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“The Lottery”

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“A Good Mann is Hard to Find”

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“King of the Bingo Game”

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“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by
Flannery O’Connor full text
A Good Man is Hard to Find
by Flannery O’Connor
From:Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works the Library of America
Flannery O’Connor 1925-1964
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
(c)1953, 1954
THE GRANDMOTHER didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her
connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s
mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his
chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here,
Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and
the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The
Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what
it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any
direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the
children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a
cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top
like rabbit’s ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar.
“The children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them
somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be
broad. They never have been to east Tennessee.”
The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a
stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at
home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her
yellow head.
“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother
asked.
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss
something. She has to go everywhere we go.”
“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me
to curl your hair.”
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her
big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and
underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for
the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much
and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally
asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of
her. Bailey and the children’s mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at
eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down
because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when
they got back. It took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting
them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother
still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother
had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy
blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy
trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets
containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway
would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too
cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that
the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out
after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of
the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides
of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various
crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silverwhite sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled. The children were reading comic
magazines and their mother had gone back to sleep.
“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said.
“If I were a little boy,” said the grandmother, “I wouldn’t talk about my native state that
way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”
“Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,” John Wesley said, “and Georgia is a lousy
state too.”
“You said it,” June Star said.
“In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “children were more
respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right
then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!” she said and pointed to a Negro child
standing in the door of a shack. “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” she asked and they
all turned and looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved.
“He didn’t have any britches on,” June Star said.
“He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little niggers in the country
don’t have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children’s mother passed him over
the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the
things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her
leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile.
They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a
small island. “Look at the graveyard!” the grandmother said, pointing it out. “That was the
old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation.”
“Where’s the plantation?” John Wesley asked.
“Gone With the Wind,” said the grandmother. “Ha. Ha.”
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch
and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not
let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was
nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two
guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star
guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t
play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother.
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she
told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said
once when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins
Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a
gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his
initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the
watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and
returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a
nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T.! This story tickled John Wesley’s funny
bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn’t think it was any good. She said she
wouldn’t marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother
said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and
had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years
ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and
part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man
named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building
and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS
BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH
THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a truck
while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered
nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he
saw the children jump out of the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the
other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the
nickelodeon and Red Sam’s wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter
than her skin, came and took their order. The children’s mother put a dime in the
machine and played “The Tennessee Waltz,” and the grandmother said that tune always
made her want to dance. She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at
her. He didn’t have a naturally sunny disposition like she did and trips made him nervous.
The grandmother’s brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side
and pretended she was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something she could tap
to so the children’s mother put in another dime and played a fast number and June Star
stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap routine.
“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come
be my little girl?”
“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this
for a minion bucks!” and she ran back to the table.
“Ain’t she cute?” the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.
“Arn’t you ashamed?” hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with
these people’s order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach
hung over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down
at a table nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. “You can’t win,” he said. “You
can’t win,” and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. “These days
you don’t know who to trust,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth?”
“People are certainly not nice like they used to be,” said the grandmother.
“Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old
beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they
worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why
did I do that?”
“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.
“Yes’m, I suppose so,” Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in
each hand and one balanced on her arm. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that
you can trust,” she said. “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she
repeated, looking at Red Sammy.
“Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that’s escaped?” asked the grandmother.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he didn’t attact this place right here,” said the woman. “If
he hears about it being here,I wouldn’t be none surprised to see him. If he hears it’s two
cent in the cash register, I wouldn’t be a tall surprised if he . . .”
“That’ll do,” Red Sam said. “Go bring these people their Co’-Colas,” and the woman went
off to get the rest of the order.
“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Every- thing is getting terrible. I
remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion
Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe
acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking
about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and
looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself
and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grand- mother took cat naps and woke
up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and
recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a
young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there
was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side
in front where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled
exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to
lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she
wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing.
“There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but
wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it
when Sherman came through but it was never found . . .”
“Hey!” John Wesley said. “Let’s go see it! We’ll find it! We’ll poke all the woodwork and
find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can’t we turn off there?”
“We never have seen a house with a secret panel!” June Star shrieked. “Let’s go to the
house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can’t we go see the house with the secret panel!”
“It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty
minutes.”
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. “No,” he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret
panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her
mother’s shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even
on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to
scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel
the blows in his kidney.
“All right!” he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. “Will you all
shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go
anywhere.
“It would be very educational for them,” the grandmother murmured.
“All right,” Bailey said, “but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for anything
like this. This is the one and only time.”
“The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,” the grandmother
directed. “I marked it when we passed.”
“A dirt road,” Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother
recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the
candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the
fireplace.
“You can’t go inside this house,” Bailey said. “You don’t know who lives there.”
“While you all talk to the people in front, I’ll run around behind and get in a window,”
John Wesley suggested.
“We’ll all stay in the car,” his mother said. They turned onto the dirt road and the car
raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when
there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey. The dirt road was hilly
and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments. All at
once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around,
then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees
looking down on them.
“This place had better turn up in a minute,” Bailey said, “or I’m going to turn around.”
The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months.
“It’s not much farther,” the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought
came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her
eyes dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the
valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and
Pitty Sing,the cat, sprang onto Bailey’s shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown
out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car
turned over once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey
remained in the driver’s seat with the cat-gray-striped with a broad white face and an
orange nose-clinging to his neck like a caterpillar.
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of
the car, shouting, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” The grandmother was curled up under
the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on
her all at once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house
she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window
against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the
children’s mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the
screaming baby, but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. “We’ve
had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.
“But nobody’s killed,” June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out
of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a
jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch,
except the children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking.
“Maybe a car will come along,” said the children’s mother hoarsely.
“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one
answered her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright
blue parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the l shirt. The grandmother
decided that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the
other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and
dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill,
coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and
waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on
slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of
the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile. There
were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a
steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned
his head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy
in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it.
He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a
kind of loose grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat
pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side.
Neither spoke.
The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was
an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silverrimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn’t
have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was
holding a black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns.
“We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed.
The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she
knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him au her life but she could
not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the
embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip. He had on tan and white
shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red and thin. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I see
you all had you a little spill.”
“We turned over twice!” said the grandmother.
“Once”,” he corrected. “We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram,” he
said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.
“What you got that gun for?” John Wesley asked. “Whatcha gonna do with that gun?”
“Lady,” the man said to the children’s mother, “would you mind calling them children to
sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together
there where you’re at.”
“What are you telling US what to do for?” June Star asked.
Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. “Come here,” said their
mother.
“Look here now,” Bailey began suddenly, “we’re in a predicament! We’re in . . .”
The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. “You’re The
Misfit!” she said. “I recognized you at once!”
