ALEXANDRA WAS AT the kitchen table absorbed in culinary rites. Jean Louise tiptoed past her to no avail.
“Come look here.”
Alexandra stepped back from the table and revealed several cut-glass platters stacked three-deep with delicate sandwiches.
“Is that Atticus’s dinner?”
“No, he’s going to try to eat downtown today. You know how he hates barging in on a bunch of women.”
Holy Moses King of the Jews. The Coffee.
“Sweet, why don’t you get the livingroom ready. They’ll be here in an hour.”
“Who’ve you invited?”
Alexandra called out a guest list so preposterous that Jean Louise sighed heavily. Half the women were younger than she, half were older; they had shared no experience that she could recall, except one female with whom she had quarreled steadily all through grammar school. “Where’s everybody in my class?” she said.
“About, I suppose.”
Ah yes. About, in Old Sarum and points deeper in the woods. She wondered what had become of them.
“Did you go visiting this morning?” asked Alexandra.
“Went to see Cal.”
Alexandra’s knife clattered on the table. “Jean Louise!”
“Now what the hell’s the matter?” This is the last round I will ever have with her, so help me God. I have never been able to do anything right in my life as far as she’s concerned.
“Calm down, Miss.” Alexandra’s voice was cold. “Jean Louise, nobody in Maycomb goes to see Negroes any more, not after what they’ve been doing to us. Besides being shiftless now they look at you sometimes with open insolence, and as far as depending on them goes, why that’s out.
“That NAACP’s come down here and filled ’em with poison till it runs out of their ears. It’s simply because we’ve got a strong sheriff that we haven’t had bad trouble in this county so far. You do not realize what is going on. We’ve been good to ’em, we’ve bailed ’em out of jail and out of debt since the beginning of time, we’ve made work for ’em when there was no work, we’ve encouraged ’em to better themselves, they’ve gotten civilized, but my dear-that veneer of civilization’s so thin that a bunch of uppity Yankee Negroes can shatter a hundred years’ progress in five…
“No ma’am, after the thanks they’ve given us for looking after ’em, nobody in Maycomb feels much inclined to help ’em when they get in trouble now. All they do is bite the hands that feed ’em. No sir, not any more-they can shift for themselves, now.”
She had slept twelve hours, and her shoulders ached from weariness.
“Mary Webster’s Sarah’s carried a card for years-so’s everybody’s cook in this town. When Calpurnia left I simply couldn’t be bothered with another one, not for just Atticus and me. Keeping a nigger happy these days is like catering to a king—”
My Sainted Aunt is talking like Mr. Grady O’Hanlon, who left his job to devote his full time to the preservation of segregation.
“—you have to fetch and tote for them until you wonder who’s waiting on who. It’s just not worth the trouble these days-where are you going?”
“To get the livingroom ready.”
She sank into a deep armchair and considered how all occasions had made her poor indeed. My aunt is a hostile stranger, my Calpurnia won’t have anything to do with me, Hank is insane, and Atticus-something’s wrong with me, it’s something about me. It has to be because all these people cannot have changed.
Why doesn’t their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up? I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what. Everything I have ever taken for right and wrong these people have taught me-these same, these very people. So it’s me, it’s not them. Something has happened to me.
They are all trying to tell me in some weird, echoing way that it’s all on account of the Negroes… but it’s no more the Negroes than I can fly and God knows, I might fly out the window any time, now.
“Haven’t you done the livingroom?” Alexandra was standing in front of her.
Jean Louise got up and did the livingroom.
THE MAGPIES ARRIVED at 10:30, on schedule. Jean Louise stood on the front steps and greeted them one by one as they entered. They wore gloves and hats, and smelled to high heaven of attars, perfumes, eaus, and bath powder. Their makeup would have put an Egyptian draftsman to shame, and their clothes-particularly their shoes-had definitely been purchased in Montgomery or Mobile: Jean Louise spotted A. Nachman, Gayfer’s, Levy’s, Hammel’s, on all sides of the livingroom.
What do they talk about these days? Jean Louise had lost her ear, but she presently recovered it. The Newlyweds chattered smugly of their Bobs and Michaels, of how they had been married to Bob and Michael for four months and Bob and Michael had gained twenty pounds apiece. Jean Louise crushed the temptation to enlighten her young guests upon the probable clinical reasons for their loved ones’ rapid growth, and she turned her attention to the Diaper Set, which distressed her beyond measure:
When Jerry was two months old he looked up at me and said… toilet training should really begin when… he was christened he grabbed Mr. Stone by the hair and Mr. Stone… wets the bed now. I broke her of that the same time I broke her from sucking her finger, with… the cu-utest, absolutely the cutest sweatshirt you’ve ever seen: it’s got a little red elephant and “Crimson Tide” written right across the front… and it cost us five dollars to get it yanked out.
