around to 
their house any time they wishes. But they said they would 


come back for me at quarter to ten and I expecting them now 
any minute.' 
'Before I forget,' said Doctor Copeland. 'I suppose you hear 
frequently from Hamilton and Karl Marx.' 
'I does from Hamilton. He practically taken over all the work 
on our Grandpapa's place. But Buddy, he in Mobile —and you 
know he were never a big hand at writing letters. However, 
Buddy always haves such a sweet way with peoples that I 
don't ever worry concerning him. He the kind to always get 
along right well.' 
They sat silently at the table before the supper. Portia kept 
looking up at the clock on the cupboard because it 

71 
was time for Highboy and Willie to come. Doctor Copeland 
bent his head over the plate. He held the fork in his hand as 
though it were heavy, and his fingers trembled. He only tasted 
the food and with each mouthful he swallowed hard. There 
was a feeling of strain, and it seemed as though both of them 
wanted to keep up some conversation. 
Doctor Copeland did not know how to begin. Sometimes he 
thought that he had talked so much in the years before to his 
children and they had understood so little that now there was 
nothing at all to say. After a while he wiped his mouth with 
his handkerchief and spoke in an uncertain voice. 
'You have hardly mentioned yourself. Tell me about your job 
and what you have been doing lately.' 
'Course I still with the Kellys,' said Portia. 'But I tells you, 
Father, I don't know how long I going to be able to keep on 
with them. The work is hard and it always take me a long time 
to get through. However, that don't bother me none. It about 
the pay I worries about. I suppose to get three dollars a week 
—but sometimes Mrs. Kelly likes a dollar or fifty cents of 
paying me the full amount. Course she always catches up on it 
soon as she able. But it haves a way of leaving me in a pinch.' 
"That is not right,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Why do you stand 
for it?' 
'It ain't her fault. She can't help it,' said Portia. 'Half the folks 
in that house don't pay the rent, and it a big expense to keep 
everthing up. I tell you the truth—the Kellys is just barely 
keeping one jump ahead of the sheriff. They having a mighty 


hard time.' 
'There ought to be some other job you can get' 'I know. But the 
Kellys is really grand white peoples to work for. I really fond 
of them as I can be. Them three little children is just like some 
of my own kinfolks. I feel like I done really raised Bubber and 
the baby. And although Mick and me is always getting into 
some kind of quarrel together, I haves a real close fondness 
for her, too.' 'But you must think of yourself,' said Doctor 
Copeland. 
'Mick, now------' said Portia. 'She a real case. Not a 
soul know how to manage that child. She just as biggity and 
headstrong as she can be. Something going on in her72 

all the time. I haves a funny feeling about that child. It seem to 
me that one of these days she going to really surprise 
somebody. But whether that going to be a good surprise or a 
bad surprise I just don't know. Mick puzzle me sometimes. 
But still I really fond of her.' 
*You must look out for your own livelihood first.' 
'As I say, it ain't Mrs. Kelly's fault It cost so much to run that 
big old house and the rent just don't be paid. Ain't but one 
person in the house who pay a decent amount for his room and 
pay it on the dot without fail. And that man only been living 
there a short while. He one of these here deaf-and-dumb folks. 
He the first one of them I ever seen close up—but he a mighty 
fine white man.9 
'Tall, thin, with gray and green eyes?' asked Doctor Copeland 
suddenly. 'And always polite to everyone and very well 
dressed? Not like someone from this town— more like a 
Northerner or maybe a Jew?' 
'That him,' said Portia. 
Eagerness came into Doctor Copeland's face. He crumbled his 
hoecake into the collard juice in his plate and began to eat 
with a new appetite. 'I have a deaf-mute patient,' he said. 
'How come you acquainted with Mr. Singer?' asked Portia. 
Doctor Copeland coughed and covered his mouth with his 
handkerchief. 'I have just seen him several times.' 
'I better clean up now,' said Portia. 'It sure enough time for 
Willie and my Highboy. But with this here real sink and grand 
running water these little dishes won't take me two winks.' 


The quiet insolence of the white race was one thing he had 
tried to keep out of his mind for years. When the resentment 
would come to him he would cogitate and study. In the streets 
and around white people he would keep the dignity on his face 
and always be silent. When he was younger it was 'Boy'—but 
now it was 'Uncle.' 'Uncle, run down to that filling station on 
the corner and send me a 4 mechanic' A white man in a car 
had called out those words to him not long ago. 'Boy, give me 
a hand with this.' —'Uncle, do that.' And he would not listen, 
but would walk, on with the dignity in him and be silent 

73 
A few nights ago a drunken white man had come up to him 
and begun pulling him along the street. He had his bag with 
him and he was sure someone was hurt. But the drunkard had 
pulled him into a white man's restaurant and the white men at 
the counter had begun hollering out with their insolence. He 
knew that the drunkard was making fun of him. Even then he 
had kept the dignity in him. 
But with this tall, thin white man with the gray-green eyes 
something had happened that had never happened to him with 
any white man before. 
It came about on a dark, rainy night several weeks ago. He had 
just come from a maternity case and was standing in the rain 
on a corner. He had tried to light a cigarette and one by one 
the matches in his box fizzled out. He had been standing with 
the unlighted cigarette in his mouth when the white man 
stepped up and held for him a lighted match. In the dark with 
the flame between them they could see each other's faces. The 
white man smiled at him and lighted for him his cigarette. He 
did not know what to say, for nothing like that had ever 
happened to him before. 
They had stood for a few minutes on the street corner 
together, and then the white man had handed him his card. He 
wanted to talk to the white man and ask him some questions, 
but he did not know for sure if he could really understand. 
Because of the insolence of all the white race he was afraid to 
lose his dignity in friendliness. 
But the white man had lighted his cigarette and smiled and 
seemed to want to be with him. Since then he had thought this 
over many times. 


'I have a deaf-mute patient,' said Doctor Copeland to Portia. 
The patient is a boy five years of age. And somehow I cannot 
get over the feeling that I am to blame for bis handicap. I 
delivered him, and after two post-delivery visits of course I 
forgot about him. He developed ear trouble, but the mother 
paid no attention to the discharges from his ears and did not 
bring him to me. When it was finally brought to my attention 
it was too late. Of course he hears nothing and of course he 
therefore cannot speak. But I have watched him carefully, and 
it seems to me that if he were normal he would be a very 
intelligent child.' 'You always had a great interest in little 
children,' said74 

Portia. 'You care a heap more about them than about grown 
peoples, don't you?' 
"There is more hope in the young child,' said Doctor 
Copeland. 'But this deaf boy—I have been meaning to. make 
inquiries and find if there is some institution that would take 
him.' 
'Mr. Singer would tell you. He a truly kind white man and he 
not a bit biggity.' 
'I do not know------' said Doctor Copeland. 'I have 
thought once or twice about writing him a note and seeing if 
he could give me information.' 
'Sure I would if I was you. You a grand letter-writer and I 
would give it to Mr. Singer for you,' said Portia. 'He come 
down in the kitchen two-three weeks ago with a few shirts he 
wanted me to rinch out for him. Them shirts were no more 
dirty than if Saint John the Baptist hisself had been wearing 
them. All I had to do were dip them in warm water and give 
the collars a small rub and press them. But that night when I 
taken them five clean shirts up to his room you know how 
much he give me?' 
'No.' 
'He smile like he always do and hand over to me a dollar. A 
whole dollar just for them little shirts. He one really kind and 
pleasant white man and I wouldn't be afraid to ask him any 
question. I wouldn't even mind writing that nice white man a 
letter myself. You go right ahead and do it, Father, if you 
wants to.' 


'Perhaps I will,' said Doctor Copeland. 
Portia sat up suddenly and began arranging her tight, oily hair. 
There was the faint sound of a harmonica and then gradually 
the music grew louder. 'Here come Willie and Highboy,' 
Portia said. 'I got to go out now and meet them. You take care 
of yourself now, and send me a word if you needs me for 
anything. I did enjoy the supper with you and the talking very 
much.' 
The music from the harmonica was very clear now, and they 
could tell that Willie was playing while he waited at the front 
gate. 
'Wait a minute,' said Doctor Copeland. 'I have only seen your 
husband with you about two times and I believe we have never 
really met each other. And it has been 

75 
three years since William has visited his father. Why not tell 
them to drop in for a little while?' 
Portia stood in the doorway, fingering her hair and her 
earrings. 
'Last time Willie come in here you hurted his feelings. You 
see you don't understand just how------' 
'Very well,' said Doctor Copeland. 'it was only a suggestion.' 
'Wait,' said Portia. 'I going to call them. I going to invite them 
in right now.' 
Doctor Copeland lighted a cigarette and walked up and down 
the room. He could not straighten his glasses to just the right 
position and his fingers kept trembling. From the front yard 
there was the sound of low voices. Then heavy footsteps were 
in the hall and Portia, William, and Highboy entered the 
kitchen. 
'Here we is,' said Portia. 'Highboy, I don't believe you and my 
Father has ever truly been introduced to each other. But you 
knows who each other is.' 
Doctor Copeland shook hands with both of them. Willie hung 
back shyly against the wall, but Highboy stepped forward and 
bowed formally. 'I has always heard so much about you,' he 
said. 'I be very pleased to make your acquaintance.' 
Portia and Doctor Copeland brought in chairs from the hall 
and the four of them sat around the stove. They were silent 


and uneasy. Willie gazed nervously around the room —at the 
books on the kitchen table, the sink, the cot against the wall, 
and at his father. Highboy grinned and picked at his tie. 
Doctor Copeland seemed about to speak, and then he wet his 
lips and was still silent. 
'Willie, you were going pretty good with your harp,' said 
Portia finally. 'Look to me like you and Highboy must of got 
into somebody's gin bottle.' 
'No, ma'am,' said Highboy very politely. 'Us haven't had 
anything since Saturday. Us have just been enjoying our 
horseshoe game.' 
Doctor Copeland still did not speak, and they all kept glancing 
at him and waiting. The room was close and the quietness 
made everyone nervous. 
'I do haves the hardest time with them boys' clothes,'76 
Portia said. 'I washes both of them white suits ever Saturday 
and I presses them twice a week. And look at them now. 
Course they don't wear them except when they gets home 
from work. But after two days they seems to be potty black. I 
ironed them pants just last night and now there not a crease 
left.' 
Still Doctor Copeland was silent. He kept his eyes on his son's 
face, but when Willie noticed this he bit his rough, blunt 
fingers and stared at his feet. Doctor Copeland felt his pulse 
hammering at his wrists and temples. He coughed and held his 
fist to his chest. He wanted to speak to his son, but he could 
think of nothing to say. The old bitterness came up in him and 
he did not have time to cogitate and push it down. His pulse 
hammered in him and he was confused. But they all looked at 
him, and the silence was so strong that he had to speak. 
His voice was high and it did not sound as though it came 
from himself. 'William, I wonder how much of all the things I 
have said to you when you were a child have stayed in your 
mind.' 
'I don't know what you m-m-means,' Willie said. 
The words came before Doctor Copeland knew what he would 
say. 'I mean that to you and Hamilton and Karl Marx I gave all 
that was in me. And I put all of my trust and hope in you. And 
all I get is blank misunderstanding and idleness and 
indifference. Of all I have put in nothing has remained. All has 


been taken away from me. All that I have tried to do------' 
'Hush,' said Portia. "Father, you promised me that us would 
not quarrel. This here is crazy. Us can't afford to quarrel.' 
Portia got up and started toward the front door. Willie and 
Highboy followed quickly. Doctor Copeland was the last to 
come. 
They stood in the dark before the front door. Doctor Copeland 
tried to speak, but his voice seemed lost some-.. where deep 
inside him. Willie and Portia and Highboy stood in a group 
together. 
With one arm Portia held to her husband and brother and with 
the other she reached out to Doctor Copeland. 'Less us all 
make up now before us goes. I can't stand 

77 

this here fighting between us. Less us not ever quarrel no 
more.' 
In silence Doctor Copeland shook hands again with each of 
them. 'I am sorry,' he said. 
'It quite all right with me,' said Highboy politely. 
'It quite all right with me too,' Willie mumbled. 
Portia held all of their hands together. 'Us just can't afford to 
quarrel.' 
They said good-bye, and Doctor Copeland watched them from 
the dark front porch as they went together up the street. Their 
footsteps as they walked away had a lonesome sound and he 
felt weak and tired. When they were a block away William 
began playing his harmonica again. The music was sad and 
empty. He stayed on the. front porch until he could neither see 
nor hear them any longer. 
Doctor Copeland turned off the lights in his house and sat in 
the dark before the stove. But peace would not come to him. 
He wanted to remove Hamilton and Karl Marx and William 
from his mind. Each word that Portia had said to him came 
back in a loud, hard way to his memory. He got up suddenly 
and turned on the light. He settled himself at the table with his 
books by Spinoza and William Shakespeare and Karl Marx. 
When he read the Spinoza aloud to himself the words had a 
rich, dark sound. 
He thought of the white man of whom they had spoken. It 


would be good if the white man could help him with Augustus 
Benedict Mady Lewis, the deaf patient. It would be good to 
write to the white man even if he did not have this reason and 
these questions to ask. Doctor Copeland held his head in his 
hands and from his throat there came the strange sound like a 
kind of singing moan. He remembered the white man's face 
when he smiled behind the yellow match flame on that rainy 
night—and peace was in him. 

B 

Y MIDSUMMER Singer had visitors more often than any other 
person in the house. From his room in the evening there was 
nearly always the sound of a voice. After dinner at the New 
York Cafe he bathed and dressed himself in78 

79 
one of his cool wash suits and as a rule did not go out again. 
The room was cool and pleasant. He had an icebox in the 
closet where he kept bottles of cold beer and fruit drinks. He 
was never busy or in a hurry. And always he met his guests at 
the door with a welcome smile. 
Mick loved to go up to Mister Singer's room. Even if he was a 
deaf-and-dumb mute he understood every word she said to 
him. Talking with him was like a game. Only there was a 
whole lot more to it than any game. It was like finding out 
new things about music. She would tell him some of her plans 
that she would not tell anybody else. He let her meddle with 
his cute little chess men. Once when she was excited and 
caught her shirt-tail in the electric fan he acted in such a 
kindly way that she was not embarrassed at all. Except for her 
Dad, Mister Singer was the nicest man she knew. 
When Doctor Copeland wrote the note to John Singer about 
Augustus Benedict Mady Lewis there was a polite reply and 
an invitation for him to make a call when he found the 
opportunity. Doctor Copeland went to the back of the house 
and sat with Portia awhile in the kitchen. Then he climbed the 
stairs to the white man's room. There was truly none of the 
quiet insolence about this man. They had a lemonade together 
and the mute wrote down the answer to the questions he 


wished to know. This man was different from any person of 
the white race whom Doctor Copeland had ever encountered. 
Afterward he pondered about this white man a long time. 
Then later, inasmuch as he had been invited in a cordial 
manner to return, he made another visit. 
Jake Blount came every week. When he walked up to Singer's 
room the whole stairway shook. Usually he car-A ried a 
paper sack of beers. Often his voice would come out y loud 
and angry from the room. But before he left his voice 
gradually quieted. When he descended the stairs he did not 
carry the sack of beers any longer, and he walked away 
thoughtfully without seeming to notice where he was going. 
Even Biff Brannon came to the mute's room one night. But as 
he could never stay away from the restaurant for long, he left 
in a half-hour. 
Singer was always the same to everyone. He sat in a 
straight chair by the window with his hands stuffed tight into 
his pockets, and nodded or smiled to show his guests that he 
understood. 
If he did not have a visitor in the evening, Singer went to a 
late movie. He liked to sit back and watch the actors talking 
and walking about on the screen. He never looked at the title 
of a picture before going into a movie, and no matter what was 
showing he watched each scene with equal interest. 
Then, one day in July, Singer suddenly went away without 
warning. He left the door of his room open, and on the table in 
an envelope adddessed to Mrs. Kelly there were four dollars 
for the past week's rent. His few simple possessions were gone 
and the room was very clean and bare. When his visitors came 
and saw this empty room they went away with hurt surprise. 
No one could imagine why he had left like this. 
Singer spent all of his summer vacation in the town where 
Antonapoulos was being kept in the asylum. For months he 
had planned this trip and imagined about each moment they 
would have together. Two weeks beforehand his hotel 
reservation had been made and for a long time he had carried 
his railroad ticket in an envelope in his pocket. 
Antonapoulos was not changed at all. When Singer came into 
his room he ambled placidly to meet his friend. He was even 
fatter than before, but the dreamy smile on his face was just 


the same. Singer had some packages in his arms and the big 
Greek gave them his first attention. His presents were a scarlet 
dressing-gown, soft bedroom slippers, and two monogrammed 
nightshirts. Antonapoulos looked beneath all the tissue papers 
in the boxes very carefully. When he saw that nothing good to 
eat had been concealed there, he dumped the gifts disdainfully 
on his bed and did not bother with them any more. 
The room was large and sunny. Several beds were spaced in a 
row together. Three old men played a game of slapjack in a 
corner. They did not notice Singer or Antonapoulos, and the 
two friends sat alone on the other side of the room. 
It seemed to Singer that years had passed since they had been 
together. There was so much to say that his80 

hands could not shape the signs with speed enough. His green 
eyes burned and sweat glittered on his forehead. The old 
feeling of gaiety and bliss was so quick in him again that he 
could not control himself. 
Antonapoulos kept his dark, oily eyes on his friend and did 
not move. His hands fumbled languidly with the crotch of his 
trousers. Singer told him, among other things, about the 
visitors who had been coming to see him. He told his friend 
that they helped take his mind away from his lonesomeness. 
He told Antonapoulos that they were strange people and 
always talking—but that he liked to have them come. He drew 
quick sketches of Jake Blount and Mick and Doctor Copeland. 
Then as soon as he saw mat Antonapoulos was not interested 
Singer crumpled the sketches and forgot about them. When 
the attendant came in to say that their time was up, Singer had 
not finished half of the things he wanted to say. But he left the 
room very tired and happy. 
The patients could receive their friends only on Thursday and 
Sunday. On the days when he could not be with 
Antonapoulos, Singer walked up and down in his room at the 
hotel. 
His second visit to his friend was like the first, except that the 
old men in the room watched them listlessly and did not play 
slapjack. 
After much trouble Singer obtained permission to take 
Antonapoulos out with him for a few hours. He planned each 


detail of the little excursion in advance. They drove out into 
the country in a taxi, and then at four-thirty they went to the 
dining-room at the hotel. Antonapoulos greatly enjoyed his 
extra meal. He ordered half the dishes on the menu and ate 
very greedily. But when he had finished he would not leave. 
He held to the table. Singer coaxed him and the cab driver 
wanted to use force. Antonapoulos sat stolidly and made 
obscene gestures when they came too close to him. At last 
Singer bought a bottle of whiskey from the hotel manager and 
lured him into the taxi again. When Singer threw the 
unopened bottle out of the window Antonapoulos wept with 
disappointment and offense. The end of their little excursion 
made Singer very sad. 
His next visit was the last one, for his two weeks' vacation 
was almost over. Antonapoulos had forgotten what

81 
had happened before. They sat in their same corner of the 
room. The minutes slipped by quickly. Singer's hands talked 
desperately and his narrow face was very pale. At last it was 
time for him to go. He held his friend by the arm and looked 
into his face in the way that he used to do when they parted 
each day before work. Antonapoulos stared at him drowsily 
and did not move. Singer left the room with his hands stuffed 
hard into his pockets. 
Soon after Singer returned to his room at the boarding-house, 
Mick and Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland began to come 
again. Each one of them wanted to know where he had been 
and why he had not let them know about his plans. But Singer 
pretended that he did not understand their questions, and his 
smile was inscrutable. 
One by one they would come to Singer's room to spend the 
evening with him. The mute was always thoughtful and 
composed. His many-tinted gentle eyes were grave as a 
sorcerer's. Mick Kelly and Jake Blount and Doctor Copeland 
would come and talk in the silent room—tor they felt that the 
mute would always understand whatever they wanted to say to 

him. And maybe even more than that.Part Two 

J. ms summer was different from any other time Mick could 
remember. Nothing much happened that she could describe to 
herself in thoughts or words—but there was a feeling of 

change. AH the time she was excited. In the morning she 
couldn't wait to get out of bed and start going for the day. And 
at night she hated like hell to have to sleep again. 
Right after breakfast she took the kids out, and except for 
meals they were gone most of the day. A good deal of the time 
they just roamed around the streets—with her pulling Ralph's 
wagon and Bubber following along behind. Always she was 
busy with thoughts and plans. Sometimes she would look up 
suddenly and they would be way off in some part of town she 
didn't even recognize. And once or twice they ran into Bill on 
the streets and she was so busy thinking he had to grab her by 
the arm to make her see him. 
Early in the mornings it was a little cool and their shadows 
stretched out tall on the sidewalk in front of them. But in the 
middle of the day the sky was always blazing hot. The glare 
was so bright it hurt to keep your eyes open. A lot of times the 
plans about the things that were going to happen to her were 
mixed up with ice and snow. Sometimes it was like she was 
out in Switzerland and all the mountains were covered with 
snow and she was skating on cold, greenish-colored ice. 
Mister Singer would be skating with her. And maybe Carole 
Lombard or Ar-turo Toscanini who played on the radio. They 
would be skating together and then Mister Singer would fall 
through

82


83 

the ice and she would dive in without regard for peril and 
swim under the ice and save his life. That was one of the plans 
always going on in her mind. 
Usually after they had walked awhile she would park Bubber 
and Ralph in some shady place. Bubber was a swell kid and 
she had trained him pretty good. If she told him not to go out 
of hollering distance from Ralph she wouldn't ever find him 
shooting marbles with kids two or three blocks away. He 
played by himself near the wagon, and when she left them she 
didn't have to worry much. She either went to the library and 
looked at the National Geographic or else just roamed around 
and thought some more. If she had any money she bought a 
dope or a Milky Way at Mister Brannon's. He gave kids a 


reduction. He sold them nickel things for three cents. 
But all the time—no matter what she was doing—there was 
music. Sometimes she hummed to herself as she walked, and 
other times she listened quietly to the songs inside her. There 
were all kinds of music in her thoughts. Some she heard over 
radios, and some was in her mind already without her ever 
having heard it anywhere. 
In the night-time, as soon as the kids were in bed, she was 
free. That was the most important time of all. A lot of things 
happened when she was by herself and it was dark. Right after 
supper she ran out of the house again. She couldn't tell 
anybody about the things she did at night, and when her Mama 
asked her questions she would answer with any little tale that 
sounded reasonable. But most of the time if anybody called 
her she just ran away like she hadn't heard. That went for 
everybody except her Dad. There was something about her 
Dad's voice she couldn't run away from. He was one of the 
biggest, tallest men in the whole town. But his voice was so 
quiet and kindly that people were surprised when he spoke. 
No matter how much of a hurry she was in, she always had to 
stop when her Dad called. 
This summer she realized something about her Dad she had 
never known before. Up until then she had never thought 
about him as being a real separate person. A lot of times he 
would call her. She would go in the front room where he 
worked and stand by him a couple of minutes— but when she 
listened to him her mind was never on the84 

things he said to her. Then one night she suddenly realized 
about her Dad. Nothing unusual happened that night and she 
didn't know what it was that made her understand. Afterward 
she felt older and as though she knew him as good as she 
could know any person. 
It was a night in late August and she was in a big rush. She 
had to be at this house by nine o'clock, and no maybe either. 
Her Dad called and she went into the front room. He was 
sitting slumped over his workbench. For some reason it never 
did seem natural to see him there. Until the time of his 
accident last year he had been a painter and carpenter. Before 
daylight every morning he would leave the house in his 


overalls, to be gone all day. Then at night sometimes he 
fiddled around with clocks as an extra work. A lot of times he 
had tried to get a job in a jewelry store where he could sit by 
himself at a desk all day with a clean white shirt on and a tie. 
Now when he couldn't carpenter any more he had put a sign at 
the front of the house reading 'Clocks and Watches Repaired 
Cheap.' But he didn't look like most jewelers—the ones 
downtown were quick, dark little Jew men. Her Dad was too 
tall for his workbench, and his big bones seemed joined 
together in a loose way. 
Her Dad just stared at her. She could tell he didn't have any 
reason for calling. He only wanted real bad to talk to her. He 
tried to think of some way to begin. His brown eyes were too 
big for his long, thin face, and since he had lost every single 
hair the pale, bald top of his head gave him a naked look. He 
stul looked at her without speaking and she was in a hurry. 
She had to be at that house by nine sharp and there was no 
time to waste. Her Dad saw she was in a hurry and he cleared 
his throat 
'I got something for you,' he said. 'Nothing much, but maybe 
you can treat yourself with it.' 
He didn't have to give her any nickel or dime just because he 
was lonesome and wanted to talk. Out of what he made he 
only kept enough to have beer about twice a week. Two 
bottles were on the floor by his chair now, one empty and one 
just opened. And whenever he drank beer he liked to talk to 
somebody. Her Dad fumbled with his belt and she looked 
away. This summer he had gotten like a kid about hiding those 
nickels and dimes he kept for

 85 
himself. Sometimes he hid them in his shoes, and other times 
in a little slit he had cut in his belt. She only halfway wanted 
to take the dime, but when he held it out her hand was just 
naturally open and ready. 
'I got so much work to do I don't know where to begin,' 
he said. 
That was just the opposite to the truth, and he knew it good as 
she did. He never had many watches to fix, and when he 
finished he would fool around the house doing any little job 
that was needed. Then at night he sat at his bench, cleaning 


old springs and wheels and trying to make the work last out 
until bedtime. Ever since he broke his hip and couldn't work 
steady he had to be doing something 
every minute. 
'I been thinking a lot tonight,' her Dad said. He poured out his 
beer and sprinkled a few grains of salt on the back of his hand. 
Then he licked up the salt and took a swallow 
out of the glass. 
She was in such a hurry that it was hard to stand still. Her Dad 
noticed this. He tried to say something—but he had not called 
to tell her anything special. He only wanted to talk with her 
for a little while. He started to speak and swallowed. They just 
looked at each other. The quietness grew out longer and 
neither of them could say a word. 
That was when she realized about her Dad. It wasn't like she 
was learning a new fact—she had understood it all along in 
every way except with her brain. Now she just suddenly knew 
that she knew about her Dad. He was lonesome and he was an 
old man. Because none of the kids went to him for anything 
and because he didn't earn much money he felt like he was cut 
off from the family. And in his lonesomeness he wanted to be 
close to one of his kids —and they were all so busy that they 
didn't know it. He felt like he wasn't much real use to 
anybody. 
She understood this while they were looking at each other. It 
gave her a queer feeling. Her Dad picked up a watch spring 
and cleaned it with a brush dipped in gasoline. 
'I know you're in a hurry. I just hollered to say hello.' *No, I'm 
not in any rush,' she said. 'Honest.' That night she sat down in 
a chair by his bench and they talked awhile. He talked about 
accounts and expenses and86 
how things would have been if he had just managed in a 
different way. He drank beer, and once the tears came to his 
eyes and he snuffled his nose against his shirt-sleeve. She 
stayed with him a good while that night. Even if she was in an 
awful hurry. Yet for some reason she couldn't tell him about 
the things in her mind—about the hot, dark nights. 
These nights were secret, and of the whole summer they were 
the most important time. In the dark she walked by herself and 
it was like she was the only person in the town. Almost every 


street came to be as plain to her in the nighttime as her own 
home block. Some kids were afraid to walk through strange 
places in the dark, but she wasn't. Girls were scared a man 
would come out from somewhere and put his teapot in them 
like they was married. Most girls were nuts. If a person the 
size of Joe Louis or Mountain Man Dean would jump out at 
her and want to fight she would run. But if it was somebody 
within twenty pounds her weight she would give him a good 
sock and go right on. 
The nights were wonderful, and she didn't have time to think 
about such things as being scared. Whenever she was in the 
dark she thought about music. While she walked along the 
streets she would sing to herself. And she felt like the whole 
town listened without knowing it was Mick Kelly. 
She learned a lot about music during these free nights in the 
summer-time. When she walked out in the rich parts of town 
every house had a radio. All the windows were open and she 
could hear the music very marvelous. After a while she knew 
which houses tuned in for the programs she wanted to hear. 
There was one special house that got all the good orchestras. 
And at night she would go to this house and sneak into the 
dark yard to listen. There was beautiful shrubbery around this 
house, and she would sit under a bush near the window. And 
after it was all over she would stand in the dark yard with her 
hands in her pockets and think for a long time. That was the 
realest part of all the summer—her listening to this music on 
the radio and studying about it 
'Cerra fa puerta, senor' Mick said. 

87 
Bubber was sharp as a briar. 'Haga me usted el favor, 
senorita,' he answered as a comeback. 
It was grand to take Spanish at Vocational. There was 
something about speaking in a foreign language that made her 
feel like she'd been around a lot. Every afternoon since school 
had started she had fun speaking the new Spanish words and 
sentences. At first Bubber was stumped, and it was funny to 
watch his face while she talked the foreign language. Then he 
caught on in a hurry, and before long he could copy 
everything she said. He remembered the words he learned, 
too. Of course he didn't know what all the sentences meant, 


but she didn't say them for the sense they made, anyway. After 
a while the kid learned so fast she gave out of Spanish and just 
gabbled along with made-up sounds. But it wasn't long before 
he caught her out at that—nobody could put a thing over on 
old Bubber Kelly. 
'I'm going to pretend like I'm walking into this house for the 
first time,' Mick said. 'Then I can tell better if all the 
decorations look good or not.' 
She walked out on the front porch and then came back and 
stood in the hall. All day she and Bubber and Portia and her 
Dad had been fixing the hall and the dining-room for the 
party. The decoration was autumn leaves and vines and red 
crepe paper. On the mantelpiece in the dining-room and 
sticking up behind the hatrack there were bright yellow leaves. 
They had trailed vines along the walls and on the table where 
the punch bowl would be. The red cr£pe paper hung down in 
long fringes from the mantel and also was looped around the 
backs of the chairs. There was plenty decoration. It was O.K. 
She rubbed her hand on her forehead and squinted her eyes. 
Bubber stood beside her and copied every move she made. 'I 
sure do want this party to turn out all right. I 
sure do.' 
This would be the first party she had ever given. She had 
never even been to more than four or five. Last summer she 
had gone to a prom party. But none of the boys asked her to 
prom or dance, she just stood by the punch bowl until all the 
refreshments were gone and then went home. This party was 
not going to be a bit like that one. In a few88 

hours now the people she had invited would start coming and 
the to-do would begin. 
It was hard to remember just how she got the idea of this 
party. The notion came to her soon after she started at 
Vocational. High School was swell. Everything about it was 
different from Grammar School. She wouldn't have liked it so 
much if she had had to take a stenographic course like Hazel 
and Etta had done—but she got special permission and took 
mechanical shop like a boy. Shop and Algebra and Spanish 
were grand. English was mighty hard. Her English teacher 
was Miss Minner. Everybody said Miss Minner had sold her 


brains to a famous doctor for ten thousand dollars, so that 
after she was dead he could cut them up and see why she was 
so smart. On written lessons she cracked such questions as 
'Name eight famous contemporaries of Doctor Johnson,' and 
'Quote ten lines from "The Vicar of Wakefield." ' She called 
on people by the alphabet and kept her grade book open 
during the lessons. And even if she was brainy she was an old 
sourpuss. The Spanish teacher had traveled once in Europe. 
She said that in France the people carried home loaves of 
bread without having them wrapped up. They would stand 
talking on the streets and hit the bread on a lamp post. And 
there wasn't any water in France—only wine. 
In nearly all ways Vocational was wonderful. They walked 
back and forth in the hall between classes, and at lunch period 
students hung around the gym. Here was the thing that soon 
began to bother her. In the halls the people would walk up and 
down together and everybody seemed to belong to some 
special bunch. Within a week or two she knew people in the 
halls and in classes to speak to them—but that was all. She 
wasn't a member of any bunch. In Grammar School she would 
have just gone up to any crowd she wanted to belong with and 
that would have been the end of the matter. Here it was 
different. 
During the first week she walked up and down the halls by 
herself and thought about this. She planned about being with 
some bunch almost as much as she thought of music. Those 
two ideas were in her head all the time. And finally she got the 
idea of the party. 

89 
She was strict with the invitations. No Grammar School kids 
and nobody under twelve years old. She just asked people 
between thirteen and fifteen. She knew everybody she invited 
good enough to speak to them in the halls— and when she 
didn't know their names she asked to find out. She called up 
those who had a telephone, and the rest she invited at school. 
On the telephone she always said the same thing. She let 
Bubber stick in his ear to listen. 'This is Mick Kelly,' she said. 
If they didn't understand the name she kept on until they got it. 
Tm having a prom party at eight o'clock Saturday night and 
I'm inviting you now. I live at 103 Fourth Street, Apartment 


A.' That Apartment A sounded swell on the telephone. Nearly 
everybody said they would be delighted. A couple of tough 
boys tried to be smarty and kept on asking her name over and 
over. One of them tried to act cute and said, 'I don't know you.' 
She squelched him in a hurry: 'You go eat grass!' Outside of 
that wise guy there were ten boys and ten girls and she knew 
that they were all coming. This was a real party, and it would 
be better and different from any party she had ever gone to or 
heard about before. 
Mick looked over the hall and dining-room one last time. By 
the hatrack she stopped before the picture of Old Dirty-Face. 
This was a photo of her Mama's grandfather. He was a major 
way back in the Civil War and had been killed in a battle. 
Some kid once drew eyeglasses and a beard on his picture, 
and when the pencil marks were erased it left his face all dirty. 
That was why she called him Old Dirty-Face. The picture was 
in the middle of a three-part frame. On both sides were 
pictures of his sons. They looked about Bubber's age. They 
had on uniforms and their faces were surprised. They had 
been killed in battle also. A long time ago. 
Tm going to take this down for the party. I think it looks 
common. Don't you?' 
'I don't know,' Bubber said./Are we common, Mick?' 'I'm not.' 
She put the picture underneath the hatrack. The decoration 
was O.K. Mister Singer would be pleased when he came 
home. The rooms seemed very empty and quiet. The90 

table was set for supper. And then after supper it would be 
time for the party. She went into the kitchen to see about the 
refreshments. 
'You think everything will be all right?' she asked Portia. 
Portia was making biscuits. The refreshments were on top of 
the stove. There were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 
chocolate snaps and punch. The sandwiches were covered 
with a damp dishcloth. She peeped at them but didn't take one. 
'I done told you forty times that everthing going to be all 
right,' Portia said. 'Just soon as I come back from fixing supper 
at home I going to put on that white apron and serve the food 
real nice. Then I going to push off from here by nine-thirty. 
This here is Saturday night and Highboy and Willie and me 


haves our plans, too.' 
'Sure,' Mick said. 'I just want you to help out till things sort of 
get started—you know.' 
She gave in and took one of the sandwiches. Then she made 
Bubber stay with Portia and went into the middle room. The 
dress she would wear was laying out on the bed. Hazel and 
Etta had both been good about lending her their best clothes— 
considering that they weren't supposed to come to the party. 
There was Etta's long blue crepe de chine evening dress and 
some white pumps and a rhine-stone tiara for her hair. These 
clothes were really gorgeous. It was hard to imagine how she 
would look in them. 
The late afternoon had come and the sun made long, yellow 
slants through the window. If she took two hours over 
dressing for the party it was time to begin now. When she 
thought about putting on the fine clothes she couldn't just sit 
around and wait. Very slowly she went into the bathroom and 
shucked off her old shorts and shirt and turned on the water. 
She scrubbed the rough parts of her heels and her knees and 
especially her elbows. She made the bath take a long time. 
She ran naked into the middle room and began to dress. Silk 
teddies she put on, and silk stockings. She even wore one of 
Etta's brassieres just for the heck of it. Then very carefully she 
put on the dress and stepped into the pumps. This was the first 
time she had ever worn an evening dress. She stood for a long 
time before the mirror. She was

 91 
so tall that the dress came up two or three inches above her 
ankles—and the shoes were so short they hurt her. She stood 
in front of the mirror a long tune, and finally decided she 
either looked like a sap or else she looked very beautiful. One 
or the other. 
Six different ways she tried out her hair. The cowlicks were a 
little trouble, so she wet her bangs and made three spit curls. 
Last of all she stuck the rhinestones in her hair and put on 
plenty of lipstick and paint. When she finished she lifted up 
her chin and half-closed eyes like a movie star. Slowly she 
turned her face from one side to the other. It was beautiful she 
looked—just beautiful. 
' She didn't feel like herself at all. She was somebody different 


from Mick Kelly entirely. Two hours had to pass before the 
party would begin, and she was ashamed^ for any of the 
family to see her dressed so far ahead of time. She went into 
the bathroom again and locked the door. She couldn't mess up 
her dress by sitting down, so she stood in the middle of the 
floor. The close walls around her seemed to press hi all the 
excitement. She felt so different from the old Mick Kelly that 
she knew this would be better than anything else in all her 
whole life—this party. 

.Yippee! The punch!' 
'The cutest dress------' 
'Say! You solve that one about the triangle forty-six by 
twen------' 
'Lemme by! Move out my way!' 
The front door slammed every second as the people swarmed 
into the house. Sharp voices and soft voices sounded together 
until there was just one roaring noise. Girls stood in bunches 
in their long, fine evening dresses, and the boys roamed 
around in clean duck pants or R.O.T.C. uniforms or new dark 
fall suite. There was so much commotion that Mick couldn't 
notice any separate face or person. She stood by the hatrack 
and stared around at the party as a whole. 
'Everybody get a prom card and start signing up.' 
At first the room was too loud for anyone to hear and pay 
attention. The boys were so thick around the punch bowl that 
the table and the vines didn't show at alL Only91 
her Dad's face rose up above the boys' heads as he smiled and 
dished up the punch into the little paper cups. On the seat of 
the hatrack beside her were a jar of candy and two 
handkerchiefs. A couple of girls thought it was her birthday, 
and she had thanked them and unwrapped the presents without 
telling them she wouldn't be fourteen for eight more months. 
Every person was as clean and fresh and dressed up as she 
was. They smelled good. The boys had their hair plastered 
down wet and slick. The girls with their different-colored long 
dresses stood together, and they were like a bright hunk of 
flowers. The start was marvelous. The beginning of this party 
was O.K. 
'I'm part Scotch Irish and French and------' 
*I got German blood------' 

She hollered about the prom cards one more time before she 
went into the dining-room. Soon they began to pile in from the 
hall. Every person took a prom card and they lined up in 
bunches against the walls of the room. This was the real start 
now. 
It came all of a sudden in a very queer way—this quietness. 
The boys stood together on one side of the room and the girls 
were across from them. For some reason every person quit 
making noise at once. The boys held their cards and looked at 
the girls and the room was very still. None of the boys started 
asking for proms like they were supposed to do. The awful 
quietness got worse and she had not been to enough parties to 
know what she should do. Then the boys started punching 
each other and talking. The girls giggled—but even if they 
didn't look at the boys you could tell they only had their minds 
on whether they were going to be popular or not. The awful 
quietness was gone now, but there was something jittery about 
the 
room. 
After a while a boy went up to a girl named Delores Brown. 
As soon as he had signed her up the other boys all began to 
rush Delores at once. When her whole card was full they 
started on another girl, named Mary. After that everything 
suddenly stopped again. One or two extra girls got a couple of 
proms—and because she was giving the party three boys came 
up to her. That was all. 
The people just hung around in the dining-room and the hall. 
The boys mostly flocked around the punch bowl 

93 
and tried to show off with each other. The girls bunched 
together and did a lot of laughing to pretend like they were 
having a good time. The boys thought about the girls and the 
girls thought about the boys. But all that came of it was a 
queer feeling in the room. 
It was then she began to notice Harry Minowitz. He lived in 
the house next door and she had known him all her life. 
Although he was two years older she had grown faster than 
him, and in the summer-time they used to wrestle and fight out 
on the plot of grass by the street. Harry was a Jew boy, but he 


did not look so much like one. His hair was light brown and 
straight. Tonight he was dressed very neat, and when he came 
in the door he had hung a grown man's panama hat with a 
feather in it 
on the hatrack. 
It wasn't his clothes that made her notice him. There was 
something changed about his face because he was without the 
horn-rimmed specs he usually wore. A red, droppy sty had 
come out on one of his eyes and he had to cock his head 
sideways like a bird in order to see. His long, thin hands kept 
touching around his sty as though it hurt him. When he asked 
for punch he stuck the paper cup right into her Dad's face. She 
could tell he needed his glasses very bad. He was nervous and 
kept bumping into people. He didn't ask any girl to prom 
except her—and that was because it was her party. 
All the punch had been drunk. Her Dad was afraid she would 
be embarrassed, so he and her Mama had gone back to the 
kitchen to make lemonade. Some of the people were on the 
front porch and the sidewalk. She was glad to get out in the 
cool night air. After the hot, bright house she could smell the 
new autumn in the darkness. 
Then she saw something she hadn't expected. Along the edge 
of the sidewalk and in the dark street there was a bunch of 
nighborhood kids. Pete and Sucker Wells and Baby and 
Spareribs—the whole gang that started at below Bubber's age 
and went on up to over twelve. There were even kids she 
didn't know at all who had somehow smelled a party and come 
to hang around. And there were kids her age and older that she 
hadn't invited either because they had done something mean to 
her or she had done something mean to them. They were all 
dirty and in plain94 

shorts or draggle-tailed knickers or old everyday dresses. They 
were just hanging around in the dark to watch the party. She 
thought of two feelings when she saw those kids —one was 
sad and the other was a kind of warning. 
'I got this prom with you.' Harry Minowitz made out like he 
was reading on his card, but she could see nothing was written 
on it. Her Dad had come onto the porch and blown the whistle 
that meant the beginning of the first prom. 


'Yeah,' she said. 'Let's get going.' 
They started out to walk around the block. In the long dress 
she still felt very ritzy. 'Look yonder at Mick Kelly!' one of the 
kids in the dark hollered. 'Look at her!' She just walked on like 
she hadn't heard, but it was that Spare-ribs, and some day soon 
she would catch him. She and Harry walked fast along the 
dark sidewalk, and when they came to the end of the street 
they turned down another block. 
'How old are you now, Mick—thirteen?' 
'Going on fourteen.' 
She knew what he was thinking. It used to worry her all the 
time. Five feet six inches tall and a hundred and three pounds, 
and she was only thirteen. Every kid at the party was a runt 
beside her, except Harry, who was only a couple of inches 
shorter. No boy wanted to prom with a girl so much taller than 
him. But maybe cigarettes would help stunt the rest of her 
growth. 
'I grew three and a fourth inches just in last year,' she said. 
'Once I saw a lady at the fair who was eight and a half feet 
tall. But you probably won't grow that big.' 
Harry stopped beside a dark crepe myrtle bush. Nobody was 
in sight. He took something out of his pocket and started 
fooling with whatever it was. She leaned over to see—it was 
his pair of specs and he was wiping them with his 
handkerchief. 
'Pardon me,' he said. Then he put on his glasses and she could 
hear him breathe deep. 
'You ought to wear your specs all the time.' 
'Yeah.' 
'How come you go around without them?' 

95 

The night was very quiet and dark. Harry held her elbow when 
they crossed the street. 
'There's a certain young lady back at the party that thinks it's 
sissy for a fellow to wear glasses. This certain person—oh 
well, maybe I am a------' 
He didn't finish. Suddenly he tightened up and ran a few steps 
and sprang for a leaf about four feet above his head. She just 
could see that high leaf in the dark. He had a good spring to 


his jumping and he got it the first time. Then he put the leaf in
his mouth and shadow-boxed for a few punches in the dark.
She caught up with him.
As usual a song was in her mind. She was humming to herself.
'What's that you're singing?
'


.It's a piece by a fellow named Mozart'
Harry felt pretty good. He was sidestepping with his feet like 
a
fast boxer. 'That sounds like a sort of German name.
'
'I reckon so.
'
'Fascist?' he asked.
*What?
'
'I say is that Mozart a Fascist or a Nazi?
'
Mick thought a minute. *No. They're new, and this fellow's
been dead some time.
'
'It's a good thing.' He began punching in the dark again. He
wanted her to ask why.
'I say it's a good thing,' he said again.
'Why?
'
'Because I hate Fascists. If I met one walking on the street I'd
kill him.
'
She looked at Harry. The leaves against the street light made
quick, freckly shadows on his face. He was excited. 'How
come?' she asked. 'Gosh! Don't you ever read the paper? You
see, it's this
way------
'
They had come back around the block. A commotion was
going on at her house. People were yelling and running on the
sidewalk. A heavy sickness came in her belly.
There's not time to explain unless we prom around the block
again. I don't mind telling you why I hate Fascists. I'd like to
tell about it.
'
This was probably the first chance he had got to spiel96
these ideas out to somebody. But she didn't have time to listen. 
She was busy looking at what she saw in the front of her 
house. 'O.K. I'll see you later.' The prom was over now, so she 
could look and put her mind on the mess she saw. 
What had happened while she was gone? When she left the 
people were standing around in the fine clothes and it was a 
real party. Now—after just five minutes—the place looked 


more like a crazy house. While she was gone those kids had 
come out of the dark and right into the party itself. The nerve 
they had! There was old Pete Wells banging out of the front 
door with a cup of punch hi his hand. They bellowed and ran 
and mixed with the invited people —in their old loose-legged 
knickers and everyday clothes. 
Baby Wilson messed around on the front porch—and Baby 
wasn't more than four years old. Anybody could see she ought 
to be home in bed by now, same as Bubber. She walked down 
the steps one at a time, holding the punch high up over her 
head. There was no reason for her to be here at all. Mister 
Brannon was her uncle and she could get free candy and 
drinks at his place any time she wanted to. As soon as she was 
on the sidewalk Mick caught her by the arm. 'You go right 
home, Baby Wilson. Go on, now.' Mick looked around to see 
what else she could do to straighten things out again like they 
ought to be. She went up to Sucker Wells. He stood farther 
down the sidewalk, j where it was dark, holding his paper 
cup and looking at * everybody in a dreamy way. Sucker 
was seven years old and he had on shorts. His chest and feet 
were naked. He 1 wasn't causing any of the commotion, but 
she was mad I as hell at what had happened. 
| 
She grabbed Sucker by the shoulders and began to shake him. 
At first he held his jaws tight, but after a min- I ute his teeth 
began to rattle. 'You go home, Sucker Wells. You quit 
hanging around where you're not invited.' When she let him 
go, Sucker tucked his tail and walked slowly down the street. 
But he didn't go all the way home. After he got to the corner 
she saw him sit down on the curb and watch the party where 
he thought she couldn't see him. 
For a minute she felt good about shaking the spit out of 
Sucker. And then right afterward she had a bad worry feeling 
in her and she started to let him come back. The 

big kids were the ones who messed up everything. Real brats 
they were, and with the worst nerve she had ever seen. 
Drinking up the refreshments and ruining the real party into 
all this commotion. They slammed through the front door and 


hollered and bumped into each other. She went up to Pete 
Wells because he was the worst of all. He wore his football 
helmet and butted into people. Pete was every bit of fourteen, 
yet he was still stuck in the seventh grade. She went up to him, 
but he was too big to shake like Sucker. When she told him to 
go home he shimmied and made a nose dive at her. 
'I been in six different states. Florida, Alabama------f 
TMade out of silver cloth with a sash------* 
The party was all messed up. Everybody was talking at once. 
The invited people from Vocational were mixed with the 
neighborhood gang. The boys and the girls still stood in 
separate bunches, though—and nobody prommed. In the 
house the lemonade was just about gone. There was only a 
little puddle of water with floating lemon peels at the bottom 
of the bowl. Her Dad always acted too nice with kids. He had 
served out the punch to anybody who stuck a cup at him. 
Portia was serving the sandwiches when she went into the 
dining-room. In five minutes they were all gone. She only got 
one—a jelly kind with pink sops come through the bread. 
Portia stayed in the dining-room to watch the party. 1 having 
too good a time to leave,' she said. 'I done sent word to 
Highboy and Willie to go on with the Saturday Night without 
me. Everbody so excited here I going to wait and see the end 
of this party.' 
Excitement—that was the word. She could feel it all through 
the room and on the porch and the sidewalk. She felt excited, 
too. It wasn't just her dress and the beautiful way her face 
looked when she passed by the hatrack mirror and saw the red 
paint on her cheeks and the rhinestone tiara in her hair. Maybe 
it was the decoration and all these Vocational people and kids 
being jammed together. 

.Watch her run!
'
'Ouch! Cut it out——
'
'Act your age!
'
A bunch of girls were running down the street, holding up
their dresses and with the hair flying out behind them.98
CARSON McCULLERS
Some boys had cut off the long, sharp spears of a Spanish 
bayonet bush and they were chasing the girls with them. 
Freshmen in Vocational all dressed up for a real prom party 


and acting just like kids. It was half playlike and half not 
playlike at all. A boy came up to her with a sticker and she 
started running too. 
The idea of the party was over entirely now. This was just a 
regular playing-out. But it was the wildest night she had ever 
seen. The kids had caused it. They were like a catching 
sickness, and their coming to the party made all the other 
people forget about High School and being almost grown. It 
was like just before you take a bath in the afternoon when you 
might wallow around in the back yard and get plenty dirty just 
for the good feel of it before getting into the tub. Everybody 
was a wild kid playing out on Saturday night—and she felt 
like the very wildest of all. 
She hollered and pushed and was the first to try any new stunt. 
She made so much noise and moved around so fast she 
couldn't notice what anybody else was doing. Her breath 
wouldn't come fast enough to let her do all the wild things she 
wanted to do. 
The ditch down the street! The ditch! The ditch!' 
She started for it first. Down a block they had put in new pipes 
under the street and dug a swell deep ditch. The flambeaux 
around the edge were bright and red in the dark. She wouldn't 
wait to climb down. She ran until she reached the little wavy 
flames and then she jumped. 
With her tennis shoes she would have landed like a cat —but 
the high pumps made her slip and her stomach hit this pipe. 
Her breath was stopped. She lay quiet with her eyes closed. 
The party------For a long time she remembered how 
she thought it would be, how she imagined the new people at 
Vocational. And about the bunch she wanted to be with every 
day. She would feel different in the halls now, knowing that 
they were not something special but like any other kids. It was 

O.K. about the ruined party. But it was all over. It was the 
end. 
Mick climbed out of the ditch. Some kids were playing around 
the little pots of flames. The fire made a red glow and there 
were long, quick shadows. One boy had gone home and put on 
a dough-face bought in advance for Hal
99


lowe'en. Nothing was changed about the party except her. 


She walked home slowly. When she passed kids she didn't 
speak or look at them. The decoration in the hall was torn 
down and the house seemed very empty because everyone had 
gone outside. In the bathroom she took off the blue evening 
dress. The hem was torn and she folded it so the raggedy place 
wouldn't show. The rhinestone tiara was lost somewhere. Her 
old shorts and shirt were lying on the floor just where she had 
left them. She put them on. She was too big to wear shorts any 
more after this. No more after this night Not any more. 
Mick stood out on the front porch. Her face was very white 
without the paint. She cupped her hands before her mouth and 
took a deep breath. 'Everybody go home! The door is shut! 
The party is over!' 
In the quiet, secret night she was by herself again. It was not 
late—yellow squares of light snowed in the windows of the 
houses along the streets. She walked slow, with her hands in 
her pockets and her head to one side. For a long time she 
walked without noticing the direction. 
Then the houses were far apart from each other and there were 
yards with big trees in them and black shrubbery. She looked 
around and saw she was near this house where she had gone 
so many times in the summer. Her feet had just taken her here 
without her knowing. When she came to the house she waited 
to be sure no person could see. Then she went through the side 
yard. 
The radio was on as usual. For a second she stood by the 
window and watched the people inside. The bald-headed man 
and the gray-haired lady were playing cards at a table. Mick 
sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close 
around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden 
by herself. The radio was no good tonight—somebody sang 
popular songs that all ended in the same way. It was like she 
was empty. She reached in her pockets and felt around with 
her fingers. There were raisins and a buckeye and a string of 
beads— one cigarette with matches. She lighted the cigarette 
and put her arms around her knees. It was like she was so 
empty there wasn't even a feeling or thought in her. 
One program came on after another, and all of them100 
CARSON McCULLERS 

were punk. She didn't especially care. She smoked and picked 


a little bunch of grass blades. After a while a new announcer 
started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the 
library about that musician—his name was pronounced with 
an a and spelled with double e. He was a German fellow like 
Mozart When he was living he spoke in a foreign language 
and lived in a foreign place— like she wanted to do. The 
announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. 
She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some 
more and she didn't care much what they played. Then the 
music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her 
throat. 
How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one 
side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God strutting in 
the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that 
first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not 
even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and 
froze, with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, 
harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This 
was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at 
night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and 
feelings. This music was her—the real plain her. 
She could not listen good enough to hear it alL The music 
boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful 
parts and think them over so that later she would not forget— 
or should she let go and listen to each part that came without 
thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was 
this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at last 
the opening music came again, with all the different 
instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight 
fist that socked at her heart And the first part was over. 
This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not 
have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her 
arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very 
hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the 
night. The second part was black-colored—a slow march. Not 
sad, but like the whole world was dead and black and there 
was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those 
horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then 
the music rose up angry 


and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march 
again. 
But maybe the last part of the symphony was the music she 
loved the best—glad and like the greatest people in the world 
running and springing up in a hard, free way. Wonderful 
music nice this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole 
world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to 
listen. 
It was over, and she sat very stiff with her arms around her 
knees. Another program came on the radio and she put her 
fingers in her ears. The music left only this bad hurt in her, 
and a blankness. She could not remember any of the 
symphony, not even the last few notes. She tried to remember, 
but no sound at all came to her. Now that it was over there 
was only her heart like a rabbit and this terrible hurt. 
The radio and the lights in the house were turned off. The 
night was very dark. Suddenly Mick began hitting her thigh 
with her fists. She pounded the same muscle with all her 
strength until the tears came down her face. But she could not 
feel this hard enough. The rocks under the bush were sharp. 
She grabbed a handful of them and began scraping them up 
and down on the same spot until her hand was bloody. Then 
she fell back to the ground and lay looking up at the night. 
With the fiery hurt in her leg she felt better. She was limp on 
the wet grass, and after a while her breath came slow and easy 
again. 
Why hadn't the explorers known by looking at the sky that the 
world was round? The sky was curved, like the inside of a 
huge glass ball, very dark blue with the sprinkles of bright 
stars. The night was quiet. There was the smell of warm 
cedars. She was not trying to think of the music at all when it 
came back to her. The first part happened hi her mind just as it 
had been played. She listened in a quiet, slow way and thought 
the notes out like a problem in geometry so she would 
remember. She could see the shape of the sounds very clear 
and she would not forget them. 
Now she felt good. She whispered some words out loud: 'Lord 
forgiveth me, for I knoweth not what I do.' Why did she think 
of that? Everybody in the past few years knew there wasn't 


any real God. When she thought of what she102 

used to imagine was God she could only see Mister Singer 
with a long, white sheet around him. God was silent— maybe 
that was why she was reminded. She said the words again, just 
as she would speak them to Mister Singer: 'Lord forgiveth me, 
for I knoweth not what I do.' 
This part of the music was beautiful and clear. She could sing 
it now whenever she wanted to. Maybe later on, when she had 
just waked up some morning, more of the music would come 
back to her. If ever she heard the symphony again there would 
be other parts to add to what was already in her mind. And 
maybe if she could hear it four more times, just four more 
times, she would know it all. Maybe. 
Once again she listened to this opening part of the music. 
Then the notes grew slower and soft and it was like she was 
sinking down slowly into the dark ground. 
Mick awoke with a jerk. The air had turned chilly, and as she 
was coming up out of the sleep she dreamed old Etta Kelly 
was taking all the cover. 'Gimme some blanket 
------' she tried to say. Then she opened her eyes. The sky 
was very black and all the stars were gone. The grass was wet. 
She got up in a hurry because her Dad would be worried. Then 
she remembered the music. She couldn't tell whether the time 
was midnight or three in the morning, so she started beating it 
for home in a rush. The air had a smell in it like autumn. The 
music was loud and quick in her mind, and she ran faster and 
faster on the sidewalks leading to the home block. 

