The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 5

The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 5
The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 5

Sofia is right about her sisters. They are all big strong healthy girls, look like amazons. They come early one morning in two wagons to pick Sofia up. She doesn’t have much to take, her and the children's clothes, a mattress she made last winter, a looking glass, and a rocking chair. The children.

Harpo sits on the steps acting like he doesn’t care. He is making a net for seining fish. He looks out toward the creek every once in a while and whistles a little tune. But it's nothing compared to the way he usually whistles. His little whistle sounded like it lost its way down in a jar and the jar at the bottom of the creek.

At the last minute, I decide to give Sofia the quilt. I don’t know what her sister's place is like, but we have been having right-smart cold weather long now. For all I know, she and the children have to sleep on the floor.

Are you gon let her go? I asked Harpo.

He looks like only a fool could ask the question. He puffs back, She made up her mind to go, he says. How am I’m gon stop her? Let her go on, he said, cutting his eyes at her sister's wagons.

We sit on the steps together. All we hear from inside is the thump, thump, thump of plump and stout feet. All of Sofia's sisters moving around together at one time make the house shake.

Where are we going? ask the oldest girl. Going to visit Aunt Odessa, say Sofia. Daddy coming? she asked.

Now, say Sofia.

How come daddy ain’t coming? another one asks.

Daddy needs to stay here and take care of the house. Look after Dilsey, Coco, and Boo. The child comes to stand in front of his daddy and just looks at him real good.

Are you not coming? he says.

Harpo says, Naw.

A child goes whispers to the baby crawling around on the floor, Daddy not coming with us, what do you think of that. Babysit real still, strain real hard, fart.

We all laugh, but it is sad too. Harpo picks it up, fingers the daily, and gets her ready for a change. I don’t think she wet, say Sofia. Just gas.

But he changes her anyway. He and the baby are over in a corner of the little porch out of the way of traffic. He uses the old dry daddie to wipe his eyes.

At the last, he hands Sofia the baby and she slings it upside her hip, slings a sack of daddies and food over her shoulder, corrals all the little ones together, and tells ’em to Say Goodbye to Daddy. Then she hugs me the best she can what with the baby and all, and she clams up on the wagon. Every sister just about got a child to tween her knees, cept the two driving the mules, and they all quiet as they leave Sofia and Harpo's yard and drive on up past the house.

Sofia went for six months, and Harpo acts like a different man. Used to be a homebody, but now all the time on the road. I asked him what going on. He says, Miss Celie, I done learned a few things.

One thing he learned is that he is cute. Another is that he is smart. Plus, he can make money. He doesn’t say who the teacher is.

I hadn’t heard so much hammering since before Sofia left, but every evening after he leaves the field, he knocked down and nailed up. Sometimes his friend Swain comes by to help. The two of them work all into the night. Mr. has to call down to tell them to shut up the racket.


What are you building? I asked.

Juke joint, he says.

Way back here?

No further back than any of the others.

I don’t know anything bout any others, only bout the Lucky Star.

Juke joint sposed to be back in the woods, says Harpo. Nobody is bothered by the loud music. The dancing. The fights. Swain says, the killings.

Harpo says, and the police don’t know where to look.

What is Sofia gon say bout what you doing to her house? I asked. Spouse she and the children come back. Where they gon sleep.

They ain’t coming back, says Harpo, nailing together planks for a counter. How do you know? I asked.

He doesn’t answer. He keeps working, doing everything with Swain.

The first week, nobody comes. The second week, three or four. The third week, one. Harpo sits behind his little counter listening to Swain pick his box.


He got cold drinks, he got barbecue, he got chitlins, got store-bought bread. He got a sign saying Harpo’s tacked up on the side of the house and another one out on the road. But he ain’t got no customers.

I go down the path to the yard, stand outside, and look in. Harpo looks out and waves. Come on in, Miss Celie, he says.

I say, Naw thank you.

Mr. sometimes walks down, has a cold drink, and listens to Swain. Miss Shug walks down too, every once in a while. She still wearing her little shifts, and I still cornrow her hair, but it getting long now and she says soon she wants it pressed.

Harpo Puzzle by Shug. One reason is she says whatever comes to mind, forget about politeness. Sometimes I see him staring at her really hard when he doesn’t think I’m looking.

