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The fine new shoes Jody had bought for Janie stirred up the dust of a barren winter as she walked toward the gravestone she knew to bear Nanny’s name. The dirt around Nanny’s body that day was dry, and the weather was cruel. Janie wondered if it was God or the cold that made this place seem so grim. She wondered if any life had ever taken root here before it became Nanny’s final resting place. Perhaps, long before Janie’s time, hopeful green stalks had rushed out from the darkness of the ground, and stretched their eager faces toward the warmth of the sun. If such a thing had ever happened, she would never know, for she could see nothing now but stone and dust.
Janie was sad and frustrated. Life with Jody was not what she had expected. She had wanted a marriage of souls. She had wanted the bloom of her tree, a bee to her blossom, flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. Was that too much to ask?
Janie thought of what Nanny had once told her of love. “Dis love!” She had scorned. “Dat’s just whut’s got us uh pullin’ and uh haulin’ and sweatin’ and doin’ from can’t see in de mornin’ till can’t see at night.” Nanny had wanted Janie to be content with what she had. She knew that Nanny would say the same to her now. A heavy resentment toward the woman who had raised her to ignore the stirrings of her own heart weighed on Janie’s mind. She felt a desire to ask her grandmother of matters she had been too young to understand before.
She knelt down, and clasped her hands together to fight the cold.
“Ah s’pose you’se happy now, Nanny. Ah s’pose dis is where you’se always wanted me tuh be in life. But ah don’t know, Nanny. Ah don’t know if dis is where Ah wants tuh be.”
“Ah’s living in a big house. It’s a big ‘ol white house Jody can show off tuh all de neighbors. Ah’s running a store, too. Ah’s got money an’ Ah’s got security. Ah’m de woman all de other womenfolks wants tuh be, an’ Ah know you would lak dat.”
“Ah can’t help but tuh think, though, Ah ain’t happy. Jody got uh big voice, an’ sometimes he can’t heah me over his own noise. He always thinks uh hisself befo’ anyone else, so he don’t half know me at all. He’s always too busy tryna make himself look lak God or de white man.”
“Nanny, Ah don’t know if Ah can’t be satisfied no mo’ wif de advice you done tole me when Ah was a girl. Ah don’t know how long Ah can live lak dis. Ah wants a marriage of sweet things, lak sitting under a pear tree. Ah want a man who don’t tell me to be quiet jus ‘cos Ah can think. Ah want a life where Ah don’t have tuh pretend tuh be de person mah husband want me tuh be.”
Janie sighed and paused for thought. She turned her head to the horizon, and, for the first time in a while, the image of the pear tree came to mind. Oh, if she could but feel that way again! She reveled in the dream. But then she remembered that she was the wife of Joe Starks, and she turned it away.
“Nanny, Ah jus’ don’t see why uh woman got tuh be de mule of de world. You never tole me why uh woman got tuh be de mule of de world. You never tole me….”
Janie walked away from the lonely grave. Before she reached her carriage, she threw the tombstone a final glance. A strand of hair fell from her headwrap, and she tucked it back into place. Then, she climbed up onto the seat, and left without another word.