(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

William Jones, his wife, Pink, and her niece, Annie May, occupy an apartment on the top floor of a Harlem tenement. One Saturday morning, as William eats his breakfast and prepares for work, it is apparent that this will not be a good day. He usually enjoys this first meal of the day—the quiet before the house awakens and the coolness before the sun’s heat penetrates the thin walls and makes the small apartment unbearable. This morning, however, the heat is already intolerable, the coffee tastes awful, the eggs are overcooked, and the warmed-over cornbread tastes like sand in his mouth.

William cannot seem to rid himself of the worries that have plagued him of late, especially the anxiety for his son, a soldier stationed in Georgia. He has not heard from Sam in a long time, and both he and Pink are concerned that the boy may be in trouble. To add to William’s distress, Annie May is out of control and constantly indulged by her doting aunt, who excuses the girl’s every indiscretion by saying, “I don’t care what she’s done, she ain’t got no mother or father except us.”

As William sits at the kitchen table, consumed by these thoughts, he is brought back to consciousness by the sound of movement in the bedroom. When Pink comes into the kitchen, he mumbles something about the heat, then quickly retires to the bedroom. He does not want to talk to his wife just yet. After a while, he comes out of the bedroom, dressed for work. Heading for the door, he stops to question Annie May about the late hours she has been keeping, and she gives him a flippant answer. Her answer seems to meet with approval from Pink, whose laughter mingles with Annie May’s, as William goes out of the door and down the stairs to the mailbox.

There is no letter. Disappointed by another day with no word from Sam, William makes his way through the dismal streets, struck again with their meanness—many of the dilapidated buildings are inhabited by pimps, prostitutes, drunks, and drug addicts. Thoughts of the morning return, and he finds himself reliving incidents of his life. He recalls the many unsuccessful efforts he has made to...

(The entire section is 878 words.)