The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 3

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 3
The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 3

Nettie is here with us. She runs away from home. She says she hates to leave our stepma, but she had to get out, and maybe find help for the other little ones. The boys are alright, she says. They can stay out of his way. When they get big they gon fight him. Maybe kill, I say. How is it with you and Mr. ____? she asked.

But she got eyes. He still likes her. In the evening he comes out on the porch in his Sunday best. She is sitting there with me shelling peas or helping the children with the spelling.

Helping me with spelling and everything else she thinks I need to know.

No matter what happens, Nettie steadily tries to teach me what goes on in the world.

And she is a good teacher too. It nearly kills me to think she might marry somebody like Mr. __ or wind up in some white lady's kitchen.



All day she read, studies, practices her handwriting, and tries to get us to think. Most days I feel too tired to think. But the Patient is her middle name. Mr. _____ children are all bright but they are mean.

They say, Celie, I want dis. Celie, I want Dad. Our Mama let us have it. He doesn’t say anything. They try to get his tension, but he hides hind a puff of smoke. Don’t let them run over you, Nettie says.

You got to let them know who got the upper hand. They got it, I say. But she keeps on, You got to fight. You got to fight. But I don’t know how to fight.

All I know how to do is stay alive. That’s a really pretty dress you got on, he says to Nettie.

She says, Thank you. The shoes look just right. She says, Thank you. Your skin. Your hair. Your teens. Every day it's something else to make the migration over. First, she smiles a little. Then she frowns. Then she doesn’t look any special way at all.


She just sticks close to me. She tells me, Your skin. Your hair, Your teens. He tries to give her a compliment, and she passes it on to me

After a while, I get to feeling pretty cute. Soon he stops. He says one night in bed, Well, we did help Nettie all we can. Now she got to go. Where is she gon go? I asked.

I don’t care, he says. I tell Nettie the next morning. Stead of being mad, she was glad to go. Say she hates to leave me is all. We fall on each other necks when she says that.

I sure hate to leave you here with these rotten children, she says.

Not to mention Mr. ____. It’s like seeing you buried, she said.

It’s worse than that, I think. If I was buried, I wouldn’t have to work. But I just say, Never mine, never mine, long as I can spell G-o-d I got somebody along.

But I only got one thing to give her, the name of Reverend Mr. ____. I tell her to ask for his wife. That maybe she would help. She is the only woman I have ever seen with money.

I say, Write. She says, What? I say, Write. She says Nothing but death can keep me from it.

She never writes. G-O-D, Two of his sister come to visit. They dress all up. Celie, they say.

One thing is for sure. You keep a clean house. It is not nice to speak ill of the dead, one says, but the truth never can be ill. Annie Julia was a nasty ’woman bout the house. She never wants to be here in the first place, say the other. Where does she want to be? I asked.

At home. She says. Well, that’s no excuse, says the first one, Her name is Carrie, and the other one is named Kate. When a woman marries her spouse to keep a decent house and a clean family. Why, wasn’t nothing to come here in the wintertime and all these children have colds, they have flu, they have direct, they have pneumonia, they have worms, they have the chill and fever.



They are hungry. Their hair ain’t comb. They are too nasty to touch. I touch ’em. Say, Kate. And cook. She wouldn’t cook. She acts like she has never seen a kitchen. She hadn’t ever seen his. Was a scandal, said, Carrie. He sure was, said Kate. What do you mean? say, Carrie.

I mean he just brought her here, dropped her, and kept right on running after Shug Avery. That's what I mean. Nobody to talk to, nobody to visit. He is gone for days. Then she starts having babies. And she is young and pretty. Not so pretty, says, Carrie, looking in the looking glass. Just that head of hair. She is too black. Well, the brother must like black. Shug Avery is black as my shoe. Shug Avery, Shug Avery, Carrie said.

I’m sick of her. Somebody says she going around trying to sing. Umph, what she got to sing about. Say she wearing dresses all up to her leg and headpieces with little balls and tassels hanging down, looking like window dressing.


My ears perk up when they mention Shug Avery. I feel like I want to talk about myself. They hush. I’m sick of her too, says Kate, letting out her breath. And you're right about Celie, here. Good housekeeper, good with children, good cook. Brother couldn’t have done better if he tried. I think about how he tried. This time Kate come by herself. She is maybe twenty-five. Old maid. She looks younger than me. Healthy. Eyes bright. Tongue sharp. Buy Celie some clothes. She says to Mr. ____. Does she need clothes? he asked.

Well, look at her. He looks at me. It's like he looks at the earth. It needs something? his eyes say.

She goes with me to the store. I think what color Shug Avery would wear. She is like a queen to me so I say to Kate, Something purple, maybe little red in it too. But our look and look and no purple. Plenty red but she says, Now, he won’t want to pay for red. Too happy looking. We got a choice of brown, maroon, or navy blue. I say blue.

I can’t remember being the first one in my own dress. Now to have one made just for me. I try to tell Kate what it means. I get hot in the face and stutter. She says.