One day he says, Nobody coming way out here just to hear Swain. Wonder if could I get the Queen Honeybee?

I don’t know, I said. She is a lot better now, always humming or singing something. She probably is glad to get back to work. Why don’t you ask her?


Shug says his place is not much compared to what she used to, but she thinks maybe she might grace it with a song.

Harpo and Swain got Mr. to give ’em some of Shug's old announcements from out the trunk. Crossed out The Lucky Star of Coalman Road, put in Harpo’s of the plantation. Stuck ’em on trees tween the turn off to our road and town. The first Saturday night so many folks come they couldn’t get in.

Shug, Shug baby, we thought you were dead. Five out of a dozen say hello to Shug like that.

And come to find out it was you, Shug says with a big grin.

At last, I get to see Shug Avery's work. I get to watch her. I get to hear her.

Mr. didn’t want me to come. Wives don’t go to places like that, he says.

Yeah, but Celie going, says Shug, while I press her hair. Suppose I get sick while I’m singing, she says. Does spouse my dress come undone? She wearing a skintight red dress that looks like the straps are made out of two pieces of thread.

Mr. mutter, putting on his clothes. My wife can’t do this. My wife can’t do that. No wife of mine... He goes on and on.


Shug Avery finally says Good thing I ain’t your damn wife.

He hushes then. All three of us go down to Harpo’s. Mr. and I sit at the same table. Mr. drinks whiskey. I have a cold drink.

First Shug sings a song by somebody name Bessie Smith. She says Bessie is somebody she knows. Old friend. It calls A Good Man Is Hard to Find. She looks over at Mr. a little when she sings that. I look over at him too. For such a little man, he all puffs up. Look like all he can do to stay in his chair. I look at Shug and I feel my heart begin to cramp. It hurt me so, I cover it with my hand. I think I might as well be under the table, for all they care. I hate the way I look, I hate the way I dress. Nothing but churchgoing clothes in my chifferobe. And Mr. looked at Shug’s bright black skin in her tight red dress, her feet in little sassy red shoes. Her hair shone in waves.

Before I know it, tears meet under my chin. And I’m confused.

He loves looking at Shug. I love looking at Shug. But Shug doesn’t love looking at but one of us. Him.


But that is the way it poses to be. I know that. But if that is so, why did my heart hurt me so? My head droops so it is near bout in my glass.

Then I hear my name.

Shug saying, Celie. Miss Celie. And I look up where she at.

She says my name again. She says this song I’m bout to sing is called Miss Celie’s song. Cause she scratched it out of my head when I was sick.

First, she hums it a little, as she does at home. Then she sings the words.

It's all about some no-count man doing her wrong, again. But I don’t listen to that part. I look at her and I hum along a little with the tune.

The first time somebody made something and name it after me.

Pretty soon it is time for Shug to go. She sings every weekend now at Harpo’s. He makes right smart money off of her, and she makes some too. Plus she getting strong again and stout. The first night or two her songs come out good but a little weak, now she belts them out. Folks out in the yard hear her with no trouble. She and Swain sound good together. She sings, and he picks up his box. It's nice at Harpo’s. Little tables all around the room with candles on them that I made, and a lot of little tables outside too, by the creek. Sometimes I look down the path from our house and it looks like a swarm of lightning bugs all in and through Sofia's house. In the evening Shug can’t wait to go down there.


One day she says to me, Well, Miss Celie, I believe it's time for me to go. When? I asked.

Early next month, she says. June. June is a good time to go off into the world. I don’t say anything. Feel like I felt when Nettie left.

She comes over and puts her hand on my shoulder. He beat me when you not here, I say.

Who does, she says, Albert?

Mr., I say.

I can’t believe it, she says. She sits down on the bench next to me really hard, as she drops. What did he beat you for? she asked.

For being me and not you.

Oh, Miss Celie, she says, and put her arms around me.

We sit like that for maybe half an hour. Then she kisses me on the fleshy part of my shoulder and stands up. I won’t leave, she says, until I know Albert won’t even think about beating you.

Now we all know she going sometime soon, and they sleep together at night. Not every night, but almost every night, from Friday to Monday.