B 

. Y OCTOBER the days were blue and cool. Biff Brannon 
changed his light seersucker trousers for dark-blue serge ones. 
Behind the counter of the cafe he installed a machine that 
made hot chocolate. Mick was very partial to hot chocolate, 
and she came in three or four times a week to drink a cup. He 
served it to her for a nickel instead of a dime and he wanted to 
give it to her free. He watched her as she stood behind the 
counter and he was troubled and sad. He wanted to reach out 
his hand and touch her sunburned, tousled hair—but not as he 
had ever touched 

a woman. In him there was an uneasiness, and when he spoke 
to her his voice had a rough, strange sound. 
There were many worries on his mind. For one thing, Alice 
was not well. She worked downstairs as usual from seven in 
the morning until ten at night, but she walked very slowly and 
brown circles were beneath her eyes. It was in the business 
that she showed this illness most plainly. One Sunday, when 
she wrote out the day's menu on the typewriter, she marked 
the special dinner with chicken a la king at twenty cents 
instead of fifty, and did not discover the mistake until several 
customers had already ordered and were ready to pay. Another 
time she gave back two fives and three ones as change for ten 
dollars. Biff would stand looking at her for a long time, 
rubbing his nose thoughtfully and with his eyes half-closed. 
They did not speak of this together. At night he worked 
downstairs while she slept, and during the morning she 
managed the restaurant alone. When they worked together he 
stayed behind the cash register and looked after the kitchen 
and the tables, as was their custom. They did not talk except 
on matters of business, but Biff would stand watching her 
with his face puzzled. 
Then in the afternoon of the eighth of October there was a 
sudden cry of pain from the room where they slept. Biff 
hurried upstairs. Within an hour they had taken Alice to the 
hospital and the doctor had removed from her a tumor almost 
the size of a newborn child. And then within another hour 
Alice was dead. 
Biff sat by her bed at the hospital in stunned reflection. He 
had been present when she died. Her eyes had been drugged 
and misty from the ether and then they hardened like glass. 
The nurse and the doctor withdrew from the room. He 
continued to look into her face. Except for the bluish pallor 
there was little difference. He noted each detail about her as 
though he had net watched her every day for twenty-one years. 
Then gradually as he sat there his thoughts turned to a picture 
that had long been stored inside him. 
The cold green ocean and a hot gold strip of sand. The little 
children playing on the edge of the silky line of foam. The 


sturdy brown baby girl, the thin little naked boys, the half-
grown children running and calling out to each other104 

with sweet, shrill voices. Children were here whom he knew, 
Mick and his niece, Baby, and there were also strange young 
faces no one had ever seen before. Biff bowed his head. 
After a long while he got up from his chair and stood in the 
middle of the room. He could hear his sister-in-law, Lucile, 
walking up and down the hall outside. A fat bee crawled 
across the top of the dresser, and adroitly Biff caught it in his 
hand and put it out the open window. He glanced at the dead 
face one more time, and then with widowed sedateness he 
opened the door mat led out into the hospital corridor. 
Late the next morning he sat sewing in the room upstairs. 
Why? Why was it that in cases of real love the one who is left 
does not more often follow the beloved by suicide? Only 
because the living must bury the dead? Because of the 
measured rites that must be fulfilled after a death? Because it 
is as though the one who is left steps for a time upon a stage 
and each second swells to an unlimited amount of time and he 
is watched by many eyes? Because there is a function he must 
carry out? Or perhaps, when there is love, the widowed must 
stay for the resurrection of the beloved—so that the one who 
has gone is not really dead, but grows and is created for a 
second time in the soul of the living? Why? 
Biff bent close over his sewing and meditated on many things. 
He sewed skillfully, and the calluses on the tips of his fingers 
were so hard that he pushed the needle through the cloth 
without a thimble. Already the mourning bands had been sewn 
around the arms of two gray suits, and now he was on the last. 
The day was bright and hot, and the first dead leaves of the 
new autumn scraped on the sidewalks. He had gone out early. 
Each minute was very long. Before him there was infinite 
leisure. He had locked the door of the restaurant and hung on 
the outside a white wreath of lilies. To the funeral home he 
went first and looked carefully at the selection of caskets. He 
touched the materials of the linings and tested the strength of 
the frames. 
'What is the name of the crepe of this one—Georgette?'

 105 The undertaker answered his questions in an oily, 


unctuous voice. 
'And what is the percentage of cremations in your business?' 
Out on the street again Biff walked with measured formality. 
From the west there was a warm wind and the sun was very 
bright. His watch had stopped, so he turned down toward the 
street where Wilbur Kelly had recently put out his sign as 
watchmaker. Kelly was sitting at his bench in a patched 
bathrobe. His shop was also a bedroom, and the baby Mick 
pulled around with her in a wagon sat quietly on a pallet on 
the floor. Each minute was so long that in it there was ample 
time for contemplation and enquiry. He asked Kelly to explain 
the exact use of jewels in a watch. He noted the distorted look 
of Kelly's right eye as it appeared through his watchmaker's 
loupe. They talked for a while about Chamberlain and 
Munich. Then as the time was still early he decided to go up 
to the mute's room. 
Singer was dressing for work. Last night there had come from 
him a letter of condolence. He was to be a pallbearer at the 
funeral. Biff sat on the bed and they smoked a cigarette 
together. Singer looked at him now and then with his green 
observant eyes. He offered him a drink of coffee. Biff did not 
talk, and once the mute stopped to pat him on the shoulder and 
look for a second into his face. When Singer was dressed they 
went out together. 
Biff bought the black ribbon at the store and saw the preacher 
of Alice's church. When all was arranged he came back home. 
To put things in order—that was the thought in his mind. He 
bundled up Alice's clothes and personal possessions to give to 
Lucile. He thoroughly cleaned and straightened the bureau 
drawers. He even rearranged the shelves of the kitchen 
downstairs and removed the gaily colored crSpe streamers 
from the electric fans. Then when this was done he sat in the 
tub and bathed himself all over. And the morning was done. 
Biff bit the thread and smoothed the black band on the sleeve 
of his coat. By now Lucile would be waiting for him. He and 
she and Baby would ride in the funeral car together. He put 
away the work basket and fitted the coat106 

with the mourning band very carefully on his shoulders. He 
glanced swiftly around the room to see that all was well 


before going out again.
An hour later he was in Lucile's kitchenette. He sat with his
legs crossed, a napkin over his thigh, drinking a cup of tea.
Lucile and Alice had been so different in all ways that it was
not easy to realize they were sisters. Lucile was thin and dark,
and today she had dressed completely in black. She was fixing
Baby's hair. The kid waited patiently on the kitchen table with
her hands folded in her lap while her mother worked on her.
The sunlight was quiet and mellow in the room.
'Bartholomew------' said Lucile.


.What?' 
"Don't you ever start thinking backward?' 
'I don't,'said Biff. 
'You know it's like I got to wear blinders all the time so I won't 
think sideways or in the past. All I can let myself think about 
is going to work every day and fixing meals and Baby's 
future.' 
That's the right attitude.' 
'I been giving Baby finger waves down at the shop. But they 
come out so quick I been thinking about letting her have a 
permanent. I don't want to give it to her myself— I think 
maybe 111 take her up to Atlanta when I go to the 
cosmetologist convention and let her get it there.' 
'Motherogod! She's not but four. It's liable to scare her. And 
besides, permanents tend to coarsen the hair.' 
Lucile dipped the comb in a glass of water and mashed the 
curls over Baby's ears. 'No, they don't. And she wants one. 
Young as Baby is, she already has as much ambition as I got. 
And that's saying plenty.' 
Biff polished his nails on the palm of his hand and shook his 
head. 
'Every time Baby and I go to the movies and see those kids in 
all the good roles she feels the same way I do. I swear she 
does, Bartholomew. I can't even get her to eat her supper 
afterward.' 
'For goodness' sake,' Biff said. 
'She's getting along so fine with her dancing and expression 
lessons. Next year I want her to start with the piano because I 
think it'll be a help for her to play some. 
107 Her dancing teacher is going to give her a solo in the 


soiree. I feel like I got to push Baby all I can. Because the 
sooner she gets started on her career the better it'll be for both 
of us.' 
'Motherogod!' 
'You don't understand. A child with talent can't be treated like 
ordinary kids. That's one reason I want to get Baby out of this 
common neighborhood. I can't let her start to talk vulgar like 
these brats around her or run wild like they do.' 
'I know the kids on this block,' Biff said. 'They're all right. 
Those Kelly kids across the street—the Crane boy------. 
'You know good and well that none of them are up to 
Baby's level.' 
Lucile set the last wave in Baby's hair. She pinched the kid's 
little cheeks to put more color in them. Then she lifted her 
down from the table. For the funeral Baby had on a little white 
dress with white shoes and white socks and even small white 
gloves. There was a certain way Baby always held her head 
when people looked at her, and it was turned that way now. 
They sat for a while in the small, hot kitchenette without 
saying anything. Then Lucile began to cry. 'It's not like we 
was ever very close as sisters. We had our differences and we 
didn't see much of each other. Maybe it was because I was so 
much younger. But there's something about your own blood 
kin, and when anything like this happens------' 
Biff clucked soothingly. 
'I know how you two were,' she said. It wasn't all just roses 
with you and she. But maybe that sort of makes it worse for 
you now.' 
Biff caught Baby under the arms and swung her up to his 
shoulder. The kid was getting heavier. He held her carefully as 
he stepped into the living-room. Baby felt warm and close on 
his shoulder, and her little silk skirt was white against the dark 
cloth of his coat. She grasped one of his ears very tight with 
her little hand. 
'Unca Biff! Watch me do the split.' 
Gently he set Baby on her feet again. She curved both arms 
above her head and her feet slid slowly in opposite108 

directions on the yellow waxed floor. In a moment she was 
seated with one leg stretched straight in front of her and one 


behind. She posed with her arms held at a fancy angle, looking 
sideways at the wall with a sad expression. 
She scrambled up again. 'Watch me do a handspring. Watch 
me do a------' 
'Honey, be a little quieter,' Lucile said. She sat down beside 
Biff on the plush sofa. 'Don't she remind you a little of him— 
something about her eyes and face?' 
'Hell, no. I can't see the slightest resemblance between Baby 
and Leroy Wilson.' 
Lucile looked too thin and worn out for her age. Maybe it was 
the black dress and because she had been crying. 'After all, we 
got to admit he's Baby's father,' she said. 
'Can't you ever forget about that man?' 
'I don't know. I guess I always been a fool about two things. 
And that's Leroy and Baby.' 
Bill's new growth of beard was blue against the pale skin of 
his face and his voice sounded tired. 'Don't you ever just think 
a thing through and find out what's happened and what ought 
to come from that? Don't you ever use logi<5—if these are the 
given facts this ought to be the result?' 
'Not about him, I guess.' 
Biff spoke in a weary manner and his eyes were almost closed. 
'You married this certain party when you were seventeen, and 
afterward there was just one racket between you after another. 
You divorced him. Then two years later you married him a 
second time. And now he's gone off again and you don't know 
where he is. It seems like those facts would show you one 
thing—you two are not suited to each other. And that's aside 
from the more personal side—the sort of man this certain 
party happens to be anyway.' 
'God knows I been realizing all along he's a heel. I just hope 
he won't ever knock on that door again.' 
'Look, Baby,' Biff said quickly. He laced his fingers and held 
up his hands. "This is the church and this is the steeple. Open 
the door and here are God's people.' 
Lucile shook her head. 'You don't have to bother about Baby. I 
tell her everything. She knows about the whole mess from A 
to Z.' 


"Then if he comes back you'll let him stay here and sponge on 
you just as long as he pleases—like it was before?' 
'Yeah. I guess I would. Every time the doorbell or the phone 
rings, every time anybody steps up on the porch, something in 
the back of my mind thinks about that man.' Biff spread out 
the palms of his hands. 'There you are.' The clock struck two. 
The room was very close and hot. Baby turned another 
handspring and made a split again on the waxed floor. Then 
Biff took her up into his lap. Her little legs dangled against his 
shin. She unbuttoned his vest and burrowed her face into him. 
'Listen,' Lucile said. 'If I ask you a question will you promise 
to answer me the truth?' 'Sure.' 
'No matter what it is?' 
Biff touched Baby's soft gold hair and laid his hand gently on 
the side of her little head. 'Of course.' 
'It was about seven years ago. Soon after we was married the 
first time. And he came in one night from your place with big 
knots all over his head and told me you caught him by the 
neck and banged his head against the side of the wall. He 
made up some tale about why you did it, but I want to know 
the real reason.' 
Biff turned the wedding ring on his finger. I just never did like 
Leroy, and we had a fight In those days I was different from 
now.' 
"No. There was some definite thing you did that for. We been 
knowing each other a pretty long time, and I understand by 
now that you got a real reason for every single thing you ever 
do. Your mind runs by reasons instead of just wants. Now, 
you promised you'd tell me what it was, and I want to know.' 
'It wouldn't mean anything now/ 'I tell you I got to know.' 
'All right,' Biff said. 'He came in that night and started 
drinking, and when he was drunk he shot off his mouth about 
you. He said he would come home about once a month and 
beat hell out of you and you would take it. But then afterward 
you would step outside in the hall and laugh aloud a few times 
so that the neighbors in the other rooms would think you both 
had just been playing around110 

and it had all been a joke. That's what happened, so just forget 
about it' 


Lucile sat up straight and there was a red spot on each of her 
cheeks. 'You see, Bartholomew, that's why I got to be like I 
have blinders on all the time so as not to think backward or 
sideways. All I can let my mind stay on is going to work every 
day and fixing three meals here at home and Baby's career.' 
'Yes.' 
'I hope you'll do that too, and not start thinking backward.' 
Biff leaned his head down on his chest and closed his eyes. 
During the whole long day he had not been able to think of 
Alice. When he tried to remember her face there was a queer 
blankness in him. The only thing about her that was clear in 
his mind was her feet—stumpy, very soft and white with puffy 
toes. The bottoms were pink and near the left heel there was a 
tiny brown mole. The night they were married he had taken 
off her shoes and stockings and kissed her feet. And, come to 
think of it, that was worth considerable, because the Japanese 
believe that the choicest part of a woman------
Biff stirred and glanced at his watch. In a little while they 
would leave for the church where the funeral would be held. 
In his mind he went through the motions of the ceremony. The 
church—riding, dirge-paced behind the hearse with Lucile and 
Baby—the group of people stand-' ing with bowed heads in 
the September sunshine. Sun on . the white tombstones, on 
the fading flowers and the can- 1 vas tent covering the newly 
dug grave. Then home again ' —and what? 
'No matter how much you quarrel there's something about 
your own blood sister,' Lucile said. 
Biff raised his head. 'Why don't you marry again? Some nice 
young man who's never had a wife before, who would take 
care of you and Baby? If you'd just forget about Leroy you 
would make a good man a fine wife.' 
Lucile was slow to answer. Then finally she said: *You know 
how we always been—we nearly all the time understand each 
other pretty well without any kind of throbs either way. Well, 
that's the closest I ever want to be to any man again.'

 111 
1 feel the same way,' Biff said. 
Half an hour later there was a knock on the door. The car for 
the funeral was parked before the house. Biff and Lucile got 
up slowly. The three of them, with Baby in her white silk 


dress a little ahead, walked in solemn quietness outside. 
Biff kept the restaurant closed during the next day. Then in 
the early evening he removed the faded wreath of lilies from 
the front door and opened the place for business again. Old 
customers came in with sad faces and talked with him a few 
minutes by the cash register before giving their orders. The 
usual crowd was present—Singer, Blount, various men who 
worked in stores along the block and in the mills down on the 
river. After supper Mick Kelly showed up with her little 
brother and put a nickel into the slot machine. When she lost 
the first coin she banged on the machine with her fists and 
kept opening the receiver to be sure that nothing had come 
down. Then she put in another nickel and almost won the 
jackpot. Coins came clattering out and rolled along the floor. 
The kid and her little brother both kept looking around pretty 
sharp as they picked them up, so that no customer would put 
his foot on one before they could get to it The mute was at the 
table in the middle of the room with his dinner before him. 
Across from him Jake Blount sat drinking beer, dressed in his 
Sunday clothes, and talking. Everything was the same as it had 
always been before. After a while the air became gray with 
cigarette smoke and the noise increased. Biff was alert, and no 
sound or movement escaped him. 
'I go around,' Blount said. He leaned earnestly across the table 
and kept his eyes on the mute's face. 'I go all around and try to 
tell them. And they laugh. I can't make them understand 
anything. No matter what I say I can't seem to make them see, 
the truth.' 
Singer nodded and wiped his mouth with his napkin. His 
dinner had got cold because he couldn't look down to eat, but 
he was so polite that he let Blount go on talking. The words of 
the two children at the slot machine were high and clear 
against the coarser voices of the men. Mick was putting her 
nickels back into the slot. Often she looked around at the 
middle table, but the mute had his back turned to her and did 
not see.112 

'Mister Singer's got fried chicken for his supper and he hasn't 
eaten one piece yet,' the little boy said. 
Mick pulled down the lever of the machine very slowly. 'Mind 


your own business.' 
'You're always going up to his room or some place where you 
know he'll be.' 
'I told you to hush, Bubber Kelly.' 
'You do.' 
Mick shook him until his teeth rattled and turned him around 
toward the door. 'You go on home to bed. I already told you I 
get a bellyful of you and Ralph in the daytime, and I don't 
want you hanging around me at night when I'm supposed to be 
free.' 
Bubber held out bis grimy little hand. Well, give me a nickel, 
then.' When he had put the money in his shirt pocket he left 
for home. 
Biff straightened his coat and smoothed back his hair. His tie 
was solid black, and on the sleeve of his gray coat there was 
the mourning band that he had sewn there. He wanted to go up 
to the slot machine and talk with Mick, but something would 
not let him. He sucked in his breath sharply and drank a glass 
of water. A dance orchestra came in on the radio, but he did 
not want to listen. All the tunes in the last ten years were so 
alike he couldn't tell one from the other. Since 1928 he had 
not enjoyed music. Yet when he was young he used to play 
the mandolin, and he knew the words and the melody of every 
current song. 
He laid his finger on the side of his nose and cocked his head 
to one side. Mick had grown so much in the past year that 
soon she would be taller than he was. She was dressed in the 
red sweater and blue pleated skirt she had worn every day 
since school started. Now the pleats had come out and the hem 
dragged loose around her sharp, jutting knees. She was at the 
age when she looked as much like an overgrown boy as a girl. 
And on that subject why was it that the smartest people mostly 
missed that point? By nature all people are of both sexes. So 
that marriage and the bed is not all by any means. The proof? 
Real youth and old age. Because often old men's voices grow 
high and reedy and they take on a mincing walk. And old 
women sometimes grow fat and their voices get rough and 
deep and they grow dark little mustaches. And he even proved

 113 it himself—the part of him that sometimes almost wished 
he was a mother and that Mick and Baby were his kids. 


Abruptly Biff turned from the cash register. 
The newspapers were in a mess. For two weeks he hadn't filed 
a single one. He lifted a stack of them from under the counter. 
With a practiced eye he glanced from the masthead to the 
bottom of the sheet. Tomorrow he would look over the stacks 
of them in the back room and see about changing the system 
of files. Build shelves and use those solid boxes canned goods 
were shipped in for drawers. Chronologically from October 
27,1918, on up to the present date. With folders and top 
markings outlining historical events. Three sets of outlines— 
one international beginning with the Armistice and leading 
through the Munich aftermath, the second national, the third 
all the local dope from the time Mayor Lester shot his wife at 
the country club up to the Hudson Mill fire. Everything for the 
past twenty years docketed and outlined and complete. Biff 
beamed quietly behind his hand as he rubbed his jaw. And yet 
Alice had wanted him to haul out the papers so she could turn 
the room into a ladies' toilet. That was just what she had 
nagged him to do, but for once he had battered her down. For 
that one time. 
With peaceful absorption Biff settled down to the details of 
the newspaper before him. He read steadily and with 
concentration, but from habit some secondary part of him was 
alert to everything around him. Jake Blount was still talking, 
and often he would hit his fist on the table. The mute sipped 
beer. Mick walked restlessly around the radio and stared at the 
customers. Biff read every word in the first paper and made a 
few notes on the 
margins. 
Then suddenly he looked up with a surprised expression. His 
mouth had been open for a yawn and he snapped it shut. The 
radio swung into an old song that dated back to the time when 
he and Alice were engaged. 'Just a Baby's Prayer at Twilight.' 
They had taken the streetcar one Sunday to Old Sardis Lake 
and had rented a rowboat. At sunset he played on the 
mandolin while she sang. She had on a sailor hat, and when he 
put his arm around her waist 

she—Alice------

A dragnet for lost feelings. Biff folded the newspapers114 

and put them back under the counter. He stood on one foot 


and then the other. Finally he called across the room to Mick. 
'You're not listening, are you?' 
Mick turned off the radio. 'No. Nothing on tonight.' All of that 
he would keep out of his mind, and concentrate on something 
else. He leaned over the counter and watched one customer 
after another. Then at last his attention rested on the mute at 
the middle table. He saw Mick edge gradually up to him and 
at his invitation sit down. Singer pointed to something on the 
menu and the waitress brought a Coca-Cola for her. Nobody 
but a freak like a deaf-mute, cut off from other people, would 
ask a right young girl to sit down to the table where he was 
drinking with another man. Blount and Mick both kept their 
eyes on Singer. They talked, and the mute's expression 
changed as he watched them. It was a funny thing. The reason 
—was it in them or in him? He sat very still with his hands in 
his pockets, and because he did not speak it made him seem 
superior. What did that fellow think and realize? What did he 
know? 
Twice during the evening Biff started to go over to the middle 
table, but each time he checked himself. After they were gone 
he still wondered what it was about this mute —and in the 
early dawn when he lay in bed he turned over questions and 
solutions in his mind without satisfaction. The puzzle had 
taken root in him. It worried him in the back of his mind and 
left him uneasy. There was something wrong. 
[.ANY times Doctor Copeland talked to Mr. Singer. Truly he 
was not like other white men. He was a wise man, and he 
understood the strong, true purpose in a way that other white 
men could not. He listened, and in his face there was 
something gentle and Jewish, the knowledge of one who 
belongs to a race that is oppressed. On one occasion he took 
Mr. Singer with him on his rounds. He led him through cold 
and narrow passages smelling of dirt and sickness and fried 
fatback. He showed him a successful skin graft made on the 
face of a woman patient who had been severely burned. He 
treated a syphilitic child and pointed 

115 
out to Mr. Singer the scaling eruption on the palms of the 
hand, the dull, opaque surface of the eye, the sloping upper 
front incisors. They visited two-room shacks that housed as 


many as twelve or fourteen persons. In a room where the fire
burned low and orange on the hearth they were helpless while
an old man strangled with pneumonia. Mr. Singer walked
behind him and watched and understood. He gave nickels to
the children, and because of his quietness and decorum he did
not disturb the patients as would have another visitor.
The days were chilly and treacherous. In the town there was
an outbreak of influenza so that Dr. Copeland was busy most
of the hours of the day and night. He drove through the Negro
sections of the town in the high Dodge automobile he had
used for the past nine years. He kept the isinglass curtains
snapped to the windows to cut off the draughts, and tight
around his neck he wore his gray wool shawl. During this time
he did not see Portia or William or Highboy, but often he
thought of them. Once when he was away Portia came to see
him and left a note and borrowed half a sack of meal.
There came a night when he was so exhausted that, although
there were other calls to make, he drank hot milk and went to
bed. He was cold and feverish so that at first he could not rest.
Then it seemed that he had only begun to sleep when a voice
called him. He got up wearily and, still in his long flannel
nightshirt, he opened the front door. It was Portia.
"The Lord Jesus help us, Father,' she said. Doctor Copeland
stood shivering with his nightshirt drawn close around his
waist. He held his hand to his throat and looked at her and
waited.
'It about our Willie. He been a bad boy and done got hisself in
mighty bad trouble. And us got to do something.' Doctor
Copeland walked from the hall with rigid steps. He stopped in
the bedroom for his bathrobe, shawl, and slippers and went
back to the kitchen. Portia was waiting for him there. The
kitchen was lifeless and cold. 'All right. What has he done?
What is it?' 'Just wait a minute. Just let me find brain room so
I can study it all out and tell it to you plain.
'
He crushed some sheets of newspaper lying on the116


hearth and picked up a few sticks of kindling.
'Let me make the fire,' Portia said. 'You just sit down at the
table, and soon as this here stove is hot us going to have a cup
of coffee. Then maybe it all won't seem so bad.
'



"There is not any coffee. I used the last of it yesterday.' > 
When he said this Portia began to cry. Savagely she stuffed 
paper and wood into the stove and lighted it with a trembling 
hand. "This here the way it is,' she said. 'Willie and Highboy 
were messing around tonight at a place where they got no 
business being. You know how I feels like I always got to 
keep my Willie and my Highboy close to me? Well, if I'd been 
there none of this trouble would of come about. But I were at 
the Ladies' Meeting at the church and them boys got restless. 
They went down to Madame Reba's Palace of Sweet Pleasure. 
And Father, this is sure one bad, wicked place. They got a 
man sells tickets on the bug— but they also got these strutting, 
bad-blood, tail-shaking nigger gals and these here red satin 
curtains and------' 
'Daughter,' said Doctor Copeland irritably. He pressed his 
hands to the side of bis head. 'I know the place. Get to the 
point.' 
'Love Jones were there—and she is one bad colored gal. 
Willie he drunk liquor and shimmied around with her until 
first thing you know he were in a fight. He were in a fight with 
this boy named Junebug—over Love. And for a while they 
fights there with their hands and then this Junebug got out his 
knife. Our Willie didn't have no knife, so he commenced to 
bellow and run around the parlor. Then finally Highboy found 
Willie a razor and he backed up and nearbout cut this 
Junebug's head off.' 
Doctor Copeland drew his shawl closer around him. 'Is he 
dead?' 
"That boy too mean to die. He in the hospital, but he going to 
be out and making trouble again before long.' 
'And William?' 
'The police come in and taken him to the jail in the Black 
Maria. He still locked up.' 
'And he did not get hurt?' 
'Oh, he got a busted eye and a little chunk cut out his behind. 
But it won't bother him none. What I can't understand is how 
come he would be messing around with that Love. She at least 
ten shades blacker than I is and she 

117 
the ugliest nigger I ever seen. She walk like she have a egg 


between her legs and don't want to break it. She ain't even 
clean. And here Willie done cut the buck like this over her.' 
Doctor Copeland leaned closer to the stove and groaned. He 
coughed and his face stiffened. He held his paper 
handkerchief to his mouth and it became spotted with blood. 
The dark skin of his face took on a greenish pallor. 
'Course Highboy come and tell me soon as it all happened. 
Understand, my Highboy didn't have nothing to do with these 
here bad gals. He were just keeping Willie company. He so 
grieved about Willie he been sitting out on the street curb in 
front of the jail ever since.' The fire-colored tears rolled down 
Portia's face. 'You know how us three has always been. Us 
haves our own plan and nothing ever went wrong with it 
before. Even money hasn't bothered us none. Highboy he pay 
the rent and I buys the food-—and Willie he takes care of 
Saturday Night. Us has always been like three-piece twinses.' 
At last it was morning. The mill whistles blew for the first 
shift. The sun came out and brightened the clean saucepans 
hanging on the wall above the stove. They sat for a long time. 
Portia pulled at the rings on her ears until her lobes were 
irritated and purplish red. Doctor Copeland still held his head 
in his hands. 
'Seem to me,' Portia said finally, 'if us can just get a lot of 
white peoples to write letters about Willie it might help out 
some. I already been to see Mr. Brannon. He written exactly 
what I told him to. He were at his cafe after it all happened 
like he is ever night. So I just went in there and explained how 
it was. I taken the letter home with me. I done put it in the 
Bible so I won't lose it or dirty it' 
'What did the letter say?' 
'Mr. Brannon he wrote just hike I asked him to. The letter tell 
about how Willie has been working for Mr. Brannon going on 
three year. It tell how Willie is one fine upstanding colored 
boy and how he hasn't ever been in no trouble before now. It 
tell how he always had plenty chances to take things in the 
cafe if he were like some other type of colored boy and 
how------' 
'Pshaw!' said Doctor Copeland. 'All that is no good.' 
'Us just can't sit around and wait. With Willie locked up in the 
jail. My Willie, who is such a sweet boy even if he118 


did do wrong tonight. Us just can't sit around and wait' 
'We will have to. That is the only thing we can do.' 
'Well, I know I ain't' 
Portia got up from the chair. Her eyes roved distractedly 
around the room as though searching for something. Then 
abruptly she went toward the front door. 
'Wait a minute,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Where do you intend 
to go now?' 
'I got to work. I sure got to keep my job. I sure have to stay on 
with Mrs. Kelly and get my pay ever week.' 
'I want to go to the jail,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Maybe I can 
see William.' 
'I going to drop by the jail on my way to work. I got to send 
Highboy off to his work, too—else he liable to sit there 
grieving about Willie all the morning.' 
Doctor Copeland dressed hurriedly and joined Portia in the 
hall. They went out into the cool, blue autumn morning. The 
men at the jail were rude to them and they were able to find 
out very little. Doctor Copeland then went to consult a lawyer 
with whom he had had dealings before. The following days 
were long and full of worried thoughts. At the end of three 
weeks the trial for William was held and he was convicted of 
assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to nine 
months of hard labor and sent immediately to a prison in the 
northern part of the state. 
Even now the strong true purpose was always in him, but he 
had no time in which to think on it He went from one house to 
another and the work was unending. Very early in the morning 
he drove off in the automobile, and then at eleven o'clock the 
patients came to the office. After the sharp autumn air outside 
there would be a hot, stale odor in the house that made him 
cough. The benches in the hall were always full of sick and 
patient Negroes who waited for him, and sometimes even the 
front porch and his bedroom would be crowded. All the day 
and frequently half the night there was work. Because of the 
tiredness in him he wanted sometimes to lie down on the floor 
and beat with his fists and cry. If he could rest he might get 
well. He had tuberculosis of the lungs, and he measured his 
temperature four times a day and had an X-ray once a month. 


But he could not rest. For there was another 

thing bigger than the tiredness—and this was the strong true 
purpose. 
He would think of this purpose until sometimes, after a long 
day and night of work, he would become blank so that he 
would forget for a minute just what the purpose was. And then 
it would come to him again and he would be restless and eager 
to take on a new task. But the words often stuck in his mouth, 
and his voice now was hoarse and not loud as it had been 
before. He pushed the words into the sick and patient faces of 
the Negroes who were his people. 
Often he talked to Mr. Singer. With him he spoke of chemistry 
and the enigma of the universe. Of the infinitesimal sperm and 
the cleavage of the ripened egg. Of the complex million-fold 
division of the cells. Of the mystery of living matter and the 
simplicity of death. And also he spoke with him of race. 
'My people were brought from the great plains, and the dark, 
green jungles,' he said once to Mr. Singer. 'On the long 
chained journeys to the coast they died by the thousands. Only 
the strong survived. Chained in the foul ships that brought 
them here they died again. Only the hardy Negroes with will 
could live. Beaten and chained and sold on the block, the least 
of these strong ones perished again. And finally through the 
bitter years the strongest of my people are still here. Their 
sons and daughters, their grandsons and great grandsons.' 
'I come to borrow and I come to ask a favor,' Portia said. 
Doctor Copeland was alone in his kitchen when she walked 
through the hall and stood in the doorway to tell him this. Two 
weeks had passed since William had been sent away. Portia 
was changed. Her hair was not oiled and combed as usual, her 
eyes were bloodshot as though she had partaken of strong 
drink. Her cheeks were hollow, and with her sorrowful, 
honey-colored face she truly resembled her mother now. 
'You know them nice white plates and cups you have?' 
*You may have them and keep them.' 
'No, I only wants to borrow. And also I come here to ask a 
favor of you.' 
'Anything you wish,' said Doctor Copeland. 


Portia sat down across the table from her father. Tirst I120 

suppose I better explain. Yesdiddy I got this here message 
from Grandpapa saying they all coming in tomorrow and 
spend the night and part of Sunday with us. Course they been 
mighty worried about Willie, and Grandpapa feel like us all 
ought to get together again. He right, too. I sure do want to see 
our fcLnfolks again. I been mighty homesick since Willie 
been gone.' 
'You may have the plates and anything else you can find 
around here,' Doctor Copeland said. 'But hold up your 
shoulders, Daughter. Your carriage is bad.' 
'It going to be a real reunion. You know this is the first time 
Grandpapa have spent the night in town for twenty years. He 
haven't ever slept outside of his own home except two times in 
his whole life. And anyway he kind of nervous at night. All 
during the dark he have to get up and drink water and be sure 
the childrens is covered up and all right. I a little worried 
about if Grandpapa will be comfortable here.' 
'Anything of mine you think you will need——' 
'Course Lee Jackson bringing them in,' said Portia. 'And with 
Lee Jackson it going to take them all day to get here. 1 not 
expecting them till around supper-time. Course Grandpapa 
always so patient with Lee Jackson he wouldn't make him 
hurry none.' 
'My soul! Is that old mule still alive? He must be fully 
eighteen years old.' 
'He even older than that. Grandpapa been working him now 
for twenty years. He done had that mule so long he always say 
it just like Lee Jackson is one of his blood kin. He understand 
and love Lee Jackson like he do his own grandchildrens. I 
never seen a human who know so good what a animal is 
thinking as Grandpapa. He haves a close feeling for everthing 
that walks and eats.' 
'Twenty years is a long time to work a mule.' 
'It sure is. Now Lee Jackson is right feeble. But Grandpapa 
sure do take good care of him. When they plows out in the hot 
sun Lee Jackson haves a great big straw hat on his head just 
like Grandpapa—with holes cut for his ears. That mule's straw 
hat is a real joke, and Lee Jackson won't budge a step when he 


going to plow without that hat is on his head.' 
Doctor Copeland took down the white china dishes from 

the shelf and began to wrap them ia newspaper. 'Have you 
enough pots and pans to cook all the food you will need?' 
'Plenty,' Portia said. 'I not going to any special trouble. 
Granpapa, he Mr. Thoughtful hisself—and he always bring in 
something to help out when the f ambly come to dinner. I only 
going to have plenty meal and cabbage and two pounds of 
nice mullet.' 'Sounds good.' 
Portia laced her nervous yellow fingers together. "There one 
thing I haven't told you yet. A surprise. Buddy going to | be 
here as well as Hamilton. Buddy just come back from Mobile. 
He helping out on the farm now.' 
"It has been five years since I last saw Karl Marx.' 'And that 
just what I come to ask you about,* said Portia. 'You 
remember when I walked in the door I told you I come to 
borrow and to ask a favor.' 
Doctor Copeland cracked the points of his fingers. 'Yes.' 
'Well, I come to see if I can't get you to be there tomorrow at 
the reunion. All your childrens but Willie going to be there. 
Seem to me like you ought to join us. I sure will be glad if you 
come.' 
Hamilton and Karl Marx and Portia—and William. Doctor 
Copeland removed his spectacles and pressed his fingers 
against his eyelids. For a minute he saw the four of them very 
plainly as they were a long time ago. Then he looked up and 
straightened his glasses on his nose. Thank you,' he said. 'I 
will come.' 
That night he sat alone by the stove in the dark room and 
remembered. He thought back to the time of his childhood. 
His mother had been born a slave, and after freedom she was a 
washerwoman. His father was a preacher, who had once 
known John Brown. They had taught him, and out of the two 
or three dollars they had earned each week they saved. When 
he was seventeen years old they had sent him North with 
eighty dollars hidden in his shoe. He had worked in a 
blacksmith's shop and as a waiter and as a bellboy in a hotel. 
And all the while he studied and read and went to school. His 


father died and his mother did not live long without him. After 
ten years of struggle he was a doctor and he knew his mission 
and he came South 
again. 

He married and made a home. He went endlessly from122 
house to house and spoke the mission and the truth. The 
hopeless suffering of his people made in him a madness, a 
wild and evil feeling of destruction. At times he drank strong 
liquor and beat his head against the floor. In his heart there 
was a savage violence, and once he grasped the poker from the 
hearth and struck down his wife. She took Hamilton, Karl 
Marx, William, and Portia with her to her father's home. He 
wrestled in his spirit and fought down the evil blackness. But 
Daisy did not come back to him. And eight years later when 
she died his sons were not children any more and they did not 
return to him. He was left an old man in an empty house. 
Promptly at five o'clock the next afternoon he arrived at the 
house where Portia and Highboy lived. They resided in the 
part of town called Sugar Hill, and the house was a narrow 
cottage with a porch and two rooms. From inside there was a 
babble of mixed voices. Doctor Copeland approached stiffly 
and stood in the doorway holding his shabby felt hat in his 
hand. 
The room was crowded and at first he was not noticed. He 
sought the faces of Karl Marx and Hamilton. Besides them 
there was Grandpapa and two children who sat together on the 
floor. He was still looking into the faces of his sons when 
Portia perceived him standing in the door. 'Here Father,' she 
said. 
The voices stopped. Grandpapa turned around in his chair. He 
was thin and bent and very wrinkled. He was wearing the 
same greenish-black suit that he had worn thirty years before 
at his daughter's wedding. Across his vest there was a 
tarnished brass watch chain. Karl Marx and Hamilton looked 
at each other, then down at the floor, and finally at their 
father. 
'Benedict Mady------' said the old man. 'Been a long 
time. A real long time.' 


'Ain't it, though!' Portia said. 'This here the first reunion us is 
all had in many a year. Highboy, you get a chair from the 
kitchen. Father, here Buddy and Hamilton.' Doctor Copeland 
shook hands with his sons. They were both tall and strong and 
awkward. Against their blue shirts and overalls their skin had 
the same rich brown color as did Portia's. They did not look 
him in the eye, and in their faces there was neither love nor 
hate.

 123 
It sure is a pity everybody couldn't come—Aunt Sara and Jim 
and all the rest,' said Highboy. 'But this here is a real pleasure 
to us.' 
'Wagon too full,' said one of the children. 'Us had to walk a 
long piece 'cause the wagon too full anyways.' 
Grandpapa scratched Ms ear with a matchstick. 'Somebody 
got to stay home.' 
Nervously Portia licked her dark, thin lips. 'It our Willie I 
thinking about. He were always a big one for any kind of party 
or to-do. My mind just won't stay off our Willie.' 
Through the room there was a quiet murmur of agreement. 
The old man leaned back in bis chair and waggled his head up 
and down. 'Portia, Hon, supposing you reads to us a little 
while. The word of God sure do mean a lot in a time of 
trouble.' 
Portia took up the Bible from the table in the center of the 
room. 'What part you want to hear now, Grandpapa?' 
'It all the book of the Holy Lord. Just any place your eye fall 
on will do.' 
Portia read from the Book of Luke. She read slowly, tracing 
the words with her long, limp finger. The room was still. 
Doctor Copeland sat on the edge of the group, cracking his 
knuckles, his eyes wandering from one point to another. The 
room was very small, the air close and stuffy. The four walls 
were cluttered with calendars and crudely painted 
advertisements from magazines. On the mantel there was a 
vase of red paper roses. The fire on the hearth burned slowly 
and the wavering light from the oil lamp made shadows on the 
wall. Portia read with such slow rhythm that the words slept in 
Doctor Copeland's ears and he was drowsy. Karl Marx lay 


sprawled upon the floor beside the children. Hamilton and
Highboy dozed. Only the old man seemed to study the
meaning of the words.
Portia finished the chapter and closed the book.
'I done pondered over this thing a many a time/ said
Grandpapa.
The people in the room came out of their drowsiness. 'What?
'
asked Portia.
'It this way. You recall them parts Jesus raising the dead and
curing the sick?
'
'Course we does, sir,' said Highboy deferentially.124


CARSON Me CULLERS 

I 

'Many a day when I be plowing or working,' Grandpapa said 
slowly, 'I done thought and reasoned about the time when 
Jesus going to descend again to this earth. 'Cause I done 
always wanted it so much it seem to me like it will be while I 
am living. I done studied about it many a time. And this here 
the way I done planned it. I reason I will get to stand before 
Jesus with all my childrens and grandchil-drens and great 
grandchildrens and kinfolks and friends and I say to him, 
"Jesus Christ, us is all sad colored peoples." And then he will 
place His holy hand upon our heads and straightway us will be 
white as cotton. That the plan and reasoning that been in my 
heart a many and a many a time.' 
A hush fell on the room. Doctor Copeland jerked the cuff of 
his sleeves and cleared his throat. His pulse beat too fast and 
his throat was tight Sitting in the corner of the room he felt 
isolated and angry and alone. 
'Has any of you ever had a sign from Heaven?' asked 
Grandpapa. 
'I has, sir,' said Highboy. 'Once when I were sick with the 
pneumonia I seen God's face looking out the fireplace at me. It 
were a large white man's face with a white beard and blue 
eyes.' 
'I seen a ghost,' said one of the children—the girL 
'Once I seen------' began the little boy. 


Grandpapa held up his hand. 'You childrens hush. You, . I 
Celia—and you, Whitman—it now the time for you to * listen 
but not be heard,' he said. 'Only one time has I had a real sign. 
And this here the way it come about. It were in the summer of 
last year, and hot. I were trying to dig up the roots of that big 
oak stump near the hogpen and when I leaned down a kind of 
catch, a misery, come suddenly in the small of my back. I 
straightened up and then aU around went dark. I were holding 
my hand to my back and looking up at the sky when suddenly 
I seen this little angel. It were a little white girl angel—look to 
me about the size of a field pea—with yellow hair and a white 
robe. Just flying around near the sun. After that I come in the 
house and prayed. I studied the Bible for three days before I 
went out in the field again.' 
Doctor Copeland felt the old evil anger in him. The words 
rose inchoately to his throat and he could not speak 

125 

them. They would listen to the old man. Yet to words of 
reason they would not attend. These are my people, he tried to 
tell himself—but because he was dumb this thought did not 
help him now. He sat tense and sullen. 
'It a queer thing,' said Grandpapa suddenly. 'Benedict Mady, 
you a fine doctor. How come I get them miseries sometime in 
the small of my back after I been digging and planting for a 
good while? How come that misery bother me?' 
'How old are you now?' 
'I somewhere between seventy and eighty year old.' 
The old man loved medicine and treatment Always when he 
used to come in with his family to see Daisy he would have 
himself examined and take home medicine and salves for the 
whole group of them. But when Daisy left him the old man 
did not come anymore and he had to content himself with 
purges and kidney pills advertised in the newspapers. Now the 
old man was looking at him with timid eagerness. 
'Drink plenty of water,' said Doctor Copeland. 'And rest as 
much as you can.' 
Portia went into the kitchen to prepare the supper. Warm 
smells began to fill the room. There was quiet, idle talking, 
but Doctor Copeland did not listen or speak. Now and then he 
looked at Karl Marx or Hamilton. Karl Marx talked about Joe 


Louis. Hamilton spoke mostly of the hail that had ruined some 
of the crops. When they caught their father's eye they grinned 
and shuffled their feet on the floor. He kept staring at them 
with angry misery. 
Doctor Copeland clamped his teeth down hard. He had 
thought so much about Hamilton and Karl Marx and William 
and Portia, about the real true purpose he had had for them, 
that the sight of their faces made a black swollen feeling in 
him. If once he could tell it all to them, from the far away 
beginning until this very night, the telling would ease the 
sharp ache in his heart. But they would not listen or 
understand. 
He hardened himself so that each muscle in his body was rigid 
and strained. He did not listen or look at anything around him. 
He sat in a corner like a man who is blind and dumb. Soon 
they went into the supper table and the old man said grace. 
But Doctor Copeland did not eat126 

When Highboy brought out a pint ,bottle of gin, and they 
laughed and passed the bottle from mouth to mouth, he 
refused that also. He sat in rigid silence, and at last he picked 
up his hat and left the house without a farewell. If he could 
not speak the whole long truth no other word would come to 
him. 
He lay tense and wakeful throughout the night. Then the next 
day was Sunday. He made half a dozen calls, and in the 
middle of the morning he went to Mr. Singer's room. The visit 
blunted the feeling of loneliness in him so that when he said 
good-bye he was at peace with himself once more. 
However, before he was out of the house this peace had left 
him. An accident occurred. As he started down the stairs he 
saw a white man carrying a large paper sack and he drew close 
to the banisters so that they could pass each other. But the 
white man was running up the steps two at a time, without 
looking, and they collided with such force that Doctor 
Copeland was left sick and breathless. 
'Christ! I didn't see you.' 
Doctor Copeland looked at him closely but made no answer. 
He had seen this white man once before. He remembered the 
stunted, brutal-looking body and the huge, awkward hands. 


Then with sudden clinical interest he observed the white man's
face, for in his eyes he saw a strange, fixed, and withdrawn
look of madness.
'Sorry,' said the white man.
Doctor Copeland put his hand on the banister and passed on.


I 

W HO was that?' Jake Blount asked. 'Who was the tall, " thin
colored man that just come out of here?
'
The small room was very neat. The sun lighted a bowl of
purple grapes on the table. Singer sat with his chair tilted back
and his hands in his pockets, looking out of the window.
'I bumped into him on the steps and he gave me this look—
why, I never had anybody to look at me so dirty.
'
Jake put the sack of ales down on the table. He realized


I 

127 
with a shock that Singer did not know he was in the room. He 
walked over to the window and touched Singer on the 
shoulder. 
'I didn't mean to bump into him. He had no cause to 
act like that.' 
Jake shivered. Although the sun was bright there was a chill in 
the room. Singer held up his forefinger and went into the hall. 
When he returned he brought with him a scuttle of coal and 
some kindling. Jake watched him kneel before the hearth. 
Neatly he broke the sticks of kindling over his knee and 
arranged them on the foundation of paper. He put the coal on 
according to a system. At first the fire would not draw. The 
flames quivered weakly and were smothered by a black roll of 
smoke. Singer covered the grate with a double sheet of 
newspapers. The draught gave the fire new life. In the room 
there was a roaring sound. The paper glowed and was sucked 
inward. A crackling orange sheet of flame filled the grate. 
The first morning ale had a fine mellow taste. Jake gulped his 
share down quickly and wiped his mouth with file back of his 


hand. 
There was this lady I knew a long time ago,' he said. 'You sort 
of remind me of her, Miss Clara. She had a little farm in 
Texas. And made pralines to sell in the cities. She was a tall, 
big, fine-looking lady. Wore those long, baggy sweaters and 
clodhopper shoes and a man's hat. Her husband was dead 
when I knew her. But what I'm getting at is this: If it hadn't 
been for her I might never have known. I might have gone on 
through life like the millions of others who don't know. I 
would have just been a preacher or a linthead or a salesman. 
My whole life might have 
been wasted.' 
Jake shook his head wonderingly. 
To understand you got to know what went before. You see, I 
lived in Gastonia when I was a youngun. I was a knock-kneed 
little runt, too small to put in the mill. I worked as pin boy in a 
bowling joint and got meals for pay. Then I heard a smart, 
quick boy could make thirty cents a day stringing tobacco not 
very far from there. So I went and made that thirty cents a day. 
That was^ when I was ten years old. I just left my folks. I 
didn't write. They were glad I was gone. You understand how 
those things are.128 

And besides, nobody could read a letter but my sister.' 
He waved his hand in the air as though brushing something 
from his face. 'But I mean this. My first belief was Jesus. 
There was this fellow working in the same shed with me. He 
had a tabernacle and preached every night. I went and listened 
and I got this faith. My mind was on Jesus all day long. In my 
spare time I studied the Bible and prayed. Then one night I 
took a hammer and laid my hand on the table. I was angry and 
I drove the nail all the way through. My hand was nailed to 
the table and I looked at it and the fingers fluttered and turned 
blue.' 
Jake held out his palm and pointed to the ragged, dead-white 
scar in the center. 
'I wanted to be an evangelist. I meant to travel around the 
country preaching and holding revivals. In the meantime I 
moved around from one place to another, and when I was 
nearly twenty I got to Texas. I worked in a pecan grove near 


where Miss Clara lived. I got to know her and at night 
sometimes I would go to her house. She talked to me. 
Understand, I didn't begin to know all at once. That's not the 
way it happens to any of us. It was gradual. I began to read. I 
would work just so I could put aside enough money to knock 
off for a while and study. It was like being born a second time. 
Just us who know can understand what it means. We have 
opened our eyes and have seen. We're like people from way 
off yonder somewhere.' 
Singer agreed with him. The room was comfortable in a 
homey way. Singer brought out from the closet the tin box in 
which he kept crackers and fruit and cheese. He se-* 
lected an orange and peeled it slowly. He pulled off shreds 
' of pith until the fruit was transparent in the sun. He sec-i 
tioned the orange and divided the plugs between them. * 
Jake ate two sections at a time and with a loud whoosh spat 
the seeds into the fire. Singer ate his share slowly and 
deposited his seeds neatly in the palm of one hand. They 
opened two more ales. 
'And how many of us are there in this country? Maybe ten 
thousand. Maybe twenty thousand. Maybe a lot more. I been 
to a lot of places but I never met but a few of us. But say a 
man does know. He sees the world as it is and he looks back 
thousands of years to see how it all come about. 

129 
He watched the slow agglutination of capital and power and 
he sees its pinnacle today. He sees America as a crazy house. 
He sees how men have to rob their brothers in order to live. 
He sees children starving and women working sixty hours a 
week to get to eat. He sees a whole damn army of unemployed 
and billions of dollars and thousands of miles of land wasted. 
He sees war coming. He sees how when people suffer just so 
much they get mean and ugly and something dies in them. But 
the main thing he sees is that the whole system of the world is 
built on a lie. And although it's as plain as the shining sun— 
the don't-knows have lived with that lie so long they just can't 
see it.' 
The red corded vein in Jake's forehead swelled angrily. He 
grasped the scuttle on the hearth and rattled an avalanche of 
coal on the fire. His foot had gone to sleep, and he stamped it 


so hard that the floor shook. 
'I been all over this place. I walk around. I talk. I try to explain 
to them. But what good does it do? Lord God!' 
He gazed into the fire, and a flush from the ale and heat 
deepened the color of his face. The sleepy tingling in his foot 
spread up his leg. He drowsed and saw the colors of the fire, 
the tints of green and blue and burning yellow. 'You're the 
only one,' he said dreamily. "The only one.' 
He was a stranger no longer. By now he knew every street, 
every alley, every fence in all the sprawling slums of the town. 
He still worked at the Sunny Dixie. During the fall the show 
moved from one vacant lot to another, staying always within 
the fringes of the city limit, until at last it had encircled the 
town. The locations were changed but the settings were alike 
—a strip of wasteland bordered by rows of rotted shacks, and 
somewhere near a mill, a cotton gin, or a bottling plant. The 
crowd was the same, for the most part factory workers and 
Negroes. The show was gaudy with colored lights in the 
evening. The wooden horses of the flying-jinny revolved in 
the circle to the mechanical music. The swings whirled, the 
rail around the penny throwing game was always crowded. 
From the two booths were sold drinks and bloody brown 
hamburgers 
and cotton candy. 
He had been hired as a machinist, but gradually the range of 
his duties widened. His coarse, bawling voice called out 
through the noise, and continually he was loung-130 

ing from one place on the show grounds to another. Sweat 
stood out on his forehead and often his mustache was soaked 
with beer. On Saturday his job was to keep the people in 
order. His squat, hard body pushed through the crowd with 
savage energy. Only his eyes did not share the violence of the 
rest of him, Wide gazing beneath his massive scowling 
forehead, they had a withdrawn and distracted appearance. 
He reached home between twelve and one in the morning. The 
house where he lived was squared into four rooms and the rent 
was a dollar fifty per person. There was a privy in the back 
and a hydrant on the stoop. In his room the walls and floor had 
a wet, sour smell. Sooty, cheap lace curtains hung at the 


window. He kept his good suit in his bag and hung his overalls 
on a nail. The room had no heat and ho electricity. However, a 
street light shone outside the window and made a pale 
greenish reflection inside. He never lighted the oil lamp by his 
bed unless he wanted to read. The acrid smell of burning oil in 
the cold room nauseated him. 
If he stayed at home he restlessly walked the floor. He sat on 
the edge of the unmade bed and gnawed savagely at the 
broken, dirty ends of his fingernails. The sharp taste of grime 
lingered in his mouth. The loneliness in him was so keen that 
he was filled with terror. Usually he had a pint of bootleg 
white lightning. He drank the raw liquor and by daylight he 
was warm and relaxed. At five o'clock the whistles from the 
mills blew for the first shift. The whistles made lost, eerie 
echoes, and he could never sleep until after they had sounded. 
But usually he did not stay at home. He went out into the 
narrow, empty streets. In the first dark hours of the morning 
the sky was black and the stars hard and bright. Sometimes the 
mills were running. From the yellow-lighted buildings came 
the racket of the machines. He waited at the gates for the early 
shift. Young girls in sweaters and print dresses came out into 
the dark street. The men came out carrying their dinner pails. 
Some of them always went to a streetcar caf6 for Coca-Cola 
or coffee before going home, and Jake went with them. Inside 
the noisy mill the men could hear plainly every word that was 
spoken, but for the first hour outside they were deaf. 

