We’re the only eolored people here
When they went out to the car there were just the very finest bits of white powder coming down, with an almost comical little ethereal* hauteur*, to add themselves to the really important, piled-up masses of their kind.
And it wasn’t cold.
Maud Martha laughed happily to herself. It was pleasant out, and tonight she and Paul were very close to each other.
He held the door open for he — instead of going on round to the driving side, getting in, and leaving her to get in at her side as best she might. When he took this way of calling her “lady” and informing her of his love she felt precious, protected, delicious. She gave him an excited look of gratitude. He smiled indulgently*.
“Want it to be the Owl again?”
“Oh, no, no, Paul. Let’s not go there tonight. I feel too good inside for that. Let’s go downtown?”
She had to suggest that with a question mark at the end, always. He usually had three protests. Too hard to park. Too much money. Too many white folks. And tonight she could almost certainly expect a no, she feared, because he had come out in his blue work shirt. There was a spot of apricot juice on the collar, too. His shoes were not shined.
. . . But he nodded!
“We’ve never been to the World Playhouse,” she said cautiously. “They have a good picture. I’d feel rich in there.”
“You really wanta?”
It wasn’t like other movie houses. People from the Studebaker Theatre which, as Maud Martha whispered to Paul, was “all-locked-arms” with the World Playhouse, were strolling up and down the lobby, laughing softly, smoking with gentle grace.
“There must be a play going on in there and this is probably an intermission,” Maud Martha whispered again.
“I don’t know why you feel you got to whisper,” whispered Paul. ^Nobody else is whispering in here.” He looked around, resentfully, wanting to see a few, just a few colored faces. There were only their own.
Maud Martha laughed a nervous defiant* little laugh; and spoke loudly. “There certainly isn’t any reason to whisper. Silly, huh.”
The strolling women were cleverly gowned. Some of them had flowers or flashers* in their hair. They looked — cooked. Well cared-for. And as though they had never seen a roach* or a rat in their lives. Or gone witbcut heat for a week. And the men had even edges. They were men, Mam Martha thought, who wouldn’t stoop* to fret* over less than a thousand dollars.
“We’re the only colored people here,” said Paul.
She hated him a little. “Oh, hell. Who in hell cares.”
“Well, what I want to know is, where do you pay the damn fares.” “There’s the box office. Go on up.”
He went on up. It was closed.
“Well,” sighed Maud Martha, “I guess the picture has started already But we can’t have missed much. Go on up to that girl at the candy counter and ask her where we should pay our money.”
He didn’t want to do that. The girl was lovely and blonde and cold- eyed, and her arms were akimbo*, and the set of her head was eloquent. No one else was at the counter.
“Well. We’ll wait a minute. And see—”
Maud Martha hated him again. Coward. She ought to flounce over* to the girl herself—show him up. . . .
The people in the lobby tried to avoid looking curiously at two shy Negroes wanting desperately not to seem shy. The white women looked at the Negro woman in her outfit with which no special fault could be found, but which made them think, somehow, of close rooms, and wee, close lives. They looked at her hair. They were always slightly surprised, but agreeably so, when they did. They supposed it was the hair that had got her that yellowish, good-looking Negro man without a tie.
An usher opened a door of the World Playhouse part and ran quickly down the few steps that led from it to the lobby. Paul opened his mouth. “Say, fella. Where do we get the tickets for the movie?”
The usher glanced at Paul’s feet before answering. Then he said coolly, but not unpleasandy, “I’ll take the money.”
They were able to go in.
And the picture! Maud Martha was so glad that they had not gone to the Owl! Here was technicolor, and the love story was sweet. And there was classical music that silvered its way into you and made your back cold. And the theater itself! It was no palace, no such Great Shakes as the Tivoli out south, for instance (where many colored people went every night). But you felt good sitting there, yes, good, and as if when you left it you would be going home to a sweet-smelling apartment with flowers on little gleaming tables; and wonderful silver on night-blue velvet, in chests; and crackly sheets; and lace spreads on such beds as you saw at Marshall Field’s*. Instead of back to your kit’n’t apt., with the garbage of your floor’s families in a big can just outside your door, and the gray sound of little gray feet scratching away from it as you drag up those flights of narrow complaining stairs. Paul pressed her hand. Paul said, “We oughta do this more often.” And again. “We’ll have to do this more often. And go to plays, too. I mean at that Blackstone, and Studebaker.”
She pressed back, smiling beautifully to herself in the darkness. Though she knew that once the spell was over it would be a year, two years, more, before he would return to the World Playhouse. And he might never go to a real play. But she was learning to love moments. To love moments for themselves.
When the picture was over, and the lights revealed them for what they were, the Negroes stood up among the furs and good cloth and faint perfume, looked about them eagerly. They hoped they would meet no cruel eyes. They hoped no one would look intruded* upon. They had enjoyed the picture so they were so happy, they wanted to laugh, to say warmly to the other outgoers, “Good, huh? Wasn’t it swell?”
This, of course, they could not do. But if only no one would look intruded upon........
Source: The American Short Story and Its Writers - An Anthology, published by Ann Charteres. Bedford/St. Martin's, Boston&New York 2000, pp. 889-891
* ethereal - himmlisch, flüchtig
* hauteur - Hochmut
* indulgently - nachsichtig
* defiant - trotzig
* flashers - Lichthupen, Beleuchtung
* roach=cockroach - Kakerlake
* to stoop - sich herablassen
* to fret - sich ärgern
* arms were akimbo - ihre Arme waren in die Seiten gestemmt
* to flounce over - hinüber stolzieren
* Marshall Field’s - big supermarket chain in Chicago (now closed)
* intruded - ein-/aufdringlich
1. Describe Maud's and Paul's mood and their behaviour before they entered the pictures.
2. From what you learn about the white visitors, how do they look at Maud and Paul?
3. Both Maud and Paul were excited at the end of the pictures, because they enjoyed it so much. Although they would not dare sharing their joy with the other visitors,
they were satisfied with themselves and their situation. Why?
4. Taking into account the publishing year of this short story, what did everyday life look like between blacks and whites in the USA at that time?
5. When did things change concerning the relationship between colored and white people?