The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
There is lttle in the town except the cotton mill, the two-room houses where the workers live, a few peach trees, a church, and a miserable main street. There is nothing to do on an August afternoon. In this town there was once a cafe, whose owner was Amelia Evans, but the people responsible for the success and gaiety of the place were a hunchback, Cousin Lymon, and the former husband of Miss Amelia who returned to the town after a long term in the penitentiary.
Miss Amelia inherited the building from her father, and it was mostly a feed store. She was a tall, dark woman with a masculine quality. She was a solitary person who cared little for men. Miss Amelia was only not at ease with people. The only use that she had for them was to make money out of them. She was the richest person around. It was a midnight in April when Amelia was thirty that her life changed. Outside was Stumpy MacPhail, a foreman with a red face. There were also the Rainey twins, Henry Macy, a shy and timid man. They saw somebody coming. It was a hunchbacked stranger who came looking for Amelia. He claimed to be kin to her, and wept. Miss Amelia could not speak. One of the twins called the man a regular Morris Finestein (a Jew who wept all the time). They gave him liquor. He admitted to Amelie that he was Lymon Willis. Miss Amelia invited him to supper. The men on the porch thought that there must be something wrong with this.
The next morning was serene. Miss Amelia came down at about dawn. The town already knew about the hunchback, but nobody had yet seen him. The next day Miss Amelia did not open the store, but stayed locked up at home. A rumor was started by Merlie Ryan that Miss Amelia murdered the man for something in his suitcase. Some condemned Amelia for her unusual manner. When people came to the store, nothing seemed really wrong. A group gathered on her porch and came into the store. The men looked up and saw the hunchback. He was not the pitiful creature that they pictured him to be. He had the snuffbox which had belonged to Miss Amelia's father with him. He said it was a lay-low to catch meddlers. The hunchback almost immediately established contact with the people. Amelia broke her rule of not allowing liquor to be opened or drunk by anyone but herself. This was the beginning of the cafe. The atmosphere of a cafe implies these qualities: fellowship, the satisfactions of the belly, and a certain gaiety and grace of behavior.
The next four years continued much alike. The cafe expanded. Each night the hunchback came down the stairs with the air of one who has a grand opinion of himself. The hunchback had a deep fear of death.
Miss Amelia loved Cousin Lymon. According to Mrs. McPhail, the two were living in sin. That was untrue. Love is a joint experience between the lover and the beloved.
Amelia married Marvin Macy, the brother of Henry and the handsomest man ni town. His reputation was worse than any other young man in the county. Love changed Marvin Macy. He was one of seven unwanted children, and was abused. He and Henry were taken into the home of Mary Hale. Henry became the kindest man in town; his brother, not so. Love reversed his character; he even attended church. Some expected marriage to make Amelia into a woman, but it did not. Amelia would not make love to him. The two got into a fight. After the fight, Marvin Macy left, after writing a long curious letter. She cut up his Klansman's robe to cover her tobacco plants.
Cousin Lymon took over the room which was Marvin Macy's during his ten day marriage. On the other side of the parlor was Miss Amelia's bedroom, which was smaller and very simple. The parlor was elaborate. Miss Amelia kept her removed kidney stones and a large acorn she picked up on the afternoon Big Papa died. Miss Amelia was a silent woman, but there were certain topics of conversation in which she took pleasure. The only thing that she and Lymon never discussed was Marvin Macy.
Six years passed since Lymon came to town. Henry Macy was in the corner near the door, drinking (which was unusual for him). Miss Amelia came out of her office in good spirits. She sat by Henry Macy. She tried talking to the uncommunicative Henry, then attended to a patient. Lymon was often a trouble-maker and an instigator. He was bored that evening, for there was not much going on. Henry Macy told Amelia that he got a letter from his brother, who is on parole out of the penitentiary. Cousin Lymon wondered what was going on- he hated to be out of a mystery. Amelia vowed that he would never set a foot on her premises.
That autumn was a happy time. For Amelia this was a time of great activity. The first cold spell came at last. She had to go to Cheehaw that day, and asked Lymon to come with her, but he was loath to leave the commotion. She passed a track. A man jumped down from the back of the truck and the truck went on its way. Lymon was the first to see this newcomer. It was immediately known that Marvin Macy was back. Merlie Ryan asked him if he had a good time in the penitentiary.
Miss Amelia did not come home until almost dark. Everybody expected to see her burst into a terrible holler and chase him out of town. Amelia almost went into a trace. Marvin threw Cousin Lymon to the ground.
Nobody was glad to see Marvin Macy. He brought bad fortune with him. People suspected everything about him, even the way that he never sweat. Cousin Lymon began acting strangely. The cafe brought a new pride to the people. Almost everyone, with the exception of Reverend T.M. Willin, came to the cafe at least once a week. A great thing happened that winter. People awoke differently. The snow that fell was blue and silver. Marvin Macy laid claim to the snowfall. He claimed to have seen it in Atlanta. Marvin Macy moved in with Amelia. Lymon gave up his bed to Macy. Amelia gave up her bed to Lymon. Lymon always stirred up trouble between Amelia and Marvin. The cafe became more and more crowded every night with interest. Everybody expected them to fight.
Their actual fight took place on Groundhog Day. They fought at seven that day. The two wrestled, and she forced him to teh floor. But at that instant, a cry sounded in the cafe that caused a bright shiver to run down the spine. Lymon sprang forward, and clutched at Miss Amelia. Soon after Marvin and Lymon left, after breaking everything and stealing food.
Miss Amelia was left alone. She raised her prices and became a less skilled doctor.The whole town became dreary.