The Light Brigade sat to the left of her: in their early and middle thirties, they devoted most of their free time to the Amanuensis Club, bridge, and getting one-up on each other in the matter of electrical appliances:
John says… Calvin says it’s the… kidneys, but Allen took me off fried things… when I got caught in that zipper I like to have never… wonder what on earth makes her think she can get away with it… poor thing, if I were in her place I’d take… shock treatments, that’s what she had. They say she… kicks back the rug every Saturday night when Lawrence Welk comes on… and laugh, I thought I’d die! There he was, in… my old wedding dress, and you know, I can still wear it.
Jean Louise looked at the three Perennial Hopefuls on her right. They were jolly Maycomb girls of excellent character who had never made the grade. They were patronized by their married contemporaries, they were vaguely felt sorry for, and were produced to date any stray extra man who happened to be visiting their friends. Jean Louise looked at one of them with acid amusement: when Jean Louise was ten, she made her only attempt to join a crowd, and she asked Sarah Finley one day, “Can I come to see you this afternoon?” “No,” said Sarah, “Mamma says you’re too rough.”
Now we are both lonely, for entirely different reasons, but it feels the same, doesn’t it?
The Perennial Hopefuls talked quietly among themselves:
longest day I ever had… in the back of the bank building… a new house out on the road by… the Training Union, add it all up and you spend four hours every Sunday in church… times I’ve told Mr. Fred I like my tomatoes… boiling hot. I told ’em if they didn’t get air-conditioning in that office I’d… throw up the whole game. Now who’d want to pull a trick like that?
Jean Louise threw herself into the breach: “Still at the bank, Sarah?”
“Goodness yes. Be there till I drop.”
Um. “Ah, what ever happened to Jane-what was her last name? You know, your high school friend?” Sarah and Jane What-Was-Her-Last-Name were once inseparable.
“Oh her. She got married to a right peculiar boy during the war and now she rolls her ah’s so, you’d never recognize her.”
“Oh? Where’s she living now?”
“Mobile. She went to Washington during the war and got this hideous accent. Everybody thought she was puttin’ on so bad, but nobody had the nerve to tell her so she still does it. Remember how she used to walk with her head way up, like this? She still does.”
Aunty has her uses, damn her, thought Jean Louise when she caught Alexandra’s signal. She went to the kitchen and brought out a tray of cocktail napkins. As she passed them down the line, Jean Louise felt as if she were running down the keys of a gigantic harpsichord:
I never in all my life… saw that marvelous picture… with old Mr. Healy… lying on the mantelpiece in front of my eyes the whole time… is it? Just about eleven, I think… she’ll wind up gettin’ a divorce. After all, the way he… rubbed my back every hour the whole ninth month… would have killed you. If you could have seen him… piddling every five minutes during the night. I put a stop… to everybody in our class except that horrid girl from Old Sarum. She won’t know the difference… between the lines, but you know exactly what he meant.
Back up the scale with the sandwiches:
Mr. Talbert looked at me and said… he’d never learn to sit on the pot… of beans every Thursday night. That’s the one Yankee thing he picked up in the… War of the Roses? No, honey, I said Warren proposes… to the garbage collector. That was all I could do after she got through… the rye. I just couldn’t help it, it made me feel like a big… A-men! I’ll be so glad when that’s over… the way he’s treated her… piles and piles of diapers, and he said why was I so tired? After all, he’d been… in the files the whole time, that’s where it was.
Alexandra walked behind her, muffling the keys with coffee until they subsided to a gentle hum. Jean Louise decided that the Light Brigade might suit her best, and she drew up a hassock and joined them. She cut Hester Sinclair from the covey: “How’s Bill?”
“Fine. Gets harder to live with every day. Wasn’t that bad about old Mr. Healy this morning?”
Hester said, “Didn’t that boy have something to do with you all?”
“Yes. He’s our Calpurnia’s grandson.”
“Golly, I never know who they are these days, all the young ones. Reckon they’ll try him for murder?”
