Temple finds an old-fashioned claw-footed tub in the bathroom and decides to take a soak and give her throbbing hand a rest.
I’m gonna be in there for a while, dummy, she says. Don’t break nothin. Here, you better put your hands in your pockets.
She makes a gesture and he does it. Then she goes into the bathroom and closes the door. Later, when she returns, he is sitting on the edge of the bed fingering something with his right hand that he must have pulled from his pocket.
What’s this you got? she says, taking the slip of paper from his hand. First I find out you know how to shake hands like a proper gentleman—and now this. You sure are full of secrets today, dummy.
The slip of paper has some numbers and letters on it. It looks like an address with something else written across the top.
How long you been hangin on to this? she says and tucks it into the pocket of her pants. I reckon now I gotta find out what it says, don’t I?
Mrs. Grierson comes and leads her to a different room where she takes great delight in sending Temple into a huge square closet and watching her emerge in different colorful dresses. Each time Temple comes out, Mrs. Grierson claps her hands to her lips and grins, then she sweeps over and makes various little adjustments to the outfit because Temple has invariably put it on incorrectly.
This is the second time in just a week that Temple has been costumed by gentlewomen. She dislikes it but acquiesces because serving as a dress model counts as currency for some species of women, and Temple knows she will owe Mrs. Grierson a certain not so small debt.
Aren’t you lovely! Mrs. Grierson says. You must get a great deal of attention from the young men.
Usually the kind that needs beatin down.
Oh, you’re a scamp. You can’t fool me, I remember what it was like to be young.
What was it like?
Dangerous, she says as though that were a good thing. Of course, Temple realizes, the danger of her youth was probably in coming home late or getting caught sneaking some whiskey from the family bar or kissing one boy by the arbor while another one waited for you on the porch swing out front.
At dinner, they all sit around an oversized polished table in the dining room. Mrs. Grierson sits on the end, and there are two places set on the left side for the Grierson boys and two places set on the right for her guests. Temple has been outfitted in peach taffeta for the occasion, and her hair has been artfully piled on top of her head.
Mr. Grierson is still too ill to join us, I’m afraid, Mrs. Grierson says. I’ll have Maisie take him a plate in his room.
I guess if he’s as hungry as I am, Temple says, gulping down her entire glass of ice water with lemon, it don’t matter much to him which room he gets his grub in.
Mrs. Grierson and her son look at her with their hands folded neatly in their laps.
Oops, Temple says. Sorry. It’s been a while since I dined all polite and everything. It don’t come natural to me.
Doesn’t, dear, Mrs. Grierson says.
Temple looks at the empty place beside Richard Grierson.
I suppose we’re waitin on your brother?
James will be down directly, Mrs. Grierson assures her.
And almost immediately after she says the words, the dining room doors swing open and James Grierson comes in and drops himself into the chair beside his brother.
James, we have a guest, Mrs. Grierson says.
Buzz, buzz, says James.
It is evident that he is the older of the two, not because of any physical indications but rather simply as a result of the spiritual weight he seems to lug around on his shoulders. He is paler than his brother, and dark in the places where his brother is light. His eyes are sunken and weary, broken of all the plastic dignity in Richard’s gaze. Nonetheless, he is handsome in a severe way—the kind of man who makes Temple’s insides roil around all curious and bothered.
Sarah Mary, Mrs. Grierson says, would you like to say grace?
Oh, uh, I best not. I never get the words right.
So Richard does it instead:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you.
Amen, says Mrs. Grierson, and Temple follows with an amen of her own.
And praise Jesus that we’re not dead yet, James Grierson says. Then he looks at his brother and adds: Some of us.
James, Mrs. Grierson warns.
The food is the best that Temple has ever tasted. Salty chicken and dumplings, a puffy corn casserole, greenbeans with mushrooms and crunchy onions on top, cornbread, and for dessert a peach cobbler that makes her want to run her finger across the plate to get every last bit of it.
So, Sarah Mary, James says, elongating her name as though he’s not too fond of it, where are you from?
She’s from over in Statenville, James, Mrs. Grierson answers for her.
Is that right? he asks. You like Statenville?
It’s okay, I reckon.
I didn’t know there were still survivors in that town.
There’s a few.
It must be horrible out there, Richard interjects. For a girl your age to be exposed to such monstrosity. Those things.
They ain’t so bad, she says. They just doin what they supposed to do. Like we all are, I guess.
Are they supposed to eviscerate children? James asks suddenly. Are they supposed to play tug-of-war with the intestines of God-fearing men?
James! Mrs. Grierson says, I’ll not tell you again—
Are they supposed to digest entire populations?
James, that’s enough! I refuse to hear such horrible things at my table!
You refuse, James chuckles, looking at his grandmother. You refuse.
Then he pushes back his chair and tosses his napkin onto the plate and marches from the room.
Mrs. Grierson watches him go and collects herself and then smiles in a dignified way at Temple.
I apologize for my grandson’s behavior, she says.
Ain’t no problem, Temple says. Sometimes you gotta bust apart to get yourself put back together.
Life has been hard on him, Mrs. Grierson says.
He was in the army, Richard adds.
I GOTTA get out of this place, dummy. We can stay a few days to try and lose ole Moses, but I ain’t got this far in my life just to get familied down inside an electric fence.
She looks at him. He sits on the edge of her bed where she put him, his fingertips poking at the air as though something were there and his concentration intent upon it.
It’s an enigma what you seein in this world, dummy.
Still, this ain’t a half bad place for you. Give em a few days to get attached, and we got you a new home. Plenty of people to make you dinner and watch you don’t get yourself hurt.