To Kill a Mockingbird (Page 39)
“That’s why you don’t talk like the rest of ’em,” said Jem.
“The rest of who?”
“Rest of the colored folks. Cal, but you talked like they did in church. . . .”
That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages.
“Cal,” I asked, “why do you talk nigger-talk to the—to your folks when you know it’s not right?”
“Well, in the first place I’m black—”
“That doesn’t mean you hafta talk that way when you know better,” said Jem.
Calpurnia tilted her hat and scratched her head, then pressed her hat down carefully over her ears. “It’s right hard to say,” she said. “Suppose you and Scout talked colored-folks’ talk at home—it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbors? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.”
“But Cal, you know better,” I said.
“It’s not necessary to tell all you know. It’s not ladylike—in the second place, folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ’em. You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.”
“Cal, can I come to see you sometimes?”
She looked down at me. “See me, honey? You see me every day.”
“Out to your house,” I said. “Sometimes after work? Atticus can get me.”
“Any time you want to,” she said. “We’d be glad to have you.”
We were on the sidewalk by the Radley Place.
“Look on the porch yonder,” Jem said.
I looked over to the Radley Place, expecting to see its phantom occupant sunning himself in the swing. The swing was empty.
“I mean our porch,” said Jem.
I looked down the street. Enarmored, upright, uncompromising, Aunt Alexandra was sitting in a rocking chair exactly as if she had sat there every day of her life.
“Put my bag in the front bedroom, Calpurnia,” was the first thing Aunt Alexandra said. “Jean Louise, stop scratching your head,” was the second thing she said.
Calpurnia picked up Aunty’s heavy suitcase and opened the door. “I’ll take it,” said Jem, and took it. I heard the suitcase hit the bedroom floor with a thump. The sound had a dull permanence about it.
“Have you come for a visit, Aunty?” I asked. Aunt Alexandra’s visits from the Landing were rare, and she traveled in state. She owned a bright green square Buick and a black chauffeur, both kept in an unhealthy state of tidiness, but today they were nowhere to be seen.
“Didn’t your father tell you?” she asked.
Jem and I shook our heads.
“Probably he forgot. He’s not in yet, is he?”
“Nome, he doesn’t usually get back till late afternoon,” said Jem.
“Well, your father and I decided it was time I came to stay with you for a while.”
“For a while” in Maycomb meant anything from three days to thirty years. Jem and I exchanged glances.
“Jem’s growing up now and you are too,” she said to me. “We decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won’t be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys—”
I could have made several answers to this: Cal’s a girl, it would be many years before I would be interested in boys, I would never be interested in clothes . . . but I kept quiet.
“What about Uncle Jimmy?” asked Jem. “Is he comin’, too?”
“Oh no, he’s staying at the Landing. He’ll keep the place going.”
The moment I said, “Won’t you miss him?” I realized that this was not a tactful question. Uncle Jimmy present or Uncle Jimmy absent made not much difference, he never said anything. Aunt Alexandra ignored my question.
I could think of nothing else to say to her. In fact I could never think of anything to say to her, and I sat thinking of past painful conversations between us: How are you, Jean Louise? Fine, thank you ma’am, how are you? Very well, thank you; what have you been doing with yourself? Nothin’. Don’t you do anything? Nome. Certainly you have friends? Yessum. Well what do you all do? Nothin’.
It was plain that Aunty thought me dull in the extreme, because I once heard her tell Atticus that I was sluggish.
There was a story behind all this, but I had no desire to extract it from her then: today was Sunday, and Aunt Alexandra was positively irritable on the Lord’s Day. I guess it was her Sunday corset. She was not fat, but solid, and she chose protective garments that drew up her bosom to giddy heights, pinched in her waist, flared out her rear, and managed to suggest that Aunt Alexandra’s was once an hour-glass figure. From any angle, it was formidable.
The remainder of the afternoon went by in the gentle gloom that descends when relatives appear, but was dispelled when we heard a car turn in the driveway. It was Atticus, home from Montgomery. Jem, forgetting his dignity, ran with me to meet him. Jem seized his briefcase and bag, I jumped into his arms, felt his vague dry kiss and said, “’dyou bring me a book? ’dyou know Aunty’s here?”
Atticus answered both questions in the affirmative. “How’d you like for her to come live with us?”
I said I would like it very much, which was a lie, but one must lie under certain circumstances and at all times when one can’t do anything about them.
“We felt it was time you children needed—well, it’s like this, Scout,” Atticus said. “Your aunt’s doing me a favor as well as you all. I can’t stay here all day with you, and the summer’s going to be a hot one.”
“Yes sir,” I said, not understanding a word he said. I had an idea, however, that Aunt Alexandra’s appearance on the scene was not so much Atticus’s doing as hers. Aunty had a way of declaring What Is Best For The Family, and I suppose her coming to live with us was in that category.
Maycomb welcomed her. Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight; Miss Stephanie Crawford had long visits with Aunt Alexandra, consisting mostly of Miss Stephanie shaking her head and saying, “Uh, uh, uh.” Miss Rachel next door had Aunty over for coffee in the afternoons, and Mr. Nathan Radley went so far as to come up in the front yard and say he was glad to see her.