“Manslaughter, I should think.”
“Oh.” Hester was disappointed. “Yes, I reckon that’s right. He didn’t mean to do it.”
“No, he didn’t mean to do it.”
Hester laughed. “And I thought we’d have some excitement.”
Jean Louise’s scalp jumped. I guess I’m losing my sense of humor, maybe that’s what it is. I’m gettin’ like Cousin Edgar.
Hester was saying, “—hasn’t been a good trial around here in ten years. Good nigger trial, I mean. Nothing but cuttin’ and drinkin’.”
“Do you like to go to court?”
“Sure. Wildest divorce case last spring you ever saw. Some yaps from Old Sarum. It’s a good thing Judge Taylor’s dead-you know how he hated that sort of thing, always askin’ the ladies to leave the courtroom. This new one doesn’t care. Well—”
“Excuse me, Hester. You need some more coffee.”
Alexandra was carrying the heavy silver coffee pitcher. Jean Louise watched her pour. She doesn’t spill a drop. If Hank and I-Hank.
She glanced down the long, low-ceilinged livingroom at the double row of women, women she had merely known all her life, and she could not talk to them five minutes without drying up stone dead. I can’t think of anything to say to them. They talk incessantly about the things they do, and I don’t know how to do the things they do. If we married-if I married anybody from this town-these would be my friends, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say to them. I would be Jean Louise the Silent. I couldn’t possibly bring off one of these affairs by myself, and there’s Aunty having the time of her life. I’d be churched to death, bridge-partied to death, called upon to give book reviews at the Amanuensis Club, expected to become a part of the community. It takes a lot of what I don’t have to be a member of this wedding.
“—a mighty sad thing,” Alexandra said, “but that’s just the way they are and they can’t help it. Calpurnia was the best of the lot. That Zeebo of hers, that scamp’s still in the trees, but you know, Calpurnia made him marry every one of his women. Five, I think, but Calpurnia made him marry every one of ’em. That’s Christianity to them.”
Hester said, “You never can tell what goes on in their heads. My Sophie now, one day I asked her, ‘Sophie,’ I said, ‘what day does Christmas come on this year?’ Sophie scratched that wool of hers and said, ‘Miss Hester, I thinks it comes on the twenty-fifth this year.’ Laugh, I thought I’d die. I wanted to know the day of the week, not the day of the year. Thi-ick!”
Humor, humor, humor, I have lost my sense of humor. I’m gettin’ like the New York Post.
“—but you know they’re still doing it. Stoppin’ ’em just made ’em go underground. Bill says he wouldn’t be surprised if there was another Nat Turner Uprisin’, we’re sittin’ on a keg of dynamite and we just might as well be ready,” Hester said.
“Ahm, ah-Hester, of course I don’t know much about it, but I thought that Montgomery crowd spent most of their meeting time in church praying,” said Jean Louise.
“Oh my child, don’t you know that was just to get sympathy up in the East? That’s the oldest trick known to mankind. You know Kaiser Bill prayed to God every night of his life.”
An absurd verse vibrated in Jean Louise’s memory. Where had she read it?
By right Divine, my dear Augusta,
We’ve had another awful buster;
Ten thousand Frenchmen sent below.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.
She wondered where Hester had picked up her information. She could not conceive of Hester Sinclair’s having read anything other than Good Housekeeping save under strong duress. Someone had told her. Who?
“Goin’ in for history these days, Hester?”
“What? Oh, I was just sayin’ what my Bill says. Bill, he’s a deep reader. He says the niggers who are runnin’ the thing up north are tryin’ to do it like Gandhi did it, and you know what that is.”
“I’m afraid I don’t. What is it?”
“Ah-I thought the Communists were all for violent overthrow and that sort of thing.”
Hester shook her head. “Where’ve you been, Jean Louise? They use any means they can to help themselves. They’re just like the Catholics. You know how the Catholics go down to those places and practically go native themselves to get converts. Why, they’d say Saint Paul was a nigger just like them if it’d convert one black man. Bill says-he was in the war down there, you know-Bill says he couldn’t figure out what was voo-doo and what was R.C. on some of those islands, that he wouldn’t’ve been surprised if he’d seen a voo-doo man with a collar on. It’s the same way with the Communists. They’ll do anything, no matter what it is, to get hold of this country. They’re all around you, you can’t tell who’s one and who isn’t. Why, even here in Maycomb County—”
Jean Louise laughed. “Oh, Hester, what would the Communists want with Maycomb County?”
