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Night fell.  The darkness was thin, like some sleazy dress that has been worn and worn for many winters and always lets the cold through to the bones.


This has to be one of the best openings ever.  I like it much better than “Call me Ishmael.”  It seems to me to actually be thumbing its nose at the old cliché, “It was a dark and stormy night.”


Yet this lead in portends a very disturbing little story.  Jason and Sara Morton are cold through to the bone.  They are chilled by winter and by poverty with only a few thin blankets that aren’t nearly enough even if they sleep with their clothes on.


I believe they are tenant farmers.  They’ve been tired and cold and poor for too long.  It’s supposed to be spring.  The plants have been set out already, yet the whistle signals a freeze.  They are obliged then to get up from their already freezing bed and take what few bed covering they have to protect the plants.  When they run out of blankets, they start giving up articles of clothing.


This would all be disturbing enough.  In Welty’s Mississippi, already poverty-stricken before the Depression, people must have lived like this, barely surviving the cold in an effort to save the crops.  Sometimes they would not have survived at all.


But that’s not where the story ends.  Jason snaps, and in a desperate attempt to stave off the freeze, he burns, one by one, every item that will burn in their little house.  They don’t have much to start with, so by the time the bed, chair, and table are all gone, the night chill hasn’t even lifted yet.  They are still cold.  They have nothing left.  The whistle is still blowing.


I’ll have chills for quite some time just thinking about it.