Their Eyes Were Watching God

Chapter 12

It was after the picnic that the town began to notice things and got mad. Tea Cake and Mrs. Mayor Starks! All the men that she could get, and fooling with somebody like Tea Cake! Another thing, Joe Starks hadn’t been dead but nine months and here she goes sashaying off to a picnic in pink linen. Done quit attending church, like she used to. Gone off to Sanford in a car with Tea Cake and her all dressed in blue! It was a shame. Done took to high-heel slippers and a ten dollar hat! Looking like some young girl, always in blue because Tea Cake told her to wear it. Poor Joe Starks. Bet he turns over in his grave every day. Tea Cake and Janie gone hunting. Tea Cake and Janie gone fishing. Tea Cake and Janie gone to Orlando to the movies. Tea Cake and Janie gone to a dance. Tea Cake making flower beds in Janie’s yard and seeding the garden for her. Chopping down that tree she never did like by the dining room window. All those signs of possession. Tea Cake in a borrowed car teaching Janie to drive. Tea Cake and Janie playing checkers; playing coon-can; playing Florida flip on the store porch all afternoon as if nobody else was there. Day after day and week after week.

“Pheoby,” Sam Watson said one night as he got in the bed, “Ah b’lieve yo’ buddy is all tied up with dat Tea Cake shonough. Didn’t b’lieve it at first.”

“Aw she don’t mean nothin’ by it. Ah think she’s sort of stuck on dat undertaker up at Sanford.”

“It’s somebody ’cause she looks might good dese days. New dresses and her hair combed a different way nearly every day. You got to have something to comb hair over. When you see uh woman doin’ so much rakin’ in her head, she’s combin’ at some man or ’nother.”

“ ’Course she kin do as she please, but dat’s uh good chance she got up at Sanford. De man’s wife died and he got uh lovely place tuh take her to—already furnished. Better’n her house Joe left her.”

“You better sense her intuh things then ’cause Tea Cake can’t do nothin’ but help her spend whut she got. Ah reckon dat’s whut he’s after. Throwin’ away whut Joe Starks worked hard tuh git tuhgether.”

“Dat’s de way it looks. Still and all, she’s her own woman. She oughta know by now whut she wants tuh do.”

“De men wuz talkin’ ’bout it in de grove tuhday and givin’ her and Tea Cake both de devil. Dey figger he’s spendin’ on her now in order tuh make her spend on him later.”

“Umph! Umph! Umph!”

“Oh dey got it all figgered out. Maybe it ain’t as bad as they say, but they talk it and make it sound real bad on her part.”

“Dat’s jealousy and malice. Some uh dem very mens wants tuh do whut dey claim deys skeered Tea Cake is doin’.”

“De Pastor claim Tea Cake don’t ’low her tuh come tuh church only once in awhile ’cause he want dat change tuh buy gas wid. Just draggin’ de woman away from church. But anyhow, she’s yo’ bosom friend, so you better go see ’bout her. Drop uh lil hint here and dere and if Tea Cake is tryin’ tuh rob her she kin see and know. Ah laks de woman and Ah sho would hate tuh see her come up lak Mis’ Tyler.”

“Aw mah God, naw! Reckon Ah better step over dere tomorrow and have some chat wid Janie. She jus’ ain’t thinkin’ whut she doin’, dat’s all.”

The next morning Pheoby picked her way over to Janie’s house like a hen to a neighbor’s garden. Stopped and talked a little with everyone she met, turned aside momentarily to pause at a porch or two—going straight by walking crooked. So her firm intention looked like an accident and she didn’t have to give her opinion to folks along the way.

Janie acted glad to see her and after a while Pheoby broached her with, “Janie, everybody’s talkin’ ’bout how dat Tea Cake is draggin’ you round tuh places you ain’t used tuh. Baseball games and huntin’ and fishin’. He don’t know you’se useter uh more high time crowd than dat. You always did class off.”

“Jody classed me off. Ah didn’t. Naw, Pheoby, Tea Cake ain’t draggin’ me off nowhere Ah don’t want tuh go. Ah always did want tuh git round uh whole heap, but Jody wouldn’t ’low me tuh. When Ah wasn’t in de store he wanted me tuh jes sit wid folded hands and sit dere. And Ah’d sit dere wid de walls creepin’ up on me and squeezin’ all de life outa me. Pheoby, dese educated women got uh heap of things to sit down and consider. Somebody done tole ’em what to set down for. Nobody ain’t told poor me, so sittin’ still worries me. Ah wants tuh utilize mahself all over.”

“But, Janie, Tea Cake, whilst he ain’t no jail-bird, he ain’t got uh dime tuh cry. Ain’t you skeered he’s jes after yo’ money—him bein’ younger than you?”

