Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary
As if Irene’s wish had come true, as she is downtown shopping with a friend, she bumps into Clare’s husband. John recognizes Irene immediately. He stops and pushes forward his hand to shake hers. He even calls her by name. But then Irene sees a strange look pass over John’s face. John had turned to glance at Irene’s friend. Then he had looked back at Irene and again turned to her friend, as if he were comparing them. She looks over at Felise and sees what John is looking at. Although Felise’s skin is not very dark, she is obviously a Negro. Irene recalls how vehemently John had spoken against Negroes when she first met him in Chicago two years ago. John is extremely prejudiced. He wants nothing to do with blacks. The look on John’s face as the three of them stand on that New York corner tells Irene that John now understands Irene is black. The logical progression of thought would then be for John to question what his wife, Clare, is doing with a friend who is a Negro.
Irene, upon reading John’s expressions, refuses to shake his hand. She merely turns away from him and continues walking down the street. However, even as she does so, she curses herself. She should have introduced John to Felise, stating that he is Clare’s husband. Felise knows that Clare is a Negro, but she did not know Clare is married to a Caucasian and is passing as white. The news would spread fast. People would talk. Clare would have many questions to answer as her husband examined her. Irene wonders if it might even lead to a divorce. But a divorce would not help Irene; it would only make Clare more available.
Irene says nothing to Felise. Instead, she merely avoids any discussion of who John is or why Irene walked away from him. There is a story behind it, but all Irene tells Felise is that she once purposefully passed as white. That one time was in the company of the man they just bumped into.
Irene makes excuses and leaves Felise earlier than they had planned. When she arrives home, Brian is there, but she does not tell him about the chance meeting with John. She does not open up to Brian any of her reflections on the incident. She keeps it all to herself, though she does not know why. Later that night, as Irene lies in bed waiting for Brian to come upstairs, she hears the front door open and close and knows Brian has gone out for the evening. At that moment, she has the most evil thought she has ever conjured. She wishes Clare were dead. The thought makes her feel sick, but she cannot rid it from her mind.