“Yes’m,” the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be
known, “but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized
me.”
Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the
children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened.
“Lady,” he said, “don’t you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don’t mean. I don’t
reckon he meant to talk to you thataway.”
“You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” the grandmother said and removed a clean
handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it.
The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then
covered it up again. “I would hate to have to,” he said.
“Listen,” the grandmother almost screamed, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a
bit like you have com- mon blood. I know you must come from nice people!”
“Yes mam,” he said, “finest people in the world.” When he smiled he showed a row of
strong white teeth. “God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy’s
heart was pure gold,” he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind
them and was standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground.
“Watch them children, Bobby Lee,” he said. “You know they make me nervous.” He
looked at the six of them huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be
embarrassed as if he couldn’t think of anything to say. “Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” he
remarked, looking up at it. “Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” said the grandmother. “Listen,” she said, “you shouldn’t call
yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and
tell ”
“Hush!” Bailey yelled. “Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!” He was
squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn’t move.
“I prechate that, lady,” The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the butt
of his gun.
“It’ll take a half a hour to fix this here car,” Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of
it.
“Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you,”
The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. “The boys want to ast you something,” he said to Bailey. “Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with
them?”
“Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is,” and
his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he
remained perfectly still.
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods
with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it
fall on the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man.
John Wesley caught hold of his father’s hand and Bobby Lee followed. They went off
toward the woods and just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting
himself against a gray naked pine trunk, he shouted, “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma,
wait on me!”
“Come back this instant!” his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods.
“Bailey Boy!” the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at
The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. “I just know you’re a good man,” she
said desperately. “You’re not a bit common!”
“Nome, I ain’t a good man,” The Misfit said after a second as if he had considered her
statement carefully, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a
different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. ‘You know,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some
that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it’s others has to know why
it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He’s going to be into every- thing!'” He put on his
black hat and looked up suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were
embarrassed again. “I’m sorry I don’t have on a shirt before you ladies,” he said, hunching
his shoulders slightly. “We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped and
we’re just making do until we can get better. We borrowed these from some folks we
met,” he explained.
“That’s perfectly all right,” the grandmother said. “Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his
suitcase.”
“I’ll look and see terrectly,” The Misfit said.
“Where are they taking him?” the children’s mother screamed.
“Daddy was a card himself,” The Misfit said. “You couldn’t put anything over on him. He
never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”
“You could be honest too if you’d only try,” said the grandmother. “Think how wonderful
it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time.”
The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as if he were thinking
about it. “Yes’m, somebody is always after you,” he murmured.
The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind-his hat because
she was standing up looking down on him. “Do you ever pray?” she asked.
He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades.
“Nome,” he said.
There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The
old lady’s head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a
long satisfied insuck of breath. “Bailey Boy!” she called.
“I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the
arm service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an
undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man
burnt alive oncet,” and he looked up at the children’s mother and the little girl who were
sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; “I even seen a woman
flogged,” he said.
“Pray, pray,” the grandmother began, “pray, pray . . .”
“I never was a bad boy that I remember of,” The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice,
“but somewheres along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the
penitentiary. I was buried alive,” and he looked up and held her attention to him by a
steady stare.
“That’s when you should have started to pray,” she said “What did you do to get sent to
the penitentiary that first time?”
“Turn to the right, it was a wall,” The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky.
“Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget
what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I
ain’t recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it
never come.”
“Maybe they put you in by mistake,” the old lady said vaguely.
“Nome,” he said. “It wasn’t no mistake. They had the papers on me.”
“You must have stolen something,” she said.
The Misfit sneered slightly. “Nobody had nothing I wanted,” he said. “It was a headdoctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a
lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing
to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go
there and see for yourself.”
“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”
“That’s right,” The Misfit said.
“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.
“I don’t want no hep,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”
Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a
yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.
“Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed
on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt
reminded her of. “No, lady,” The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, “I found out the
crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire
off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just
be punished for it.”
The children’s mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn’t get her
breath. “Lady,” he asked, “would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby
Lee and Hiram and join your husband?”
“Yes, thank you,” the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was
holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. “Hep that lady up, Hiram,” The
Misfit said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, “and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that
little girl’s hand.”
“I don’t want to hold hands with him,” June Star said. “He reminds me of a pig.”
The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the
woods after Hiram and her mother.
Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not
a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to
tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before
anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, “Jesus. Jesus,” meaning, Jesus will
help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.
“Yes’m,” The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the
same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could
prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said,
“they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get
you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what
you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and
in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The
Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in
punishment.”
There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. “Does it
seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”
“Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I
know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you
all the money I’ve got!”
“Lady,” The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, “there never was a body
that give the undertaker a tip.”
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched
old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would
break.
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He
shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s
nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then
it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by
killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No
pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was
saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under
her.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he
said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been
there I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I
would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and
the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to
her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies.
You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The
Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the
chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to
clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down
at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed
under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenselesslooking. “Take her off and thow her where you shown the others,” he said, picking up the
cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
“She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to
shoot her every minute of her life.”
“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.
“Shut up, Bobby Lee” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by
Flannery O’Connor full text
A Good Man is Hard to Find
by Flannery O’Connor
From:Flannery O’Connor: Collected Works the Library of America
Flannery O’Connor 1925-1964
A Good Man Is Hard to Find
(c)1953, 1954
THE GRANDMOTHER didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her
connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s
mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his
chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here,
Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and
the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The
Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what
it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any
direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the
children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a
cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top
like rabbit’s ears. She was sitting on the sofa, feeding the baby his apricots out of a jar.
“The children have been to Florida before,” the old lady said. “You all ought to take them
somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be
broad. They never have been to east Tennessee.”
The children’s mother didn’t seem to hear her but the eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a
stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at
home?” He and the little girl, June Star, were reading the funny papers on the floor.
“She wouldn’t stay at home to be queen for a day,” June Star said without raising her
yellow head.
“Yes and what would you do if this fellow, The Misfit, caught you?” the grandmother
asked.
“I’d smack his face,” John Wesley said.
“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks,” June Star said. “Afraid she’d miss
something. She has to go everywhere we go.”
“All right, Miss,” the grandmother said. “Just remember that the next time you want me
to curl your hair.”
June Star said her hair was naturally curly.
The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her
big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and
underneath it she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn’t intend for
the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much
and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally
asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey, didn’t like to arrive at a motel with a cat.
She sat in the middle of the back seat with John Wesley and June Star on either side of
her. Bailey and the children’s mother and the baby sat in front and they left Atlanta at
eight forty-five with the mileage on the car at 55890. The grandmother wrote this down
because she thought it would be interesting to say how many miles they had been when
they got back. It took them twenty minutes to reach the outskirts of the city.
