When Miss Emily Grierson died, the whole town went to the funeral: men because of some sense of respect for the fallen monument, women mostly because of their curiosity, to see the interior of her house, which no one, except an old servant - who was a cook and a gardener at the same time - he had not seen during the last ten years. It was a large angular log house, which had long since ceased to be white, decorated with domes and turrets and spiral balconies, in the heavy style of the seventies, and found in one of the best streets.
But garages and cotton mills were flooded and even destroyed and the most aristocratic names from that neighborhood; all that remained was Miss Emily's house, rising its stubborn and coquettish remains in decay above the cotton wagons and gas pumps - an eye patch among other patches. And now Miss Emily has gone to join the representatives of those aristocratic families. There, where they lay in the overgrown cemetery cedars, between the rows of anonymous graves of soldiers of the North and South, who fell in the Jefferson Battle.
Alive, Miss Emily represented tradition, duty, and care; a kind of hereditary city obligation, which originated from that day in 1894, when Colonel Sartoris, the city president - the one who issued the order that no black woman should appear at the street without an apron - exempted from paying taxes. This release was valid since her father's death.
Miss Emily would never accept charity. Colonel Sartoris made up a complicated story, from which it was seen that Miss Emily's father had lent the town money, and the city, for business reasons, repaid that debt in this way. He was the only man with so much broad-mindedness and intelligence who could invent such a story, and only the woman could believe in her.
When people of the next generation, with more modern ideas, started becoming mayors and aldermen, that arrangement caused some dissatisfaction. On the first day of the year, they sent her a tax payment notice. February came and there was no answer. They wrote her an official letter, inviting her to report to the municipal office, whenever time permits.
A week later, the mayor himself wrote to her, offering to visit her himself, or that he would send a car to pick her up. In response, he received a short message on an antique paper form, written in narrow flowing handwriting and faded ink, in which she tells him that she's not leaving the house at all anymore. The tax notice was attached without her comment.
"A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment."
They called an extraordinary meeting of the Board of Aldermen. They assembled a deputation and knocked on the door, through which not a single visitor has passed for eight or ten years. The old Negro led them into the half-dark lobby, from which the stairs climbed into an even darker shadow. It smelled of dust and uninhibitedness. They followed the Negro into the living room. It was furnished with heavy leather-covered furniture.
When the Negro lifted the curtain on one of the windows, they saw that it was cracked; and when they sat down, a cloud of imperceptible dust rose lazily around their sides, swaying slowly in the only ray of sunlight. On a gilded stand, which has lost its shine, in front of the mantelpiece, stood a portrait of Miss Emily's father.
They stood up when she entered the room - a small, fat woman in black with a thin gold chain, leaned on an ebony stick with a faded golden head. Her bones were small and thin. She looked bloated, like a body, which lies under still water for a long time, and she had such a pale complexion. Her eyes were lost in the thick folds of the face, which looked like two small pieces of coal embedded in the dough and quickly moved from one side to another, while the visitors presented their reasons for arrival.
She offered them to sit down. She just stood at the door and listened calmly, while the speaker did not pause in confusion. Then they could hear the invisible clock ticking at the end of the gold chain. Her voice was dry and cold when she said that she doesn't pay any taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it and asked if she didn't receive the papers, even from the sheriff who signed the message himself, but Miss Emily said that he might be considered the sheriff, but that she doesn't pay taxes in Jefferson.
"I received a paper, yes," Miss Emily said. "Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff . . . I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But there is nothing on the books to show that, you see We must go by the--"
"See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson."
"But, Miss Emily--"
"See Colonel Sartoris." (Colonel Sartoris had been dead almost ten years.) "I have no taxes in Jefferson. Tobe!" The Negro appeared. "Show these gentlemen out."
That's how she defeated them, exactly as how thirty years ago she defeated their fathers when they came to collect taxes. It was two years after the death of her father and a short time after her lover - the one everyone believed would marry her - left her.
After her father's death, she went out very little; when her beloved left, people barely saw her. Several ladies dared to visit her, but she didn't receive them and the only sign of life in that house there was a Negro - then still a young man - coming in and out with a shopping basket.
That was another connection between the rough, simple world, and the high and mighty Griersons. Some neighbors complained to the town president, Judge Stevens, then 80 years old, about the smell that was coming from the house.
