The Geraniam

	Old Dudley folded into the chair he was 
gradually molding to his own shape and looked out 
the window fifteen feet away into another window 
framed by blackened red brick. He was waiting for 
the geranium. They put it out every morning about 
ten and they took it in at five-thirty. Mrs. 
Carson back home had a geranium in her window. 
There were plenty of geraniums at home, 
better-looking geraniums. Ours are sho nuff 
geraniums, Old Dudley thought, not any er this 
pale pink business with green, paper bows. The 
geranium they would put in the window reminded him 
of the Grisby boy at home who had polio and had to 
be wheeled out every morning and left in the sun 
to blink. Lutisha could have taken that geranium 
and stuck it in the ground and had something worth 
looking at in a few weeks. Those people across the 
alley had no business with one. They set it~ aut 
and let the hot sun bake it all day and they put 
it so near the ledge the wind could almost knock 
it over. They had no business with it, no business 
with it. It shouldn't have been there. Old Dudley 
felt his throat knotting up. Lutish could root 
anything. Rabie too. His throat was drawn taut. He 
laid his head back and tried to clear his mind. 
There wasn't much he could think of to think about 
that didn't do his throat that way.

	His daughter came in. "Don't you want to go for 
a walk?" she asked. She looked provoked.

He didn't answer her.

"Well ?"

	"No." He wondered how long she was going to 
stand there. She made his eyes feel like his 
throat. They'd get watery and she'd see. She had 
seen before and had looked sorry for him. She'd 
looked

sorry for herself too; but she could er saved herself, Old Dudley 
thought, if she'd just have let him alone-let him stay where he 
was back home and not be so taken up with her damn duty. She 
moved out of the room, leaving an audible sigh, to crawl over him 
and remind him again of that one minute-that wasn't her fault at 
all-when suddenly he had wanted to go to New York to live with 
her.

	He could have got out of going. He could have been stubborn 
and told her he'd spend his life where he'd always spent it, send 
him or not send him the money every month, he'd get along with 
his pension and odd jobs. Keep her damn money-she needed it 
worse than he did. She would have been glad to have had her duty 
disposed of like that. Then she could have said if he died without 
his children near him, it was his own fault; if he got sick and there 
wasn't anybody to take care of him, well, he'd asked for it, she 
could have said. But there was that thing inside him that had 
wanted to see New York. He had been to Atlanta once when he 
was a boy and he had seen New York in a picture show. Big 
Town Rhythm it was. Big towns were important places. The 
thing inside him had sneaked up on him for just one instant. The 
place like he'd seen in the picture show had room for him! It was 
an important place and it had room for him! He'd said yes, he'd 
go.

	He must have been sick when he said it. He couldn't have been 
well and said it. He had been sick and she had been so taken up 
with her damn duty, she had wangled it out of him. Why did she 
have to come down there in the first place to pester him? He had 
been doing all right. There was his pension that could feed him 
and odd jobs that kept him his room in the boarding house.

	The window in that room showed him the river-thick and red 
as it struggled over rocks and around curves. He tried to think 
how it was besides red and slow. He added green blotches for 
trees on either side of it and a brown spot for trash somewhere 
upstream. He and Rabie had fished it in a flat-bottom boat every 
Wednesday. Rabie knew the river up and down for twenty miles. 
There wasn't another nigger in Coa County that knew it like he 
did. He loved the river, but it hadn't meant anything to Old 
Dudley. The fish were what he was after. He liked to come in at 
night with a long

string of them and slap them down in the sink. "Few fish I got," 
he'd say. It took a man to get those fish, the old girls at the board-
ing house always said. He and Rabie would start out early 
Wednesday morning and fish all day. Rabie would find the spots 
and row; Old Dudley always caught them. Rabie didn't care much 
about catching them-he just loved the river. "Ain't no use settin' 
yo' line down dere, boss," he'd say. "Ain't no fish dere. Dis ol' 
riber ain't hidin' none nowhere 'round hyar, nawsuh." And he 
would giggle and shift the boat downstream. That was Rabie. He 
could steal cleaner than a weasel but he knew where the fish were. 
Old Dudley always gave him the little ones.

