Posted in Short Stories

Ernest J. Gaines: The Sky Is Gray

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 30

Us go out, and the old lady come to the door to look at us. After us go a little piece I look back, and she still there watching us.

The sleet’s coming down heavy, heavy now, and I turn up my collar to keep my neck warm. My mama tell me turn it right back down.

‘You not a bum,’ she say. ‘You a man.’

It’s always interesting when a story is told with an accent, a dialect or exactly however a character might talk, but if it’s the right words and the right story, of which Ernest J. Gaines’ “The Sky is Gray” is both, it’s more than worth it. This story is competing with William Melvin Kelley’s “Cry For Me” as my favorite story of the year so far.

It’s told through the eyes of a young boy who needs a tooth pulled. He and his mother make their way from rural Louisiana to the nearest dentist in less than perfect weather. They experience racism, conflicts in ideas among those in the waiting room, and when its needed most, a small dose of kindness.

Similar to John Caswell Smith’s “Fighter”, the mother doesn’t allow her son much in the way of being a boy but a small amount of tenderness and the recognition of kindness gives the reader the idea that the narrator might grow up with a true sense of who he is.

I think its this potential that makes the narration’s dialect so compelling. That sense of self is already starting.

This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Six of Spades for Week 30 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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