“I don’t know, but I do know there’s a cell right up the road in Tuscaloosa, and if it weren’t for those boys a nigger’d be goin’ to classes with the rest of ’em.”
“I don’t follow you, Hester.”
“Didn’t you read about those fancy professors asking those questions in that-that Convocation? Why, they’d’ve let her right in. If it hadn’t been for those fraternity boys…”
“Golly, Hester. I’ve been readin’ the wrong newspaper. One I read said the mob was from that tire factory—”
“What do you read, the Worker?”
You are fascinated with yourself. You will say anything that occurs to you, but what I can’t understand are the things that do occur to you. I should like to take your head apart, put a fact in it, and watch it go its way through the runnels of your brain until it comes out of your mouth. We were both born here, we went to the same schools, we were taught the same things. I wonder what you saw and heard.
“—everybody knows the NAACP’s dedicated to the overthrow of the South…”
Conceived in mistrust, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created evil.
“—they make no bones about saying they want to do away with the Negro race, and they will in four generations, Bill says, if they start with this one…”
I hope the world will little note nor long remember what you are saying here.
“—and anybody who thinks different’s either a Communist or might as well be one. Passive resistance, my hind foot…”
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another they are Communists.
“—they always want to marry a shade lighter than themselves, they want to mongrelize the race—”
Jean Louise interrupted. “Hester, let me ask you something. I’ve been home since Saturday now, and since Saturday I’ve heard a great deal of talk about mongrelizin’ the race, and it’s led me to wonder if that’s not rather an unfortunate phrase, and if probably it should be discarded from Southern jargon these days. It takes two races to mongrelize a race-if that’s the right word-and when we white people holler about mongrelizin’, isn’t that something of a reflection on ourselves as a race? The message I get from it is that if it were lawful, there’d be a wholesale rush to marry Negroes. If I were a scholar, which I ain’t, I would say that kind of talk has a deep psychological significance that’s not particularly flattering to the one who talks it. At its best, it denotes an alarmin’ mistrust of one’s own race.”
Hester looked at Jean Louise. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she said.
“I’m not sure of what I mean, either,” said Jean Louise, “except the hair curls on my head every time I hear talk like that. I guess it was because I wasn’t brought up hearing it.”
Hester bristled: “Are you insinuating—”
“I’m sorry,” said Jean Louise. “I didn’t mean that. I do beg your pardon.”
“Jean Louise, when I said that I wasn’t referring to us.”
“Who were you talking about, then?”
“I was talking about the-you know, the trashy people. The men who keep Negro women and that kind of thing.”
Jean Louise smiled. “That’s odd. A hundred years ago the gentlemen had colored women, now the trash have them.”
“That was when they owned ’em, silly. No, the trash is what the NAACP’s after. They want to get the niggers married to that class and keep on until the whole social pattern’s done away with.”
Social pattern. Double Wedding Ring quilts. She could not have hated us, and Atticus cannot believe this kind of talk. I’m sorry, it’s impossible. Since yesterday I feel like I’m being wadded down into the bottom of a deep, deep
“WELL, HOW’S NEW YORK?”
New York. New York? I’ll tell you how New York is. New York has all the answers. People go to the YMHA, the English-Speaking Union, Carnegie Hall, the New School for Social Research, and find the answers. The city lives by slogans, isms, and fast sure answers. New York is saying to me right now: you, Jean Louise Finch, are not reacting according to our doctrines regarding your kind, therefore you do not exist. The best minds in the country have told us who you are. You can’t escape it, and we don’t blame you for it, but we do ask you to conduct yourself within the rules that those who know have laid down for your behavior, and don’t try to be anything else.
She answered: please believe me, what has happened in my family is not what you think. I can say only this-that everything I learned about human decency I learned here. I learned nothing from you except how to be suspicious. I didn’t know what hate was until I lived among you and saw you hating every day. They even had to pass laws to keep you from hating. I despise your quick answers, your slogans in the subways, and most of all I despise your lack of good manners: you’ll never have ’em as long as you exist.
The man who could not be discourteous to a ground-squirrel had sat in the courthouse abetting the cause of grubby-minded little men. Many times she had seen him in the grocery store waiting his turn in line behind Negroes and God knows what. She had seen Mr. Fred raise his eyebrows at him, and her father shake his head in reply. He was the kind of man who instinctively waited his turn; he had manners.
