The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Katherine Anne Porter (1930)
She flicked her wrist neatly out of Doctor Harry’s pudgy careful fingers and pulled the sheet up to her chin.
The brat ought to be in knee breeches. Doctoring around the country with spectacles on his nose! “Get along now. Take
your schoolbooks and go. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Doctor Harry spread a warm paw like a cushion on her forehead where the forked green vein danced and made her eyelids
twitch. “Now, now, be a good girl, and we’ll have you up in no time.”
“That’s no way to speak to a woman nearly eighty years old just because she’s down. I’d have
you respect your elders, young man.”
“Well, Missy, excuse me.” Doctor Harry patted her cheek. “But I’ve got to warn you, haven’t
I? You’re a marvel, but you must be careful or you’re going to be good and sorry.”
“Don’t tell me what I’m going to be. I’m on my feet now, morally speaking. It’s Cornelia.
I had to go to bed to get rid of her.”
Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the
bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord. “Well, stay where you are, it certainly
can’t hurt you.”
“Get along and doctor your sick,” said Granny Weatherall. “Leave a well woman alone. I’ll call
for you when I want you…Where were you forty years ago when I pulled through milk-leg and double pneumonia? You weren’t
even born. Don’t let Cornelia lead you on,” she shouted, because Doctor Harry appeared to float up to the ceiling
and out. “I pay my own bills, and I don’t throw my money away on nonsense!”
She meant to wave good-by, but it was too much trouble. Her eyes closed of themselves, it was like a dark curtain drawn
around the bed. The pillow rose and floated under her, pleasant as a hammock in a light wind. She listened to the leaves rustling
outside the window. No, somebody was swishing newspapers: no, Cornelia and Doctor Harry were whispering together. She leaped
broad awake, thinking they whispered in her ear.
“She was never like this, never like this!” “Well, what can we expect?” “Yes,
eighty years old…”
Well, and what if she was? She still had ears. It was like Cornelia to whisper around doors. She always kept things
secret in such a public way. She was always being tactful and kind. Cornelia was dutiful; that was the trouble with her. Dutiful
and good: “So good and dutiful,” said Granny, “that I’d like to spank her.” She saw herself
spanking Cornelia and making a fine job of it.
“What’d you say, mother?”
Granny felt her face tying up in hard knots.
“Can’t a body think, I’d like to know?”
“I thought you might like something.”
“I do. I want a lot of things. First off, go away and don’t whisper.”
She lay and drowsed, hoping in her sleep that the children would keep out and let her rest a minute. It had been a
long day. Not that she was tired. It was always pleasant to snatch a minute now and then. There was always so much to be done,
let me see: tomorrow.
Tomorrow was far away and there was nothing to trouble about. Things were finished somehow when the time came; thank
God there was always a little margin over for peace: then a person could spread out the plan of life and tuck in the edges
orderly. It was good to have everything clean and folded away, with the hair brushes and tonic bottles sitting straight on
the white, embroidered linen: the day started without fuss and the pantry shelves laid out with rows of jelly glasses and
brown jugs and white stone-china jars with blue whirligigs and words painted on them: coffee, tea, sugar, ginger, cinnamon,
allspice: and the bronze clock with the lion on top nicely dusted off. The dust that lion could collect in twenty-four hours!
The box in the attic with all those letters tied up, well, she’d have to go through that tomorrow. All those letters
– George’s letters and John’s letters and her letters to them both – lying around for the children
to find afterwards made her uneasy. Yes, that would be tomorrow’s business. No use to let them know how silly she had
While she was rummaging around she found death in her mind and it felt clammy and unfamiliar. She had spent so much
time preparing for death there was no need for bringing it up again. Let it take care of itself for now. When she was sixty
she had felt very old, finished, and went around making farewell trips to see her children and grandchildren, with a secret
in her mind: This was the very last of your mother, children! Then she made her will and came down with a long fever. That
was all just a notion like a lot of other things, but it was lucky too, for she had once and for all got over the idea of
dying for a long time. Now she couldn’t be worried. She hoped she had better sense now. Her father had lived to be one
hundred and two years old and had drunk a noggin of strong hot toddy on his last birthday. He told the reporters it was his
daily habit, and he owed his long life to that. He had made quite a scandal and was very pleased about it. She believed she’d
just plague Cornelia a little.
“Cornelia! Cornelia!” No footsteps, but a sudden hand on her cheek. “Bless you, where have you been?”
“Well, Cornelia, I want a noggin of hot toddy.”
