That Evening Sun – Pre-Intermediate Level
Monday is no different from any other week day in Jefferson now. The streets are paved now, and the telephone and the electric companies are cutting down more and more trees to make room for metal posts. We also have a city clothes washing service which makes the rounds on Monday morning, picking up the bundles of clothes in brightly colored, specially made cars. The dirty clothes of a whole week now disappear like a ghost behind their noisy electric horns. Even the Negro women who still take in white peoples’ washing in the old way, pick up and return it in cars.
But on Monday mornings fifteen years ago the quiet, dusty, tree-lined streets would be full of Negro women. Balanced on their heads would be large bundles of clothes tied up in sheets. These were carried without so much as a touch of hand between the kitchen door of the white house and the blackened washing pot in the part of town known as Negro Hollow.
Nancy would set her bundle on the top of her head, and then upon the bundle she would set the black sailor hat which she wore winter and summer. She was tall, with a high, sad face sunken a little where her teeth were missing. Sometimes we would go a part of the way along the path to Negro Hollow with her. The balanced bundle and the hat never seemed to move, even when she walked down into the ditch and up the other side, and then bent to go through the fence. She would go down on her hands and knees and move slowly through the space, her head straight, the bundle unmoving, then stand up again and go on.
Sometimes the husbands of the washing women would pick up and return the clothes. But Jubah never did that for Nancy, even before father told him to stay away from our house, even when Dilsey was sick and Nancy would come to cook for us.
And then about half the time we’d have to go down the path to Nancy’s house and tell her to come and make our breakfast. We would stop at the ditch, because father told us to not have anything to do with Jubah. He was a short black man, with a razor scar down his face. We would throw rocks at Nancy’s house until she came to the door, putting her head out from behind it without any clothes on.
“What do you all mean, throwing things at my house?” Nancy said. “What do you children want?”
“Father says for you to come and cook breakfast,” Caddy said. “Father says it’s over a half an hour now, and you’ve got to come this minute.”
“I ain’t making no breakfast,” Nancy said. “I’m going to finish sleeping.”
“I think you’re drunk,” Jason said. “Father says you’re drunk. Are you drunk, Nancy?”
“Who says I’m drunk?” Nancy said. “I’ve got to finish sleeping. I ain’t making no breakfast.”
So after a while we stopped throwing rocks and went back home. When she finally came, it was too late for me to go to school.
We thought it was whiskey until that day when the police came for her again. They were taking her off to jail and they passed Mr Stovall. He worked in the bank and was a head man in the Baptist church. Nancy called out:
“When you going to pay me, white man? When you going to pay me? It’s been three times now since you paid me a cent.” Mr Stovall hit her and she fell, but she kept on calling. “When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since…” Mr Stovall then kicked her in the mouth. One of the policemen pulled Mr Stovall back, with Nancy lying in the street, laughing. She turned her head and spat out some blood and teeth and said, “It’s been three times now since he paid me a cent.”
That was how she lost her teeth, and all that day people talked about Nancy and Mr Stovall. And all that night the ones that passed the jail could hear Nancy singing and shouting. They could see her hands holding on to the window bars. A lot of them stopped and stood along the fence listening to her, and to the jailer trying to make her stop. She didn’t shut up until just before daylight, when the jailer began to hear strange noises upstairs. He went up there and found Nancy hanging from a window bar. He said that it was drugs and not whiskey. “No nigger would try to kill themselves unless he was full of drugs,” he said, “because a nigger full of drugs wasn’t a nigger any longer.”
The jailer cut her down and made sure she was not hurt badly. Then he gave her a good beating. She had hung herself with her dress. She had fixed it all right, but when they took her from her house she didn’t have anything on under the dress. She didn’t have anything to tie her hands with, and couldn’t make them let go of the bars. The jailer heard the noise and ran up there and found Nancy hanging from the window without any clothes on.
When Dilsey was sick in her house and Nancy was cooking for us, we could see her stomach getting bigger and bigger. That was before father told Jubah to stay away from the house. Jubah was in the kitchen, sitting behind the stove, with his razor scar on his black face like a piece of dirty string. He said it was a watermelon Nancy had under her dress. And it was winter, too.
“Where did you get a watermelon in the winter,” Caddy said.
“I didn’t,” Jubah said. “It wasn’t me that gave it to her. But I can cut it down, same as if it was.”