It’s all right, Celie. You deserve more than this. Maybe so. I think. Harpo, she says. Harpo is the oldest boy. Harpo, don’t let Celie be the one to bring in all the water. You are a big boy now. Time for you to help out some. Women work, he says. What? she says.

Women work. I’m a man. You’re a trifling nigger, she says. You get that bucket and bring it back full. He cut his eye at me. Stumble out. I hear him mutter something to Mr. _____ sitting on the porch. Mr. _____ calls his sister. She stays out on the porch talking for a little while, then she comes back in, shaking. Got to go, Celie, she says. She was so mad tears be flying every which way while she packs. You got to fight them, Celie, she says. I can’t do it for you. You got to fight them for yourself.



I don’t say anything. I think bout Nettie, dead. She fights, and she runs away. What good does it do? I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive. Harpo asked his daddy why he beat him. Mr. _____ says Cause she is my wife. Plus, she is stubborn. All women are good for—he doesn’t finish.

He just tucks his chin over the paper like he does. Remind me of Pa. Harpo asking me, How come you stubborn? He doesn’t ask How come you are his wife? Nobody at that.

I say, Just born that way, I reckon. He beat me like he beat the children. Cept he doesn’t hardly beat them. He says, Celie, get the belt. The children are outside the room peeking through the cracks. It's all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you are a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man. Harpo says I Love Somebody.

I say, Huh? He says, A Girl. I say You do? He says, Yeah. We plan to marry. Marry, I say. You are not old enough to marry. I am, he says. I’m seventeen. She fifteen. Old enough. What does her mama say, I ask? Ain’t talk to her mama. What did her daddy say? Ain’t talk to him either.

 Well, what did she say? We ain’t never spoke. He ducks his head. He ain’t so bad looking. Tall and skinny, black like his mama, with great big bug eyes. Where yall see each other? I asked.

I see her in church, he says. She sees me outdoors. She likes you? I don’t know. I wink at her. She acts like she is scared to look. Where is her daddy while all this going on? Amen corner, he says.

Shug Avery is coming to town! She comes with her orchestra. She going to sing in the Lucky Star out on Coalman Road. Mr. _ going to hear her. He dresses all up in front of the glass, looks at himself, then undresses and dresses all over again. He slicks back his hair with pomade, then washes it out again. He has been spitting on his shoes and hitting them with a quick rag. He tells me, Wash this. Iron that. Look for this. Look for that. Find this. Find that. He groans over holes in his sock. I move around darning and ironing, finding hankers. Anything happening? I asked.

What do you mean? he says like he is mad. Just trying to get some of the hick farmers off myself. Any other woman is glad. I’m glad, I say. What do you mean? he asked. You look nice, I say.

Any woman is proud. You think so? he says. The first time he asked me. I’m so surprised, by the time I say Yeah, he's out on the porch, trying to shave where the light is better. I walk around all day with the announcement burning a hole in my pocket. It pink. The trees tween the turn off to our road and the store is lit up with them.

He got about five dozen in his trunk. Shug Avery standing upside a piano, elbow crook, hand on her hip. She wears a hat like an Indian Chief. Her mouth is openly showing all her teeth and don’t nothing seems to be troubling her mind. Come one, come all, it says.

The Queen Honeybee is back in town. Lord, I want to go so bad. Not to dance. Not to drink. Not to play cards. Not even to hear Shug Avery sing. I will just be thankful to lay eyes on her.



Mr. _____ be gone all night Saturday, all night Sunday, and most all day Monday. Shug Avery is in town for the weekend. He staggers in and throws himself on the bed. He tired. He said. He is weak. He cries. Then he sleeps the rest of the day and all night.

He wakes up while I’m in the field. I have been chopping cotton for three hours by the time he comes. We don’t say anything to each other. But I got a million questions to ask. What does she wear? Is she still the same old Shug, like in my picture? How her hair is? What kind of lipstick? Wig? She stout? She skinny? She sounds well? Tired? Sick? Where are you all children while she singing all over the place? Does she miss ’em? Questions are running back and forth through my mind. Feel like snakes.

I pray for strength, bite the insides of my jaws. Mr. _____ picks up a hoe and starts to chop. He chops bout three chops then he doesn’t chop again. He drops the hoe in the furrow, turns right back on his heel, walks back to the house, goes to get him a cool drink of water, gets his pipe, sits on the porch, and stares. I follow cause I think he is sick. Then he says, You better get on back to the field. Don’t wait for me


Harpo was no better at fighting his daddy back than I. Every day his dad gets up, sits on the porch and looks out at nothing. Sometimes look at the trees out front of the house. Look at a butterfly if it is light on the rail. Drink a little water during the day.

A little wine in the evening. But mostly never move. Harpo complains about all the plowing he has to do. His daddy says, Are you gonna do it? Harpo is nearly big as his daddy. He is strong in his body but weak in will. He scared. Me and him out in the field all day. We sweat, chop, and plow. I’m roasted coffee bean color now.

He was black as the inside of a chimney. His eyes are sad and thoughtful. His face begins to look like a woman's face. Why you don’t work anymore? he asked his dad.

No reason for me to. His daddy says. You here, ain't you? He says this nasty. Harpos' feeling is hurt. Plus, he is still in love.