The old lady settled herself comfortably, removing her white cotton gloves and putting
them up with her purse on the shelf in front of the back window. The children’s mother
still had on slacks and still had her head tied up in a green kerchief, but the grandmother
had on a navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim and a navy
blue dress with a small white dot in the print. Her collars and cuffs were white organdy
trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets
containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway
would know at once that she was a lady.
She said she thought it was going to be a good day for driving, neither too hot nor too
cold, and she cautioned Bailey that the speed limit was fifty-five miles an hour and that
the patrolmen hid themselves behind billboards and small clumps of trees and sped out
after you before you had a chance to slow down. She pointed out interesting details of
the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides
of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various
crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. The trees were full of silverwhite sunlight and the meanest of them sparkled. The children were reading comic
magazines and their mother had gone back to sleep.
“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said.
“If I were a little boy,” said the grandmother, “I wouldn’t talk about my native state that
way. Tennessee has the mountains and Georgia has the hills.”
“Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,” John Wesley said, “and Georgia is a lousy
state too.”
“You said it,” June Star said.
“In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “children were more
respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right
then. Oh look at the cute little pickaninny!” she said and pointed to a Negro child
standing in the door of a shack. “Wouldn’t that make a picture, now?” she asked and they
all turned and looked at the little Negro out of the back window. He waved.
“He didn’t have any britches on,” June Star said.
“He probably didn’t have any,” the grandmother explained. “Little niggers in the country
don’t have things like we do. If I could paint, I’d paint that picture,” she said.
The children exchanged comic books.
The grandmother offered to hold the baby and the children’s mother passed him over
the front seat to her. She set him on her knee and bounced him and told him about the
things they were passing. She rolled her eyes and screwed up her mouth and stuck her
leathery thin face into his smooth bland one. Occasionally he gave her a faraway smile.
They passed a large cotton field with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a
small island. “Look at the graveyard!” the grandmother said, pointing it out. “That was the
old family burying ground. That belonged to the plantation.”
“Where’s the plantation?” John Wesley asked.
“Gone With the Wind,” said the grandmother. “Ha. Ha.”
When the children finished all the comic books they had brought, they opened the lunch
and ate it. The grandmother ate a peanut butter sandwich and an olive and would not
let the children throw the box and the paper napkins out the window. When there was
nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two
guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star
guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t
play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother.
The grandmother said she would tell them a story if they would keep quiet. When she
told a story, she rolled her eyes and waved her head and was very dramatic. She said
once when she was a maiden lady she had been courted by a Mr. Edgar Atkins
Teagarden from Jasper, Georgia. She said he was a very good-looking man and a
gentleman and that he brought her a watermelon every Saturday afternoon with his
initials cut in it, E. A. T. Well, one Saturday, she said, Mr. Teagarden brought the
watermelon and there was nobody at home and he left it on the front porch and
returned in his buggy to Jasper, but she never got the watermelon, she said, because a
nigger boy ate it when he saw the initials, E. A. T.! This story tickled John Wesley’s funny
bone and he giggled and giggled but June Star didn’t think it was any good. She said she
wouldn’t marry a man that just brought her a watermelon on Saturday. The grandmother
said she would have done well to marry Mr. Teagarden because he was a gentleman and
had bought Coca-Cola stock when it first came out and that he had died only a few years
ago, a very wealthy man.
They stopped at The Tower for barbecued sandwiches. The Tower was a part stucco and
part wood filling station and dance hall set in a clearing outside of Timothy. A fat man
named Red Sammy Butts ran it and there were signs stuck here and there on the building
and for miles up and down the highway saying, TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS
BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH
THE HAPPY LAUGH. A VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!
Red Sammy was lying on the bare ground outside The Tower with his head under a truck
while a gray monkey about a foot high, chained to a small chinaberry tree, chattered
nearby. The monkey sprang back into the tree and got on the highest limb as soon as he
saw the children jump out of the car and run toward him.
Inside, The Tower was a long dark room with a counter at one end and tables at the
other and dancing space in the middle. They all sat down at a board table next to the
nickelodeon and Red Sam’s wife, a tall burnt-brown woman with hair and eyes lighter
than her skin, came and took their order. The children’s mother put a dime in the
machine and played “The Tennessee Waltz,” and the grandmother said that tune always
made her want to dance. She asked Bailey if he would like to dance but he only glared at
her. He didn’t have a naturally sunny disposition like she did and trips made him nervous.
The grandmother’s brown eyes were very bright. She swayed her head from side to side
and pretended she was dancing in her chair. June Star said play something she could tap
to so the children’s mother put in another dime and played a fast number and June Star
stepped out onto the dance floor and did her tap routine.
“Ain’t she cute?” Red Sam’s wife said, leaning over the counter. “Would you like to come
be my little girl?”
“No I certainly wouldn’t,” June Star said. “I wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this
for a minion bucks!” and she ran back to the table.
“Ain’t she cute?” the woman repeated, stretching her mouth politely.
“Arn’t you ashamed?” hissed the grandmother.
Red Sam came in and told his wife to quit lounging on the counter and hurry up with
these people’s order. His khaki trousers reached just to his hip bones and his stomach
hung over them like a sack of meal swaying under his shirt. He came over and sat down
at a table nearby and let out a combination sigh and yodel. “You can’t win,” he said. “You
can’t win,” and he wiped his sweating red face off with a gray handkerchief. “These days
you don’t know who to trust,” he said. “Ain’t that the truth?”
“People are certainly not nice like they used to be,” said the grandmother.
“Two fellers come in here last week,” Red Sammy said, “driving a Chrysler. It was a old
beat-up car but it was a good one and these boys looked all right to me. Said they
worked at the mill and you know I let them fellers charge the gas they bought? Now why
did I do that?”
“Because you’re a good man!” the grandmother said at once.
“Yes’m, I suppose so,” Red Sam said as if he were struck with this answer.
His wife brought the orders, carrying the five plates all at once without a tray, two in
each hand and one balanced on her arm. “It isn’t a soul in this green world of God’s that
you can trust,” she said. “And I don’t count nobody out of that, not nobody,” she
repeated, looking at Red Sammy.
“Did you read about that criminal, The Misfit, that’s escaped?” asked the grandmother.
“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he didn’t attact this place right here,” said the woman. “If
he hears about it being here,I wouldn’t be none surprised to see him. If he hears it’s two
cent in the cash register, I wouldn’t be a tall surprised if he . . .”
“That’ll do,” Red Sam said. “Go bring these people their Co’-Colas,” and the woman went
off to get the rest of the order.
“A good man is hard to find,” Red Sammy said. “Every- thing is getting terrible. I
remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.”