I 

131 
In the streetcar Jake drank Coca-Cola with whiskey added. He 
talked. The winter dawn was white and smoky and cold. He 
looked with drunken urgency into the drawn, yellow faces of 
the men. Often he was laughed at, and when this happened he 
held his stunted body very straight and spoke scornfully hi 
words of many syllables. He stuck his little finger out from his 
glass and haughtily twisted his mustache. And if he was still 
laughed at he sometimes fought. He swung his big brown fists 
with crazed violence and sobbed aloud. 


After such mornings he returned to the show with relief. It 
eased him to push through the crowds of people. The noise, 
the rank stinks, the shouldering contact of human flesh 
soothed his jangled nerves. 
Because of the blue laws hi the town the show closed for the 
Sabbath. On Sunday he got up early in the morning and took 
from the suitcase his serge suit. He went to the main street. 
First he dropped into the New York Cafe and bought a sack of 
ales. Then he went to Singer's room. Although he knew many 
people in the town by name or face, the mute was his only 
friend. They would idle in the quiet room and drink the ales. 
He would talk, and the words created themselves from the 
dark mornings spent in the streets or hi his room alone. The 
words were formed and spoken with relief. 
The fire had died down. Singer was playing a game of fools 
with himself at the table. Jake had been asleep. He awoke with 
a nervous quiver. He raised his head and turned to Singer. 
'Yeah,' he said as though in answer to a sudden question. 
'Some of us are Communists. But not all 
of us------. Myself, I'm not a member of the Communist 
Party. Because in the first place I never knew but one of them. 
You can bum around for years and not meet Communists. 
Around here there's no office where you can go up and say 
you want to join—and if there is I never heard of it. And you 
just don't take off for New York and join. As I say I never 
knew but one—and he was a seedy little teetotaler whose 
breath stunk. We had a fight. Not that I hold that against the 
Communists. The main fact is I don't think so much of Stalin 
and Russia. I hate every damn country and government there 
is. But even so maybe I ought to132 

joined up with the Communists first place. I'm not certain one 
way or the other. What do you think?' 
Singer wrinkled his forehead and considered. He reached for 
his silver pencil and wrote on his pad of paper that he didn't 
know. 
'But there's this. You see, we just can't settle down after 
knowing, but we got to act And some of us go nuts. There's 
too much to do and you don't know where to start It makes 
you crazy. Even me—I've done things that when I look back at 


them they don't seem rational Once I started an organization 
myself. I picked out twenty lint-heads and talked to them until 
I thought they knew. Our motto was one word: Action. Huh! 
We meant to start riots—stir up all the big trouble we could. 
Our ultimate goal was freedom—but a real freedom, a great 
freedom made possible only by the sense of justice of the 
human souL Our motto, "Action," signified the razing of 
capitalism. In the constitution (drawn up by myself) certain 
statutes dealt with the swapping of our motto from "Action" to 
"Freedom" as soon as our work was through.' 
Jake sharpened the end of a match and picked a troublesome 
cavity in a tooth. After a moment he continued: 
"Then when the constitution was all written down and the first 
followers well organized—then I went out on a hitch-hiking 
tour to organize component units of the society. Within three 
months I came back, and what do you reckon I found? What 
was the first heroic action? Had their righteous fury overcome 
planned action so that they had gone ahead without me? Was 
it destruction, murder, revolution?' 
Jake leaned forward in his chair. After a pause he said 
somberly: 
'My friend, they had stole the fifty-seven dollars and thirty 
cents from the treasury to buy uniform caps and free Saturday 
suppers. I caught them sitting around the conference table, 
rolling the bones, their caps on their heads, and a ham and a 
gallon of gin in easy reach.' 
A timid smile from Singer followed Jake's outburst of 
laughter. After a while the smile on Singer's face grew 
strained and faded. Jake still laughed. The vein in his forehead 
swelled, his face was dusky red. He laughed too long. Singer 
looked up at the clock and indicated the time— 

half-past twelve. He took his watch, his silver pencil and pad, 
his cigarettes and matches from the mantel and distributed 
them among his pockets. It was dinner-time. 
But Jake still laughed. There was something maniacal in the 
sound of his laughter. He walked about the room, jingling the 
change in his pockets. His long, powerful arms swung tense 
and awkward. He began to name over parts of his coming 


meal. When he spoke of food his face was fierce with gusto. 
With each word he raised his upper lip like a ravenous animal. 
'Roast beef with gravy. Rice. And cabbage and light bread. 
And a big hunk of apple pie. I'm famished. Oh, Johnny, I can 
hear the Yankees coming. And speaking of meals, my friend, 
did I ever tell you about Mr. Clark Patterson, the gentleman 
who owns the Sunny Dixie Show? He's so fat he hasn't seen 
his privates for twenty years, and all day he sits in his trailer 
playing solitaire and smoking reefers. He orders his meals 
from a short-order joint nearby and every day he breaks his 
fast with------' 
Jake stepped back so that Singer could leave the room. He 
always hung back at doorways when he was with the mute. He 
always followed and expected Singer to lead. As they 
descended the stairs he continued to talk with nervous 
volubility. He kept his brown, wide eyes on Singer's face. 
The afternoon was soft and mild. They stayed indoors. Jake 
had brought back with them a quart of whiskey. He sat 
brooding and silent on the foot of the bed, leaning now and 
then to fill his glass from the bottle on the floor. Singer was at 
his table by the window playing a game of chess. Jake had 
relaxed somewhat. He watched the game of his friend and felt 
the mild, quiet afternoon merge with the darkness of evening. 
The firelight made dark, silent waves on the walls of the room. 
But at night the tension came in him again. Singer had put 
away his chess men and they sat facing each other. 
Nervousness made Jake's lips twitch raggedly and he drank to 
soothe himself. A backwash of restlessness and desire 
overcame him. He drank down the whiskey and began to talk 
again to Singer. The words swelled with him and gushed from 
his mouth. He walked from the window to the bed and back 
again—again and again. And at last the134 

deluge of swollen words took shape and he delivered them to 
the mute with drunken emphasis: 
'The things they have done to us! The truths they have turned 
into lies. The ideals they have fouled and made vile. Take 
Jesus. He was one of us. He knew. When He said that it is 
harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for 
a rich man to enter the kingdom of God —he damn well meant 


just what he said. But look what the Church has done to Jesus 
during the last two thousand years. What they have made of 
him. How they have turned every word he spoke for their own 
vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living 
today. Jesus would be one who really knows. Me and Jesus 
would sit across the table and I would look at him and he 
would look at me and we would both know that the other 
knew. Me and Jesus and Karl Marx could all sit at a table 
and-----
'And look what has happened to our freedom. The men who 
fought the American Revolution were no more like these 

D.A.R. dames than I'm a pot-bellied, perfumed Pekingese dog. 
They meant what they said about freedom. They fought a real 
revolution. They fought so that this could be a country where 
every man would be free and equal. Huh! And that meant 
every man was equal in the sight of Nature—with an equal 
chance. This didn't mean that twenty per cent of the people 
were free to rob the other eighty per cent of the means to live. 
This didn't mean for one rich man to sweat the piss out of ten 
thousand poor men so that he can get richer. This didn't mean 
the tyrants were free to get this country in such a fix that 
millions of people are ready to do anything—cheat, lie, or 
whack off their right arm—just to work for three squares and 
a flop. They have made the word freedom a blasphemy. You 
hear me? They have made the word freedom stink like a skunk 
to all who know.' 
The vein in Jake's forehead throbbed wildly. His mouth 
worked convulsively. Singer sat up, alarmed, Jake tried to 
speak again and the words choked in his mouth. A shudder 
passed through his body. He sat down in the chair and pressed 
his trembling lips with his fingers. Then he said huskily: 
'It's this way, Singer. Being mad is no good. Nothing we can 
do is any good. That's the way it seems to me. All we 
. 

135 
can do is go around telling the truth. And as soon as enough of 
the don't knows have learned the truth then there won't be any 
use for fighting. The only thing for us to do is let them know. 


All that's needed. But how? Huh?' 
The fire shadows lapped against the walls. The dark, shadowy 
waves rose higher and the room took on motion. The room 
rose and fell and all balance was gone. Alone Jake felt himself 
sink downward, slowly in wavelike motions downward into a 
shadowed ocean. In helplessness and terror he strained his 
eyes, but he could see nothing except the dark and scarlet 
waves that roared hungrily over him. Then at last he made out 
the thing which he sought. The mute's face was faint and very 
far away. Jake closed his eyes. 
The next morning he awoke very late. Singer had been gone 
for hours. There was bread, cheese, an orange, and a pot of 
coffee on the table. When he had finished his breakfast it was 
time for work. He walked somberly, his head bent, across the 
town toward his room. When he reached the neighborhood 
where he lived he passed through a certain narrow street that 
was flanked on one side by a smoke-blackened brick 
warehouse. On the wall of this building there was something 
that vaguely distracted him. He started to walk on, and then 
his attention was suddenly held. On the wall a message was 
written in bright red chalk, the letters drawn thickly and 
curiously formed: 

Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the 
princes of the earth. 

He read the message twice and looked anxiously up and down 
the street. No one was in sight. After a few minutes of puzzled 
deliberation he took from his pocket a thick red pencil and 
wrote carefully beneath the inscription: 

Whoever wrote the above meet me here tomorrow at noon, 
Wednesday, November 29. Or the next day. 

At twelve o'clock the next day he waited before the wall. 
.
Now and then he walked impatiently to the corner to look : up
and down the streets. No one came. After an hour he ■ had to
leave for the show.136


The next day he waited, also.
Then on Friday there was a long, slow winter rain. The wall
was sodden and the messages streaked so that no word could
be read. The rain continued, gray and bitter and cold.



ICK,' Bubber said. 'I come to believe we all gonna drown.' It 
was true that it like to never quit raining. Mrs. Wells rode 
them back and forth to school in her car, and every afternoon 
they had to stay on the front porch or in the house. She and 
Bubber played Parcheesi and Old Maid and shot marbles on 
the living-room rug. It was nearing along toward Christmas 
time and Bubber began to talk about the Little Lord Jesus and 
the red bicycle he wanted Santa Claus to bring him. The rain 
was silver on the win-dowpanes and the sky was wet and cold 
and gray. The river rose so high that some of the factory 
people had to move out of their houses. Then when it looked 
like the rain would keep on and on forever it suddenly 
stopped. They woke up one morning and the bright sun was 
shining. By afternoon the weather was almost warm as 
summer. Mick came home late from school and Bubber and 
Ralph and Spareribs were on the front sidewalk. The kids 
looked hot and sticky and their winter clothes had a sour 
smell. Bubber had his slingshot and a pocketful of rocks. 
Ralph sat up in his wagon, his hat crooked on his head, and he 
was fretful. Spareribs had bis new rifle with him. The sky was 
a wonderful blue. 
'We waited for you a long time, Mick,' Bubber said. 'Where 
you been?' 
She jumped up the front steps three at a time and threw her 
sweater toward the hat rack. 'Practicing on the piano in the 
gym.' 
Every afternoon she stayed after school for an hour to play. 
The gym was crowded and noisy because the girls' team had 
basketball games. Twice today she was hit on the head with 
the ball. But getting a chance to sit at a piano was worth any 
amount of knocks and trouble. She would arrange bunches of 
notes together until the sound came 
that she wanted. It was eaiser than she had thought. After the 
first two or three hours she figured out some sets of chords in 
the bass that would fit in with the main tune her right hand 
was playing. She could pick out almost any piece now. And 
she made up new music too. That was better than just copying 
tunes. When her hands hunted out these beautiful new sounds 
it was the best feeling she had ever known. 
She wanted to learn how to read music already written down. 


Delores Brown had taken music lessons for five years. She 
paid Delores the fifty cents a week she got for lunch money to 
give her lessons. This made her very hungry all through the 
day. Delores played a good many fast, runny pieces—but 
Delores did not know how to answer all the questions she 
wanted to know. Delores only taught her about the different 
scales, the major and minor chords, the values of the notes, 
and such beginning rules as those. 
Mick slammed the door of the kitchen stove. "This all we got 
to eat?' 
'Honey, it the best I can do for you,' Portia said. Just 
cornpones and margarine. As she ate she drank a glass of 
water to help wash down the swallows. 
'Quit acting so greedy. Nobody going to snatch it out your 
hand.' 
The kids still hung around in front of the house. Bubber had 
put his slingshot in his pocket and now he played with the 
rifle. Spareribs was ten years old and his father had died the 
month before and this had been his father's gun-All the 
smaller kids loved to handle that rifle. Every few minutes 
Bubber would haul the gun up to his shoulder. He took aim 
and made a loud pow sound. 
'Don't monkey with the trigger,' said Spareribs. 1 got the gun 
loaded.' 
Mick finished the cornbread and looked around for something 
to do. Harry Minowitz was sitting on his front porch banisters 
with the newspaper. She was glad to see him. For a joke she 
threw up her arm and hollered to him, 'Heil!' 
But Harry didn't take it as a joke. He went into his front hall 
and shut the door. It was easy to hurt his feelings. She was 
sorry, because lately she and Harry had been right good 
friends. They had always played in the same gang138 

when they were kids, but in the last three years he had been at 
Vocational while she was still in grammar school. Also he 
worked at part-time jobs. He grew up very suddenly and quit 
hanging around the back and front yards with kids. Sometimes 
she could see him reading the paper in his bedroom or 
undressing late at night. In mathematics and history he was the 
smartest boy at Vocational. Often, now that she was in high 


school too, they would meet each other on the way home and 
walk together. They were in the same shop class, and once the 
teacher made them partners to assemble a motor. He read 
books and kept up with the newspapers every day. World 
politics were all the time on his mind. He talked slow, and 
sweat stood out on his forehead when he was very serious 
about something. And now she had made him mad with her. 
'I wonder has Harry still got his gold piece,' Spareribs said. 
'What gold piece?' 
'When a Jew boy is born they put a gold piece in the bank for 
him. That's what Jews do.' 
'Shucks. You got it mixed up,' she said. 'It's Catholics you're 
thinking about. Catholics buy a pistol for a baby soon as it's 
born. Some day the Catholics mean to start a war and kill 
everybody else.' 
'Nuns give me a funny feeling,' Spareribs said. 'It scares me 
when I see one on the street.' 
She sat down on the steps and laid her head on her knees. She 
went into the inside room. With her it was like there was two 
places—the inside room and the outside room. School and the 
family and the things that happened every day were in the 
outside room. Mister Singer was in both rooms. Foreign 
countries and plans and music were in the inside room. The 
songs she thought about were there. And the symphony. When 
she was by herself hi this inside room the music she had heard 
that night after the party would come back to her. This 
symphony grew slow like a big flower in her mind. During the 
day sometimes, or when she had just waked up in the 
morning, a new part of the symphony would suddenly come to 
her. Then she would have to go into the inside room and listen 
to it many times and try to join it into the parts of the 
symphony she remembered. The inside room was a very pri

139 
vate place. She could be in the middle of a house full of 
people and still feel like she was locked up by herself. 
Spareribs stuck his dirty hand up to her eyes because she had 
been staring off at space. She slapped him. 
'What is a nun?' Bubber asked. 
'A Catholic lady,' Spareribs said. 'A Catholic lady with a big 
black dress that comes up over her head.' 


She was tired of hanging around with the kids. She would go 
to the library and look at pictures in the National Geographic. 
Photographs of all the foreign places in the world. Paris, 
France. And big ice glaciers. And the wild jungles in Africa. 
'You kids see that Ralph don't get out in the street,' she said. 
Bubber rested the big rifle on his shoulder. 'Bring me a 
story back with you.' 
It was like that kid had been born knowing how to read. He 
was only in the second grade but he loved to read stories by 
himself—and he never asked anybody else to read to him. 
'What kind you want this time?' 
'Pick out some stories with something to eat in them. I like 
that one a whole lot about them German kids going out in the 
forest and coming to this house made out of all different kinds 
of candy and the witch. I like a story with something to eat in 
it.' 
'I'll look for one,' said Mick. 
'But I'm getting kinda tired of candy,' Bubber said. 'See if you 
can't bring me a story with something like a barbecue 
sandwich in it. But if you can't find none of them I'd like a 
cowboy story.' 
She was ready to leave when suddenly she stopped and stared. 
The kids stared too. They all stood still and looked at Baby 
Wilson coming down the steps of her house across the street. 
'Ain't Baby cute!' said Bubber softly. 
Maybe it was the sudden hot, sunny day after all those rainy 
weeks. Maybe it was because their dark winter clothes were 
ugly to them on an afternoon like this one. Anyway Baby 
looked like a fairy or something in the picture show. She had 
on her last year's soiree costume—with a little pink-gauze 
skirt that stuck out short and stiff, a pink body waist, pink 
dancing shoes, and even a little pink140 

pocketbook. With her yellow hair she was all pink and white 
and gold—and so small and clean that it almost hurt to watch 
her. She prissed across the street in a cute way, but would not 
turn her face toward them. 
'Come over here,' said Bubber. 'Lemme look at your little pink 
pocketbook------' 
Baby passed them along the edge of the street with her head 


held to one side. She had made up her mind not to speak to 
them. 
There was a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street, 
and when Baby reached it she stood still for a second and then 
turned a handspring. 
'Don't pay no mind to her,' said Spareribs. 'She always tries to 
show off. She's going down to Mister Brannon's cafe to get 
candy. He's her uncle and she gets it free.' 
Bubber rested the end of the rifle on the ground. The big gun 
was too heavy for him. As he watched Baby walk off down 
the street he kept pulling the straggly bangs of his hair. 'That 
sure is a cute little pink pocketbook,' he said. 
'Her Mama always talks about how talented she is,' said 
Spareribs. 'She thinks she's gonna get Baby in the movies.' 
It was too late to go look at the National Geographic. Supper 
was almost ready. Ralph tuned up to cry and she took him off 
the wagon and put him on the ground. Now it was December, 
and to a kid Bubber's age that was a long time from summer. 
All last summer Baby had come out in that pink soiree 
costume and danced in the middle of the street. At first the 
kids would flock around and watch her, but soon they got tired 
of it. Bubber was the only one who would watch her as she 
came out to dance. He would sit on the curb and yell to her 
when he saw a car coming. He had watched Baby do her 
soiree dance a hundred times—but summer had been gone for 
three months and now it seemed new to him again. 
'I sure do wish I had a costume,' Bubber said. 
'What kind do you want?' 
'A real cool costume. A real pretty one made out of all 
different colors. Like a butterfly. That's what I want for 
Christmas. That and a bicycle!' 
'Sissy,' said Spareribs. 
Bubber hauled the big rifle up to his shoulder again and took 
aim at a house across the street. 'I'd dance around in 

141 
my costume if I had one. I'd wear it every day to school.' Mick 
sat on the front steps and kept her eyes on Ralph. Bubber 
wasn't a sissy like Spareribs said. He just loved pretty things. 
She'd better not let old Spareribs get away with that. 
'A person's got to fight for every single thing they get,' she 


said slowly. 'And I've noticed a lot of times that the farther
down a kid comes in the family the better the kid really is.
Younger kids are always the toughest. I'm pretty hard 'cause
I've a lot of them on top of me. Bubber —he looks sick, and
likes pretty things, but he's got guts underneath that. If all this
is true Ralph sure ought to be a real strong one when he's old
enough to get around. Even though he's just seventeen months
old I can read something hard and tough in that Ralph's face
already.
'
Ralph looked around because he knew he was being talked
about. Spareribs sat down on the ground and grabbed Ralph's
hat off his head and shook it in his face to tease him.
'AH right!' Mick said. 'You know what 111 do to you if you
start him to cry. You just better watch out'
Everything was quiet. The sun was behind the roofs of the
houses and the sky in the west was purple and pink. On the
next block there was the sound of kids skating. Bubber leaned
up against a tree and he seemed to be dreaming about
something. The smell of supper came out of the house and it
would be time to eat soon.
'Lookit,' Bubber said suddenly. 'Here comes Baby again. She
sure is pretty in the pink costume.
'
Baby walked toward them slowly. She had been given a prize
box of popcorn candy and was reaching in the box for the
prize. She walked in that same prissy, dainty way. You could
tell that she knew they were all looking at her.
'Please, Baby------' Bubber said when she started to
pass them. 'Lemme see your little pink pocketbook and touch
your pink costume.
'
Baby started humming a song to herself and did not listen. She
passed by without letting Bubber play with her. She only
ducked her head and grinned at him a little.
Bubber still had the big rifle up to his shoulder. He made 
a
loud pow sound and pretended like he had shot Then he called
to Baby again—in a soft, sad voice like he142


was calling a little kitty. 'Please, Baby—come here,
Baby------
'
He was too quick for Mick to stop him. She had just seen his
hand on the trigger when there was the terrible ping of the



gun. Baby crumpled down to the sidewalk. It was like she was 
nailed to the steps and couldn't move or scream. Spareribs had 
his arm up over his head. 
Bubber was the only one that didn't realize. 'Get up, Baby,' he 
hollered. 'I ain't mad with you.' 
It all happened in a second. The three of them reached Baby at 
the same time. She lay crumpled down on the dirty sidewalk. 
Her skirt was over her head, showing her pink panties and her 
little white legs. Her hands were open—in one there was the 
prize from the candy and in the other the pocketbook. There 
was blood all over her hair ribbon and the top of her yellow 
curls. She was shot in the head and her face was turned down 
toward the ground. 
So much happened in a second. Bubber screamed and dropped 
the gun and ran. She stood with her hands up to her face and 
screamed too. Then there were many people. Her Dad was the 
first to get there. He carried Baby into the house. 
'She's dead,' said Spareribs. 'She's shot through the eyes. I seen 
her face.' 
Mick walked up and down the sidewalk, and her tongue stuck 
in her mouth when she tried to ask was Baby killed. Mrs. 
Wilson came running down the block from the beauty parlor 
where she worked. She went into the house and came back out 
again. She walked up and down in the street, crying and 
pulling a ring on and off her finger. Then the ambulance came 
and the doctor went in to Baby. Mick followed him. Baby was 
lying on the bed in the front room. The house was quiet as a 
church. 
Baby looked like a pretty little doll on the bed. Except for the 
blood she did not seem hurt. The doctor bent over and looked 
at her head. After he finished they took Baby out on a 
stretcher. Mrs. Wilson and her Dad got into the ambulance 
with her. 
The house was still quiet. Everybody had forgotten about 
Bubber. He was nowhere around. An hour passed. Her Mama 
and Hazel and Etta and all the boarders waited in the front 
room. Mister Singer stood in the doorway. 

After a long time her Dad came home. He said Baby wouldn't 


die but that her skull was fractured. He asked for Bubber. 
Nobody knew where he was. It was dark outside. They called 
Bubber in the back yard and in the street. They sent Spareribs 
and some other boys out to hunt for him. It looked like Bubber 
had gone clear out of the neighborhood. Harry went around to 
a house where they thought he might be. 
Her Dad walked up and down the front porch. 'I never have 
whipped any of my kids yet,' he kept saying. 'I never believed 
in it. But I'm sure going to lay it onto that kid as soon as I get 
my hands on him.' 
Mick sat on the banisters and watched down the dark street. 'I 
can manage Bubber. Once he comes back I can take care of 
him all right.' 
'You go out and hunt for him. You can find him better than 
anybody else.' 
As soon as her Dad said that she suddenly knew where Bubber 
was. In the back yard there was a big oak and in the summer 
they had built a tree house. They had hauled a big box up in 
this oak, and Bubber used to love to sit up in the tree house by 
himself. Mick left the family and the boarders on the front 
porch and walked back through the alley of the dark yard. 
She stood for a minute by the trunk of the tree. 'Bubber—,' she 
said quietly. 'It's Mick.' 
He didn't answer, but she knew he was there. It was like she 
could smell him. She swung up on the lowest branch and 
climbed slowly. She was really mad with that kid and would 
have to teach him a lesson. When she reached the tree house 
she spoke to him again—and still there wasn't any answer. She 
climbed into the big box and felt around the edges. At last she 
touched him. He was scrounged up in a corner and his legs 
were trembling. He had been holding his breath, and when she 
touched him the sobs and the breath came out all at once. 
'I—I didn't mean Baby to fall. She was just so little and cute— 
seemed to me like I just had to take a pop at her.' 
Mick sat down on the floor of the tree house. 'Baby's dead,' 
she said. They got a lot of people hunting for you.' 
Bubber quit crying. He was very quiet. 
*You know what Dad's doing in the house?'144 

It was like she could hear Bubber listening. 


'You know Warden Lawes—you heard him over the radio. 
And you know Sing Sing. Well, our Dad's writing a1 letter to 
Warden Lawes for him to be a little bit kind to you when they 
catch you and send you to Sing Sing.' 
The words were so awful-sounding in the dark that a shiver 
came over her. She could feel Bubber trembling. 
'They got little electric chairs there—just your size. And when 
they turn on the juice you just fry up like a piece of burnt 
bacon. Then you go to Hell.' 
Bubber was squeezed up in the corner and there was not a 
sound from him. She climbed over the edge of the box to get 
down. 'You better stay up here because they got policemen 
guarding the yard. Maybe in a few days I can bring vou 
something to eat' 
Mick leaned against the trunk of the oak tree. That would 
teach Bubber all right. She had always managed him and she 
knew more about that kid than anybody else. Once, about a 
year or two ago, he was always wanting to stop off behind 
bushes and pee and play with himself awhile. She had caught 
on to that pretty quick. She gave him a good slap every time it 
happened and in three days he was cured. Afterwards he never 
even peed normal like other kids—he held his hands behind 
him. She always had to nurse that Bubber and she could 
always manage him. In a little while she would go back up to 
the tree house and bring him in. After this he would never 
want to pick up a gun again in all his life. 
There was still this dead feeling in the house. The boarders all 
sat on the front porch without talking or rocking in the chairs. 
Her Dad and her Mama were in the front room. Her Dad drank 
beer out of a bottle and walked up and down the floor. Baby 
was going to get well all right, so this worry was not about 
her. And nobody seemed to be anxious about Bubber. It was 
something else. 
'That Bubber!" said Etta. 
Tm shamed to go out of the house after this,' Hazel said. 
Etta and Hazel went into the middle room and closed the door. 
Bill was in his room at the back. She didn't want to talk with 
them. She stood around in the front hall and thought it over by 
herself. 


Her Dad's footsteps stopped. 'It was deliberate,' he said. 'It's 
not like the kid was just fooling with the gun and it went off 
by accident. Everybody who saw it said he took deliberate 
aim.' 
'I wonder when we'll hear from Mrs. Wilson,' her Mama said. 

■'We'll hear plenty, all right!' 
'I reckon we will.' 
Now that the sun was down the night was cold again like 
November. The people came in from the front porch and sat in 
the living-room—but nobody lighted a fire. Mick's sweater 
was hanging on the hat rack, so she put it on and stood with 
her shoulders bent over to keep warm. She thought about 
Bubber sitting out in the cold, dark tree house. He had really 
believed every word she said. But he sure deserved to worry 
some. He had nearly killed that Baby. 
'Mick, can't you think of some place where Bubber might 
be?'her Dad asked. 
'He's in the neighborhood, I reckon.' 
Her Dad walked up and down with the empty beer bottle in 
his hand. He walked like a blind man and there was sweat on 
his face. 'The poor kid's scared to come home. If we could find 
him I'd feel better. I've never laid a hand on Bubber. He 
oughtn't be scared of me.' 
She would wait until an hour and a half was gone. By that 
time he would be plenty sorry for what he did. She always 
could manage that Bubber and make him learn. 
After a while there was a big excitement in the house. Her 
Dad telephoned again to the hospital to see how Baby was, 
and in a few minutes Mrs. Wilson called back. She said she 
wanted to have a talk with them and would come to the house. 
Her Dad still walked up and down the front room like a blind 
man. He drank three more bottles of beer. 'The way it all 
happened she can sue my britches off. All she could get would 
be the house outside of the mortgage. But the way it happened 
we don't have any comeback at all.' 
Suddenly Mick thought about something. Maybe they would 
really try Bubber in court and put him in a children's jail. 
Maybe Mrs. Wilson would send him to reform school. Maybe 
they would really do something terrible to146 

Bubber. She wanted to go out to the tree house right away and 
sit with him and tell him not to worry. Bubber was always so 
thin and little and smart. She would kill anybody that tried to 
send that kid out of the family. She wanted to kiss him and 
bite him because she loved him so much. 
But she couldn't miss anything. Mrs. Wilson would be there in 
a few minutes and she had to know what was going on. Then 
she would run out and tell Bubber that all the things she said 
were lies. And he would really have learned the lesson he had 
coming to him. 
A ten-cent tajdcab drove up to the sidewalk. Everybody 
waited on the front porch, very quiet and scared. Mrs. Wilson 
got out of the taxi with Mister Brannon. She could hear her 
Dad grinding his teeth together in a nervous way as they came 
up the steps. They went into the front room and she followed 
along after them and stood in the doorway. Etta and Hazel and 
Bill and the boarders kept out of it. 
'I've come to talk over all this with you,' Mrs. Wilson said. 
The front room looked tacky and dirty and she saw Mister 
Brannon notice everything. The mashed celluloid doll and the 
beads and junk Ralph played with were scattered on the floor. 
There was beer on her Dad's workbench, and the pillows on 
the bed where her Dad and Mama slept were right gray. 
Mrs. Wilson kept pulling the wedding ring on and off her 
finger. By the side of her Mister Brannon was very calm. He 
sat with his legs crossed. His jaws were blue-black and he 
looked like a gangster in the movies. He had always had this 
grudge against her. He always spoke to her in this rough voice 
different from the way he talked to other people. Was it 
because he knew about the time she and Bubber swiped a pack 
of chewing gum off his counter? She hated him. 
'It all boils down to this,' said Mrs. Wilson. "Your kid shot my 
baby in the head on purpose.' 
Mick stepped into the middle of the room. *No, he didn't,' she 
said. 'I was right there. Bubber had been aiming that gun at me 
and Ralph and everything around there. 

He just happened to aim it at Baby and his finger slipped. I 


was right there.' 
Mister Brannon rubbed his nose and looked at her in a sad 
way. She sure did hate him. 
'I know how you all feel—so I want to come to the point right 
now.' 
Mick's Mama rattled a bunch of keys and her Dad sat very still 
with his big hands hanging over his knees. 
'Bubber didn't have it in his mind beforehand,' Mick said. 'He 
just------' 
Mrs. Wilson jabbed the ring on and oft her finger. Wait a 
minute. I know how everything is. I could bring it to court and 
sue for every cent you own.' 
Her Dad didn't have any expression on his face. 'I tell you one 
thing,' he said. 'We don't have much to sue for. All we got 
is------' 
'Just listen to me,' said Mrs. Wilson. 'I haven't come here with 
any lawyer to sue you. Bartholomew—Mister Brannon—and I 
talked it over when we came and we just about agree on the 
main points. In the first place, I want to do the fair, honest 
thing—and in the second place, I don't want Baby's name 
mixed up in no common lawsuit at her age.' 
There was not a sound and everybody in the room sat stiff in 
their chairs. Only Mister Brannon halfway smiled at Mick, but 
she squinted her eyes back at him in a tough way. 
Mrs. Wilson was very nervous and her hand shook when she 
lighted a cigarette. 'I don't want to have to sue you or anything 
like that. All I want is for you to be fair. I'm not asking you to 
pay for all the suffering and crying Baby went through with 
until they gave her something to sleep. There's not any pay 
that would make up for that. And I'm not asking you to pay for 
the damage this will do to her career and the plans we had 
made. She's going to have to wear a bandage for several 
months. She won't get to dance in the soiree—maybe there'll 
even be a little bald place on her head.' 
Mrs. Wilson and her Dad looked at each other like they was 
hypnotized. Then Mrs. Wilson reached around to her 
pocketbook and took out a slip of paper.148 

"The things you got to pay are just the actual price of what it 


will cost us in money. There's Baby's private room in the 
hospital and a private nurse until she can come home. There's 
the operating room and the doctor's bill— and for once I 
intend the doctor to be paid right away. Also, they shaved all 
Baby's hair off and you got to pay me for the permanent wave 
I took her to Atlanta to get—so when her hair grows back 
natural she can have another one. And there's the price of her 
costume and other little extra bills like that. I'll write all the 
items down just as soon as I know what they'll be. I'm trying 
to be just as fair and honest as I can, and you'll have to pay the 
total when I bring it to you.' 
Her Mama smoothed her dress over her knees and took a 
quick, short breath. 'Seems to me like the children's ward 
would be a lot better than a private room. When Mick had 
penumonia------' 
'I said a private room.' 
Mister Brannon held out his white, stumpy hands and 
balanced them like they was on scales. 'Maybe in a day or two 
Baby can move into a double room with some other kid.' 
Mrs. Wilson spoke hard-boiled. 'You heard what I said. Long 
as your kid shot my Baby she certainly ought to have every 
advantage until she gets well.' 
'You're in your rights,' her Dad said. 'God knows we don't have 
anything now—but maybe I can scrape it up. I realize you're 
not trying to take advantage of us and I appreciate it. We'll do 
what we can.' 
She wanted to stay and hear everything that they said, but 
Bubber was on her mind. When she thought of him sitting up 
in the dark, cold tree house thinking about Sing Sing she felt 
uneasy. She went out of the room and down the hall toward 
the back door. The wind was blowing and the yard was very 
dark except for the yellow square that came from the light in 
the kitchen. When she looked back she saw Portia sitting at 
the table with her long, thin hands up on her face, very still. 
The yard was lonesome and the wind made quick, scary 
shadows and a mourning kind of sound in the darkness. 
She stood under the oak tree. Then just as she started to reach 
for the first limb a terrible notion came over her. 

It came to her all of a sudden that Bubber was gone. She 


called him and he did not answer. She climbed quick and quiet 
as a cat. 
'Say! Bubber!' 
Without feeling in the box she knew he wasn't there. To make 
sure she got into the box and felt in all the corners. The kid 
was gone. He must have started down the minute she left. He 
was running away for sure now, and with a smart kid like 
Bubber it was no telling where they'd catch him. 
She scrambled down the tree and ran to the front porch. Mrs. 
Wilson was leaving and they had all come out to the front 
steps with her. 
'Dad!' she said. 'We got to do something about Bubber. He's 
run away. I'm sure he left our block. We all got to get out and 
hunt him.' 
Nobody knew where to go or how to begin. Her Dad walked 
up and down the street, looking in all the alleys. Mister 
Brannon telephoned for a ten-cent taxi for Mrs. Wilson and 
then stayed to help with the hunt. Mister Singer sat on the 
banisters of the porch and he was the only person who kept 
calm. They all waited for Mick to plan out the best places to 
look for Bubber. But the town was so big and the little kid so 
smart that she couldn't think what to do. 
Maybe he had gone to Portia's house over in Sugar Hill. She 
went back into the kitchen where Portia was sitting at the table 
with her hands up to her face. 
'I got this sudden notion he went down to your house. Help us 
hunt him.' 
'How come I didn't think of that! I bet a nickel my little scared 
Bubber been staying in my home all the time.' 
Mister Brannon had borrowed an automobile. He and Mister 
Singer and Mick's Dad got into the car with her and Portia. 
Nobody knew what Bubber was feeling except her. Nobody 
knew he had really run away like he was escaping to save his 
life. 
Portia's house was dark except for the checkered moonlight on 
the floor. As soon as they stepped inside they could tell there 
was nobody in the two rooms. Portia lighted the front lamp. 
The rooms had a colored smell, and they were crowded with 
cut-out pictures on the walls and150 
the lace table covers and lace pillows on the bed. Bubber was 


not there. 
'He been here,' Portia suddenly said. 'I can tell somebody been 
in here.' 
Mister Singer found the pencil and piece of paper on the 
kitchen table. He read it quickly and then they all looked at it 
The writing was round and scraggly and the smart little kid 
hadn't misspelled but one word. The note said: 
Dear Portia, 
I gone to Florada. Tell every body. 
Yours truly, Bubber Kelly 
They stood around surprised and stumped. Her Dad looked 
out the doorway and picked his nose with his thumb in a 
worried way. They were all ready to pile in the car and ride 
toward the highway leading south. 
'Wait a minute,' Mick said. 'Even if Bubber is seven years old 
he's got brains enough not to tell us where he's going if he 
wants to run away. That about Florida is just a trick.' 
'A trick?' her Dad said. 
'Yeah. There only two places Bubber knows very much about. 
One is Florida and the other is Atlanta. Me and Bubber and 
Ralph have been on the Atlanta road many a time. He knows 
how to start there and that's where he's headed. He always 
talks about what he's going to do when he gets a chance to go 
to Atlanta.' 
They went out to the automobile again. She was ready to 
climb into the back seat when Portia pinched her on the 
elbow. 'You know what Bubber done?' she said in a quiet 
voice. 'Don't you tell nobody else, but my Bubber done also 
taken my gold earrings off my dresser. I never thought my 
Bubber would have done such a thing to me.' 
Mister Brannon started the automobile. They rode slow, 
looking up and down the streets for Bubber, headed toward 
the Atlanta road. 
It was true that in Bubber there was a tough, mean streak. He 
was acting different today than he had ever acted before. Up 
until now he was always a quiet little kid who never really 
done anything mean. When anybody's 

feelings were hurt it always made him ashamed and nervous. 


Then how come he could do all the things he had done today? 
They drove very slow out the Atlanta road. They passed the 
last line of houses and came to the dark fields and woods. All 
along they had stopped to ask if anyone had seen Bubber. 'Has 
a little barefooted kid in corduroy knickers been by this way?' 
But even after they had gone about ten miles nobody had seen 
or noticed him. The wind came in cold and strong from the 
open windows and it was late at night. 
They rode a little farther and then went back toward town. Her 
Dad and Mister Brannon wanted to look up all the children in 
the second grade, but she made them turn around and go back 
on the Atlanta road again. All the while she remembered the 
words she had said to Bubber. About Baby being dead and 
Sing Sing and Warden Lawes. About the small electric chairs 
that were just his size, and Hell. In the dark the words had 
sounded terrible. 
They rode very slow for about half a mile out of town, and 
then suddenly she saw Bubber. The lights of the car showed 
him up in front of them very plain. It was funny. He was 
walking along the edge of the road and he had his thumb out 
trying to get a ride. Portia's butcher knife was stuck in his belt, 
and on the wide, dark road he looked so small that it was like 
he was five years old instead of seven. 
They stopped the automobile and he ran to get in. He couldn't 
see who they were, and his face had the squint-eyed look it 
always had when he took aim with a marble. Her Dad held 
him by the collar. He hit with his fists and kicked. Then he 
had the butcher knife in his hand. Their Dad yanked it away 
from him just in time. He fought like a little tiger in a trap, but 
finally they got him into the car. Their Dad held him in his lap 
on the way home and Bubber sat very stiff, not leaning against 
anything. 
They had to drag him into the house, and all the neighbors and 
the boarders were out to see the commotion. They dragged 
him into the front room and when he was there he backed off 
into a corner, holding his fists very tight and with his squinted 
eyes looking from one person to the other Like he was ready 
to fight the whole crowd. 
He hadn't said one word since they came into the house152 


until he began to scream: "Mick done it! I didn't do it Mick 
done it!' 
There were never any kind of yells like the ones Bub-ber 
made. The veins in his neck stood out and his fists were hard 
as little rocks. 
'You can't get me! Nobody can get me!' he kept yelling. 
Mick shook him by the shoulder. She told him the things she 
had said were stories. He finally knew what she was saying 
but he wouldn't hush. It looked like nothing could stop that 
screaming. 
'I hate everybody! I hate everybody!' 
They all just stood around. Mister Brannon rubbed his nose 
and looked down at the floor. Then finally he went out very 
quietly. Mister Singer was the only one who seemed to know 
what it was all about. Maybe this was because he didn't hear 
that awful noise. His face was still calm, and whenever 
Bubber looked at him he seemed to get quieter. Mister Singer 
was different from any other man, and at times like this it 
would be better if other people would let him manage. He had 
more sense and he knew things that ordinary people couldn't 
know. He just looked at Bubber, and after a while the kid 
quieted down enough so that their Dad could get him to bed. 
In the bed he lay on his face and cried. He cried with long, big 
sobs that made him tremble all over. He cried for an hour and 
nobody in the three rooms could sleep. Bill moved to the 
living-room sofa and Mick got into bed with Bubber. He 
wouldn't let her touch him or snug up to him. Then after 
another hour of crying and hiccoughing he went to sleep. 
She was awake a long time. In the dark she put her arms 
around him and held him very close. She touched him all over 
and kissed him everywhere. He was so soft and little and there 
was this salty, boy smell about him. The love she felt was so 
hard that she had to squeeze him to her until her arms were 
tired. In her mind she thought about Bubber and music 
together. It was like she could never do anything good enough 
for him. She would never hit him or even tease him again. She 
slept all night with her arms around his head. Then in the 
morning when she woke up he was gone. But after that night 
there was not much of a chance for 


her to tease him any more—her or anybody else. After he shot 
Baby the kid was not ever like little Bubber again. He always 
kept his mouth shut and he didn't fool around with anybody. 
Most of the time he just sat in the back yard or in the coal 
house by himself. It got closer and closer toward Christmas 
time. She really wanted a piano, but naturally she didn't say 
anything about that. She told everybody she wanted a Micky 
Mouse watch. When they asked Bubber what he wanted from 
Santa Claus he said he didn't want anything. He hid his 
marbles and jack-knife and wouldn't let anyone touch his story 
books. 
After that night nobody called him Bubber any more. The big 
kids in the neighborhood started calling him Baby-Killer 
Kelly. But he didn't speak much to any person and nothing 
seemed to bother him. The family called him by his real name 
—George. At first Mick couldn't stop calling him Bubber and 
she didn't want to stop. But it was funny how after about a 
week she just naturally called him George like the others did. 
But he was a different kid— George—going around by 
himself always like a person much older and with nobody, not 
even her, knowing what was really in his mind. 
She slept with him on Christmas Eve night. He lay in the dark 
without talking. 'Quit acting so peculiar,' she said to him. 'Less 
talk about the wise men and the way the children in Holland 
put out their wooden shoes instead of hanging up their 
stockings.' 
George wouldn't answer. He went to sleep. 
She got up at four o'clock in the morning and waked 
everybody in the family. Their Dad built a fire in the front 
room and then let them go into the Christmas tree and see 
what they got. George had an Indian suit and Ralph a rubber 
doll. The rest of the family just got clothes. She looked all 
through her stocking for the Mickey Mouse watch but it 
wasn't there. Her presents were a pair of brown Oxford shoes 
and a box of cherry candy. While it was still dark she and 
George went out on the sidewalk and cracked nigger-toes and 
shot firecrackers and ate up the whole two-layer box of cherry 
candy. And by the time it was daylight they were sick to the 
stomach and tired out. She lay down on die sofa. She shut her 
eyes and went into the inside room.154 


EIGHT o'clock Doctor Copeland sat at his desk, studying a 
sheaf of papers by the bleak morning light from the window. 
Beside him the tree, a thick-fringed cedar, rose up dark and 
green to the ceiling. Since the first year he began to practice 
he had given an annual party on Christmas Day, and now all 
was in readiness. Rows of benches and chairs lined the walls 
of the front rooms. Throughout the house there was the sweet 
spiced odor of newly baked cake and steaming coffee. In the 
office with him Portia sat on a bench against the wall, her 
hands cupped beneath her chin, her body bent almost double. 
'Father, you been scrouched over the desk since five o'clock. 
You got no business to be up. You ought to stayed in bed until 
time for the to-do.' 
Doctor Copeland moistened his thick lips with his tongue. So 
much was on his mind that he had no attention to give to 
Portia. Her presence fretted him. 
At last he turned to her irritably. 'Why do you sit there 
moping?' 
'I just got worries,' she said. 'For one thing, I worried about our 
Willie.' 
'William?' 
'You see he been writing me regular ever Sunday. The letter 
will get here on Monday or Tuesday. But last week he didn't 
write. Course I not really anxious. Willie—he always so good-
natured and sweet I know he going to be all right. He been 
transferred from the prison to the chain gang and they going to 
work up somewhere north of Atlanta. Two weeks ago he 
wrote this here letter to say they going to attend a church 
service today, and he done asked me to send him his suit of 
clothes and his red tie.' 
.Is that all William said?' 
'He written that this Mr. B. F. Mason is at the prison, too. And 
that he run into Buster Johnson—he a boy Willie used to 
know. And also he done asked me to please send him his harp 
because he can't be happy without he got his harp to play on. I 
done sent everthing. Also a checker set and a white-iced cake. 
But I sure hope I hears from him in the next few days.' 

155 


Doctor Copeland's eyes glowed with fever and he could not 
rest his hands. 'Daughter, we shall have to discuss this later. It 
is getting late and I must finish here. You go back to the 
kitchen and see that all is ready.' 
Portia stood up and tried to make her face bright and happy. 
'What you done decided about that five-dollar prize?' 
'As yet I have been unable to decide just what is the wisest 
course,' he said carefully. 
A certain friend of his, a Negro pharmacist, gave an award of 
five dollars every year to the high-school student who wrote 
the best essay on a given subject. The pharmacist always made 
Doctor Copeland sole judge of the papers and the winner was 
announced at the Christmas party. The subject of the 
composition this year was 'My Ambition: How I Can Better 
the Position of the Negro Race in Society.' There was only one 
essay worthy of real consideration. Yet this paper was so 
childish and ill-advised that it would hardly be prudent to 
confer upon it the award. Doctor Copeland put on his glasses 
and re-read the essay with deep concentration. 
This is my ambition. First I wish to attend Tuskegee College 
but I do not wish to be a man like Booker Washington or 
Doctor Carver. Then when I deem that my education is 
complete I wish to start off being a fine lawyer like the one 
who defended the Scottsboro Boys. I would only take cases 
for colored people against white people. Every day our people 
are made in every way and by every means to feel that they 
are inferior. This is not so. We are a Rising Race. And we 
cannot sweat beneath the white man's burdens for long. We 
cannot always sow where others reap. 
I want to be like Moses, who led the children of Israel from 
the land of the oppressors. I want to get up a Secret 
Organization of Colored Leaders and Scholars. All colored 
people will organize under the direction of these picked 
leaders and prepare for revolt. Other nations in the world who 
are interested in the plight of our race and who would like to 
see the United States divided would come to our aid. All 
colored people will organize and there will be a revolution, 
and at the close colored156 

people will take up all the territory east of the Mississippi and 


south of the Potomac. I shall set up a mighty country under the 
control of the Organization of Colored Leaders and Scholars. 
No white person will be allowed a passport—and if they get 
into the country they will have no legal rights. 
I hate the whole white race and will work always so that the 
colored race can achieve revenge for all their sufferings. That 
is my ambition. 
Doctor Copeland felt the fever warm in his veins. The ticking 
of the clock on his desk was loud and the sound jarred his 
nerves. How could he give the award to a boy with such wild 
notions as this? What should he decide? 
The other essays were without any firm content at all. The 
young people would not think. They wrote only about their 
ambitions and omitted the last part of the tide altogether. Only 
one point was of some significance. Nine out of the lot of 
twenty-five began with the sentence, 'I do not want to be a 
servant.' After that they wished to fly airplanes, or be 
prizefighters, or preachers or dancers. One girl's sole ambition 
was to be kind to the poor. 
The writer of the essay that troubled him was Lancy Davis. He 
had known the identity of the author before he turned the last 
sheet over and saw the signature. Already he had some trouble 
with Lancy. His older sister had gone out to work as a servant 
when she was eleven years old and she had been raped by her 
employer, a white man past middle age. Then a year or so later 
he had received an emergency call to attend Lancy. 
Doctor Copeland went to the filing case in his bedroom where 
he kept notes on all of his patients. He took out the card 
marked 'Mrs. Dan Davis and Family' and glanced through the 
notations until he reached Lancy's name. The date was four 
years ago. The entries on him were written with more care 
than the others and in ink: 'thirteen years old—past puberty. 
Unsuccessful attempt self-emasculation. Oversexed and 
hyperthyroid. Wept boisterously during two visits, though 
little pain. Voluble—very glad to see Lucy Davis—mother 
washerwoman. Intelligent talk through paranoiac. 
Environment fair

 157 
with one exception and well worth watching and all possible 
help. Keep contact. Fee: $1 (?)' 


'It is a difficult decision to make this year,' he said to Portia. 
"But I suppose I will have to confer the award on Lancy 
Davis.' 
'If you done decide, then—come tell me about some of 
these here presents.' 
The gifts to be distributed at the party were in the kitchen. 
There were paper sacks of groceries and clothing, all 
marked with a red Christmas card. Anyone who cared to 
come was invited to the party, but those who meant to 
attend had stopped by the house and written (or had asked 
a friend to write) their names in a guest book kept on the 
table in the hall for that purpose. The sacks were piled on 
the floor. There were about forty of them, each one 
depending in size on the need of the receiver. Some gifts 
were only small packages of nuts or raisins and others 
were boxes almost too heavy for a man to lift The kitchen 
was crowded with good things. Doctor Copeland stood in 
the doorway and his nostrils quivered with pride. 
1 think you done right well this year. Folks certainly have 
been kindly.' 
Tshaw!' he said. This is not a hundredth part of what is 
needed.' 

.Now, there you go, Father! I know good and well you just 
as pleased as you can be. But you don't want to show it. 
You got to find something to grumble about. Here we 
haves about four pecks of peas, twenty sacks of meaL 
about fifteen pounds of side meat, mullet, six dozen eggs, 
plenty grits, jars of tomatoes and peaches. Apples and two 
dozen oranges. Also garments. And two mattresses and four 
blankets. I call this something!' 
'A drop in the bucket.' 
Portia pointed to a large box in the corner. These here —what 
you intend to do with them?' 
The box contained nothing but junk—a headless doll, some 
duty lace, a rabbitskin. Doctor Copeland scrutinized each 
article. 'Do not throw them away. There is use for everything. 
These are the gifts from our guests who have nothing better to 
contribute. I will find some purpose for them later.'158 
"Then suppose you look over these here boxes and sacks so I 


can commence to tie them up. There ain't going to be room 
here in the kitchen. Time they all pile in for the refreshments. 
I just going to put these here presents out on the back steps 
and in the yard.' 
The morning sun had risen. The day would be bright and cold. 
In the kitchen there were rich, sweet odors. A dishpan of 
coffee was on the stove and iced cakes filled a shelf in the 
cupboard. 
'And none of this comes from white people. All from colored.' 
'No,' said Doctor Copeland. 'That is not wholly true. Mr. 
Singer contributed a check for twelve dollars to be used for 
coal. And I have invited him to be present today.' 'Holy Jesus!' 
Portia said. 'Twelve dollars!' 'I felt that it was proper to ask 
him. He is not like other people of the Caucasian race.' 
'You right,' Portia said. 'But I keep thinking about my Willie. I 
sure do wish he could enjoy this here party today. And I sure 
do wish I could get a letter from him. It just prey on my mind. 
But here! Us got to quit this here talking and get ready. It 
mighty near time for the party to come.' 
Time enough remained. Doctor Copeland washed and clothed 
himself carefully. For a while he tried to rehearse what he 
would say when the people had all come. But expectation and 
restlessness would not let him concentrate. Then at ten o'clock 
the first guests arrived and within half an hour they were all 
assembled. 
'Joyful Christmas to you!' said John Roberts, the postman. He 
moved happily about the crowded room, one shoulder held 
higher than the other, mopping his face with a white silk 
handkerchief. 
'Many happy returns of the day!' The front of the house was 
thronged. Guests were blocked at the door and they formed 
groups on the front porch and in the yard. There was no 
pushing or rudeness; the turmoil was orderly. Friends called 
out to each other and strangers were introduced and clasped 
hands. Children and young people clotted together and moved 
back toward the kitchen. 'Christmas gift!' 

