The Daffodil Sky

by H. E. Bates

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Part I: The Return
‘‘The Daffodil Sky’’ opens with the story’s nameless protagonist arriving by train in an unnamed town. A sign forbidding entry to a footbridge that he used to walk across suggests to him that the town has changed since he was last there. His sense that things have changed is confirmed when he enters a pub that he once frequented and finds a new pinball machine and no familiar faces. Falling into conversation with the barman, the protagonist asks about Cora Whitehead, a woman whom he met when he was twenty-two and who used to frequent the pub. The barman does not know Cora. His repeated response to the protagonist’s comments about Cora’s occupation and her acquaintances is that it has ‘‘been a minute’’—that is, a very long time—since any of this information could be veri- fied. One of the patrons, however, knows Cora, and he confirms that she still lives on Wellington Street. The protagonist finishes his drink and leaves.

Part II: Happy Memories
Stepping outside, the protagonist is reminded of the day years before when he first visited the pub. At this point the present fades and gives way to a flashback of past events. As a young farmer bringing a cartload of daffodils to market, the protagonist was caught in a sudden hailstorm one April morning. Running to get into the pub, he collided with Cora. His attraction to her was immediate. Once inside the pub, the protagonist realized that he wouldn’t be able to get to market by noon, for he was trapped there by intermittent hailstorms. Cora reassured him that all would be well, and the luck with which Cora claimed to provide him held true. He managed to sell all of his daffodils to the crowds of late shoppers who ventured out to make purchases at the market.

The encounter with Cora did seem to bring luck to the protagonist. Full of life’s promise, he replaced his cart with a motorcycle—‘‘a Beardmore combination’’ which he purchased from Cora’s friend, Frankie Corbett—and he subsequently invested in a car. As the affair between the protagonist and Cora blossomed, his luck only seemed to improve. By August, the couple was contemplating purchasing the farmland that the protagonist rented from an aging farmer named Osborne, who was willing to sell on easy terms and at a good price. Their combined funds were insufficient, but Cora suggested that Frankie might help them raise the rest. Cora’s offer to help with the purchase prompted the protagonist to propose marriage, and she gladly accepted. His happiness, however, was brief. Six weeks later, on a rainy October night, the protagonist killed Frankie.

Part III: Bitter Memories
The story returns to the present as the protagonist walks slowly up Wellington Street toward Cora’s house. The sight of a man walking a dog reminds him of how Frankie had appeared on that October night years earlier, and the present scene gives way once more to a flashback. The protagonist was not surprised to see Frankie, for he had learned from Cora that Frankie exercised his dog each evening. The protagonist became jealous and increasingly suspicious of Cora’s relationship with Frankie because Frankie had once been her lover and it had taken her a month of close contact with Frankie to secure the loan. When he learned that Cora was pregnant, the protagonist’s jealousy reached its height because he could not tolerate the thought that the child might be Frankie’s. Although he claims that he merely desired a word with Frankie on the fatal night, the protagonist had come prepared for much...

(This entire section contains 1105 words.)

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He stopped him, and they stood on the pavement and spoke a word or two. He was trembling violently and the air was a confusion of red and black. A few heavier spits of rain came hastily down and Frankie said he was getting wet and hadn’t all night to stand there jawing over trifles. ‘‘There’s no trifle about this and all I want is a straight answer.’’ Then the dog yapped, splashing in a gutter puddle, and Frankie began to swing the crop. He had a sudden blind idea that the swing of the crop was meant for him. A moment later he was hitting at Frankie with a broccoli knife. It was a thin curved knife and he had sharpened it that morning on the grindstone, with Osborne turning the wheel. Then Frankie lashed at him with the crop and then in return he hit out with the knife again. At the fourth or fifth stroke Frankie fell and hit his skull against the iron lip of the gutter, and suddenly there was bright blood in the rain. (Excerpt from ‘‘The Daffodil Sky’’)

At the trial which followed, Cora testified— accurately, the protagonist admits—that his jealousy of Frankie had been of the darkest kind.

Part IV: The Meeting
The story returns to the present with the protagonist standing outside Cora’s house at 84 Wellington Street. He is confused about why he has come. He realizes that at the age of forty (that is, eighteen years after the events of the flashbacks) he should neither look for a new confrontation nor view himself as the same man whose dreams died so long ago. He knocks on the door, dreading the possibility that he might kill Cora on the spot—an act that would not be regarded as manslaughter, as his attack on Frankie apparently had been.

When the door opens, he finds not Cora but her daughter. He claims to be an old friend but does not offer his name. When he is prevented from leaving by a sudden downpour, she offers him an umbrella and then decides to walk with him to the bus stop. The protagonist is attracted to the girl, for she has her mother’s features and temperament. He lets the bus pass and admits that he has nowhere to go, but the girl does not seem surprised. Her friendliness makes his thoughts race. He wants to tell her about himself, yet he also wants to dash off and make a fresh start. The next moment he is in deep despair and feeling lonely. He begins to ask her a question but is cut off by the noise of a passing train. The girl assumes that he wants to ask her out, but he states that he wants a drink and asks her to join him. She accepts, and with the rain apparently ending, the two wander off to the pub.