“What makes you want to talk that way before these children?” Nancy said. “Why don’t you go on to work? You did it. You want Mr Jason to catch you hanging around his kitchen, talking that way in front of these children?”
“Talking what way, Nancy?” Caddy said.
“I can’t hang around a white man’s kitchen,” Jubah said. “But a white man can hang around mine! A white man can come into my house, and I can’t stop him. When white man wants to come in my house, I haven’t got a house. I can’t stop him, but he can’t kick me out of it. He can’t do that.”
While Dilsey was still sick in her house, father told Jubah to stay away from our place. Dilsey was sick for a long time. One day we were in the library after supper.
“Isn’t Nancy through yet?” mother said. “It seems to me that she has had more than enough time to have finished the dishes.”
“Let Quentin go and see,” father said. “Go and see if Nancy is through, Quentin. Tell her she can go on home.”
I went to the kitchen. Nancy was through. The dishes were put away and the fire was out. Nancy was sitting in a chair, close to the cold stove. She looked at me.
“Mother wants to know if you are through,” I said.
“Yes,” Nancy said. She looked at me. “I have finished.” She looked at me.
“What is it?” I said. What is it?”
“I ain’t nothing but a nigger,” Nancy said. “There was nothing I could do about it.”
She looked at me, sitting in the chair before the cold stove, the sailor hat on her head. I went back to the library. It was the cold stove and all. When you think of a kitchen you think of a warm, busy, happy place. With a cold stove and the dishes all put away, and nobody wanting to eat at that hour, it was none of these.
“Is she through?” mother said.
“Yes mother,” I said.
“What is she doing?” mother said.
“She’s not doing anything. She’s through.”
“I’ll go and see,” father said.
“Maybe she’s waiting for Jubah to come and take her home,” Caddy said.
“Jubah is gone,” I said.
Nancy had told us how one morning she woke up and Jubah was gone.
“He left me,” Nancy had said. “Done gone to Memphis, I reckon. Hiding from them city police for a while, I reckon.”
“That’s good news,” father had said. “I hope he stays there.”
“Nancy’s scared of the dark,” Jason said.
“So are you,” Caddy said.
“I’m not,” Jason said.
“Yes you are,” Caddy said.
“I’m not,” Jason said.
“You, Candace!” mother said.
Father came back. “I am going to walk down the path with Nancy,” he said. “She says Jubah is back.”
“Has she seen him?” mother said.
“No. Some Negro sent her word that he was back in town. I won’t be long.”
“You’ll leave me alone, to take Nancy home?” mother said. “Is her safety more important to you than mine?”
“I won’t be long,” father said.
“You’ll leave these children with no man to watch over them, with that Negro about?”
“I’m going, too,” Caddy said. “Let me go, father.”
“What would he do with them, if he were unlucky enough to have them?” father said.
“I want to go, too,” Jason said.
“Jason!” mother said. She was speaking to father. You could tell that by the way she said the name. Like she believed that all day father had been trying to think of doing the thing that she wouldn’t like the most. And that she knew all the time that after a while he would think of it.
I stayed quiet, because father and I both knew that mother would want him to make me stay with her, if she just thought of it in time. So father didn’t look at me. I was the oldest. I was nine and Caddy was seven and Jason was five.
“Don’t be silly,” father said. “We won’t be long.”
Nancy had her hat on. We came to the path. “Jubah always been good to me,” Nancy said. “Whenever he had two dollars, one of them was mine.” We walked along the path. “If I can just get to the other end of the path,” Nancy said, “I be all right then.”
The path was always dark. “This is where Jason got scared last time we were here at night,” Caddy said.
“I didn’t,” Jason said.
“Can’t Aunt Rachel do anything with him?” father said. Aunt Rachel was old. She lived by herself in a house further on than Nancy’s. She had white hair and she smoked a pipe in the door, all day long. She didn’t work any more, and people said she was Jubah’s mother. Sometimes she said she was and sometimes she said she wasn’t any family to Jubah.
“Yes, you did,” Caddy said. “You were more scared than Frony and T.P. even. More scared than niggers!”
“Nobody can do anything with him,” Nancy said. “He says I woke up something evil in him, and there is only one thing going to make it lay down again.”
“Well, he’s gone now,” father said. “There’s nothing for you to be frightened of now. And if you’d just let white men alone.”
“Let what white men alone?” Caddy said. “How let them alone?”