“Are you cold, darling?”
“I’m chilly, Cornelia.” Lying in bed stops the circulation. I must
have told you a thousand times.”
Well, she could just hear Cornelia telling her husband that Mother was getting a little childish and they’d have
to humor her. The thing that most annoyed her was that Cornelia thought she was
deaf, dumb, and blind. Little hasty glances and tiny gestures tossed around here and over her head saying, “Don’t
cross her, let her have her way, she’s eighty years old,” and she sitting there as if she lived in a thin glass
cage. Sometimes granny almost made up her mind to pack up and move back to her own house where nobody could remind her every
minute that she was old. Wait, wait, Cornelia, till your own children whisper behind your back!
In her day she had kept a better house and had got more work done. She wasn’t too old yet for Lydia to be driving
eighty miles for advice when one of the children jumped the track, and Jimmy still dropped in and talked things over: “Now,
Mammy, you’ve a good business head, I want to know what you think of this?…” Old. Cornelia couldn’t
change the furniture around without asking . Little things, little things! They had been so sweet when they were little. Granny
wished the old days were back again with the children young and everything to be done over. It had been a hard pull, but not
too much for her. When she thought of all the food she had cooked, and all the clothes she had cut and sewed, and all the
gardens she had made – well, the children showed it. There they were, made out of her, and they couldn’t get away
from that. Sometimes she wanted to see John again and point to them and say, Well, I didn’t do so badly, did I? But
that would have to wait. That was for tomorrow. She used to think of him as a man, but now all the children were older than
their father, and he would be a child beside her if she saw him now. It seemed strange and there was something wrong in the
idea. Why, he couldn’t possibly recognize her. She had fenced in a hundred acres once, digging the post holes herself
and clamping the wires with just a negro boy to help. That changed a woman. John would be looking for a young woman with a
peaked Spanish comb in her hair and the painted fan. Digging post holes changed a woman. Riding country roads in the winter
when women had their babies was another thing: sitting up nights with sick horses
and sick negroes and sick children and hardly ever losing one. John, I hardly
ever lost one of them! John would see that in a minute, that would be something he could understand, she wouldn’t have
to explain anything!
It made her feel like rolling up her sleeves and putting the whole place to rights again. No matter if Cornelia was
determined to be everywhere at once, there were a great many things left undone on this place. She would start tomorrow and
do them. It was good to be strong enough for everything, even if all you made melted and changed and slipped under your hands,
so that by the time you finished you almost forgot what you were working for. What was it I set out to do? She asked herself
intently, but she could not remember. A fog rose over the valley, she saw it marching across the creek swallowing the trees
and moving up the hill like an army of ghosts. Soon it would be at the near edge of the orchard, and then it was time to go
in and light the lamps. Come in, children, don’t stay out in the night air.
Lighting the lamps had been beautiful. The children huddled up to her and breathed like little calves waiting at the
bars in the twilight. Their eyes followed the match and watched the flame rise and settle in a blue curve, then they moved
away from her. The lamp was lit, they didn’t have to be scared and hang on to mother any more. Never, never, never more.
God, for all my life, I thank Thee. Without Thee, my God, I could never have done it. Hail, Mary, full of grace.
I want you to pick all the fruit this year and see nothing is wasted. There’s always someone who can use it.
Don’t let good things rot for want of using. You waste life when you waste good food. Don’t let things get lost.
It’s bitter to lose things. Now, don’t let me get to thinking, not when I’m tired and taking a little nap
The pillow rose about her shoulders and pressed against her heart and the memory was being squeezed out of it: oh,
push down the pillow, somebody: it would smother her if she tried to hold it. Such a fresh breeze blowing and such a green
day with no threats in it. But he had not come, just the same. What does a woman do when she has put on the white veil and
set out the white cake for a man and he doesn’t come? She tried to remember. No, I swear he never harmed me but in that.
He never harmed me but in that…and what if he did? There was the day, the day, but a whirl of dark smoke rose and covered
it, crept up and over into the bright field where everything was planted so carefully in orderly rows. That was hell, she
knew hell when she saw it. For sixty years she had prayed against remembering him and against losing her soul in the deep
pit of hell, and now the two things were mingled in one and the thought of him was a smoky cloud from hell that moved and
crept in her head when she had just got rid of Doctor Harry and was trying to rest a minute. Wounded vanity, Ellen, said a
sharp voice in the top of her mind. Don’t let your wounded vanity get the upper hand of you. Plenty of girls get jilted.