He goes down to Harpo’s to watch her sing. And just to look at her. Then way late they come home. They giggle and they talk and they rassle until morning. Then they go to bed until it is time for her to get ready to go back to work.

The first time it happens, it was an accident. Feeling just carried them away. That's what Shug says. He doesn’t say anything. She asked me, Tells me the truth, she says, do you mind if Albert sleeps with me?

I think I don’t care who Albert sleeps with. But I don’t say that. I say You might get big again.

She says, Naw, not with my sponge and all. You still love him, I ask.

She says I got what you call a passion for him. If I was ever going to have a husband he’d a been it. But he is weak, she says. Can’t make up his mind about what he wants. And from what you tell me he is a bully. Some things I love about him though, she says. The smell is right to me. He was so little. He makes me laugh.

Do you like to sleep with him? I asked.

Yeah, Celie she says, I have to confess, I just love it. Don’t you? Now, I say. Mr. can tell you, I don’t like it at all.


What is it like? He git upon you, heists your nightgown around your waist, and plunges in. Most times I pretend I ain’t there. He never knows the difference. Never ask me how I feel, nothing. Just do his business, get off, and go to sleep.

She starts to laugh. Do his business, she said. Do his business. Why, Miss Celie. You make it sound like he going to the toilet on you.

That's what it feels like, I say.

She stops laughing.

Do you never enjoy it at all? she asked, puzzled. Not even with your children's daddy? Never, I say.

Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin. What? I asked.

Listen, she said, right down there in your pussy is a little button that gets really hot when you do you know what with somebody. It got hotter and hotter and then it melts. That's the good part. But other parts are good too, she says. A lot of sucking going on, here and there, she says. Lots of finger and tongue work.

Button? Finger and tongue? My face was hot enough to melt.


She says, Here, take this mirror and go look at yourself down there, I bet you've never seen it, have you? Naw.

And I bet you saw Albert down there either. I felt him, I say.

I stand there with the mirror.

She says, What, to shame even to go off and look at yourself? And you look so cute too, she says, laughing. All dressed up for Harpo’s, smelling good and everything, but scared to look at your pussy.

You come with me while I look, I say.

And we run off to my room like two little prankish girls. You guard the door, I say.

She giggles. Okay, she says. Nobody coming. Coast clear.

I lie back on the bed and haul up my dress. Yank down my bloomers. Stick the looking glass tween my legs. Ugh. All that hair. Then my pussy lips are black. Then inside look like a wet rose.

It's a lot prettier than you thought, ain’t it? she says from the door. It's mine, I say. Where is the button?

Right up near the top, she says. The part that sticks out a little.

I look at her and touch it with my finger. A little shiver goes through me. Nothing much. But just enough to tell me this is the right button to mash. Maybe.

She says, While you looking, look at your breasts too. I haul up my dress and look at my titties. Think bout my babies sucking them. Remember the little shiver I felt then too. Sometimes a big shiver. The best part about having the babies was feeding ’em.

Albert and Harpo coming, she says. And I yank up my drawers and yank down my dress. I feel like us been doing something wrong.

I don’t care if you sleep with him, I say. And she takes me at my word.

I take myself at my word too.

But when I hear them together all I can do is pull the quilt over my head and finger my little button and titties and cry.


One night while Shug sang a hot one, who should come prancing through the door of Harpo’s but Sofia. She with a big tall hefty man look like a prizefighter.


She is usually a stout and bouncy self.

Oh, Miss Celie, she cries. It's so good to see you again. It's even good to see Mr., she says. She takes one of his hands. Even if his handshake is a little weak, she says.

He acts really glad to see her.

Here, pull up a chair, he says. Have a cold drink. Gimme a shot of white lightning, she says.

Prizefighter pulls up a chair, straddles it backward, and hugs Sofia like they are at home.

I see Harpo across the room with his little yellow skin girlfriend. He looks at Sofia like she has a hand. This Henry Broadnax, Sofia says. Everybody calls him Buster. A good friend of the family.

How are you all? he says. He smiles pleasantly and we keep listening to the music. Shug wearing a gold dress that shows her titties near bout to the nipple. Everybody sorta hoping something breaks. But that dress is strong.

Man oh man, say Buster. The fire department won’t do. Somebody call the Law. Mr. whisper to Sofia. Where are your children at? 

