The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 12

Every day for the past week I’ve been trying to get Corrine to remember meeting you in town. I know if she can just recall your face, she will believe Olivia (if not Adam) is your child. They think Olivia looks like me, but that is only because I look like you. Olivia has your face and eyes, exactly. It amazes me that Corrine didn’t see the resemblance.

Remember the main street of town? I asked. Remember the hitching post in front of Finley’s dry goods store? Remember how the store smelled like peanut shells?

She says she remembers all this, but no men speaking to her.

Then I remember her quilts. The Olinka men make beautiful quilts that are full of animals and birds and people. And as soon as Corrine saw them, she began to make a quilt that alternated one square of appliqued figures with one nine-patch block, using the clothes the children had outgrown, and some of her old dresses.

I went to her trunk and started hauling out quilts. Don’t touch my things, said Corrine. I’m not gone yet.

I held up first one and then another to the light, trying to find the first one I remembered her making. And trying to remember, at the same time, the dresses she and Olivia were wearing the first months I lived with them.

Aha, I said, when I found what I was looking for, and laid the quilt across the bed.

Do you remember buying these cloth? I asked, pointing to a flowered square. And what about this checkered bird? She traced the patterns with her finger, and slowly her eyes filled with tears.

She was so much like Olivia! she said. I was afraid she’d want her back. So I forgot her as soon as I could. All I let myself think about was how the clerk treated me! I was acting like somebody because I was Samuel’s wife and a Spelman Seminary graduate, and he treated me like any ordinary nigger. Oh, my feelings were hurt! And I was mad! And that’s what I thought about, even told Samuel about, on the way home. Not about your sister—what was her name?—Celie? Nothing about her.

She began to cry in earnest. Me and Samuel holding her hands.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry, I said. My sister was glad to see Olivia with you. Glad to see her alive. She thought both her children were dead.

Poor thing! said, Samuel. And we sat there talking a little and holding on to each other until Corrine fell off to sleep. But, Celie, in the middle of the night woke up, turned to Samuel, and said: I believe. And died anyway.

Your Sister in Sorrow, Nettie

 

 

Just when I think I’ve learned to live with the heat, the constant dampness, even steaminess of my clothes, the swampiness under my arms and between my legs, my friend comes. And cramps and aches and pains—but I must still keep going as if nothing is happening, or be an embarrassment to Samuel, the children, and myself. Not to mention the villagers, who think women who have their friends should not even be seen.

Right after her mother’s death, Olivia got her friend; she and Tashi tend to each other is my guess. Nothing is said to me, in any event, and I don’t know how to bring the subject up. This feels wrong to me; but if you talk to an Olinka girl about her private parts, her mother and father will be annoyed, and it is very important to Olivia not to be looked upon as an outsider. Although the one ritual they do have to celebrate womanhood is so bloody and painful, I forbid Olivia to even think about it.

Do you remember how scared I was when it first happened to me? I thought I had cut myself. But thank God you were there to tell me I was all right.

We buried Corrine in the Olinka way, wrapped in barkcloth under a large tree. All of her sweet ways went with her. All of her education and heart were intent on doing good. She taught me so much! I know I will miss her always. The children were stunned by their mother’s death. They knew she was very sick, but death is not something they think about in relation to their parents or themselves. It was a strange little procession. All of us in our white robes and with our faces painted white. Samuel is like someone lost. I don’t believe they’ve spent a night apart since their marriage.

And how are you? dear, Sister. The years have come and gone without a single word from you. Only the sky above us do we hold in common. I look at it often as if, somehow, reflected from its immensities, I will one day find myself gazing into your eyes. Your dear, large, clean, and beautiful eyes. Oh, Celie! My life here is nothing but work, work, work, and worry. What girlhood I might have had passed me by. And I have nothing of my own. No man, no children, no close friend, except for Samuel. But I do have children, Adam and Olivia. And I do have friends, Tashi and Catherine. I even have a family—this village, which has fallen on such hard times.