The next day, he received two more complaints and one from a man who came with timid disapproval. That night the Board of Aldermen met - three gray-bearded old men and one younger man from the generation. So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and crept around the house like burglars, sniffing the brick foundations and basement windows, while one of them waved his hand evenly as if sowing from a sack, which he carried over his shoulder.
They broke the cellar door and sprayed the cellar with lime, which they also did in all the side buildings. When they crossed the lawn again, there was something on one of the previously dark windows. Miss Emily could be seen on it, outlined in the light, her torso was motionless like an idol. They quietly crept across the lawn into the shade of the acacias, which lined the street.
After a week or two, the stench disappeared. At that time, people started to feel sorry for her. People of city, remembering when old Mrs. Wyatt, her great-aunt, went mad, believed the Griersons were holding their noses a bit too high for his position. No young man was good enough for Miss Emily. They have always imagined them vividly: Miss Emily, a slender figure in white, stands in the background; in front of her is the silhouette of her father with a whip in his hand, both wide open.
So when she reached her thirties and remained unmarried, that justice had come to her; not even with madness in the family, she would not have refused all her opportunities, if they could have come true. When her father died, it turned out that the house was the only thing she owned; and people liked it. Somehow it was nice. They could finally feel sorry for Miss Emily.
When she was alone, near the beggar's stick, she became more human to them. Now she too will know that excitement and that despair, when a man has more or less money.
The day after his death, all the ladies prepared to visit her, to express their condolences and to offer help, as is their custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and without any trace of pain on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She said this for three days, while priests and doctors kept coming and trying to help to persuade her, to let them bury the corpse. Just when they intended to seek the help of the law and forces, she broke down, and her father was quickly buried.
She was sick for a long time. When people saw her again, she cut her hair short, so she looked like a little girl and vaguely reminded of those angels in colored church clothes windows - somehow tragic and heavenly.
The city had just issued contracts for paving the sidewalks, and in the summer, after her father's death, the work started. The construction company came with Negros and mules and machines and a foreman named Homer Barron. He was a big, strong man, with a strong voice and eyes brighter than his face. Little boys would follow him in droves to hear him curse on the Negros. Whenever they heard a lot of laughter, somewhere around the square, they knew that Homer Barron was in the center of the group. They soon began to see him and Miss Emily as every Sunday in the afternoon they drove in a carriage with yellow wheels, in which they had harnessed a harmonious pair of colts from stables.
At first, they were glad that Miss Emily was interested in something, but soon they started saying that a Grierson girl can't think of anything serious with a Northerner, and when they realized she spends more and more time with him they called her poor, as it was a shame for someone with her name to walk with the ordinary workman.
"And as soon as the old people said, "Poor Emily," the whispering began. "Do you suppose it's really so?" they said to one another. "Of course it is. What else could . . ." This behind their hands; rustling of craned silk and satin behind jalousies closed upon the sun of Sunday afternoon as the thin, swift clop-clop-clop of the matched team passed: "Poor Emily.""
But even when they believed she had fallen - she held her head high. It seemed, as if more than ever she demanded respect for her dignity, like the last Grierson: as if only that earthly touch was needed to re-establish her inviolability.
Like when she bought rat poison, arsenic. That was about a year after they began to say "Poor Emily", and while two cousins were visiting her. She was over thirty then, and she was still a slim woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, puffy black eyes.
"Yes, Miss Emily. What kind? For rats and such? I'd recom--"
"I want the best you have. I don't care what kind."
The druggist named several. "They'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Arsenic," Miss Emily said. "Is that a good one?"
"Is . . . arsenic? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want arsenic."
The pharmacist looked at her. She looked away from him, straight, with a face like unfurled flags. Miss Emily just stared at him, her head thrown back so their eyes met directly opposite, until he looked down and found the arsenic and wrapped it up. The delivery man brought her a package. When she opened the package at home, on the box was written: "For rats."
So the next day all of them thought she would kill herself, and when they started seeing her with Homer Barron, they were like, "She's going to marry him." Then they said, "She will rather leave him," because men who drank with younger people at the Elks' Club wasn't a man for marriage. Afterward, they said, "Poor Emily," behind the blinds, as they passed on Sunday afternoons in a glittering carriage. Miss Emily held her head high and Homer Barron tipped his hat, holding a cigarette in his teeth, and the reins and whip in a yellow glove.
