‘Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick,’ by Zora Neale Hurston: An Excerpt

He left the house hating the two women bitterly, as only we hate those we have injured.

At the hotel, omitting mention of his shows of affection, his pleas, his solemn promises to Docia, he told the other waiters how that piece of the earth’s refuse had tried to inveigle, to force him into a marriage. He enlarged upon his theme and told them all, in strict confidence, how she had been pursuing him all winter; how she had waited in ambush time and again and dragged him down by the lake, and well, he was only human. It couldn’t have happened with the right kind of a girl, and he thought too much of himself to marry any other than the country’s best.

[ Return to the review of “Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.” ]

So the next day Eatonville knew; and the scourge of tongues was added to Docia’s woes.

Mrs. Boger and her daughter kept strictly indoors, suffering, weeping, growing bitter.

“Mommer, if he jus’ hadn’t tried to make me out a bad girl, I could look over the rest in time, Mommer, but— but he tried to make out— ah— — ”

She broke down weeping again.

Drip, drip, drip went her daughter’s tears on the old woman’s heart, each drop calcifying a little the fibers till at the end of four days the petrifying process was complete. Where once had been warm, pulsing flesh was now a cold heavy stone, that pulled down pressing out normal life and bowing the head of her. The woman died, and in that heavy cold stone a tiger, a female tiger— was born.

She was ready to answer the questions Beau had flung so scornfully at her old head: “Well, what are you going to do?”

Docia slept, huddled on the bed. A hot salt tear rose to Mrs. Boger’s eyes and rolled heavily down the quivering nose. Must Docia awake always to that awful desolation? Robbed of everything, even faith. She knew then that the world’s greatest crime is not murder— its most terrible punishment is meted to her of too much faith— too great a love.

She turned down the light and stepped into the street.

It was near midnight and the village slept. But she knew of one house where there would be a light; one pair of eyes still awake.

The article was originally published by Newyorktimes