Now the engineers have come to inspect the territory. Two white men came yesterday and spent a couple of hours strolling about the village, mainly looking at the wells. Such is the innate politeness of the Olinka that they rushed about preparing food for them, though precious little is left since many of the gardens that flourish at this time of the year have been destroyed. And the white men sat eating as if the food was beneath notice.

It is understood by the Olinka that nothing good is likely to come from the same persons who destroyed their houses, but custom dies hard. I did not speak to the men myself, but Samuel did. He said their talk was all of the workers, kilometers of land, rainfall, seedlings, machinery, and whatnot. One seemed totally indifferent to the people around him—simply eating and then smoking and staring off into the distance—and the other, somewhat younger, appeared to be enthusiastic about learning the language. Before, he says, it dies out.

I did not enjoy watching Samuel speaking to either of them. The one who hung on every word, or the one who looked through Samuel’s head.

Samuel gave me all of Corrine’s clothes, and I need them, though none of our clothing is suitable in this climate. This is true even of the clothing the Africans wear. They used to wear very little, but the ladies of England introduced the Mother Hubbard, a long, cumbersome, ill-fitting dress, completely shapeless, that inevitably gets dragged in the fire, causing burns aplenty. I have never been able to bring myself to wear one of these dresses, which all seem to have been made with giants in mind, so I was glad to have Corrine’s things. At the same time, I dreaded putting them on. I remembered her saying we should stop wearing each other’s clothes. And the memory pained me.

Are you sure Sister Corrine would want this? I asked Samuel.

Yes, Sister Nettie, he said. Try not to hold her fears against her. In the end, she understood and believed. And forgave—whatever there was to forgive.

I should have said something sooner, I said.

He asked me to tell him about you, and the words poured out like water. I was dying to tell someone about us. I told him about my letters to you every Christmas and Easter, and about how much it would have meant to us if he had gone to see you after I left. He was sorry he hesitated to become involved.

If only I’d understood then what I know now! he said.

But how could he? There is so much we don’t understand. And so much unhappiness comes because of that.

love and Merry Christmas

to you, Your sister, Nettie

What message was Biden sending to Putin?

 

I don’t write to God anymore. I write to you. What happens to God? ask Shug.

Who that? I say.

She looks at me seriously.

Big a devil as you is, I say, you not worried bout no God, surely.

She says, Waits a minute. Hold on just a minute here. Just because I don’t harass it as some peoples know don’t mean I ain’t got religion.

What does God do for me? I asked.

She says, Celie! Like she was shocked. He gave you life, good health, and a good woman that love you to death.

Yeah, I say, and he gives me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I have been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other men I know. Trifling, forgetful, and lowdown.

She says, Miss Celie, You better hush. God might hear you.

Let ‘im hear me, I say. If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you. She talks and she talks, trying to budge my way from blasphemy. But I blaspheme much as I want to.

All my life I never care what people thought bout anything I did, I say. But deep in my heart, I care about God. What is he going to think? And come to find out, he doesn’t think. Just sit up there glorying in being deaf, I reckon. But it ain’t easy, trying to do without God. Even if you know he ain’t there, trying to do without him is a strain.

I am a sinner, say Shug. Cause I was born. I don’t deny it. But once you find out what’s out there waiting for us, what else can you be?

Sinners have more good times, I say. Do you know why? she asked.

Cause you ain’t all the time worrying bout God, I say.

Naw, that ain’t it, she says. We worry bout God a lot. But once we feel loved by God, we do the best we can to please him with what we like.

You telling me God loves you, and you ain’t never done nothing for him? I mean, not go to church, sing in the choir, feed the preacher, and all like that?

But if God loves me, Celie, I don’t have to do all that. Unless I want to. There’s a lot of other things I can do that I speck God likes.

Like what? I asked.

Oh, she says. I can lay back and just admire stuff. Be happy. Have a good time. Well, this sounds like blasphemy sure Nuff.

She says, Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.

Some folks didn’t have him to share, I said. They were the ones who didn’t speak to me while I was there struggling with my big belly and Mr. children.

Right, she says.

Then she says: Tell me what your God looks like, Celie.