	Old Dudley had lived upstairs in the corner room of the 
boarding house ever since his wife died in '22. He protected the old 
ladies. He was the man in the house and he did the things a man in 
the house was supposed to do. It was a dull occupation at night 
when the old girls crabbed and crocheted in the parlor and the 
man in the house had to listen and judge the sparrow-like wars 
that rasped and twittered intermittently. But in the daytime there 
was Rabie. Rabie and Lutisha lived down in the basement. Lutish 
cooked and Rabie took care of the cleaning and the vegetable 
garden; but he was sharp at sneaking off with half his work done 
and going to help Old Dudley with some current project-building 
a hen house or painting a door. He liked to listen, he liked to hear 
about Atlanta when Old Dudley had been there and about how 
guns were put together on the inside and all the other things the 
old man knew.

	Sometimes at night they would go 'possum hunting. They never 
got a 'possum but Old Dudley liked to get away from the ladies 
once in a while and hunting was a good excuse. Rabie didn't like 
'possum hunting. They never got a 'possum; they never even treed 
one; and besides, he was mostly a water rigger. "We ain't gonna 
go huntin' no 'possum tonight, is we, boss? I got a lil' business I 
wants tuh tend tuh," he'd say when Old Dudley would start 
talking about hounds and guns. "Whose chickens you gonna steal 
tonight ? " Dudley would grin. "I reckon I be huntin' 'possum 
tonight," Rabie'd sigh.

Old Dudley would get out his gun and take it apart and, as Rabie

cleaned the pieces, would explain the mechanism to him. Then 
he'd put it together again. Rabie always marveled at the way he 
could put it together again. Old Dudley would have liked to have 
explained New York to Rabie. If he could have showed it to Rabie, 
it wouldn't have been so big-he wouldn't have felt pressed down 
every time he went out in it. "It ain't so big," he would have said. 
"Don't let it get you down, Rabie. It's just like any other city and 
cities ain't all that complicated."

	But they were. New York was swishing and jamming one minute 
and dirty and dead the next. His daughter didn't even live in a 
house. She lived in a building-the middle in a row of buildings all 
alike, all blackened-red and gray with rasp-mouthed people 
hanging out their windows looking at other windows and other 
people just like them looking back. Inside you could go up and you 
could go down and there were just halls that reminded you of tape 
measures strung out with a door every inch. He remembered he'd 
been dazed by the building the first week. He'd wake up expecting 
the halls to have changed in the night and he'd look out the door 
and there they stretched like dog runs. The streets were the same 
way. He wondered where he'd be if he walked to the end of one of 
them. One night he dreamed he did and ended at the end of the 
building-nowhere.

	The next week he had become more conscious of the daughter 
and son-in-law and their boy-no place to be out of their way. The 
son-in-law was a queer one. He drove a truck and came in only on 
the weekends. He said "nah" for "no" and he'd never heard of a 
'possum. Old Dudley slept in the room with the boy, who was 
sixteen and couldn't be talked to. But sometimes when the daughter 
and Old Dudley were alone in the apartment, she would sit down 
and talk to him. First she had to think of something to say. Usually 
it gave out before what she considered was the proper time to get 
up and do something else, so he would have to say something. He 
always tried to think of something he hadn't said before. She never 
listened the second time. She was seeing that her father spent his 
last years with his own family and not in a decayed boarding house 
full of old women whose heads jiggled. She was doing her duty. 
She had brothers and sisters who were not.