He and the grandmother discussed better times. The old lady said that in her opinion
Europe was entirely to blame for the way things were now. She said the way Europe
acted you would think we were made of money and Red Sam said it was no use talking
about it, she was exactly right. The children ran outside into the white sunlight and
looked at the monkey in the lacy chinaberry tree. He was busy catching fleas on himself
and biting each one carefully between his teeth as if it were a delicacy.
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grand- mother took cat naps and woke
up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and
recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a
young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there
was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side
in front where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled
exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to
lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she
wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing.
“There was a secret panel in this house,” she said craftily, not telling the truth but
wishing that she were, “and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it
when Sherman came through but it was never found . . .”
“Hey!” John Wesley said. “Let’s go see it! We’ll find it! We’ll poke all the woodwork and
find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can’t we turn off there?”
“We never have seen a house with a secret panel!” June Star shrieked. “Let’s go to the
house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can’t we go see the house with the secret panel!”
“It’s not far from here, I know,” the grandmother said. “It wouldn’t take over twenty
minutes.”
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. “No,” he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret
panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her
mother’s shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even
on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to
scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel
the blows in his kidney.
“All right!” he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. “Will you all
shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don’t shut up, we won’t go
anywhere.
“It would be very educational for them,” the grandmother murmured.
“All right,” Bailey said, “but get this: this is the only time we’re going to stop for anything
like this. This is the one and only time.”
“The dirt road that you have to turn down is about a mile back,” the grandmother
directed. “I marked it when we passed.”
“A dirt road,” Bailey groaned.
After they had turned around and were headed toward the dirt road, the grandmother
recalled other points about the house, the beautiful glass over the front doorway and the
candle-lamp in the hall. John Wesley said that the secret panel was probably in the
fireplace.
“You can’t go inside this house,” Bailey said. “You don’t know who lives there.”
“While you all talk to the people in front, I’ll run around behind and get in a window,”
John Wesley suggested.
“We’ll all stay in the car,” his mother said. They turned onto the dirt road and the car
raced roughly along in a swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when
there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey. The dirt road was hilly
and there were sudden washes in it and sharp curves on dangerous embankments. All at
once they would be on a hill, looking down over the blue tops of trees for miles around,
then the next minute, they would be in a red depression with the dust-coated trees
looking down on them.
“This place had better turn up in a minute,” Bailey said, “or I’m going to turn around.”
The road looked as if no one had traveled on it in months.
“It’s not much farther,” the grandmother said and just as she said it, a horrible thought
came to her. The thought was so embarrassing that she turned red in the face and her
eyes dilated and her feet jumped up, upsetting her valise in the corner. The instant the
valise moved, the newspaper top she had over the basket under it rose with a snarl and
Pitty Sing,the cat, sprang onto Bailey’s shoulder.
The children were thrown to the floor and their mother, clutching the baby, was thrown
out the door onto the ground; the old lady was thrown into the front seat. The car
turned over once and landed right-side-up in a gulch off the side of the road. Bailey
remained in the driver’s seat with the cat-gray-striped with a broad white face and an
orange nose-clinging to his neck like a caterpillar.
As soon as the children saw they could move their arms and legs, they scrambled out of
the car, shouting, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” The grandmother was curled up under
the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on
her all at once. The horrible thought she had had before the accident was that the house
she had remembered so vividly was not in Georgia but in Tennessee.
Bailey removed the cat from his neck with both hands and flung it out the window
against the side of a pine tree. Then he got out of the car and started looking for the
children’s mother. She was sitting against the side of the red gutted ditch, holding the
screaming baby, but she only had a cut down her face and a broken shoulder. “We’ve
had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.
“But nobody’s killed,” June Star said with disappointment as the grandmother limped out
of the car, her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a
jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side. They all sat down in the ditch,
except the children, to recover from the shock. They were all shaking.
“Maybe a car will come along,” said the children’s mother hoarsely.
“I believe I have injured an organ,” said the grandmother, pressing her side, but no one
answered her. Bailey’s teeth were clattering. He had on a yellow sport shirt with bright
blue parrots designed in it and his face was as yellow as the l shirt. The grandmother
decided that she would not mention that the house was in Tennessee.
The road was about ten feet above and they could see only the tops of the trees on the
other side of it. Behind the ditch they were sitting in there were more woods, tall and
dark and deep. In a few minutes they saw a car some distance away on top of a hill,
coming slowly as if the occupants were watching them. The grandmother stood up and
waved both arms dramatically to attract their attention. The car continued to come on
slowly, disappeared around a bend and appeared again, moving even slower, on top of
the hill they had gone over. It was a big black battered hearse-like automobile. There
were three men in it.
It came to a stop just over them and for some minutes, the driver looked down with a
steady expressionless gaze to where they were sitting, and didn’t speak. Then he turned
his head and muttered something to the other two and they got out. One was a fat boy
in black trousers and a red sweat shirt with a silver stallion embossed on the front of it.
He moved around on the right side of them and stood staring, his mouth partly open in a
kind of loose grin. The other had on khaki pants and a blue striped coat and a gray hat
pulled down very low, hiding most of his face. He came around slowly on the left side.
Neither spoke.
The driver got out of the car and stood by the side of it, looking down at them. He was
an older man than the other two. His hair was just beginning to gray and he wore silverrimmed spectacles that gave him a scholarly look. He had a long creased face and didn’t
have on any shirt or undershirt. He had on blue jeans that were too tight for him and was
holding a black hat and a gun. The two boys also had guns.
“We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” the children screamed.
The grandmother had the peculiar feeling that the bespectacled man was someone she
knew. His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him au her life but she could
not recall who he was. He moved away from the car and began to come down the
embankment, placing his feet carefully so that he wouldn’t slip. He had on tan and white
shoes and no socks, and his ankles were red and thin. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I see
you all had you a little spill.”
“We turned over twice!” said the grandmother.
“Once”,” he corrected. “We seen it happen. Try their car and see will it run, Hiram,” he
said quietly to the boy with the gray hat.
“What you got that gun for?” John Wesley asked. “Whatcha gonna do with that gun?”
“Lady,” the man said to the children’s mother, “would you mind calling them children to
sit down by you? Children make me nervous. I want all you all to sit down right together
there where you’re at.”
“What are you telling US what to do for?” June Star asked.
Behind them the line of woods gaped like a dark open mouth. “Come here,” said their
mother.
“Look here now,” Bailey began suddenly, “we’re in a predicament! We’re in . . .”
The grandmother shrieked. She scrambled to her feet and stood staring. “You’re The
Misfit!” she said. “I recognized you at once!”
“Yes’m,” the man said, smiling slightly as if he were pleased in spite of himself to be
known, “but it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of reckernized
me.”
Bailey turned his head sharply and said something to his mother that shocked even the
children. The old lady began to cry and The Misfit reddened.
