Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories The Ballad of the Sad Café, Part 5
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The Ballad of the Sad Café, Part 5
The day of the fight was Groundhog Day, in mid-February, when the weather was no longer too cold.
Miss Amelia took down her punching bag, and Marvin Macy greased his arms and legs with hog fat, which: gross.
The town gathered in expectation. They moved the tables to make room in the café for the fight, and the two contenders ate a bunch of rare meat for a midday meal, and then napped. As you do before a fight, right?
Cousin Lymon was restless and excited, packed himself a lunch and went to go find a groundhog. He came back a bit later, saying that the groundhog had seen his shadow.
Not knowing what else to do with himself, Cousin Lymon began to paint the porch a bright green. When the paint was gone, the porch was only half-finished.
He seemed satisfied with his half-done job, like a child would be.
The narrator notes here that no one really knew how old Cousin Lymon was—anywhere from twelve to over forty.
The town gathered at the café, people came in cars from neighboring towns, and once the mill let out work for the day, everyone nearby was there to see the fight.
Because seven was Miss Amelia's favorite number, everyone understood the fight would begin at seven o'clock, and Cousin Lymon threaded through the crowd, nervous, waiting for Miss Amelia and Marvin Macy to appear.
At seven o'clock exactly, Miss Amelia came down the stairs, and Marvin Macy came to the front of the café, and they approached each other.
Miss Amelia had changed from her red dress into her old overalls, and Marvin Macy was shirtless, and both were checked for knives. When it was clear neither of them had one, the center of the café was cleared for the fight.
They punched each other's chins to start. They drew back and then re-approached. They were a pretty even match.
The crowd watched them savagely, pressed against the walls, except for Cousin Lymon, who stood on the counter, rashy with excitement and shivering.
After half an hour (!) there was no one with a clear upper hand, and they began to wrestle.
Miss Amelia, the stronger of the two, got Marvin Macy down on the floor and put her hands against his throat.
At this moment, Cousin Lymon leaped from the counter to the center of the ring, and landed on Miss Amelia, grabbing at her throat until Marvin Macy was able to get up.
In all of the confusion, Cousin Lymon slipped out.
Someone poured some water on Miss Amelia and she struggled to her office, to sit at her desk, in view through the open door to the café.
They closed the door, and the quiet crowd left slowly.
That night, every light in Miss Amelia's building was left lit.
In the morning, it was clear that Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon had come into the house before dawn, taking the contents of the curio cabinet, breaking the piano, carving graffiti into the tables of the café, smashing things and taking anything valuable.
Then they went into the swamp to ruin Miss Amelia's whiskey still.
Then they fixed a platter of poisoned grits and sausage on the counter for Miss Amelia.
Then they left town.
In the fallout, the townspeople tried to help, but silently Miss Amelia waved them off.
She was too lost to even charge the right amount for anything in the store, and said everything was a dollar, which in those times was way too steep.
She stopped caring about her doctoring, and no longer cut her hair, which was now turning gray. Her eyes crossed more and more.
Each night for three years, Miss Amelia sat at the top of her steps, as if waiting.
Cousin Lymon never returned to town, and neither did Marvin Macy, and though there were rumors of criminal activity and a sideshow, nothing was ever verified.
After four years, Miss Amelia had the building boarded up.
In the absence of the café, there isn't anything fun to do in town. The place is dreary, and without liquor.
You might as well, the narrator suggests, go listen to a chain gang sing.