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The Coat
 

Flannery O'Connor on 2001-07-24 23:08 [#00017678]



The Coat

Rosa found him rolled over in the mud down by the gully. She
started. The wash basket fell off her head and six white
shirts-washed, pressed, and folded-flapped face-down in the
mud. One of them was in reach of his hand, a rigid, immobile
hand, strangely white against the soft red clay it lay in.
She felt like sinking into the clay herself. It had taken
her all afternoon to iron them shirts. She picked them up
except the one that almost touched him. She fished that up
with a stick and drop ped it into the basket. Then she
looked at him again. He seemed almost to have been pressed
down in the clay, his thin body and outstretched arms
forming a weird white cross in relief on the red.
Light-colored trousers clung to his wet body and Rosa notic
ed that a thin coating of ice had begun to form around his
arms and back.
He had on no coat.

"Whoever killed him ain't lef' nothin' for nobody else," she
muttered. "Done took the coat offen his back. These niggers
'round here ain't got no sense." Allus got caught in some
devilment an' got theysevs in the 'lectric chair. 'Thout
gittin' nothin' out it neither. Niggers was funny that way,
she mused. Wonder howcome she was different? Allus had been.
Even when she was little, she was brightern Lizzie an' Boon.
She was scrawny but she was bright. And scrawny as she was,
she had got Abram. Strongest nig ger in Bell's Quarters was
hers. He was devilish like the rest of 'em, but, Lord, that
nigger was strong! He could er strangled that man there wit
one er his hans. She looked down at the cross
apprehensively. Might er done it too 'cepin' he had gone in
to wn for keresene an' that had carried him t'other way.
This would be one time Abram wouldn't be mess up in nothin'.
He warn't a bad nigger, couldn't help stealin' now an' then,
er gittin' hissef drunk, er fightin'. It was in his blood
like sense was in her s. Abram had sense too-almost as much
as she had- when he warn't drunk; but git that nigger drunk
and he'd forget he a king an' gonna git him a throne
someday. Him an' her-they gonna have 'em a throne, Abram
say. He gonna git 'em a throne. Would too. Long 's he won't
drunk an' didn't git hissef in trouble. But he warn't mess
up in this killin' here. This was some other nigger's doin',
er maybe a white man's. Maybe.
Vaguely she wondered if they might think she had killed the
man.
They sho would if they seen her tracks leadin' up to him.
Now how they gonna know them her tracks? They warn't God
Amighty. Rosa put the basket on her head again and went back
home.
She was sorting the Grocery-Store-Wilkinson's wash from the
Sheriff-Thomases when Abram came in. She heard three, slow,
deliberate footsteps and thought it was someone else. Then
the door creaked and he peered in. She knew he was drunk by
the way he opene d the door. If it had weighed a hundred, he
couldn't have done it more slowly. Cheap wine-allus got him.
Abram closed the door behind him with infinite care and
tiptoed to the bed where she had the wash laid out.
"You ain't gonna lie down on that wash, nigger!" she
screamed as he lowered himself to the Sheriff's stiff,
green-striped shirt. Abram rolled over on the floor.
"Where the keresene?" she demanded.
Abram yawned. "I ain't been after it yet," he murmured.
"What you waitin' on? We ain't got enough but for tonight,
an' tomorrer's Sunday. You ain't got no sense." She slapped
another shirt on the pile. "Usin' my keresene money to git
yosef drunk wit. I ain't got no money to be payin' for yo'
liquor, nigger," s he stormed.
Abram fumbled in his pocket. "Here yo' seventy-fi' cents,"
he said softly.
She took the money suspiciously. "Then what you stole to git
yosef drunk wit?"
"Ain't stole nothin'. Found it."
"What you found?"
"Lemme go to sleep, Rosa," he whined.
"What you found, I say?"
"Just a ol' coat."
"What it have in it?"
"Ain't had nothin' in it."
"How you git drunk off an ol' coat then?"
"I eschanged it for a lil' wine at Branches sto'. Lemme go
to sleep, Rosa," he pleaded.
She folded her arms and stared at him. He could feel her
eyes singeing the back of his neck. He rose slowly and
sheepishly held a five-dollar bill out to her. "Here de
money I found in de pocket, Rosa."
She felt the fear slowly clamp down on her, numbing the
thing that beat in her chest. "You ain't got no sense," she
moaned. "Why you have to go eschange that coat at Branches?
They finds that man an' you done showed yosef eschangin' his
coat, they git you sho'."
Abram stared. "Don't you want the money, Rosa?" he mumbled.

