New Year’s Day prophecy and hangovers were finished with, and Neil was primarily a man with a job, at the bank, in the realistic world of bonds and marble and Pruttery.
On Friday morning, ten days after New Year’s, Mr. Prutt called him into his office.
Mr. Prutt was a virtuous and thrifty man, though an Episcopalian, and he was motherly in his manner of saying, “Neil, sit down, my boy.” He made a tent of his fingers, and looked over the ridgepole.
“I have concluded that your statement about your ancestry, at the club smoker, was not a joke — that you were not drunk, as I had hoped. Of course you regret having made it, and you see how shockingly it will affect your career, but what I don’t know is whether you comprehend how seriously it affects ME, since I am responsible for the credit and stability of this bank.
“As a born Yankee, I have always had great commiseration for you colored people, and have always maintained that it would be more charitable not to educate you beyond the fourth grade, so that you will not get false ideas and realize how unhappy you are. But in your case, I suppose your white blood outweighs any inferior stock, so I imagine that you have always been truly loyal to this Institution, as certainly this Institution has always been loyal to its employees.
“In this unfortunate situation, and you will note that I do not pry unduly into your motives, we shall underwrite you to the limit, and try our best to find out if there is any way in which we can keep from letting you go. BUT.
“For a time, as you will appreciate, it will be much better if the public don’t come into contact with you directly. We can scarcely afford to be known as an Institution that employs a lot of colored people when so many of our white veterans are beginning to look for work.
“So I am afraid I shall have to make other arrangements about the managership of our Veterans’ Center, and I’ll find book-work for you, inside, where none of our customers need see you and misunderstand. People are so inconsiderate! But I shall try to get our Board of Directors not to reduce your salary . . . yet.
“Now, Neilly,” very brightly, “I’m sure you see my philosophy!”
And that was all that this colored man contributed to helping out poor Mr. Prutt.
He had gone back to his desk in the Veterans’ Center, which he had planned and organized, and he was gathering up his private souvenirs, the photograph of Vestal and Biddy, and his pipe and an Italian coin he had found on a battlefield.
The telephone called him. It was Dr. Norman Kamber.
“Neil, can you come right over to your father’s office? I am phoning from there. Your father dropped dead, just a few minutes ago.”
He thought, “This is just silly. This is just melodrama.” There was even a not unpleasurable excitement at so much happening. It was only slowly that he took in the heavy fact that he would never be able to talk with his father again; never see his anxious, sandy smile or hear his chirping little jokes; never be able to make it right with him for having become a Negro.
He remembered that his father had wanted to live on to be the founder of a line of kings; remembered how handy around the house his father had been; and wondered whether the funeral would be on Sunday or on Monday; and if it was to be on Monday, would he be expected to come back to the bank that afternoon? The Veterans’ Center would certainly need him.
And remembered that his Center would never need him again.
These distractions were gone in tenderness for his mother, who would be so alone now. No, she would not be alone. She would have Joan with her. And he had just seen fit to turn them both into Negroes, with the loneliness that all Negroes have in a white community.
He plodded out of the bank in a vision of his mother alone, not daring to talk to her closest neighbor, even in this urgency of death.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57