Aw now, I say. I’m too shame. Nobody ever asked me this before, so I’m sort of taken by surprise. Besides, when I think about it, it doesn’t seem quite right. But it all I got. I decide to stick up for him, just to see what Shug says.

Okay, I say. He is big and old and tall and gray-bearded and white. He wears white robes and goes barefooted. Blue eyes? she asked.

Sort of bluish-gray. Cool. Big though. White lashes. I say. She laughs.

Why do you laugh? I asked. I don’t think it is so funny. What do you expect him to look like, Mr.?

That wouldn’t be any improvement, she says. Then she tell me this old white man is the same God she used to see when she prayed. If you wait to find God in church, Celie, she say, that’s who is bound to show up, cause that’s where he lives.

How come? I asked.

Cause that’s the one that’s in the white folks’ white bible.

Shug! I say. God wrote the bible, white folks had nothing to do with it.

How come he looks just like them, then? she says. Only bigger? And a heap more hair. How come the bible just like everything else they make, all about them doing one thing and another, and all the colored folks doing is getting cursed ?

 

 

I never thought bout that.

Nettie says somewhere in the bible it says Jesus’ hair was like lamb’s wool, I say.

Well, say Shug, if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he’d have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think about their God is that his hair is kinky.

That’s the truth, I say.

Ain’t no way to read the bible and not think God white, she says. Then she sighs. When I found out I thought God was white, and a man, I lost interest. You're mad cause he doesn’t seem to listen to your prayers. Humph! Does the mayor listen to anything colored say? Ask Sofia, she says.

But I don’t have toast Sofia. I know white people never listen to colored, period. If they do, they only listen long enough to be able to tell you what to do.

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only those that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifests itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit.

It? I asked.

Yeah, It. God ain’t he or she, but an It. But what does it look like? I asked.

Don’t look like anything, she said. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It.

Shug a beautiful something, let me tell you. She frowns a little, looks out across the yard, leans back in her chair, looking like a big rose.

She says, My first step from the old white man was trees. Then air. Then birds. Then other people. But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. When it happens, you can’t miss it. It's sort of like you know what, she says, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.

Shug! I say.

Oh, she says. God loves all their feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going on, and praise God by liking what you like.

God doesn’t think it dirty? I asked.

Naw, she says. God made it. Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God loves admiration.

Are you saying God is vain? I asked

Naw, she says. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

What does it do when it is pissed off? I asked.

Oh, it makes something else. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she says. It always makes little surprises and springs them on us when we least expect them. You mean it wants to be loved, just like the bible says.

Yes, Celie, she says. Everything wants to be loved. We sing and dance, make faces, and give flower bouquets, trying to be loved. Have you ever noticed that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

Well, we talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift.

Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I have been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice anything God makes. Not a blade of corn (how does it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.

Now that my eyes opening, I feel like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr.’s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug says, You have to git man off your eyeball before you can see anything at all.

Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He is on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He tries to make you think he is everywhere. Soon as you think he is everywhere, you think he is God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plops himself on the other end of it, tell him to get lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock.

But this hard work, let me tell you. He's been there so long, he won't want to budge. He threatens lightning, floods, and earthquakes. Our fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it.

Amen

Mystery of a 7,000-year-old woman

 

 

When I told Shug I’m writing to you instead of to God, she laugh. Nettie doesn’t know these people, she says. Considering who I have been writing to, this strikes me funny.

It was Sofia you saw working as the mayor’s maid. The woman you saw carrying the white woman’s packages that day in town. Sofia Mr.’s son Harpo’s wife. Police lock her up for sassing the mayor’s wife and hitting the mayor back. First, she was in prison working in the laundry and dying fast. Then we got her move to the mayor’s house. She had to sleep in a little room up under the house, but it was better than prison. Flies, maybe, but no rats.

Anyhow, they kept her eleven and a half years, give her six months off for good behavior so she could come home early to her family. Her bigger children are married and gone, and her littlest children are mad at her, don’t know who she is. Think she acts funny, looks old, and dote on that little white gal she raises.