“Lady,” he said, “don’t you get upset. Sometimes a man says things he don’t mean. I don’t
reckon he meant to talk to you thataway.”
“You wouldn’t shoot a lady, would you?” the grandmother said and removed a clean
handkerchief from her cuff and began to slap at her eyes with it.
The Misfit pointed the toe of his shoe into the ground and made a little hole and then
covered it up again. “I would hate to have to,” he said.
“Listen,” the grandmother almost screamed, “I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a
bit like you have com- mon blood. I know you must come from nice people!”
“Yes mam,” he said, “finest people in the world.” When he smiled he showed a row of
strong white teeth. “God never made a finer woman than my mother and my daddy’s
heart was pure gold,” he said. The boy with the red sweat shirt had come around behind
them and was standing with his gun at his hip. The Misfit squatted down on the ground.
“Watch them children, Bobby Lee,” he said. “You know they make me nervous.” He
looked at the six of them huddled together in front of him and he seemed to be
embarrassed as if he couldn’t think of anything to say. “Ain’t a cloud in the sky,” he
remarked, looking up at it. “Don’t see no sun but don’t see no cloud neither.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful day,” said the grandmother. “Listen,” she said, “you shouldn’t call
yourself The Misfit because I know you’re a good man at heart. I can just look at you and
tell ”
“Hush!” Bailey yelled. “Hush! Everybody shut up and let me handle this!” He was
squatting in the position of a runner about to sprint forward but he didn’t move.
“I prechate that, lady,” The Misfit said and drew a little circle in the ground with the butt
of his gun.
“It’ll take a half a hour to fix this here car,” Hiram called, looking over the raised hood of
it.
“Well, first you and Bobby Lee get him and that little boy to step over yonder with you,”
The Misfit said, pointing to Bailey and John Wesley. “The boys want to ast you something,” he said to Bailey. “Would you mind stepping back in them woods there with
them?”
“Listen,” Bailey began, “we’re in a terrible predicament! Nobody realizes what this is,” and
his voice cracked. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he
remained perfectly still.
The grandmother reached up to adjust her hat brim as if she were going to the woods
with him but it came off in her hand. She stood staring at it and after a second she let it
fall on the ground. Hiram pulled Bailey up by the arm as if he were assisting an old man.
John Wesley caught hold of his father’s hand and Bobby Lee followed. They went off
toward the woods and just as they reached the dark edge, Bailey turned and supporting
himself against a gray naked pine trunk, he shouted, “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma,
wait on me!”
“Come back this instant!” his mother shrilled but they all disappeared into the woods.
“Bailey Boy!” the grandmother called in a tragic voice but she found she was looking at
The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her. “I just know you’re a good man,” she
said desperately. “You’re not a bit common!”
“Nome, I ain’t a good man,” The Misfit said after a second as if he had considered her
statement carefully, “but I ain’t the worst in the world neither. My daddy said I was a
different breed of dog from my brothers and sisters. ‘You know,’ Daddy said, ‘it’s some
that can live their whole life out without asking about it and it’s others has to know why
it is, and this boy is one of the latters. He’s going to be into every- thing!'” He put on his
black hat and looked up suddenly and then away deep into the woods as if he were
embarrassed again. “I’m sorry I don’t have on a shirt before you ladies,” he said, hunching
his shoulders slightly. “We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped and
we’re just making do until we can get better. We borrowed these from some folks we
met,” he explained.
“That’s perfectly all right,” the grandmother said. “Maybe Bailey has an extra shirt in his
suitcase.”
“I’ll look and see terrectly,” The Misfit said.
“Where are they taking him?” the children’s mother screamed.
“Daddy was a card himself,” The Misfit said. “You couldn’t put anything over on him. He
never got in trouble with the Authorities though. Just had the knack of handling them.”
“You could be honest too if you’d only try,” said the grandmother. “Think how wonderful
it would be to settle down and live a comfortable life and not have to think about somebody chasing you all the time.”
The Misfit kept scratching in the ground with the butt of his gun as if he were thinking
about it. “Yes’m, somebody is always after you,” he murmured.
The grandmother noticed how thin his shoulder blades were just behind-his hat because
she was standing up looking down on him. “Do you ever pray?” she asked.
He shook his head. All she saw was the black hat wiggle between his shoulder blades.
“Nome,” he said.
There was a pistol shot from the woods, followed closely by another. Then silence. The
old lady’s head jerked around. She could hear the wind move through the tree tops like a
long satisfied insuck of breath. “Bailey Boy!” she called.
“I was a gospel singer for a while,” The Misfit said. “I been most everything. Been in the
arm service, both land and sea, at home and abroad, been twict married, been an
undertaker, been with the railroads, plowed Mother Earth, been in a tornado, seen a man
burnt alive oncet,” and he looked up at the children’s mother and the little girl who were
sitting close together, their faces white and their eyes glassy; “I even seen a woman
flogged,” he said.
“Pray, pray,” the grandmother began, “pray, pray . . .”
“I never was a bad boy that I remember of,” The Misfit said in an almost dreamy voice,
“but somewheres along the line I done something wrong and got sent to the
penitentiary. I was buried alive,” and he looked up and held her attention to him by a
steady stare.
“That’s when you should have started to pray,” she said “What did you do to get sent to
the penitentiary that first time?”
“Turn to the right, it was a wall,” The Misfit said, looking up again at the cloudless sky.
“Turn to the left, it was a wall. Look up it was a ceiling, look down it was a floor. I forget
what I done, lady. I set there and set there, trying to remember what it was I done and I
ain’t recalled it to this day. Oncet in a while, I would think it was coming to me, but it
never come.”
“Maybe they put you in by mistake,” the old lady said vaguely.
“Nome,” he said. “It wasn’t no mistake. They had the papers on me.”
“You must have stolen something,” she said.
The Misfit sneered slightly. “Nobody had nothing I wanted,” he said. “It was a headdoctor at the penitentiary said what I had done was kill my daddy but I known that for a
lie. My daddy died in nineteen ought nineteen of the epidemic flu and I never had a thing
to do with it. He was buried in the Mount Hopewell Baptist churchyard and you can go
there and see for yourself.”
“If you would pray,” the old lady said, “Jesus would help you.”
“That’s right,” The Misfit said.
“Well then, why don’t you pray?” she asked trembling with delight suddenly.
“I don’t want no hep,” he said. “I’m doing all right by myself.”
Bobby Lee and Hiram came ambling back from the woods. Bobby Lee was dragging a
yellow shirt with bright blue parrots in it.
“Thow me that shirt, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. The shirt came flying at him and landed
on his shoulder and he put it on. The grandmother couldn’t name what the shirt
reminded her of. “No, lady,” The Misfit said while he was buttoning it up, “I found out the
crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire
off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just
be punished for it.”
