“S’long, boys,” he said. And limped off, toward home.
And in that moment Buzz, the bully and braggart, vanished forever. And in his place—head high, chest up, eyes clear—limped Ernest Werner, the man.
The Self-Complacent Young Cub leaned an elbow against the mantel as you’ve seen it done in English plays, and blew a practically perfect smoke-ring. It hurtled toward me like a discus.
“Trouble with your stuff,” he began at once (we had just been introduced), “is that it lacks plot. Been meaning to meet and tell you that for a long time. Your characterization’s all right, and your dialogue. In fact, I think they’re good. But your stuff lacks raison d’etre—if you know what I mean.
“But”—in feeble self-defence—“people’s insides are often so much more interesting than their outsides; that which they think or feel so much more thrilling than anything they actually do. Bennett—Wells—”
“Rot!” remarked the young cub, briskly. “Plot’s the thing.”
* * * * *
There is no plot to this because there is no plot to Rose. There never was. There never will be. Compared to the drab monotony of Rose’s existence a desert waste is as thrilling as a five-reel film.
They had called her Rose, fatuously, as parents do their first-born girl. No doubt she had been normally pink and white and velvety. It is a risky thing to do, however. Think back hastily on the Roses you know. Don’t you find a startling majority still clinging, sere and withered, to the family bush?
In Chicago, Illinois, a city of two millions (or is it three?), there are women whose lives are as remote, as grey, as unrelated to the world about them as is the life of a Georgia cracker’s woman-drudge. Rose was one of these. An unwed woman, grown heavy about the hips and arms, as houseworking women do, though they eat but little, moving dully about the six-room flat on Sangamon Street, Rose was as much a slave as any black wench of plantation days.
There was the treadmill of endless dishes, dirtied as fast as cleansed; there were beds, and beds, and beds; gravies and soups and stews. And always the querulous voice of the sick woman in the front bedroom demanding another hot water bag. Rose’s day was punctuated by hot water bags. They dotted her waking hours. She filled hot water bags automatically, like a machine—water half-way to the top, then one hand clutching the bag’s slippery middle while the other, with a deft twist, ejected the air within; a quick twirl of the metal stopper, the bag released, squirming, and, finally, its plump and rufous cheeks wiped dry.
“Is that too hot for you, Ma? Where’d you want it—your head or your feet?”
A spinster nearing forty, living thus, must have her memories—one precious memory, at least—or she dies. Rose had hers. She hugged it, close. The L trains roared by, not thirty feet from her kitchen door. Alley and yard and street sent up their noises to her. The life of Chicago’s millions yelped at her heels. On Rose’s face was the vague, mute look of the woman whose days are spent indoors, at sordid tasks.