She whispers back, My children at home, were yours? He doesn’t say anything.

Both the girls bigged and gone. Bub is in and out of jail. If his grandaddy wasn’t the colored uncle of the sheriff who looks just like Bub, Bubbe Lynch by now.

I can’t get over how good Sofia looks.

Most women with five children look a little peaked, I say to her across the table when Shug finishes her song. You look like you are ready for five more.

Oh, she said, I got six children now, Miss Celie. Six. I am shocked.

She tosses her head and looks over at Harpo. Life doesn’t stop just cause you to leave home, Miss Celie. You know that.

My life stop when I left home, I think. But then I think again. It stops with Mr. Maybe but starts up again with Shug. Shug comes over and she and Sofia hug.

Shug says, Girl, you look like a good time, you do.

That is when I notice how Shug talks and acts sometimes like a man. Men say stuff like that to women, Girl, you look like a good time. Women always talk bout hair and health. How many babies living or dead, or got teef. Not bout how some woman they hugging on looks like a good time.

All the men got their eyes glued to Shug’s bosom. I got my eyes glued there too. I feel my nipples harden under my dress. My little button sort of perks up too. Shug, I say to her in my mind, Girl, you look like a real good time, the Good Lord knows you do.

What are you doing here? asked Harpo.

Sofia says, Come to hear Miss Shug. You got a nice place here Harpo. She looks around. This and that her eyes admire. Harpo says It's just a candle, a woman with five children hanging out in a juke joint at night.

Sofia's eyes go cool. She looks him up and down.

Since he quit stuffing himself, he gained a bunch of weight, face, head, and all, mostly from drinking homebrew and eating left-over barbecue. By now he was just about her size.

A woman needs a little fun, once in a while, she says. A woman needs to be at home, he says.

She says This is my home. Though I do think it goes better as a juke-joint.

Harpo looks at the prizefighter. Prizefighter pushes back his chair a little and picks up his drink. I don’t fight Sofia's battle, he says. My job is to love her and take her where she wants to go. Harpo breathes some relief.


Let’s dance, he said.

Sofia laughs, and git up. Put both arms around his neck. They slowly drag out across the floor.

Harpo's little yellowish girlfriend sulks, hanging over the bar. She is a nice girl, friendly and everything, but she likes me. She does anything Harpo says.

He gives her a little nickname, too, and calls her Squeak. Pretty soon Squeak got up her nerve to try to cut in.

Harpo tries to turn Sofia so she can’t see. But Squeak keeps on tapping and tapping on his shoulder.

Finally, he and Sofia stop dancing. They are bout two feet from our table.

Shug says, uh-oh, and points with her chin, something bout to blow right there. Who dis woman, says Squeak, in this little tendency voice.

You know who she is, says Harpo.

Squeak turns to Sofia. Say, You better leave him alone. Sofia says, Fine with me. She turns around to leave.

Harpo grabs her by the arm. Say, You don’t have to go anywhere. Hell, this is your house.

Squeak says, What you mean, Dis her house? She walks out on you. Walk away from the house. It's over now, she says to Sofia.

Sofia says, Fine with me. Try to pull away from Harpo's grip. He holds her tight. Listen Squeak, say Harpo, Can’t a man dance with his own wife?

Squeak says, Not if he is my man he can’t. You hear that bitch, she says to Sofia.

Sofia getting a little tired of Squeak, I can tell by her ears. They sort of push back. But she says again, sorta ends of argument like Hey, fine with me.

Squeak slaps her up across the head.

What she does do that for. Sofia doesn’t even deal with little ladyish things such as slaps. She balls up her fist, drawback, and knocks two of Squeak’s side beef out. Squeak hit the floor. One two hanging on her lip, the other one upside my cold drink glass. Then Squeak starts banging on Harpo's leg with her shoe.

You get that bitch out of here, she cries, blood and slobber running down her chin.

Harpo and Sofia stand side by side looking down at Squeak, but I don’t think they hear her. Harpo still holding Sofia's arm. Maybe half a minute goes by. Finally, he turns loose her arm, reaches down, and cradles poor little Squeak in his arms. He coos and coos at her like she was a baby.

Sofia comes over and git the prizefighter. They go out the door and don’t look back. Then we hear a car motor start.