She snatched it from him and flung it to the floor. He
backed away in amazement. "I ain't found no more, Rosa.
Honest I ain't. I didn't git but fo' dollars for dat coat
an' I done drunk it all."
"Howcome you got to kill somebody? Ain't you got enough to
do 'thout gittin' yosef mess up like that? I don't want to
have to tell people you done got yosef in the 'lectric chair
when they asks how you is."
"I ain't kill nobody, Rosa. Where you git dat idea?"
"You ain't got sense enough to jest kill him an' git his
money an' go-you got to eschange his coat," she said
bitterly, "an' there's probly a hunnert people knows that
his coat."
"Dat whose coat?" Abram's voice rose to an unnatural tenor.

"You knows there ain't no sense triflin' 'round wit me,
Abram, pretendin' you don't know what I talkin' 'bout. When
they finds that dead man roll over in that gully an' sees
his coat up there at Branches an' you done eschanged it,
they gon put you in the 'lectric chair 'fore you gits chance
to turn 'round good." It was fine she had some sense to take
care of Abram wit. He needed her. "An' who that man?" she
demanded.
"I ain't seen no man," Abram whispered. He dropped down on
the bed. "What I gonna do, Rosa? Was he a white man?"
"You know he white good's you know you black."
"What I gonna do?" he mumbled.
"This ain't none er my doin'," she sniffed. "I ain't kill
nobody."
"I ain't kill nobody neither," he said sullenly.
"I knows when you lyin' good's I know my name, Abram." She
stalked over to a pile of clothes bags in the corner and
began to draw out the musty-smelling shirts and sheets the
Brinsons always sent.
"I goin' an' git dat coat," Abram said suddenly.
"You jest drunk," she muttered. "How many seen you eschange
that coat? They allus fo' er five white men in there 'sides
a passel er niggers. What gonna keep them from 'membering
'bout it when that man's found?" She was bright. Allus.
Abram limped back to the bed. "I reckon I go off an' hide
for a spell," he said.
"That's yo' affair." She inspected the front of Joe
Brinson's shirt as if its state of grime was all that
interested her. They'd git him whether he hid or not. They
allus got 'em. "Ain't got sense enough to kill him an' git.
Got to go sportin' his coat al l 'round," she muttered.
Abram looked up. He could feel advice coming.
"Ain't got sense enough to bury what he done kill befo' they
finds it." She opened another wash bag. "I sho' ain't gonna
go out in the dark by mysef an' git filthy buryin' him."
Abram shook his head. "What I want to bury him for? I goin'
over to Rivertred an' lie low."
"An' they be waitin' on yo' do' step when you come back. Or
else they be out there to git you. You better listen to
somebody wit some sense."
"I got my own sense."
"You ain't usin' it then."
"I reckon I ain't," Abram sighed.
e was still rolled over in the mud-the same way she had seen
him before-when they came. Abram set the lamp down.
"It'll be easy to cover him over wit dis slime," he
suggested.
"An' have him juttin' out like a rock for the rain to wash
off? You ain't got no sense. Start diggin'."
"Where?"
"Right next to him. Then you can roll him over into it."
Of course, she knew she'd have to tell him everything to do.
She was smartern him. Knowd it when she married him. But he
was smartern them other niggers. He was the onliest one she
would er had-him that gonna be the king. She found a stump
and sat down.
Abram's shovel slid rhythmically in and out of the mud. The
lamp's shining into his face made crystals of the big drops
of sweat erupting on his forehead and silvered his
cheekbones and the ridge of his nose. He was a king awready.
White folks could be kings in the day time when the light
was in their favor; but niggers was kings at night. "Quit
yo' slackin' up. I don't wan' have to set on this stump all
night." Abram would jest fit a throne-slouched down in them
purple drapes. She'd have to be supervisin ' it for him so's
he wouldn't git hissef drunk. That'd make her a queen.
"Start makin' that hole longer. He ain't round." There
they'd be-her an' Abram-settin' side by side. Wit other
folks washin' their clothes. "Thow that rock out er there.
You gonna br eak that shovel befo' we done paid for it."
Said she'd never keep Abram. Done shown 'em though. He was
drunk but he was hers. Scrawny as she was. She watched the
moon rolling unconcernedly among the clouds. That would be
the way her an' Abram would do-jes t roll on 'bout their
business 'thout mindin' nobody; but plenty er folks mindin'
them-like those shadows that changed when the moon come
through 'em.
"Ain't dat deep enough?" Abram asked after a while.
