An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

Roy and Celestial are an up-and-coming, young African American couple. While their parents were not poor, her life had been more comfortable than his; however, they were agreed that they would raise their children without the specter of slavery and poverty over them at every turn. Roy phrased it in terms of cotton.

The world is changing so the way you had to bring up kids had to change too. Part of my plan was to never one time mention picking cotton. My parents always talked about either real cotton or the idea of it [. . .] [B]lack people say, “It beats picking cotton.” I’m not going to remind my kids that somebody died in order for me to do everyday things.

After it becomes clear that Roy will stand trial, Celestial still believes that he will be acquitted. It is not simply that she knows he is innocent, but that she believes they are living in a different age and the error will soon be behind them.

I was looking for a pair of good-looking detectives to burst into the courtroom at the last minute, whispering something urgent to the prosecutor. Everyone would see that this was a big mistake, a major misunderstanding. We would all be shaken but appeased. I fully believed that I would leave the courtroom with my husband beside me. Secure in our home we would tell people how no black man is really safe in America.

As Celestial waits to see Roy after his release, she imagines she sees him in other places, then realizes she thinks of him as he looked before he went inside. One day, across the street from her gallery, she sees

a Roy-ghost. I had learned to suppress the startle but this one caught me unaware because he looked like Roy. Not Roy when he was young. Not Roy in the future. This looked like Roy would have looked if he had never left Eloe.

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