Harpo mope. Wipe the counter, light a cigarette, look outdoors, and walk up and down. Little Squeak runs long all up under him trying to get his tension. Baby this, she says, Baby that. Harpo looks through her head, blowing smoke.

Squeak comes over to the corner where me and Mr. at. She got two bright gold teeth on the side of her mouth and generally grins all the time. Now she cries. Miss Celie, she say, What the matter with Harpo?

Sofia is in jail, I say.

In jail? She looks like I saw Sofia on the moon. What is she in jail for? she asked.

Passing the mayor’s wife, I say.

Squeak pulls up a chair. Look down my throat.

What is your real name? I asked her. She says, Mary Agnes.

Make Harpo call you by your real name, I say. Then maybe he sees you even when he has trouble. She looks at me puzzled. I let it go. I tell her what one of Sofia's sisters tells me and Mr.

Sofia and the prizefighter and all the children got in the prizefighter's car and went to town. Clam out on the street looking like somebody. Just then the mayor and his wife come by.


All these children, say the mayor’s wife, digging in her pocketbook. Cute as little buttons though, she says. She stops and puts her hand on one of the children's heads. Say, and such strong white teeth.

Sofia and the prizefighter don’t say anything. Wait for her to pass. Mayor waits too, stands back, and taps his foot, watching her with a little smile. Now, Millie, he says. Always going on over colored. Miss Millie fingers the children some more, and finally, looks at Sofia and the prizefighter. She looks at the prizefighter car. She eyes Sofia's wristwatch. She says to Sofia, All your children are so clean, she says, would you like to work for me, be my maid?

Sofia says, Hell no.

She says, What you say?

Sofia says, Hell no.

Mayor looks at Sofia and pushes his wife out of the way. Stick out his chest. Girl, what do you say to Miss Millie? Sofia says I say, Hell no.

He slaps her.

I stop telling it right there.

Squeak is on the edge of her seat. She waits. Look down my throat some more.

No need to say no more, Mr. says. You know what happens if somebody slaps Sofia. The squeak goes white as a sheet. Naw, she says.

Naw nothing, I say. Sofia knocks the man down.

The polices come, start slinging the children of the mayor, and bang their head together. Sofia starts to fight. They drag her to the ground.

This far as I can go with it, look like. My eyes get full of water and my throat close. Poor Squeak all scrunch down in her chair, trembling.

They beat Sofia, Mr. says.

Squeak fly up like she sprung, run over hind the counter to Harpo, and put her arms around him. They hang out together for a long time and cry.

What does the prizefighter do in all this? I asked Sofia's sister, Odessa.

He wants to jump in, she says. Sofia says No, take the children home.

Police have their guns on him anyway. With one move, he dead. Six of them, you know. Mr. Go pleaded with the sheriff to let us see Sofia.

Bub is in so much trouble and looks so much like the sheriff, and he and Mr. are almost on family terms. Just long as Mr.      

know he colored.

Sheriff says, She a crazy woman, your boy’s wife. Do you know that? Mr. says, Yassur, we do know it. Been trying to tell

Harpo was crazy for twelve years. Since way before they marry. Sofia comes from crazy people, Mr. says, it is not all her fault. And then again, the sheriff knows how women are, anyhow.

The sheriff thinks bout the women he knows, and says, Yep, you right there.

Mr. says We gon tell her she crazy too if we ever do get in to see her. Sheriff says, Well make sure you do. And tell her she is lucky she is alive.

When I see Sofia I don’t know why she is still alive. They crack her skull, they crack her ribs. They tear her nose loose on one side. They blind her in one eye. She swole from head to foot. Her tongue is the size of my arm, it sticks out tween her teeth

like a piece of rubber. She can’t talk. And she is just about the color of an eggplant.

Scare me so bad I'm near bout to drop my grip. But I don’t. I put it on the floor of the cell, take out a comb and brush, a nightgown, witch hazel, and alcohol and I start to work on her. The colored pendant brings me water to wash her with, and I start at her two little slits for eyes.

( Keywords )

the color purple who is mister in the color purple i said hell naw color purple harpo the color purple squeak the color purple the color purple book color purple you told harpo to beat me famous color purple lines

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