Their Eyes Were Watching God
After that night Jody moved his things and slept in a room downstairs. He didn’t really hate Janie, but he wanted her to think so. He had crawled off to lick his wounds. They didn’t talk too much around the store either. Anybody that didn’t know would have thought that things had blown over, it looked so quiet and peaceful around. But the stillness was the sleep of swords. So new thoughts had to be thought and new words said. She didn’t want to live like that. Why must Joe be so mad with her for making him look small when he did it to her all the time? Had been doing it for years. Well, if she must eat out of a long-handled spoon, she must. Jody might get over his mad spell any time at all and begin to act like somebody towards her.
Then too she noticed how baggy Joe was getting all over. Like bags hanging from an ironing board. A little sack hung from the corners of his eyes and rested on his cheek-bones; a loose-filled bag of feathers hung from his ears and rested on his neck beneath his chin. A sack of flabby something hung from his loins and rested on his thighs when he sat down. But even these things were running down like candle grease as time moved on.
He made new alliances too. People he never bothered with one way or another now seemed to have his ear. He had always been scornful of root-doctors and all their kind, but now she saw a faker from over around Altamonte Springs, hanging around the place almost daily. Always talking in low tones when she came near, or hushed altogether. She didn’t know that he was driven by a desperate hope to appear the old-time body in her sight. She was sorry about the root-doctor because she feared that Joe was depending on the scoundrel to make him well when what he needed was a doctor, and a good one. She was worried about his not eating his meals, till she found out he was having old lady Davis to cook for him. She knew that she was a much better cook than the old woman, and cleaner about the kitchen. So she bought a beef-bone and made him some soup.
“Naw, thank you,” he told her shortly. “Ah’m havin’ uh hard enough time tuh try and git well as it is.”
She was stunned at first and hurt afterwards. So she went straight to her bosom friend, Pheoby Watson, and told her about it.
“Ah’d rather be dead than for Jody tuh think Ah’d hurt him,” she sobbed to Pheoby. “It ain’t always been too pleasant, ’cause you know how Joe worships de works of his own hands, but God in heben knows Ah wouldn’t do one thing tuh hurt nobody. It’s too underhand and mean.”
“Janie, Ah though maybe de thing would die down and you never would know nothin’ ’bout it, but it’s been singin’ round here ever since de big fuss in de store dat Joe was ‘fixed’ and you wuz de one dat did it.”
“Pheoby, for de longest time, Ah been feelin’ dat somethin’ set for still-bait, but dis is—is—oh Pheoby! Whut kin I do?”
“You can’t do nothin’ but make out you don’t know it. It’s too late fuh y’all tuh be splittin’ up and gittin’ divorce. Just g’wan back home and set down on yo’ royal diasticutis and say nothin’. Nobody don’t b’lieve it nohow.”
“Tuh think Ah been wid Jody twenty yeahs and Ah just now got tuh bear de name uh poisonin’ him! It’s ’bout to kill me, Pheoby. Sorrow dogged by sorrow is in mah heart.”
“Dat’s lie dat trashy nigger dat calls hisself uh two-headed doctor brought tuh ’im in order tuh git in wid Jody. He seen he wuz sick—everybody been knowin’ dat for de last longest, and den Ah reckon he heard y’all wuz kind of at variance, so dat wuz his chance. Last summer dat multiplied cockroach wuz round heah tryin’ tuh sell gophers!”
“Pheoby, Ah don’t even b’lieve Jody b’lieve dat lie. He ain’t never took no stock in de mess. He just make out he b’lieve it tuh hurt me. Ah’m stone dead from standin’ still and tryin’ tuh smile.”
She cried often in the weeks that followed. Joe got too weak to look after things and took to his bed. But he relentlessly refused to admit her to his sick-room. People came and went in the house. This one and that one came into her house with covered plates of broth and other sick-room dishes without taking the least notice of her as Joe’s wife. People who never had known what it was to enter the gate of the Mayor’s yard unless it were to do some menial job now paraded in and out as his confidants. They came to the store and ostentatiously looked over whatever she was doing and went back to report to him at the house. Said things like “Mr. Starks need somebody tuh sorta look out for ’im till he kin git on his feet again and look for hisself.”
But Jody was never to get on his feet again. Janie had Sam Watson to bring her the news from the sick-room, and when he told her how things were, she had him bring a doctor from Orlando without giving Joe a chance to refuse, and without saying she sent for him.
“Just a matter of time,” the doctor told her. “When a man’s kidneys stop working altogether, there is no way for him to live. He needed medical attention two years ago. Too late now.”
So Janie began to think of Death. Death, that strange being with the huge square toes who lived way in the West. The great one who lived in the straight house like a platform without sides to it, and without a roof. What need has Death for a cover, and what winds can blow against him? He stands in his high house that overlooks the world. Stands watchful and motionless all day with his sword drawn back, waiting for the messenger to bid him come. Been standing there before there was a where or a when or a then. She was liable to find a feather from his wings lying in her yard any day now. She was sad and afraid too. Poor Jody! He ought not to have to wrassle in there by himself. She sent Sam in to suggest a visit, but Jody said No. These medical doctors wuz all right with the Godly sick, but they didn’t know a thing about a case like his. He’d be all right just as soon as the two-headed man found what had been buried against him. He wasn’t going to die at all. That was what he thought. But Sam told her different, so she knew. And then if he hadn’t, the next morning she was bound to know, for people began to gather in the big yard under the palm and china-berry trees. People who would not have dared to foot the place before crept in and did not come to the house. Just squatted under the trees and waited. Rumor, that wingless bird, had shadowed over the town.
