For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

“Previous Condition”

James Baldwin


The juke box was playing something else now, something brassy and commercial which I didn’t like. I kept on drinking, listening to the voices of my people, watching the faces of my people. (God pity us, the terrified republic). Now I was sorry to have angered the woman who still sat next to me, now deep in conversation with another, younger woman. I longed for some opening, some sign, something to make me part of the life around me. But there was nothing except my color. A white outsider coming in would have seen a young Negro drinking in a Negro bar, perfectly in his element, in his place, as the saying goes. But the people here knew differently, as I did. I didn’t seem to have a place.

So I kept on drinking by myself, saying to myself after each drink, Now I’ll go. But I was afraid; I didn’t want to sleep on Jules’s floor; I didn’t want to go to sleep. I kept on drinking and listening to the juke box. They were playing Ella Fitzgerald, “Cow-Cow Boogie.”

“Let me buy you a drink,” I said to the woman.

She looked at me, startled, suspcious, ready to blow her top.

“On the leve,” I said. I tried to smile. “Both of you.”

“I’ll take a beer,” the young one said.

I was shaking like a baby. I finished my drink.

“Fine,” I said. I turned to the bar.

“Baby,” said the old one, “What’s your story?”

The man put three beers on the counter.

“I got no story, Ma,” I said.

We read it in Going to Meet The Man.