Short story assignment. English literature 1.
An Adaptation of the short story Nineteen Fifty-five by Alice Walker.
Written for English Literature 1.
Short Story Assignment – Nineteen Fifty-Five.
It all started when I was just 18. I was finished school and the local deacon brought me to see some lady in to get one of her songs. After hearing me sing the previous week he was convinced that I could be famous and that all I needed were these songs.
We rolled up to her house in a brand new red Thunderbird convertible. We passed the house a few times, I was nervous and wanted to make sure that it was the right house. I thought that waiting would help settle my nerves but it only made them worse.
We walked up to the door and an old lady answered, well maybe not old but to me she seemed old. I couldn’t speak I just stood there. The woman looked scared at first. She thought we were selling stuff. Her name was Gracie after a while we went into the house. I went over to the television and turned the volume up, I don’t know why I did this I guess I just wanted to make myself look busy.
The deacon started talking to Gracie. He was asking her about some of her songs. He told her that I loved her songs. She looked at me I didn’t know what to do I just blinked and mumbled a few words and from the look on her face I don’t think she understood me. The deacon offered her some money then, he only offered her five hundred dollars. Not much where I come from but she seemed happy with it, it was as if that money would make a big difference to her live and as I was to learn it would but not as big a difference as those songs were going to make to mine. We were just leaving when the deacon remembered something. He insisted that we go back. I didn’t want to but of course like the previous time I didn’t have much say in it. Gracie opened the door, she looked a bit shocked, but she just commented on one of us forgetting our hat. He wanted to buy all her records as well. I didn’t know why and Gracie seemed pretty shocked. But I guess he had his reasons. She wanted more money for them and the Deacon gave her all the money she wanted and promised her money for loyalties as well. She got a good deal and I don’t think she could have asked for any more. Then we left and thankfully this time there was no going back. I am sure that Gracie must have been laughing at me. A kid trying to sing her songs, she must have been laughing.
In the following weeks the Deacon worked with me on those songs. He wanted me to sing them just the way that Gracie did. I had to copy everything about how she sang the song. It was as if I was supposed to pretend I was her. I had to get everything exactly the same as her. It took up all my time. Finally I was ready, well I didn’t think I was but the Deacon thought I was. He had organised for me to go on television. He had set up a group of little screaming girls as well. They were meant to be my fans. I didn’t even know I had fans. I was just hoping that Gracie did not hear me doing her song like that. I didn’t want her getting upset. In the following weeks we didn’t have to hire fans I had my own. The song was a huge hit I was famous everyone loved me.
The song was out on record just in time for Christmas. We noted that the song was written my Gracie on the cover but I really don’t think that anyone noticed that. It wasn’t her song, it was my song now. I didn’t feel right singing her songs and being all famous for something that wasn’t even mine. I didn’t even know what her songs were supposed to be about. I just couldn’t sing them without thinking about what they meant. I was tired of everything. I kept thinking about what I was singing but I couldn’t make sense of it. What did these words mean? There had to be some meaning behind the words. A couple of weeks and I had worn myself out thinking. I knew I couldn’t figure out the meanings so I thought I would go and see Gracie. I was still nervous visiting her this time not like the first time though, this was a different type of fear. I was afraid she had heard me singing her songs and that she would be angry. Her family played my song. I guess they just thought it was cool having some kind of celebrity in their house. But I didn’t want to hear that song. It had become a nightmare for me to hear. I just couldn’t stop thinking about its meaning; I was making so much money out of something I didn’t even feel I deserved to own. I asked Gracie what it meant I knew that was the only way that I would ever know. I thought that maybe if she told me that I would be able to sing it again. I would be able to make it my own again. I asked her what it meant but all she said was “whatchumean, what do it mean? It mean what it says”. I just looked at her I had expected an answer. I thought I would finally know the meaning but that’s all she said. I kept staring at her I was disappointed. I thought that maybe she was just pretending to not know and that she would tell me any moment but then she said that it was just a song and that the words didn’t mean anything. I knew then that she wasn’t going to tell me. I could tell that she knew I was disappointed. I had gotten her a car a nice new purple Cadillac I thought it was the least I could do considering how much money I was making singing her songs. She seemed really happy with it. It felt good to give her something back.