She got up that morning with the firm determination to go on in there and have a good talk with Jody. But she sat a long time with the walls creeping in on her. Four walls squeezing her breath out. Fear lest he depart while she sat trembling upstairs nerved her and she was inside the room before she caught her breath. She didn’t make the cheerful, casual start that she had thought out. Something stood like an oxen’s foot on her tongue, and then too, Jody, no Joe, gave her a ferocious look. A look with all the unthinkable coldness of outer space. She must talk to a man who was ten immensities away.
He was lying on his side facing the door like he was expecting somebody or something. A sort of changing look on his face. Weak-looking but sharp-pointed about the eyes. Through the thin counterpane she could see what was left of his belly huddled before him on the bed like some helpless thing seeking shelter.
The half-washed bedclothes hurt her pride for Jody. He had always been so clean.
“Whut you doin’ in heah, Janie?”
“Come tuh see ’bout you and how you wuz makin’ out.”
He gave a deep-growling sound like a hog dying down in the swamp and trying to drive off disturbance. “Ah come in heah tuh git shet uh you but look lak ’tain’t doin’ me no good. G’wan out. Ah needs tuh rest.”
“Naw, Jody, Ah come in heah tuh talk widja and Ah’m gointuh do it too. It’s for both of our sakes Ah’m talkin’.”
He gave another ground grumble and eased over on his back.
“Jody, maybe Ah ain’t been sich uh good wife tuh you, but Jody—”
“Dat’s ’cause you ain’t got de right feelin’ for nobody. You oughter have some sympathy ’bout yo’self. You ain’t no hog.”
“But, Jody, Ah meant tuh be awful nice.”
“Much as Ah done fuh yuh. Holdin’ me up tuh scorn. No sympathy!”
“Naw, Jody, it wasn’t because Ah didn’t have no sympathy. Ah had uh lavish uh dat. Ah just didn’t never git no chance tuh use none of it. You wouldn’t let me.”
“Dat’s right, blame everything on me. Ah wouldn’t let you show no feelin’! When, Janie, dat’s all Ah ever wanted or desired. Now you come blamin’ me!”
“ ’Tain’t dat, Jody. Ah ain’t here tuh blame nobody. Ah’m just tryin’ tuh make you know what kinda person Ah is befo’ it’s too late.”
“Too late?” he whispered.
His eyes buckled in a vacant-mouthed terror and she saw the awful surprise in his face and answered it.
“Yeah, Jody, don’t keer whut dat multiplied cockroach told yuh tuh git yo’ money, you got tuh die, and yuh can’t live.”
A deep sob came out of Jody’s weak frame. It was like beating a bass drum in a hen-house. Then it rose high like pulling in a trombone.
“Janie? Janie! don’t tell me Ah got tuh die, and Ah ain’t used tuh thinkin’ ’bout it.”
“ ’Tain’t really no need of you dying, Jody, if you had of—de doctor—but it don’t do no good bringin’ dat up now. Dat’s just whut Ah wants tuh say, Jody. You wouldn’t listen. You done lived wid me for twenty years and you don’t half know me atall. And you could have but you was so busy worshippin’ de works of yo’ own hands, and cuffin’ folks around in their minds till you didn’t see uh whole heap uh things yuh could have.”
“Leave heah, Janie. Don’t come heah—”
“Ah knowed you wasn’t gointuh lissen tuh me. You changes everything but nothin’ don’t change you—not even death. But Ah ain’t goin’ outa here and Ah ain’t gointuh hush. Naw, you gointuh listen tuh me one time befo’ you die. Have yo’ way all yo’ life, trample and mash down and then die ruther than tuh let yo’self heah ’bout it. Listen, Jody, you ain’t de Jody Ah run off down de road wid. You’se whut’s left after he died. Ah run off tuh keep house wid you in uh wonderful way. But you wasn’t satisfied wid me de way Ah was. Naw! Mah own mind had tuh be squeezed and crowded out tuh make room for yours in me.”
“Shut up! Ah wish thunder and lightnin’ would kill yuh!”
“Ah know it. And now you got tuh die tuh find out dat you got tuh pacify somebody besides yo’self if you wants any love and any sympathy in dis world. You ain’t tried tuh pacify nobody but yo’self. Too busy listening tuh yo’ own big voice.”
“All dis tearin’ down talk!” Jody whispered with sweat globules forming all over his face and arms. “Git outa heah!”
“All dis bowin’ down, all dis obedience under yo’ voice—dat ain’t whut Ah rushed off down de road tuh find out about you.”
A sound of strife in Jody’s throat, but his eyes stared unwillingly into a corner of the room so Janie knew the futile fight was not with her. The icy sword of the square-toed one had cut off his breath and left his hands in a pose of agonizing protest. Janie gave them peace on his breast, then she studied his dead face for a long time.
“Dis sittin’ in de rulin’ chair is been hard on Jody,” she muttered out loud. She was full of pity for the first time in years. Jody had been hard on her and others, but life had mishandled him too. Poor Joe! Maybe if she had known some other way to try, she might have made his face different. But what that other way could be, she had no idea. She thought back and forth about what had happened in the making of a voice out of a man. Then thought about herself. Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. It had been a long time since she had remembered. Perhaps she’d better look. She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taken her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there. She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up again. Then she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see, and opened up the window and cried, “Come heah people! Jody is dead. Mah husband is gone from me.”