Harpo's girl's daddy says Harpo is not good enough for her. Harpo has been courting the girl for a while. He says he sits in the parlor with her, and the daddy sits right there in the corner till everybody feels terrible. Then he goes to sit on the porch in front of the open door where he can hear everything. Nine o’clock came, and he brings Harpo his hat. Why I’m not good enough? Harpo asked Mr. _.

Mr. _____ says, Your mammy. Harpo says, What's wrong with my mammy? Mr. _____ says Somebody, kill her.

Harpo is trouble with nightmares. He sees his mama running across the pasture trying to get home. Mr. ____, the man they say is her boyfriend, catches up with her. She got Harpo by the hand. They both running and running. He grabs hold of her shoulder, and says, You can’t quit me now. You mine. She says, No I ain’t.



My place is with my children. He says, Whore, you ain’t got no place. He shoots her in the stomach. She falls down. The man runs. Harpo grabs her in his arms and puts her head on his lap. He starts to call, Mama, Mama. It wakes me up. The other children, too. They cry like their mama just die. Harpo comes to, shaking. I light the lamp and stand over him, patting his back. It's not her fault somebody kills her, he says. It not! It not! Now, I say.

It not. Everybody says how good I am to Mr. _____ children. I will be good to them. But I don’t feel anything for them. Patting Harpo's back is not even like patting a dog. It is more like putting another piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifferobe. Anyhow, they don’t love me either, no matter how good I am.

They don’t mind. Cept for Harpo they won’t work. The girl's face is always the road. Bub is out all times of night drinking with boys twice his age. The daddy puffed on his pipe. Harpo tells me all his love business now. His mind is on Sofia Butler day and night. She was pretty, he told me. Bright. Smart? Now. Bright skin. She's smart too though, I think. Sometimes we can get her away from her daddy.

I know right then the next thing I hear, she is big. If she is so smart how come she is big? I asked.

Harpo shrug. She can’t get out of the house no other way, he says.

Mr. _____ won’t let us marry. Say, I’m not good enough to come in his parlor. But if she was big I got a right to be with her, good enough or not. Where yall gon stay? They got a big place, he says.

When we marry I’ll be just like one of the family. Humph, I say.

Mr. _____ didn’t like you before she big, he ain’t gonna like you cause she big. Harpo looks troubled. Talk to Mr. ____, I say. He is your dad. Maybe he got some good advice. Maybe not. I think. Harpo brings her over to meet his daddy. Mr. _____ says he wants to have a look at her. I see ’em coming way off up the road.

They are just marching, hand in hand, like going to war. She is in front a little. They come upon the porch, I speak and move some chairs closer to the railing. She sits down and starts to fan herself with hankering. It sure is hot, she says.

Mr. _____ doesn’t say anything. He just looks her up and down. She was bout seven or eight months pregnant, bout to bust out her dress. Harpo is so black he thinks she is bright, but she ain’t that bright. Clear medium brown skin, gleam on it like on good furniture. Hair is not but a lot of it, tied up on her head in a mass of plaits.

She was not quite as tall as Harpo but much bigger, strong, and ruddy looking like her mama brought her up on pork. She says, How are you, Mr. _____? He doesn’t answer the question.

He says, Looks like you did get yourself in trouble. No such, she says. I ain’t in no trouble. Big, though. She smoothes the wrinkles over her stomach with the flats of her hands. Who is the father? he asked.

She looks surprised. Harpo, she says. How does he know that? He knows. She says. Young women are no good these days, he says. Got their legs open to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Harpo looks at his daddy like he has never seen him before. But he doesn’t say anything.



Mr. _____ says, No need to think I’m gon let my boy marry you just cause you in the family way. He is young and limited. A pretty gal like you could put anything over on him. Harpo still doesn’t say anything. Sofia's face gets ruddier. The skin moves back on her forehead. Her ears raise. But she laughs. She glances at Harpo sitting there with his head down and his hands tween his knees. She says, What do I need to marry Harpo for? He still living here with you.

What food and clothes he gets, you buy. He says, Your daddy done threw you out. Ready to live in the street I guess. She says, Now. I ain’t living in the street. I’m living with my sister and her husband. They say I can live with them for the rest of my life. She stands up, a big, strong, healthy girl, and she says, Well, nice visiting. I’m going home. Harpo gets up to come too. She says, Now, Harpo, you stay here.

 When you are free, I and the baby be waiting. He sort of hangs there between them for a while, then he sits down again. I look at her face real quick then and seems like a shadow goes across it.


Then she says to me, Mrs. ____, I’d thank you for a glass of water before I go if you don’t mind. The bucket is on the shelf right there on the porch. I get a clean glass out of the safe and dip her in some water. She drinks it down, almost in one swallow.

Then she runs her hands over her belly again and she takes off. Look like the army changed direction, and she heading off to catch up. Harpo never gets up from his chair. He and his daddy sit there and sit there and sit there. They never talk. They never move.

Finally, I have supper and go to bed. I get up in the morning it feels like they still sitting there. But Harpo is in the outhouse, Mr. _____ be shaving.

The End

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