Shortly after that I was drafted into the army. I suppose being a famous singer doesn’t get you out of fighting for your country. I was sent to Germany and I while I was there I had a lot of time to think about the songs. I kept thinking about the meanings of them. I knew Gracie told me that they didn’t have any meaning but I just couldn’t help but think that maybe she just wasn’t telling me.
I had some time to myself while I was there. Back home I didn’t have much free time; the fame had sort of taken over my whole life. I spent a lot of time writing to Gracie, I sent her a few things that I thought she would like. I sent her some food and a self-cleaning oven. I thought that it might make her life better. But she begged me not to send her more. She seemed like a really happy person. She didn’t need money or a mink coat. She had her family and husband. She has people that care about her. She has nothing to worry about. I envy her I really do. I have all I want, I can have anything that money can buy but I am not happy. I am gaining weight. I’m eating too much. I know it is because I am not happy and I still don’t know the meaning of her songs. I asked her again but now I’m beginning to think that maybe she doesn’t even know what they mean either.
I didn’t see Gracie for about eight or nine years after that. Life just seemed so busy back then. Then one day I went to see her. She had gotten old and fat. J.T. had died and she was now with some other guy Horace I think his name was. The weight wasn’t much to complain about it made her look good. It made her look distinguished. I wish I could have said the same about myself. I had grown lazy over the years. I had all I could have ever wanted and all I could eat. I didn’t care much about my looks any more. I wanted to ask Gracie to dinner. All those years and I still didn’t feel like I had repaid her for all she had given me. Sure she had only given me her songs but they were everything to me. They were the reason for my fame and the reason I had all that I had. We talked for a while and I told her that I knew everything about her past. I’m sure she had already guessed but I wanted to be honest to her. I told her about my failed marriages. They never did last long. I think they just wanted my money and as I know now money cannot buy happiness.
When Gracie came over to my house for dinner I wanted to offer her a house but she wasn’t having any of it. I don’t know why but I still felt like I owed her. Maybe it was for the songs or maybe it was because part of me still thought that she would someday tell me what her songs meant. She didn’t want a house though. I would have liked to live my life like Gracie. She treasured the little things like family and although she didn’t have wealth she was still happy. I respected her for that. She was more than I could ever be. I talked to her about my fans. I talked to her about what I thought about them. “They want what you got but they don’t want you. They want what I got only it a’int mine. That’s what makes ‘em so hungry for me when I say. They getting the flavour of something but they aint getting the thing itself. They like a pack of hound dogs trying to gobble up a scent.” She seemed to understand what I was saying. I wanted to tell everyone that it was her that wrote the songs. Of course they already knew but I wanted them to hear her and to hear the real voice behind those songs. I was tired of all the pretending, of all the trying to understand songs that weren’t mine. I invited her on the Johnny Carson show I thought that if the people heard her sing that they would like her.
A few weeks later we went on the show. The audience heard her sing but they didn’t like her. It was like they were trying to pretend to like her but they didn’t.
I blamed myself. What had I created, she did not deserve this. I was no better than her. Sure I was young once and good looking but now I didn’t care about myself. I’d put on a lot of weight and didn’t respect myself any more. I was eating because I was unhappy and I was unhappy because I was eating so much.
It has been a few years since I have last spoken to Gracie. I have given up in trying to understand the lyrics. I have given up hope in everything. I don’t care any more. People don’t care that she is the real star. She is the one that should have sung those songs. I got the money and the fame she got the family and the happiness. I would do anything to swap my life for hers. I just cannot understand why people still like me. I don’t even like myself. I can’t bare to listen to myself sing. Those songs are not mine they have caused more hurt than good. I just want to know what they are about but I accept now that I will never be happy. I will never be the young 18 year old I was once. I wish that the Deacon never bought me those songs. He thought he was buying me happiness, he was instead guaranteeing me to be miserable for the rest of my life.
Money cannot buy happiness and after all these years I now know that. One day this is going to be a pitiful country, I thought.