“He hasn’t gone anywhere,” Nancy said. “I can feel him. I can feel him now, somewhere along this path. He can hear us talk, every word, hiding somewhere, waiting. I haven’t seen him, and I am only going to see him again once more, with that razor. That razor on that string down his back, inside his shirt. And then I am not going to even be surprised.”
“I wasn’t scared,” Jason said.
“If you’d been good, you’d have kept out of this,” father said. “But it’s all right now. He’s probably in St. Louis now. Probably got another wife by now and forgot all about you.”
“If he has, I better not find out about it,” Nancy said. “I’d stand there and every time he put an arm around her, I’d cut that arm off. I’d cut his head off and I’d cut her stomach open and I’d push…”
“Enough of that,” father said.
“Cut whose stomach open, Nancy?” Caddy said.
“I wasn’t scared,” Jason said. “I’d walk right down this path by myself.”
“No way!” Caddy said. “You’d be too scared to put a foot down in it if we weren’t with you.”
Dilsey was still sick, and so we walked Nancy home every night until mother said, “How much longer is this going to go on? Leaving me alone in this big house while you take home a frightened Negro?”
We put some old blankets on the kitchen floor for Nancy to sleep on. One night we woke up hearing a sound coming up the dark stairs. It was not singing and it was not crying. There was a light in mother’s room and we heard father going down the hall and then down the back stairs. Caddy and I went into the hall. The floor was cold and our toes curled up as we listened to the sound. It was like singing and it wasn’t like singing, like the sounds that Negroes make.
Then it stopped and again we heard father going down the back stairs. We went to the top of the stairs and the sound began again. It was in the stairway, not loud, and we could see Nancy’s eyes half way up the stairs, against the wall. They looked like cat’s eyes do, like a big cat against the wall, watching us. When we came down the steps to where she was she stopped making the sound again. We stood there until father came back up from the kitchen, with his gun in his hand. He went back down with Nancy and they came back with Nancy’s blankets.
We put the blankets on the floor in our room. After the light in mother’s room went off, we could see Nancy’s eyes again. “Nancy,” Caddy called quietly, “are you asleep, Nancy?”
Nancy answered something. It was oh or no, I don’t know which. It was like nobody had made it, like it came from nowhere and went nowhere, until it was like Nancy was not there at all. It seemed as if I had looked so hard at her eyes on the stairs that they had got printed in my mind, like the sun does when you have closed your eyes and there is no sun. “Jesus,” Nancy said. “Jesus.”
“Was it Jubah?” Caddy asked. “Did he try to come into the kitchen?”
“Jesus,” Nancy said, but like this: Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus.
“Can you see us, Nancy? Can you see our eyes too?” Caddy said.
“I ain’t nothing but a nigger,” Nancy said. “God knows. God knows.”
“What did you see down there in the kitchen?” Caddy said. “What tried to get in?”
“God knows,” Nancy said. We could see her eyes. “God knows.”
Dilsey got well. She cooked dinner.
“You’d better stay in bed a day or two longer,” father said.
“What for?” Dilsey said. “If I had been a day later, this place wouldn’t be fit to cook in. Get on out of here, now, and let me get my kitchen in order.”
Dilsey cooked supper, too. And that night, just before dark, Nancy came into the kitchen.
“How do you know he’s back?” Dilsey said. “You ain’t seen him.”
“Jubah is a nigger,” Jason said.
“I can feel him,” Nancy said. “I can feel him laying over there in the ditch.”
“Tonight?” Dilsey said. “Is he there tonight?”
“Dilsey’s a nigger too,” Jason said.
“You try to eat something,” Dilsey said.
“I don’t want anything,” Nancy said.
“I ain’t a nigger,” Jason said.
“Drink some coffee,” Dilsey said. She gave Nancy a cup of coffee. “Do you know he’s out there tonight? How come you know it’s tonight?”
“I know,” Nancy said. “He’s there, waiting. I know. I done lived with him too long. I know what he is planning to do before he knows it himself.”
“Drink some coffee,” Dilsey said. Nancy held the cup to her mouth and blew into the cup. Her mouth looked like she had blown all the color out of her lips with blowing the coffee.
“I ain’t a nigger,” Jason said. “Are you a nigger, Nancy?”
“I was born in hell, child,” Nancy said. “I won’t be anything soon. I’m going back where I came from soon.”
She began to drink the coffee. While she was drinking, holding the cup in both hands, she began to make the sound again. She made the sound into the cup and the coffee spilled on to her hands and her dress. Her eyes looked at us and she sat there, her elbows on her knees, holding the cup in both hands, looking at us across the wet cup, making the sound.
