Cissy Fox strode aggressively along the sidewalk toward her front gate, swinging her handbag. She pretended not to notice her neighbour, Peggy Roth, who was weeding the flower beds, and kept her attention focused on the For Sale sign the realtor had erected on the front yard.
The For Sale sign would never have been there were it not for Peggy Roth. If the neighbours had been more tolerable, she and her husband would never have contemplated moving at all. Leastwise, not so soon after having moved in. Cissy snatched some letters and a copy of the New York Times out of the mail box, slammed shut its lid, and continued her stride up the front walk. She concentrated her gaze on the newspaper photograph of President Truman shaking hands with one of Uncle Joe Stalin's comrades. She was glad that at least some things were still normal.
When Cissy and her husband, Ken, moved into the house not that many months ago, she was naturally nervous. It wasn't just the concern of what it would be like after those years of separation while her husband served his country in Europe and became one of the most handsomely decorated Negroes in the nation's armed forces. Cissy recognised that the causes of Liberty and Democracy came ahead of her desire for her husband to be by her side during those difficult months of pregnancy. A time that culminated in little Eleanor's birth (named after the wife of the president she and her husband so much admired).
She knew that Negroes, even ones as well educated as Ken and Cissy, would not necessarily be welcomed in a white neighbourhood. But she and Ken had ideals, liberal ideals, fostered and encouraged by the example of the late president. When Ken got offered the appointment at the Hospital, he immediately accepted it. And this was despite it being a more junior role than would have been offered a white man with the same educational achievements and less well-decorated in defence of the flag.
"There's only one way that the white men in our great nation can come to accept the Negro, Cissy," he told her, "and that is for us coloured folk to show that we are just as able to succeed as they are."
So, on the day they moved in, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that Cissy and Ken first knocked on their neighbours' doors to introduce themselves. They were aware that their presence had been well noted from the stares they attracted as they stood by and supervised their possessions being heaved out of the delivery van.
However, it was not Cissy's fears about racial prejudice that were ultimately to be their main vexation, although originally it was very much the greatest source of their anxiety.
In fact, it seemed that Peggy and Aaron Roth couldn't have been less prejudiced if they tried. Aaron shook Ken's hand so warmly, immediately broaching the subject that had remained unspoken but always present when they had introduced themselves to Herbert and Nelly Wood, their other neighbours.
"Gee! It's great to have a Negro couple move next door. We're Jews, you know. And I can only give thanks that our parents emigrated from Europe when they did, otherwise, well, you read the news..."
"I visited one of the camps, myself," Ken remarked. "I saw the ovens and the corpses. We'd never believed it possible."
"Gee! I guess none of us did."
Cissy was delighted by their chat with Peggy and Aaron. She lingered for half an hour, drinking beer on their neighbours' porch while Ken told anecdotes about his service in Europe. Cissy never tired of his stories. How he captured those four German soldiers. How he prevented some American soldiers looting a German house. How the soldiers under his command had secured several key military targets, taking advantage of their skin colour for night-time reconnaissance. How he was treated like a freak in England, where people had never seen a black man before. And, of course, though this Ken didn't mention, of their belief that a black man's penis was larger than a white man's. Not something Cissy could ever vouch for, having never got to know a white man so intimately, but she was sure happy with all nine inches of what Ken had to offer.
But Cissy had to take care of little Eleanor, so she left Ken chatting with Aaron and Peggy. She was happy then, as she would not be now, for her husband to be out of her sight.
She could see that Peggy was, relatively speaking, quite a forward woman. But Cissy wasn't that sure of the ways of white folk, especially Jewish white folk, who she heard were especially liberal and open. Like Cissy, Peggy was a woman in her late twenties. Unlike Cissy, she wore her blouse cut just so low, her bosom pushed up just so high and her arms were bare from her shoulder to her bracelet-adorned wrist. And the make-up! Was it necessary for a white woman to wear such thick layers? Her eyes were blue and startling. And the red of her lipstick made her lips seem as big as those of a Negro woman such as herself.