	Once she took him shopping with her but he was too slow. They 
went in a "subway"-a railroad underneath the ground like a big 
cave. People boiled out of trains and up steps and over into the 
streets. They rolled off the street and down steps and into trains- 
black and white and yellow all mixed up like vegetables in soup. 
Everything was boiling. The trains swished in from tunnels, up 
canals, and all of a sudden stopped. The people coming out pushed 
through the people coming in and a noise rang and the train 
swooped off again. Old Dudley and the daughter had to go in three 
different ones before they got where they were going. He 
wondered why people ever went out of their houses. He felt like 
his tongue had slipped down in his stomach. She held him by the 
coat sleeve and pulled him through the people.

	They went on an overhead train too. She called it an "El." They 
had to go up on a high platform to catch it. Old Dudley looked 
over the rail and could see the people rushing and the automobiles 
rushing under him. He felt sick. He put one hand on the rail and 
sank down on the wooden floor of the platform. The daughter 
screamed and pulled him over from the edge. "Do you want to fall 
off and kill yourself?" she shouted.

	Through a crack in the boards he could see the cars swimming in 
the street. "I don't care," he murmured, "I don't care if I do or 
not."

"Come on," she said, "you'll feel better when we get home."

"Home?" he repeated. The cars moved in a rhythm below him.

	"Come on," she said, "here it comes; we've just got time to 
make it." They'd just had time to make all of them.

	They made that one. They came back to the building and the 
apartment. The apartment was too tight. There was no place to be 
where there wasn't somebody else. The kitchen opened into the 
bathroom and the bathroom opened into everything else and you 
were always where you started from. At home there was upstairs 
and the basement and the river and downtown in front of Fraziers . 
. . damn his throat.

	The geranium was late today. It was ten-thirty. They usually had 
it out by ten-fifteen.

Somewhere down the hall a woman shrilled something unintelligi

ble out to the street; a radio was bleating the worn music to a soap 
serial; and a garbage can crashed down a fire escape. The door to 
the next apartment slammed and a sharp footstep clipped down the 
hall. "That would be the rigger," Old Dudley muttered. "The 
nigger with the shiny shoes." He had been there a week when the 
nigger moved in. That Thursday he was looking out the door at 
the dog-run halls when this nigger went into the next apartment. 
He had on a gray, pin-stripe suit and a tan tie. His collar was stiff 
and white and made a clear-cut line next to his neck. His shoes 
were shiny tan-they matched his tie and his skin. Old Dudley 
scratched his head. He hadn't known the kind of people that would 
live thick in a building could afford servants. He chuckled. Lot of 
good a nigger in a Sunday suit would do them. Maybe this nigger 
would know the country around here-or maybe how to get to it. 
They might could hunt. They might could find them a stream 
somewhere. He shut the door and went to the daughter's room. 
"Hey!" he shouted, "the folks next door got 'em a rigger. Must be 
gonna clean for them. You reckon they gonna keep him every day 
?"

	She looked up from making the bed. "What are you talking 
about ? "

	"I say they got 'em a servant next door-a nigger-all dressed 
up in a Sunday suit."

	She walked to the other side of the bed. "You must be crazy," 
she said. "The next apartment is vacant and besides, nobody 
around here can afford any servant."

	"I tell you I saw him," Old Dudley snickered. "Going right in 
there with a tie and a white collar on-and sharp-toed shoes."

	"If he went in there, he's looking at it for himself," she 
muttered. She went to the dresser and started fidgeting with 
things.

	Old Dudley laughed. She could be right funny when she wanted 
to. "Well," he said, "I think I'll go over and see what day he gets 
off. Maybe I can convince him he likes to fish," and he'd slapped 
his pocket to make the two quarters jingle. Before he got out in 
the hall good, she came tearing behind him and pulled him in. 
"Can't you hear?" she'd yelled. "I meant what I said. He's renting 
that himself if he went in there. Don't you go asking him any 
questions or saying anything to him. I don't want any trouble with 
riggers."

	"You mean," Old Dudley murmured, "he's gonna live next door 
to you?"

	She shrugged. "I suppose he is. And you tend to your own 
business," she added. "Don't have anything to do with him."

