Each Saturday morning this year, I draw a card from my short story deck to randomly see which of my 52 planned stories I will read next. When I’m good I read the story the same day, but I often fall behind. I was good this week, though. 🙂
I am also enjoying how the hand of fate often seems to pick a story that is somehow appropriate for me at the moment. This morning, for instance, I woke up in a pretty good mood. There’s nothing better to “bring you down” than a Flannery O’Connor story, though, and now my mood is back to a more normal middle of the curve…
“The Geranium” was O’Connor’s first published short story and was one of the six that she submitted for her masters thesis in the creative arts. It’s also part of the collection, “Everything that Rises Must Converge.”
It’s a depressing story of an older man (“Old Dudley”) who has left his home in the South to live out “his declining years” in New York with his daughter. Moving was a rather spontaneous decision that he now regrets, and made partially just because when he was a boy he had seen New York in a picture show, “Big Town Rhythm.” We don’t get the impression that his daughter much cares for him other than taking care of him is “doing her duty.” Dudley had never imagined how alien a place The Big City would be to him and longs for his carefree days fishing on the river back home and using his daily catch to supplement the fare at the boarding house where he was living before the move.
The city is also a place he doesn’t fully understand. He got lost once on a simple errand to get groceries down the street. The “underground train” (subway) is a mystery to him, and it seems they always “just have time to make it” whenever they must catch one. He is shocked when he learns that seeing a black man in the hallway of his daughter’s building doesn’t mean that one of the other tenants has “got ’em a nigger” but rather the man is possibly going to rent the apartment next door.
One small joy that helps keep him going in this strange environment is looking across the gap between his daughter’s apartment building and the next and seeing a potted pink geranium. The neighbors, who he doesn’t know, put out the geranium every day about ten and take it in at five-thirty.
As you might guess with an O’Connor story, though, his one lifeline to happiness comes crashing down by the end of the story, and what lies behind where the geranium would sit is a rude, nameless neighbor who threatens Dudley about looking into his apartment, warning him that, “I only tell people once.” What Becomes of Dudley after this we can only guess, but the reader must know that there is now a finality to his “big city unhappiness.”