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They put Miss Emily in the ground on a Sunday morning.
The wind blew hard, and the clouds hung low in the sky. No sun would shine on Miss Emily’s grave, not today, not tomorrow. They said I could go to her funeral so long as I kept my distance and let the white mourners have their say first, but I didn’t go. I stayed in that God-forsaken house where the Devil lays his head and the demons lurk in the corners. I didn’t weep or pray for her soul like the ones that claim they were her friends. Ain’t no use weeping for the wicked and there ain’t no use praying for Miss Emily. Instead I did what I been doing for years. I fixed her breakfast and set it real nice and pretty in front of her door just the way she liked it. Then I let the ladies and the men come to “pay Miss Emily’s house a visit”. I know their game; they’re only satisfying their curiosity, they didn’t come because they knew her well. Maybe they’ll die like cats ‘cause of it. I didn’t stay long enough to find out.
Ain’t the first time I seen a Grierson die, ole’ Mister Grierson, he was buried on a windy Sunday too. I was supposed to be a free man then, I saw Miss Emily cry for the first time then. No, she didn’t cry when she watched the air pass from her beloved daddy’s lungs. She only stared for a moment, and then left the room, face whiter than a December morning. Next three days, she had claimed he wasn’t dead, only sleeping. Said he’d wake up soon, and he’d “curse you all to high heaven for thinkin’ he’s dead.” Then the preacher and the doctor came by, begging her to let them bury the body. They kept telling her that her beloved daddy was dead until she broke. I could almost hear her insides shattering like a mirror while she wailed and wept. They took him away, put him in a pretty oak box and set him in a six-foot hole in the ground. I remember she turned to me, her coal eyes so bloodshot and red it was as if they were blazing, and told me:
“Tobe, you are all I got left, daddy only left you and that cursed house. You don’t leave me, ‘hear?”’ And I only nodded my head because I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her daddy couldn’t leave paid servants in his will.
Miss Emily got sick for a while after, she’d stay in bed all day and I’d bring her hot soup, every time trying to convince her to let me call the doctor. But no, she didn’t want to see that old quack again, she seemed to think he had something to do with her daddy’s death in the first place. She refused to get out of bed for months, until Homer Barron came into town. They said the fella’ was a Yankee with the heart of Dixie. Suddenly after nearly a year of illness, Miss Emily was feeling just fine. He was handsome enough to catch her eye, and I hoped maybe, just maybe she might move on and forget the past. That’d she see that now that her daddy was gone, she could marry anyone she wanted without him chasin’ them away. I remember she brought him in sometimes, had me fix him a cup of tea first, then a glass of wine soon after. Then she’d dismiss me; say she and Homer needed some privacy. Sometimes he left that night. Other times he left in the morning, Miss Emily would be humming all day after with an unusual smile on her face that never failed to give me goose bumps.
I heard all sorts of things when I went to the market with the market basket, though tried to pay them no mind. But people will talk. Women will gossip, and men will joke, and that’s just the way it always been. Still, what some folks were saying wasn’t far off, and I learned to just keep my mouth shut whenever they asked me. I had seen Miss Emily chop wood once, I knew better than to go around telling tales. I would’ve sooner faced the God’s judgment than the wrath of Miss Emily.
Course the neighbors caught on quick, and someone wrote to her relatives, I don’t know who. I had only heard of them from Mister Grierson, he’d mention them while he was spitting curses and drinking spirits. When they came, they came with pretty dresses and hats. They paid me no mind, never even looked at me and I knew they thought I was just another shadow in that house, one that would eventually needed to be run out all the way to Georgia. They cooed at and “tsk”ed Miss Emily, like she was a wounded dog. I lost my job in the kitchen for a time, one of the cousins insisted she take over cooking meals. Miss Emily wasn’t no fool though, she saw their game, and soon as she could she sent them a-packing.
One day I came back from the market to find Miss Emily weeping in her bed, knees pulled up to her chest, looking like was a scared little girl woke up from a bad dream. When I asked what happened she only say Mister Barron had up and went, and he didn’t want to marry her after all. After that she was as pale as she was the day her daddy died, if she got out of bed at all it was to stare out the window. One day I came in to check on her and she had cut her own hair in a mangled mess, her dark slightly graying locks were sprinkled all over the bed, as if she had treated them like rose petals. She held the scissors in her hand proudly.
“Does it look alright Tobe?” She had asked, her voice barely above a whisper. I only took the scissors from her hands, and asked if she wanted potato soup for dinner.
After that, I wasn’t allowed to mention Mister Barron, or even think it. Somehow she knew I was thinking about the whole mess when I did, and she’d look at me with those coal black eyes and I’d feel my own soul freeze. Then I’d look away and just decide to stop thinking forever. Some months after Mister Barron left, she went out to visit the druggist. I hoped she was going to get some medicine, maybe there were special pills that could chase the devil right out of her soul. She came back with a package instead, and took it straight to her room. I knew better than to ask what it was.
The day Mister Barron came back into town Miss Emily put up her hair real pretty, and pinched her cheeks until they were bright red. She put on her nicest dress and then set out to meet him. I’ll bet my life he hoped she was as ready to move on as he was. But I knew Miss Emily don’t move on. She never did like change. Some days later, Miss Emily had on that smile that gave me chills, and hummed an old Rebel hymn all through the day. She had bought special silver things for men’s grooming and explained that her husband would need them as she set them up carefully on her vanity. I bit my tongue so hard that it bled before I let my dumb mouth tell her she didn’t have a husband and she ain’t never going to get one. Then Mister Barron came by, and I regretted all the bad things I thought because, he was probably there because he really did want to marry her.
“Tobe, let me pour the drinks this time.” She told me in a voice so sickly sweet I had to hold on to something to keep from cringing. I nodded and she happily went about pouring the drinks. I stayed in the kitchen, only half-listening to what they was saying. Then Mister Barron got real quiet. Miss Emily was still talking, so I figured he was just being polite but then I noticed Miss Emily would pause every now and then as if letting him reply, and then laugh and respond to him as if he really had said something. “Tobe! Tobe come quick!” I heard her hollering and came running. She wasn’t hurt, no not that Miss Emily. She was holding Mister Barron’s cold, dead hand in hers.
“Homer’s asked me to marry him! I said yes! Go on Tobe, now, welcome him to the family.” I felt my heart turn ice cold, and then to stone as I realized the devil was in Miss Emily’s soul, and she had put a demon in mine.
“Welcome Master Homer.”
There weren’t no use praying for Miss Emily.