The children’s mother had begun to make heaving noises as if she couldn’t get her
breath. “Lady,” he asked, “would you and that little girl like to step off yonder with Bobby
Lee and Hiram and join your husband?”
“Yes, thank you,” the mother said faintly. Her left arm dangled helplessly and she was
holding the baby, who had gone to sleep, in the other. “Hep that lady up, Hiram,” The
Misfit said as she struggled to climb out of the ditch, “and Bobby Lee, you hold onto that
little girl’s hand.”
“I don’t want to hold hands with him,” June Star said. “He reminds me of a pig.”
The fat boy blushed and laughed and caught her by the arm and pulled her off into the
woods after Hiram and her mother.
Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not
a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to
tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before
anything came out. Finally she found herself saying, “Jesus. Jesus,” meaning, Jesus will
help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing.
“Yes’m,” The Misfit said as if he agreed. “Jesus shown everything off balance. It was the
same case with Him as with me except He hadn’t committed any crime and they could
prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course,” he said,
“they never shown me my papers. That’s why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get
you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you’ll know what
you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and
in the end you’ll have something to prove you ain’t been treated right. I call myself The
Misfit,” he said, “because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in
punishment.”
There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. “Does it
seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”
“Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I
know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I’ll give you
all the money I’ve got!”
“Lady,” The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, “there never was a body
that give the undertaker a tip.”
There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched
old turkey hen crying for water and called, “Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!” as if her heart would
break.
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,” The Misfit continued, “and He
shouldn’t have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s
nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then
it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by
killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No
pleasure but meanness,” he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.
“Maybe He didn’t raise the dead,” the old lady mumbled, not knowing what she was
saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under
her.
“I wasn’t there so I can’t say He didn’t,” The Misfit said. “I wisht I had of been there,” he
said, hitting the ground with his fist. “It ain’t right I wasn’t there because if I had of been
there I would of known. Listen lady,” he said in a high voice, “if I had of been there I
would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now.” His voice seemed about to crack and
the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw the man’s face twisted close to
her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, “Why you’re one of my babies.
You’re one of my own children!” She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The
Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the
chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to
clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down
at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed
under her like a child’s and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit’s eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenselesslooking. “Take her off and thow her where you shown the others,” he said, picking up the
cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
“She was a talker, wasn’t she?” Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
“She would of been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to
shoot her every minute of her life.”
“Some fun!” Bobby Lee said.
“Shut up, Bobby Lee” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
“King of the Bingo Game” by Ralph
Ellison full text
The woman in front of him was eating roasted peanuts that smelled so good that he
could barely contain his hunger. He could not even sleep and wished they’d hurry and
begin the bingo game. There, on his right, two fellows were drinking wine out of a bottle
wrapped in a paper bag, and he could hear soft gurgling in the dark. His stomach gave a
low, gnawing growl. “If this was down South,” he thought, “all
I’d have to do is lean over and say, ‘Lady, gimme a few of those peanuts, please ma’am,’
and she’d pass me the bag and never think nothing of it.” Or he could ask the fellows for
a drink in the same way.
Folks down South stuck together that way; they didn’t even have to know you. But up
here it was different. Ask somebody for something, and they’d think you were crazy.
Well, I ain’t crazy. I’m just broke, ’cause I got no birth certificate to get a job, and Laura
’bout to die cause we got no money for a doctor. But I ain’t crazy. And yet a pinpoint of
doubt was focused in his mind as he glanced toward the screen and saw
the hero stealthily entering a dark room and sending the beam of a flashlight along a wall
of bookcases. This is where he finds the trapdoor, he remembered. The man would pass
abruptly through the wall and find the girl tied to a bed, her legs and arms spread wide,
and her clothing torn to rags. He laughed softly to himself. He had seen the picture three
times, and this was one of the best scenes.
On his right the fellow whispered wide-eyed to his companion, “Man, look a-yonder!”
“Damn!”
“Wouldn’t I like to have her tied up like that.
“Hey! That fool’s letting her loose!”
“Aw, man, he loves her.”
“Love or no love!”
The man moved impatiently beside him, and he tried to involve himself in the scene. But
Laura was on his mind. Tiring quickly of watching the picture he looked back to where
the white beam filtered from the projection room above the balcony. It started small and
grew large, specks of dust dancing in its whiteness as it reached the screen. It was
strange how the beam always landed right on the screen and didn’t mess up and fall
somewhere else. But they had it all fixed. Everything was fixed. Now suppose
when they showed that girl with her dress torn the girl started taking off the rest of her
clothes, and when the guy came in he didn’t untie her but kept her there and went to
taking off his own clothes? That would be something to see. If a picture got out of hand
like that those guys up there would go nuts. Yeah, and there’d be so many folks in here
you couldn’t find a seat for nine months! A strange sensation played over
his skin. He shuddered. Yesterday he’s seen a bedbug on a woman’s neck as they walked
out into the bright street. But exploring his thigh through a hole in his pocket he found
only goose pimples and old scars.
The bottle gurgled again. He closed his eyes. Now a dreamy music was accompanying
the film and train whistles were sounding in the distance, and he was a boy again walking
along a railroad trestle down South, and seeing the train coming, and running back as
fast as he could go, and hearing the whistle blowing, and getting off the trestle to solid
ground just in time, with the earth trembling beneath his feet,
and feeling relieved as he ran down the cinder-strewn embankment onto the highway,
and looking back and seeing with terror that the train had left the track and was
following him right down the middle of the street, and all the white people laughing as
he ran screaming. . .
“Wake up there, buddy! What the hell do you mean hollering like that? Can’t you see we
trying to enjoy this here picture?”
He started at the man with gratitude.
“I’m sorry, old man,” he said. “I musta been dreaming.”
“Well, here, have a drink. And don’t be making no noise like that, damn!”
His hands trembled as he tilted his head. It was not wine, but whiskey. Cold rye whiskey.
He took a deep swoller, decided it was better not to take another, and handed the bottle
back to its owner.
“Thanks, old man,” he said.
Now he felt the cold whiskey breaking a warm path straight through the middle of him,
growing hotter and sharper as it moved. He had not eaten all day, and it made him lightheaded. The smell of the peanuts stabbed him like a knife, and he got up and found a
seat in the middle aisle. But no sooner did he sit than he saw a row of intense-faced
young girls, and got up again, thinking, “You chicks musta been Lindy-hopping
somewhere.” He found a seat several rows ahead as the lights came on, and he saw
the screen disappear behind a heavy red and gold curtain; then the curtain rising, and the
man with the microphone and a uniformed attendant coming on the stage.