“Look at Nancy,” Jason said. “Nancy can’t cook for us now. Dilsey’s got well now.”
“You be quiet,” Dilsey said. Nancy held the cup in both hands, looking at us, making the sound, like there were two of her. One was looking at us and the other was making the sound. “Why don’t you let Mr Jason telephone the police?” Dilsey said. Nancy stopped then, holding the cup in her long brown hands. She again tried to drink some coffee, but once more it spilled out of the cup on to her hands and her dress. She put the cup down. Jason watched her.
“I can’t drink it,” Nancy said. “I try to drink but it won’t go down.”
“You go down to the house,” Dilsey said. “Frony will fix you a bed and I’ll be there soon.”
“A nigger won’t stop him,” Nancy said.
“I ain’t a nigger,” Jason said. “Am I, Dilsey?”
“I reckon not,” Dilsey said. She looked at Nancy. “I don’t reckon so. What you going to do, then?”
Nancy looked at us children. Her eyes went fast, like she was frightened there wasn’t time to look. She looked at us, at all three of us at one time. “You remember that night I stayed in your room?” she said. She told about how we woke up early the next morning, and played. We had to play quietly, on her blankets, until father woke and it was time for her to go down and make breakfast. “Go and ask you mother to let me stay here tonight,” Nancy said. “I won’t need any blankets. We can play some more,” she said.
Caddy asked mother. Jason went too. “I can’t have Negroes sleeping in the house,” mother said. Jason cried. He cried until mother said he couldn’t have any dessert for three days if he didn’t stop. Then Jason said he would stop if Dilsey would make a chocolate cake. Father was there.
“Why don’t you do something about it?” mother said. “What do we have police for?”
“Why is Nancy frightened of Jubah?” Caddy said. “Are you frightened of father, mother?”
“What could they do?” father said. “If Nancy hasn’t seen him, how could the police find him?”
“Then why is she frightened?” mother said.
“She says he is there. She says she knows he is there tonight.”
“But why must I wait here alone in this big house while you take a Negro woman home.”
“Because you know that I am not lying outside with a razor,” father said.
“I’ll stop if Dilsey will make a chocolate cake,” Jason said. Mother told us to go out and father said he didn’t know if Jason would get a chocolate cake or not, but he knew what Jason was going to get in about a minute. We went back to the kitchen and told Nancy.
“Father said for you to go home and lock the door, and you’ll be all right,” Caddy said. “All right from what, Nancy? Is Jubah mad at you?”
Nancy was holding the coffee cup in her hands, her elbow on her knees and her hands holding the cup between her knees. She was looking into the cup.
“What have you done that made Jubah mad?” Caddy said.
Nancy let the cup go. It didn’t break on the floor, but the coffee spilled out, and Nancy sat there with her hands making the shape of the cup. She began to make the sound again, not loud. Like singing, but not singing. We watched her.
“Here,” Dilsey said. “You stop that, now. You get a hold of yourself. You wait here. I’m going to get Versh to walk home with you.” Dilsey went out.
We looked at Nancy. Her shoulders kept shaking, but she had stopped making the sound. We watched her. “What’s Jubah going to do to you?” Caddy said. “He went away.”
Nancy looked at us. “We had fun that night I stayed in your room, didn’t we?”
“I didn’t,” Jason said. “I didn’t have any fun.”
“You were asleep,” Caddy said. “You weren’t there.”
“Let’s go down to my house and have some more fun,” Nancy said.
“Mother won’t let us,” I said. “It’s too late now.”
“Don’t worry her,” Nancy said. “We can tell her in the morning. She won’t mind.”
“She wouldn’t let us,” I said.
“Don’t ask her now,” Nancy said. “Don’t worry her now.”
“They didn’t say we couldn’t go,” Caddy said.
“We didn’t ask,” I said.
“If you go, I’ll tell,” Jason said.
“We’ll have fun,” Nancy said. “They won’t mind, just to my house. I been working for you all a long time. They won’t mind.”
“I’m not scared to go,” Caddy said. “Jason is the one that’s scared. He’ll tell.”
“I’m not,” Jason said.
“You are,” Caddy said. “You’ll tell.”
“I won’t tell,” Jason said. “I’m not scared.”
“Jason isn’t scared to go with me,” Nancy said. “Are you, Jason?”