Yesterday we all had dinner at Odessa’s house. Odessa Sofia’s sister. She raises the kids. Her and her husband Jack. Harpo’s woman Squeak, and Harpo himself.

Sofia sits down at the big table like there’s no room for her. Children reach across her like she is not there. Harpo and Squeak act like an old married couple. Children call Odessa mama. Call Squeak little mama. Call Sofia “Miss.” The only one who seems to pay her any attention at all is Harpo and Squeak’s little girl, Suzie Q. She sits cross from Sofia and squinches up her eyes at her. As soon as dinner was over, Shug push back her chair and light a cigarette. Now is come the time to tell yall, she says.

Tell us what? Harpo asked.

Us leaving, she says.

Yeah? say Harpo, looking around for the coffee. And then looking over at Grady.

Us leaving, Shug says again. Mr. look struck like he always looks when Shug says she going anywhere. He reaches down and rubs his stomach, looking offside her head like nothing has been said.

Grady says, Such good people, that’s the truth. The salt of the earth. But—time to move on.

Squeak not saying anything. She got her chin glued to her plate. I’m not saying anything either. I’m waiting for the feathers to fly.

Celie is coming with us, say Shug.

Mr.’s head swivels back straight. Say what? he asked. Celie is coming to Memphis with me.

Over my dead body, Mr. says.

You satisfied that what you want, Shug says, cool as clabber.

Mr. starts up from his seat, looks at Shug, plop back down again. He looks over at me. I thought you were finally happy, he say. What's wrong now?

You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong, I say. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body is just the welcome mat I need.

Say what? he asked. Shock.

All around the table folks' mouths be dropping open.

You took my sister Nettie away from me, I say. And she was the only person who love me in the world. Mr. starts to sputter. ButButButButBut. Sound like some kind of motor.

But Nettie and my children coming home soon, I say. And when she do, all us together gon whup your ass. Nettie and your children! say Mr.      . You talking crazy.

I got children, I say. Being brought up in Africa. Good schools, lots of fresh air and exercise. Turning out a heap better than the fools you didn’t even try to raise.

Hold on, say Harpo.

Oh, hold on hell, I say. If you hadn’t tried to rule over Sofia the white folks never would have caught her. Sofia was so surprised to hear me speak up she ain’t chewed for ten minutes.

That’s a lie, say Harpo.

A little truth in it, say Sofia.

Everybody looks at her like they are surprised she is there. It is like a voice speaking from the grave.

You were all rotten children, I say. You made my life a hell on earth. And your daddy here ain’t dead horse’s shit. Mr. reaches over to slap me. I jab my case knife in his hand.

You bitch, he says. What will people say, you running off to Memphis like you don’t have a house to look after?

Shug says, Albert. Try to think like you got some sense. Why any woman gives a shit what people think is a mystery to me. Well, say, Grady, trying to bring light. A woman can’t get a man if people talk.

Shug look at me and us giggle. Then we laugh sure Nuff. Then Squeak starts to laugh. Then Sofia. All of us laugh and laugh. Shug says, Ain’t they something? We say um hum, and slap the table, wipe the water from our eyes.

 

 

Harpo looks at Squeak. Shut up Squeak, he says. It is bad luck for women to laugh at men. She says, Okay. She sits up straight, sucks in her breath, tries to press her face together.

He looks at Sofia. She looks at him and laughs in his face. I already had my bad luck, she say. I had enough to keep me laughing for the rest of my life.

Harpo looks at her like he did the night she knock Mary Agnes down. A little spark flies across the table. I got six children by this crazy woman, he mutter.

Five, she says.

He outdid he can’t even say, Say what?

He looks over at the youngest child. She is sullen, mean, mischievous, and too stubborn to live in this world. But he loves her best of all. Her name is Henrietta.

Henrietta, he says.

She says, Yesssss ... as they say it on the radio.

Everything she says confuses him. Nothing, he says. Then he says, Goes get me a cool glass of water. She doesn’t move.

Please, he says.

She goes git the water, puts it by his plate, gives him a peck on the cheek. Say, Poor Daddy. Sit back down. You not getting a penny of my money, Mr. says to me. Not one thin dime.