He felt for his bingo cards, smiling. The guy at the door wouldn’t like it if he knew about
his having five cards. Well, not everyone played the bingo game; and even with five
cards he didn’t have much of a chance. For Laura, though, he had to have faith. He
studied the cards, each with its different numerals, punching the free center hole in each
and spreading them neatly across his lap; and when the lights faded he sat slouched in
his seat so that he could look from his cards to the bingo wheel with but a quick shifting
of his eyes.
Ahead, at the end of the darkness, the man with the microphone was pressing a button
attached to a long cord and spinning the bingo wheel and calling out the number each
time the wheel came to rest. And each time the voice rang out his finger raced over the
cards for the number. With five cards he had tomove fast. He became nervous; there
were too many cards, and the man went too fast with his grating
voice. Perhaps he should just select one and throw the others away. But he was afraid.
He became warm. Wonder how much Laura’s doctor would cost? Damn that, watch the
cards! And with despair he heard the man call three in a row which he missed on all five
cards. This way he’d never win.
When he saw the row of holes punched across the third card, he sat paralyzed and heard
the man call three more numbers before he stumbled forward, screaming,
“Bingo! Bingo!”
“Let that fool up there,” someone called.
“Get up there, man!”
He stumbled down the aisle and up the steps to the stage into a light so sharp and bright
that for a moment it blinded him, and he felt that he had moved into the spell of some
strange, mysterious power.
Yet it was as familiar as the sun, and he knew it was the perfectly familiar bingo.
The man with the microphone was saying something to the audience as he held out his
card. A cold light flashed from the man’s finger as the card left his hand. His knees
trembled. The man stepped closer checking the card against the numbers chalked on the
board. Suppose he had made a mistake? The pomade on the man’s hair made him feel
faint, and he backed away. But the man was checking the card
over the microphone now, and he had to stay. He stood tense, listening.
“Under the 0, forty-four,” the man chanted. ‘Under the I, seven. Under the G. three.
Under the B,
ninety-six. Under the N, thirteen!”
His breath came easier as the man smiled at the audience.
“Yessir, ladies and gentlemen, he’s one of the chosen people!”
The audience rippled with laughter and applause.
“Step right up to the front of the stage.”
He moved slowly forward, wishing that the light was not so bright.
“To win tonight’s jackpot of $36.90 the wheel must stop between the double zero,
understand?”
He nodded, knowing the ritual from the many days and nights he had watched the
winners march across the stage to press the button that controlled the spinning wheel
and receive the prizes. And now he followed the instructions as though he’d crossed the
slippery stage a million prize-winning times.
The man was making some kind of a joke, and he nodded vacantly. So tense had he
become that he felt a sudden desire to cry and shook it away.
He felt vaguely that his whole life was determined by the bingo wheel; not only that
which would happen now that he was at last before it, but all that had gone
before, since his birth, and his mother’s birth and the birth of his father. It had always
been there, even though he had not been aware of it, handing out the unlucky cards and
numbers of his days. The feeling persisted, and he started quickly away. I better get
down from here before I make a fool of myself, he thought.
“Here, boy,” the man called. “You haven’t started yet.”
Someone laughed as he went hesitantly back.
“Are you all reet?”
He grinned at the man’s jive talk, but no words would come, and he knew it was not a
convincing grin.
For suddenly he knew that he stood on the slippery brink of some terrible
embarrassment.
“Where you from boy?” the man asked.
“Down South.”
“He’s from down South, ladies and gentlemen,” the man said. “Where from? Speak right
into the mike.”
“Rocky Mont,” he said. “Rock’ Mont. North Car’lina.”
“So you decided to come down off that mountain to the U.S.,” the man laughed. He felt
that the man was making a fool of him, but then something cold was placed in his hand,
and the lights were no longer behind him.
Standing before the wheel he felt alone, but that was somehow right, and he
remembered his plan. He would give the wheel a short quick twirl. Just a touch of the
button. He had watched it many times, and always it came close to double zero when it
was short and quick. He steeled himself; the fear had left,
and he felt a profound sense of promise, as though he were about to be repaid for all the
things he’d suffered all his life. Trembling, he pressed the button. There was a whirl of
lights, and in a second he realized with finality that though he wanted to, he could not
stop. It was as though he held a high-powered line in his naked hand. His nerves
tightened. As the wheel increased its speed it seemed to draw him more and more into
its power, as though it held his fate; and with it came a deep need to
submit, to whirl, to lose himself in its swirl of color. He could not stop it now he knew. So
let it be.
The button rested snugly in his palm where the man had placed it. And now he became
aware of the man beside him, advising him through the microphone, while behind the
shadowy audience hummed with noisy voices. He shifted his feet. There was still that
feeling of helplessness within him, making part of him desire to turn back, even now that
the jackpot was right in his hand. He squeezed the button until his fist
ached. Then, like the sudden shriek of a subway whistle, a doubt tore through his head.
Suppose he did not spin the wheel long enough? What could he do, and how could he
tell? And then he knew, even as he wondered, that as long as he pressed the button, he
could control the jackpot. He and only he could determine whether or not it was to be
his. Not even the man with the microphone could do anything about it now. He felt
drunk. Then, as though he had come down from a high hill into a valley of people,
he heard the audience yelling.
“Come down from there, you jerk!”
“Let somebody else have a chance . . .”
“Ole Jack thinks he done found the end of the rainbow…”
The last voice was not unfriendly, and he turned and smiled dreamily into the yelling
mouths. Then he turned his back squarely on them.
“Don’t take too long, boy,” a voice said.
He nodded. They were yelling behind him. Those folks did not understand what had
happened to him.
They had been playing the bingo game day in and night for years, trying to win rent
money or hamburger change. But not one of those wise guys had discovered this
wonderful thing. He watched the wheel whirling past the numbers and experienced a
burst of exaltation: This is God! This is the really truly God!
He said it aloud, “This is God!”
He said it with such absolute conviction that he feared he would fall fainting into the
footlights. But the crowd yelled so loud that they could not hear. These fools, he
thought. I’m here trying to tell them the most wonderful secret in the world, and they’re
yelling like they gone crazy. A hand fell upon his shoulder.
“You’ll have to make a choice now, boy. You’ve taken too long.”
He brushed the hand violently away.
“Leave me alone, man. I know what I’m doing!”
The man looked surprised and held on to the microphone for support. And because he
did not wish to hurt the man’s feelings he smiled, realizing with a sudden pang that there
was no way of explaining to the man just why he had to stand there pressing the button
forever.
“Come here,” he called tiredly.
The man approached, rolling the heavy microphone across the stage.
“Anybody can play this bingo game, right?” he said.
“Sure, but . .”
He smiled, feeling inclined to be patient with this slick looking white man with his blue
sport shirt and his sharp gabardine suit.
