(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Johnson, an African American man, is lounging in bed, savoring the last moments of rest before a busy shift at the factory. His wife, Mae, affectionately jokes that he looks like a huckleberry in a winding sheet. Although he protests that that is no way to talk early in the day, he smiles in spite of himself. As Johnson dresses for work, he nurses his aching legs that never seem to get enough rest from one shift to the next. Noting that the date is Friday the thirteenth, Mae considers staying home, but her husband gently urges her to go to work because it is payday—a good-luck day everywhere. By the time he convinces her to leave for work, he has already made himself late.

If this were his own plant, Johnson thinks, he would make many changes, eliminating jobs that are hard on the legs and figuring out ways people can work sitting down. As he pushes his cart up and down the assembly line, he comes close to the foreman. He finds it odd to have a white woman for a boss in a plant, and can never remember to refer to her as the forelady, even in his mind. He tries to avoid her slit-eyed stare, but just as he passes her, she shouts at him over the roar of the machines.

After a tense confrontation with the bigoted Mrs. Scott, during which she humiliates him for again being late and calls him “a nigger,” Johnson feels his fists clench and the veins in his forehead swell. He restrains himself from smashing her face, but afterward wishes that he...

(The entire section is 539 words.)