159 
Doctor Copeland stood in the center of the front room by the 
tree. He was dizzy. He shook hands and answered salutations 
with confusion. Personal gifts, some tied elaborately with 


ribbons and others wrapped in newspapers, were thrust into 
his hands. He could find no place to put them. The air 
thickened and voices grew louder. Faces whirled about him so 
that he could recognize no one. His composure returned to 
him gradually. He found space to lay aside the presents in his 
arms. The dizziness lessened, the room cleared. He settled his 
spectacles and began to look around him. 
'Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!' There was Marshall 
Nicolls, the pharmacist, in a long-tailed coat, conversing with 
his son-in-law who worked on a garbage truck. The preacher 
from the Most Holy Ascension Church had come. And two 
deacons from other churches. Highboy, wearing a loud 
checked suit, moved sociably through the crowd. Husky young 
dandies bowed to young women in long, bright-colored 
dresses. There were mothers with children and deliberate old 
men who spat into gaudy handkerchiefs. The room was warm 
and 
noisy. 
Mr. Singer stood in the doorway. Many people stared at him. 
Doctor Copeland could not remember if he had welcomed him 
or not. The mute stood by himself. His face resembled 
somewhat a picture of Spinoza. A Jewish face. It was good to 
see him. 
The doors and the windows were open. Draughts blew 
through the room so that the fire roared. The noises quieted. 
The seats were all filled and the young people sat in rows on 
the floor. The hall, the porch, even the yard were crowded 
with silent guests. The time had come for him to speak—and 
what was he to say? Panic tightened his throat. The room 
waited. At a sign from John Roberts all sounds were hushed. 
'My People,' began Doctor Copeland blankly. There was a 
pause. Then suddenly the words came to him. 
'This is the nineteenth year that we have gathered together in 
this room to celebrate Christmas Day. When our people first 
heard of the birth of Jesus Christ it was a dark time. Our 
people were sold as slaves in this town on the courthouse 
square. Since then we have heard and told the160 

story of His life more times than we could remember. So 
today our story will be a different one. 


'One hundred and twenty years ago another man was born in 
the country that is known as Germany—a country far across 
the Atlantic Ocean. This man understood as did Jesus. But his 
thoughts were not concerned with Heaven or the future of the 
dead. His mission was for the living. For the great masses of 
human beings who work and suffer and work until they die. 
For people who take in washing and work as cooks, who pick 
cotton and work at the hot dye vats of the factories. His 
mission was for us, and the name of this man was Karl Marx. 
'Karl Marx was a wise man. He studied and worked and 
understood the world around him. He said that the world was 
divided into two classes, the poor and the rich. For every rich 
man there were a thousand poor people who worked for this 
rich man to make him richer. He did not divide the world into 
Negroes or white people or Chinese—to Karl Marx it seemed 
that being one of the millions of poor people or one of the few 
rich was more important to a man than the color of his skin. 
The life mission of Karl Marx was to make all human beings 
equal and to divide the great wealth of the world so that there 
would be no poor or rich and each person would have his 
share. This is one of the commandments Karl Marx left to us: 
"From each according to his ability, to each according to his 
needs."' 
A wrinkled, yellow palm waved timidly from the halL Were 
he the Mark in the Bible?' 
Doctor Copeland explained. He spelled the two names and 
cited dates. 'Are there any more questions? I wish each one of 
you to feel free to start or enter into any discussion.' 
'I presume Mr. Marx was a Christian church man?' asked the 
preacher. 
'He believed in the holiness of the human spirit* 
'Were he a white man?' 
'Yes. But he did not think of himself as a white man. He said, 
"I consider nothing human as alien to myself." He thought of 
himself as a brother to all people.' 
Doctor Copeland paused a moment longer. The faces around 
him were waiting. 

"What is the value of any piece of property, of any 


merchandise we buy in a store? The value depends only on 
one thing—and that is the work it took to make or to raise this 
article. Why does a brick house cost more than a cabbage? 
Because the work of many men goes into the making of one 
brick house. There are the people who made the bricks and 
mortar and the people who cut down the trees to make the 
planks used for the floor. There are the men who made the 
building of the brick house possible. There are the men who 
carried the materials to the ground where the house was to be 
built. There are the men who made the wheelbarrows and 
trucks that carried the materials to this place. Then finally 
there are the workmen who built the house. A brick house 
involves the labor of many, many people—while any of us can 
raise a cabbage in his back yard. A brick house costs more 
than a cabbage because it takes more work to make. So when a 
man buys this brick house he is paying for the labor that went 
to make it. But who gets the money—the profit? Not the many 
men who did the work—but the bosses who control them. And 
if you study this further you will find that these bosses have 
bosses above them and those bosses have bosses higher up — 
so that the real people who control all this work, which makes 
any article worth money, are very few. Is this clear so far?' 
'Us understand!' 
But did they? He started all over and retold what he had said. 
This time there were questions. 
'But don't clay for these here bricks cost money? And don't it 
take money to rent land and raise crops on?' 
'That is a good point,' said Doctor Copeland. 'Land, clay, 
timber—those things are called natural resources. Man does 
not make these natural resources—man only develops them, 
only uses them for work. Therefore should any one person or 
group of persons own these things? How can a man own 
ground and space and sunlight and rain for crops? How can a 
man say "this is mine" about those things and refuse to let 
others share them? Therefore Marx says that these natural 
resources should belong to everyone, not divided into little 
pieces but used by all the people according to their ability to 
work. It is like this. Say a man died and left his mule to his 
four sons. The sons162 


r


would not wish to cut up the mule to four parts and each take 
his share. They would own and work the mule together. That 
is the way Marx says all of the natural resources should be 
owned—not by one group of rich people but by all the 
workers of the world as a whole. 
"We in this room have no private properties. Perhaps one or 
two of us may own the homes we live in, or have a dollar or 
two set aside—but we own nothing that does not contribute 
directly toward keeping us alive. All that we own is our 
bodies. And we sell our bodies every day we live. We sell 
them when we go out in the morning to our jobs and when we 
labor all day. We are forced to sell at any price, at any time, 
for any purpose. We are forced to sell our bodies so that we 
can eat and live. And the price which is given us for this is 
only enough so that we will have the strength to labor longer 
for the profits of others. Today we are not put up on the 
platforms and sold at the courthouse square. But we are forced 
to sell our strength, our time, our souls during almost every 
hour that we live. We have been freed from one kind of 
slavery only to be delivered into another. Is this freedom? Are 
we yet free men?" 
A deep voice called out from the front yard. "That the real 
truth!' 
That how things is!' 

.And we are not alone in this slavery. There are millions of 
others throughout the world, of all colors and races and 
creeds. This we must remember. There are many of our people 
who hate the poor of the white race, and they hate us. The 
people in this town living by the river who work in the mills. 
People who are almost as much in need as we are ourselves. 
This hatred is a great evil, and no good can ever come from it. 
We must remember the words of Karl Marx and see the truth 
according to his teachings. The injustice of need must bring us 
all together and not separate us. We must remember that we 
all make the things of this earth of value because of our labor. 
These main truths from Karl Marx we must keep in our hearts 

always and not forget.
'But my people! We in this room—we Negroes—have another
mission that is for ourselves alone. Within us there is a strong,
true purpose, and if we fail in this purpose we


163 
will be forever lost. Let us see, then, what is the nature of this 
special mission.' 
Doctor Copeland loosened the collar of his shirt, for in his 
throat there was a choked f eeling. The grievous love he felt 
within him was too much. He looked around him at the hushed 
guests. They waited. The groups of people in the yard and on 
the porch stood with the same quiet attention as did those in 
the room. A deaf old man leaned forward with his hand to his 
ear. A woman hushed a fretful baby with a pacifier. Mr. 
Singer stood attentively in the doorway. Most of the young 
people sat on the floor. Among them was Lancy Davis. The 
boy's lips were nervous and pale. He clasped his knees very 
tightly with his arms, and his young face was sullen. All the 
eyes in the room watched, and in them there was hunger for 
truth. 
'Today we are to confer the five-dollar award upon the high-
school student who wrote the best essay on the topic, "My 
Ambition: How I can Better the Position of the Negro Race in 
Society." This year the award goes to Lancy Davis.' Doctor 
Copeland took an envelope from his pocket "There is no need 
for me to tell you that the value of this award is not wholly in 
the sum of money it represents— but the sacred trust and faith 
that goes with it.' 
Lancy rose awkwardly to his feet. His sullen lips trembled. He 
bowed and accepted the award. 'Do you wish me to read the 
essay I have written?' 
'No,' said Doctor Copeland. 'But I wish you to come and talk 
with me sometime this week.' 
'Yes, sir.' The room was quiet again. 
' "I do not wish to be a servant!" That is the desire I have read 
over and over in these essays. Servant? Only one in a 
thousand of us is allowed to be a servant. We do not work! 
We do not serve!' 
The laughter in the room was uneasy. 
'Listen! One out of five of us labors to build roads, or to take 


care of the sanitation of this city, or works in a sawmill or on a 
farm. Another one out of the five is unable to get any work at 
all. But the other three out of this five— the greatest number 
of our people? Many of us cook for those who are 
incompetent to prepare the food that they themselves eat. 
Many work a lifetime tending flower gar-164 

dens for the pleasure of one or two people. Many of us polish 
slick waxed floors of fine houses. Or we drive automobiles for 
rich people who are too lazy to drive themselves. We spend 
our lives doing thousands of jobs that are of no real use to 
anybody. We labor and all of our labor is wasted. Is that 
service? No, that is slavery. 
'We labor, but our labor is wasted. We are not allowed to 
serve. You students here this morning represent the fortunate 
few of our race. Most of our people are not allowed to go to 
school at all. For each one of you there are dozens of young 
people who can hardly write their names. We are denied the 
dignity of study and wisdom. 
' "From each according to his ability, to each according to his 
needs." All of us here know what it is to suffer for real need. 
That is a great injustice. But there is one injustice bitterer 
even than that—to be denied the right to work according to 
one's ability. To labor a lifetime uselessly. To be denied the 
chance to serve. It is far better for the profits of our purse to 
be taken from us than to be robbed of the riches of our minds 
and souls. 
'Some of you young people here this morning may feel the 
need to be teachers or nurses or leaders of your race. But most 
of you will be denied. You will have to sell yourselves for a 
useless purpose in order to keep alive. You will be thrust back 
and defeated. The young chemist picks cotton. The young 
writer is unable to learn to read. The teacher is held in useless 
slavery at some ironing board. We have no representatives in 
government. We have no vote. In all of this great country we 
are the most oppressed of all people. We cannot lift up our 
voices. Our tongues rot in our mouths from lack of use. Our 
hearts grow empty and lose strength for our purpose. 
'People of the Negro race! We bring with us all the riches of 
the human mind and soul. We offer the most precious of all 


gifts. And our offerings are held in scorn and contempt. Our 
gifts are trampled in the mud and made useless. We are put to 
labor more useless than the work of beasts. Negroes! We must 
arise and be whole again! We must be free!' 
In the room there was a murmur. Hysteria mounted. Doctor 
Copeland choked and clenched his fists. He felt as though he 
had swelled up to the size of a giant. The love in 

165 

him made his chest a dynamo, and he wanted to shout so that 
his voice could be heard throughout the town. He wanted to 
fall upon the floor and call out in a giant voice. The room was 
full of moans and shouts. 
'Save us!' 
'Mighty Lord! Lead us from this wilderness of death! 
'Hallelujah! Save us, Lord!' 
He struggled for the control in htm. He struggled and at last 
the discipline returned. He pushed down the shout in him and 
sought for the strong, true voice. 
'Attention!' he called. 'We will save ourselves. But not by 
prayers of mourning. Not by indolence or strong drink. Not by 
the pleasures of the body or by ignorance. Not by submission 
and humbleness. But by pride. By dignity. By becoming hard 
and strong. We must build strength for our real true purpose.' 
He stopped abruptly and held himself very straight. 'Each year 
at this time we illustrate in our small way the first 
commandment from Karl Marx. Every one of you at this 
gathering has brought in advance some gift. Many of you have 
denied yourselves comfort that the needs of others may be 
lessened. Each of you has given according to his best ability, 
without thought to the value of the gift he will receive in 
return. It is natural for us to share with each other. We have 
long realized that it is more blessed to give than to receive. 
The words of Karl Marx have always been known in our 
hearts: "From each according to his ability, to each according 
to his needs." ' 
Doctor Copeland was silent a long time as though his words 
were complete. Then he spoke again: 
'Our mission is to walk with strength and dignity through the 
days of our humiliation. Our pride must be strong, for we 


know the value of the human mind and soul. We must teach 
our children. We must sacrifice so that they may earn the 
dignity of study and wisdom. For the time will come. The time 
will come when the riches in us will not be held in scorn and 
contempt. The time will come when we will be allowed to 
serve. When we will labor and our labor will not be wasted. 
And our mission is to await this time with strength and faith.' 
It was finished. Hands were clapped, feet were stamped upon 
the floor and en the hard winter ground outside. The166 

odor of hot, strong coffee floated from the kitchen. John 
Roberts took charge of the presents, calling out the names 
written on the cards. Portia ladled the coffee from the dish-pan 
on the stove while Marshall Nicolls passed slices of cake. 
Doctor Copeland moved about among the guests, a little 
crowd always surrounding him. 
Someone nagged at his elbow: 'He the one your Buddy named 
for?' He answered yes. Lancy Davis followed him with 
questions; he answered yes to everything. The joy made him 
feel like a drunken man. To teach and exhort and explain to 
his people—and to have them understand. That was the best 
of all. To speak the truth and be attended. 
'Us certainly have had one fine time at this party.' 
He stood in the vestibule saying good-bye. Over and over he 
shook hands. He leaned heavily against the wall and only his 
eyes moved, for he was tired. 
'I certainly do appreciate.' 
Mr. Singer was the last to leave. He was a truly good man. He 
was a white man of intellect and true knowledge. In him there 
was none of the mean insolence. When all had departed he 
was the last to remain. He waited and seemed to expect some 
final word. 
Doctor Copeland held his hand to his throat because his 
larynx was sore. 'Teachers,' he said huskily. 'That is our 
greatest need. Leaders. Someone to unite and guide us.' 
After the festivity the rooms had a bare, ruined look. The 
house was cold. Portia was washing the cups in the kitchen. 
The silver snow on the Christmas tree had been tracked over 
the floors and two of the ornaments were broken. 
He was tired, but the joy and the fever would not let him rest 


Beginning with the bedroom, he set to work to put the house 
in order. On the top of the filing case there was a loose card— 
the note on Lancy Davis. The words that he would say to him 
began to form in his mind, and he was restless because he 
could not speak them now. The boy's sullen face was full of 
heart and he could not thrust it from his thoughts. He opened 
the top drawer of the file to replace the card, A, B, C—he 
thumbed through the letters nervously. Then his eye was fixed 
on his own name: Copeland, Benedict Mady. 

167 
In the folder were several lung X-rays and a short case history. 
He held an X-ray up to the light. On the upper left lung there 
was a bright place like a calcified star. And lower down a 
large clouded spot that duplicated itself in the right lung 
farther up. Doctor Copeland quickly replaced the X-rays in the 
folder. Only the brief notes he had written on himself were 
still in his hand. The words stretched out large and scrawling 
so that he could hardly read them. '1920—calcif. of lymph 
glands—very pronounced thickening of hili. Lesions arrested 
—duties resumed. 1937—lesion reopened—X-ray 
shows------' He 
could not read the notes. At first he could not make out the 
words, and then when he read them clearly they made no 
reason. At the finish there were three words: 'Prognosis: Don't 
know.' 
The old black, violent feeling came in him again. He leaned 
down and wrenched open a drawer at the bottom of the case. 
A jumbled pile of letters. Notes from the Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People. A yellowed letter from 
Daisy. A note from Hamilton asking for a dollar and a half. 
What was he looking for? His hands rummaged in the drawer 
and then at last he arose stiffly. 
Time wasted. The past hour gone. 
Portia peeled potatoes at the kitchen table. She was slumped 
over and her face was dolorous. 
'Hold up your shoulders,' he said angrily. 'And cease moping. 
You mope and drool around until I cannot bear to look on 
you.' 
'I were just thinking about Willie,' she said. 'Course the letter 
is only three days due. But he got no business to worry me like 


this. He not that kind of a boy. And I got this queer feeling.
'
'Have patience, Daughter.
'
'I reckon I have to.
'
'There are a few calls I must make, but I will be back shortly.
'
'O.K.
'
'All will be well,' he said.
Most of his joy was gone in the bright, cool noonday sun. The
diseases of his patients lay scattered in his mind. An abscessed
kidney. Spinal meningitis. Pott's disease. He lifted the crank of
the automobile from the back seat168


Usually he hailed some passing Negro from the street to crank
the car for him. His people were always glad to help and
serve. But today he fitted the crank and turned it vigorously
himself. He wiped the perspiration from his face with the
sleeve of his overcoat and hurried to get beneath the wheel
and on his way.
How much that he had said today was understood? How much
would be of any value? He recalled the words he had used,
and they seemed to fade and lose their strength. The words left
unsaid were heavier on his heart. They rolled up to his lips
and fretted them. The faces of his suffering people moved in 
a
swelling mass before his eyes. And as he steered the
automobile slowly down the street his heart turned with this
angry, restless love.


J. HE town had not known a winter as cold as this one for 
years. Frost formed on the windowpanes and whitened the 
roofs of houses. The winter afternoons glowed with a hazy 
lemon light and shadows were a delicate blue. A thin coat of 
ice crusted the puddles in the streets, and it was said on the 
day after Christmas that only ten miles to the north there was a 
light fall of snow. 
A change came over Singer. Often he went out for the long 
walks that had occupied him during the months when 
Antonapoulos was first gone. These walks extended for miles 
in every direction and covered the whole of the town. He 
rambled through the dense neighborhoods along the river that 
were more squalid than ever since the mills had been slack 
this winter. In many eyes there was a look of somber 
loneliness. Now that people were forced to be idle, a certain 

restlessness could be felt. There was a fervid outbreak of new 
beliefs. A young man who had worked at the dye vats in a mill 
claimed suddenly that a great holy power had come in him. He 
said it was his duty to deliver a new set of commandments 
from the Lord, The young man set up a tabernacle and 
hundreds of people came each night to roll on the ground and 
shake each other, for they believed that they were in the 
presence of something more than human. There was murder, 
too. A woman who could 

169 

not make enough to eat believed that a foreman had cheated 
on her work tokens and she stabbed him in the throat. A 
family of Negroes moved into the end house on one of the 
most dismal streets, and this caused so much indignation that 
the house was burned and the black man beaten by his 
neighbors. But these were incidents. Nothing had really 
changed. The strike that was talked about never came off 
because they could not get together. All was the same as 
before. Even on the coldest nights the Sunny Dixie Show was 
open. The people dreamed and fought and slept as much as 
ever. And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they 
would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow. 
Singer walked through the scattered odorous parts of town 
where the Negroes crowded together. There was more gaiety 
and violence here. Often the fine, sharp smell of gin lingered 
in the alleys. Warm, sleepy firelight colored the windows. 
Meetings were held in the churches almost every night. 
Comfortable little houses set off in plots of brown grass— 
Singer walked in these parts also. Here the children were 
huskier and more friendly to strangers. He roamed through the 
neighborhoods of the rich. There were houses, very grand and 
old, with white columns and intricate fences of wrought iron. 
He walked past the big brick houses where automobiles 
honked in the driveways and where the plumes of smoke 
rolled lavishly from chimneys. And out to the very edges of 
the roads that led from the town to general stores where 
fanners came on Saturday nights and sat around the stove. He 
wandered often about the four main business blocks that were 
brightly lighted and then through the black, deserted alleys 


behind. There was no part of the town that Singer did not 
know. He watched the yellow squares of light reflect from a 
thousand windows. The winter nights were beautiful. The sky 
was a cold azure and the stars were very bright 
Often it happened now that he would be spoken to and 
stopped during these walks. All kinds of people became 
acquainted with him. If the person who spoke to him was a 
stranger, Singer presented his card so that his silence would be 
understood. He came to be known through all the town. He 
walked with his shoulders very straight and kept his hands 
always stuffed down into his pockets. His170 

gray eyes seemed to take in everything around him, and in his 
face there was still the look of peace that is seen most often in 
those who are very wise or very sorrowful. He was always 
glad to stop with anyone wishing his company. For after all he 
was only walking and going nowhere. 
Now it came about that various rumors started in the town 
concerning the mute. In the years before with An-tonapoulos 
they had walked back and forth to work, but except for this 
they were always alone together in their rooms. No one had 
bothered about them then—and if they were observed it was 
the big Greek on whom attention was focused. The Singer of 
those years was forgotten. 
So the rumors about the mute were rich and varied. The Jews 
said that he was a Jew. The merchants along the main street 
claimed he received a large legacy and was a very rich man. It 
was whispered in one browbeaten textile union that the mute 
was an organizer for the C.I.O. A lone Turk who had roamed 
into the town years ago and who languished with his family 
behind the little store where they sold linens claimed 
passionately to his wife that the mute was Turkish. He said 
that when he spoke his language the mute understood. And as 
he claimed this his voice grew warm and he forgot to squabble 
with his children and he was full of plans and activity. One 
old man from the country said that the mute had come from 
somewhere near his home and that the mute's father had the 
finest tobacco crop in all the country. All these things were 
said about him. 
Antonapoulos! Within Singer there was always the memory of 


his friend. At night when he closed his eyes the Greek's face 
was there in the darkness—round and oily, with a wise and 
gentle smile. In his dreams they were always together. 
It was more than a year now since his friend had gone away. 
This year seemed neither long nor short. Rather it was 
removed from the ordinary sense of time—as when one is 
drunk or half-asleep. Behind each hour there was always his 
friend. And this buried life with Antonapoulos changed and 
developed as did the happenings around him. During the first 
few months he had thought most of the terrible weeks before 
Antonapoulos was taken away—of the 

171 

trouble that followed his Illness, of the summons for arrest, 
and the misery in trying to control the whims of his friend. He 
thought of times in the past when he and Antonapoulos had 
been unhappy. There was one recollection, far in the past, that 
came back to him several times. 
They never had no friends. Sometimes they would meet other 
mutes—there were three of them with whom they became 
acquainted during the ten years. But something always 
happened. One moved to another state the week after they met 
him. Another was married and had six children and did not 
talk with his hands. But it was their relation with the third of 
these acquaintances that Singer remembered when his friend 
was gone. 
The mute's name was Carl. He was a sallow young man who 
worked in one of the mills. His eyes were pale yellow and his 
teeth so brittle and transparent that they seemed pale and 
yellow also. In his blue-overalls that hung limp over his 
skinny little body he was like a blue-and-yellow rag doll. 
They invited him to dinner and arranged to meet him 
beforehand at the store where Antonapoulos worked. The 
Greek was still busy when they arrived. He was finishing a 
batch of caramel fudge in the cooking room at the back of the 
store. The fudge lay golden and glossy over the long marble-
topped table. The air was warm and rich with sweet smells. 
Antonapoulos seemed pleased to have Carl watch him as he 
glided the knife down the warm candy and cut it into squares. 
He offered their new friend a corner of the fudge on the edge 


of his greased knife, and showed him the trick that he always 
performed for anyone when he wished to be liked. He pointed 
to a vat of syrup boiling on the stove and fanned his face and 
squinted his eyes to show how hot it was. Then he wet his 
hand in a pot of cold water, plunged it into the boiling syrup, 
and swiftly put it back into the water again. His eyes bulged 
and he rolled out his tongue as though he were in great agony. 
He even wrung his hand and hopped on one foot so that the 
building shook. Then he smiled suddenly and held out his 
hand to show that it was a joke and hit Carl on the shoulder. 
It was a pale winter evening, and their breath clouded in the 
cold air as they walked with their arms interlocked down the 
street Singer was in the middle and he left them172 

173 
on the sidewalk twice while he went into stores to shop. Carl 
and Antonapoulos carried the sacks of groceries, and Singer 
held to their arms tightly and smiled all the way home. Their 
rooms were cozy and he moved happily about. making 
conversation with Carl. After the meal the two of them talked 
while Antonapoulous watched with a slow smile. Often the 
big Greek would lumber to the closet and pour out drinks of 
gin. Carl sat by the window, only drinking when 
Antonapoulos pushed the glass into his face, and then taking 
solemn little sips. Singer could not ever remember his friend 
so cordial to a stranger before, and he thought ahead with 
pleasure to the time when Carl would visit them often. 
Midnight had passed when the thing happened that ruined the 
festive party. Antonapoulos returned from one of his trips to 
the closet and his face had a glowering look. He sat on his bed 
and began to stare repeatedly at their new friend with 
expressions of offense and great disgust. Singer tried to make 
eager conversation to hide this stranee behavior, but the Greek 
was persistent. Carl huddled in a chair, nursing his bony 
knees, fascinated and bewildered by the grimaces of the big 
Greek. His face was flushed and he swallowed timidly. Singer 
could ignore the situation no longer, so at last he asked 
Antonapoulos if his stomach pained him or if he perhaps felt 
bad and wished to go to sleep. Antonapoulos shook his head. 
He pointed to Carl and began to make all the gestures of 


obscenity which he knew. The disgust on his face was terrible 
to see. Carl was small with fear. At last the big Greek ground 
his teeth and rose from his chair. Hurriedly Carl picked up his 
cap and left the room. Singer followed him down the stairs. 
He did not know how to explain his friend to this stranger. 
Carl stood hunched in the doorway downstairs, limp, with his 
peaked cap pulled down over his face. At last they shook 
hands and Carl went away. 
Antonapoulos let him know that while they were not noticing, 
their guest had gone into the closet and drunk up all the gin. 
No amount of persuasion could convince Antonapoulos that it 
was he himself who had finished the bottle. The big Greek sat 
up in bed and his round face was dismal and reproachful. 
Large tears trickled slowly down to the neck of his undershirt 
and he could not be comforted. At last he went to sleep, but Singer was awake in the 
dark a long time. They never saw Carl again. 
Then years later there was the time Antonapoulos took the 
rent money from the vase on the mantelpiece and spent it all 
on the slot machines. And the summer afternoon 
Antonapoulos went downstairs naked to get the paper. He 
suffered so from the summer heat. They bought an electric 
refrigerator on the installment plan, and Antonapoulos would 
suck the cubes of ice constantly and even let a few of them 
melt in bed with him as he slept. And the time Antonapoulos 
got drunk and threw a bowl of macaroni in his face. 
Those ugly memories wove through his thoughts during the 
first months like bad threads through a carpet. And then they 
were gone. All the times that they had been unhappy were 
forgotten. For as the year went on his thoughts of his friend 
spiraled deeper until he dwelt only with the Antonapoulos 
whom he alone could know. 
This was the friend to whom he told all that was in his heart. 
This was the Antonapoulos who no one knew was wise but 
him. As the year passed his friend seemed to grow larger in 
his mind, and his face looked out in a very grave and subtle 
way from the darkness at night. The memories of his friend 
changed in his mind so that he remembered nothing that was 
wrong or foolish—only the wise and good. 
He saw Antonapoulos sitting in a large chair before him. He 


sat tranquil and unmoving. His round face was inscrutable. 
His mouth was wise and smiling. And his eyes were profound. 
He watched the things that were said to him. And in his 
wisdom he understood. 
This was the Antonapoulos who now was always in his 
thoughts. This was the friend to whom he wanted to tell things 
that had come about. For something had happened in this year. 
He had been left in an alien land. Alone. He had opened his 
eyes and around him there was much he could not understand. 
He was bewildered. 
He watched the words shape on their lips. 
We Negroes want a chance to be free at last. And freedom is 
only the right to contribute. We want to serve and to share, to 
labor and in turn consume that which is due to us. But you are 
the only white man I have ever en-174 
countered who realizes this terrible need of my people. 
You see, Mister Singer? I got this music in me all the time. I 
got to be a real musician. Maybe I don't know anything now, 
but I will when I'm twenty. See, Mister Singer? And then I 
mean to travel in a foreign country where there's snow. 
Let's finish up the bottle. I want a small one. For we were 
thinking of freedom. That's the word like a worm in my brain. 
Yes? No? How much? How little? The word is a signal for 
piracy and theft and cunning. We'll be free and the smartest 
will then be able to enslave the others. But! But there is 
another meaning to the word. Of all words this one is the most 
dangerous. We who know must be wary. The word makes us 
feel good—in fact the word is a great ideal. But it's with this 
ideal that the spiders spin their ugliest webs for us. 
The last one rubbed his nose. He did not come often and he 
did not say much. He asked questions. 
The four people had been coming to his rooms now for more 
than seven months. They never came together—always alone. 
And invariably he met them at the door with a cordial smile. 
The want for Antonapoulos was always with him—just as it 
had been the first months after his friend had gone—and it 
was better to be with any person than to be too long alone. It 
was like the time years ago when he had made a pledge to 
Antonapoulos (and even written it on a paper and tacked it on 
the wall above his bed)—a pledge that he would give up 


cigarettes, beer, and meat for one month. The first days had 
been very bad. He could not rest or be still. He visited 
Antonapoulos so much at the fruit store that Charles Parker 
was unpleasant to him. When he had finished all the engraving 
on hand he would dawdle around the front of the store with 
the watchmaker and the salesgirl or wander out to some soda 
fountain to drink a Coca-Cola. In those days being near any 
stranger was better than thinking alone about the cigarettes 
and beer and meat that he wanted. 
At first he had not understood the four people at all. They 
talked and they talked—and as the months went on they talked 
more and more. He became so used to their lips that he 
understood each word they said. And then after 

175 
a while he knew what each one of them would say before he 
began, because the meaning was always the same. 
His hands were a torment to him. They would not rest. They 
twitched in his sleep, and sometimes he awoke to find them 
shaping the words in his dreams before his face. He did not 
like to look at his hands or to think about them. They were 
slender and brown and very strong. In the years before he had 
always tended them with care. In ihe winter he used oil to 
prevent chapping, and he kept the cuticles pushed down and 
his nails always filed to the shape of his finger-tips. He had 
loved to wash and tend his hands. But now he only scrubbed 
them roughly with a brush two times a day and stuffed them 
back into his pockets. 
When he walked up and down the floor of his room he would 
crack the joints of his fingers and jerk at them until they 
ached. Or he would strike the palm of one hand with the fist of 
the other. And then sometimes when he was alone and his 
thoughts were with his friend his hands would begin to shape 
the words before he knew about it. Then when he realized he 
was like a man caught talking aloud to himself. It was almost 
as though he had done some moral wrong. The shame and the 
sorrow mixed together and he doubled his hands and put them 
behind him. But they would not let him rest. 
Singer stood in the street before the house where he and 
Antonapoulos had lived. The late afternoon was smoky and 


gray. In the west there were streaks of cold yellow and rose. A 
ragged winter sparrow flew in patterns against the smoky sky 
and at last came to light on a gable of the house. The street 
was deserted. 
His eyes were fixed on a window on the right side of the 
second story. This was then-front room, and behind was the 
big kitchen where Antonapoulos had cooked all their meals. 
Through the lighted window he watched a woman move back 
and forth across the room. She was large and vague against 
the light and she wore an apron. A man sat with the evening 
newspaper in his hand. A child with a slice of bread came to 
the window and pressed his nose against the pane. Singer saw 
the room just as he had left176 

it—with the large bed for Antonapoulos and the iron cot for 
himself, the big overstuffed sofa and the camp chair. The 
broken sugar bowl used for an ash tray, the damp spot on the 
ceiling where the roof leaked, the laundry box in the corner. 
On late afternoons like this there would be no light in the 
kitchen except the glow from the oil-burners of the big stove. 
Antonapoulos always turned the wicks so that only a ragged 
fringe of gold and blue could be seen inside each burner. The 
room was warm and full of the good smells from the supper. 
Antonapoulos tasted the dishes with his wooden spoon and 
they drank glasses of red wine. On the linoleum rug before the 
stove the flames from the burners made luminous reflections 
—five little golden lanterns. As the milky twilight grew darker 
these little lanterns were more intense, so that when at last the 
night had come they burned with vivid purity. Supper was 
always ready by that time and they would turn on the light and 
draw their chairs to the table. 
Singer looked down at the dark front door. He thought of them 
going out together in the morning and coming home at night. 
There was the broken place in the pavement where 
Antonapoulos had stumbled once and hurt his elbow. There 
was the mailbox where their bill from the light company came 
each month. He could feel the warm touch of his friend's arm 
against his fingers. 
The street was dark now. He looked up at the window once 
more and he saw the strange woman and the man and the child 


in a group together. The emptiness spread in him. All was 
gone. Antonapoulos was away; he was not here to remember. 
The thoughts of his friend were somewhere else. Singer shut 
his eyes and tried to think of the asylum and the room that 
Antonapoulos was in tonight. He remembered the narrow 
white beds and the old men playing slapjack in the corner. He 
held his eyes shut tight, but that room would not become clear 
in his mind. The emptiness was very deep inside him, and 
after a while he glanced up at the window once more and 
started down the dark sidewalk where they had walked 
together so many times. 
It was Saturday night. The main street was thick with people. 
Shivering Negroes in overalls loitered before the windows of 
the ten-cent store. Families stood in line be

177 
fore the ticket box of the movie and young boys and girls 
stared at the posters on display outside. The traffic from the 
automobiles was so dangerous that he had to wait a long time 
before crossing the street. 
He passed the fruit store. The fruits were beautiful inside the 
windows—bananas, oranges, alligator pears, bright little 
cumquats, and even a few pineapples. But Charles Parker 
waited on a customer inside. The face of Charles Parker was 
very ugly to him. Several times when Charles Parker was 
away he had entered the store and stood around a long while. 
He had even gone to the kitchen in the back where 
Antonapoulos made the candies. But he never went into the 
store while Charles Parker was inside. They had both taken 
care to avoid each other since that day when Antonapoulos 
left on the bus. When they met in the street they always turned 
away without nodding. Once when he had wanted to send his 
friend a jar of his favorite tupelo honey he had ordered it from 
Charles Parker by mail so as not to be obliged to meet him. 
Singer stood before the window and watched the cousin of his 
friend wait on a group of customers. Business was always 
good on Saturday night. Antonapoulos sometimes had to work 
as late as ten o'clock. The big automatic popcorn popper was 
near the door. A clerk shoved in a measure of kernels and the 
corn whirled inside the case like giant flakes of snow. The 


smell from the store was warm and familiar. Peanut hulls were 
trampled on the floor. 
Singer passed on down the street. He had to weave his way 
carefully in the crowds to keep from being jostled. The streets 
were strung with red and green electric lights because of the 
holidays. People stood in laughing groups with their arms 
about each other. Young fathers nursed cold and crying babies 
on their shoulders. A Salvation Army girl in her red-and-blue 
bonnet tinkled a bell on the corner, and when she looked at 
Singer he felt obliged to drop a coin into the pot beside her. 
There were beggars, both Negro and white, who held out caps 
or crusty hands. The neon advertisements cast an orange glow 
on the faces of the crowd. 
He reached the corner where he and Antonapoulos had once 
seen a mad dog on an August afternoon. Then he passed the 
room above the Army and Navy Store where178 

Antonapoulos had had his picture taken every pay-day. He 
carried many of the photographs in his pocket now. He turned 
west toward the river. Once they had taken a picnic lunch and 
crossed the bridge and eaten in a field on Hie other side. 
Singer walked along the main street for about an hour. In all 
the crowd he seemed the only one alone. At last he took out 
his watch and turned toward the house where he lived. 
Perhaps one of the people would come this evening to his 
room. He hoped so. 
He mailed Antonapoulos a large box of presents for 
Christmas. Also he presented gifts to each of the four people 
and to Mrs. Kelly. For all of them together he had bought a 
radio and put it on the table by the window. Doctor Copeland 
did not notice the radio. Biff Brannon noticed it immediately 
and raised his eyebrows. Jake Blount kept it turned on all the 
time he was there, at the same station, and as he talked he 
seemed to be shouting above the music, for the veins stood out 
on his forehead. Mick Kelly did not understand when she saw 
the radio. Her face was very red and she asked him over and 
over if it was really his and whether she could listen. She 
worked with a dial for several minutes before she got it to the 
place that suited her. She sat leaning forward in her chair with 
her hands on her knees, her mouth open and a pulse beating 


very fast in her temple. She seemed to listen all over to 
whatever it was she heard. She sat there the whole afternoon, 
and when she grinned at him once her eyes were wet and she 
rubbed them with her fists. She asked him if she could come 
in and listen sometimes when he was at work and he nodded 
yes. So for the next few days whenever he opened the door he 
found her by the radio. Her hand raked through her short 
rumpled hair and there was a look in her face he had never 
seen before. 
One night soon after Christmas all four of the people chanced 
to visit him at the same time. This had never happened before. 
Singer moved about the room with smiles and refreshments 
and did his best in the way of politeness to make his guests 
comfortable. But something was wrong. 
Doctor Copeland would not sit down. He stood in the 

179 

doorway, hat in hand, and only bowed coldly to the others. 
They looked at him as though they wondered why he was 
there. Jake Blount opened the beers he had brought with him 
and the foam spilled down on his shirtfront. Mick Kelly 
listened to the music from the radio. Biff Brannon sat on the 
bed, his knees crossed, his eyes scanning the group before him 
and then becoming narrow and fixed. 
Singer was bewildered. Always each of them had so much to 
say. Yet now that they were together they were silent. When 
they came in he had expected an outburst of some kind. In a 
vague way he had expected this to be the end of something. 
But in the room there was only a feeling of strain. His hands 
worked nervously as though they were pulling things unseen 
from the air and binding them together. 
Jake Blount stood beside Doctor Copeland. 'I know your face. 
We run into each other once before—on the steps outside.' 
Doctor Copeland moved his tongue precisely as though he 
clipped out his words with scissors. 'I was not aware that we 
were acquainted,' he said. Then his stiff body seemed to 
shrink. He stepped back until he was just outside the threshold 
of the room. 
Biff Brannon smoked his cigarette composedly. The smoke 
lay in thin layers across the room. He turned to Mick and 


when he looked at her a blush reddened his face. He half-
closed his eyes and in a moment his face was bloodless once 
more. 'And how are you getting on with your business now?' 
'What business?' Mick asked suspiciously. 
'Just the business of living,' he said. 'School—and so forth.' 
'O.K., I reckon,' she said. 
Each one of them looked at Singer as though in expectation. 
He was puzzled. He offered refreshments and smiled. 
Jake rubbed his lips with the palm of his hand. He left off 
trying to make conversation with Doctor Copeland and sat 
down on the bed beside Biff. 'You know who it is that used to 
write those bloody warnings in red chalk on the fences and 
walls around the mills?'180 

181 

.No,' Biff said. 'What bloody warnings?' 
'Mostly from the Old Testament I been wondering about that for 
a long time.' 
Each person addressed his words mainly to the mute. Their 
thoughts seemed to converge in him as the spokes of a wheel lead 
to the center hub. 
The cold has been very unusual,' BifE said finally. The other day 
I was looking through some old records and I found that in the 
year 1919 the thermometer got down to ten degrees Fahrenheit. 
It was only sixteen degrees this morning, and that's the coldest 
since the big freeze that year.' 
There were icicles hanging off the roof of the coal house this 
morning,' Mick said. 
cWe didn't take in enough money last week to meet the payroll,' 
Jake said. 
They discussed the weather some more. Each one seemed to be 
waiting for the others to go. Then on an impulse they all rose to 
leave at the same time. Doctor Cope-land went first and the 
others followed him immediately. When they were gone Singer 
stood alone in the room, and as he did not understand the 
situation he wanted to forget it He decided to write to 
Antonapoulos that night 
The fact that Antonapoulos could not read did not prevent 
Singer from writing to him. He had always known that his friend 
was unable to make out the meaning of words on paper, but as 
the months went by he began to imagine that perhaps he had 
been mistaken, that perhaps Antonapoulos only kept his 
knowledge of letters a secret from everyone. Also, it was possible 

there might be a deaf-mute at the asylum who could read his 
letters and then explain them to his friend. He thought of several 
justifications for his letters, for he always felt a great need to 
write to his friend when he was bewildered or sad. Once written, 
however, these letters were never mailed. He cut out the comic 
strips from the morning and evening papers and sent them to his 
friend each Sunday. And every month he mailed a postal money 
order. But the long letters he wrote to Antonapoulos 
accumulated in his pockets until he would destroy them. 
When the four people had gone, Singer slipped on his 

warm gray overcoat and his gray felt hat and left his room. He always 
wrote his letters at the store. Also, he had promised to deliver a 
certain piece of work the next morning, and he wanted to finish it 
now so that there would be no question of delay. The night was sharp 
and frosty. The moon was full and rimmed with a golden light. The 
rooftops were black against the starlit sky. As he walked he thought 
of ways to begin his letter, but he had already reached the store 
before the first sentence was clear in his mind. He let himself into the 
dark store with his key and switched on the front lights. 
He worked at the very end of the store. A cloth curtain separated his 
place from the rest of the shop so that it was like a small private 
room. Besides his workbench and chair there was a heavy safe in the 
corner, a lavatory with a greenish mirror, and shelves full of boxes 
and worn-out clocks. Singer rolled up the top of his bench and 
removed from its felt case the silver platter he had promised to have 
ready. Although the store was cold he took off his coat and turned up 
the blue-striped cuffs of his shirt so that they would not get in his 
way. 
For a long time he worked at the monogram in the center of the 
platter. With delicate, concentrated strokes he guided the scriver on 
the silver. As he worked his eyes had a curiously penetrating look of 
hunger. He was thinking of his letter to his friend Antonapoulos. 
Midnight had passed before the work was finished. When he put the 
platter away his forehead was damp with excitement. He cleared his 
bench and began to write. He loved to shape words with a pen on 
paper and he formed the letters with as much care as if the paper had 
been a plate of silver. 
My Only Friend: 
I see from our magazine that the Society meets this year at a 
convention in Macon. They will have speakers and a four-course 
banquet. I imagine it. Remember we always planned to attend one of 
the conventions but we never did. I wish now that we had. I wish we 
were going to this one and I have imagined how it would be. But of 
course I could never go without you. They will come from many 
states and they will all be full of words and long dreams from the182 


heart. There is also to be a special service at one of the 
churches and some kind of a contest with a gold medal for the 
prize. I write that I imagine all this. I both do and do not. My 
hands have been still so long that it is difficult to remember 
how it is. And when I imagine the convention I think of all the 
guests being like you, my Friend. 
I stood before our home the other day. Other people live in it 
now. Do you remember the big oak tree in front? The 
branches were cut back so as not to interfere with the 
telephone wires and the tree died. The limbs are rotten and 
there is a hollow place in the trunk. Also, the cat here at the 
store (the one you used to stroke and fondle) ate something 
poisonous and died. It was very sad. 
Singer held the pen poised above the paper. He sat for a long 
while, erect and tense, without continuing the letter. Then he 
stood up and lighted himself a cigarette. The room was cold 
and the air had a sour stale odor—the mixed smells of 
kerosene and silver polish and tobacco. He put on his overcoat 
and muffler and began writing again with slow determination. 
You remember the four people I told you about when I was 
there. I drew their pictures for you, the black man, the young 
girl, the one with the mustache, and the man who owns the 
New York Cafe. There are some things I should like to tell 
you about them but how to put them in words I am not sure. 
They are all very busy people. In fact they are so busy that it 
will be hard for you to picture them. I do not mean that they 
work at their jobs all day and night but that they have much 
business in their minds always that does not let them rest. 
They come up to my room and talk to me until I do not 
understand how a person can open and shut his or her mouth 
so much without being weary. (However, the New York Cafe 
owner is different—he is not just like the others. He has a very 
black beard so that he has to shave twice daily, and he owns 
one of these electric razors. He watches. The others all have 
something 

183 
they hate. And they all have something they love more than 
eating or sleeping or wine or friendly company. That is why 
they are always so busy.) 
The one with the mustache I think is crazy. Sometimes he 


speaks his words very clear like my teacher long ago at the 
school. Other times he speaks such a language that I cannot 
follow. Sometimes he is dressed in a plain suit, and the next 
time he will be black with dirt and smelling bad and in the 
overalls he wears to work. He will shake his fist and say ugly 
drunken words that I would not wish you to know about. He 
thinks he and I have a secret together but I do not know what 
it is. And let me write you something hard to believe. He can 
drink three pints of Happy Days whiskey and still talk and 
walk on his feet and not wish for the bed. You will not believe 
this but it is true. 
I rent my room from the girl's mother for $16 per month. The 
girl used to dress in short trousers like a boy but now she 
wears a blue skirt and a blouse. She is not yet a young lady. I 
like her to come and see me. She comes all the time now that I 
have a radio for them. She likes music. I wish I knew what it 
is she hears. She knows I am deaf but she thinks I know about 
music. 
The black man is sick with consumption but there is not a 
good hospital for him to go to here because he is black. He is a 
doctor and he works more than anyone I have ever seen. He 
does not talk like a black man at all. Other Negroes I find it 
hard to understand because their tongues do not move enough 
for the words. This black man frightens me sometimes. His 
eyes are hot and bright. He asked me to a party and I went. He 
has many books. However, he does not own any mystery 
books. He does not drink or eat meat or attend the movies. 
Yah Freedom and pirates. Yah Capital and Democrats, says 
the ugly one with the mustache. Then he contradicts himself 
and says, Freedom is the greatest of all ideals. I just got to get 
a chance to write this music in me and be a musician. I got to 
have a chance says the girl. We are not allowed to serve, says 
the184 
black Doctor. That is the Godlike need for my people. Aha, 
says the owner of the New York Cafe". He is a thoughtful one. 
That is the way they talk when they come to my room. Those 
words in their heart do not let them rest, so they are always 
very busy. Then you would think when they are together they 
would be like those of the Society who meet at the convention 
in Macon this week. But that is not so. They all came to my 


room at the same time today. They sat like they were from 
different cities. They were even rude, and you know how I 
have always said that to be rude and not attend to the feelings 
of others is wrong. So it was like that. I do not understand, so I 
write it to you because I think you will understand. I have 
queer feelings. But I have written of this matter enough and I 
know you axe weary of it. I am also. 
It has been five months and twenty-one days now. All of that 
time I have been alone without you. The only thing I can 
imagine is when I will be with you again. If I cannot come to 
you soon I do not know what 
Singer put his head down on the bench and rested. The smell 
and the feel of the slick wood against his cheek reminded him 
of his schooldays. His eyes closed and he felt sick. There was 
only the face of Antonapoulos in his mind, and his longing for 
his friend was so sharp that he held his breath. After some 
time Singer sat up and reached for his pen. 
The gift I ordered for you did not come in time for the 
Christmas box. I expect it shortly. I believe you will like it and 
be amused. I think of us always and remember everything. I 
long for the food you used to make. At the New York Cafe it 
is much worse than it used to be. I found a cooked fly in my 
soup not long ago. It was mixed with the vegetables and the 
noodles like letters. But that is nothing. The way I need you is 
a loneliness I cannot bear. Soon I will come again. My 
vacation is not due for six months more but I think I can 
arrange it before then. 

185 

I think I will have to. I am not meant to be alone and without 
you who understand. 
Always, 
JOHN SINGER 
It was two o'clock in the morning before he was home again. 
The big, crowded house was in darkness, but he felt his way 
carefully up three flights of stairs and did not stumble. He 
took from his pockets the cards he carried about with him, his 
watch, and his fountain pen. Then he folded his clothes neatly 
over the back of his chair. His gray-flannel pajamas were 
warm and soft. Almost as soon as he pulled the blankets to his 


chin he was asleep. 
Out of the blackness of sleep a dream formed. There were dull 
yellow lanterns lighting up a dark flight of stone steps. 
Antonapoulos kneeled at the top of these steps. He was naked 
and he fumbled with something that he held above his head 
and gazed at it as though in prayer. He himself knelt halfway 
down the steps. He was naked and cold and he could not take 
his eyes from Antonapoulos and the thing he held above him. 
Behind him on the ground he felt the one with the mustache 
and the girl and the black man and the last one. They knelt 
naked and he felt their eyes on him. And behind them there 
were uncounted crowds of kneeling people in the darkness. 
His own hands were huge windmills and he stared fascinated 
at the unknown thing that Antonapoulos held. The yellow 
lanterns swayed to and fro in the darkness and all else was 
motionless. Then suddenly there was a ferment. In the 
upheaval the steps collapsed and he felt himself falling 
downward. He awoke with a jerk. The early light whitened the 
window. He felt afraid. 
Such a long time had passed that something might have 
happened to his friend. Because Antonapoulos did not write to 
him he would not know. Perhaps his friend had fallen and hurt 
himself. He felt such an urge to be with him once more that he 
would arrange it at any cost—and immediately. 
In the post-office that morning he found a notice in his box 
that a package had come for him. It was the gift he had 
ordered for Christmas that did not arrive in time. The gift was 
a very fine one. He had bought it on the install-186 

187 

ment plan to be paid for over a period of two years. The gift 
was a moving-picture machine for private use, with a half-
dozen of the Mickey Mouse and Popeye comedies that 
Antonapoulos enjoyed. 
Singer was the last to reach the store that morning. He handed 
the jeweler for whom he worked a formal written request for 
leave on Friday and Saturday. And although there were four 
weddings on hand that week, the jeweler nodded that he could 
go. 
He did not let anyone know of the trip beforehand, but on 


leaving he tacked a note to his door saying that he would be 
absent for several days because of business. He traveled at 
night, and the train reached the place of his destination just as 
the red winter dawn was breaking. 
In the afternoon, a little before time for the visiting hour, he 
went out to the asylum. His arms were loaded with the parts of 
the moving-picture machine and the basket of fruit he carried 
his friend. He went immediately to the ward where he had 
visited Antonapoulos before. 
The corridor, the door, the rows of beds were just as he 
remembered them. He stood at the threshold and looked 
eagerly for his friend. But he saw at once that though all the 
chairs were occupied, Antonapoulos was not there. 
Singer put down his packages and wrote at the bottom of one 
of his cards, 'Where is Spiros Antonapoulos?' A nurse came 
into the room and he handed her the card. She did not 
understand. She shook her head and raised her shoulders. He 
went out into the corridor and handed the card to everyone he 
met. Nobody knew. There was such a panic in him that he 
began motioning with his hands. At last he met an interne in a 
white coat. He plucked at the interne's elbow and gave him the 
card. The interne read it carefully and then guided him 
through several halls. They came to a small room where a 
young woman sat at a desk before some papers. She read the 
card and then looked through some files in a drawer. 
Tears of nervousness and fear swam in Singer's eyes. The 
young woman began deliberately to write on a pad of paper, 
and he could not restrain himself from twisting around to see 
immediately what was being written about his friend. 

Mr. Antonapoulos has been transferred to the infirmary. He is 
ill with nephritis. I will have someone show you the way. 

On the way through the corridors he stopped to pick up the 
packages he had left at the door of the ward. The basket of 
fruit had been stolen, but the other boxes were intact. He 
followed the interne out of the building and across a plot of 
grass to the infirmary. 
Antonapoulos! When they reached the proper ward he saw 
him at the first glance. His bed was placed in the middle of the 
room and he was sitting propped with pillows. He wore a 
scarlet dressing-gown and green silk pajamas and a turquoise 


ring. His skin was a pale yellow color, his eyes very dreamy 
and dark. His black hair was touched at the temples with 
silver. He was knitting. His fat fingers worked with the long 
ivory needles very slowly. At first he did not see his friend. 
Then when Singer stood before him he smiled serenely, 
without surprise, and held out his jeweled hand. 
A feeling of shyness and restraint such as he had never known 
before came over Singer. He sat down by the bed and folded 
his hands on the edge of the counterpane. His eyes did not 
leave the face of his friend and he was deathly pale. The 
splendor of his friend's raiment startled him. On various 
occasions he had sent him each article of the outfit, but he had 
not imagined how they would look when all combined. 
Antonapoulos was more enormous than he had remembered. 
The great pulpy folds of his abdomen showed beneath his silk 
pajamas. His head was immense against the white pillow. The 
placid composure of his face was so profound that he seemed 
hardly to be aware mat Singer was with him. 
Singer raised Ms hands timidly and began to speak. His 
strong, skilled fingers shaped the signs with loving precision. 
He spoke of the cold and of the long months alone. He 
mentioned old memories, the cat that had died, the store, the 
place where he lived. At each pause Antonapoulos nodded 
graciously. He spoke of the four people and the long visits to 
his room. The eyes of his friend were moist and dark, and in 
them he saw the little rectangled pictures of himself that he 
had watched a thousand times. The188 

warm blood flowed back to his face and his hands quickened. 
He spoke at length of the black man and the one with the 
jerking mustache and the girl. The designs of his hands shaped 
faster and faster. Antonapoulos nodded with slow gravity. 
Eagerly Singer leaned closer and he breathed with long, deep 
breaths and in his eyes there were bright tears. 
Then suddenly Antonapoulos made a slow circle in the air 
with his plump forefinger. His finger circled toward Singer 
and at last he poked his friend in the stomach. The big Greek's 
smile grew very broad and he stuck out his fat, pink tongue. 
Singer laughed and his hands shaped the words with wild 
speed. His shoulders shook with laughter and his head hung 


backward. Why he laughed he did not know. Antonapoulos 
rolled his eyes. Singer continued to laugh riotously until his 
breath was gone and his fingers trembled. He grasped the arm 
of his friend and tried to steady himself. His laughs came slow 
and painfully like hiccoughs. 
Antonapoulos was the first to compose himself. His fat little 
feet had untucked the cover at the bottom of the bed. His smile 
faded and he kicked contemptuously at the blanket. Singer 
hastened to put things right, but Antonapoulos frowned and 
held up his finger regally to a nurse who was passing through 
the ward. When she had straightened the bed to his liking the 
big Greek inclined his head so deliberately that the gesture 
seemed one of benediction rather than a simple nod of thanks. 
Then he turned gravely to his friend again. 
As Singer talked he did not realize how the time had passed. 
Only when a nurse brought Antonapoulos his supper on a tray 
did he realize that it was late. The lights in the ward were 
turned on and outside the windows it was almost dark. The 
other patients had trays of supper before them also. They had 
put down their work (some of them wove baskets, others did 
leatherwork or knitted) and they were eating listlessly. 
Besides Antonapoulos they all seemed very sick and colorless. 
Most of them needed a haircut and they wore seedy gray 
nightshirts slit down the back. They stared at the two mutes 
with wonder. 
Antonapoulos lifted the cover from his dish and inspected the 
food carefully. There was fish and some vege

189 
tables. He picked up the fish and held it to the light in the 
palm of his hand for a thorough examination. Then he ate with 
relish. During supper he began to point out the various people 
in the room. He pointed to one man in the corner and made 
faces of disgust. The man snarled at him. He pointed to a 
young boy and smiled and nodded and waved his plump hand. 
Singer was too happy to feel embarrassment. He picked up the 
packages from the floor and laid them on the bed to distract 
his friend. Antonapoulos took off the wrappings, but the 
machine did not interest him at all. He turned back to his 
supper. 