“Jason is going to tell,” Caddy said. The path was dark. We passed the gate that led to the field. “I’m sure that if something was to jump out from behind that gate, Jason would scream.”
“I wouldn’t,” Jason said. We walked down the path. Nancy was talking loudly.
“What are you talking so loudly for, Nancy?” Caddy said.
“Who… me?” Nancy said. “Listen at Quentin and Caddy and Jason saying I’m talking loudly.”
“You talk like there was four of us here,” Caddy said. “You talk like father was here too.”
“Who? Me talking loudly, Mr Jason?” Nancy said.
“Nancy called Jason ‘Mister’,” Caddy said.
“Listen how Caddy and Quentin and Jason talk,” Nancy said.
“We’re not talking loudly,” Caddy said. “You’re the one that’s talking like father…”
“Be quiet, Caddy” Nancy said. “Be quiet, Mr Jason.”
“Nancy called Jason ‘Mister’ argh…”
“Quiet!” Nancy said. She was talking loudly when we crossed the ditch and went through the fence where she used to bend with the clothes on her head. Then we came to her house. We were going fast then. She opened the door. The smell of the house the smell of Nancy seemed to go together, as if they were one. She lit the lamp and closed the door and put the bar up. Then she stopped talking loudly and looked at us.
“What’re we going to do?” Caddy said.
“What do you all want to do?” Nancy said.
“You said we would have some fun,” Caddy said.
There was something about Nancy’s house; something you could smell besides Nancy and the house. Jason smelled it, even. “I don’t want to stay here,” he said. “I want to go home.”
“Go home, then,” Caddy said.
“I don’t want to go by myself,” Jason said.
“We’re going to have some fun,” Nancy said.
“How?” Caddy said.
Nancy stood by the door. She was looking at us, only it was like she had emptied her eyes, like she had stopped using them. “What do you want to do?” she said.
“Tell us a story,” Caddy said. “Can you tell a story?”
“Yes,” Nancy said.
“Tell it,” Caddy said. We looked at Nancy. “You don’t know any stories?” Caddy said.
“Yes,” Nancy said. “Yes I do.”
She came and sat down in a chair before the fireplace. There was some fire there. It was already hot, and she built it up. You didn’t need a fire, but she got it burning very brightly anyway.
She told a story. It was like her eyes watching us and her voice talking to us were not hers. Like she was living somewhere else, waiting somewhere else. She was outside the house. Her voice was there and the shape of her, the Nancy that could bend under the fence with the bundle of clothes balanced on her head as though it was nothing, was there. But that was all.
“And so this here queen come walking up to the ditch, where that bad man was hiding. She was walking up the ditch, and she said, ‘If I can just get past this here ditch,’ was what she say…”
“What ditch?” Caddy said. “A ditch like that one out there? Why did the queen go into the ditch?”
“To get to her house,” Nancy said. She looked at us. “She had to cross that ditch to get home.”
“Why did she want to go home?” Caddy said.
Nancy stopped talking and looked at us. Jason’s legs stuck straight out of his pants, because he was little. “I don’t think that’s a good story,” he said. “I want to go home.”
“Maybe we had better,” Caddy said. She got up from the floor. “They are sure to be looking for us right now.” She went toward the door.
“No,” Nancy said. “Don’t open it.” She got up quick and passed Caddy. She didn’t touch the door, the wooden bar.
“Why not?” Caddy said.
“Come back to the lamp,” Nancy said. “We’ll have fun. You don’t have to go.”
“We should go,” Caddy said. “Unless we have a lot of fun.” She and Nancy came back to the fire, the lamp.
“I want to go home,” Jason said. “I’m going to tell.”
“I know another story,” Nancy said. She stood close to the lamp. She looked at Caddy, like when your eyes look up at a stick balanced on your nose. She had to look down to see Caddy, but her eyes looked like that, like when you are balancing a stick.
“I won’t listen to it,” Jason said. “I’ll make a noise so no one can hear.”
“It’s a good one,” Nancy said. “It’s better than the other one.”
“What’s it about?” Caddy said. Nancy was standing by the lamp. Her hand was on the glass, against the light, long and brown.
“Your hand is on that hot glass,” Caddy said. “Doesn’t it feel hot to your hand?”
Nancy looked at her hand on the glass. She took it away, slowly. She stood there, looking at Caddy, moving her long hand round and round in circles as though it were tied to the end of her arm with a string.
“Let’s do something else,” Caddy said.
“I want to go home,” Jason said.