She got up and peered into the hole. "Naw, that ain't deep
enough. Jest keep goin'. You got the energy to kill him, you
got the energy to bury him."
"Suppose somebody fin' us here?"
"Who gonna fin' us here this time er night?"
"Maybe they out lookin' for him."
"Well, they ain't gonna know to look here 'til somebody pass
an' tell 'em they seen him."
"Howcome you didn't tell nobody, Rosa?"
"Why I wan' git mysef mess up in that? He done ruin six
shirts awready. Leastwise, you done ruin 'em-sportin' his
coat 'round, leavin' him rolled over in the open like he
suppose to be sunnin' hissef. Hurry up. I done tol' you I
ain't gonna set on this stump all night."
"Ain't it deep enough yet?"
"I done tol' you it ain't."
Abram pushed the shovel in again. "Half dis slime runnin'
back in," he remarked.
"If you thow it far enough, it ain't gonna go back in."
"I'll have to wait 'til de moon git from behind dat cloud
so's I kin see." Abram stuck his shovel in the ground and
looked around for a place to sit.
"You kin see well enough by that lamp. You jest tryin' to
rest."
"Lamp goin' out. You didn't put enough keresene in it. Dere
it go now," Abram said happily as the lamp sputtered and the
darkness absorbed his shadow.
Rosa got up. "I goin' back up there an' git you another one.
You be settin' here all night waitin' for that moon to come
out. Don't you see all them clouds?"
"Be powerful dark goin' up dere by yosef," he suggested.
"I done it befo'. You set there an' if that moon do come out
for a few minutes, you git yosef at it an' make haste. You
ain't worth all this wearyment."
She started cautiously up the path, digging her heels into
the soft earth and, where it was steep and slippery, feeling
for roots to pull up on with her free hand. Hadn't been for
her, he'd be gittin' hissef in the 'lectric chair wit all
his drunkness. He was drunk but he was strong. Strong like a
king-even strongern that man at the fair. Biggern him, too.
Howcome this path warn't so slippery in the day time? Must
be these shoes wit their wore-down heels. She clutched on a
root to steady herself. Now that lamp was draggin'. Suddenly
she felt herself falling backwards. She grasped at the
ground to steady herself but she felt only mud slipping
through her fingers. She heard the lamp crash a second
before she stopped rolling and when she felt about her on th
e ground, broken glass cut her fingers. "An' this the
onliest good lamp we got," she muttered. "Reckon I'll wait
on the moon to git itsef from behin' that cloud befo' I git
up," she groaned. "Ain't gonna do Abram no good wit my neck
broke." It just had a minute to go. She could see the end of
the cloud becoming fringed with light. In a second, there
it'd be, an' it'd take it a couple er minutes to git 'round
to that other cloud an' by that time, she would be on the
good path.
There it was! Slidin' out like a slow freight from the
tunnel. Now where is I? she wondered. She got stiffly up and
looked about her. Down the hill between the trees she could
see the gully and to its left, stationary as a part of the
rock he was enthrone d on, Abram, gazing up at the moon, his
shovel like a scepter idle by his side. "Howcome he don't
git hissef up an' tend to that man now the moon out?" she
muttered. That jest like him-settin' there dreamin' like he
owned the country. That would be the wa y he'd set on a
throne. Like he was holdin' it up 'stead er it holdin' him.
An' her probly havin' to hold 'em both up. "Abram!" she
shrilled, " git yosef offen that rock an' start diggin'." To
her satisfaction the king scrambled off his throne and the
sce pter became a shovel again. Havin' to holler at him like
he was one er Lizzie's chillun. He was her chile, though,
the onliest one she'd got. She chuckled. Warn't nothin'
wrong wit his ears neither. Hmp! He better had heard her.
She found the path again a nd clawed her way up, reaching
the edge of the hill just as the moon slid under cover. Now
the road was straight and she could run.
The shack was dark and she had to feel her way to the shelf
where they kept the other lamp and the matches. Like as not
wouldn't be no keresene in it neither. She shook it. Jest
like she thought. Good thing she kept candles. Where'd that
Abram be if it wa rn't for her? He'd probly be sleepin' in
that bed there like nothin' had happened an' then gittin'
hissef in the 'lectric chair. She put the candle stumps and
the matches in her pocket and left the shack.
The steep, winding path that led down into the gully seemed
even longer and darker as she stood where the good road
ended and lit a candle to light her way down. That Abram