Singer handed the nurse a note explaining about the movie. 
She called an interne and then they brought in a doctor. As the 
three of them consulted they looked curiously at Singer. The 
news reached the patients and they propped up on their elbows 
excitedly. Only Antonapoulos was not disturbed. 
Singer had practiced with the movie beforehand. He set Dp 
the screen so that it could be watched by all the patients. Then 
he worked with the projector and the film. The nurse took out 
the supper trays and the lights in the ward were turned off. A 
Mickey Mouse comedy flashed on the screen. 
Singer watched his friend. At first Antonapoulos was startled. 
He heaved himself up for a better view and would have risen 
from the bed if the nurse had not restrained him. Then he 
watched with a beaming smile. Singer could see the other 
patients calling out to each other and laughing. Nurses and 
orderlies came in from the hall and the whole ward was in 
commotion. When the Mickey Mouse was finished Singer put 
on a Popeye film. Then at the conclusion of this film he felt 
that the entertainment had lasted long enough for the first 
time. He switched on the light and the ward settled down 
again. As the interne put the machine under his friend's bed he 
saw Antonapoulos slyly cut his eyes across the ward to be 
certain that each person realized that the machine was his. 
Singer began to talk with his hands again. He knew that he 
would soon be asked to leave, but the thoughts he had stored 
in his mind were too big to be said in a short time. He talked 
with frantic haste. In the ward there was an old man whose 
head shook with palsy and who picked feebly190 

t 

at his eyebrows. He envied the old man because he lived with 
Antonapoulos day after day. Singer would have exchanged 
places with him joyfully. 
His friend fumbled for something in his bosom. It was the 
little brass cross that he had always worn. The dirty string had 
been replaced by a red ribbon. Singer thought of the dream 
and he told that, also, to his friend. In his haste the signs 
sometimes became blurred and he had to shake his hands and 


begin all over. Antonapoulos watched him with his dark, 
drowsy eyes. Sitting motionless in his bright, rich garments he 
seemed like some wise king from a legend. 
The interne in charge of the ward allowed Singer to stay for an 
hour past the visiting time. Then at last he held out his thin, 
hairy wrist and showed him his watch. The patients were 
settled for sleep. Singer's hand faltered. He grasped his friend 
by the arm and looked intently into his eyes as he used to do 
each morning when they parted for work. Finally Singer 
backed himself out of the room. At the doorway his hands 
signed a broken farewell and then clenched into fists. 
During the moonlit January nights Singer continued to walk 
about the streets of the town each evening when he was not 
engaged. The rumors about him grew bolder. An old Negro 
woman told hundreds of people that he knew the ways of 
spirits come back from the dead. A certain piece-worker 
claimed that he had worked with the mute at another mill 
somewhere else in the state—and the tales he told were 
unique. The rich thought that he was rich and the poor 
considered him a poor man like themselves. And as there was 
no way to disprove these rumors they grew marvelous and 
very real. Each man described the mute as he wished him to 
be. 
8 

HY? 

The question flowed through Biff always, unnoticed, like the 
blood in his veins. He thought of people and of objects and of 
ideas and the question was in him. Midnight, the dark 
morning, noon. Hitler and the rumors of 

191 

war. The price of loin of pork and the tax on. beer. Especially 
he meditated on the puzzle of the mute. Why, for instance, did 
Singer go away on the train and, when he was asked where he 
had been, pretend that he did not understand the question? 
And why did everyone persist in thinking the mute was 
exactly as they wanted him to be —when most likely it was all 
a very queer mistake? Singer sat at the middle table three 
times a day. He ate what was put before him—except cabbage 
and oysters. In the battling tumult of voices he alone was 
silent. He liked best little green soft butter beans and he 


stacked them in a neat pile on the prongs of his fork. And 
sopped their gravy with his biscuits. 
Biff thought also of death. A curious incident occurred. One 
day while rummaging through the bathroom closet he found a 
bottle of Agua Florida that he had overlooked when taking 
Lucile the rest of Alice's cosmetics. Meditatively he held the 
bottle of perfume in his hands. It was four months now since 
her death—and each month seemed as long and full of leisure 
as a year. He seldom thought of her. 
Biff uncorked the bottle. He stood shirtless before the mirror 
and dabbled some of the perfume on his dark, hairy armpits. 
The scent made him stiffen. He exchanged a deadly secret 
glance with himself in the mirror and stood motionless. He 
was stunned by the memories brought to him with the 
perfume, not because of their clarity, but because they 
gathered together the whole long span of years and were 
complete. Biff rubbed his nose and looked sideways at 
himself. The boundary of death. He felt in him each minute 
that he had lived with her. And now their life together was 
whole as only the past can be whole. Abruptly Biff turned 
away. 
The bedroom was done over. His entirely now. Before it had 
been tacky and flossy and drab. There were always stockings 
and pink rayon knickers with holes in them hung on a string 
across the room to dry. The iron bed had been flaked and 
rusty, decked with soiled lace boudoir pillows. A bony mouser 
from downstairs would arch its back and rub mournfully 
against the slop jar. 
All of this he had changed. He traded the iron bed for a studio 
couch. There was a thick red rug on the floor, and192 

he had bought a beautiful cloth of Chinese blue to hang on the 
side of the wall where the cracks were worst. He had unsealed 
the fireplace and kept it laid with pine logs. Over the mantel 
was a small photograph of Baby and a colored picture of a 
little boy in velvet holding a ball in his hands. A glassed case 
in the corner held the curios he had collected—specimens of 
butterflies, a rare arrowhead, a curious rock shaped like a 
human profile. Blue-silk cushions were on the studio couch, 
and he had borrowed Lucile's sewing-machine to make deep 


red curtains for the windows. He loved the room. It was both 
luxurious and sedate. On the table there was a little Japanese 
pagoda with glass pendants that tinkled with strange musical 
tones in a draught. 
In this room nothing reminded him of her. But often he would 
uncork the bottle of Agua Florida and touch the stopper to the 
lobes of his ears or to his wrists. The smell mingled with his 
slow ruminations. The sense of the past grew in him. 
Memories built themselves with almost architectural order. In 
a box where he stored souvenirs he came across old pictures 
taken before their marriage. Alice sitting in a field of daisies. 
Alice with him in a canoe on the river. Also among the 
souvenirs there was a large bone hairpin that had belonged to 
his mother. As a little boy he had loved to watch her comb and 
knot her long black hair. He had thought that hairpins were 
curved as they were to copy the shape of a lady and he would 
sometimes play with them like dolls. At that time he had a 
cigar box full of scraps. He loved the feel and colors of 
beautiful cloth and he would sit with his scraps for hours 
under the kitchen table. But when he was six his mother took 
the scraps away from him. She was a tall, strong woman with 
a sense of duty like a man. She had loved him best. Even now 
he sometimes dreamed of her. And her worn gold wedding 
ring stayed on his finger always. 
Along with the Agua Florida he found in the closet a bottle of 
lemon rinse Alice had always used for her hair. One day he 
tried it on himself. The lemon made his dark, white-streaked 
hair seem fluffy and thick. He liked it. He discarded the oil he 
had used to guard against baldness and rinsed with the lemon 
preparation regularly. Certain 

193 

whims that he had ridiculed in Alice were now his own. Why? 
Every morning Louis, the colored boy downstairs, brought 
him a cup of coffee to drink in bed. Often he sat propped on 
the pillows for an hour before he got up and dressed. He 
smoked a cigar and watched the patterns the sunlight made on 
the wall. Deep hi meditation he ran his forefinger between his 
long, crooked toes. He remembered. 
Then from noon until five in the morning he worked 


downstairs. And all day Sunday. The business was losing 
money. There were many slack hours. Still at meal-times the 
place was usually full and he saw hundreds of acquaintances 
every day as he stood guard behind the cash register. 
'What do you stand and think about all the time?' Jake Blount 
asked him. 'You look like a Jew in Germany.' 
'I am an eighth part Jew,' Biff said. 'My Mother's grandfather 
was a Jew from Amsterdam. But all the rest of my folks that I 
know about were Scotch-Irish.' 
It was Sunday morning. Customers lolled at the tables and 
there were the smell of tobacco and the rustle of newspaper. 
Some men in a corner booth shot dice, but the game was a 
quiet one. 
'Where's Singer?' Biff asked. 'Won't you be going up to his 
place this morning?' 
Blount's face turned dark and sullen. He jerked his head 
forward. Had they quarreled—but how could a dummy 
quarrel? No, for this had happened before. Blount hung 
around sometimes and acted as though he were having an 
argument with himself. But pretty soon he would go—he 
always did—and the two of them would come in together, 
Blount talking. 
'You live a fine life. Just standing behind a cash register. Just 
standing with your hand open.' 
Biff did not take offense. He leaned his weight on his elbows 
and narrowed his eyes. 'Let's me and you have a serious talk. 
What is it you want anyway?' 
Blount smacked his hands down on the counter. They were 
warm and meaty and rough. 'Beer. And one of them kittle 
packages of cheese crackers with peanut butter in the 
inside.'194 

'That's not what I meant,' Biff said. 'But well come around to it 
later.' 
The man was a puzzle. He was always changing. He still 
drank like a crazy fish, but liquor did not drag him down as it 
did some men. The rims of his eyes were often red, and he had 
a nervous trick of looking back startled over his shoulder. His 
head was heavy and huge on his thin neck. He was the sort of 
fellow that kids laughed at and dogs wanted to bite. Yet when 


he was laughed at it cut him to the quick—he got rough and
loud like a sort of clown. And he was always suspecting that
somebody was laughing.
Biff shook his head thoughtfully. 'Come,' he said. "What
makes you stick with that show? You can find something
better than that. I could give you a part-time job here.
'
'Christamighty! I wouldn't park myself behind that cash box if
you was to give me the whole damn place, lock, stock, and
barrel.
'
There he was. It was irritating. He could never have friends or
even get along with people.
Talk sense,' Biff said. 'Be serious.
'
A customer had come up with his check and he made change.
The place was still quiet. Blount was restless. Biff felt him
drawing away. He wanted to hold him. He reached for two A-
l
cigars on the shelf behind the counter and offered Blount 
a
smoke. Warily his mind dismissed one question after another,
and then finally he asked:
'If you could choose the time in history you could have lived,
what era would you choose?
'
Blount licked his mustache with his broad, wet tongue. 'If you
had to choose between being a stiff and never asking another
question, which would you take?
'
'Sure enough,' Biff insisted. 'Think it over.
'
He cocked his head to one side and peered down over his long
nose. This was a matter he liked to hear others talk about.
Ancient Greece was his. Walking in sandals on the edge of the
blue Aegean. The loose robes girdled at the waist. Children.
The marble baths and the contemplations in the temples.
'Maybe with the Incas. In Peru.
'
Biff's eyes scanned over him, stripping him naked. He


saw Blount burned a rich, red brown by the sun, his face
smooth and hairless, with a bracelet of gold and precious
stones on his forearm. When he closed his eyes the man was 
a
good Inca. But when he looked at him again the picture fell
away. It was the nervous mustache that did not belong to his
face, the way he jerked his shoulder, the Adam's apple on his
thin neck, the bagginess of his trousers. And it was more than



that.
'Or maybe around 1775.
'
"That was a good time to be living,' Biff agreed.
Blount shuffled his feet self-consciously. His face was rough
and unhappy. He was ready to leave. Biff was alert to detain
him. 'Tell me—why did you ever come to this town anyway?
'
He knew immediately that the question had not been a politic
one and he was disappointed with himself. Yet it was queer
how the man could land up in a place like this.
'It's the God's truth I don't know.
'
They stood quietly for a moment, both leaning on the counter.
The game of dice in the corner was finished. The first dinner
order, a Long Island duck special, had been served to the
fellow who managed the A. and P. store. The radio was turned
halfway between a church sermon and a swing band.
Blount leaned over suddenly and smelled Biff's face.
'Perfume?
'
'Shaving lotion,' Biff said composedly.
He could not keep Blount longer. The fellow was ready to go.
He would come in with Singer later. It was always like this.
He wanted to draw Blount out completely so that he could
understand certain questions concerning him. But Blount
would never really talk—only to the mute. It was a most
peculiar thing.
"Thanks for the cigar,' Blount said. 'See you later.
'
'So long.
'
Biff watched Blount walk to the door with his rolling, sailor-
like gait. Then he took up the duties before him. He looked
over the display in the window. The day's menu had been
pasted on the glass and a special dinner with all the trimmings
was laid out to attract customers. It looked bad. Right nasty.
The gravy from the duck had run into the cranberry sauce and
a fly, was stuck in the dessert.196


'Hey, Louis!' he called. 'Take this stuff out of the window.
And bring me that red pottery bowl and some fruit.
'
He arranged the fruits with an eye for color and design. At last
the decoration pleased him. He visited the kitchen and had 
a
talk with the cook. He lifted the lids of the pots and sniffed the
food inside, but without heart for the matter. Alice always had



done this part. He disliked it. His nose sharpened when he saw
the greasy sink with its scum of food bits at the bottom. He
wrote down the menus and the orders for the next day. He was
glad to leave the kitchen and take his stand by the cash
register again.
Lucile and Baby came for Sunday dinner. The little Md was
not so good now. The bandage was still on her head and the
doctor said it could not come off until next month. The
binding of gauze in place of the yellow curls made her head
look naked.
'Say hello to Uncle Biff, Hon,' Lucile prompted.
Baby bridled fretfully. 'Hello to Unca Biff Hon,' she gassed.
She put up a struggle when Lucile tried to take off her Sunday
coat. 'Now you just behave yourself,' Lucile kept saying. "You
got to take it off or you'll catch pneumonia when we go out
again.. Now you just behave yourself.
'
Biff took the situation in charge. He soothed Baby with a ball
of candy gum and eased the coat from her shoulders. Her
dress had lost its set in the struggle with Lucile. He
straightened it so that the yoke was in line across her chest He
retied her sash and crushed the bow to just the right shape
with his fingers. Then he patted Baby on her little behind. 'We
got some strawberry ice cream today,' he said.
'Bartholomew, you'd make a mighty good mother.
'
Thanks,' Biff said. That's a compliment'
We just been to Sunday School and church. Baby, say the
verse from the Bible you learned for your Uncle Biff.
'
The kid hung back and pouted. 'Jesus wept,' she said finally.
The scorn that she put in the two words made it sound like 
a
terrible thing.
'Want to see Louis?' Biff asked. 'He's back in the kitchen.
'
'I wanna see Willie. I wanna hear WMe play the harp.
'
"Now, Baby, you're just trying yourself,' Lucile said im

patiently. 'You know good and well that Willie's not here.
Willie was sent off to the penitentiary.
'
'But Louis,' Biff said. 'He can play the harp, too. Go tell him to
get the ice cream ready and play you a tune.
'
Baby went toward the kitchen, dragging one heel on the floor.



Lucile laid her hat on the counter. There were tears in her 
eyes. 'You know I always said this: If a child is kept clean and 
well cared for and pretty then that child will usually be sweet 
and smart. But if a child's dirty and ugly then you can't expect 
anything much. What I'm trying to get at is that Baby is so 
shamed over losing her hair and that bandage on her head that 
it just seems like it makes her cut the buck all the time. She 
won't practice her elocution—she won't do a thing. She feels 
so bad I just can't manage her.' 
'If you'd quit picking with her so much she'd be all right.' 
At last he settled them in a booth by the window. Lucile had a 
special and there was a breast of chicken cut up fine, cream of 
wheat, and carrots for Baby. She played with her food and 
spilled milk on her little frock. He sat with them until the rush 
started. Then he had to be on his feet to keep things going 
smoothly. 
People eating. The wide-open mouths with the food pushed in. 
What was it? The line he had read not long ago. Life was only 
a matter of intake and alimentation and reproduction. The 
place was crowded. There was a swing band on the radio. 
Then the two he was waiting for came in. Singer entered the 
door first, very straight and swank in his tailored Sunday suit. 
Blount followed along just behind his elbow. There was 
something about the way they walked that struck him. They 
sat at their table, and Blount talked and ate with gusto while 
Singer watched politely. When the meal was finished they 
stopped by the cash register for a few minutes. Then as they 
went out he noticed again there was something about their 
walking together that made him pause and question himself. 
What could it be? The suddenness with which the memory 
opened up deep down in his mind was a shock. The big deafmute moron whom Singer used to walk with sometimes on the 
way to work. The sloppy Greek who made candy for Charles 
Parker.198 

The Greek always walked ahead and Singer followed. He had 
never noticed them much because they never came into the 
place. But why had he not remembered this? Of all times he 
had wondered about the mute to neglect such an angle. See 
everything in the landscape except the three waltzing 


elephants. But did it matter after all? 
Biff narrowed his eyes. How Singer had been before was not 
important. The thing that mattered was the way Blount and 
Mick made of him a sort of home-made God. Owing to the 
fact he was a mute they were able to give him all the qualities 
they wanted him to have. Yes. But how could such a strange 
thing come about? And why? 
A one-armed man came hi and Biff treated him to a whiskey 
on the house. But he did not feel like talking to anyone. 
Sunday dinner was a family meal. Men who drank beer by 
themselves on weeknights brought their wives and little kids 
with them on Sunday. The highchair they kept in the back was 
often needed. It was two-thirty and though many tables were 
occupied the meal was almost over. Biff had been on his feet 
for the past four hours and was tired. He used to stand for 
fourteen or sixteen hours and not notice any effects at all. But 
now he had aged. Considerably. There was no doubt about it. 
Or maybe matured was the word. Not aged—certainly not— 
yet. The waves of sound in the room swelled and subsided 
against his ears. Matured. His eyes smarted and it was as 
though some fever in him made everything too bright and 
sharp. 
He called to one of the waitresses: 'Take over for me will you, 
please? I'm going out.' 
The street was empty because of Sunday. The sun shone 
bright and clear, without warmth. Biff held the collar of his 
coat close to his neck. Alone in the street he felt out of pocket. 
The wind blew cold from the river. He should turn back and 
stay in the restaurant where he belonged. He had no business 
going to the place where he was headed. For the past four 
Sundays he had done this. He had walked in the neighborhood 
where he might see Mick. And there was something about it 
that was—not quite right. Yes. Wrong. He walked slowly 
down the sidewalk opposite the house 

where she lived. Last Sunday she had been reading the funny 
papers on the front steps. But this time as he glanced swiftly 
toward the house he saw she was not there. But tilted the brim 
of his felt hat down over his eyes. Perhaps she would come 


into the place later. Often on Sunday after supper she came for
a hot cocoa and stopped for a while at the table where Singer
was sitting. On Sunday she wore a different outfit from the
blue skirt and sweater she wore on other days. Her Sunday
dress was wine-colored silk with a dingy lace collar. Once she
had had on stockings—with runs in them. Always he wanted
to set her up to something, to give to her. And not only 
a
sundae or some sweet to eat—but something real. That was all
he wanted for himself—to give to her. Biff's mouth hardened.
He had done nothing wrong but in him he felt a strange guilt.
Why? The dark guilt in all men, unreck-oned and without 
a
name.
On the way home Biff found a penny lying half concealed by
rubbish in the gutter. Thriftily he picked it up, cleaned the
coin with his handkerchief, and dropped it into the black
pocket purse, he carried. It was four o'clock when he reached
the restaurant. Business was stagnant. There was not a single
customer in the place.
Business picked up around five. The boy he had recently hired
to work part time showed up early. The boy's name was Harry
Minowitz. He lived in the same neighborhood with Mick and
Baby. Eleven applicants had answered the ad in the paper, but
Harry seemed to be best bet. He was well developed for his
age, and neat. Biff had noticed the boy's teeth while talking to
him during the interview. Teeth were always a good
indication. His were large and very clean and white. Harry
wore glasses, but that would not matter in the work. His
mother made ten dollars a week sewing for a tailor down the
street, and Harry was an only child.
'Well,' Biff said. 'You've been with me a week, Harry. Think
you're going to like it?' 'Sure, sir. Sure I like it.
'
Biff turned the ring on his finger. 'Let's see. What time do you
get off from school?' "Three o'clock, sir.'200


'Well, that gives you a couple of hours for study and
recreation. Then here from six to ten. Does that leave you
enough time for plenty of sleep?
'
'Plenty. I don't need near that much.
'
'You need about nine and a half hours at your age, son. Pure,
wholesome sleep.
'



He felt suddenly embarrassed. Maybe Harry would think it 
was none of his business. Which it wasn't anyway. He started 
to turn aside and then thought of something. 

.You go to Vocational?' 
Harry nodded and rubbed his glasses on his shirtsleeve. 
'Let's see. I know a lot of girls and boys there. Alva Richards 
—I know his father. And Maggie Henry. And a 
kid named Mick Kelly------' He felt as though his ears 
had caught afire. He knew himself to be a fool. He wanted to 
turn and walk away and yet he only stood there, smiling and 
mashing his nose with his thumb. 'You know her?' he asked 
faintly. 
'Sure, I live right next door to her. But in school I'm a senior 
while she's a freshman.' 
Biff stored this meager information neatly in his mind to be 
thought over later when he was alone. 'Business will be quiet 
here for a while,' he said hurriedly. Til leave it with you. By 
now you know how to handle things. Just watch any 
customers drinking beer and remember how many they've 
drunk so you won't have to ask them and depend on what they 
say. Take your time making change and keep track of what 
goes on.' 
Biff shut himself in his room downstairs. This was the place 
where he kept his files. The room had only one small window 
and looked out on the side alley, and the air was musty and 
cold. Huge stacks of newspapers rose up to the ceiling. A 
home-made filing case covered one wall. Near the door there 
was an old-fashioned rocking-chair and a small table laid with 
a pair of shears, a dictionary, and a mandolin. Because of the 
piles of newspaper it was impossible to take more than two 
steps in any direction. Biff rocked himself in the chair and 
languidly plucked the strings of the mandolin. His eyes closed 
and he began to sing in a doleful voice: 
201


I went to the animal fair. 


The birds and the beasts were there, 
And the old baboon by the light of the moon 
Was combing his auburn hair. 
He finished with a chord from the strings and the last sounds 
shivered to silence in the cold air. 
To adopt a couple of little children. A boy and a girl. About 
three or four years old so they would always feel like he was 
their own father. Their Dad. Our Father. The little girl like 
Mick (or Baby?) at that age. Round cheeks and gray eyes and 
flaxen hair. And the clothes he would make for her—pink 
crgpe de Chine frocks with dainty smocking at the yoke and 
sleeves. Silk socks and white buckskin shoes. And a little red-
velvet coat and cap and muff for winter. The boy was dark and 
black-haired. The little boy walked behind him and copied the 
things he did. In the summer the three of them would go to a 
cottage on the Gulf and he would dress the children in their 
sun suits and guide them carefully into the green, shallow 
waves. And then they would bloom as he grew old. Our 
Father. And they would come to him with questions and he 
would answer them. 
Why not? 
Biff took up his mandolin again. 'Tum-ti-tim-ti-tee, ti-tee, the 
wedd-ing of the painted doll' The mandolin mocked the 
refrain. He sang through all the verses and wagged his foot to 
the time. Then he played 'K-K-K-Katie,' and 'Love's Old 
Sweet Song.' These pieces were like the Agua Florida in the 
way they made him remember. Everything. Through the first 
year when he was happy and when she seemed happy even 
too. And when the bed came down with them twice in three 
months. And he didn't know that all the time her brain was 
busy with how she could save a nickle or squeeze out an extra 
dime. And then him with Rio and the girls at her place. Gyp 
and Madeline and Lou. And then later when suddenly he lost 
it. When he could lie with a woman no longer. Mothero-eod! 
So that at first it seemed everything was gone. 
Lucile always understood the whole set-up. She knew the kind 
of woman Alice was. Maybe she knew about him,202 

too. Lucile would urge them to get a divorce. And she did all a 
person could to try to straighten out their messes. 


Biff winced suddenly. He jerked his hands from the strings of 
the mandolin so that a phrase of music was chopped off. He 
sat tense in his chair. Then suddenly he laughed quietly to 
himself. What had made him come across this? Ah, Lordy 
Lordy Lord! It was the day of his twenty-ninth birthday, and 
Lucile had asked him to drop by her apartment when he 
finished with an appointment at the dentist's. He expected 
from this some little remembrance—a plate of cherry tarts or a 
good shirt. She met him at the door and blindfolded his eyes 
before he entered. Then she said she would be back in a 
second. In the silent room he listened to her footsteps and 
when she had reached the kitchen he broke wind. He stood in 
the room with his eyes blindfolded and pooted. Then all at 
once he knew with horror he was not alone. There was a titter 
and soon great rolling whoops of laughter deafened him. At 
that minute Lucile came back and undid his eyes. She held a 
caramel cake on a platter. The room was full of people. Leroy 
and that bunch and Alice, of course. He wanted to crawl up 
the wall. He stood there with his bare face hanging out, 
burning hot all over. They kidded him and the next hour was 
almost as bad as the death of his mother— the way he took it. 
Later that night he drank a quart of 
whiskey. And for weeks after------Motherogod! 
Biff chuckled coldly. He plucked a few chords on his 
mandolin and started a rollicking cowboy song. His voice was 
a mellow tenor and he closed his eyes as he sang. The room 
was almost dark. The damp chill penetrated to his bones so 
that his legs ached with rheumatism. . 
At last he put away his mandolin and rocked slowly in . the 
darkness. Death. Sometimes he could almost feel it in the 
room with him. He rocked to and fro in the chair. What did he 
understand? Nothing. Where was he headed? Nowhere. What 
did he want? To know. What? A mean-ing. Why? A riddle. 
Broken pictures lay like a scattered jigsaw puzzle in his head. 
Alice soaping in the bathtub. Mussolini's mug. Mick pulling 
the baby in a wagon. A roast turkey on display. Blount's 
mouth. The face of Singer. He felt himself wait


f 

ing. The room was completely dark. From the kitchen he 
could hear Louis singing. 
Biff stood up and touched the arm of his chair to still its 
rocking. When he opened the door the hall outside was very 
warm and bright. He remembered that perhaps Mick would 
come. He straightened his clothes and smoothed back his hair. 
A warmth and liveliness returned to him. The restaurant was 
in a hubbub. Beer rounds and Sunday supper had begun. He 
smiled genially to young Harry and settled himself behind the 
cash register. He took in the room with a glance like a lasso. 
The place was crowded and humming with noise. The bowl of 
fruit in the window was a genteel, artistic display. He watched 
the door and continued to examine the room with a practiced 
eye. He was alert and intently waiting. Singer came finally 
and wrote with his silver pencil that he wanted only soup and 
whiskey as he had a cold. But Mick did not come. 
9 
i5 HE never even had a nickel to herself any more. They were 
that poor. Money was the main thing. All the time it was 
money, money, money. They had to pay through the nose for 
Baby Wilson's private room and private nurse. But even that 
was just one bill. By the time one thing was paid for 
something else always would crop up. They owed around two 
hundred dollars that had to be paid right away. They lost the 
house. Their Dad got a hundred dollars out of the deal and let 
the bank take over the mortgage. Then he borrowed another 
fifty dollars and Mister Singer went on the note with him. 
Afterward they had to worry about rent every month instead 
of taxes. They were mighty near as poor as factory folks. Only 
nobody could look down on them. 
Bill had a job in a bottling plant and made ten dollars a week. 
Hazel worked as a helper in a beauty parlor for eight dollars. 
Etta sold tickets at a movie for five dollars. Each of them paid 
half of what they earned for their keep. Then the house had six 
boarders at five dollars a head. And Mister Singer, who paid 


his rent very prompt. With what their Dad picked up it all 
came to about two hundred204 

dollars a month—and out of that they had to feed the six 
boarders pretty good and feed the family and pay rent for the 
whole house and keep up the payments on the furniture. 
George and her didn't get any lunch money now. She had to 
stop the music lessons. Portia saved the leftovers from the 
dinner for her and George to eat after school. All the time they 
had their meals in the kitchen. Whether Bill and Hazel and 
Etta sat with the boarders or ate in the kitchen depended on 
how much food there was. In the kitchen they had grits and 
grease and side meat and coffee for breakfast. For supper they 
had the same thing along with whatever could be spared from 
the dining-room. The big kids griped whenever they had to eat 
in the kitchen. And sometimes she and George were 
downright hungry for two or three days. 
But this was in the outside room. It had nothing to do with 
music and foreign countries and the plans she made. The 
winter was cold. Frost was on the windowpanes. At night the 
fire in the living-room crackled very warm. All the family sat 
by the fire with the boarders, so she had the middle bedroom 
to herself. She wore two sweaters and a pair of Bill's outgrown 
corduroy pants. Excitement kept her warm. She would bring 
out her private box from under the bed and sit on the floor to 
work. 
In the big box there were the pictures she had painted at the 
government free art class. She had taken them out of Bill's 
room. Also in the box she kept three mystery books her Dad 
had given her, a compact, a box of watch parts, a rhinestone 
necklace, a hammer, and some notebooks. One notebook was 
marked on the top with red crayon— PRIVATE. KEEP OUT. 
PRIVATE—and tied with a string. 
She had worked on music in this notebook all the winter. She 
quit studying school lessons at night so she could have more 
time to spend on music. Mostly she had written just little 
tunes—songs without any words and without even any bass 
notes to them. They were very short. But even if the tunes 
were only half a page long she gave them names and drew her 
initials underneath them. Nothing in this book was a real piece 


or a composition. They were just songs in her mind she 
wanted to remember. She named 

them how they reminded her—'Africa' and 'A Big Fighf and 
The Snowstorm.' 
She couldn't write the music just like it sounded in her mind. 
She had to thin it down to only a few notes; otherwise she got 
too mixed up to go further. There was so much she didn't 
know about how to write music. But maybe after she learned 
how to write these simple tunes fairly quick she could begin to 
put down the whole music in her mind. 
In January she began a certain very wonderful piece called 
'This Thing I Want, I Know Not What' It was a beautiful and 
marvelous song—very slow and soft. At first she had started 
to write a poem along with it, but she couldn't think of ideas to 
fit the music. Also it was hard to get a word for the third line 
to rhyme with what. This new song made her feel sad and 
excited and happy all at once. Music beautiful as this was hard 
to work on. Any song was hard to write. Something she could 
hum in two minutes meant a whole week's work before it was 
down in the notebook—after she had figured up the scale and 
the time and every note. 
She had to concentrate hard and sing it many times. Her voice 
was always hoarse. Her Dad said this was because she had 
bawled so much when she was a baby. Her Dad would have to 
get up and walk with her every night when she was Ralph's 
age. The only thing would hush her, he always said, was for 
him to beat the coal scuttle with a poker and sing 'Dixie.' 
She lay on her stomach on the cold floor and thought. Later on 
—when she was twenty—she would be a great world-famous 
composer. She would have a whole symphony orchestra and 
conduct all of her music herself. She would stand up on the 
platform in front of the big crowds of people. To conduct the 
orchestra she would wear either a real man's evening suit or 
else a red dress spangled with rhine-stones. The curtains of the 
stage would be red velvet and M.K. would be printed on them 
in gold. Mister Singer would be there, and afterward they 
would go out and eat fried chicken. He would admire her and 


count her as his very best friend. George would bring up big 
wreaths of flowers to the stage. It would be in New York City 
or else in a foreign country. Famous people would point at her 
—206 
CARSON McCULLBRS 
Carole Lombard and Arturo Toscanini and Admiral Byrd. 
And she could play the Beethoven symphony any time she 
wanted to. It was a queer thing about this music she had heard 
last autumn. The symphony stayed inside her always and grew 
little by little. The reason was this: the whole symphony was 
in her mind. It had to be. She had heard every note, and 
somewhere in the back of her mind the whole of the music 
was still there just as it had been played. But she could do 
nothing to bring it all out again. Except wait and be ready for 
the times when suddenly a new part came to her. Wait for it to 
grow like leaves grow slowly on the branches of a spring oak 
tree. 
In the inside room, along with music, there was Mister Singer. 
Every afternoon as soon as she finished playing on the piano 
in the gym she walked down the main street past the store 
where he worked. From the front window she couldn't see 
Mister Singer. He worked in the back, behind a curtain. But 
she looked at the store where he stayed every day and saw the 
people he knew. Then every night she waited on the front 
porch for him to come home. Sometimes she followed him 
upstairs. She sat on the bed and watched him put away his hat 
and undo the button on bis collar and brush his hair. For some 
reason it was like they had a secret together. Or like they 
waited to tell each other things that had never been said 
before. 
He was the only person in the inside room. A long time ago 
there had been others. She thought back and remembered how 
it was before he came. She remembered a girl way back in the 
sixth grade named Celeste. This girl had straight blonde hair 
and a turned-up nose and freckles. She wore a red-wool 
jumper with a white blouse. She walked pigeon-toed. Every 
day she brought an orange for little recess and a blue tin box 
of lunch for big recess. Other kids would gobble the food they 
had brought at little recess and then were hungry later—but 
not Celeste. She pulled off the crusts of her sandwiches and 


ate only the soft middle part. Always she had a stuffed hardboiled egg and she would hold it in her hand, mashing the 
yellow with her thumb so that the print of her finger was left 
there. 
Celeste never talked to her and she never talked to Celeste. 
Although that was what she wanted more than anything else. 
At night she would lie awake and think about

 207 Celeste. She would plan that they were best friends and 
think about the time when Celeste could come home with her 
to eat supper and spend the night. But that never happened. 
The way she felt about Celeste would never let her go up and 
make friends with her like she would any other person. After a 
year Celeste moved to another part of town and went to 
another school. 
Then there was a boy called Buck. He was big and had 
pimples on his face. When she stood by him in line to march 
in at eight-thirty he smelled bad—like bis britches needed 
airing. Buck did a nose dive at the principal once and was 
suspended. When he laughed he lifted his upper lip and shook 
all over. She thought about him like she had thought about 
Celeste. Then there was the lady who sold lottery tickets for a 
turkey raffle. And Miss Anglin, who taught the seventh grade. 
And Carole Lombard in the movies. All of them. 
But with Mister Singer there was a difference. The way she 
felt about him came on her slowly, and she could not think 
back and realize just how it happened. The other people had 
been ordinary, but Mister Singer was not The first day he rang 
the doorbell to ask about a room she had looked a long time 
into his face. She had opened the door and read over the card 
he handed her. Then she called her Mama and went back in 
the kitchen to tell Portia and Bubber about him. She followed 
him and her Mama up the stairs and watched him poke the 
mattress on the bed and roll up the shades to see if they 
worked. The day he moved she sat on the front porch banisters 
and watched him get out of the ten-cent taxi with his suitcase 
and his chessboard. Then later she listened to him thump 
around in his room and imagined about him. The rest came in 
a gradual way. So that now there was this secret feeling 
between them. She talked to him more than she had ever 
talked to a person before. And if he could have talked he 


would have told her many things. It was like he was some kind 
of a great teacher, only because he was a mute he did not 
teach. In the bed at night she planned about how she was an 
orphan and lived with Mister Singer—just the two of them in 
a foreign house where in the winter it would snow. Maybe in a 
little Switzerland town with the high glaciers and the 
mountains all around. Where rocks were208 

CARSON McCULLERS 

on top of all the houses and the roofs were steep and pointed. 
Or in France where the people carried home bread from the 
store without its being wrapped. Or in the foreign country of 
Norway by the gray winter ocean. 
In the morning the first thing she would think of him. Along 
with music. When she put on her dress she wondered where 
she would see him that day. She used some of Etta's perfume 
or a drop of vanilla so that if she met him in the hall she 
would smell good. She went to school late so she could see 
him come down the stairs on his way to work. And in the 
afternoon and night she never left the house if he was there. 
Each new thing she learned about him was important. He kept 
his toothbrush and toothpaste in a glass on his table. So 
instead of leaving her toothbrush on the bathroom shelf she 
kept it in a glass, also. He didn't like cabbage. Harry, who 
worked for Mister Brannon, mentioned that to her. Now she 
couldn't eat cabbage either. When she learned new facts about 
him, or when she said something to him and he wrote a few 
words with his silver pencil, she had to be off by herself for a 
long time to think it over. When she was with him the main 
thought in her mind was to store up everything so that later 
she could live it over and remember. 
But in the inside room with music and Mister Singer was not 
all. Many things happened in the outside room. She fell down 
the stairs and broke off one of her front teeth. Miss Minner 
gave her two bad cards in English. She lost a quarter in a 
vacant lot, and although she and George hunted for three days 
they never found it This happened: 
One afternoon she was studying for an English test out on the 
back steps. Harry began to chop wood over on his side of the 
fence and she hollered to him. He came and diagrammed a 
few sentences for her. His eyes were quick behind his horn


rimmed glasses. After he explained the English to her he stood
up and jerked his hands in and out the pockets of his
lumberjack. Harry was always full of energy, nervous, and he
had to be talking or doing something every minute.
'You see, there's just two things nowadays,' he said.


He liked to surprise people and sometimes she didn't know
how to answer him.
'It's the truth, there's just two things ahead nowadays.
'


.What?' 
'Militant Democracy or Fascism.' 
'Don't you like Republicans?' 
'Shucks,' Harry said. 'That's not what I mean.' 
He had explained all about the Fascists one afternoon. He told 
how the Nazis made little Jew children get down on their 
hands and knees and eat grass from the ground. He told about 
how he planned to assassinate Hitler. He had it all worked out 
thoroughly. He told about how there wasn't any justice or 
freedom hi Fascism. He said the newspapers wrote deliberate 
lies and people didn't know what was going on in the world. 
The Nazis were terrible—everybody knew that. She plotted 
with him to kill Hitler. It would be better to have four or five 
people in the conspiracy so that if one missed him the others 
could bump him off just the same. And even if they died they 
would all be heroes. To be a hero was almost like being a 
great musician. 
'Either one or the other. And although I don't believe in war 
I'm ready to fight for what I know is right' 
'Me too,' she said. 'I'd like to fight the Fascists. I could dress 
up like a boy and nobody could ever telL Cut my hair off and 
all.' 
It was a bright winter afternoon. The sky was blue-green and 
the branches of the oak trees in the back yard were black and 
bare against this color. The sun was warm. The day made her 
feel full of energy. Music was hi her mind. Just to be doing 
something she picked up a ten-penny nail and drove it into the 
steps with a few good wallops. Their Dad heard the sound of 
the hammer and came out in his bathrobe to stand around 
awhile. Under the tree there were two carpenter's horses, and 

little Ralph was busy putting a rock on top of one and then 
carrying it over to the other one. Back and forth. He walked 
with his hands out to balance himself. He was bowlegged and 
his diapers dragged down to his knees. George was shooting 
marbles. Because he needed a haircut his face looked thin. 
Some of his permanent teeth had already come—but they 
were210 
small and blue like he had been eating blackberries. He 
drew a line for taw and lay on his stomach to take aim for the 
first hole. When their Dad went back to his watch work he 
carried Ralph with him. And after a while George went off 
into the alley by himself. Since he shot Baby he wouldn't 
buddy with a single person. 
'I got to go,' Harry said. 'I got to be at work before six.' 'You 
like it at the cafe? Do you get good things to eat free?' 
'Sure. And all kinds of folks come in the place. I like it better 
than any job I ever had. It pays more.' 
'I hate Mister Brannon,' Mick said. It was true that even 
though he never said anything mean to her he always spoke in 
a rough, funny way. He must have known all along about the 
pack of chewing-gum she and George swiped that time. And 
then why would he ask her how her business was coming 
along—like he did up in Mister Singer's room? Maybe he 
thought they took things regular. And they didn't. They 
certainly did not. Only once a little water-color set from the 
ten-cent store. And a nickel pencil-sharpener. 
'I can't stand Mister Brarmon.' 
'He's all right,' Harry said. 'Sometimes he seems a right queer 
kind of person, but he's not crabby. When you get to know 
him.' 
'One thing I've thought about,' Mick said. 'A boy has a better 
advantage like that than a girl. I mean a boy can usually get 
some part-time job that don't take him out of school and leaves 
him time for other things. But there's not jobs like that for 
girls. When a girl wants a job she has to quit school and work 
full time. I'd sure like to earn a couple of bucks a week like 
you do, but there's just not any way.' 
Harry sat on the steps and untied his shoestrings. He pulled at 
them until one broke. 'A man comes to the caf6 named Mr. 
Blount. Mr. Jake Blount. I like to listen to him. I learn a lot 


from the things he says when he drinks beer. He's given me 
some new ideas.' 
'I know him good. He comes here every Sunday.' 
Harry unlaced his shoe and pulled the broken string to even 
lengths so he could tie it in a bow again. 'Listen'—he 

rubbed his glasses on his lumberjack in a nervous way— 'You 
needn't mention to him what I said. I mean I doubt if he would 
remember me. He don't talk to me. He just talks to Mr. Singer. 
He might think it was funny if you —you know what I mean.' 
'O.K.' She read between the words that he had a crush on 
Mister Blount and she knew how he felt. 'I wouldn't mention 
it.' 
Dark came on. The moon, white like milk, showed in the blue 
sky and the air was cold. She could hear Ralph and George 
and Portia in the kitchen. The fire in the stove made the 
kitchen window a warm orange. There was the smell of smoke 
and supper. 
'You know this is something I never have told anybody,' he 
said. 'I hate to realize about it myself.' 

.What?' 
'You remember when you first began to read the newspapers 
and think about the things you read?' 
'Sure.' 
'I used to be a Fascist. I used to think I was. It was this way. 
You know all the pictures of the people our age in Europe 
marching and singing songs and keeping step together. I used 
to think that was wonderful. All of them pledged to each other 
and with one leader. All of them with the same ideals and 
marching in step together. I didn't worry much about what was 
happening to the Jewish minorities because I didn't want to 
think about it. And because at the time I didn't want to think 
like I was Jewish. You see, I didn't know. I just looked at the 
pictures and read what it said underneath and didn't 
understand. I never knew what an awful thing it was. I thought 
I was a Fascist. Of course later on I found out different.' 
His voice was bitter against himself and kept changing from a 
man's voice to a young boy's. 
'Well, you didn't realize then------' she said. 

'It was a terrible transgression. A moral wrong.' 
That was the way he was. Everything was either very right or 
very wrong—with no middle way. It was wrong for anyone 
under twenty to touch beer or wine or smoke a cigarette. It 
was a terrible sin for a person to cheat on a test, but not a sin 
to copy homework. It was a moral wrong212 

for girls to wear lipstick or sun-backed dresses. It was a 
terrible sin to buy anything with a German or Japanese label, 
no matter if it cost only a nickel. 
She remembered Harry back to the time when they were kids. 
Once his eyes got crossed and stayed crossed for a year. He 
would sit out on his front steps with his hands between his 
knees and watch everything. Very quiet and cross-eyed. He 
skipped two grades in grammar school and when he was 
eleven he was ready for Vocational. But at Vocational when 
they read about the Jew in 'Ivanhoe' the other kids would look 
around at Harry and he would come home and cry. So his 
mother took him out of school. He stayed out for a whole year. 
He grew taller and very fat. Every time she climbed the fence 
she would see him making himself something to eat in his 
kitchen. They both played around on the block, and sometimes 
they would wrestle. When she was a kid she liked to fight with 
boys— not real fights but just in play. She used a combination 
jujitsu and boxing. Sometimes he got her down and sometimes 
she got him. Harry never was very rough with anybody. When 
little kids ever broke any toy they would come to him and he 
always took the time to fix it. He could fix anything. The 
ladies on the block got him to fix their electric lights or 
sewing-machines when something i went wrong. Then when 
he was thirteen he started back | at Vocational and began to 
study hard. He threw papers and worked on Saturdays and 
read. For a long time she didn't see much of him—until after 
that party she gave. He was very changed. 

'Like this,' Harry said. 'It used to be I had some big . ambition 
for myself all the time. A great engineer or a great doctor or 
lawyer. But now I don't have it that way. . All I can think 
about is what happens in the world now. i About Fascism and 
the terrible things in Europe—and on f the other hand 


Democracy. I mean I can't think and work on what I mean to 
be in life because I think too much about this other. I dream 
about killing Hitler every night And I wake up in the dark very 
thirsty and scared of some-■ thing—I don't know what' 
She looked at Harry's face and a deep, serious feeling made 
her sad. His hair hung over his forehead. His upper lip was 
thin and tight, but the lower one was thick and it

 213 
trembled. Harry didn't look old enough to be fifteen. With the 
darkness a cold wind came. The wind sang up in the oak trees 
on the block and banged the blinds against the side of the 
house. Down the street Mrs. Wells was calling Sucker home. 
The dark late afternoon made the sadness heavy inside her. I 
want a piano—I want to take music lessons, she said to 
herself. She looked at Harry and he was lacing his thin fingers 
together in different shapes. There was a warm boy smell 
about him. 
What was it made her act like she suddenly did? Maybe it was 
remembering the times when they were younger. Maybe it 
was because the sadness made her feel queer. But anyway all 
of a sudden she gave Harry a push that nearly knocked him off 
the steps. 'S.O.B. to your Grandmother,' she hollered to him. 
Then she ran. That was what kids used to say in the 
neighborhood when they picked a fight Harry stood up and 
looked surprised. He settled his glasses on his nose and 
watched her for a second. Then he ran back to the alley. 
The cold air made her strong as Samson. When she laughed 
there was a short, quick echo. She butted Harry with her 
shoulder and he got a holt on her. They wrestled hard and 
laughed. She was the tallest but his hands were strong. He 
didn't fight good enough and she got him on the ground. Then 
suddenly he stopped moving and she stopped too. His 
breathing was warm on her neck and he was very still. She felt 
his ribs against her knees and his hard breathing as she sat on 
him. They got up together. They did not laugh any more and 
the alley was very quiet. As they walked across the dark back 
yard for some reason she felt funny. There was nothing to feel 
queer about, but suddenly it had just happened. She gave him 
a little push and he pushed her back. Then she laughed again 
and felt all right. 


'So long,' Harry said. He was too old to climb the fence, so he 
ran through the side alley to the front of his house. 
'Gosh it's hot!' she said. 'I could smother in here.' 
Portia was warming her supper in the stove. Ralph 
banged his spoon on his high-chair tray. George's dirty 
little hand pushed up his grits with a piece of bread and 
his eyes were squinted in a faraway look. She helped her-214 

self to white meat and gravy and grits and a few raisins and 
mixed them up together on her plate. She ate three bites of 
them. She ate until all the grits were gone but still she wasn't 
full. 
She had thought about Mister Singer all the day, and as soon 
as supper was over she went upstairs. But when she reached 
the third floor she saw that his door was open and his room 
dark. This gave her an empty feeling. 
Downstairs she couldn't sit still and study for the English test. 
It was like she was so strong she couldn't sit on a chair in a 
room the same as other people. It was like she could knock 
down all the walls of the house and then march through the 
streets big as a giant. 
Finally she got out her private box from under the bed. She lay 
on her stomach and looked over the notebook. There were 
about twenty songs now, but she didn't feel satisfied with 
them. If she could write a symphony! For a whole orchestra— 
how did you write that? Sometimes several instruments played 
one note, so the staff would have to be very large. She drew 
five lines across a big sheet of test paper—the lines about an 
inch apart. When a note was for violin or 'cello or flute she 
would write the name of the instrument to show. And when 
they all played the same note together she would draw a circle 
around them. At the top of the page she wrote SYMPHONY in 
large letters. And under that MICK KELLY. Then she couldn't go 
any further. 
If she could only have music lessons! 
If only she could have a real piano! 
A long time passed before she could get started. The tunes 
were in her mind but she couldn't figure how to write them. It 
looked like this was the hardest play in the world. But she 
kept on figuring until Etta and Hazel came into the room and 


got into bed and said she had to turn the light off because it 
was eleven o'clock. 
10 
-T OR six weeks Portia had waited to hear from William. Every 
evening she would come to the house and ask Doctor 
Copeland the same question: 'You seen anybody who 

215 

gotten a letter from Willie yet?' And every night he was 
obliged to tell her that he had heard nothing. 
At last she asked the question no more. She would come into 
the hall and look at him without a word. She drank. Her 
blouse was often half unbuttoned and her shoestrings loose. 
February came. The weather turned milder, then hot. The sun 
glared down with hard brilliance. Birds sang in the bare trees 
and children played out of doors barefoot and naked to the 
waist. The nights were torrid as in midsummer. Then after a 
few days winter was upon the town again. The mild skies 
darkened. A chill rain fell and the air turned dank and bitterly 
cold. In the town the Negroes suffered badly. Supplies of fuel 
had been exhausted and there was a struggle everywhere for 
warmth. An epidemic of pneumonia raged through the wet, 
narrow streets, and for a week Doctor Copeland slept at odd 
hours, fully clothed. Still no word came from William. Portia 
had written four times and Doctor Copeland twice. 
During most of the day and night he had no time to think. But 
occasionally he found a chance to rest for a moment at home. 
He would drink a pot of coffee by the kitchen stove and a deep 
uneasiness would come in him. Five of his patients had died. 
And one of these was Augustus Benedict Mady Lewis, the 
little deaf-mute. He had been asked to speak at the burial 
service, but as it was his rule not to attend funerals he was 
unable to accept this invitation. The five patients had not been 
lost because of any negligence on his part. The blame was in 
the long years of want which lay behind. The diets of 
cornbread and sowbelly and syrup, the crowding of four and 
five persons to a single room. The death of poverty. He 
brooded on this and drank coffee to stay awake. Often he held 
his hand to his chin, for recently a slight tremor in the nerves 
of his neck made his head nod unsteadily when he was tired. 


Then during the fourth week of February Portia came to the 
house. It was only six o'clock in the morning and he was 
sitting by the fire in the kitchen, warming a pan of milk for 
breakfast. She was badly intoxicated. He smelled the keen, 
sweetish odor of gin and his nostrils widened with disgust. He 
did not look at her but busied him-216 

self with his breakfast. He crumpled some bread in a bowl and 
poured over it hot milk. He prepared coffee and laid the table. 
Then when he was seated before his breakfast he looked at 
Portia sternly. 'Have you had your morning meal?' 
'I not going to eat breakfast,' she said. 
'You will need it. If you intend to get to work today;' 
'I not going to work.' 
A dread came in him. He did not wish to question her further. 
He kept his eyes on his bowl of milk and drank from a spoon 
that was unsteady in his hand. When he had finished he 
looked up at the wall above her head. 'Are you tongue-tied?' 
'I going to tell you. You going to hear about it. Just as soon as 
I able to say it I going to tell you.' 
Portia sat motionless in the chair, her eyes moving slowly 
from one corner of the wall to the other. Her arms hung down 
limp and her legs were twisted loosely about each other. 
When he turned from her he had for a moment a perilous 
sense of ease and freedom, which was more acute because he 
knew that soon it was to be shattered. He mended the fire and 
warmed his hands. Then he rolled a cigarette. The kitchen was 
in a state of spotless order and cleanliness. The saucepans on 
the wall glowed with the light of the stove and behind each 
one there was a round, black shadow. 
'It about Willie.' 
'I know.' He rolled the cigarette gingerly between his palms. 
His eyes glanced recklessly about him, greedy for the last 
sweet pleasures. 
'Once I mentioned to you this here Buster Johnson were at the 
prison with Willie. Us knowed him before. He were sent home 
yestiddy.' 'So?' 
'Buster been crippled for life.' 
His head quavered. He pressed his hand to his chin to steady 
himself, but the obstinate trembling was difficult to control. 