“I got some popcorn,” Nancy said. She looked at Caddy and then at Jason and then at me and then at Caddy again. “I got some popcorn.”
“I don’t like popcorn,” Jason said. “I want candy.”
Nancy looked at Jason. “You can hold the pan.” She was still moving her hand in circles; it was long and brown and hanging by her side.
“All right,” Jason said. “I’ll stay a while if I can do that. Caddy can’t hold it. I’ll want to go home, if Caddy holds the pan.”
Nancy built up the fire. “Look at Nancy putting her hands in the fire,” Caddy said. “What’s the matter with you, Nancy?”
“I got popcorn,” Nancy said. “I got some.” She took the popcorn pan from under the bed. It was broken. Jason began to cry.
“We can’t have any popcorn,” he said.
“We should go home, anyway,” Caddy said. “Come on, Quentin.”
“Wait,” Nancy said; “wait. I can fix it. Don’t you want to help me fix it?”
“I don’t think I want any,” Caddy said. “It’s too late now.”
“You help me, Jason,” Nancy said. “Don’t you want to help me?”
“No,” Jason said. “I want to go home.”
“Wait!” Nancy said. “Watch. Watch me. I can fix it so Jason can hold it and pop the corn.” She got a piece of wire and fixed the pan.
“It won’t hold good,” Caddy said.
“Yes it will,” Nancy said. “You all watch. You all help me cut up the corn.”
The corn was under the bed too. We put the corn into the pan and Nancy helped Jason hold the pan over the fire.
“It’s not popping,” Jason said. “I want to go home.”
“You wait,” Nancy said. “It’ll begin to pop. We’ll have fun then.” She was sitting close to the fire. The lamp was turned up so high it was beginning to smoke.
“Why don’t you turn it down some?” I said.
“It’s all right,” Nancy said. “I’ll clean it. You all wait. The popcorn will start in a minute.”
“I don’t believe it’s going to start,” Caddy said. “We should go home, anyway. They’ll be worried.”
“No,” Nancy said. “It’s going to pop. Dilsey will tell them you are with me. I been working for you all a long time. They won’t mind if you are at my house. You wait, now. It’ll start popping in a minute.”
Then Jason got some smoke in his eyes and he began to cry. He dropped the pan into the fire. Nancy got a wet cloth and wiped Jason’s face, but he didn’t stop crying.
Caddy took the pan out of the fire.
“It’s burned up,” she said. “You’1l have to get some more popcorn, Nancy.”
“Did you put all of it in?” Nancy said.
“Yes,” Caddy said. Nancy looked at Caddy. She took the pan and opened it. Then she began to sort the burnt popcorn from from the good popcorn, her hands long and brown, and us watching her.
“Haven’t you got any more?” Caddy said.
“Yes,” Nancy said. “Yes. Look! This here ain’t burnt. All we need to do is…”
“I want to go home,” Jason said. “I’m going to tell father.”
“Listen!” Caddy said. We all listened. Nancy’s head was already turned toward the barred door, her eyes filled with red lamplight. “Somebody is coming,” Caddy said.
Then Nancy began to make that sound again, not loud, sitting there above the fire, her long hands hanging freely between her knees. All of a sudden water began to come out on her face in big drops, running down her face. Each one carried a little turning ball of firelight until it dropped off her chin.
“She’s not crying,” I said.
“I ain’t crying,” Nancy said. Her eyes were closed, “I ain’t crying. Who is it?”
“I don’t know,” Caddy said. She went the door and looked out. “We’ve got to go home now,” she said. “Here comes father.”
“I’m going to tell father,” Jason said. “You all made me come.”
The water still ran down Nancy’s face. She turned in her chair. “Listen. Tell him. Tell him we were going to have fun. Tell him I’ll take good care of you until in the morning. Tell him to let me come home with you and sleep on the floor. Tell him I won’t need any blankets. We’ll have fun. You remember last time how we had so much fun?”
“I didn’t have any fun,” Jason said. “You hurt me. You put smoke in my eyes.
Father came in. He looked at us. Nancy did not get up.
“Tell him,” she said.
“Caddy made us come down here,” Jason said. “I didn’t want to.”
Father came to the fire. Nancy looked up at him. “Can’t you go to Aunt Rachel’s and stay?” he said. Nancy looked up at father, her hands between knees. “He’s not here,” father said. “I would have seen. There wasn’t anyone there.”