“That’s what I thought,” he said. “Anybody can win the jackpot as long as they get the
lucky number, right?”
“That’s the rule, but after all . .”
“That’s what I thought,” he said. “And the big prize goes to the man who knows how to
win it?”
The man nodded speechlessly.
“Well then, go on over there and watch me win like I want to. I ain’t going to hurt
nobody,” he said,
“and I’ll show you how to win. I mean to show the whole world how it’s got to be done.”
And because he understood, he smiled again to let the man know that he held nothing
against him for being white and impatient. Then he refused to see the man any longer
and stood pressing the button, the voices of the crowd reaching him like sounds in
distant streets. Let them yell. All the Negroes down there were just ashamed because he
was black like them. He smiled inwardly, knowing how it was. Most of
the time he was ashamed of what Negroes did himself. Well, let them be ashamed for
something this time. Like him. He was like a long thin black wire that was being stretched
and wound upon the bingo wheel; wound until he wanted to scream; wound, but this
time himself controlling the winding and the sadness and the shame, and because he did,
Laura would be all right. Suddenly the lights flickered. He
staggered backwards. Had something gone wrong? All this noise. Didn’t they know that
although he controlled the wheel, it also controlled him, and unless he pressed the
button forever and forever and ever it would stop, leaving him high and dry, dry and high
on this hard high slippery hill and Laura dead?
There was only one chance; he had to do whatever the wheel demanded. And gripping
the button in despair, he discovered with surprise that it imparted a nervous energy. His
spine tingled. He felt a certain power.
Now he faced the raging crowd with defiance, its screams penetrating his eardrums like
trumpets shrieking from a jukebox. The vague faces glowing in the bingo lights gave him
a sense of himself that he had never known before. He was running the show, by God!
They had to read to him, for he was their luck. This is me, he thought. Let the bastards
yell. Then someone was laughing inside him, and he realized
that somehow he had forgotten his own name. It was a sad, lost feeling to lose your
name, and a crazy thing to do. That name had been given him by the white man who had
owned his grandfather a long time ago down South. But maybe those wise guys knew his
name.
“Who am I?” he screamed.
“Hurry up and bingo, you jerk!”
They didn’t know either, he thought sadly. They didn’t even know their own names, they
were all poor nameless bastards. Well, he didn’t need that old name; he was reborn. For
as long as he pressed the button he was The-man-who-pressed-the-button-who-heldthe-prize-who-was-the-King-of-Bingo.
That was the way it was, and he’d have to press the button even if nobody understood,
even though
Laura did not understand.
“Live!” he shouted.
The audience quieted like the dying of a huge fan.
“Live, Laura, baby. I got holt of it now, sugar. Live!”
He screamed it, tears streaming down his face. “I got nobody but you!”
The screams tore from his very guts. He felt as though the rush of blood to his head
would burst out in baseball seams of small red droplets, like a head beaten by police
clubs. Bending over he saw a trickle of blood splashing the toe of his shoe. With his free
hand he searched his head. It was his nose. God, suppose something has gone wrong?
He felt that the whole audience had somehow entered him and was
stamping its feet in his stomach and he was unable to throw them out. They wanted the
prize, that was it.
They wanted the secret for themselves. But they’d never get it; he would keep the bingo
wheel whirling forever, and Laura would be safe in the wheel. But would she? It had to
be, because if she were not safe the wheel would cease to turn; it could not go on. He
had to get away, vomit all, and his mind formed an image of himself running with Laura
in his arms down the tracks of the subway just ahead of an A train,
running desperately vomit with people screaming for him to come out but knowing no
way of leaving the tracks because to stop would bring the train crushing down upon him
and to attempt to leave across the other tracks would mean to run into a hot third rail as
high as his waist which threw blue sparks that blinded his eyes until he could hardly see.
He heard singing and the audience was clapping its hands.
Shoot the liquor to him, Jim, boy!
Clap-clap-clap
Well a-calla the cop
He’s blowing his top!
Shoot the liquor to him, Jim, boy!
Bitter anger grew within him at the singing. They think I’m crazy. Well let ’em laugh. I’ll
do what I got to do.
He was standing in an attitude of intense listening when he saw that they were watching
something on the stage behind him. He felt weak. But when he turned he saw no one. If
only his thumb did not ache so.
Now they were applauding. And for a moment he thought that the wheel had stopped.
But that was impossible, his thumb still pressed the button. Then he saw them. Two men
in uniform beckoned from the end of the stage. They were coming toward him, walking
in step, slowly, like a tap-dance team returning for a third encore. But their shoulders
shot forward, and he backed away, looking wildly about. There
was nothing to fight them with. He had only the long black cord which led to a plug
somewhere back stage, and he couldn’t use that because it operated the bingo wheel.
He backed slowly, fixing the men with his eyes as his lips stretched over his teeth in a
tight, fixed grin; moved toward the end of the stage and realizing that he couldn’t go
much further, for suddenly the cord became taut and he couldn’t afford to break the
cord. But he had to do something. The audience was howling. Suddenly he stopped
dead, seeing the men halt, their legs lifted as in an interrupted step of a slow-motion
dance. There was nothing to do but run in the other direction and he dashed forward,
slipping and sliding. The men fell back,
surprised. He struck out violently going past.
“Grab him!”
He ran, but all too quickly the cord tightened, resistingly, and he turned and ran back
again. This time he slipped them, and discovered by running in a circle before the wheel
he could keep the cord from tightening. But this way he had to flail his arms to keep the
men away. Why couldn’t they leave a man alone? He ran, circling.
“Ring down the curtain,” someone yelled. But they couldn’t do that. If they did the wheel
flashing from the projection room would be cut off. But they had him before he could
tell them so, trying to pry open his fist, and he was wrestling and trying to bring his knees
into the fight and holding on to the button, for it was his life. And now he was down,
seeing a foot coming down, crushing his wrist cruelly, down, as he
saw the wheel whirling serenely above.
“I can’t give it up,” he screamed. Then quietly, in a confidential tone, “Boys, I really can’t
give it up.”
It landed hard against his head. And in the blank moment they had it away from him,
completely now.
He fought them trying to pull him up from the stage as he watched the wheel spin slowly
to a stop.
Without surprise he saw it rest at double-zero.
“You see,” he pointed bitterly.
“Sure, boy, sure, it’s O.K.,” one of the men said smiling.
And seeing the man bow his head to someone he could not see, he felt very, very happy;
he would receive what all the winners received.
But as he warmed in the justice of the man’s tight smile he did not see the man’s slow
wink, nor see the bow-legged man behind him step clear of the swiftly descending
curtain and set himself for a blow. He only felt the dull pain exploding in his skull, and he
knew even as it slipped out of him that his luck had run out on the stage.

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