Look sister, we know the facts: you spent the first twenty-one years of your life in the lynching country, in a county whose population is two-thirds agricultural Negro. So drop the act.
You will not believe me, but I will tell you: never in my life until today did I hear the word “nigger” spoken by a member of my family. Never did I learn to think in terms of The Niggers. When I grew up, and I did grow up with black people, they were Calpurnia, Zeebo the garbage collector, Tom the yard man, and whatever else their names were. There were hundreds of Negroes surrounding me, they were hands in the fields, who chopped the cotton, who worked the roads, who sawed the lumber to make our houses. They were poor, they were diseased and dirty, some were lazy and shiftless, but never in my life was I given the idea that I should despise one, should fear one, should be discourteous to one, or think that I could mistreat one and get away with it. They as a people did not enter my world, nor did I enter theirs: when I went hunting I did not trespass on a Negro’s land, not because it was a Negro’s, but because I was not supposed to trespass on anybody’s land. I was taught never to take advantage of anybody who was less fortunate than myself, whether he be less fortunate in brains, wealth, or social position; it meant anybody, not just Negroes. I was given to understand that the reverse was to be despised. That is the way I was raised, by a black woman and a white man.
You must have lived it. If a man says to you, “This is the truth,” and you believe him, and you discover what he says is not the truth, you are disappointed and you make sure you will not be caught out by him again.
But a man who has lived by truth-and you have believed in what he has lived-he does not leave you merely wary when he fails you, he leaves you with nothing. I think that is why I’m nearly out of my mind…
“New York? It’ll always be there.” Jean Louise turned to her inquisitor, a young woman with a small hat, small features, and small sharp teeth. She was Claudine McDowell.
“Fletcher and I were up there last spring and we tried to get you day and night.”
I’ll bet you did. “Did you enjoy it? No, don’t tell me, let me tell you: you had a marvelous time but you wouldn’t dream of living there.”
Claudine showed her mouse-teeth. “Absolutely! How’d you guess that?”
“I’m psychic. Did you do the town?”
“Lord yes. We went to the Latin Quarter, the Copacabana, and The Pajama Game. That was the first stage show we’d ever seen and we were right disappointed in it. Are they all like that?”
“Most of ’em. Did you go to the top of the you-know-what?”
“No, but we did go through Radio City. You know, people could live in that place. We saw a stage show at Radio City Music Hall, and Jean Louise, a horse came out on the stage.”
Jean Louise said she wasn’t surprised.
“Fletcher and I surely were glad to get back home. I don’t see how you live there. Fletcher spent more money up there in two weeks than we spend in six months down here. Fletcher said he couldn’t see why on earth people lived in that place when they could have a house and a yard for far less down here.”
I can tell you. In New York you are your own person. You may reach out and embrace all of Manhattan in sweet aloneness, or you can go to hell if you want to.
“Well,” said Jean Louise, “it takes considerable getting used to. I hated it for two years. It intimidated me daily until one morning when someone pushed me on a bus and I pushed back. After I pushed back I realized I’d become a part of it.”
“Pushing, that’s what they are. They have no manners up there,” said Claudine.
“They have manners, Claudine. They’re just different from ours. The person who pushed me on the bus expected to be pushed back. That’s what I was supposed to do; it’s just a game. You won’t find better people than in New York.”
Claudine pursed her lips. “Well, I wouldn’t want to get mixed up with all those Italians and Puerto Ricans. In a drugstore one day I looked around and there was a Negro woman eating her dinner right next to me, right next to me. Of course I knew she could, but it did give me a shock.”
“Did she hurt you in any way?”
“Reckon she didn’t. I got up real quick and left.”
“You know,” said Jean Louise gently, “they go around loose up there, all kinds of folks.”
Claudine hunched her shoulders. “I don’t see how you live up there with them.”
“You aren’t aware of them. You work with them, eat by and with them, ride the buses with them, and you aren’t aware of them unless you want to be. I don’t know that a great big fat Negro man’s been sitting beside me on a bus until I get up to leave. You just don’t notice it.”
“Well, I certainly noticed it. You must be blind or something.”
Blind, that’s what I am. I never opened my eyes. I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces. Stone blind… Mr. Stone. Mr. Stone set a watchman in church yesterday. He should have provided me with one. I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference. I need a watchman to go forth and proclaim to them all that twenty-six years is too long to play a joke on anybody, no matter how funny it is.