Did I ever ask you for money? I say. I never ask you for anything. Not even for your sorry hand in marriage.

Shug break in right there. Wait, she says. Hold it. Somebody else going with us too. No use in Celie being the only one taking the weight.

Everybody sort of cut their eyes at Sofia. She is the one they can’t quite find a place for. She the stranger.

It ain’t me, she says, and her look-say, Fuck you for entertaining the thought. She reaches for a biscuit and sort of roots her behind deeper into her seat. One look at this big stout graying, wild-eyed woman and you know not even toast. Nothing. But just to clear this up neat and quick, she said, I’m home. Period.

Her sister Odessa come and put her arms around her. Jack moves up close. Course you are, Jack says.

Mama crying? ask one of Sofia's children. Miss Sofia too, another one says.

But Sofia cries quickly like she does most things. Who going? she asked.

Nobody says anything. It is so quiet you can hear the embers dying back in the stove. Sound like they falling in on each other. Finally, Squeak looks at everybody from under her bangs. Me, she says. I’m going North.

Are you going What? say Harpo. He was so surprised. He begins to sputter, sputter, just like his daddy. Sound like I don’t know what. I want to sing, say Squeak.

Sing! say Harpo.

Yeah, say Squeak. Sing. I ain’t sung in public since Jolentha was born. Her name is Jolentha. They call her Suzie Q. You ain’t had to sing in public since Jolentha was born. Everything you need I done provided for.

I need to sing, say Squeak.

Listen Squeak, say Harpo. You can’t go to Memphis. That’s all there is to it. Mary Agnes, say Squeak.

Squeak, Mary Agnes, what difference do it make?

It makes a lot, say Squeak. When I was Mary Agnes I could sing in public. Just then a little knock comes on the door.

Odessa and Jack look at each other. Come in, say, Jack.

A skinny little white woman sticks most of herself through the door. Oh, you all are eating dinner, she says. Excuse me.

That’s all right, say Odessa. Us just finishing up. But there’s plenty left. Why don’t you sit down and join us? Or I could fix you something to eat on the porch.

Oh lord, say Shug.

It Eleanor Jane, the white girl Sofia used to work for.

She looks around till she spots Sofia, then she seems to let her breath out. No thank you, Odessa, she says. I ain’t hungry. I just come to see Sofia.

Sofia, she says. Can I see you on the porch for a minute?

All right, Miss Eleanor, she says. Sofia pushes back from the table and they go out on the porch. A few minutes later we hear Miss Eleanor sniffling. Then she boo-hoo.

What the matter with her? Mr. ask.

Henrietta says, Prob-limbszzzz... like somebody on the radio.

 

Three Ways To Get Back At An Ex Who Really Hurt You

 

Odessa shrug. She is always underfoot, she says.

A lot of drinking in that family, said, Jack. Plus, they can’t keep that boy of theirs in college. He gets drunk, aggravates his sister, chase women, hunt niggers, and that ain’t all.

That enough, say Shug. Poor Sofia.

Pretty soon Sofia comes back in and sits down. What the matter? ask Odessa.

A lot of mess back at the house says Sofia. Did you get to go back up there? Odessa asked.

Yeah, say Sofia. In a few minutes. But I’ll try to be back before the children go to bed. Henrietta ask to be excused, saying she got a stomach ache.

Squeak and Harpo’s little girl come over, look up at Sofia, say, You gotta go Misofia? Sofia says, Yeah, pull her up on her lap. Sofia is on parole, she says. Got to act nice.

Suzie Q lay her head on Sofia's chest. Poor Sofia, she says, just like she heard Shug. Poor Sofia. Mary Agnes, darling, say Harpo, look how Suzie Q take to Sofia.

Yeah, say Squeak, children know good when they see it. She and Sofia smile at one another. Go on sing, say Sofia, I’ll look after this one till you come back.

You will? say Squeak.

Yeah, say Sofia.

And look after Harpo, too, say Squeak. Please, ma’am.

Amen

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