better be workin' when she got there. Her trapesyin' 'round
all night wit all that washin' she got to do in the mornin'!
Going down was harder than going up. The trees were
scattered thinly and the small plants were of little use to
clutch. Rosa held the candle low by her side and with her
knees bent and her free hand grasping for an o ccasional
tree to steady on, groped her way down the path. Farther on
she felt broken glass under her feet. This where she seen
Abram from, too. Now where was he? She leaned against a tree
and tried to find where she had looked before. T'warn't no
use loo kin' when the moon was in, she thought, but suddenly
a lighted area over to the west caught her eye, and there,
standing on a rock, was Abram, his head bent, his hands in
the air. Now where he git all that light from? Why warn't he
diggin'? She crept clos er. Was them hounds she heard
barkin'? White men! Must be ten of 'em! Wit guns an' dogs.
All 'round him. She clung to the tree. They'd got him. Wit
all her tryin', they'd got him. 'Possum huntin' more than
likely an' found him there. She remembered she ha d called
him. Likely 'tracted 'em. No. They'd er got him anyway. She
felt hollow. The devil allus ketched up wit his own; it was
in Abram's blood. She snuffed the candle out and looked more
closely. There were guns all around him. She edged her way
closer . She could hear them talking.
One laughed. "First time I've ever got a coon when I was
looking for a 'possum."
"What's yer name, nigger?" another asked.
"I ain't done nothin'," Abram yelled. "I ain't done
nothin'."
"Oh, we know you ain't done nothin'. You just nursin' that
corpse for its mamma, but what's yer name-just for the
record?" The man poked a gun at his side.
Abram stiffened. "I ain't done nothin'," he muttered.
He won't gonna tell 'em. Rosa knew he won't. They didn't
know Abram. He was drunk an' when he was drunk, he didn't
have no truck wit strangers who was rough wit him. He roused
up an' fought.
"Who's he killed?" one man asked.
"Never seen him before."
"Who is he, nigger?"
"I ain't done nothin'," Abram insisted.
"I believe this nigger's a looney," one man growled.
"Oh, he'll talk with some persuasion." A man in a plaid
jacket strode toward Abram. "Listen, nigger," he snarled,
"open up or get hell beat out you." He prodded the gun into
Abram's side. "Get off that rock," he ordered.
"He ain't gonna do it," Rosa whispered. "He gon stan' there
like a king. He gonna kill that man. He gon . . ."
Abram wrenched the gun from its owner and like a black
streak darted past the startled group and up the open side
of the gully. Rosa groaned. Ef only he'd er come this side
she might could er helped him.
Several of the men raised their guns.
Rosa clung to the tree. She heard four shots and a scream.
Later that night when she crawled home-after they had taken
his body, them men what didn't have no business wit it-she
wondered if it hadn't been better them gittin' him that way.
Them 'lectric ch airs-she shuddered-weren't fit for no king;
and all that week, though she lay on her bed with what the
neighbor women called the "fall fevers," there was a little
core of something light buried in the dark weight her head
was.
Toward the end of the week she was just well enough to walk
(although she couldn't feel that she was walking) out to
Mrs. Wilkinson's car that had honked three times loudly in
front of her door. She was able to take the wash bundle out
of the back of the automobile and to stand almost straight
while Mrs. Wilkinson told her that there were two of Roy's
shirts in there, three of her own summer dresses-that she
wanted done with extra carefulness-and Mr. Wilkinson's light
hunting jacket which she would find s imply filthy. He had
lost it last week in the woods and found that some colored
man had taken ten dollars out the pocket and exchanged the
coat at Branches for four pints of cheap wine. Wasn't that
ridiculous? She knew Mr. Wilkinson had paid at least twen ty
dollars for that coat. And oh yes, she told Rosa, there were
six of her best luncheon napkins and a table runner in the
bundle and for heaven's sake, she told her, she was not to
lose any of the napkins. She had the hardest time imaginable
keeping up w ith them; last year she had lost three and the
year before, two. And she told Rosa how in the beginning
there had been sixteen.

"The Coat," copyright © 1995 by the Estate of Flannery
O'Connor, is published for the first time with the
permission of the author's literary executor and of her
Estate.



 

Naphex-Male from Vancouver, Canada on 2001-07-25 01:52 [#00017700]



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