You were kilted, weren’t you? Then stand up to it. Her eyelids wavered and let in streamers of blue-gray light like
tissue paper over her eyes. She must get up and pull the shades down or she’d never sleep. She was in bed again and
the shades were not down. How could that happen? Better turn over, hide from the light, sleeping in the light gave you nightmares.
“Mother, how do you feel now?” and a stinging wetness on her forehead. But I don’t like having my face washed
in cold water!
Hapsy? George? Lydia? Jimmy? No, Cornelia and her features were swollen and full of little puddles. “They’re
coming, darling, they’ll all be here soon.” Go wash your face, child, you look funny.
Instead of obeying, Cornelia knelt down and put her head on the pillow. She seemed to be talking but there was no sound.
“Well, are you tongue-tied? Whose birthday is it? Are you going to give a party?”
Cornelia’s mouth moved urgently in strange shapes. “Don’t do that, you bother me, daughter.”
“Oh no, Mother. Oh, no…”
Nonsense. It was strange about children.
They disputed your every word. “No what, Cornelia?”
“Here’s Doctor Harry.”
“I won’t see that boy again. He left just five minutes ago.”
“That was this morning, Mother. It’s night now. Here’s the nurse.”
“This is Doctor Harry, Mrs. Weatherall. I never saw you look so young and happy!”
“Ah, I’ll never be young again – but I’d be happy if they’d let me lie in peace and get
She thought she spoke up loudly, but no one answered. A warm weight on her forehead, a warm bracelet on her wrist,
and a breeze went on whispering, trying to tell her something. A shuffle of leaves in the everlasting hand of God, He blew
on them and they danced and rattled. “Mother, don’t mind, we’re going to give you a little hypodermic.”
“Look here, daughter, how do ants get in this bed? I saw sugar ants yesterday.” Did you send for Hapsy too?
It was Hapsy she really wanted. She had to go a long way back through a great many rooms to find Hapsy standing with
a baby on her arm. She seemed to herself to be Hapsy also, and the baby on Hapsy’s arm was Hapsy and himself and herself,
all at once, and there was no surprise in the meeting. Then Hapsy melted from within and turned flimsy as gray gauze and the
baby was a gauzy shadow, and Hapsy came up close and said, “I thought you’d never come,” and looked at her
very searchingly and said, “You haven’t changed a bit!” They leaned forward to kiss, when Cornelia began
whispering from a long way off, “Oh, is there anything you want to tell me? Is there anything I can do for you?”
Yes, she had changed her mind after sixty years and she would like to see George. I want you to find George. Find him
and be sure to tell him I forgot him. I want him to know I had my husband just the same and my children and my house like
any other woman. A good house too and a good husband that I loved and fine children out of him. Better than I had hoped for
even. Tell him I was given back everything he took away and more. Oh, no, oh, God, no, there was something else besides the
house and the man and the children. Oh, surely they were not all? What was it? Something not given back… Her breath
crowded down under her ribs and grew into a monstrous frightening shape with cutting edges; it bored up into her head, and
the agony was unbelievable: Yes, John, get the Doctor now, no more talk, the time has come.
When this one was born it should be the last. The last. It should have been born first, for it was the one she had
truly wanted. Everything came in good time. Nothing left out, left over. She was strong, in three days she would be as well
as ever. Better. A woman needed milk in her to have her full health.
“Mother, do you hear me?”
“I’ve been telling you – “
“Mother, Father Connolly’s here.”
“I went to Holy Communion only last week. Tell him I’m not so sinful as all that.”
“Father just wants to speak with you.”
He could speak as much as he pleased. It was like him to drop in and inquire about her soul as if it were a teething
baby, and then stay on for a cup of tea and a round of cards and gossip. He always had a funny story of some sort, usually
about an Irishman who made his little mistakes and confessed them, and the point lay in some absurd thing he would blurt out
in the confessional showing his struggles between native piety and original sin. Granny felt easy about her soul. Cornelia,
where are your manners? Give Father Connolly a chair. She had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints
who cleared a straight road to God for her. All as surely signed and sealed as the papers for the new forty acres. Forever…heirs
and assigns forever. Since the day the wedding cake was not cut, but thrown out and wasted. The whole bottom of the world
dropped out, and there she was blind and sweating with nothing under her feet and the walls falling away. His hand had caught
her under the breast, she had not fallen, there was the freshly polished floor with the green rug on it, just as before. He
had cursed like a sailor’s parrot and said, “I’ll kill him for you.” Don’t lay a hand on him,
for my sake leave something to God. “Now, Ellen, you must believe what I tell you….”