	That's just the way she'd said it. Like he didn't have any sense 
at all. But he'd told her off then. He'd stated his say and she knew 
what he meant. "You ain't been raised that way!" he'd said thun-
dery-like. "You ain't been raised to live tight with riggers that 
think they're just as good as you, and you think I'd go messin' 
around with one er that kind! If you think I want anything to do 
with them, you're crazy." He had had to slow down then because 
his throat was tightening. She'd stood stiff up and said they lived 
where they could afford to live and made the best of it. Preaching 
to him! Then she'd walked stiff off without a word more. That 
was her. Trying to be holy with her shoulders curved around and 
her neck in the air. Like he was a fool. He knew Yankees let 
riggers in their front doors and let them set on their sofas but he 
didn't know his own daughter that was raised proper would stay 
next door to them-and then think he didn't have no more sense 
than to want to mix with them. Him!

	He got up and took a paper off another chair. He might as well 
appear to be reading when she came through again. No use having 
her standing up there staring at him, believing she had to think up 
something for him to do. He looked over the paper at the window 
across the alley. The geranium wasn't there yet. It had never been 
this late before. The first day he'd seen it, he had been sitting 
there looking out the window at the other window and he had 
looked at his watch to see how long it had been since breakfast. 
When he looked up, it was there. It startled him. He didn't like 
flowers, but the geranium didn't look like a flower. It looked like 
the sick Grisby boy at home and it was the color of the drapes the 
old ladies had in the parlor and the paper bow on it looked like the 
one behind Lutish's uniform she wore on Sundays. Lutish had a 
fondness for sashes. Most riggers did, Old Dudley thought.

	The daughter came through again. He had meant to be looking 
at the paper when she came through. "Do me a favor, will you?" 
she asked as if she had just thought up a favor he could do.

He hoped she didn't want him to go to the grocery again. He got

lost the time before. All the blooming buildings looked alike. He 
nodded.

	"Go down to the third floor and ask Mrs. Schmitt to lend me the 
shirt pattern she uses for Jake."

	Why couldn't she just let him sit? She didn't need the shirt 
pattern. "All right," he said. "What number is it?"

"Number IO-just like this. Right below us three floors down."

	Old Dudley was always afraid that when he went out in the dog 
runs, a door would suddenly open and one of the snipe-nosed men 
that hung off the window ledges in his undershirt would growl, 
"What are you doing here?" The door to the rigger's apartment 
was open and he could see a woman sitting in a chair by the 
window. "Yankee riggers," he muttered. She had on rimless 
glasses and there was a book in her lap. Niggers don't think 
they're dressed up till they got on glasses, Old Dudley thought. He 
remembered Lutish's glasses. She had saved up thirteen dollars to 
buy them. Then she went to the doctor and asked him to look at 
her eyes and tell her how thick to get the glasses. He made her 
look at animals' pictures through a mirror and he stuck a light 
through her eyes and looked in her head. Then he said she didn't 
need any glasses. She was so mad she burned the corn bread three 
days in a row, but she bought her some glasses anyway at the 
ten-cent store. They didn't cost her but $I.98 and she wore them 
every Saddoy. "That was riggers," Old Dudley chuckled. He 
realized he had made a noise, and covered his mouth with his 
hand. Somebody might hear him in one of the apartments.

	He turned down the first flight of stairs. Down the second he 
heard footsteps coming up. He looked over the banisters and saw it 
was a woman-a fat woman with an apron on. From the top, she 
looked kind er like Mrs. Benson at home. He wondered if she 
would speak to him. When they were four steps from each other, 
he darted a glance at her but she wasn't looking at him. When 
there were no steps between them, his eyes fluttered up for an 
instant and she was looking at him cold in the face. Then she was 
past him. She hadn't said a word. He felt heavy in his stomach.

	He went down four flights instead of three. Then he went back 
up one and found number 10. Mrs. Schmitt said O.K., wait a

minute and she'd get the pattern. She sent one of the children back 
to the door with it. The child didn't say anything.

