The Gilded Six-Bits

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Newlyweds Joe and Missie May Banks frolic in their newfound marital bliss. Their Saturday afternoon routine is especially playful, as Joe comes home from his job at the local fertilizer plant lovingly to toss fifty-cent pieces at his young wife who has been busy preparing for his arrival. She has cleaned and scoured the house, its surroundings, and herself and has prepared Joe’s bath water for him to do the same before they settle down to a long afternoon of pleasure.

This particular Saturday afternoon, after the usual tossing of the money and Missie May’s playful rifling of Joe’s pockets to retrieve the candy kisses he always brings her, Joe has a surprise for Missie May. In addition their usual routine, Joe announces that he is taking his wife to town to the recently opened ice cream parlor to enjoy a treat. This visit will also give Joe an opportunity to show off his wife to the townspeople, especially to the proprietor of the ice cream parlor, Otis D. Slemmons, a recent arrival to the town and a showoff and braggart.

As they return home, Joe is excited over Slemmons’s apparent success and is clearly taken with the way that Slemmons shows off his gold pieces, how he wears fine clothes, and how he talks in a citified manner. Missie May, however, is more reflective about the encounter with Slemmons and begins to devise a plan by which she can get some of the gold pieces for Joe.

Some nights later, Joe comes home early from work because of a shutdown at the plant. As he steps into his kitchen door, he accidentally knocks some dishes to the floor and hears a quick movement in the bedroom. Thinking perhaps that he has frightened an intruder intent on harming his wife, Joe springs into action. However, he is immediately stopped in his tracks as he steps into the bedroom and finds that the intruder is none other than Otis D. Slemmons, whom he catches in a compromising position without his pants. After Joe soundly whips and dispatches Slemmons, he turns in sorrow and disbelief to his wife, who pleads that she was doing it all for him. Compounding the absurdity of this betrayal and Missie May’s shame, is Joe’s discovery that the gold money that Slemmons is so fond of showing off is nothing more than a gilded six-bit coin.

The aftermath of the betrayal finds husband and wife trying to regain lost ground—Joe behaving aloofly as if nothing has happened, and Missie May working overtime to try to win back Joe’s love. Eventually, physical desire gives way to a reunion of sorts, but the next morning, Missie May finds the gilded six-bit as payment from Joe, an act that sends her further into despair.

Soon, however, Missie May is pregnant, a condition that fuels speculation as to who the father is. She confirms simply that it is Joe. When the boy is born, he looks just like Joe. Thus the reconciliation begins, as love and family overcome a single act of foolishness. As the story closes, Joe Banks has resumed his routine—marketing in Orlando and purchasing candy kisses for his wife and son with the gilded six-bit left by Otis D. Slemmons. When Joe arrives at home, he tosses the familiar fifty-cent pieces at his wife’s door, a signal that they have come full circle. Fortunately, for Joe and Missie May, all is forgiven and all is forgotten.

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