Short Story #355: Son in the Afternoon by John A. Williams

Title:  Son in the Afternoon

Author:  John A. Williams

Summary

Book cover to The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers - Langston Hughes.
The narrator, Wendell, explains that the summer sun is doing a number on him.  He is an African American writer who checks Hollywood scripts to make sure there is nothing offensive in the script to alienate the population.  He is going over to Santa Monica to pick up his mother who works as a nanny to a rich family, the Couchmans.  He remarks about how strange it is that the folk who hire help know so little about the help and yet the help learns many of the intimate details of the rich people's lives.  He enters begrudgingly by way of the kitchen to find his mother.  She invites him to relax as she is tending to Couchman's child who is sick and she is uncertain where or when the mother will be back as she likes to go off tanning during the sunny days.  The boy at one point yells and orders around the Wendell's mother and Wendell barks at him in retort.  The mother comforts Couchman's child and Wendell reflects on how much love and attention this child gets throughout the day from his mother even though he and his siblings got so little while growing up with the same woman.  He goes outside where Mrs. Couchman is pulling up in her Jaguar.  They begin to chat and Wendell purposely comments on how nice her tan is, knowing that she will appreciate such a comment from an African American but finding the effort to tan ridiculous.  However, he begins to make the moves on her and she is clearly into him, but then the child begins to call and look for her.  She tries to back away from his embrace and kiss, but he won't let her.  His goal for the boy to see the image of them together and so it happens.  Mrs. Couchman is stunned by it all and Wendell then finds his mother and leaves.

Reflection

Such a weighty story with many avenues wherein Williams discusses the nature of black-white relations, even among the successful.  One passage I found striking with all that it contains as it speaks to the glaring contrast of the racial politics as well as to the frustration:

"Most white people i know think it's a great big deal if a Negro compliments them on their tans.  It's a large laugh.  You have all this volleyball about color and come summer you can't hold the white folks back from the beaches, anyplace where they can get some sun.  And of course the blacker they get, the more pleased they are.  Crazy.  If there is ever a Negro revolt, it will come during the summer and Negroes will descend upon the beaches around the nation and paralyze the country.  You can't conceal cattle prods and bombs and pistols and police dogs when you're showing your birthday suit to the sun."  

Short Story #355 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  12/1/2014
Source:  The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers, ed. by Langston Hughes.  Little, Brown, and Company, 1967.  This story can also be found for free at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Comments

  1. A well written piece that presents a true vista about a sad, real situation. Ronnie, the boy, is transfixed for life by what Wendell made him see. The mother, Kay Couchman, will never change. Her attitudes are permanent; her self-centered, self-righteous life will endure. Nora's loving acceptance of the boy troubles me even while I understand it - from my seeing the ways many Health-Care workers dote over their charges while ignoring their own children, siblings, and parents. Wendell's problems are every bit as serious as Kay's and he will never change either

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