Then some of the ladies started saying that it was a shame for their city and a bad example for younger people. People didn't want to get involved, but the ladies finally forced a Baptist minister - Miss Emily's family belonged to the Episcopal church - to talk to her. He never wanted to reveal what happened during that conversation and refused to go again. On the following Sunday, they drove again, and the next day the priest's wife wrote a letter to Miss Emily's relatives in Alabama.
So she got her bloodline under the same roof and everybody prepared to watch developments. At first, nothing happened. Then they became sure that they would get married. They found out Miss Emily had been to the jeweler and had ordered a silver set of men's toiletries, on which she had engraved the initials H. B. Two days later they found out that she had bought a complete men's wardrobe, including that nightgown, and they were really glad, but her cousins were there.
So they weren't surprised when Homer Barron was gone. They were somewhat disappointed that there was no public performance, but they believed that he had gone to prepare something for Miss Emily's arrival or to give her a chance to get rid of a relative. And indeed, after a week they left. And, as they expected all along, Homer Barron was back in town.
A neighbor saw a Negro let him into the house through the back door at dusk one evening. And that was the last they saw of Homer Barron and Miss Emily for a long time. The Negro went in and out with a shopping basket, but the front door remained closed.
Sometimes they would see her at the window, just for a moment, like those nights, when people sprinkled lime, but she didn't appear on the street for almost six months.
The next time they saw Miss Emily, she had gained weight and her hair was falling out and started to turn gray. Over the next few years, she got grayer and grayer. Until the day of her death at the age of seventy, her hair still had that vivid iron gray.
From that time the front door remained closed, except for periods of six or seven years, when she was about forty and when she gave classes in porcelain coloring. She did a one-room workshop on the lower floor, where the daughters and granddaughters of Sartorius's contemporaries were sent with the same regularity and in the same spirit, as they were sent every Sunday to church and with a coin from twenty-five cents for a limousine.
In the meantime, she was exempt from paying taxes. Then the younger generation became the backbone and soul of the city, and students of porcelain painting have grown up and fallen away and they didn't send their children to her with boxes of paint and boring brushes and paintings cut from home magazines. The entrance door closed behind the last student and remained closed forever.
When the town got free postal service, Miss Emily was the only one who refused to nail a metal number over her door and to set up a mailbox for her.
For days, months, and years, they watched the Negro walking in and out with a shopping basket. They would send her a December notice of unpaid tax, which would be returned unopened by mail a week later.
Here and there they would see her at the windows of the lower floor - she had closed off the upper floor completely.
And so she died. She got sick in the house, full of dust and shadows, while the Negro was the only one taking care of her. No one knew she got sick; people stopped trying to ask a long time ago as the Negro stopped talking to anyone, and probably not even to her because his voice became rough and rusty as if he had not used it for a long time.
She died in one of the rooms on the lower floor, in a heavy walnut bed with curtains, her gray head lay on the pillow, yellow and moldy from time and lack of sun.
The Negro greeted the first ladies at the front door and ushered them in with muffled shrill voices and quick inquisitive glances, and then he was gone. He passed through the house and out the back door and was never seen again.
Two cousins came immediately. They arranged the funeral on the second day, while the ladies were in a funereal mood, and very old gentlemen - some of them in brushed Southern uniforms - were having conversations at the porch and lawn about Miss Emily.
They knew that there was one room in that area on the top floor that no one had seen in forty years, and which they would now have to force open. They waited until Miss Emily was not properly buried, and then they opened the room.
"Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it."
The violent breaking of the door seemed to fill the room with all-pervading dust. The room was decorated and furnished for newlyweds with faded pinks on Valencian curtains, pink lampshades, delicate crystal decorations, and a set of men's toiletries utensils covered with faded silver monogram. A stiff collar and tie lay between them as if someone had just taken them off. A suit was lying on the chair, carefully folded, and two mutes were standing under shoes and discarded socks.
The man himself was lying in bed.
For a long time, people just stood, looking at the constant, mouthless grin. What was left of him rotted under what was left of the nightgown, he became inseparable from the bed, in which he lay, both on it and the pillow next to him lay that uniform blanket of a patient and omnipresent dust.
It was then that people noticed that there was an indentation of someone's head on the second pillow. Someone lifted something from there, and they saw a long lock of iron-gray hair.