So there was nothing, nothing to worry about anymore, except sometimes in the night
one of the children screamed in a nightmare, and they both hustled out and hunting for the matches and calling, “There,
wait a minute, here we are!” John, get the doctor now, Hapsy’s time has come. But there was Hapsy standing by
the bed in a white cap. “Cornelia, tell Hapsy to take off her cap. I can’t see her plain.”
Her eyes opened very wide and the room stood out like a picture she had seen somewhere. Dark colors with the shadows
rising towards the ceiling in long angles. The tall black dresser gleamed with nothing on it but John’s picture, enlarged
from a little one, with John’s eyes very black when they should have been blue. You never saw him, so how do you know
how he looked? But the man insisted the copy was perfect, it was very rich and handsome. For a picture, yes, but it’s
not my husband. The table by the bed had a linen cover and a candle and a crucifix. The light was blue from Cornelia’s
silk lampshades. No sort of light at all, just frippery. You had to live forty years with kerosene lamps to appreciate honest
electricity. She felt very strong and she saw Doctor Harry with a rosy nimbus around him.
“You look like a saint, Doctor Harry, and I vow that’s as near as you’ll ever come to it.”
“She’s saying something.”
“I heard you Cornelia. What’s all this carrying on?”
“Father Connolly’s saying – “
Cornelia’s voice staggered and jumped like a cart in a bad road. It rounded corners and turned back again and
arrived nowhere. Granny stepped up in the cart very lightly and reached for the reins, but a man sat beside her and she knew
him by his hands, driving the cart. She did not look in his face, for she knew without seeing, but looked instead down the
road where the trees leaned over and bowed to each other and a thousand birds were singing a Mass. She felt like singing too,
but she put her hand in the bosom of her dress and pulled out a rosary, and Father Connolly murmured Latin in a very solemn
voice and tickled her feet. My God, will you stop that nonsense? I’m a married woman. What if he did run away and leave
me to face the priest by myself? I found another a whole world better. I wouldn’t have exchanged my husband for anybody
except St. Michael himself, and you may tell him that for me with a thank you in the bargain.
Light flashed on her closed eyelids, and a deep roaring shook her. Cornelia, is that lightning? I hear thunder. There’s
going to be a storm. Close all the windows. Call the children in… “Mother, here we are, all of us.” “Is
that you Hapsy?” “Oh, no, I’m Lydia We drove as fast as we could.” Their faces drifted above her,
drifted away. The rosary fell out of her hands and Lydia put it back. Jimmy tried to help, their hands fumbled together, and
granny closed two fingers around Jimmy’s thumb. Beads wouldn’t do, it must be something alive. She was so amazed
her thoughts ran round and round. So, my dear Lord, this is my death and I wasn’t even thinking about it. My children
have come to see me die. But I can’t, it’s not time. Oh, I always hated surprises. I wanted to give Cornelia the
amethyst set – Cornelia, you’re to have the amethyst set, but Hapsy’s to wear it when she wants, and, Doctor
Harry, do shut up. Nobody sent for you. Oh, my dear Lord, do wait a minute. I meant to do something about the Forty Acres,
Jimmy doesn’t need it and Lydia will later on, with that worthless husband of hers. I meant to finish the alter cloth
and send six bottles of wine to Sister Borgia for her dyspepsia. I want to send six bottles of wine to Sister Borgia, Father
Connolly, now don’t let me forget.
Cornelia’s voice made short turns and tilted over and crashed. “Oh, mother, oh, mother, oh, mother….”
“I’m not going, Cornelia. I’m taken by surprise. I can’t go.”
You’ll see Hapsy again. What bothered her? “I thought you’d never come.” Granny made a long
journey outward, looking for Hapsy. What if I don’t find her? What then? Her heart sank down and down, there was no
bottom to death, she couldn’t come to the end of it. The blue light from Cornelia’s lampshade drew into a tiny
point in the center of her brain, it flickered and winked like an eye, quietly it fluttered and dwindled. Granny laid curled
down within herself, amazed and watchful, staring at the point of light that was herself; her body was now only a deeper mass
of shadow in an endless darkness and this darkness would curl around the light and swallow it up. God, give a sign!
For a second time there was no sign. Again no bridegroom and the priest in the house. She could not remember any other
sorrow because this grief wiped them all away. Oh, no, there’s nothing more cruel than this – I’ll never
forgive it. She stretched herself with a deep breath and blew out the light.