“He’s in the ditch,” Nancy said. “He’s waiting in the ditch over there.”
“Don’t be silly,” father said. He looked at Nancy. “How do you know he’s there?”
“I got the sign,” Nancy said.
“I got it. It was on the table when I come in. It was a pig bone, with blood meat still on it, laying by the lamp. He’s out there. When you walk out that door, I am gone.”
“Who’s gone, Nancy?” Caddy said.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Jason said.
“That’s foolishness,” father said.
“He’s out there,” Nancy said. “He is looking through that window this minute, waiting for you to go. Then I’m gone.”
“Stop talking like that,” father said. “Lock up your house and we’ll take you on to Aunt Rachel’s.”
“It won’t do any good,” Nancy said. She didn’t look at father now, but he looked down at her, at her long, moving hands.
“Putting it off won’t do any good.”
“Then what do you want to do?” father said.
“I don’t know,” Nancy said. “I can’t do anything. Just put it off. And that doesn’t do any good. I reckon I’ve got it coming to me. I reckon what I’m going to get ain’t no more than mine.”
“Get what?” Caddy said. “What’s yours?”
“Nothing,” father said. You all must get to bed.”
“Caddy made me come,” Jason said.
“Go on to Aunt Rachel’s,” father said.
“It won’t do any good,” Nancy said. She sat before the fire, her elbows on her knees, her long hands between her knees. “When even your own kitchen wouldn’t do any good. When even if I was sleeping on the floor in the room with your own children, and the next morning there I am, and blood all…”
“Stop that!” father said. “Lock the door and put the lamp out and go to bed.”
“I’m scared of the dark,” Nancy said. “I’m scared for it to happen in the dark.”
“You mean you’re going to sit right here, with the lamp lighted?” father said. Then Nancy began to make the sound again, sitting before the fire, her long hands between her knees. “Oh my God!” father said. “Come along, children. It’s past bedtime.”
“When you go, I’m gone,” Nancy said. She talked quieter now, and her face looked quiet, like her hands. “Anyway, I got my coffin money saved up with Mr. Lovelady.”
Mr Lovelady was a short, dirty man who took care of the Negro insurance. He came around to the houses and the kitchens every Saturday morning to get their fifteen cent payments. He and his wife lived in the hotel. One morning his wife killed herself. They had a child, a little girl. After his wife killed herself, Mr Lovelady and the child went away. After a while he came back alone. We would see him going along the paths and back streets on Saturday mornings on the way to the Baptist church.
Father carried Jason on his back. We went out Nancy’s door; she was sitting before the fire. “Come and put the bar up,” father said. Nancy didn’t move. She didn’t look at us again. We left her there, sitting before the fire with the door opened, so it wouldn’t happen in the dark.
“What, father?” Caddy said. “Why is Nancy scared of Jubah? What is Jubah going to do to her?”
“Jubah wasn’t there,” Jason said.
“No,” father said. “He’s not there. He’s gone away.”
“Who is it that’s waiting in the ditch?” Caddy said. We looked at the ditch. We came to it, where the path went down into the thick bushes and went up again.
“Nobody,” father said.
There was just enough moon to see by. The ditch was dark, thick, quiet. “If he’s there, he can see us, can’t he?” Caddy said.
“You made me come,” Jason said on father’s back. “I didn’t want to.”
The ditch was quite still, quite empty, but full of thick bushes. We couldn’t see Jubah, any more than we could see Nancy sitting there in her house, with the door open and the lamp burning, because she didn’t want it to happen in the dark. “I done got tired,” Nancy said. “I’m just a nigger. There is nothing I could have done.”
But we could still hear her. She began as soon as we were out of the house, sitting there above the fire, her long brown hands between her knees. We could still hear her as we had crossed the ditch, Jason high and close and little about father’s head.
Then we had crossed the ditch, walking out of Nancy’s life. As we left, her life was sitting there with the door open and the lamp lit, waiting. Our lives and the lives of other white people continued on. The ditch stood between us, dividing those on both sides whose lives and been changed by knowing each other.
“Who will do our washing now, father?” I asked.
“I’m not a nigger,” Jason said.
“You’re worse,” Caddy said, “you tell when people do something wrong. If something was to jump out, you’d be more scared than a nigger.”
“I wouldn’t,” Jason said.
“You’d cry,” Caddy said.
“Caddy!” father said.
“I wouldn’t,” Jason said.
“Yes you would,” Caddy said.
“Candace!” father said.