Monday is no different from any other weekday in Jefferson now. The streets are paved now, and the telephone and electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees – the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms – to make room from iron poles bearing clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes, and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds on Monday morning, gathering the bundles of clothes into bright-colored, specially make motorcars: the soiled wearing of a whole week now flees apparition – like behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminishing noise of rubber and asphalt like tearing silk, and even the Negro women who still take in white people’s washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.
But fifteen years ago, on Monday morning the quiet, dusty, shady streets would be full of Negro women with, balanced on their steady, turbaned heads, bundles of clothes tied up in sheets, almost as large as cotton bales, carried so without touch of hand between the kitchen door of the white house and the blackened washpot beside a cabin door in Negros Hollow.
Nancy would set her bundle on the top of her head, then upon the bundle in turn she would set the black straw sailor hat which she were winter and summer. She was tall, with a high, sad face sunken a little where her teeth were missing. Sometimes we would go a part of the way down the lane and across the pasture with her, to watch the balanced bundle and the hat that never bobbed nor wavered, even when she walked down into the ditch and up the other side and stooped through the fence. She would go down on her hands and knees and crawl through the gap, her head rigid, uptilted, the bundle steady as a rock or a balloon, and rise to her feet again and go on.
Sometimes the husbands of the washing women would fetch and deliver the clothes, but Jesus never did that for Nancy, even before Father told him to stay
away from our house, even when Dilsey was sick and Nancy would come to cook for us.
And then about half the time we’d have to go down the lane to Nancy’s cabin and tell her to come on and cook breakfast. We would stop at the ditch, because Father told us to not have anything to do with Jesus – he was a short black man, with a razor scar down his face – and we would throw rocks at Nancy’s house until she came to the door, leaning her head around it without any clothes on.
“What yawl mean, chunking my house?” Nancy said. “What you little devils mean?”
“Father says for you to come on and get breakfast,” Caddy said. “Father said. “Father says it’s over a half an hour now, and you’ve got to come this minute.”
“I ain’t studying no breakfast,” Nancy said. “I going to get sleep out.”
“I bet you’re drunk,” Jason said. “Father says you’re drunk. Are you drunk, Nancy?”
“Who says I is?” Nancy said. “I got to get my sleep out. I ain’t study no breakfast.”
So after a while we quit chunking the cabin and went back home. When she finally came, it was too late for me to go to school. So we thought it was whisky until that day they arrested her again and they were taking her to jail and they passed Mr. Stovall. He was the cashier in the bank and a deacon in the Baptist church, and Nancy began to say:
“When you going to pay me, white man? When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since you paid me a cent – “Mr. Stovall knocked her down, but she kept on saying, “When you going to pay me, white man? It’s been three times now since – ” until Mr.