JEAN LOUISE GOT up from the yard chair she was sitting in, walked to the corner of the lot, and vomited up her Sunday dinner. Her fingers caught the strands of a wire fence, the fence that separated Miss Rachel’s garden from the Finch back yard. If Dill were here he would leap over the fence to her, bring her head down to his, kiss her, and hold her hand, and together they would take their stand when there was trouble in the house. But Dill had long since gone from her.
Her nausea returned with redoubled violence when she remembered the scene in the courthouse, but she had nothing left to part with.
If you had only spat in my face…
It could be, might be, still was, a horrible mistake. Her mind refused to register what her eyes and ears told it. She returned to her chair and sat staring at a pool of melted vanilla ice cream working its way slowly to the edge of the table. It spread, paused, dribbled and dripped. Drip, drip, drip, into the white gravel until, saturated, it could no longer receive and a second tiny pool appeared.
You did that. You did it as sure as you were sitting there.
“Guessed my name yet? Why looka yonder, you’ve wasted your ice cream.”
She raised her head. The man in the shop was leaning out the back window, less than five feet from her. He withdrew and reappeared with a limp rag. As he wiped the mess away he said, “What’s my name?”
“Oh, I am sorry.” She looked at the man carefully. “Are you one of the cee-oh Coninghams?”
The man grinned broadly. “Almost. I’m one of the cee-you’s. How’d you know?”
“Family resemblance. What got you out of the woods?”
“Mamma left me some timber and I sold it. Put up this shop here.”
“What time is it?” she asked.
“Gettin’ on to four-thirty,” said Mr. Cunningham.
She rose, smiled goodbye, and said she would be coming back soon. She made her way to the sidewalk. Two solid hours and I didn’t know where I was. I am so tired.
She did not return by town. She walked the long way round, through a schoolyard, down a street lined with pecan trees, across another schoolyard, across a football field on which Jem in a daze had once tackled his own man. I am so tired.
Alexandra was standing in the doorway. She stepped aside to let Jean Louise pass. “Where have you been?” she said. “Jack called ages ago and asked after you. Have you been visiting out of the family Like That?”
“I–I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? Jean Louise, talk some sense and go phone your uncle.”
She went wearily to the telephone and said, “One one nine.” Dr. Finch’s voice said, “Dr. Finch.” She said softly, “I’m sorry. See you tomorrow?” Dr. Finch said, “Right.”
She was too tired to be amused at her uncle’s telephone manners: he viewed such instruments with deep anger and his conversations were monosyllabic at best.
When she turned around Alexandra said, “You look right puny. What’s the matter?”
Madam, my father has left me flopping like a flounder at low tide and you say what’s the matter. “Stomach,” she said.
“There’s a lot of that going around now. Does it hurt?”
Yes it hurts. Like hell. It hurts so much I can’t stand it. “No ma’am, just upset.”
“Then why don’t you take an Alka-Seltzer?”
Jean Louise said she would, and the day dawned for Alexandra: “Jean Louise, did you go to that meeting with all those men there?”
“Where did you sit?”
“In the balcony. They didn’t see me. I watched from the balcony. Aunty, when Hank comes tonight tell him I’m… indisposed.”
She could not stand there another minute. “Yes, Aunty. I’m gonna do what every Christian young white fresh Southern virgin does when she’s indisposed.”
“And what might that be?”
“I’m takin’ to my bed.”
Jean Louise went to her room, shut the door, unbuttoned her blouse, unzipped the fly of her slacks, and fell across her mother’s lacy wrought-iron bed. She groped blindly for a pillow and pushed it under her face. In one minute she was asleep.
Had she been able to think, Jean Louise might have prevented events to come by considering the day’s occurrences in terms of a recurring story as old as time: the chapter which concerned her began two hundred years ago and was played out in a proud society the bloodiest war and harshest peace in modern history could not destroy, returning, to be played out again on private ground in the twilight of a civilization no wars and no peace could save.
Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.