Nevertheless, despite her good Christian faith, Cissy was of the general opinion that white and black folks just didn't mix. That forwardness in her smile to Ken and the way she rested her hand on his arm just that little more lingeringly than Cissy ever would on a stranger, this was just the odd way white folks, particularly Jewish white folks, behaved. Perhaps the God of Moses and David was a more permissive God than the one she worshipped?
There was something strangely evasive about Ken when he finally arrived home, ever so slightly tipsy after having imbibed rather more than the half glass of beer that Cissy had permitted herself, His kiss on her cheek was somehow curt and perfunctory. And he buried himself in the newspaper crossword rather sooner than normal, with the radio broadcasting that bebop jazz that had been such a revelation to him when he returned to America.
It was only later, when they lay in bed together, that Ken became more relaxed. Cissy was pleased that he was, if anything, rather more amorous than usual, although she hoped that the cries of their passionate lovemaking wouldn't awaken little Eleanor. Cissy stroked Ken's limp penis as it flopped between his thighs, admiring its distinctly darker hue.
"You seem troubled, love," Cissy remarked.
"Nothing? I can read you like a book. I can see it's not nothing. Is it the neighbours?"
Ken looked alarmed.
"Neighbours? What's this about the neighbours? Should I be troubled? What are you saying?"
"When we visited Mr and Mrs Wood, and Mrs Wood said 'nigger'..."
Ken looked suddenly relieved.
"Oh that! You get used to being called a 'nigger' in the Army, dear. It's nothing. Nothing at all!"
Cissy was right to be perturbed though. And it wasn't the Woods' unthinking prejudice as she discovered a short while later when she returned home unexpectedly. She had taken Eleanor to the nursery and found that she wasn't needed, after all, at the clinic where she worked most mornings. It was when she got home she discovered the real cause for Ken's strangeness that evening. And for his continued evasiveness the days following.
Perhaps Cissy should have been warned by the grunting, panting sound she heard when she pushed open the front door. She hadn't expected anyone to be home. Ken should be working at the Hospital, so perhaps there was something wrong with the plumbing. Or maybe it was the call of one of those strange birds that live further out West. What she didn't expect to see, when she pushed open the bedroom door, was her bed, or more exactly the bed she shared with her husband, occupied by not one, but two bodies, and that only one of those bodies was black.
"Kenneth Fox! What are you doing?" Cissy shouted, relieved that her anger gave her a voice that she would otherwise have lost in shame and disgust.
For there it was, as she adjusted her gaze to the unfamiliar sight, two people making love. In fact, and she hated the sound of the very word, let alone the actual sight of it, they were fucking. And one of those people, the one whose penis was thrusting in and out of the blatantly displayed vagina, was none other than her husband.
Ken turned round his head, startled and ashamed, but the white woman underneath, who Cissy could now determine was Peggy, gripped him tightly to her bosom, holding him so that he couldn't easily escape.
"Gee! Hello, Cissy! We didn't expect to see you here!" she said, through short panting breaths, stubbornly gripping her legs around Ken's buttocks.
"I don't care what you expected. Get your hands off my husband!"
"Are you asking me to stop in the middle of a perfectly good fuck, Mrs Fox? Have you any idea how impertinent and rude that is? How would you like it if I were to come over while you were making love and forced you apart from your husband?"
"What? Sorry. What are you saying?" wondered a suddenly flustered Cissy.
Peggy gripped Ken to her breasts, Cissy's husband curiously uncertain as to what he should do, which bothered Cissy rather more than she imagined. In all the portrayals of this scene she'd ever imagined, or read about, or seen hinted in the movies, the discovered guilty parties separated instantly, guilty and ashamed, while the moral high ground was occupied by the wronged and affronted spouse.
"Your husband and I have just been making love. And very good at it, he is too! You are a very lucky woman, Mrs Fox. And now you come in, while we're in the middle of our lovemaking, and it seems that not only have you no intention of participating, which would be the polite way of extending your affection toward your husband in the thralls of his passion, but it seems you want us to stop."
.... There is more of this story ...