“He ain’t never ast de first penny from me yet, and if he love property he ain’t no different from all de rest of us. All dese ole men dat’s settin’ round me is after de same thing. They’s three mo’ widder women in town, how come dey don’t break dey neck after dem? ’Cause dey ain’t got nothin’, dat’s why.”

“Folks seen you out in colors and dey thinks you ain’t payin’ de right amount uh respect tuh yo’ dead husband.”

“Ah ain’t grievin’ so why do Ah hafta mourn? Tea Cake love me in blue, so Ah wears it. Jody ain’t never in his life picked out no color for me. De world picked out black and white for mournin’, Joe didn’t. So Ah wasn’t wearin’ it for him. Ah was wearin’ it for de rest of y’all.”

“But anyhow, watch yo’self, Janie, and don’t be took advantage of. You know how dese young men is wid older women. Most of de time dey’s after whut dey kin git, then dey’s gone lak uh turkey through de corn.”

“Tea Cake don’t talk dat way. He’s aimin’ tuh make hisself permanent wid me. We done made up our mind tuh marry.”

“Janie, you’se yo’ own woman, and Ah hope you know whut you doin’. Ah sho hope you ain’t lak uh possum—de older you gits, de less sense yuh got. Ah’d feel uh whole heap better ’bout yuh if you wuz marryin’ dat man up dere in Sanford. He got somethin’ tuh put long side uh whut you got and dat make it more better. He’s endurable.”

“Still and all Ah’d rather be wid Tea Cake.”

“Well, if yo’ mind is already made up, ’tain’t nothin’ nobody kin do. But you’se takin’ uh awful chance.”

“No mo’ than Ah took befo’ and no mo’ than anybody else takes when dey gits married. It always changes folks, and sometimes it brings out dirt and meanness dat even de person didn’t know they had in ’em theyselves. You know dat. Maybe Tea Cake might turn out lak dat. Maybe not. Anyhow Ah’m ready and willin’ tuh try ’im.”

“Well, when you aim tuh step off?”

“Dat we don’t know. De store is got tuh be sold and then we’se goin’ off somewhere tuh git married.”

“How come you sellin’ out de store?”

“ ’Cause Tea Cake ain’t no Jody Starks, and if he tried tuh be, it would be uh complete flommuck. But de minute Ah marries ’im everybody is gointuh be makin’ comparisons. So us is goin’ off somewhere and start all over in Tea Cake’s way. Dis ain’t no business proposition, and no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game. Ah done lived Grandma’s way, now Ah means tuh live mine.”

“What you mean by dat, Janie?”

“She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn’t sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin’ on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh mighty fine thing tuh her. Dat’s whut she wanted for me—don’t keer whut it cost. Git up on uh high chair and sit dere. She didn’t have time tuh think whut tuh do after you got up on de stool uh do nothin’. De object wuz tuh git dere. So Ah got up on de high stool lak she told me, but Pheoby, Ah done nearly languished tuh death up dere. Ah felt like de world wuz cryin’ extry and Ah ain’t read de common news yet.”

“Maybe so, Janie. Still and all Ah’d love tuh experience it for just one year. It look lak heben tuh me from where Ah’m at.”

“Ah reckon so.”

“But anyhow, Janie, you be keerful ’bout dis sellin’ out and goin’ off wid strange men. Look whut happened tuh Ahnie Tyler. Took whut little she had and went off tuh Tampa wid dat boy dey call Who Flung. It’s somethin’ tuh think about.”

“It sho is. Still Ah ain’t Mis’ Tyler and Tea Cake ain’t no Who Flung, and he ain’t no stranger tuh me. We’se just as good as married already. But Ah ain’t puttin’ it in de street. Ah’m tellin’ you.”

“Ah jus lak uh chicken. Chicken drink water, but he don’t pee-pee.”

“Oh, Ah know you don’t talk. We ain’t shame-faced. We jus’ ain’t ready tuh make no big kerflommuck as yet.”

“You doin’ right not tuh talk it, but Janie, you’se takin’ uh mighty big chance.”

“ ’Tain’t so big uh chance as it seem lak, Pheoby. Ah’m older than Tea Cake, yes. But he done showed me where it’s de thought dat makes de difference in ages. If people thinks de same they can make it all right. So in the beginnin’ new thoughts had tuh be thought and new words said. After Ah got used tuh dat, we gits ’long jus’ fine. He done taught me de maiden language all over. Wait till you see de new blue satin Tea Cake done picked out for me tuh stand up wid him in. High-heel slippers, necklace, earrings, everything he wants tuh see me in. Some of dese mornin’s and it won’t be long, you gointuh wake up callin’ me and Ah’ll be gone.”


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This work (Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston) is free of known copyright restrictions.