'Last night these here friends come round to my house and say 
that Buster were home and had something to tell 

me about Willie. I run all the way and this here is what he 
said.' 
'Yes.' 
'There were three of them. Willie and Buster and this other 
boy. They were friends. Then this here trouble come up.' 
Portia halted. She wet her finger with her tongue and then 
moistened her dry lips with her finger. 'It were something to 
do with the way this here white guard picked on them all the 
time. They were out on roadwork one day and Buster he 
sassed back and then the other boy he try to run off in the 
woods. They taken all three of them. They taken all three of 
them to the camp and put them in this here ice-cold room.' 
He said yes again. But his head quavered and the word 
sounded like a rattle in his throat. 
'It were about six weeks ago,' Portia said. 'You remember that 
cold spell then. They put Willie and them boys in this room 
like ice.' 
Portia spoke in a low voice, and she neither paused between 
words nor did the grief in her face soften. It was like a low 
song. She spoke and he could not understand. The sounds 
were distinct in his ear but they had no shape or meaning. It 
was as though his head were the prow of a boat and the 
sounds were water that broke on him and then flowed past. He 
felt he had to look behind to find the words already said. 
'. . . and their feets swolled up and they lay there and struggle 
on the floor and holler out. And nobody come. They hollered 
there for three days and three nights and nobody come.' 
'I am deaf,' said Doctor Copeland. 'I cannot understand.' 
'They put our Willie and them boys in this here ice-cold room. 
There were a rope hanging down from the ceiling. They taken 
their shoes off and tied their bare feets to this rope. Willie and 
them boys lay there with their backs on the floor and their 
feets in the air. And their, feets swolled up and they struggle 
on the floor and holler out. It were ice-cold in the room and 
their feets froze. Their feets swolled up and they hollered for 
three nights and three days. And nobody come.'218 


Doctor Copeland pressed his head with his hands, but still the 
steady trembling would not stop. 'I cannot hear what you say.' 
'Then at last they come to get them. They quickly taken Willie 
and them boys to the sick ward and their legs were all swolled 
and froze. Gangrene. They sawed off both our Willie's feet. 
Buster Johnson lost one foot and the other boy got well. But 
our Willie—he crippled for life now. Both his feet sawed off.' 
The words were finished and Portia leaned over and struck her 
head upon the table. She did not cry or moan, but she struck 
her head again and again on the hard-scrubbed top of the 
table. The bowl and spoon rattled and he removed them to the 
sink. The words were scattered in his mind, but he did not try 
to assemble them. He scalded the bowl and spoon and washed 
out the dish-towel. He picked up something from the floor and 
put it somewhere. 
'Crippled?' he asked. 'William?' 
Portia knocked her head on the table and the blows had a 
rhythm like the slow beat of a drum and his heart took up this 
rhythm also. Quietly the words came alive and fitted to the 
meaning and he understood. 
'When will they send him home?' 
Portia leaned her drooping head on her arm. 'Buster don't 
know that. Soon afterward they separate all three of them in 
different places. They sent Buster to another camp. Since 
Willie only haves a few more months he think he liable to be 
home soon now.' 
They drank coffee and sat for a long time, looking into each 
other's eyes. His cup rattled against his teeth. She poured her 
coffee into a saucer and some of it dripped down on her lap. 
'William------' Doctor Copeland said. As he pronounced 
the name his teeth bit deeply into his tongue and he moved his 
jaw with pain. They sat for a long while. Portia held his hand. 
The bleak morning light made the windows gray. Outside it 
was still raining. 
'If I means to get to work I better go on now,' Portia said. 
He followed her through the hall and stopped at the hat-rack 
to put on his coat and shawl. The open door let in a 

219 

gust of wet, cold air. Highboy sat out on the street curb with a 
wet newspaper over his head for protection. Along the 


sidewalk there was a fence. Portia leaned against this as she 
walked. Doctor Copeland followed a few paces after her and 
his hands, also, touched the boards of the fence to steady 
himself. Highboy trailed behind them. 
He waited for the black, terrible anger as though for some 
beast out of the night. But it did not come to him. His bowels 
seemed weighted with lead, and he walked slowly and 
lingered against fences and the cold, wet walls of buildings by 
the way. Descent into the depths until at last there was no 
further chasm below. He touched the solid bottom of despair 
and there took ease. 
In this he knew a certain strong and holy gladness. The 
persecuted laugh, and the black slave sings to his outraged 
soul beneath the whip. A song was in him now—although it 
was not music but only the feeling of a song. And the sodden 
heaviness of peace weighted down his limbs so that it was 
only with the strong, true purpose that he moved. Why did he 
go onward? Why did he not rest here upon the bottom of 
utmost humiliation and for a while take his content? 
But he went onward. 

.Uncle,' said Mick. 'You think some hot coffee would make 
you feel better?' 
Doctor Copeland looked into her face but gave no sign that he 
heard. They had crossed the town and come at last to the alley 
behind the Kellys' house. Portia had entered first and then he 
followed. Highboy remained on the steps outside. Mick and 
her two little brothers were already in the kitchen. Portia told 
of William. Doctor Copeland did not listen to the words but 
her voice had a rhythm—a start, a middle, and an end. Then 
when she was finished she began all over. Others came into 
the room to hear. 
Doctor Copeland sat on a stool in the corner. His coat and 
shawl steamed over the back of a chair by the stove. He held 
his hat on his knees and his long, dark hands moved nervously 
around the worn brim. The yellow insides of his hands were 
so moist that occesionally he wiped them with a handkerchief. 
His head trembled, and all of his muscles were stiff with the 
effort to make it be still.220 
Mr. Singer came into the room. Doctor Copeland raised up his 


face to him. 'Have you heard of this?' he asked. Mr. Singer
nodded. In his eyes there was no horror or pity or hate. Of all
those who knew, his eyes alone did not express these
reactions. For he alone understood this thing.
Mick whispered to Portia, "What's your father's name?
'
'He named Benedict Mady Copeland.
'
Mick leaned over close to Doctor Copeland and shouted in his
face as though he were deaf. 'Benedict, don't you think some
hot coffee would make you feel a little better?
'
Doctor Copeland started.
'Quit that hollering,' Portia said. 'He can hear well as you can.
'
'Oh,' said Mick. She emptied the grounds from the pot and put
the coffee on the stove to boil again.
The mute still lingered in the doorway. Doctor Copeland still
looked into his face. 'You heard?
'
'What'll they do to those prison guards?' Mick asked.
'Honey, I just don't know,' Portia said. 'I just don't know.
'
'I'd do something. Fd sure do something about it.
'
'Nothing us could do would make no difference. Best thing us
can do is keep our mouth shut'
"They ought to be treated just like they did Willie and them.
Worse. I wish I could round up some people and kill those
men myself.
'
"That ain't no Christian way to talk,' Portia said. 1Js can just
rest back and know they going to be chopped up with
pitchforks and fried everlasting by Satan.
'
'Anyway Willie can still play his harp.
'
'With both feets sawed off that about all he can do.
'
The house was full of noise and unrest. In the room above the
kitchen someone was moving furniture about. The dining-
room was crowded with boarders. Mrs. Kelly hurried back and
forth from the breakfast table to the kitchen. Mr. Kelly
wandered about in a baggy pair of trousers and a bathrobe.
The young Kelly children ate greedily in the kitchen. Doors
banged and voices could be heard in all parts of the house.
Mick handed Doctor Copeland a cup of coffee mixed with
watery milk. The milk gave the drink a gray-blue sheen. Some
of the coffee had sloshed over into the saucer,



so first he dried the saucer and the rim of the cup with his 
handkerchief. He had not wanted coffee at all. 
'I wish I could kill them,' Mick said. 
The house quieted. The people in the dining-room went out to 
work. Mick and George left for school and the baby was shut 
into one of the front rooms. Mrs. Kelly wrapped a towel 
around her head and took a broom with her upstairs. 
The mute still stood in the doorway. Doctor Copeland gazed 
up into his face. 'You know of this?' he asked again. The 
words did not sound—they choked in his throat—but his eyes 
asked the question all the same. Then the mute was gone. 
Doctor Copeland and Portia were alone. He sat for some time 
on the stool in the corner. At last he rose to go. 
*You sit back down, Father. Us going to stay together this 
morning. I going to fry some fish and have egg-bread and 
potatoes for the dinner. You stay on here, and then I means to 
serve you a good hot meal.' 
'You know I have calls.' 
'Less us just this one day. Please, Father. I feels like I going to 
really bust loose. Besides, I don't want you messing around in 
the streets by yourself.' 
He hesitated and felt the collar of his overcoat. It was very 
damp. 'Daughter, I am sorry. You know I have visits.' 
Portia held his shawl over the stove until the wool was hot. 
She buttoned his coat and turned up the collar about his neck. 
He cleared his throat and spat into one of the squares of paper 
that he carried with him in his pocket Then he burned the 
paper in the stove. On the way out he stopped and spoke to 
Highboy on the steps. He suggested that Highboy stay with 
Portia if he could arrange to get leave from work. 
The air was piercing and cold. From the low, dark skies the 
drizzling rain fell steadily. The rain had seeped into the 
garbage cans and in the alley there was the rank odor of wet 
refuse. As he walked he balanced himself with the help of a 
fence and kept his dark eyes on the ground. 
He made all the strictly necessary visits. Then he attended to 
office patients from noon until two o'clock. Afterward he sat 
at his desk with his fists clenched tight. But it was useless to 
try to cogitate on this thing.222 


He wished never again to see a human face. Yet at the same 
time he could not sit alone in the empty room. He put on his 
overcoat and went out again into the wet, cold street. In his 
pocket were several prescriptions to be left at the pharmacy. 
But he did not wish to speak with Marshall Nicolls. He went 
into the store and laid the prescriptions upon the counter. The 
pharmacist turned from the powders he was measuring and 
held out both his hands. His thick lips worked soundlessly for 
a moment before he gained his poise. 
'Doctor,' he said formally. "You must be aware that I and all 
our colleagues and the members of my lodge and church—we 
have your sorrow uppermost in our minds and wish to extend 
to you our deepest sympathy.' 
Doctor Copeland turned shortly and left without a word. That 
was too little. Something more was needed. The strong, true 
purpose, the will to justice. He walked stiffly, his arms held 
close to his sides, toward the main street. He cogitated without 
success. He could think of no white person of power in all the 
town who was both brave and just. He thought of every 
lawyer, every judge, every public official with whose name he 
was familiar—but the thought of each one of these white men 
was bitter in his heart. At last he decided on the judge of the 
Superior Court. When he reached the courthouse he did not 
hesitate but entered quickly, determined to see the judge that 
afternoon. 
The wide front hall was empty except for a few idlers who 
lounged in the doorways leading to the offices on either side. 
He did not know where he could find the judge's office, so he 
wandered uncertainly through the building, looking at the 
placards on the doors. At last he came to a narrow passage. 
Halfway through this corridor three white men stood talking 
together and blocked the way. He drew close to the wall to 
pass, but one of them turned to stop him. 
What you want?' 
"Will you please tell me where the judge's office is located?' 
The white man jerked his thumb toward the end of the 
passage. Doctor Copeland recognized him as a deputy sheriff. 
They had seen each other dozens of times but the deputy did 
not remember him. All white people looked 


similar to Negroes but Negroes took care to differentiate 
between them. On the other hand, all Negroes looked similar 
to white men but white men did not usually bother to fix the 
face of a Negro in their minds. So the white man said, What 
you want, Reverend?' 
The familiar joking title nettled him. 1 am not a minister,' he 
said, 'I am a physician, a medical doctor. My name is Benedict 
Mady Copeland and I wish to see the judge immediately on 
urgent business.' 
The deputy was like other white men in that a clearly 
enunciated speech maddened him. 'Is that so?' he mocked. He 
winked at his friends. Then I am the deputy sheriff and my 
name is Mister Wilson and I tell you the judge is busy. Come 
back some other day.' 
'It is imperative that I see the judge,' Doctor Copeland said. 'I 
will wait.' 
There was a bench at the entrance of the passage and he sat 
down. The three white men continued to talk, but he knew that 
the sheriff watched him. He was determined not to leave. 
More than half an hour passed. Several white men went freely 
back and forth through the corridor. He knew that the deputy 
was watching him and he sat rigid, his hands pressed between 
his knees. His sense of prudence told him to go away and 
return later in the afternoon when the sheriff was not there. 
All of his life he had been circumspect in his dealings with 
such people. But now something in him would not let him 
withdraw. 
'Come here, you!' the deputy said finally. 
His head trembled, and when he arose he was not steady on 
his feet. 'Yes?' 
What you say you wanted to see the judge about?' 
'I did not say,' said Doctor Copeland. 'I merely said that my 
business with him was urgent.' 

.You can't stand up straight. You been drinking liquor, haven't
you? I smell it on your breath.
'
"That is a lie,' said Doctor Copeland slowly. 1 have not——
'
The sheriff struck him on the face. He fell against the wall.
Two white men grasped him by the arm and dragged him
down the steps to the main floor. He did not resist.
'That's the trouble with this country,' the sheriff said. These

damn biggity niggers like him.'224 

He spoke no word and let them do with him as they would. He 
waited for the terrible anger and felt it arise in him. Rage 
made him weak, so that he stumbled. They put him into the 
wagon with two men as guards. They took him to the station 
and then to the jail. It was only when they entered the jail that 
the strength of his rage came to him. He broke loose suddenly 
from their grasp. In a corner he was surrounded. They struck 
him on the head and shoulders with their clubs. A glorious 
strength was in him and he heard himself laughing aloud as he 
fought He sobbed and laughed at the same time. He kicked 
wildly with his feet. He fought with his fists and even struck 
at them with his head. Then he was clutched fast so that he 
could not move. They dragged him foot by foot through the 
hall of the jail. The door to a cell was opened. Someone 
behind kicked him in the groin and he fell to his knees on the 
floor. 
In the cramped cubicle there were five other prisoners— three 
Negroes and two white men. One of the white men was very 
old and drunk. He sat on the floor and scratched himself. The 
other white prisoner was a boy not more than fifteen years of 
age. The three Negroes were young. As Doctor Copeland lay 
on the bunk looking up into their faces he recognized one of 
them. 
'How come you here?' the young man asked. 'Ain't you Doctor 
Copeland?' 
He said yes. 
*My name Dary White. You taken out my sister's tonsils last 
year.' 
The icy cell was permeated with a rotten odor. A pail 
brimming with urine was in a corner. Cockroaches crawled 
upon the walls. He closed his eyes and immediately he must 
have slept, for when he looked up again the small barred 
window was black and a bright light burned in the hall. Four 
empty tin plates were on the floor. His dinner of cabbage and 
cornbread was beside him. 
He sat on the bunk and sneezed violently several times. When 


he breathed the phlegm rattled in his chest. After a while the 
young white boy began to sneeze also. Doctor Copeland ran 
out of squares of paper and had to use sheets from a notebook 
in his pocket. The white boy 
leaned over the pail in the corner or simply let the water run 
from his nose onto the front of his shirt. His eyes were dilated, 
his clear cheeks flushed. He huddled on the edge of a bunk 
and groaned. 
Soon they were led out to the lavatory, and on their return 
they prepared for sleep. There were six men to occupy four 
bunks. The old man lay snoring on the floor. Dary and another 
boy squeezed into a bunk together. 
The hours were long. The light in the hall burned his eyes and 
the odor in the cell made every breath a discomfort. He could 
not keep warm. His teeth chattered and he shook with a hard 
chill. He sat up with the dirty blanket wrapped around him and 
swayed to and fro. Twice he reached over to cover the white 
boy, who muttered and threw out his arms in sleep. He 
swayed, his head in his hands, and from his throat there came 
a singing moan. He could not think of William. Nor could he 
even cogitate upon the strong, true purpose and draw strength 
from that. He could only feel the misery in him. 
Then the tide of his fever turned. A warmth spread through 
him. He lay back, and it seemed he sank down into a place 
warm and red and full of comfort. 
The next morning the sun came out. The strange Southern 
winter was at its end. Doctor Copeland was released. A little 
group waited outside the jail for him. Mr. Singer was there. 
Portia and Highboy and Marshall Nicolls were present also. 
Their faces were confused and he could not see them clearly. 
The sun was very bright. 
'Father, don't you know that ain't no way to help our Willie? 
Messing around at a white folks' courthouse? Best thing us 
can do is keep our mouth shut and wait.' 
Her loud voice echoed wearily in his ears. Thev climbed into a 
ten-cent taxicab, and then he was home and his face pressed 
into the fresh white pillow. 

M 


ICK could not sleep all night. Etta was sick, so she had to sleep 
in the living-room. The sofa was too narrow and short. She 
had nightmares about Willie. Nearly a month had gone by 
since Portia had told about what they226 

had done to him—but still she couldn't forget it. Twice in the 
night she had these bad dreams and woke up on the floor. A 
bump came out on her forehead. Then at six o'clock she heard 
Bill go to the kitchen and fix his breakfast. It was daylight, but 
the shades were down so that the room was half-dark. She felt 
queer waking up in the living-room. She didn't like it. The 
sheet was twisted around her, half on the sofa and hah* on the 
floor. The pillow was in the middle of the room. She got up 
and opened the door to the hall. Nobody was on the stairs. She 
ran in her nightgown to the back room. 
'Move over, George.' K 
The kid lay in the very center of the bed. The night had been 
warm and he was naked as a jay bird. His fists were shut tight, 
and even in sleep his eyes were squinted like he was thinking 
about something very hard to figure out. His mouth was open 
and there was a little wet spot on the pillow. She pushed him. 
'Wait------' he said in his sleep. 
'Move over on your side.' .Wait------Lemme just finish 
this here dream—this 
here------' 
She hauled him over where he belonged and lay down close to 
him. When she opened her eyes again it was late, because the 
sun shone in through the back window. George was gone. 
From the yard she heard kids' voices and the sound of water 
running. Etta and Hazel were talking in the middle room. As 
she dressed a sudden notion came to her. She listened at the 
door but it was hard to hear what they said. She jerked the 
door open quick to surprise them. 
They were reading a movie magazine. Etta was still in bed. 
She had her hand halfway over the picture of an actor. 'From 
here up don't you think he favors that boy who used to date 
with------' 
'How you feel this morning, Etta?' Mick asked. She looked 
down under the bed and her private box was still in the exact 
place where she had left it 


'A lot you care,' Etta said.
'You needn't try to pick a fight'
Etta's face was peaked. There was a terrible pain in her
stomach and her ovary was diseased. It had something


 227 
to do with being unwell. The doctor said they would have to 
cut out her ovary right away. But their Dad said they would 
have to wait. There wasn't any money. 

.How do you expect me to act, anyway?' Mick said. *I ask you 
a polite question and then you start to nag at me. I feel like I 
ought to be sorry for you because you're sick, but you won't let 
me be decent. Therefore I naturally get mad.' She pushed back 
the bangs of her hair and looked close into the mirror. 'Boy! 
See this bump I got! I bet my head's broke. Twice I fell out 
last night and it seemed to me like I hit that table by the sofa. I 
can't sleep in the living-room. That sofa cramps me so much I 
can't stay in it' 
'Hush that talking so loud,'Hazel said. 
Mick knelt down on the floor and pulled out the big box. She 
looked carefully at the string that was tied around it. 'Say, 
have either of you fooled with this?' 
'Shoot!' Etta said. 'What would we want to mess with your 
junk for?' 
'You just better not. I'd kill anybody that tried to mess with my 
private things.' 
'Listen to that,' Hazel said. "Mick Kelly, I think you're the 
most selfish person I've ever known. You don't care a thing in 
the world about anybody but------' 
'Aw, poot!' She slammed the door. She hated both of them. 
That was a terrible thing to think, but it was true. 
Her Dad was in the kitchen with Portia. He had on bis 
bathrobe and was drinking a cup of coffee. The whites of his 
eyes were red and his cup rattled against his saucer. He 
walked round and round the kitchen table. 
'What time is it? Has Mister Singer gone yet?' 
.He been gone, Hon,' Portia said. 'It near about ten o'clock.' 
Ten o'clock! Golly! I never have slept that late before.* 
*What you keep in that big hatbox you tote around with you?' 
Mick reached into the stove and brought out half a dozen 
biscuits. 'Ask me no questions and Til tell you no lies. A bad 

end comes to a person who pries.* 
If there's a little extra milk I think Til just have it poured over 
some crumbled bread,' her Dad said. 'Grave yard soup. Maybe 
that will help settle my stomach.'228 

Mick split open the biscuits and put slices of fried white meat 
inside them. She sat down on the back steps to eat her 
breakfast. The morning was warm and bright. Spare-ribs and 
Sucker were playing with George in the back yard. Sucker 
wore his sun suit and the other two kids had taken off all their 
clothes except their shorts. They were scooting each other 
with the hose. The stream of water sparkled bright in the sun. 
The wind blew out sprays of it like mist and in this mist there 
were the colors of the rainbow. A line of clothes flapped in the 
wind—white sheets, Ralph's blue dress, a red blouse and 
nightgowns—wet and fresh and blowing out in different 
shapes. The day was almost like summer-time. Fuz2y little 
yellowjackets buzzed around the honeysuckle on the alley 
fence. 
"Watch me hold it up over my head!' George hollered. 'Watch 
how the water runs down.' 
She was too full of energy to sit still. George had filled a meal 
sack with dirt and hung it to a limb of the tree for a punching 
bag. She began to hit this. Puck! Pock! She hit it in time to the 
song that had been in her mind when she woke up. George had 
mixed a sharp rock in the dirt and it bruised her knuckles. 
'Aoow! You skeeted the water right in my ear. It's busted my 
eardrum. I can't even hear.' 'Gimme here. Let me skeet some.' 
Sprays of the water blew into her face, and once the kids 
turned the hose on her legs. She was afraid her box would get 
wet, so she carried it with her through the alley to the front 
porch. Harry was sitting on his steps reading the newspaper. 
She opened her box and got out the notebook. But it was hard 
to settle her mind on the song she wanted to write down. 
Harry was looking over in her direction and she could not 
think. 
She and Harry had talked about so many things lately. Nearly 
every day they walked home from school together. They 
talked about God. Sometimes she would wake up in the night 
and shiver over what they had said. Harry was a Pantheist. 


That was a religion, the same as Baptist or Catholic or Jew. 
Harry believed that after you were dead and buried you 
changed to plants and fire and dirt and clouds and water. It 
took thousands of years and then finally you were a part of all 
the world. He said he thought 

229 
that was better than being one single angel. Anyhow it was 
better than nothing. 
Harry threw the newspaper into his hall and then came over. 
'It's hot like summer,' he said. 'And only March.' 
'Yeah. I wish we could go swimming.' 
'We would if there was any place.' 
There's not any place. Except that country club pool.' 
'I sure would like to do something—to get out and go 
somewhere.' 
"Me too,' she said, 'Wait! I know one place. It's out in the 
country about fifteen miles. It's a deep, wide creek in the 
woods. The Girl Scouts have a camp there in the summertime. Mrs. Wells took me and George and Pete and Sucker 
swimming there one time last year.' 
If you want to I can get bicycles and we can go tomorrow. I 
have a holiday one Sunday a month.' 
'Well ride out and take a picnic dinner,' Mick said. 
'O.K. ITl borrow the bikes.' 
It was time for him to go to work. She watched him walk 
down the street. He swung his arms. Halfway down the block 
there was a bay tree with low branches. Harry took a running 
jump, caught a limb, and chinned himself. A happy feeling 
came in her because it was true they were real good friends. 
Also he was handsome. Tomorrow she would borrow Hazel's 
blue necklace and wear the sfflc dress. And for dinner they 
would take jelly sandwiches and Nehi. Maybe Harry would 
bring something queer, because they ate orthodox Jew. She 
watched him until he turned the corner. It was true that he had 
grown to be a very good-looking fellow. 
Harry in the country was different from Harry sitting on the 


back steps reading the newspapers and thinking about Hitler. 
They left early in the morning. The wheels he borrowed were 
the kind for boys—with a bar between the legs. They strapped 
the lunches and bathing-suits to the fenders and were gone 
before nine o'clock. The morning was hot and sunny. Within 
an hour they were far out of town on a red clay road. The 
fields were bright and ereen and the sharp smell of pine trees 
was in the air. Harry talked in a very excited way. The warm 
wind blew into their faces. Her mouth was very dry and she 
was hungry.230 

'See that house up on the hill there? Less us stop and get some 
water.' 
'No, we better wait. Well water gives you typhoid.' 
'I already had typhoid. I had pneumonia and a broken leg and a 
infected foot.' 
'I remember.' 
'Yeah,' Mick said. 'Me and Bill stayed in the front room when 
we had typhoid fever and Pete Wells would run past on the 
sidewalk holding his nose and looking up at the window. Bill 
was very embarrassed. All my hair came out so I was bald-
headed.' 
'I bet we're at least ten miles from town. We've been riding an 
hour and a half—fast riding, too.' 
'I sure am thirsty,' Mick said. 'And hungry. What you got in 
that sack for lunch?' 
'Cold liver pudding and chicken salad sandwiches and pie.' 
That's a good picnic dinner.' She was ashamed of what she had 
brought. 'I got two hard-boiled eggs—already stuffed—with 
separate little packages of salt and pepper. And sandwiches— 
blackberry jelly with butter. Everything wrapped in oil paper. 
And paper napkins.' 
'I didn't intend for you to bring anything,' Harry said. *My 
Mother fixed lunch for both of us. I asked you out here and 
all. We'll come to a store soon and get cold drinks.' 
They rode half an hour longer before they finally came to the 
filling-station store. Harry propped up the bicycles and she 
went in ahead of him. After the bright glare the store seemed 
dark. The shelves were stacked with slabs of white meat, cans 
of oil, and sacks of meal. Flies buzzed over a big, sticky jar of 


loose candy on the counter. 

.What kind of drinks you got?' Harry asked.
The storeman started to name them over. Mick opened the ice
box and looked inside. Her hands felt good in the cold water.
'I want a chocolate Nehi. You got any of them?
'
'Ditto,' Harry said. 'Make it two.
'
'No, wait a minute. Here's some ice-cold beer. I want a bottle
of beer if you can treat as high as that' Harry ordered one for
himself, also. He thought it was
231 

a sin for anybody under twenty to drink beer—but maybe he 
just suddenly wanted to be a sport. After the first swallow he 
made a bitter face. They sat on the steps in front of the store. 
Mick's legs were so tired that the muscles in them jumped. 
She wiped the neck of the bottle with her hand and took a 
long, cold pull. Across the road there was a big empty field of 
grass, and beyond that a fringe of pine woods. The trees were 
every color of green—from a bright yellow-green to a dark 
color that was almost black. The sky was hot blue. 
'I like beer,' she said. 'I used to sop bread down in the drops 
our Dad left. I like to lick salt out my hand while I drink. This 
is the second bottle to myself I've ever had.' 
The first swallow was sour. But the rest tastes good.' 
The storeman said it was twelve miles from town. They had 
four more miles to go. Harry paid him and they were out in the 
hot sun again. Harry was talking loud and he kept laughing 
without any reason. 
'Gosh, the beer along with this hot sun makes me dizzy. But I 
sure do feel good,' he said. 
'I can't wait to get in swimming.' 
There was sand in the road and they had to throw all their 
weight on the pedals to keep from bogging. Harry's shirt was 
stuck to his back with sweat. He still kept talking. The road 
changed to red clay and the sand was behind them. There was 
a slow colored song in her mind—one Portia's brother used to 
play on his harp. She pedaled in time to it. 
Then finally they reached the place she had been looking for. 
"This is it! See that sign that says PRIVATE? We got to climb 
the bob-wire fence and then take that path there—see!' 


The woods were very quiet. Slick pine needles covered the 
ground. Within a few minutes they had reached the creek. The 
water was brown and swift. Cool. There was no sound except 
from the water and a breeze singing high up in the pine trees. 
It was like the deep, quiet woods made them timid, and they 
walked softly along the bank beside the creek. 
'Don't it look pretty.' 
Harry laughed. 'What makes you whisper? Listen here!'232 

He clapped his hand over his mouth and gave a long Indian 
whoop that echoed back at them. 'Come on. Let's jump in the 
water and cool off.' 
'Aren't you hungry?' 
'O.K. Then we'll eat first. We'll eat half the lunch now and half 
later on when we come out' 
She unwrapped the jelly sandwiches. When they were finished 
Harry balled the papers neatly and stuffed them into a hollow 
tree stump. Then he took his shorts and went down the path. 
She shucked off her clothes behind a bush and struggled into 
Hazel's bathing-suit The suit was too small and cut her 
between the legs. 
"You ready?' Harry hollered. 
She heard a splash in the water and when she reached the bank 
Harry was already swimming. 'Don't dive yet until I find out if 
there are any stumps or shallow places,' he said. She just 
looked at his head bobbing in the water. She had never 
intended to dive, anyway. She couldn't even swim. She had 
been in swimming only a few times in her life—and then she 
always wore water-wings or stayed out of parts that were over 
her head. But it would be sissy to tell Harry. She was 
embarrassed. All of a sudden she told a tale: 
'I don't dive any more. I used to dive, high dive, all the time. 
But once I busted my head open, so I can't dive any more.' She 
thought for a minute. 'It was a double jack-knife dive I was 
doing. And when I came up there was blood all in the water. 
But I didn't think anything about it and just began to do 
swimming tricks. These people were hollering at me. Then I 
found out where all this blood in the water was coming from. 
And I never have swam good since.' 
Harry scrambled up the bank. 'Gosh! I never heard about that.' 


She meant to add on to the tale to make it sound more 
reasonable, but instead she just looked at Harry. His skin was 
light brown and the water made it shining. There were hairs 
on his chest and legs. In the tight trunks he seemed very 
naked. Without his glasses his face was wider and more 
handsome. His eyes were wet and blue. He was looking at her 
and it was like suddenly they got embarrassed. 

233 

The water's about ten feet deep except over on the other bank, 
and there it's shallow.', 
'Less us get going. I bet that cold water feels good.' 
She wasn't scared. She felt the same as if she had got caught at 
the top of a very high tree and there was nothing to do but just 
climb down the best way she could—a dead-calm feeling. She 
edged off the bank and was in ice-cold water. She held to a 
root until it broke in her hands and then she began to swim. 
Once she choked and went under, but she kept going and 
didn't lose any face. She swam and reached the other side of 
the bank where she could touch bottom. Then she felt good. 
She smacked the water with her fists and called out crazy 
words to make echoes. 
Watch here!' 
Harry shimmied up a tall, thin little tree. The trunk was limber 
and when he reached the top it swayed down with him. He 
dropped into the water. 
'Me too! Watch me do it!' 
"That's a sapling.' 
She was as good a climber as anybody on the block. She 
copied exactly what he had done and hit the water with a hard 
smack. She could swim, too. Now she could swim O.K. 
They played follow the leader and ran up and down the bank 
and jumped in the cold brown water. They hollered and 
jumped and climbed. They played around for maybe two 
hours. Then they were standing on the bank and they both 
looked at each other and there didn't seem to be anything new 
to do. Suddenly she said: 
'Have you ever swam naked?' 
The woods was very quiet and for a minute he did not answer. 
He was cold. His titties had turned hard and purple. His lips 
were purple and his teeth chattered. 'I—I don't think so.' 


This excitement was in her, and she said something she didn't 
mean to say. 'I would if you would. I dare you to.' 
Harry slicked back the dark, wet bangs of his hair. 'O.K.' 
They both took off their bathing-suits. Harry had his back to 
her. He stumbled and his ears were red. Then they turned 
toward each other. Maybe it was half an hour they stood there 
—maybe not more man a minute.234 

Harry pulled a leaf from a tree and tore it to pieces. 'We better 
get dressed.' 
All through the picnic dinner neither of them spoke. They 
spread the dinner on the ground. Harry divided everything in 
half. There was the hot, sleepy feeling of a summer afternoon. 
In the deep woods they could hear no sound except the slow 
flowing of the water and the songbirds. Harry held his stuffed 
egg and mashed the yellow with his thumb. What did that 
make her remember? She heard herself breathe. 
Then he looked up over her shoulder. "Listen here. I think 
you're so pretty, Mick. I never did think so before. I don't 
mean I thought you were very ugly—I just mean that------' 
She threw a pine cone in the water. 'Maybe we better start 
back if we want to be home before dark.' 
'No,' he said. 'Let's lie down. Just for a minute.' 
He brought handfuls of pine needles and leaves and gray 
moss. She sucked her knee and watched him. Her fists were 
tight and it was like she was tense all over. 
'Now we can sleep and be fresh for the trip home.' 
They lay on the soft bed and looked up at the dark-green pine 
clumps against the sky. A bird sang a sad, clear song she had 
never heard before. One high note like an oboe —and then it 
sank down five tones and called again. The song was sad as a 
question without words. 
'I love that bird,' Harry said. 'I think it's a vireo.' 
'I wish we was at the ocean. On the beach and watching the 
ships far out on the water. You went to the beach one summer 
—exactly what is it like?' 
His voice was rough and low. Well—there are the waves. 
Sometimes blue and sometimes green, and in the bright sun 
they look glassy. And on the sand you can pick up these little 
shells. Like the kind we brought back in a cigar box. And over 


the water are these white gulls. We were at the Gulf of 
Mexico—these cool bay breezes blew all the time and there 
it's never baking hot like it is here. Always------' 
'Snow,' Mick said. 'That's what I want to see. Cold, white 
drifts of snow like in pictures. Blizzards. White, cold snow 
that keeps falling soft and falls on and on and on through all 
the winter. Snow like in Alaska.' 

235 

They both turned at the same time. They were close against
each other. She felt him trembling and her fists were tight
enough to crack. 'Oh, God,' he kept saying over and over. It
was like her head was broke off from her body and thrown
away. And her eyes looked up straight into the blinding sun
while she counted something in her mind. And then this was
the way.
This was how it was.
They pushed the wheels slowly along the road. Harry's head
hung down and his shoulders were bent. Their shadows were
long and black on the dusty road, for it was late afternoon.
'Listen here,' he said.
'Yeah.
'
"We got to understand this. We got to. Do you—any?
'
'I don't know. I reckon ndt.
'
'Listen here. We got to do something. Let's sit down.
'
They dropped the bicycles and sat by a ditch beside the road.
They sat far apart from each other. The late sun burned down
on their heads and there were brown, crumbly ant beds all
around them.
'We got to understand this,' Harry said.
He cried. He sat very still and the tears rolled down Ms white
face. She could not think about the thing that made him cry.
An ant stung her on the ankle and she picked it up in her
fingers and looked at it very close.
'It's this way,' he said. 1 never had even kissed a girl before.
'
'Me neither. I never kissed any boy. Out of the family.
*
'That's all I used to think about—was to kiss this certain girl. 
I
used to plan about it during school and dream about it at night.
And then once she gave me a date. And I could tell she meant
for me to kiss her. And I just looked at her in the dark and 
I



couldn't That was all I had thought about—to kiss her—and 
when the time came I couldn't.' 
She dug a hole in the ground with her finger and buried the 
dead ant. 
It was all my fault. Adultery is a terrible sin any way you look 
at it. And you were two years younger than me and just a 
kid.'236 

237 

"No, I wasn't. I wasn't any kid. But now I wish I was, though.' 
'listen here. If you think we ought to we can get married— 
secretly or any other way.' 
Mick shook her head. 'I didn't like that. I never will marry with 
any boy.' 
'I never will marry either. I know that And I'm not just saying 
so—it's true.' 
His face scared her. His nose quivered and his bottom lip was 
mottled and bloody where he had bitten it. His eyes were 
bright and wet and scowling. His face was whiter than any 
face she could remember. She turned her head from him. 
Things would be better if only he would just quit talking. Her 
eyes looked slowly around her—at the streaked red-and-white 
clay of the ditch, at a broken whiskey bottle, at a pine tree 
across from them with a sign advertising for a man for county 
sheriff. She wanted to sit quiet for a long time and not think 
and not say a word. 
'I'm leaving town. I'm a good mechanic and I can get a job 
some other place. If I stayed home Mother could read this in 
my eyes.' 
Tell me. Can you look at me and see the difference?' 
Harry watched her face a long time and nodded that he could. 
Then he said: 
There's just one more thing. In a month or two IT1 send you 
my address and you write and tell me for sure whether you're 
all right.' 

.How you mean?' she asked slowly. 
He explained to her. 'All you need to write is "O.K." and then 
TO know.' 
They were walking home again, pushing the wheels. Their 
shadows stretched out giant-sized on the road. Harry was bent 

over like an old beggar and kept wiping his nose on his sleeve. 
For a minute there was a bright, golden glow over everything 
before the sun sank down behind the trees and their shadows 
were gone on the road before them. She felt very old, and it 
was like something was heavy inside her. She was a grown 
person now, whether she wanted to be or not. 
They had walked the sixteen miles and were in the dark alley 
at home. She could see the yellow light from their kitchen. 
Harry's house was dark—his mother had not 

come home. She worked for a tailor in a shop on a side street. 
Sometimes even on Sunday. When you looked through the 
window you could see her bending over the machine in the 
back or pushing a long needle through the heavy pieces of 
goods. She never looked up while you watched her. And at 
night she cooked these orthodox dishes for Harry and her. 
'Listen here------' he said. 
She waited in the dark, but he did not finish. They shook 
hands with each other and Harry walked up the dark alley 
between the houses. When he reached the sidewalk he turned 
and looked back over his shoulder. A light shone on his face 
and it was white and hard. Then he was gone. 
'This here is a riddle,' George said. 
'I listening.' 
Two Indians was walking on a trail. The one in front was the 
son of the one behind but the one behind was not his father. 
What kin was they?' 
'Less see. His stepfather.' 
George grinned at Portia with his little square, blue teeth. 
'His uncle, then.' 
'You can't guess. It was his mother. The trick is that you don't 
think about a Indian being a lady.' 
She stood outside the room and watched them. The doorway 
framed the kitchen like a picture. Inside it was homey and 
clean. Only the light by the sink was turned on and there were 
shadows in the room. Bill and Hazel played black-jack at the 
table with matches for money. Hazel felt the braids of her hair 
with her plump, pink fingers while Bill sucked in his cheeks 
and dealt the cards in a very serious way. At the sink Portia 
was drying the dishes with a clean checked towel. She looked 


thin and her skin was golden yellow, her greased black hair 
slicked neat. Ralph sat quietly on the floor and George.was 
trying a little harness on him made out of old Christmas tinsel. 
This here is another riddle, Portia. If the hand of a clock 
points to half-past two------' 
She went into the room. It was like she had expected them to 
move back when they saw her and stand around238 

239 

in a circle and look. But they just glanced at her. She sat down 
at the table and waited. 
'Here you come traipsing in after everbody done finished 
supper. Seem to me like I never will get off from work.' 
Nobody noticed her. She ate a big plateful of cabbage and 
salmon and finished off with junket. It was her Mama she was 
thinking about. The door opened and her Mama came in and 
told Portia that Miss Brown had said she found a bedbug in 
her room. To get out the gasoline. 
'Quit frowning like that, Mick. You're coming to the age 
where you ought to fix up and try to look the best you can. 
And hold on—don't barge out like that when I speak with you 
—I mean you to give Ralph a good sponge bath before he goes 
to bed. Clean his nose and ears good.' 
Ralph's soft hair was sticky with oatmeal. She wiped it with a 
dishrag and rinched his face and hands at the sink. Bill and 
Hazel finished their game. Bill's long fingernails scraped on 
the table as he took up the matches. George carried Ralph off 
to bed. She and Portia were alone in the kitchen. 
'Listen! Look at me. Do you notice anything different?' 'Sure I 
notice, Hon.' 
Portia put on her red hat and changed her shoes. Well—?' 
'Just you take a little grease and rub it on your face. Your nose 
already done peeled very bad. They say grease is the best 
thing for bad sunburn.' 
She stood by herself in the dark back yard, breaking off pieces 
of bark from the oak tree with her fingernails. It was almost 
worse this way. Maybe she would feel better if they could 
look at her and tell. If they knew. 
Her Dad called her from the back steps. "Mick! Oh, Mick!' 
.Yes, sir.' 'The telephone." 


George crowded up close and tried to listen in, but she pushed
him away. Mrs. Minowitz talked very loud and excited.
'My Harry should be home by now. You know where he is?
'
*No, ma'am.
'
'He said you two would ride out on bicycles. Where should he
be now? You know where he is?' 'No, ma'am,' Mick said
again.


N. 
12 

ow that the days were hot again the Sunny Dixie Show was 
always crowded. The March wind quieted. Trees were thick 
with their foliage of ocherous green. The sky was a cloudless 
blue and the rays of the sun grew stronger. The air was sultry. 
Jake Blount hated this weather. He thought dizzily of the long, 
burning summer months ahead. He did not feel well. Recently 
a headache had begun to trouble him constantly. He had 
gained weight so that his stomach developed a little pouch. He 
had to leave the top button of his trousers undone. He knew 
that this was alcoholic fat, but he kept on drinking. Liquor 
helped the ache in his head. He had only to take one small 
glass to make it better. Nowadays one glass was the same to 
him as a quart. It was not the liquor of the moment that gave 
him the kick—but the reaction of the first swallow to all the 
alcohol which had saturated his blood during these last 
months. A spoonful of beer would help the throbbing in his 
head, but a quart of whiskey could not make him drunk. 
He cut out liquor entirely. For several days he drank only 
water and Orange Crush. The pain was h'ke a crawling worm 
in his head. He worked wearily during the long afternoons and 
evenings. He could not sleep and it was agony to try to read. 
The damp, sour stink in his room infuriated him. He lay 
restless in the bed and when at last he fell asleep daylight had 
come. 
A dream haunted him. It had first come to him four months 
ago. He would awake with terror—but the strange point was 
that never could he remember the contents of this dream. Only 
the feeling remained when his eyes were opened. Each time 
his fears at awakening were so identical that he did not doubt 
but what these dreams were the same. He was used to dreams, 


the grotesque nightmares240 

of drink that led him down into a madman's region of disorder, 
but always the morning light scattered the effects of these wild 
dreams and he forgot them. 
This blank, stealthy dream was of a different nature. He 
awoke and could remember nothing. But there was a sense of 
menace that lingered in him long after. Then he awoke one 
morning with the old fear but with a faint remembrance of the 
darkness behind him. He had been walking among a crowd of 
people and in his arms he carried something. That was all he 
could be sure about. Had he stolen? Had he been trying to 
save some possession? Was he being hunted by all these 
people around him? He did not think so. The more he studied 
this simple dream the less he could understand. Then for some 
time afterward the dream did not return. 
He met the writer of signs whose chalked message he had seen 
the past November. From the first day of their meeting the old 
man clung to him like an evil genius. His name was Simms 
and he preached on the sidewalks. The winter cold had kept 
him indoors, but in the spring he was out on the streets all day. 
His white hair was soft and ragged on his neck and he carried 
around with him a woman's big silk pocketbook full of chalk 
and Jesus ads. His eyes were bright and crazy. Simms tried to 
convert him. 
'Child of adversity, I smell the sinful stink of beer on thy 
breath. And you smoke cigarettes. If the Lord had wanted us 
to smoke cigarettes He would have said so in His Book. The 
mark of Satan is on thy brow. I see it. Repent. Let me show 
you the light." 
Jake rolled up his eyes and made a slow pious sign in the air. 
Then he opened his oil-stained hand. 'I reveal this only to you,' 
he said in a low stage voice. Simms looked down at the scar in 
his palm. Jake leaned closer and whispered: 'And there's the 
other sign. The sign you know. For I was born with them.' 
Simms backed against the fence. With a womanish gesture he 
lifted a lock of silver hair from his forehead and smoothed it 
back on his head. Nervously his tongue licked the corners of 
his mouth. Jake laughed. 
'Blasphemer!' Simms screamed. 'God will get you. You and all 


your crew. God remembers the scoffers. He


watches after me. God watches everybody but He watches me
the most. Like He did Moses. God tells me things in the night.
God will get you.
'
He took Simms down to a corner store for Coca-Colas and
peanut-butter crackers. Simms began to work on him again.
When he left for the show Simms ran along behind him.
'Come to this corner tonight at seven o'clock. Jesus has 
a
message just for you.
'
The first days of April were windy and warm. White clouds
trailed across the blue sky. In the wind there was the smell of
the river and also the fresher smell of fields beyond the town.
The show was crowded every day from four in the afternoon
until midnight. The crowd was a tough one. With the new
spring he felt an undertone of trouble.
One night he was working on the machinery of the swings
when suddenly he was roused from thought by the sounds of
angry voices. Quickly he pushed through the crowd until he
saw a white girl fighting with a colored girl by the ticket booth
of the flying-jinny. He wrenched them apart, but still they
struggled to get at each other. The crowd took sides and there
was a bedlam of noise. The white girl was a hunchback. She
held something tight in her hand.
1 seen you,' the colored girl yelled. 'I ghy beat that hunch off
your back, too.
'
'Hush your mouth, you black nigger!
'
'Low-down factory tag. I done paid my money and I ghy ride.
White man, you make her give me back my ticket.
'
'Black nigger slut!
'
Jake looked from one to the other. The crowd pressed close.
There were mumbled opinions on every side.
'I seen Lurie drop her ticket and I watched this here white lady
pick it up. That the truth,' a colored boy said.
"No nigger going to put her hands on no white girl while------
.
"You quit that pushing me. I ready to hit back even if your
skin do be white.
'
Roughly Jake pushed into the thick of the crowd. 'All right!
'



he yelled. "Move on—break it up. Every damn242 

one of you.' There was something about the size of his fists 
that made the people drift sullenly away. Jake turned back to 
the two girls. 
'This here the way it is,' said the colored girl. 1 bet I one of the 
few peoples here who done saved over fifty cents till Friday 
night. I done ironed double this week. I done paid a good 
nickel for that ticket she holding. And now I means to ride.5 
Jake settled the trouble quickly. He let the hunchback keep the 
disputed ticket and issued another one to the colored girl. For 
the rest of that evening there were no more quarrels. But Jake 
moved alertly through the crowd. He was troubled and uneasy. 
In addition to himself there were five other employees at the 
show—two men to operate the swings and take tickets and 
three girls to manage the booths. This did not count Patterson. 
The show-owner spent most of his time playing cards with 
himself in his trailer. His eyes were dull, with the pupils 
shrunken, and the skin of his neck hung in yellow, pulpy folds. 
During the past few months Jake had had two raises in pay. At 
midnight it was his job to report to Patterson and hand over 
the takings of the evening. Sometimes Patterson did not notice 
him until he had been in the trailer for several minutes; he 
would be staring at the cards, sunk in a stupor. The air of the 
trailer was heavy with the stinks of food and reefers. Patterson 
held his hand over his stomach as though protecting it from 
something. He always checked over the accounts very 
thoroughly. 
Jake and the two operators had a squabble. These men were 
both former doffers at one of the mills. At first he had tried to 
talk to them and help them to see the truth. Once he invited 
them to a pool room for a drink. But they were so dumb he 
couldn't help them. Soon after this he overheard the 
conversation between them that caused the trouble. It was an 
early Sunday morning, almost two o'clock, and he had been 
checking the accounts with Patterson. When he stepped out of 
the trailer the grounds seemed empty. The moon was bright. 
He was thinking of Singer and the free day ahead. Then as he 
passed by the swings he heard someone speak his name. The 
two oper


I 

ators had finished work and were smoking together. Jake 
listened. 
'If there's anything I hate worse than a nigger it's a Red.' 
'He tickles me. I don't pay him no mind. The way he struts 
around. I never seen such a sawed-off runt. How tall is he, you 
reckon?' 
'Around five foot But he thinks he got to tell everybody so 
much. He oughta be in jail. That's where. The Red Bolshivik.' 
'He just tickles me. I can't look at him without laughing.' 
'He needn't act biggity with me.' 
Jake watched them follow the path toward Weavers Lane. His 
first thought was to rush out and confront them, but a certain 
shrinking held him back. For several days he fumed in silence. 
Then one night after work he followed the two men for several 
blocks and as they turned a corner he cut in front of them. 
'I heard you,' he said breathlessly. 'It so happened I heard 
every word you said last Saturday night. Sure I'm a Red. At 
least I reckon I am. But what are you?' They stood beneath a 
street light. The two men stepped back from him. The 
neighborhood was deserted. 'You pasty-faced, shrunk-gutted, 
ricket-ridden little rats! I could reach out and choke your 
stringy necks—one to each hand. Runt or no, I could lay you 
on this sidewalk where they'd have to scrape you up with 
shovels.' 
The two men looked at each other, cowed, and tried to walk 
on. But Jake would not let them pass. He kept step with them, 
walking backward, a furious sneer on his face. 
'All I got to say is this: In the future I suggest you come to me 
whenever you feel the need to make remarks about my height, 
weight, accent, demeanor, or ideology. And that last is not 
what I take a leak with either—case you don't know. We will 
discuss it together.' 


Afterward Jake treated the two men with angry contempt. 
Behind his back they jeered at him. One afternoon he found 
that the engine of the swings had been deliberately damaged 
and he had to work three hours overtime to fix it. Always he 
felt someone was laughing at him. Each time he heard the girls 
talking together he drew himself up straight and laughed 
carelessly aloud to himself as though thinking of some private 
joke.244 

The warm southwest winds from the Gulf of Mexico were 
heavy with the smells of spring. The days grew longer and the 
sun was bright. The lazy warmth depressed him. He began to 
drink again. As soon as work was done he went home and lay 
down on his bed. Sometimes he stayed there, fully clothed and 
inert, for twelve or thirteen hours. The restlessness that had 
caused him to sob and bite his nails only a few months before 
seemed to have gone. And yet beneath his inertia Jake felt the 
old tension. Of all the places he had been this was the 
loneliest town of all. Or it would be without Singer. Only he 
and Singer understood the truth. He knew and could not get 
the don't-knows to see. It was like trying to fight darkness or 
heat or a stink in the air. He stared morosely out of his 
window. A stunted, smoked-blackened tree at the corner had 
put out new leaves of a bilious green. The sky was always a 
deep, hard blue. The mosquitoes from a fetid stream that ran 
through this part of the town buzzed in the room. 
He caught the itch. He mixed some sulphur and hog fat and 
greased his body every morning. He clawed himself raw and it 
seemed that the itching would never be soothed. One night he 
broke loose. He had been sitting alone for many hours. He had 
mixed gin and whiskey and was very drunk. It was almost 
morning. He leaned out of the window and looked at the dark 
silent street. He thought of all the people around him. 
Sleeping. The don't-knows. Suddenly he bawled out in a loud 
voice: "This is the truth! You bastards don't know anything. 
You don't know. You don't know!1 
The street awoke angrily. Lamps were lighted and sleepy 
curses were called to him. The men who lived in the house 
rattled furiously on his door. The girls from a cat-house across 
the street stuck their heads out of the windows. 


'You dumb dumb dumb dumb bastards. You dumb dumb 
dumb dumb------' 
'Shuddup! ShuddupF 
The fellows in the hall were pushing against the door: .You 
drunk bull! You'll be a sight dumber when we get thu with 
you.' 
'How many out there?' Jake roared. He banged an 

empty bottle on the windowsill. 'Come on, everybody. Come 
one, come all. I'll settle you three at a time.' 
'That's right, Honey,' a whore called. 
The door was giving way. Jake jumped from the window and 
ran through a side alley. 'Hee-haw! Hee-haw!' he yelled 
drunkenly. He was barefooted and shirtless. An hour later he 
stumbled into Singer's room. He sprawled on the floor and 
laughed himself to sleep. 
On an April morning he found the body of a man who had 
been murdered. A young Negro. Jake found him in a ditch 
about thirty yards from the showgrounds. The Negro's throat 
had been slashed so that the head was rolled back at a crazy 
angle. The sun shone hot on his open, glassy eyes and flies 
hovered over the dried blood that covered his chest. The dead 
man held a red-and-yellow cane with a tassel like the ones 
sold at the hamburger booth at the show. Jake stared gloomily 
down at the body for some time. Then he called the police. No 
clues were found. Two days later the family of the dead man 
claimed his body at the morgue. 
At the Sunny Dixie there were frequent fights and quarrels. 
Sometimes two friends would come to the show arm in arm, 
laughing and drinking—and before they left they would be 
struggling together in a panting rage. Jake was always alert. 
Beneath the gaudy gaiety of the show, the bright lights, and 
the lazy laughter, he felt something sullen and dangerous. 
Through these dazed, disjointed weeks Simms nagged his 
footsteps constantly. The old man liked to come with a 
soapbox and a Bible and take a stand in the middle of the 
crowd to preach. He talked of the second coming of Christ. He 
said that the Day of Judgment would be October 2, 1951. He 


would point out certain drunks and scream at them in his raw, 
worn voice. Excitement made his mouth fill with water so that 
his words had a wet, gurgling sound. Once he had slipped in 
and set up his stand no arguments could make him budge. He 
made Jake a present of a Gideon Bible, and told him to pray 
on his knees for one hour each night and to hurl away every 
glass of beer or cigarette that was offered him. 
They quarreled over walls and fences. Jake had begun246 

to carry chalk in his pockets, also. He wrote brief sentences. 
He tried to word them so that a passerby would stop and 
ponder over the meaning. So that a man would wonder. So 
that a man would think. Also, he wrote short pamphlets and 
distributed them in the streets. 
If it had not been for Singer, Jake knew that he would have 
left the town. Only on Sunday, when he was with his friend, 
did he feel at peace. Sometimes they would go for a walk 
together or play chess—but more often they spent the day 
quietly in Singer's room. If he wished to talk Singer was 
always attentive. If he sat morosely through the day the mute 
understood his feelings and was not surprised. It seemed to 
him that only Singer could help him now. 
Then one Sunday when he climbed the stairs he saw that 
Singer's door was open. The room was empty. He sat alone for 
more than two hours. At last he heard Singer's footsteps on the 
stairs. 
'I was wondering about you. Where you been?* 
Singer smiled. He brushed off his hat with a handkerchief and 
put it away. Then deliberately he took his silver pencil from 
his pocket and leaned over the mantelpiece to write a note. 
'What you mean?' Jake asked when he read what the mute had 
written. 'Whose legs are cut off?' 
Singer took back the note and wrote a few additional 
sentences. 
'Huh!' Jake said. That don't surprise me.' 
He brooded over the piece of paper and then crumpled it in his 
hand. The listlessness of the past month was gone and he was 
tense and uneasy. 'Huh!' he said again. 
Singer put on a pot of coffee and got out his chessboard. Jake 
tore the note to pieces and rolled the fragments between his 


sweating palms.
'But something can be done about this,' he said after a while.
'You know it?
'
Singer nodded uncertainly.
'I want to see the boy and hear the whole story. When can you
take me around there?
'
Singer deliberated. Then he wrote on a pad of paper, 'Tonight.
'
Jake held his hand to his mouth and began to walk restlessly
around the room. 'We can do something.
'


13


247 

J AKE and Singer waited on the front porch. When they pushed 
the doorbell there was no sound of a ring in the darkened 
house. Jake knocked impatiently and pressed his nose against 
the screen door. Beside him Singer stood wooden and smiling, 
with two spots of color on his cheeks, for they had drunk a 
bottle of gin together. The evening was quiet and dark. Jake 
watched a yellow light shaft softly through the hall. And 
Portia opened the door for them. 
'I certainly trust you not been waiting long. So many folks 
been coming that us thought it wise to untach the bell. You 
gentlemens just let me take you hats—Father been mighty 
sick.' 
Jake tiptoed heavily behind Singer down the bare, narrow hall. 
At the threshold of the kitchen he stopped short The room was 
crowded and hot. A fire burned in the small wood stove and 
the windows were closed tight. Smoke mingled with a certain 
Negro smell. The glow from the stove was the only light in the 
room. The dark voices he had heard back in the hall were 
silent. 
"These here are two white gentlemens come to inquire about 
Father,' Portia said. 'I think maybe he be able to see you but I 
better go on in first and prepare him.' 
Jake fingered his thick lower lip. On the end of his nose there 
was a latticed impression from the front screen door. 'That's 
not it,' he said. 'I come to talk with your brother.' 
The Negroes in the room were standing. Singer motioned to 
them to be seated again. Two grizzled old men sat down on a 
bench by the stove. A loose-limbed mulatto lounged against 


the window. On a camp cot in a corner was a boy without legs
whose trousers were folded and pinned beneath his stumpy
thighs.
'Good evening,' Jake said awkwardly. 'Your name Copeland?
'
The boy put his hands over the stumps of his legs and shrank
back close to the wall. 'My name Willie.
'
'Honey, don't you worry none,' said Portia. 'This here is Mr.
Singer that you heard Father speak about. And this other white
gentleman is Mr. Blount and he a very close friend of Mr.
Singer. They just kindly come to inquire248


about us in our trouble.' She turned to Jake and motioned to
the three other people in the room. This other boy leaning on
the window is my brother too. Named Buddy. And these here
over by the stove is two dear friends of my Father. Named Mr.
Marshall Nicolls and Mr. John Roberts. I think it a good idea
to understand who all is in a room with you.
'
Thanks,' Jake said. He turned to Willie again. 'I just want you
to tell me about it so I can get it straight in my mind.
'
This the way it is,' Willie said. 'I feel like my feets is still
hurting. I got this here terrible misery down in my toes. Yet
the hurt in my feets is down where my feets should be if they
were on my 1-1-legs. And not where my feets is now. It a hard
thing to understand. My feets hurt me so bad all the time and 
I
don't know where they is. They never given them back to me.
They s-somewhere more than a hundred m-miles from here.
'
'I mean about how it all happened,' Jake said.
Uneasily Willie looked up at his sister. 'I don't remember—
very good.
'
'Course you remember, Honey. You done already told us over
and over.
'
'Well------' The boy's voice was timid and sullen. *Us
were all out on the road and this here Buster say something to
the guard. The w-white man taken a stick to him. Then this
other boy he tries to run off. And I follow him. It all come
about so quick I don't remember good just how it were. Then
they taken us back to the camp and------
'
'I know the rest,' Jake said. 'But give me the names and
addresses of the other two boys. And tell me the names of the
guards.
'



'Listen here, white man. It seem to me like you meaning to get
me into trouble.
'
Trouble!' Jake said rudely. "What in the name of Christ do you
think you're in now?
'
'Less us quiet down,' Portia said nervously. "This here the way
it is, Mr. Blount. They done let Willie off at the camp before
his time were served. But they done also impressed it on him
not to—I believe you understand what us means. Naturally
Willie he scared. Naturally us means to


249
be careful—'cause that the best thing us can do. We already
got enough trouble as is.
'
'What happened to the guards?
'
Them w-white men were fired. That what they told me.
'
'And where are your friends now?
'
"What friends?
'


.Why, the other two boys.' 
They n-not my friends,' Willie said. 'Us all has had a big 
falling out' 
'How you mean?' 
Portia pulled her earrings so that the lobes of her ears 
stretched out like rubber. "This here what Willie means. You 
see, during them three days when they hurt so bad they 
commenced to quarrel. Willie don't ever want to see any of 
them again. That one thing Father and Willie done argued 
about already. This here Buster------' 
"Buster got a wooden leg,' said the boy by the window. 1 seen 
him on the street today.' 
This here Buster don't have no folks and it were Father's idea 
to have him move on in with us. Father want to round up all 
the boys together. How he reckons us can feed them I sure 
don't know.' 
That ain't a good idea. And besides us was never very good 
friends anyway.' Willie felt the stumps of his legs with his 
dark, strong hands. 'I just wish I knowed where my f-f-feets 
are. That the main thing worries me. The doctor never given 
them back to me. I sure do wish I knowed where they are.' 
Jake looked around him with dazed, gin-clouded eyes. 
Everything seemed unclear and strange. The heat in the 

kitchen dizzied him so that voices echoed in his ears. The
smoke choked him. The light hanging from the ceiling was
turned on but, as the bulb was wrapped in newspaper to dim
its strength, most of the light came from between the chinks of
the hot stove. There was a red glow on all the dark faces
around him. He felt uneasy and alone. Singer had left the
room to visit Portia's father. Jake wanted him to come back so
that they could leave. He walked awkwardly across the floor
and sat down on the bench between Marshall Nicolls and John
Roberts.
'Where is Portia's father?' he asked.250


'Doctor Copeland is in the front room, sir,' said Roberts.
'Is he a doctor?
'
"Yes, sir. He is a medical doctor.
'
There was a scuffle on the steps outside and the back door
opened. A warm, fresh breeze lightened the heavy air. First 
a
tall boy dressed hi a linen suit and gilded shoes entered the
room with a sack in his arms. Behind him came a young boy
of about seventeen.
'Hey, Highboy. Hey there, Lancy,' Willie said. 'What you all
brought me?
'
Highboy bowed elaborately to Jake and placed on the table
two fruit jars of wine. Lancy put beside them a plate covered
with a fresh white napkin.
This here wine is a present from the Society,' Highboy said.
'And Lancy's mother sent some peach puffs.
'
'How is the Doctor, Miss Portia?' Lancy asked.