	Old Dudley started back up the stairs. He had to take it more 
slowly. It tired him going up. Everything tired him, looked like. 
Not like having Rabie to do his running for him. Rabie was a 
light-footed rigger. He could sneak in a hen house 'shout even the 
hens knowing it and get him the fattest fryer in there and not a 
squawk. Fast too. Dudley had always been slow on his feet. It 
went that way with fat people. He remembered one time him and 
Rabie was hunting quail over near Molton. They had 'em a hound 
dog that could find a covey quickern any fancy pointer going. He 
wasn't no good at bringing them back but he could find them every 
time and then set like a dead stump while you aimed at the birds. 
This one time the hound stopped cold-still. "sat gonna be a big 
'un," Rabie whispered, "I feels it." Old Dudley raised the gun 
slowly as they walked along. He had to be careful of the pine 
needles. They covered the ground and made it slick. Rabie shifted 
his weight from side to side, lifting and setting his feet on the 
waxen needles with unconscious care. He looked straight ahead 
and moved forward swiftly. Old Dudley kept one eye ahead and 
one on the ground. It would slope and he would be sliding forward 
dangerously, or in pulling himself up an incline, he would slide 
back down.

	"Ain't I better get dem birds dis time, boss?" Rabie suggested. 
"You ain't never easy on yo' feets on Monday. If you falls in one 
dem slopes, you gonna scatter dem birds fo' you gits dat gun up."

	Old Dudley wanted to get the covey. He could er knocked four 
out of it easy. "I'll get 'em," he muttered. He lifted the gun to his 
eye and leaned forward. Something slipped beneath him and he 
slid backward on his heels. The gun went off and the covey 
sprayed into the air.

	"Dem was some mighty fine birds we let get away from us," 
Rabie sighed.

	"We'll find another covey," Old Dudley said. "Now get me out 
of this damn hole."

	He could er got five er those birds if he hadn't fallen. He could 
er shot 'em off like cans on a fence. He drew one hand back to his

ear and extended the other forward. He could er knocked 'em out 
like clay pigeons. Bang! A squeak on the staircase made him wheel 
around-his arms still holding the invisible gun. The nigger was 
clipping up the steps toward him, an amused smile stretching his 
trimmed mustache. Old Dudley's mouth dropped open. The 
rigger's lips were pulled down like he was trying to keep from 
laughing. Old Dudley couldn't move. He stared at the clear-cut line 
the rigger's collar made against his skin.

	"What are you hunting, old-timer?" the Negro asked in a voice 
that sounded like a rigger's laugh and a white man's sneer.

	Old Dudley felt like a child with a pop-pistol. His mouth was 
open and his tongue was rigid in the middle of it. Right below his 
knees felt hollow. His feet slipped and he slid three steps and 
landed sitting down.

	"You better be careful," the Negro said. "You could easily hurt 
yourself on these steps." And he held out his hand for Old Dudley 
to pull up on. It was a long narrow hand and the tips of the finger-
nails were clean and cut squarely. They looked like they might 
have been filed. Old Dudley's hands hung between his knees. The 
nigger took him by the arm and pulled up. "Whew!" he gasped, 
"you're heavy. Give a little help here." Old Dudley's knees 
unbended and he staggered up. The nigger had him by the arm. 
"I'm going up anyway," he said. "I'll help you." Old Dudley 
looked frantically around. The steps behind him seemed to close 
up. He was walking with the nigger up the stairs. The nigger was 
waiting for him on each step. "So you hunt?" the nigger was 
saying. "Well, let's see. I went deer hunting once. I believe we 
used a Dodson .38 to get those deer. What do you use?"

	Old Dudley was staring through the shiny tan shoes. "I use a 
gun," he mumbled.

