The New Yorker, November 11, 2019
In the style of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” and “Good Country People,” but with humor coating Sister’s every act and utterance like a shield. She cannot bear to say anything with a straight face. Humor is her defense and her blinders. It’s July 4. The fireworks are Sister’s family: Pappa-Daddy, his name as comical as his claim that he’s not cut his beard since he was 15 and reacts with a Hasidim’s angry panic when Stella-Rondo, Sister’s sister, falsely (purposefully) claims Sister wants to cut off the beard. Stella-Rondo has just been dumped by Mr. Whitaker, Sister’s ex-flame, stolen by Stella-Rondo, who has a two-year-old child by him, Shirley-T (named after Shirley Temple). Stella-Rondo absolutely refuses to acknowledge it’s her biological child. It’s adopted, in her invention. Uncle Rondo is the drug addict, the shock survivor (or PTSD as we’d have it these days), the veteran of World War I who ingests a bottle of a prescription narcotic every July 4 so he can knock himself out, and who wears a kimono, suggesting different treads in his sexuality. Fat Mama favors Stella-Rondo and slaps Sister around. And Sister: well, she seems to be the only employed one of the bunch, at the minuscule post office in China Grove, Mississippi, a job secured by her grandfather, and a refuge. She decides, as the story devolves into an endless series of alienating offenses, real or perceived, to pack up mounds of belongings, hers or not–if she’s paid a cent for anything, she claims it–and move to the post office, using a “Nigger girl” to haul the stuff–a sharp, brutal reference to a girl Sister has no regard for: “Took her none trips in her express wagon.” Even when she thanks her grandfather for the job, she wounds: “I says, “Oh, Papa-Daddy,” I says, “I didn’t say any such of a thing, I never dreamed it was a bird’s nest, I have always been grateful though this is the next to smallest P.O. in the state of Mississippi, and I do not enjoy being referred to as a hussy by my own grandfather.” So she’s no innocent. The story is written in dialect and takes a lot in style and perhaps aim from Twain. “One can find numerous topics for scholarly reflection in “Why I Live at the P.O.”—and in any other Welty story, for that matter,” Danny Heitman writes in a piece for Humanities, “—but my professor’s advice is a nice reminder that beyond the moral and aesthetic instruction contained within Welty’s fiction, she was, in essence, a great giver of pleasure.”
Atlantic Monthly, April 1941, A Curtain of Green (1941)
Mr. and Mrs Gough hire a nanny, Miss Spencer. Mr. Gough likes her. Mrs. Gough does not. It’s a tense household. “Only at night, when the household was horizontal and unconscious, did the skirmishing cease.” And: “The bang” was the most joyous sound in the house. It was the noise of father slamming the door as he left. There was no peace in the morning until it had sounded.” Spencer is caught between the two. On child, Geoffrey, calls the house cat “Spencer.” The other child threatens to tell. Then Spencer sees the cat poised to attack the children’s white rabbit, which had gotten away from his cage. The rabbit and the cat are proxies of the war in the house. Pritchett explains, once he gets past a clumsy simile: “A feint, thought Miss Spencer. Then her heart fluttered in wild, unreasonable panic like a pigeon startled out of the top of a tree. Was the cat going to kill the rabbit? Ought she to open the window and hiss the cat away? Whose side was she on? Mrs. Gough’s and the rabbit’s; or Mr. Gough’s and the cat’s? That is what it means, her heart said. She was startled by her avid desire to see what happened and she did nothing. I must be impartial: life must print itself …” The cat kills the rabbit. “Mummy! Mummy! Spencer’s killed the rabbit. Spencer’s killed the rabbit,” he yelled.