.Honey, he been mighty sick these days. What worries me is 
he so strong. It a bad sign when a person sick as he is 
suddenly come to be so strong.' Portia turned to Jake. 'Don't 
you think it a bad sign, Mr. Blount?' 
Jake stared at her dazedly. 'I don't know.' 
Lancy glanced sullenly at Jake and pulled down the cuffs of 
his outgrown shirt. 'Give the Doctor my family's regards.' 
'Us certainly do appreciate this,' Portia said. "Father was 
speaking of you just the other day. He haves a book he wants 
to give you. Wait just one minute while I get it and rinch out 
this plate to return to your Mother. This were certainly a 
kindly thing for her to do.' 

Marshall Nicolls leaned toward Jake and seemed about to 
speak to him. The old man wore a pair of pin-striped trousers 
and a morning coat with a flower in the buttonhole. He cleared 
his throat and said: 'Pardon me, sir—but unavoidably we 
overheard a part of your conversation with William regarding 
the trouble he is now in. Inevitably we have considered what 
is the best course to take.' 
'You one of his relatives or the preacher in his church?' 

.No, I am a pharmacist. And John Roberts on your left is 
employed in the postal department of the government.' 
'A postman,' repeated John Roberts. 
'With your permission------' Marshall Nicolls took a yellow 
silk handkerchief from his pocket and gingerly blew 
251 
his nose. 'Naturally we have discussed this matter extensively. 
And without doubt as members of the colored race here in this 
free country of America we are anxious to do our part toward 
extending amicable relationships.' 
We wish always to do the right thing,' said John Roberts. 
'And it behooves us to strive with care and not endanger this 
amicable relationship already established. Then by gradual 
means a better condition will come about.' 
Jake turned from one to the other. 'I don't seem to follow you.' 
The heat was suffocating him. He wanted to get out. A film 
seemed to have settled over his eyeballs so that all the faces 
around him were blurred. 
Across the room Willie was playing his harp. Buddy and 
Highboy were listening. The music was dark and sad. When 
the song was finished Willie polished his harp on the front of 
his shirt. 'I so hungry and thirsty the slobber in my mouth done 
wet out the tune. I certainly will be glad to taste some of that 
boogie-woogie. To have something good to drink is the only 
thing m-made me forget this misery. If I just knowed where 
my f-feets are now and could drink a glass of gin ever night I 
wouldn't mind so much.' 
'Don't fret, Hon. You going to have something,' Portia said. 
'Mr. Blount, would you care to take a peach puff and a glass of 
wine?' 
'Thanks,' Jake said. 'That would be good.' 


Quickly Portia laid a cloth on the table and set down one plate
and a fork. She poured a large tumblerful of the wine. 'You
just make yourself comfortable here. And if you don't mind 
I
going to serve the others.
'
The fruit jars were passed from mouth to mouth. Before
Highboy passed a jar to Willie he borrowed Portia's lipstick
and drew a red line to set the boundary of the drink. There
were gurgling noises and laughter. Jake finished his puff and
carried his glass back with him to his place between the two
old men. The home-made wine was rich and strong as brandy.
Willie started a low dolorous tune on his harp. Portia snapped
her fingers and shuffled around the room.
Jake turned to Marshall Nicolls. *You say Portia's father is 
a
doctor?
'
"Yes, sir. Yes, indeed. A skilled doctor.'252


'What's the matter with him?
'
The two Negroes glanced warily at each other.
'He were in an accident,' said John Roberts.
'What kind of an accident?
'
'A bad one. A deplorable one.
'
Marshall Nicolls folded and unfolded his silk handkerchief.
'As we were remarking a while ago, it is important not to
impair these amicable relations but to promote them in all
ways earnestly possible. We members of the colored race
must strive in all ways to uplift our citizens. The Doctor in
yonder has strived in every way. But sometimes it has seemed
to me like he had not recognized fully enough certain
elements of the different races and the situation.
'
Impatiently Jake gulped down the last swallows of his wine.
'Christ' sake, man, speak out plain, because I can't understand
a thing you say.
'
Marshall Nicolls and John Roberts exchanged a hurt look.
Across the room Willie still sat playing music. His lips
crawled over the square holes of the harmonica like fat,
puckered caterpillars. His shoulders were broad and strong.
The stumps of his thighs jerked in time to the music. Highboy
danced while Buddy and Portia clapped out the rhythm.
Jake stood up, and once on his feet he realized that he was
drunk. He staggered and then glanced vindictively around



him, but no one seemed to have noticed. 'Where's Singer?' he 
asked Portia thickly. 
The music stopped. 'Why, Mr. Blount, I thought you knowed 
he was gone. While you were sitting at the table with your 
peach puff he come to the doorway and held out his watch to 
show it were time for him to go. You looked straight at him 
and shaken your head. I thought you knowed that.' 
'Maybe I was thinking about something else.' He turned to 
Willie and said angrily to him: 'I never did even get to tell you 
what I come here for, I didn't come to ask you to do anything. 
All I wanted—all I wanted was this. You and the other boys 
were to testify what happened and I was to explain why. Why 
is the only important thing—not what. I would have pushed 
you all around in a wagon and you would have told your story 
and afterward I would have ex

253 

plained why. And maybe it might have meant something. 
Maybe it------' 
He felt they were laughing at him. Confusion caused him to 
forget what he had meant to say. The room was full of dark, 
strange faces and the air was too thick to breathe. He saw a 
door and staggered across to it. He was in a dark closet 
smelling of medicine. Then his hand was turning another 
doorknob. 
He stood on the threshold of a small white room furnished 
only with an iron bed, a cabinet, and two chairs. On the bed 
lay the terrible Negro he had met on the stairs at Singer's 
house. His face was very black against the white, stiff pillows. 
The dark eyes were hot with hatred but the heavy, bluish lips 
were composed. His face was motionless as a black mask 
except for the slow, wide flutters of his nostrils with each 
breath. 
'Get out,' the Negro said. 
'Wait------' Jake said helplessly. 'Why do you say that?' 
'This is my house.' 
Jake could not draw his eyes away from the Negro's terrible 
face. 'But why?' 
'You are a white man and a stranger.' 
Jake did not leave. He walked with cumbersome caution to 


one of the straight white chairs and seated himself. The Negro 
moved his hands on the counterpane. His black eyes glittered 
with fever. Jake watched him. They waited. In the room there 
was a feeling tense as conspiracy or as the deadly quiet before 
an explosion. 
It was long past midnight. The warm, dark air of the spring 
morning swirled the blue layers of smoke in the room. On the 
floor were crumpled balls of paper and a half-empty bottle of 
gin. Scattered ashes were gray on the counterpane. Doctor 
Copeland pressed his head tensely into the pillow. He had 
removed his dressing-gown and the sleeves of his white cotton 
nightshirt were rolled to the elbow. Jake leaned forward in his 
chair. His tie was loosened and the collar of his shirt had 
wilted with sweat Through the hours there had grown between 
them a long, exhausting dialogue. And now a pause had come. 
'So the time is ready for------' Jake began.254 

But Doctor Copeland interrupted him. 'Now it is perhaps 
necessary that we------' he murmured huskily. They 
halted. Each looked into the eyes of the other and waited. 'I 
beg your pardon,' Doctor Copeland said. 
'Sorry,' said Jake. 'Go on.' 
'No, you continue.' 
'Well------' Jake said. 'I won't say what I started to say. 
Instead we'll have one last word about the South. The 
strangled South. The wasted South, The slavish South.' 
'And the Negro people.' 
To steady himself Jake swallowed a long, burning draught 
from the bottle on the floor beside him. Then deliberately he 
walked to the cabinet and picked up a small, cheap globe of 
the world that served as a paperweight. Slowly he turned the 
sphere in his hands. 'All I can say is this: The world is full of 
meanness and evil. Huh! Three fourths of this globe is in a 
state of war or oppression. The liars and fiends are united and 
the men who know are isolated and without defense. But! But 
if you was to ask me to point out the most uncivilized area on 
the face of this globe I would point here------' 
'Watch sharp,' said Doctor Copeland. 'You're out in the ocean.' 
Jake turned the globe again and pressed his blunt, grimy 
thumb on a carefully selected spot. 'Here. These thirteen 


states. I know what I'm talking about. I read books and I go 
around. I been in every damn one of these thirteen states. I've 
worked in every one. And the reason I think like I do is this: 
We live in the richest country in the world. There's plenty and 
to spare for no man, woman, or child to be in want. And in 
addition to this our country was founded on what should have 
been a great, true principle—the freedom, equality, and rights 
of each individual. Huh! And what has come of that start? 
There are corporations worth billions of dollars—and 
hundreds of thousands of people who don't get to eat. And 
here in these thirteen states the exploitation of human beings 
is so that—that it's a thing you got to take in with your own 
eyes. In my life I seen things that would make a man go cra2y. 
At least one third of all Southerners live and die no better off 
than the lowest peasant in any European Fascist 

255 

state. The average wage of a worker on a tenant farm is only 
seventy-three dollars per year. And mind you, that's the 
average! The wages of sharecroppers run from thirty-five to 
ninety dollars per person. And thirty-five dollars a year means 
just about ten cents for a full day's work. Everywhere there's 
pellagra and hookworm and anaemia. And just plain, pure 
starvation. But!' Jake nibbed his lips with the knuckles of his 
dirty fist. Sweat stood out on his forehead. 'But!' he repeated. 
Those are only the evils you can see and touch. The other 
things are worse. I'm talking about the way that the truth has 
been hidden from the people. The things they have been told 
so they can't see the truth. The poisonous lies. So they aren't 
allowed to know.' 
'And the Negro,' said Doctor Copeland. 'To understand what is 
happening to us you have to------' 
Jake interrupted him savagely. 'Who owns the South? 
Corporations in the North own three fourths of all the South. 
They say the old cow grazes all over—in the south, the west, 
the north, and the east. But she's milked in just one place. Her 
old teats swing over just one spot when she's full. She grazes 
everywhere and is milked in New York. Take our cotton mills, 
our pulp mills, our harness factories, our mattress factories. 
The North owns them. And what happens?' Jake's mustache 


quivered angrily. 'Here's an example. Locale, a mill village 
according to the great paternal system of American industry. 
Absentee ownership. In the village is one huge brick mill and 
maybe four or five hundred shanties. The houses aren't fit for 
human beings to live in. Moreover, the houses were built to be 
nothing but slums in the first place. These shanties are nothing 
but two or maybe three rooms and a privy— built with far less 
forethought than barns to house cattle. Built with far less 
attention to needs than sties for pigs. For under this system 
pigs are valuable and men are not. You can't make pork chops 
and sausage out of skinny little mill kids. You can't sell but 
half the people these days. But a pig------' 
'Hold on!' said Doctor Copeland. 'You are getting off on a 
tangent. And besides, you are giving no attention to the very 
separate question of the Negro. I cannot get a256 

word in edgeways. We have been over all this before, bat it is 
impossible to see the full situation without including us 
Negroes.' 
'Back to our mill village,' Jake said. 'A young linthead begins 
working at the fine wage of eight or ten dollars a weeks at 
such times as he can get himself employed. He marries. After 
the first child the woman must work in the mill also. Their 
combined wages come to say eighteen dollars a week when 
they both got work. Huh! They pay a fourth of this for the 
shack the mill provides them. They buy food and clothes at a 
company-owned or dominated store. The store overcharges on 
every item. With three or four younguns they are held down 
the same as if they had on chains. That is the whole principle 
of serfdom. Yet here in America we call ourselves free. And 
the funny thing is that this has been drilled into the heads of 
sharecroppers and lintheads and all the rest so hard that they 
really believe it. But it's taken a hell of a lot of lies to keep 
them from knowing.' 
'There is only one way out------' said Doctor Cbpeland. 
'Two ways. And only two ways. Once there was a time when 
this country was expanding. Every man thought he had a 
chance. Huh! But that period has gone—and gone for good. 
Less than a hundred corporations have swallowed all but a 
few leavings. These industries have already sucked the blood 


and softened the bones of the people. The old days of 
expansion are gone. The whole system of capitalistic 
democracy is—rotten and corrupt. There remains only two 
roads ahead. One: Fascism. Two: reform of the most 
revolutionary and permanent kind.' 
'And the Negro. Do not forget the Negro. So far as I and my 
people are concerned the South is Fascist now and always has 
been.' 
'Yeah.' 
"The Nazis rob the Jews of their legal, economic, and cultural 
life. Here the Negro has always been deprived of these. And if 
wholesale and dramatic robbery of money and goods has not 
taken place here as in Germany, it is simply because the Negro 
has never been allowed to accrue wealth in the first place.' 
'That's the system,' Jake said. 
'The Jew and the Negro,' said Doctor Copeland bitter

257 

ry. The history of my people will be commensurate with the 
interminable history of the Jew—only bloodier and more 
violent. Like a certain species of sea gull. If you capture one 
of the birds and tie a red string of twine around his leg the rest 
of the flock will peck him to death.' 
Doctor Copeland took off his spectacles and rebound a wire 
around a broken hinge. Then he polished the lenses on his 
nightshirt. His hand shook with agitation. 'Mr. Singer is a 
Jew.' 
'No, you're wrong there.' 
'But I am positive that he is. The name, Singer. I recognized 
his race the first time I saw him. From his eyes. Besides, he 
told me so.' 
'Why, he couldn't have,' Jake insisted. "He's pure Anglo-Saxon 
if I ever saw it. Irish and Anglo-Saxon.' 

.But------
'
'I'm certain. Absolutely.
'
'Very well,' said Doctor Copeland. 'We will not quarrel.
'
Outside the dark air had cooled so that there was a chill in the
room. It was almost dawn. The early morning sky was deep,
silky blue and the moon had turned from silver to white. All
was still. The only sound was the clear, lonely song of 
a

spring bird in the darkness outside. Though a faint breeze 
blew in from the window the air in the room was sour and 
close. There was a feeling both of tenseness and exhaustion. 
Doctor Copeland leaned forward from the pillow. His eyes 
were bloodshot and his hands clutched the counterpane. The 
neck of his nightshirt had slipped down over his bony 
shoulder. Jake's heels were balanced on the rungs of his chair 
and his giant hands folded between his knees in a waiting and 
childlike attitude. Deep black circles were beneath his eyes, 
his hair was unkempt. They looked at each other and waited. 
As the silence grew longer the tenseness between them 
became more strained. 
At last Doctor Copeland cleared his throat and said: 'I am 
certain you did not come here for nothing. I am sure we have 
not discussed these subjects all through the night to no 
purpose. We have talked of everything now except the most 
vital subject of all—the way out. What must be done.' 
They still watched each other and waited. In the face of258 

259 

each there was expectation. Doctor Copeland sat bolt upright
against the pillows. Jake rested his chin in his hand and leaned
forward. The pause continued. And then hesitantly they began
to speak at the same time.
'Excuse me,' Jake said. 'Go ahead.
'
'No, you. You started first.
'
'Go on.
'
'Pshaw!' said Doctor Copeland. 'Continue.
'
Jake stared at him with clouded, mystical eyes. It's this way.
This is how I see it. The only solution is for the people to
know. Once they know the truth they can be oppressed no
longer. Once just half of them know the whole fight is won.
'
'Yes, once they understand the workings of this society. But
how do you propose to tell them?
'
'Listen,' Jake said. 'Think about chain letters. If one person
sends a letter to ten people and then each of the ten people
sends letters to ten more—you get it?' He faltered. 'Not that 
I
write letters, but the idea is the same. I just go around telling.
And if in one town I can show the truth to just ten of the don'tknows, then I feel like some good has been done. See?
'



Doctor Copeland looked at Jake in surprise. Then he snorted.
'Do not be childish! You cannot just go about talking. Chain
letters indeed! Knows and don't-knows!
'
Jake's lips trembled and his brow lowered with quick anger.
'O.K. What have you got to offer?
'
'I will say first that I used to feel somewhat as you do on this
question. But I have learned what a mistake that attitude is.
For half a century I thought it wise to be patient.
'
'I didn't say be patient.
'
'In the face of brutality I was prudent. Before injustice I held
my peace. I sacrificed the things in hand for the good of the
hypothetical whole. I believed in the tongue instead of the fist.
As an armor against oppression I taught patience and faith in
the human soul. I know now how wrong I was. I have been 
a
traitor to myself and to my people. All that is rot. Now is the
time to act and to act quickly. Fight cunning with cunning and
might with might'
'But how?' Jake asked. 'How?
'
'Why, by getting out and doing things. By calling
crowds of people together and getting them to demonstrate.
'
'Huh! That last phrase gives you away— "getting them to
demonstrate." What good will it do if you get them to
demonstrate against a thing if they don't know. You're trying
to stuff the hog by way of his ass.
'
'Such vulgar expressions annoy me,' Doctor Copeland said
prudishly.
'For Christ' sake! I don't care if they annoy you or not'
Doctor Copeland held up his hand. 'Let us not get so
overheated,' he said. 'Let us attempt to see eye to eye with
each other.
'
'Suits me. I don't want to fight with you.
'
They were silent. Doctor Copeland moved his eyes from one
corner of the ceiling to the other. Several times he wet his lips
to speak and each time the word remained half-formed and
silent in his mouth. Then at last he said: 'My advice to you is
this. Do not attempt to stand alone.
'
'But------
'
'But, nothing,' said Doctor Copeland didactically. "The most
fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.
'
'I see what you're getting at.
'



Doctor Copeland pulled the neck of his nightshirt up over his 
bony shoulder and held it gathered tight to his throat. 'You 
believe in the struggle of my people for their human rights?' 
The Doctor's agitation and his mild and husky question made 
Jake's eyes brim suddenly with tears. A quick, swollen rush of 
love caused him to grasp the black, bony hand on the 
counterpane and hold it fast. 'Sure,' he said. 
"The extremity of our need?' 
'Yes.' 
"The lack of justice? The bitter inequality?' 
Doctor Copeland coughed and spat into one of the squares of 
paper which he kept beneath his pillow. 'I have a program. It is 
a very simple, concentrated plan. I mean to focus on only one 
objective. In August of this year I plan to lead more than one 
thousand Negroes in this county on a march. A march to 
Washington. All of us together in one solid body. If you will 
look in the cabinet yonder you will see a stack of letters which 
I have written260 

this week and will deliver personally.' Doctor Copeland slid 
his nervous hands up and down the sides of the narrow bed. 
'You remember what I said to you a short while ago? You will 
recall that my only advice to you was: Do not attempt to stand 
alone.' 
'I get it,' Jake said. 
*But once you enter this it must be all. First and foremost. 
Your work now and forever. You must give of your whole self 
without stint, without hope of personal return, without rest or 
hope of rest.' 
'For the rights of the Negro in the South.' 
'In the South and here in this very county. And it must be 
either all or nothing. Either yes or no.' 
Doctor Copeland leaned back on the pillow. Only his eyes 
seemed alive. They burned in his face like red coals. The fever 
made his cheekbones a ghastly purple. Jake scowled and 
pressed his knuckles to his soft, wide, trembling mouth. Color 
rushed to his face. Outside the first pale light of morning had 
come. The electric bulb suspended from the ceiling burned 
with ugly sharpness in the dawn. 
Jake rose to his feet and stood stiffly at the foot of the bed. He 


said flatly: 'No. That's not the right angle at all. I'm dead sure 
it's not. In the first place, you'd never get out of town. They'd 
break it up by saying it's a menace to public health—or some 
such trumped-up reason. They'd arrest you and nothing would 
come of it. But even if by some miracle you got to 
Washington it wouldn't do a bit of good. Why, the whole 
notion is crazy.' 
The sharp rattle of phlegm sounded in Doctor Cope-land's 
throat. His voice was harsh. 'As you are so quick to sneer and 
condemn, what do you have to offer instead?' 
'I didn't sneer,' Jake said. 'I only remarked that your plan is 
crazy. I come here tonight with an idea much better than that. I 
wanted your son, Willie, and the other two boys to let me push 
them around in a wagon. They were to tell what happened to 
them and afterward I was to tell why. In other words, I was to 
give a talk on the dialectics of capitalism—and show up all of 
its lies. I would explain so that everyone would understand 
why those boys' legs were cut off. And make everyone who 
saw them know.' 
'Pshaw! Double pshaw!' said Doctor Copeland furious

261 

ly. 1 do not believe you have good sense. If I were a man who 
felt it worth my while to laugh I would surely laugh at that. 
Never have I had the opportunity to hear of such nonsense 
first hand.' 
They stared at each other in bitter disappointment and anger. 
There was the rattle of a wagon in the street outside. Jake 
swallowed and bit his lips. 'Huh!' he said finally. 'You're the 
only one who's crazy. You got everything exactly backward. 
The only way to solve the Negro problem under capitalism is 
to geld every one of the fifteen million black men in these 
states.' 
'So that is the kind of idea you harbor beneath your ranting 
about justice.' 
'I didn't say it should be done. I only said you couldn't see the 
forest for the trees.' Jake spoke with slow and painful care. 
'The work has to start at the bottom. The old traditions 
smashed and the new ones created. To forge a whole new 
pattern for the world. To make man a social creature for the 


first time, living in an orderly and controlled society where he 
is not forced to be unjust in order to survive. A social tradition 
in which------' 
Doctor Copeland clapped ironically. 'Very good,' he said. 'But 
the cotton must be picked before the cloth is made. You and 
your crackpot do-nothing theories can------' 
'Hush! Who cares whether you and your thousand Negroes 
straggle up to that stinking cesspool of a place called 
Washington? What difference does it make? What do a few 
people matter—a few thousand people, black, white, good or 
bad? When the whole of our society is built on a foundation of 
black lies.' 
'Everything!' Doctor Copeland panted. 'Everything! 
Everything! 
'Nothing!' 
"The soul of the meanest and most evil of us on this earth is 
worth more in the sight of justice than------' 
'Oh, the Hell with it!' Jake said. 'Balls!' 
'Blasphemer!' screamed Doctor Copeland. 'Foul blasphemer!' 
Jake shook the iron bars of the bed. The vein in his forehead 
swelled to the point of bursting and his face was dark with 
rage. 'Short-sighted bigot!'262 

'White------' Doctor Copeland's voice failed him. He 
struggled and no sound would come. At last he was able to 
bring forth a choked whisper: 'Fiend.' 
The bright yellow morning was at the window. Doctor 
Copeland's head fell back on the pillow. His neck twisted at a 
broken angle, a fleck of bloody foam on his lips. Jake looked 
at him once before, sobbing with violence, he rushed headlong 
from the room. 
14 

N< 

ow she could not stay in the inside room. She had to be around 
somebody all the time. Doing something every minute. And if 
she was by herself she counted or figured with numbers. She 
counted all the roses on the living-room wall-paper. She 
figured out the cubic area of the whole house. She counted 
every blade of grass in the back yard and every leaf on a 


certain bush. Because if she did not have her mind on numbers 
this terrible afraidness came in her. She would be walking 
home from school on these May afternoons and suddenly she 
would have to think of something quick. A good thing—very 
good. Maybe she would think about a phrase of hurrying jazz 
music. Or that a bowl of jello would be in the refrigerator 
when she got home. Or plan to smoke a cigarette behind the 
coal house. Maybe she would try to think a long way ahead to 
the time when she would go north and see snow, or even 
travel somewhere in a foreign land. But these thoughts about 
good things wouldn't last. The jello was gone in five minutes 
and the cigarette smoked. Then what was there after that? And 
the numbers mixed themselves up in her brain. And the snow 
and the foreign land were a long, long time away. Then what 
was there? 
Just Mister Singer. She wanted to follow him everywhere. In 
the morning she would watch him go down the front steps to 
work and then follow along a half a block behind him. Every 
afternoon as soon as school was over she hung around at the 
corner near the store where he worked. At four o'clock he 
went out to drink a Coca-Cola. She watched him cross the 
street and go into the drugstore and finally come out again. 
She followed him home from 

263 

work and sometimes even when he took walks. She always 
followed a long way behind him. And he did not know. 
She would go up to see him in his room. First she scrubbed 
her face and hands and put some vanilla on the front of her 
dress. She only went to visit him twice a week now, because 
she didn't want him to get tired of her. Most always he would 
be sitting over the queer, pretty chess game when she opened 
the door. And then she was with him. 
'Mister Singer, have you ever lived in a place where it snowed 
in the winter-time?' 
He tilted his chair back against the wall and nodded. 
'In some different country than this one—in a foreign place?' 
He nodded yes again and wrote on his pad with his silver 
pencil. Once he had traveled to Ontario, Canada—across the 
river from Detroit Canada was so far up north that the white 


snow drifted up to the roofs of the houses. That was where the 
Quints were and the St. Lawrence River. The people ran up 
and down the streets speaking French to each other. And far 
up in the north there were deep forests and white ice igloos. 
The arctic region with the beautiful northern lights. 
"When you was in Canada did you go out and get any fresh 
snow and eat it with cream and sugar? Once I read where it 
was mighty good to eat that way.' 
He turned his head to one side because he didn't understand. 
She couldn't ask the question again because suddenly it 
sounded silly. She only looked at him and waited. A big, black 
shadow of his head was on the wall behind him. The electric 
fan cooled the thick, hot air. All was quiet. It was like they 
waited to tell each other things that had never been told 
before. What she had to say was terrible and afraid. But what 
he would tell her was so true that it would make everything all 
right. Maybe it was a thing that could not be spoken with 
words or writing. Maybe he would have to let her understand 
this in a different way. That was the feeling she had with him. 
'I was just asking you about Canada—but it didn't amount to 
anything, Mister Singer.' 
Downstairs in the home rooms there was plenty of trouble. 
Etta was still so sick that she couldn't sleep264 

crowded three in a bed. The shades were drawn and the dark 
room smelled bad with a sick smell. Etta's job was gone, and 
that meant eight dollars less a week besides the doctor's bill. 
Then one day when Ralph was walking around in the kitchen 
he burned himself on the hot kitchen stove. The bandages 
made his hands itch and somebody had to watch him all the 
time else he would bust the blisters. On George's birthday they 
had bought him a little red bike with a bell and a basket on the 
handlebars. Everybody had chipped in to give it to him. But 
when Etta lost her job they couldn't pay, and after two 
installments were past due the store sent a man out to take the 
wheel away. George just watched the man roll the bike off the 
porch, and when he passed George kicked the back fender and 
then went into the coal house and shut the door. 
It was money, money, money all the time. They owed to the 
grocery and they owed the last payment on some furniture. 


And now since they had lost the house they owed money there 
too. The six rooms in the house were always taken, but 
nobody ever paid the rent on time. 
For a while their Dad went over every day to hunt another job. 
He couldn't do carpenter work any more because it made him 
jittery to be more than ten feet off the ground. He applied for 
many jobs but nobody would hire him. Then at last he got this 
notion. 
'It's advertising, Mick,' he said. Tve come to the conclusion 
that's all in the world the matter with my watch-repairing 
business right now. I got to sell myself. I got to get out and let 
people know I can fix watches, and fix them good and cheap. 
You just mark my words. Fm going to build up this business 
so I'll be able to make a good living for this family the rest of 
my life. Just by advertising.' 
He brought home a dozen sheets of tin and some red paint. For 
the next week he was very busy. It seemed to him like this was 
a hell of a good idea. The signs were all over the floor of the 
front room. He got down on his hands and knees and took 
great care over the printing of each letter. As he worked he 
whistled and wagged his head. He hadn't been so cheerful and 
glad in months. Every now and then he would have to dress in 
his good suit and go around the corner for a glass of beer to 
calm himself. On the signs at first he had:

 265 
Wilbur Kelly 
Watch Repairing 
Very Cheap and Expert 
*Mick, I want them to hit you right bang in the eye. To stand 
out wherever you see them.' 
She helped him and he gave her three nickels. The signs were 

O.K. at first. Then he worked on them so much that they were 
ruined. He wanted to add more and more things —in the 
corners and at the top and bottom. Before he had finished the 
signs were plastered all over with 'Very Cheap' and 'Come At 
Once' and 'You Give Me Any Watch And I Make It Run.' 
'You tried to write so much in the signs that nobody will read 
anything,' she told him. 
He brought home some more tin and left the designing up to 
her. She painted them very plain, with great big block letters 

and a picture of a clock. Soon he had a whole stack of them. A 
fellow he knew rode him out in the country where he could 
nail them to trees and fenceposts. At both ends of the block he 
put up a sign with a black hand pointing toward the house. 
And over the front door there was another sign. 
The day after this advertising was finished he waited in the 
front room dressed in a clean shirt and a tie. Nothing 
happened. The jeweler who gave him overflow work to do at 
half price sent in a couple of clocks. That was all. He took it 
hard. He didn't go out to look for other jobs any more, but 
every minute he had to be busy around the house. He took 
down the doors and oiled the hinges— whether they needed it 
or not. He mixed the margarine for Portia and scrubbed the 
floors upstairs. He worked out a contraption where the water 
from the ice box could be drained through the kitchen 
window. He carved some beautiful alphabet blocks for Ralph 
and invented a little needle-threader. Over the few watches 
that he had to work on he took great pains. 
Mick still followed Mister Singer. But she didn't want to. It 
was like there was something wrong about her following after 
him without his knowing. Two or three days she played hookv 
from school. She walked behind him when he went to work 
and hung around on the corner near his266 

267 
store all day. When he ate his dinner at Mister Brannon's she 
went into the caf6 and spent a nickel for a sack of peanuts. 
Then at night she followed him on these dark, long walks. She 
stayed on the opposite side of the street from him and about a 
block behind. When he stopped, she stopped also—and when 
he walked fast she ran to keep up with him. So long as she 
could see him and be near him she was right happy. But 
sometimes this queer feeling would come to her and she knew 
that she was doing wrong. So she tried hard to keep busy at 
home. 
She and her Dad were alike in the way that now they always 
had to be fooling with something. She kept up with all that 
went on in the house and the neighborhood. Spare-rib's big 
sister won fifty dollars at a movie bank night. Baby Wilson 
had the bandage off her head now, but her hair was cut short 


like a boy's. She couldn't dance in the soiree this year, and 
when her mother took her to see it Baby began to yell and cut 
up during one of the dances. They had to drag her out of the 
Opera House. And on the sidewalk Mrs. Wilson had to whip 
her to make her behave. And Mrs. Wilson cried, too. George 
hated Baby. He would hold his nose and stop up his ears when 
she passed by the house. Pete Wells ran away from home and 
was gone three weeks. He came back barefooted and very 
hungry. He bragged about how he had gone all the way to 
New Orleans. 
Because of Etta, Mick still slept in the living-room. The short 
sofa cramped her so much that she had to make up sleep in 
study hall at school. Every other night Bill swapped with her 
and she slept with George. Then a lucky break came for them. 
A fellow who had a room upstairs moved away. When after a 
week had gone by and nobody answered the ad in the paper, 
their Mama told Bill he could move up to the vacant room. 
Bill was very pleased to have a place entirely by himself away 
from the family. She moved in with George. He slept like a 
little warm kitty and breathed very quiet. 
She knew the night-time again. But not the same as in the last 
summer when she walked in the dark by herself and listened 
to the music and made plans. She knew the night a different 
way now. In bed she lay awake. A queer 
afraidness came to her. It was like the ceiling was slowly 
pressing down toward her face. How would it be if the house 
fell apart? Once their Dad had said the whole place ought to 
be condemned. Did he mean that maybe some night when they 
were asleep the walls would crack and the house collapse? 
Bury them under all the plaster and broken glass and smashed 
furniture? So that they could not move or breathe? She lay 
awake and her muscles were stiff. In the night there was 
creaking. Was that somebody walking —somebody else 
awake besides her—Mister Singer? 
She never thought about Harry. She had made up her mind to 
forget him and she did forget him. He wrote that he had a job 
with a garage in Birmingham. She answered with a card 
saying 'O.K.' as they had planned. He sent his mother three 
dollars every week. It seemed like a very long time had passed 
since they went to the woods together. 


During the day she was busy in the outside room. But at night
she was by herself in the dark and figuring was not enough.
She wanted somebody. She tried to keep George awake. 'It
sure is fun to stay awake and talk in the dark. Less us talk
awhile together.
'
He made a sleepy answer.
'See the stars out the window. If s a hard thing to realize that
every single one of those little stars is a planet as large as the
earth.
'
*How do they know that?
'
They just do. They got ways of measuring. That's science.
'
'I don't believe in it'
She tried to egg him on to an argument so that he would get
mad and stay awake. He just let her talk and didn't seem to pay
attention. After a while he said:
'Look, Mick! You see that branch of the tree? Don't it look
like a pilgrim forefather lying down with a gun in his hand?
'
'It sure does. That's exactly what it's like. And see over there
on the bureau. Don't that bottle look like a funny man with 
a
hat on?
'


.Naw,' George said. 'It don't look a bit like one to me.' 
She took a drink from a glass of water on the floor. 'Less me 
and you play a game—the name game. You can be It if you 
want to. Whichever you like. You can choose.'268 
f 

269 

He put his little fists up to his face and breathed in a quiet,
even way because he was falling asleep.
'Wait, George!' she said. "This'll be fun. I'm somebody
beginning with an M. Guess who I am.
'
George sighed and his voice was tired. 'Are you Harpo
Marx?
'
'No, Fm not even in the movies.
'
'I don't know.
'
'Sure you do. My name begins with the letter M and I live in



Italy. You ought to guess this.
'
George turned over on his side and curled up in a ball. 
;
He did not answer.
'My name begins with an M but sometimes I'm called a 
f
name beginning with D. In Italy. You can guess.
'


The room was quiet and dark and George was asleep. She
pinched him and twisted his ear. He groaned but did not
awake. She fitted in close to him and pressed her face against
his hot little naked shoulder. He would sleep all through the
night while she was figuring with decimals.
Was Mister Singer awake in his room upstairs? Did the ceiling
creak because he was walking quietly up and down, drinking 
a
cold orange crush and studying the chess men laid out on the
table? Had ever he felt a terrible afraidness like this one? No.
He had never done anything wrong. He had never done wrong
and his heart was quiet in the nighttime. Yet at the same time
he would understand.
If only she could tell him about this, then it would be better.
She thought of how she would begin to tell him. Mister Singer
—I know this girl not any older than I am— Mister Singer, 
I
don't know whether you understand a thing like this or not—
Mister Singer. Mister Singer. She said his name over and over.
She loved him better than anyone in the family, better even
than George or her Dad. It was a different love. It was not like
anything she had ever felt in her life before.
In the mornings she and George would dress together and talk.
Sometimes she wanted very much to be close to George. He
had grown taller and was pale and peaked. His soft, reddish
hair lay raggedly over the tops of his little ears. His sharp eyes
were always squinted so that his face had a strained look. His
permanent teeth were coming in, but they were blue and far
apart like his baby teeth had 
.
been. Often his jaw was crooked because he had a habit of
feeling out the sore new teeth with his tongue.
'Listen here, George,' she said. 'Do you love me?
'
'Sure. I love you O.K.
'
It was a hot, sunny morning during the last week of school.
George was dressed and he lay on the floor doing his number
work. His dirty little fingers squeezed the pencil tight and he
kept breaking the lead point. When he was finished she held him



by the shoulders and looked hard into his face. 'I mean a lot. A 
whole lot.' 
'Lemme go. Sure I love you. Ain't you my sister?' 
'I know. But suppose I wasn't your sister. Would you love me 
then?' 
George backed away. He had run out of shirts and wore a dirty 
pullover sweater. His wrists were thin and blue-veined. The 
sleeves of the sweater had stretched so that they hung loose and 
made his hands look very small. 
'If you wasn't my sister then I might not know you. So I couldn't 
love you.' 

.But if you did know me and I wasn't your sister.
'
*But how do you know I would? You can't prove it.
'
.Well, just take it for granted and pretend.
'
'I reckon I would like you all right. But I still say you can't
prove-------
'
'Prove! You got that word on the brain. Ptove and trick.
Everything is either a trick or it's got to be proved. I can't stand
you, George Kelly. I hate you.
'
'O.K. Then I don't like you none either.
'
He crawled down under the bed for something.
*What you want under there? You better leave my things alone.
If I ever caught you meddling in my private box I'd bust your
head against the side of the wall. I would. I'd stomp on your
brains.
'
George came out from under the bed with his spelling book. His
dirty little paw reached in a hole in the mattress where he hid his
marbles. Nothing could faze that kid. He took his time about
choosing three brown agates to take with him. 'Aw, shucks,
Mick,' he answered her. George was too little and too tough.
There wasn't any sense in loving him. He knew even less about
things than she did.
School was out and she had passed every subject—some with 
A
plus and some by the skin of her teeth. The days270
were long and hot. Finally she was able to work hard at music 
again. She began to write down pieces for the violin and 
piano. She wrote songs. Always music was in her mind. She 
listened to Mister Singer's radio and wandered around the 
house thinking about the programs she had heard. 

.What ails Mick?' Portia asked. 'What kind of cat is it got her 
tongue? She walk around and don't say a word. She not even 
greedy like she used to be. She getting to be a regular lady 
these days.' 

It was as though in some way she was waiting—but what she 
waited for she did not know. The sun burned down glaring 
and white-hot in the streets. During the day she either worked 
hard at music or messed with kids. And waited. Sometimes 
she would look all around her quick and this panic would 
come in her. Then in late June there was a sudden happening 
so important that it changed everything. 
That night they were all out on the porch. The twilight was 
blurred and soft. Supper was almost ready and the smell of 
cabbage floated to them from the open hall. All of them were 
together except Hazel, who had not come home from work, 
and Etta, who still lay sick in bed. Their Dad leaned back in a 
chair with his sock-feet on the banisters. Bill was on the steps 
with the kids. Their Mama sat on the swing fanning herself 
with the newspaper. Across the street a girl new in the 
neighborhood skated up and down the sidewalk on one roller 
skate. The lights on the block were just beginning to be turned 
on, and far away a man was calling someone. 
Then Hazel come home. Her high heels clopped up the steps 
and she leaned back lazily on the banisters. In the half-dark 
her fat, soft hands were very white as she felt the back of her 
braided hair. 'I sure do wish Etta was able to work,' she said. 'I 
found out about this job today.' 
'What kind of a job?' asked their Dad. 'Anything I could do, or 
just for girls?' 
'Just for a girl. A clerk down at Woolworth's is going to get 
married next week.' 
"The ten-cent store------' Mick said. 
'You interested?' 
The question took her by surprise. She had just been 

271 
thinking about a sack of wintergreen candy she had bought 
there the day before. She felt hot and tense. She rubbed her 
bangs up from her forehead and counted the first few stars. 
Their Dad flipped his cigarette down to the sidewalk. .No,' he 
said. 'We don't want Mick to take on too much responsibility 
at her age. Let her get her growth out. Her growth through 
with, anyway.' 
'I agree with you,' Hazel said. 'I really do think it would be a 


mistake for Mick to have to work regular. I don't think it 
would be right.' 
Bill put Ralph down from his lap and shuffled his feet on the 
steps. 'Nobody ought to work until they're around sixteen. 
Mick should have two more years and finish at Vocational—if 
we can make it.' 
'Even if we have to give up the house and move down in mill 
town,' their Mama said. 'I rather keep Mick at home for a 
while.' 
For a minute she had been scared they would try to corner her 
into taking the job. She would have said she would run away 
from home. But the way they took the attitude they did 
touched her. She felt excited. They were all talking about her 
—and in a kindly way. She was ashamed for the first scared 
feeling that had come to her. Of a sudden she loved all of the 
family and a tightness came in her throat. 
'About how much money is in it?' she asked. 
Ten dollars.' 
Ten dollars a week?' 
'Sure,' Hazel said. 'Did you think it would be only ten a 
month?' 
'Portia don't make but about that much.' 
'Oh, colored people------' Hazel said. 
Mick rubbed the top of her head with her fist That's a whole 
lot of money. A good deal.' 
'It's not to be grinned at,' Bill said. "That's what I make.' 
Mick's tongue was dry. She moved it around in her mouth to 
gather up spit enough to talk. Ten dollars a week would buy 
about fifteen fried chickens. Or five pairs of shoes or five 
dresses. Or installments on a radio.' She thought about a 
piano, but she did not mention that aloud.272 

'It would tide us over,' their Mama said. *But at the same time 
I rather keep Mick at home for a while. Now, 
when Etta------' 
'Wait!' She felt hot and reckless. 'I want to take the job. I can 
hold it down. I know I can.' 'Listen to little Mick,' Bill said. 
Their Dad picked his teeth with a matchstick and took his feet 
down from the banisters. 'Now, let's not rush into anything. I 
rather Mick take her time and think this out. We can get along 


somehow without her working. I mean 
to increase my watch work by sixty per cent soon as------' 
'I forgot,' Hazel said. 'I think there's a Christmas bonus every 
year.' 
Mick frowned. "But I wouldn't be working then. I'd be in 
school. I just want to work during vacation and then go back 
to school.' 'Sure,' Hazel said quickly. 
"But tomorrow I'll go down with you and take the job if I can 
get it' 
It was as though a great worry and tightness left the family. In 
the dark they began to laugh and talk. Their Dad did a trick for 
George with a matchstick and a handkerchief. Then he gave 
the kid fifty cents to go down to the corner store for Coca-
Colas to be drunk after supper. The smell of cabbage was 
stronger in the hall and pork chops were frying. Portia called. 
The boarders already waited at the table. Mick had supper in 
the dining-room. The cabbage leaves were limp and yellow on 
her plate and she couldn't eat. When she reached for the bread 
she knocked a pitcher of iced tea over the table. 
Then later she waited on the front porch by herself for Mister 
Singer to come home. In a desperate way she wanted to see 
him. The excitement of the hour before had died down and she 
was sick to the stomach. She was going to work in a ten-cent 
store and she did not want to work there. It was like she had 
been trapped into something. The job wouldn't be just for the 
summer—but for a long time, as long as she could see ahead. 
Once they were used to the money coming in it would be 
impossible to do without again. That was the way things were. 
She stood in the dark and held tight to the banisters. A long 
time passed and Mister Singer still did not come. At eleven 
o'clock she 

went out to see if she could find him. But suddenly she got 
frightened in the dark and ran back home. 
Then in the morning she bathed and dressed very careful. 
Hazel and Etta loaned her the clothes to wear and primped her 
to look nice. She wore Hazel's green silk dress and a green hat 
and high-heeled pumps with silk stockings. They fixed her 
face with rouge and lipstick and plucked her eyebrows. She 
looked at least sixteen years old when they were finished. 


It was too late to back down now. She was really grown and 
ready to earn her keep. Yet if she would go to her Dad and tell 
him how she felt he would tell her to wait a year. And Hazel 
and Etta and Bill and their Mama, even now, would say that 
she didn't have to go. But she couldn't do it. She couldn't lose 
face like that. She went up to see Mister Singer. The words 
came all in a rush: 
'Listen—I believe I got this job. What do you think? Do you 
think it's a good idea? Do you think it's O.K. to drop out of 
school and work now? You think it's good?' 
At first he did not understand. His gray eyes half-closed and 
he stood with his hands deep down in his pockets. There was 
the old feeling that they waited to tell each other things that 
had never been told before. The thing she had to say now was 
not much. But what he had to tell her would be right—and if 
he said the job sounded O.K. then she would feel better about 
it. She repeated the words slowly and waited. 
'You think it's good?' 
Mister Singer considered. Then he nodded yes. 
She got the job. The manager took her and Hazel back to a 
little office and talked with them. Afterward she couldn't 
remember how the manager looked or anything that had been 
said. But she was hired, and on the way out of the place she 
bought ten cents' worth of Chocolate and a little modeling clay 
set for George. On June the fifth she was to start work. She 
stood for a long while before the window of Mister Singer's 
jewelry store. Then she hung around on the corner.TT4 
CARSON Me CULLERS 
15 
_l HE time had come for Singer to go to Antonapoulos again. 
The journey was a long one. For, although the distance 
between them was something less than two hundred miles, the 
train meandered to points far out of the way and stopped for 
long hours at certain stations during the night. Singer would 
leave the town in the afternoon and travel all through the night 
and until the early morning of the next day. As usual, he was 
ready far in advance. He planned to have a full week with his 
friend this visit. His clothes had been sent to the cleaner's, his 
hat blocked, and his bags were in readiness. The gifts he 
would carry were wrapped in colored tissue paper—and in 


addition there was a deluxe basket of fruits done up in 
cellophane and a crate of late-shipped strawberries. On the 
morning before his departure Singer cleaned his room. In his 
ice box he found a bit of left-over goose liver and took it out 
to the alley for the neighborhood cat. On his door he tacked 
the same sign he had posted there before, stating that he would 
be absent for several days on business. During all these 
preparations he moved about leisurely with two vivid spots of 
color on his cheekbones. His face was very solemn. 
Then at last the hour for departure was at hand. He stood on 
the platform, burdened with his suitcases and gifts, and 
watched the train roll in on the station tracks. He found 
himself a seat in the day coach and hoisted his luggage on the 
rack above his head. The car was crowded, for the most part 
with mothers and children. The green plush seats had a grimy 
smell. The windows of the car were dirty and rice thrown at 
some recent bridal pair lay scattered on the floor. Singer 
smiled cordially to his fellow-travelers and leaned back in his 
seat. He closed his eyes. The lashes made a dark, curved 
fringe above the hollows of his cheeks. His right hand moved 
nervously inside his pocket 
For a while his thoughts lingered in the town he was leaving 
behind him. He saw Mick and Doctor Copeland and Jake 
Blount and Biff Brannon. The faces crowded in on him out of 
the darkness so that he felt smothered. He thought of the 
quarrel between Blount and the Negro. The 

275 
nature of this quarrel was hopelessly confused in his mind —but each 
of them had on several occasions broken out into a bitter tirade 
against the other, the absent one. He had agreed with each of them in 
turn, though what it was they wanted him to sanction he did not 
know. And Mick —her face was urgent and she said a good deal that 
he did not understand in the least. And then Biff Brannon at the New 
York Caf6. Brannon with his dark, iron-like jaw and his watchful 
eyes. And strangers who followed him about the streets and 
buttonholed him for unexplainable reasons. The Turk at the linen 
shop who flung his hands up in his face and babbled with his tongue 
to make words the shape of which Singer had never imagined before. 
A certain mill foreman and an old black woman. A businessman on 
the main street and an urchin who solicited soldiers for a whorehouse 
near the river. Singer wriggled his shoulders uneasily. The train 


rocked with a smooth, easy motion. His head nodded to rest on his 
shoulder and for a short while he slept. 
When he opened his eyes again the town was far behind him. The 
town was forgotten. Outside the dirty window there was the brilliant 
midsummer countryside. The sun slanted in strong, bronze-colored 
rays over the green fields of the new cotton. There were acres of 
tobacco, the plants heavy and green like some monstrous jungle 
weed. The orchards of peaches with the lush fruit weighting down the 
dwarfed trees. There were miles of pastures and tens of miles of 
wasted, washed-out land abandoned to the hardier weeds. The train 
cut through deep green pine forests where the ground was covered 
with the slick brown needles and the tops of the trees stretched up 
virgin and tall into the sky. And farther, a long way south of the 
town, the cypress swamps—with the gnarled roots of the trees 
writhing down into the brackish waters, where the gray, tattered moss 
trailed from the branches, where tropical water flowers blossomed in 
dankness and gloom. Then out again into the open beneath the sun 
and the indigo-blue sky. 
Singer sat solemn and timid, his face turned fully toward the window. 
The great sweeps of space and the hard, elemental coloring almost 
blinded him. This kaleidoscopic variety of scene, this abundance of 
growth and color,276 

seemed somehow connected with his friend". His thoughts 
were with Antonapoulos. The bliss of their reunion almost 
stifled him. His nose was pinched and he breathed with quick, 
short breaths through his slightly open mouth. 
Antonapoulos would be glad to see him. He would enjoy the 
fresh fruits and the presents. By now he would be out of the 
sick ward and able to go on an excursion to the movies, and 
afterward to the hotel where they had eaten dinner on the first 
visit. Singer had written many letters to Antonapoulos, but he 
had not posted them. He surrendered himself wholly to 
thoughts of his friend. 
The half-year since he had last been with him seemed neither 
a long nor a short span of time. Behind each waking moment 
there had always been his friend. And this submerged 
communion with Antonapoulos had grown and changed as 
though they were together in the flesh. Sometimes he thought 
of Antonapoulos with awe and self-abasement, sometimes 
with pride—always with love unchecked by criticism, freed of 
will. When he dreamed at night the face of his friend was 


always before him, massive and gentle. And in his waking 
thoughts they were eternally united. 
The summer evening came slowly. The sun sank down behind 
a ragged line of trees in the distance and the sky paled. The 
twilight was languid and soft. There was a white full moon, 
and low purple clouds lay over the horizon. The earth, the 
trees, the unpainted rural dwellings darkened slowly. At 
intervals mild summer lightning quivered in the air. Singer 
watched all of this intently until at last the night had come, 
and his own face was reflected in the glass before him. 
Children staggered up and down the aisle of the car with 
dripping paper cups of water. An old man in overalls who had 
the seat before Singer drank whiskey from time to time from a 
Coca-Cola bottle. Between swallows he plugged the bottle 
carefully with a wad of paper. A little girl on the right combed 
her hair with a sticky red lollipop. Shoeboxes were opened 
and trays of supper were brought in from the dining-car. 
Singer did not eat. He leaned back in his seat and kept 
desultory account of all that went on around him. At last the 
car settled down. Children lay on the broad plush seats and 
slept, while men and women 

277 

doubled up with their pillows and rested as best they could. 
Singer did not sleep. He pressed his face close against the 
glass and strained to see into the night. The darkness was 
heavy and velvety. Sometimes there was a patch of moonlight 
or the flicker of a lantern from the window of some house 
along the way. From the moon he saw that the train had turned 
from its southward course and was headed toward the east. 
The eagerness he felt was so keen that his nose was too 
pinched to breathe through and his cheeks were scarlet. He sat 
there, his face pressed close against the cold, sooty glass of 
the window, through most of the long night journey. 
The train was more than an hour late, and the fresh, bright 
summer morning was well under way when they arrived. 
Singer went immediately to the hotel, a very good hotel where 
he had made reservations in advance. He unpacked his bags 
and arranged the presents he would take to Antonapoulos on 
the bed. From the menu the bellboy brought him he selected a 
luxurious breakfast—broiled bluefish, hominy, French toast, 


and hot black coffee. After breakfast he rested before the 
electric fan in his underwear. At noon he began to dress. He 
bathed and shaved and laid out fresh linen and his best 
seersucker suit At three o'clock the hospital was open for 
visiting hours. It was Tuesday and the eighteenth of July. 
At the asylum he sought Antonapoulos first in the sick ward 
where he had been confined before. But at the doorway of the 
room he saw immediately that his friend was not there. Next 
he found his way through the corridors to the office where he 
had been taken the time before. He had his question already 
written on one of the cards he carried about with him. The 
person behind the desk was not the same as the one who had 
been there before. He was a young man, almost a boy, with a 
half-formed, immature face and a lank mop of hair. Singer 
handed him the card and stood quietly, his arms heaped with 
packages, his weight resting on his heels. 
The young man shook his head. He leaned over the desk and 
scribbled loosely on a pad of paper. Singer read what he had 
written and the spots of color drained from his cheekbones 
instantly. He looked at the note a long time,278 

his eyes cut sideways and his head bowed. For it was written 
there that Antonapoulos was dead. 
On the way back to the hotel he was careful not to crush the 
fruit he had brought with him. He took the packages up to his 
room and then wandered down to the lobby. Behind a potted 
palm tree there was a slot machine. He inserted a nickel but 
when he tried to pull the lever he found that the machine was 
jammed. Over this incident he made a great to-do. He 
cornered the clerk and furiously demonstrated what had 
happened. His face was deathly pale and he was so beside 
himself that tears rolled down the ridges of his nose. He 
flailed his hands and even stamped once with his long, 
narrow, elegantly shoed foot on the plush carpet. Nor was he 
satisfied when his coin was refunded, but insisted on checking 
out immediately. He packed his bag and was obliged to work 
energetically to make it close again. For in addition to the 
articles he had brought with him he carried away three towels, 
two cakes of soap, a pen and a bottle of ink, a roll of toilet 
paper, and a Holy Bible. He paid his bill and walked to the 


railway station to put his belongings in custody. The train did 
not leave until nine in the evening and he had the empty 
afternoon before him. 
This town was smaller than the one in which he lived. The 
business streets intersected to form the shape of a cross. The 
stores had a countrified look; there were harnesses and sacks 
of feed in half of the display windows. Singer walked 
listlessly along the sidewalks. His throat felt swollen and he 
wanted to swallow but was unable to do so. To relieve this 
strangled feeling he bought a drink in one of the drugstores. 
He idled in the barber shop and purchased a few trifles at the 
ten-cent store. He looked no one full in the face and his head 
drooped down to one side like a sick animal's. 
The afternoon was almost ended when a strange thing 
happened to Singer. He had been walking slowly and 
irregularly along the curb of the street. The sky was overcast 
and the air humid. Singer did not raise his head, but as he 
passed the town pool room he caught a sidewise glance of 
something that disturbed him. He passed the pool room and 
then stopped in the middle of the street. Listlessly he retraced 
his steps and stood before the open 

279 

door of the place. There were three mutes inside and they 
were talking with their hands together. All three of them were 
coatless. They wore bowler hats and bright ties. Each of them 
held a glass of beer in his left hand. There was a certain 
brotherly resemblance between them. 
Singer went inside. For a moment he had trouble taking his 
hand from his pocket. Then clumsily he formed a word of 
greeting. He was clapped on the shoulder. A cold drink was 
ordered. They surrounded him and the fingers of their hands 
shot out like pistons as they questioned him. 
He told his own name and the name of the town where he 
lived. After that he could think of nothing else to tell about 
himself. He asked if they knew Spiros Antonapoulos. They 
did not know him. Singer stood with his hands dangling loose. 
His head was still inclined to one side and his glance was 
oblique. He was so listless and cold that the three mutes in the 
bowler hats looked at him queerly. After a while they left him 


out of their conversation. And when they had paid for the 
rounds of beers and were ready to depart they did not suggest 
that he join them. 
Although Singer had been adrift on the streets for half a day 
he almost missed his train. It was not clear to him how this 
happened or how he had spent the hours before. He reached 
the station two minutes before the train pulled out, and barely 
had time to drag his luggage aboard and find a seat. The car he 
chose was almost empty. When he was settled he opened the 
crate of strawberries and picked them over with finicky care. 
The berries were of a giant size, large as walnuts and in full-
blown ripeness. The green leaves at the top of the rich-colored 
fruit were like tiny bouquets. Singer put a berry in his mouth 
and though the juice had a lush, wild sweetness there was 
already a subtle flavor of decay. He ate until his palate was 
dulled by the taste and then rewrapped the crate and placed it 
on the rack above him. At midnight he drew the window-
shade and lay down on the seat. He was curled in a ball, his 
coat pulled over his face and head. In this position he lay in a 
stupor of half-sleep for about twelve hours. The conductor had 
to shake him when they arrived. 
Singer left his luggage in the middle of the station floor. Then 
he walked to the shop. He greeted the jeweler for whom he 
worked with a listless turn of his head. When280 
he went out again there was something heavy in his pocket For a 
while he rambled with bent head along the streets. But the 
unrefracted brilliance of the sun, the humid heat, oppressed him. He 
returned to his room with swollen eyes and an aching head. After 
resting he drank a glass of iced coffee and smoked a cigarette. Then 
when he had washed the ash tray and the glass he brought out a pistol 
from his pocket and put a bullet in his chest. 