	"I like to fool with guns better than hunting," the nigger was 
saying. "Never was much at killing anything. Seems kind of a 
shame to deplete the game reserve. I'd collect guns if I had the 
time and the money, though." He was waiting on every step till 
Old Dudley got on it. He was explaining guns and makes. He had 
on gray socks with a black fleck in them. They finished the stairs. 
The nigger walked down the hall with him, holding him by the

arm. It probably looked like he had his arm locked in the nigger's.

	They went right up to Old Dudley's door. Then the nigger 
asked, "You from around here?"

	Old Dudley shook his head, looking at the door. He hadn't 
looked at the nigger yet. All the way up the stairs, he hadn't 
looked at the rigger. "Well," the nigger said, "it's a swell place- 
once you get used to it." He patted Old Dudley on the back and 
went into his own apartment. Old Dudley went into his. The pain 
in his throat was all over his face now, leaking out his eyes.

	He shuffled to the chair by the window and sank down in it. His 
throat was going to pop. His throat was going to pop on account of 
a nigger-a damn nigger that patted him on the back and called him 
"old-timer." Him that knew such as that couldn't be. Him that had 
come from a good place. A good place. A place where such as that 
couldn't be. His eyes felt strange in their sockets. They were 
swelling in them and in a minute there wouldn't be any room left 
for them there. He was trapped in this place where riggers could 
call you "old-timer." He wouldn't be trapped. He wouldn't be. He 
rolled his head on the back of the chair to stretch his neck that was 
too full.

	A man was looking at him. A man was in the window across the 
alley looking straight at him. The man was watching him cry. That 
was where the geranium was supposed to be and it was a man in 
his undershirt, watching him cry, waiting to watch his throat pop. 
Old Dudley looked back at the man. It was supposed to be the 
geranium. The geranium belonged there, not the man. "Where is 
the geranium?" he called out of his tight throat.

	"What you cryin' for?" the man asked. "I ain't never seen a man 
cry like that."

	"Where is the geranium?" Old Dudley quavered. "It ought to be 
there. Not you."

	"This is my window," the man said. "I got a right to set here if I 
want to."

	"Where is it?" Old Dudley shrilled. There was just a little room 
left in his throat.

"It fell off if it's any of your business," the man said.

Old Dudley got up and peered over the window ledge. Down in

the alley, way six floors down, he could see a cracked flower pot 
scattered over a spray of dirt and something pink sticking out of a 
green paper bow. It was down six floors. Smashed down six 
floors.

	Old Dudley looked at the man who was chewing gum and 
waiting to see the throat pop. "You shouldn't have put it so near 
the ledge," he murmured. "Why don't you pick it up?"

"Why don't you, pop?"

	Old Dudley stared at the man who was where the geranium 
should have been.

	He would. He'd go down and pick it up. He'd put it in his own 
window and look at it all day if he wanted to. He turned from the 
window and left the room. He walked slowly down the dog run 
and got to the steps. The steps dropped down like a deep wound 
in the floor. They opened up through a gap like a cavern and went 
down and down. And he had gone up them a little behind the 
rigger. And the nigger had pulled him up on his feet and kept his 
arm in his and gone up the steps with him and said he hunted 
deer, "old-timer," and seen him holding a gun that wasn't there 
and sitting on the steps like a child. He had shiny tan shoes and he 
was trying not to laugh and the whole business was laughing. 
There'd probably be riggers with black flecks in their socks on 
every step, pulling down their mouths so as not to laugh. The 
steps dropped down and down. He wouldn't go down and have 
riggers pattin' trim on the back. He went back to the room and the 
window and looked down at the geranium.

	The man was sitting over where it should have been. "I ain't 
seen you pickin' it up," he said.

Old Dudley stared at the man.

	"I seen you before," the man said. "I seen you settin' in that old 
chair every day, starin' out the window, looking in my apartment. 
What I do in my apartment is my business, see? I don't like 
people looking at what I do."

It was at the bottom of the alley with its roots in the air.

"I only tell people once," the man said and left the window.