Part Three 

August 21,1939 
Morning 

J. WILL not be hurried,' Doctor Copeland said. 'Just let me be. Kindly 
allow me to sit here in peace a moment.' 
'Father, us not trying to rush you. But it time now to get gone from 
here.' 
Doctor Copeland rocked stubbornly, his gray shawl drawn close 
around his shoulders. Although the morning was warm and fresh, a 
small wood fire burned in the stove. The kitchen was bare of all 

furniture except the chair in which he sat. The other rooms were 
empty, too. Most of the furniture had been moved to Portia's house, 
and the rest was tied to the automobile outside. All was in readiness 
except his own mind. But how could he leave when there was neither 
beginning nor end, neither truth nor purpose in his thoughts? He put 
up his hand to steady his trembling head and continued to rock 
himself slowly in the creaking 
chair. 
Behind the closed door he heard their voices: 'I done all I can. He 
determined to sit there till he good and ready to leave.' 
'Buddy and me done wrapped the china plates and------' 
'Us should have left before the dew dried,' said the old man. 'As is, 
night liable to catch us on the road.' 
Their voices quieted. Footsteps echoed in the empty hallway and he 
could hear them no more. On the floor beside him was a cup and 
saucer. He filled it with coffee from the pot on the top of the stove. 
As he rocked he drank 
281282 

283 
the coffee and warmed his fingers in the steam. This could not 
truly be the end. Other voices called wordless in his heart. The 
voice of Jesus and of John Brown. The voice of the great 
Spinoza and of Karl Marx. The calling voices of all those who 
had fought and to whom it had been vouchsafed to complete 
their missions. The grief-bound voices of his people. And also 
the voice of the dead. Of the mute Singer, who was a 
righteous white man of understanding. The voices of the weak 
and of the mighty. The , rolling voice of his people growing 
always in strength and in power. The voice of the strong, true 
purpose. And in answer the words trembled on his lips—the 
words which ' are surely the root of all human grief—so that 
he almost said aloud: 'Almighty Host! Utmost power of the 
universe! I have done those things which I ought not to have 
done and left undone those things which I ought to have done. 
So this cannot truly be the end.' 
He had first come into the house with her whom he loved. 
And Daisy was dressed in her bridal gown and wore a white 
lace veil. Her skin was the beautiful color of dark honey and 
her laughter was sweet. At night he had shut himself in the 
bright room to study alone. He had tried to cogitate and to 


discipline himself to study. But with Daisy near him there was 
a strong desire in him that would not go away with study. So 
sometimes he surrendered to these feelings, and again he bit 
his lips and meditated with the books throughout the night. 
And then there were Hamilton and Karl Marx and William 
and Portia. All lost. No one remained. 
And Madyben and Benny Mae. And Benedine Madine and 
Mady Copeland. Those who carried his name. And those 
whom he had exhorted. But out of the thousands of them 
where was there one to whom he could entrust the mission and 
then take ease? , 
All of his life he had known it strongly. He had known the 
reason for his working and was sure in his heart because he 
knew each day what lay ahead of him. He would go with his 
bag from house to house, and on all things he would talk to 
them and patiently explain. And then in the night he would be 
happy in the knowledge that the day had been a day of 
purpose. And even without Daisy and Hamilton and Karl 
Marx and William and Portia he 
could sit by the stove alone and take joy from this knowledge. 
He would drink a pot of turnip-green liquor and eat a pone of 
cornbread. A deep feeling of satisfaction would be in him 
because the day was good. 
There were thousands of such times of satisfaction. But what 
had been their meaning? Out of all the years he could think of 
no work of lasting value. 
After a while the door to the hall was opened and Portia came 
in. 'I reckon I going to have to dress you like a baby,' she said. 
'Here your shoes and socks. Let me take off your bedroom 
shoes and put them on. We got to get gone from here pretty 
soon.' 
'Why have you done this to me?' he asked bitterly. 
'What I done to you now?' 
'You know full well that I do not want to leave. You pressed 
me into saying yes when I was in no fit condition to make a 
decision. I wish to remain where I have always been, and you 
know it.' 
'Listen to you carry on!' Portia said angrily. 'You done 
grumbled so much that I nearly worn out. You done fumed 
and fussed so that I right shamed for you.' 


'Pshaw! Say what you will. You only come before me like 
a
gnat. I know what I wish and will not be pestered into doing
that which is wrong.
'
Portia took off his bedroom shoes and unrolled a pair of clean
black cotton socks. 'Father, less us quit this here argument. Us
have all done the best we know how. It entirely the best plan
for you to go out with Grandpapa and Hamilton and Buddy.
They going to take good care of you and you going to get
well.
'
'No, I will not,' said Doctor Copeland. 'But I would have
recovered here. I know it.
'
'Who you think could pay the note on this here house? How
you think us could feed you? Who you think could take care
you here?
'
'I have always managed, and I can manage yet.
'
'You just trying to be contrary.
'
'Pshaw! You come before me like a gnat. And I ignore you.
'
'That certainly is a nice way to talk to me while I trying to put
on your shoes and socks.
'
'I am sorry. Forgive me, Daughter.'284


'Course you sorry,' she said. 'Course we both sorry. Us can't
afford to quarrel. And besides, once we get you settled on the
farm you going to like it. They got the prettiest vegetable
garden I ever seen. Make my mouth slobber to think about it.
And chickens and two breed sows and eighteen peach trees.
Ypu just going to be crazy about it there. I sure do wish it was
me could get a chance to go.
'
'I wish so, too.
'
'How come you so determined to grieve?
'
'I just feel that I have failed,' he said.
'How you mean you done failed?
'
'I do not know. Just leave me be, Daughter. Just let me sit here
in peace a moment.
'
'O.K. But us got to get gone from here pretty soon.
'
He would be silent. He would sit quietly and rock in the chair
until the sense of order was in him once more. His head
trembled and his backbone ached.
'I certainly hope this,' Portia said. 'I certainly hope that when 
I
dead and gone as many peoples grieves for me as grieves for



Mr. Singer. I sure would like to know I were going to have as 
sad a funeral as he had and as many peoples------' 
'Hush!' said Doctor Copeland roughly. "You talk too much.' 
But truly with the death of that white man a dark sorrow had 
lain down in his heart. He had talked to him as to no other 
white man and had trusted him. And the mystery of his suicide 
had left him baffled and without support. There was neither 
beginning nor end to this sorrow. Nor understanding. Always 
he would return in his thoughts to this white man who was not 
insolent or scornful but who was just. And how can the dead 
be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are 
left behind? But of all this he must not think. He must thrust it 
from him now. 
For it was discipline he needed. During the past month the 
black, terrible feelings had arisen again to wrestle with his 
spirit. There was the hatred that for days had truly let him 
down into the regions of death. After the quarrel with Mr. 
Blounti the midnight visitor, there had been in him a 
murderous darkness. Yet now he could not clearly recall those 
issues which were the cause of their dispute. And 

285 

then the different anger that came in him when he looked on 
the stumps of Willie's legs. The warring love and hatred — 
love for his people and hatred for the oppressors of his people 
—that left him exhausted and sick in spirit 
'Daughter,' he said. 'Get me my watch and coat. I am going.' 
He pushed himself up with the arms of the chair. The floor 
seemed a far way from his face and after the long time in bed 
his legs were very weak. For a moment he felt he would fall. 
He walked dizzily across the bare room and stood leaning 
against the side of the doorway. He coughed and took from his 
pocket one of the squares of paper to hold over his mouth. 
'Here your coat,' Portia said. 'But it so hot outside you not 
going to need it.' 
He walked for the last time through the empty house. The 
blinds were closed and in the darkened rooms there was the 
smell of dust. He rested against the wall of the vestibule and 
then went outside. The morning was bright and warm. Many 
friends had come to say good-bye the night before and in the 


very early morning—but now only the family was congregated
on the porch. The wagon and the automobile were parked out
in the street.
'Well, Benedict Mady,' the old man said. 'I reckon yoa ghy be
a little bit homesick these first few days. But won't be long.
'
'I do not have any home. So why should T be homesick?
*
Portia wet her lips nervously and said: 'He coming back
whenever he get good and ready. Buddy will be glad to ride
him to town in the car. Buddy just love to drive.
'
The automobile was loaded. Boxes of books were tied to the
running-board. The back seat was crowded with two chairs
and the filing case. His office desk, legs in the air, had been
fastened to the top. But although the car was weighted down
the wagon was almost empty. The mule stood patiently, 
a
brick tied to his reins.
'Karl Marx,' Doctor Copeland said. 'I^ook sharp. Go over the
house and make sure that nothing is left. Bring the cup I left
on the floor and my rocking-chair.
'
'Less us get started. I anxious to be home by dinnertime,
'
Hamilton said.286


At last they were ready. Highboy cranked the automobile.
Karl Marx sat at the wheel and Portia, Highboy, and William
were crowded together on the back seat.
'Father, suppose you set on Highboy's lap. I believe you be
more comfortable than scrouged up here with us and all this
furniture.
'
*No, it is too crowded. I would rather ride in the wagon.
'
'But you not used to the wagon,' Karl Marx said. 'It going to be
very bumpy and the trip liable to take all day.
'
"That does not matter. I have ridden in many a wagon before
this.
'
'Tell Hamilton to come with us. I sure he rather ride in the
automobile.
'
Grandpapa had driven the wagon into town the day before.
They brought with them a load of produce, peaches and
cabbages and turnips, for Hamilton to sell in town. All except
a sack of peaches had been marketed.
'Well, Benedict Mady, I see you riding home with me,' the old
man said.



Doctor Copeland climbed into the back of the wagon. He was 
weary as though his bones were made of lead. His head 
trembled and a sudden spasm of nausea made him lie down 
flat on the rough boards. 
'I right glad you coming,' Grandpapa said. 'You understand I 
always had deep respect for scholars. Deep respect I able to 
overlook and forget a good many things if a man be a scholar. 
I very glad to have a scholar like you in the fambly again.' 
The wheels of the wagon creaked. They were on the way. 'I 
will return soon,' Doctor Copeland said. 'After only a month or 
two I will return.' 
'Hamilton he a right good scholar. I think he favors you some. 
He do all my figuring on paper for me and he read the 
newspapers. And Whitman I think he ghy be a scholar. Right 
now he able to read the Bible to me. And do number work. 
Small a child as he is. I always had a deep respect for 
scholars.' 
The motion of the wagon jolted his back. He looked up at the 
branches overhead, and then when there was no shade he 
covered his face with a handkerchief to shield his eyes from 
the sun. It was not possible that this could be the end. Always 
he had felt in him the strong, true 

287 
purpose. For forty years his mission was his life and his life 
was his mission. And yet all remained to be done and nothing 
was completed. 
*Yes, Benedict Mady, I right glad to have you with us again. I 
been waiting to ask you about this peculiar feeling in my right 
foot. A queer feeling like my foot gone to sleep. I taken 666 
and rubbed it with liniment. I hoping you will find me a good 
treatment.' 
'I will do what I can.' 

.Yes, I glad to have you. I believe in all Hnfolks sticking 
together—blood kin and marriage kin. I believe in all us 
struggling along and helping each other out, and some day us 
will have a reward in the Beyond.' 
'Pshaw!' Doctor Copeland said bitterly. 'I believe in justice 
now.' 
'What that you say you believe in? You speak so hoarse I ain't 

able to hear you.' 
'In justice for us. Justice for us Negroes.1 
'That right.' 
He felt the fire in him and he could not be still. He wanted to 
sit up and speak in a loud voice—yet when he tried to raise 
himself he could not find the strength. The words in his heart 
grew big and they would not be silent But the old man had 
ceased to listen and there was no one to hear him. 

.Git, Lee Jackson. Git, Honey. Pick up your feets and quit this 
here poking. Us got a long way to go.' 
Afternoon 
J AKE ran at a violent, clumsy pace. He went through Weavers 
Lane and then cut into a side alley, climbed a fence, and 
hastened onward. Nausea rose in his belly so that there was 
the taste of vomit in his throat. A barking dog chased beside 
him until he stopped long enough to threaten it with a rock. 
His eyes were wide with horror and he held his hand clapped 
to his open mouth. 
Christ! So this was the finish. A brawl. A riot. A fight with 
every man for himself. Bloody heads and eyes cut with broken 
bottles. Christ! And the wheezy music of the flying-28$ 
jinny above the noise. The dropped hamburgers and cotton 
candy and the screaming younguns. And him in it all. Fighting 
blind with the dust and sun. The sharp cut of teeth against his 
knuckles. And laughing. Christ! And the feeling that he had 
let loose a wild, hard rhythm in him that wouldn't stop. And 
then looking close into the dead black face and not knowing. 
Not even knowing if he had killed or not. But wait. Christ! 
Nobody could have stopped it. 
Jake slowed and jerked his head nervously to look behind him. 
The alley was empty. He vomited and wiped his mouth and 
forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. Afterward he rested for a 
minute and felt better. He had run for about eight blocks and 
with short cuts there was about half a mile to go. The 
dizziness cleared in his head so that from all the wild feelings 
he could remember facts. He started off again, this time at a 
steady jog. 
Nobody could have stopped it. All through the summer he had 
stamped them out like sudden fires. All but this one. And this 


fight nobody could have stopped. It seemed to blaze up out of 
nothing. He had been working on the machinery of the swings 
and had stopped to get a glass of water. As he passed across 
the grounds he saw a white boy and a Negro walking around 
each other. They were both drunk. Half the crowd was drunk 
that afternoon, for it was Saturday and the mills had run full 
time that week. The heat and the sun were sickening and there 
was a heavy stink in the air. 
He saw the two fighters close in on each other. But he knew 
that this was not the beginning. He had felt a big fight coming 
for a long time. And the funny thing was he found time to 
think of all this. He stood watching for about five seconds 
before he pushed into the crowd. In that short time he thought 
of many things. He thought of Singer. He thought of the sullen 
summer afternoons and the black, hot nights, of all the fights 
he had broken up and the quarrels he had hushed. 
Then he saw the flash of a pocketknife in the sun. He 
shouldered through a knot of people and jumped on the back 
of the Negro who held the knife. The man went down with 
him and they were on the ground together. The smell of sweat 
on the Negro was mixed with the heavy dust in 

289 
his lungs. Someone trampled on his legs and his head was 
kicked. By the time he got to his feet again the fight had 
become general. The Negroes were fighting the white men and 
the white men were fighting the Negroes. He saw clearly, 
second by second. The white boy who had picked the fight 
seemed a kind of leader. He was the leader of a gang that 
came often to the show. They were about sixteen years old 
and they wore white duck trousers and fancy rayon polo shirts. 
The Negroes fought back as best they could. Some had razors. 
He began to yell out words: Order! Help! Police! But it was 
like yelling at a breaking dam. There was a terrible sound in 
his ear—terrible because it was human and yet without words. 
The sound rose to a roar that deafened him. He was hit on the 
head. He could not see what went on around him. He saw only 
eyes and mouths and fists—wild eyes and half-closed eyes, 
wet, loose mouths and clenched ones, black fists and white. 
He grabbed a knife from a hand and caught an upraised fist. 


Then the dust and the sun blinded him and the one thought in 
his mind was to get out and find a telephone to call for help. 
But he was caught. And without knowing when it happened he 
piled into the fight himself. He hit out with his fists and felt 
the soft sqush of wet mouths. He fought with his eyes shut and 
his head lowered. A crazy sound came out of his throat. He hit 
with all his strength and charged with his head like a bull. 
Senseless words were in his mind and he was laughing. He did 
not see who he hit and did not know who hit him. But he knew 
that the line-up of the fight had changed and now each man 
was for himself. 
Then suddenly it was finished. He tripped and fell over 
backward. He was knocked out so that it may have been a 
minute or it may have been much longer before he opened his 
eyes. A few drunks were still fighting but two dicks were 
breaking it up fast. He saw what he had tripped over. He lay 
half on and hah* beside the body of a young Negro boy. With 
only one look he knew that he was dead. There was a cut on 
the side of his neck but it was hard to see how he had died in 
such a hurry. He knew the face but could not place it. The 
boy's mouth was open and his eyes were open in surprise. The 
ground was littered with papers and broken bottles and 
trampled hamburgers. The head was290 

broken off one of the jinny horses and a booth was destroyed. 
He was sitting up. He saw the dicks and in a panic he started 
to run. By now they must have lost his track. 
There were only four more blocks ahead, and then he would 
be safe for sure. Fear had shortened his breath so that he was 
winded. He clenched bis fists and lowered his head. Then 
suddenly he slowed and halted. He was alone in an alley near 
the main street. On one side was the wall of a building and he 
slumped against it, panting, the corded vein in his forehead 
inflamed. In his confusion he had run all the way across the 
town to reach the room of his friend. And Singer was dead. He 
began to cry. He sobbed aloud, and water dripped down from 
his nose and wet his mustache. 
A wall, a flight of stairs, a road ahead. The burning sun was 
like a heavy weight on him. He started back the way he had 
come. This time he walked slowly, wiping his wet face with 


the greasy sleeve of his shirt. He could not stop the trembling 
of his lips and he bit them until he tasted blood. 
At the corner of the next block he ran into Simms. The old 
codger was sitting on a box with his Bible on his knees. There 
was a tall board fence behind him, and on it a message was 
written with purple chalk. 

He Died to Save You 

Hear the Story of His Love and Grace
Every Nite 7.15 P.M.
The street was empty. Jake tried to cross over to the other
sidewalk, but Simms caught him by the arm.
'Come, all ye disconsolate and sore of heart. Lay down your
sins and troubles before the blessed feet of Him who died to
save you. Wherefore goest thou, Brother Blount?
'
"Home to hockey,' Jake said. 'I got to hockey. Does the
Saviour have anything against that?
'
'Sinner! The Lord remembers all your transgressions. The
Lord has a message for you this very night.
'
'Does the Lord remember that dollar I gave you last week?
'
'Jesus has a message for you at seven-fifteen tonight. You be
here on time to hear His Word.
'


291
Jake licked his mustache. 'You have such a crowd every night
I can't get up close enough to hear.
'
"There is a place for scoffers. Besides, I have had a sign that
soon the Saviour wants me to build a house for Him. On that
lot at the corner of Eighteenth Avenue and Sixth Street. 
A
tabernacle large enough to hold five hundred people. Then
you scoffers will see. The Lord prepareth a table before me in
the presence of mine enemies; he anoint-eth my head with oil.
My cup runneth------
'
'I can round you up a crowd tonight,' Jake said.
'How?
'
'Give me your pretty colored chalk. I promise a big crowd.
'
'I've seen your signs,' Simms said. ' "Workers! America Is the
Richest Country in the World Yet a Third of Us Are Starving.
When Will We Unite and Demand Our Share?"—all that.
Your signs are radical. I wouldn't let you use my chalk.
'
'But I don't plan to write signs.
'



Simms fingered the pages of his Bible and waited 
suspiciously. 
Til get you a fine crowd. On the pavements at each end of the 
block I'll draw you some good-looking naked floozies. All in 
color with arrows to point the way. Sweet, plump, bare-
tailed------' 
'Babylonian!' the old man screamed. 'Child of Sodom! God 
will remember this.' 
Jake crossed over to the other sidewalk and started toward the 
house where he lived. 'So long, Brother.' 
'Sinner,' the old man called. 'You come back here at seven-
fifteen sharp. And hear the message from Jesus that will give 
you faith. Be saved.' 
Singer was dead. And the way he had felt when he first heard 
that he had killed himself was not sad—it was angry. He was 
before a wall. He remembered all the innermost thoughts that 
he had told to Singer, and with his death it seemed to him that 
they were lost. And why had Singer wanted to end his life? 
Maybe he had gone insane. But anyway he was dead, dead, 
dead. He could not be seen or touched or spoken to, and the 
room where they had spent so many hours had been rented to 
a girl who292 

worked as a typist. He could go there no longer. He was alone. 
A wall, a flight of stairs, an open road. 
Jake locked the door of his room behind him. He was hungry 
and there was nothing to eat. He was thirsty and only a few 
drops of warm water were left in the pitcher by the table. The 
bed was unmade and dusty fluff had accumulated on the floor. 
Papers were scattered all about the room, because recently he 
had written many short notices and distributed them through 
the town. Moodily he glanced at one of the papers labeled 
'The T.W.O.C. Is Your Best Friend.' Some of the notices 
consisted of only one sentence, others were longer. There was 
one full-page manifesto entitled "The Affinity Between Our 
Democracy and, Fascism.' 
For a month he had worked on these papers, scribbling them 
during working hours, typing and making carbons on the 
typewriter at the New York Caf6, distributing them by hand. 
He had worked day and night. But who read them? What good 


had any of it done? A town this size was too big for any one 
man. And now he was leaving. 
But where would it be this time? The names of cities called to 
him—Memphis, Wilmington, Gastonia, New Orleans. He 
would go somewhere. But not out of the South. The old 
restlessness and hunger were in him again. It was different 
this time. He did not long for open space and freedom—just 
the reverse. He remembered what the Negro, Copeland, had 
said to him, 'Do not attempt to stand alone.' There were times 
when that was best. 
Jake moved the bed across the room. On the part of the floor 
the bed had hidden there were a suitcase and a pile of books 
and dirty clothes. Impatiently he began to pack. The old 
Negro's face was in his mind and some of the words they had 
said came back to him. Copeland was crazy. He was a fanatic, 
so that it was maddening to try to reason with him. Still the 
terrible anger that they had felt that night had been hard to 
understand. Copeland knew. And those who knew were like a 
handful of naked soldiers before an armed battalion. And what 
had they done? They had turned to quarrel with each other. 
Copeland was wrong—yes—he was crazy. But on some points 
they might be able to work together after all. If they didn't talk 
too much. He would go and see him. A sudden urge to 

293 

hurry came in him. Maybe that would be the best thing after 
all. Maybe that was the sign, the hand he had so long awaited. 
Without pausing to wash the grime from his face and hands he 
strapped his suitcase and left the room. Outside the air was 
sultry and there was a foul odor in the street. Clouds had 
formed in the sky. The atmosphere was so still that the smoke 
from a mill in the district went up in a straight, unbroken line. 
As Jake walked the suitcase bumped awkwardly against his 
knees, and often he jerked his head to look behind him. 
Copeland lived all the way across the town, so there was need 
to hurry. The clouds in the sky grew steadily denser, and 
foretold a heavy summer rain before nightfall. 
When he reached the house where Copeland lived he saw that 
the shutters were drawn. He walked to the back and peered 
through the window at the abandoned kitchen. A hollow, 


desperate disappointment made his hands feel sweaty and his 
heart lose the rhythm of its beat He went to the house on the 
left but no one was at home. There was nothing to do except 
to go to the Kelly house and question Portia. 
He hated to be near that house again. He couldn't stand to see 
the hatrack in the front hall and the long flight of stairs he had 
climbed so many times. He walked slowly back across the 
town and approached by way of the alley. He went in the rear 
door. Portia was in the kitchen and the little boy was with her. 
'No, sir, Mr. Blount,' Portia said. 'I know you were a mighty 
good friend of Mr. Singer and you understand what Father 
thought of him. But we taken Father out in the country this 
morning and I know in my soul I got no business telling you 
exactly where he is. If you don't mind I rather speak out and 
not minch the matter.' 
'You don't have to minch anything,' Jake said. 'But why?' 
'After the time you come to see us Father were so sick us 
expected him to die. It taken us a long time to get him able to 
sit up. He doing right well now. He going to get a lot stronger 
where he is now. But whether you understand this or not he 
right bitter against white peoples just now and he very easy to 
upset. And besides, if you don't mind294 

speaking out, what you want with Father, anyway?' 
'Nothing,' Jake said. 'Nothing you would understand.' 
'Us colored peoples have feelings just like anybody else. And I 
stand by what I said, Mr. Blount. Father just a sick old colored 
man and he had enough trouble already. Us got to look after 
him. And he not anxious to see you—I know that.' 
Out in the street again he saw that the clouds had turned a 
deep, angry purple. In the stagnant air there was a storm smell. 
The vivid green of the trees along the sidewalk seemed to steal 
into the atmosphere so that there was a strange greenish glow 
over the street. All was so hushed and still that Jake paused 
for a moment to sniff the air and look around him. Then he 
grasped his suitcase under his arm and began to run toward 
the awnings of the main street. But he was not quick enough. 
There was one metallic crash of thunder and the air chilled 
suddenly. Large silver drops of rain hissed on the pavement. 
An avalanche of water blinded him. When he reached the New 


York Cafe his clothes clung wet and shriveled to his body and 
his shoes squeaked with water. 
Brannon pushed aside his newspaper and leaned his elbows on 
the counter. 'Now, this is really curious. I had this intuition 
you would come here just after the rain broke. I knew in my 
bones you were coming and that you would make it just too 
late.' He mashed his nose with this thumb until it was white 
and flat. 'And a suitcase?' 
'It looks like a suitcase,' Jake said. 'And it feels like a suitcase. 
So if you believe in the actuality of suitcases I reckon this is 
one, all right.' 
'You ought not to stand around like this. Go on upstairs and 
throw me down your clothes. Louis will run over them with a 
hot iron.' 
Jake sat at one of the back booth tables and rested his head in 
his hands. 'No, thanks. I just want to rest here and get my wind 
again.' 
'But your lips are turning blue. You look all knocked up.' 
'I'm all right. What I want is some supper.' 
'Supper won't be ready for half an hour,' Brannon said 
patiently. 

295 
'Any old leftovers will do. Just put them on a plate. You don't 
even have to bother to heat them.' 
The emptiness in him hurt. He wanted to look neither 
backward nor forward. He walked two of his short, chunky 
fingers across the top of the table. It was more than a year now 
since he had sat at this table for the first time. And how much 
further was he now than then? No further. Nothing had 
happened except that he had made a friend and lost him. He 
had given Singer everything and then the man had killed 
himself. So he was left out on a limb. And now it was up to 
him to get out of it by himself and make a new start again. At 
the thought of it panic came in him. He was tired. He leaned 
his head against the wall and put his feet on the seat beside 
him. 
'Here you are,' Brannon said. 'This ought to help out.' 
He put down a glass of some hot drink and a plate of chicken 
pie. The drink had a sweet, heavy smell. Jake inhaled the 


steam and closed his eyes. 'What's in it?' 
'Lemon rind rubbed on a lump of sugar and boiling water with 
rum. It's a good drink.' 
'How much do I owe you?' 
'I don't know offhand, but I'll figure it out before you leave.' 
Jake took a deep draught of the toddy and washed it around in 
his mouth before swallowing. 'You'll never get the money,' he 
said. 'I don't have it to pay you—and if I did I probably 
wouldn't anyway.' 
'Well, have I been pressing you? Have I ever made you out a 
bill and asked you to pay up?' 
'No,' Jake said. 'You been very reasonable. And since I think 
about it you're a right decent guy—from the personal 
perspective, that is.' 
Brannon sat across from him at the table. Something was on 
his mind. He slid the salt-shaker back and forth and kept 
smoothing his hair. He smelled like perfume and his striped 
blue shirt was very fresh and clean. The sleeves were rolled 
and held in place by old-fashioned blue sleeve garters. 
At last he cleared his throat in a hesitating way and said: 'I 
was glancing through the afternoon paper just before you 
came. It seems you had a lot of trouble at your place 
today.'296 

That's right. What did it say?' 
"Wait. I'll get it.' Brannon fetched the paper from the counter 
and leaned against the partition of the booth. 'It says on the 
front page that at the Sunny Dixie Show, located so and so, 
there was a general disturbance. Two Negroes were fatally 
injured with wounds inflicted by knives. Three others suffered 
minor wounds and were taken for treatment to the city 
hospital. The dead were Jimmy Macy and Lancy Davis. The 
wounded were John Hamlin, white, of Central Mill City, 
Various Wilson, Negro, and so forth and so on. Quote: "A 
number of arrests were made. It is alleged that the disturbance 
was caused by labor agitation, as papers of a subversive nature 
were found on and about the site of disturbance. Other arrests 
are expected shortly."' Brannon clicked his teeth together. 'The 
set-up of this paper gets worse every day. Subversive spelled 
with a u in the second syllable and arrests with only one r.' 


"They're smart, all right,' Jake said sneeringly. * "Caused by
labor agitation." That's remarkable.
'
'Anyway, the whole thing is very unfortunate.
'
Jake held his hand to his mouth and looked down at his empty
plate.
'What do you mean to do now?
*
Tm leaving. I'm getting out of here this afternoon.
'
Brannon polished his nails on the palm of his hand. "Well, of
course it's not necessary—but it might be a good thing. Why
so headlong? No sense in starting out this time of day.
'
'I just father.
'
'I do not think it behooves you to make a new start. At v the
same time why don't you take my advice on this? Myself—I'm
a conservative and of course I think your opinions are radical.
But at the same time I like to know all sides of a matter.
Anyway, I want to see you straighten out. So why don't you go
some place where you can meet a few people more or less like
yourself? And then settle down?
'
Jake pushed his plate irritably away from him. 'I don't know
where I'm going. Leave me'alone. I'm tired.
'
Brannon shrugged his shoulders and went back to the counter.


297 

He was tired enough. The hot rum and the heavy sound of the 
rain made him drowsy. It felt good to be sitting safe in a booth 
and to have just eaten a good meal. If he wanted to he could 
lean over and take a nap—a short one. Already his head felt 
swollen and heavy and he was more comfortable with his eyes 
closed. But it would have to be a short sleep because soon he 
must get out of here. 
'How long will this rain keep on?' 
Brannon's voice had drowsy overtones. 'You can't tell— a 
tropical cloudburst. Might clear up suddenly—or— might thin 
a little and set in for the night.' 
Jake laid his head down on his arms. The sound of the rain 
was nice the swelling sound of the sea. He heard a clock tick 
and the far-off rattle of dishes. Gradually his hands relaxed. 
They lay open, palm upward, on the table. 
Then Brannon was shaking him by the shoulders and looking 
into his face. A terrible dream was in his mind. 'Wake up,' 
Brannon was saying. 'You've had a nightmare. I looked over 


here and your mouth was open and you were groaning and 
shuffling your feet on the floor. I never saw anything to equal 
it.' 
The dream was still heavy in his mind. He felt the old terror 
that always came as he awakened. He pushed Brannon away 
and stood up. 'You don't have to tell me I had a nightmare. I 
remember just how it was. And Fve had the same dream for 
about fifteen times before.' 
He did remember now. Every other time he had been unable to 
get the dream straight in his waking mind. He had been 
walking among a great crowd of people—like at the show. But 
there was also something Eastern about the people around 
him. There was a terrible bright sun and the people were half-
naked. They were silent and slow and their faces had a look in 
them of starvation. There was no sound, only the sun, and the 
silent crowd of people. He walked among them and he carried 
a huge covered basket. He was taking the basket somewhere 
but he could not find the place to leave it And in the dream 
there was a peculiar horror in wandering on and on through 
the crowd and not knowing where to lay down the burden he 
had carried in his arms so long. 
'What was it?' Brannon asked. 'Was the devil chasing you?'298 

Jake stood up and went to the mirror behind the counter. His 
face was dirty and sweaty. There were dark circles beneath his 
eyes. He wet his handkerchief under the fountain faucet and 
wiped off his face. Then he took out a pocket comb and neatly 
combed his mustache. 
'The dream was nothing. You got to be asleep to understand 
why it was such a nightmare.' 
The clock pointed to five-thirty. The rain had almost stopped. 
Jake picked up his suitcase and went to the front door. 'So 
long. I'll send you a postcard maybe.' 
'Wait,' Brannon said. 'You can't go now. It's still raining a 
little.' 
'Just dripping off the awning. I rather get out of town before 
dark.' 
'But hold on. Do you have any money? Enough to keep going 
for a week?' 
'I don't need money. I been broke before.' Brannon had an 


envelope ready and in it were two twenty-dollar bills. Jake 
looked at them on both sides and put them in his pocket. 'God 
knows why you do it. You'll never smell them again. But 
thanks. I won't forget.' 'Good luck. And let me hear from you.' 
'Adios.1 'Good-bye.' 
The door closed behind him. When he looked back at the end 
of the block, Brannon was watching from the sidewalk. He 
walked until he reached the railroad tracks. On either side 
there were rows of dilapidated two-room houses. In the 
cramped back yards were rotted privies and lines of torn, 
smoky rags hung out to dry. For two miles there was not one 
sight of comfort or space or cleanliness. Even the earth itself 
seemed filthy and abandoned. Now and then there were signs 
that a vegetable row had been attempted, but only a few 
withered collards had survived. And a few fruitless, smutty fig 
trees. Little younguns swarmed in this filth, the smaller of 
them stark naked. The sight of this poverty was so cruel and 
hopeless that Jake snarled and clenched his fists. 
He reached the edge of town and turned off on a highway. 
Cars passed him by. His shoulders were too wide and his arms 
too long. He was so strong and ugly that no one wanted to take 
him in. But maybe a truck would stop 

299 
before long. The late afternoon sun was out again. Heat made 
the steam rise from the wet pavement. Jake walked steadily. 
As soon as the town was behind a new surge of energy came 
to him. But was this flight or was it onslaught? Anyway, he 
was going. All this to begin another time. The road ahead lay 
to the north and slightly to the west. But he would not go too 
far away. He would not leave the South. That was one clear 
thing. There was hope in him, and soon perhaps the outline of 
his journey would take form. 
Evening 
W HAT good was it? That was the question she would like to 
know. What the hell good was it. All the plans she had made, 
and the music. When all that came of it was this trap—the 
store, then home to sleep, and back at the store again. The 
clock in front of the place where Mister Singer used to work 
pointed to seven. And she was just getting off. Whenever 


there was overtime the manager always told her to stay. 
Because she could stand longer on her feet and work harder 
before giving out than any other girL 
The heavy rain had left the sky a pale, quiet blue. Dark was 
coming. Already the lights were turned on. Automobile horns 
honked in the street and the newsboys hollered out the 
headlines in the papers. She didn't want to go home. If she 
went home now she would lie down on the bed and bawl. That 
was how tired she was. But if she went into the New York 
Caf6 and ate some ice cream she might feel O.K. And smoke 
and be by herself a little while. 
The front part of the caf6 was crowded, so she went to the 
very last booth. It was the small of her back and her face that 
got so tired. Their motto was supposed to be 'Keep on your 
toes and smile.' Once she was out of the store she had to frown 
a long time to get her face natural again. Even her ears were 
tired. She took off the dangling green earrings and pinched the 
lobes of her ears. She had bought the earrings the week before 
—and also a silver bangle bracelet. At first she had worked in 
Pots and Pans, but now they had changed her to Costume 
Jewelry. 
'Good evening, Mick,' Mister Brannon said. He wiped300 

the bottom of a glass of water with a napkin and set it on 
the table. 
'I want me a chocolate sundae and a nickel glass of draw 
beer.' 
'Together?' He put down a menu and pointed with Ms 
little finger that wore a lady's gold ring. 'See—here's some 
nice roast chicken or some veal stew. Why don't you have 
a little supper with me?' 
'No, thanks. All I want is the sundae and the beer. Both 
plenty cold.' 
Mick raked her hair from her forehead. Her mouth was 
open so that her cheeks seemed hollow. There were these 
two things she could never believe. That Mister Singer had 
killed himself and was dead. And that she was grown and 
had to work at Woolworth's. 

She was the one who found him. They had thought the noise 
was a backfire from a car, and it was not until the next day 


that they knew. She went in to play the radio. The blood was 
all over his neck and when her Dad came he pushed her out 
of the room. She had run into the dark and hit herself with her 
fists. And then the next night he was in a coffin in the living-
room. The undertaker had put rouge and lipstick on his face 
to make him look natural. But he didn't look natural. He was 
very dead. And mixed with the smell of flowers there was this 
other smell so that she couldn't stay in the room. But 
through ail those days she held down the job. She wrapped 
packages and handed them across the counter and rung the 
money in the till. She walked when she was supposed to walk 
and ate when she sat down to the table. Only at first when she 
went to bed at night she couldn't sleep. But now she slept like 
she was supposed to, also. 
Mick turned sideways in the seat so that she could cross 
her legs. There was a run in her stocking. It had started 
while she was walking to work and she had spit on it Then 
later the run had gone farther and she had stuck a little 
piece of chewing-gum on the end. But even that didn't 
help. Now she would have to go home and sew. It was hard 
to know what she could do about stockings. She wore them 
out so fast Unless she was the kind of common girl that 
would wear cotton stockings. 

301 

She oughtn't to have come in here. The bottoms of her shoes 
were clean worn out. She ought to have saved the twenty cents 
toward a new half-sole. Because if she kept on standing on a 
shoe with a hole in it what would happen? A blister would 
come on her foot. And she would have to pick it with a burnt 
needle. She would have to stay home from work and be fired. 
And then what would happen? 
'Here you are,' said Mister Brannon. 'But I never heard of such 
a combination before.' 
He put the sundae and the beer on the table. She pretended to 
clean her fingernails because if she noticd him he would start 
talking. He didn't have this grudge against her any more, so he 
must have forgotten about the pack of gum. Now he always 
wanted to talk to her. But she wanted to be quiet and by 
herself. The sundae was O.K., covered all over with chocolate 


and nuts and cherries. And the beer was relaxing. The beer 
had a nice bitter taste after the ice cream and it made her 
drunk. Next to music beer was best. 
But now no music was in her mind. That was a funny thing. It 
was like she was shut out from the inside room. Sometimes a 
quick little tune would come and go—but she never went into 
the inside room with music like she used to do. It was like she 
was too tense. Or maybe because it was like the store took all 
her energy and time. Wool-worth's wasn't the same as school. 
When she used to come home from school she felt good and 
was ready to start working on the music. But now she was 
always tired. At home she just ate supper and slept and then 
ate breakfast and went off to the store again. A song she had 
started in her private notebook two months before was still not 
finished. And she wanted to stay in the inside room but she 
didn't know how. It was like the inside room was locked 
somewhere away from her. A very hard thing to understand. 
Mick pushed her broken front tooth with her thumb. But she 
did have Mister Singer's radio. All the installments hadn't been 
paid and she took on the responsibility. It was good to have 
something that had belonged to him. And maybe one of these 
days she might be able to set aside a little for a second-hand 
piano. Say two bucks a week. And she wouldn't let anybody 
touch this private piano but her —only she might teach 
George little pieces. She would302 

keep it in the back room and play on it every night. And all 
day Sunday. But then suppose some week she couldn't make a 
payment. So then would they come to take it away like the 
little red bicycle? And suppose like she wouldn't let them. 
Suppose she hid the piano under the house. Or else she would 
meet them at the front door. And fight. She would knock 
down both the two men so they would have shiners and broke 
noses and would be passed out on the hall floor. 
Mick frowned and rubbed her fist hard across her forehead. 
That was the way things were. It was like she was mad all the 
time. Not how a kid gets mad quick so that soon it is all over 
—but in another way. Only there was nothing to be mad at. 
Unless the store. But the store hadn't asked her to take the job. 
So there was nothing to be mad at. It was like she was 


cheated. Only nobody had cheated her. So there was nobody 
to take it out on. However, just the same she had that feeling. 
Cheated. 
But maybe it would be true about the piano and turn out O.K. 
Maybe she would get a chance soon. Else what the hell good 
had it all been—the way she felt about music and the plans 
she had made in the inside room? It had to be some good if 
anything made sense. And it was too and it was too and it was 
too and it was too. It was some good. 
All right! 
O.K! 
Some good. 
Night 
/\LL was serene. As Biff dried his face and hands a breeze 
tinkled the glass pendants of the little Japanese pagoda on the 
table. He had just awakened from a nap and had smoked his 
night cigar. He thought of Blount and wondered if by now he 
had traveled far. A bottle of Agua Florida was on the 
bathroom shelf and he touched the stopper to his temples. He 
whistled an old song, and as he descended the narrow stairs 
the tune left a broken echo behind him. Louis was supposed to 
be on duty behind the counter. 

303 

But he had soldiered on the job and the place was deserted. 
The front door stood open to the empty street. The clock on 
the wall pointed to seventeen minutes before midnight. The 
radio was on and there was talk about the crisis Hitler had 
cooked up over Danzig. He went back to the kitchen and 
found Louis asleep in a chair. The boy had taken off his shoes 
and unbuttoned his trousers. His head drooped on his chest. A 
long wet spot on his shirt showed that he had been sleeping a 
good while. His arms hung straight down at his sides and the 
wonder was that he did not fall forward on his face. He slept 
soundly and there was no use to wake him. The night would 
be a quiet one. 
Biff tiptoed across the kitchen to a shelf which held a basket 
of tea olive and two water pitchers full of zinnias. He carried 
the flowers up to the front of the restaurant and removed the 
cellophane-wrapped platters of the last special from the 
display window. He was sick of food. A window of fresh 


summer flowers—that would be good. His eyes were closed as 
he imagined how it could be arranged. A foundation of the tea 
olive strewn over the bottom, cool and green. The red pottery 
tub filled with the brilliant zinnias. Nothing more. He began to 
arrange the window carefully. Among the flowers there was a 
freak plant, a zinnia with six bronze petals and two red. He 
examined this curio and laid it aside to save. Then the window 
was finished and he stood in the street to regard his 
handiwork. The awkward stems of the flowers had been bent 
to just the right degree of restful looseness. The electric lights 
detracted, but when the sun rose the display would show at its 
best advantage. Downright artistic. 
The black, starlit sky seemed close to the earth. He strolled 
along the sidewalk, pausing once to knock an orange peel into 
the gutter with the side of his foot. At the far end of the next 
block two men, small from the distance and motionless, stood 
arm in arm together. No one else could be seen. His place was 
the only store on all the street with an open door and lights 
inside. 
And why? What was the reason for keeping the place open all 
through the night when every other cafe in the town was 
closed? He was often asked that question and could never 
speak the answer out in words. Not money.304 

Sometimes a party would come for beer and scrambled eggs 
and spend five or ten dollars. But that was rare. Mostly they 
came one at a time and ordered little and stayed long. And on 
some nights, between the hours of twelve and five o'clock, not 
a customer would enter. There was no profit in it—that was 
plain. 
But he would never close up for the night—not as long as he 
stayed in the business. Night was the time. There were those 
he would never have seen otherwise. A few came regularly 
several times a week. Others had come into the place only 
once, had drunk a Coca-Cola, and never returned. 
Biff folded his arms across his chest and walked more slowly. 
Inside the arc of the street light his shadow showed angular 
and black. The peaceful silence of the night settled in him. 
These were the hours for rest and meditation. Maybe that was 
why he stayed downstairs and did not sleep. With a last quick 


glance he scanned the empty street and went inside. 
The crisis voice still talked on the radio. The fans on the 
ceiling made a soothing whirl. From the kitchen came the 
sound of Louis snoring. He thought suddenly of poor Willie 
and decided to send him a quart of whiskey sometime soon. 
He turned to the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. There 
was a picture of a woman to identify in the center. He 
recognized her and wrote the name—Mona Lisa—across the 
first spaces. Number one down was a word for beggar, 
beginning with m and nine letters long. Mendicant. Two 
horizontal was some word meaning to remove afar off. A six-
letter word beginning with e. Elapse? He sounded trial 
combinations of letters aloud. Eloign. But he had lost interest 
There were puzzles enough without this kind. He folded and 
put away the paper. He would come back to it later. 
He examined the zinnia he had intended to save. As he held it 
in the palm of his hand to the light the flower was not such a 
curious specimen after all. Not worth saving. He plucked the 
soft, bright petals and the last one came out on love. But who? 
Who would he be loving now? No one person. Anybody 
decent who came in out of the street to sit for an hour and 
have a drink. But no one person. He 
THE HEART IS A LONELY HtTNTER 
305 
had known his loves and they were over. Alice, Madeline and 
Gyp. Finished. Leaving him either better or worse. Which? 
However you looked at it. 
And Mick. The one who in the last months had lived so 
strangely in his heart. Was that love done with too? Yes. It 
was finished. Early in the evenings Mick came in for a cold 
drink or a sundae. She had grown older. Her rough and 
childish ways were almost gone. And instead there was 
something ladylike and delicate about her that was hard to 
point out. The earrings, the dangle of her bracelets, and the 
new way she crossed her legs and pulled the hem of her skirt 
down past her knees. He watched her and felt only a sort of 
gentleness. In him the old feeling was gone. For a year this 
love had blossomed strangely. He had questioned it a hundred 
times and found no answer. And now, as a summer flower 
shatters in September, it was finished. There was no one. 


Biff tapped his nose with his forefinger. A foreign voice was 
now speaking over the radio. He could not decide for certain 
whether the voice was German, French, or Spanish. But it 
sounded like doom. It gave him the jitters to listen to it. When 
he turned it off the silence was deep and unbroken. He felt the 
night outside. Loneliness gripped him so that his breath 
quickened. It was far too late to call Lucile on the telephone 
and speak to Baby. Nor could he expect a customer to enter at 
this hour. He went to the door and looked up and down the 
street. All was empty and dark. 
'Louis!' he called. 'Are you awake, Louis?' 
No answer. He put his elbows on the counter and held his 
head in his hands. He moved his dark bearded jaw from side 
to side and slowly his forehead lowered in a frown. 
The riddle. The question that had taken root in him and would 
not let him rest. The puzzle of Singer and the rest of them. 
More than a year had gone by since it had started. More than a 
year since Blount had hung around the place on his first long 
drunk and seen the mute for the first time. Since Mick had 
begun to follow him in and out. And now for a month Singer 
had been dead and buried. And the riddle was still in him, so 
that he could not be tranquil.306 

307 

There was something not natural about it all—something like 
an ugly joke. When he thought of it he felt uneasy and in some 
unknown way afraid. 
He had managed about the funeral. They had left all that to 
him. Singer's affairs were in a mess. There were installments 
due on everything he owned and the beneficiary of his life 
insurance was deceased. There was just enough to bury him. 
The funeral was at noon. The sun burned down on them with 
savage heat as they stood around the open dank grave. The 
flowers curled and turned brown in the sun. Mick cried so 
hard that she choked herself and her father had to beat her on 
the back. Blount scowled down at the grave with his fist to his 
mouth. The town's Negro doctor, who was somehow related to 
poor Willie, stood on the edge of the crowd and moaned to 
himself. And there were strangers nobody had ever seen or 
heard of before. God knows where they came from or why 


they were there. 
The silence in the room was deep as the night itself. Biff stood 
transfixed, lost in his meditations. Then suddenly he felt a 
quickening in him. His heart turned and he leaned his back 
against the counter for support. For in a swift radiance of 
illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor. 
Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless 
time. And of those who labor and of those who—one word— 
love. His soul expanded. But for a moment only. For in him he 
felt a warning, a shaft of terror. Between the two worlds he 
was suspended. He saw that he was looking at his own face in 
the counter glass before him. Sweat glistened on his temples 
and his face was contorted. One eye was opened wider than 
the other. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the 
right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness, 
error, and ruin. And he was suspended between radiance and 
darkness. Between bitter irony and faith. Sharply he turned 
away. 
'Louis!' he called. 'Louis! Louis!' 
Again there was no answer. But, motherogod, was he a 
sensible man or was he not? And how could this terror throttle 
him nice this when he didn't even know what caused it? And 
would he just stand here like a jittery ninny or would he pull 
himself together and be reasonable? For 
after all was he a sensible man or was he not? Biff wet his 
handkerchief beneath the water tap and patted his drawn, 
tense face. Somehow he remembered that the awning had not 
yet been raised. As he went to the door his walk gained 
steadiness. And when at last he was inside again he composed 
himself soberly to await the morning sun. 



<<Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter>> 〔完〕

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