Francie Nolan Says Goodbye To Herself

FROM THE CONCLUSION OF A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith


Four o’clock.

Francie decided to get dressed first, and then fix supper so that she’d be all ready when Ben came to call for her. He had tickets and they were going to see Henry Hull in The Man Who Came Back. It was their last date until Christmas because Ben was leaving for college tomorrow. She liked Ben. She liked him an awful lot. She wished that she could love him. If only he wasn’t so sure of himself all the time. If only he’d stumble-just once. If only he needed her. Ah, well. She had five years to think it over.

She stood before the mirror in her white slip. As she curved her arm over her head in washing, she remembered how she had sat on the fire escape when a little girl and watched the big girls in the flats across the yards getting ready for their dates. Was some one watching her as she had once watched?

She looked towards the window. Yes, across two yards she saw a little girl sitting on a fire escape with a book in her lap and a bag of candy at hand. The girl was peering through the bars at Francie. Francie knew the girl, too. She was a slender little thing of ten, and her name was Florry Wendy.

Francie brushed out her long hair, braided it and wound the braids around her head. She put on fresh stockings and white high-heeled pumps. Before she slipped a fresh pink linen dress over her head, she sprinkled violet sachet powder on a square of cotton and tucked it inside her brassiere.

She thought she heard Fraber’s wagon come in. She leaned out of the window and looked. Yes, the wagon had come in. Only it wasn’t a wagon anymore. It was a small maroon motor truck with the name in gilt letters on the sides and the man making preparations to wash it wasn’t Frank, the nice young man with rosy cheeks. He was a little bandy-legged draft-exempt fellow.

She looked across the yards and saw that Florry was still staring at her through the bars of the fire escape. Francie waved and called:

“Hello, Francie.”

“My name ain’t Francie,” the little girl yelled back. “It’s Florry, and you know it, too.”

“I know,” said Francie.

She looked down into the yard. The tree whose leaf umbrellas had curled around, under and over her fire escape had been cut down because the housewives complained that wash on the lines got entangled in its branches. The landlord had sent two men and they had chopped it down.

But the tree hadn’t died. . . it hadn’t died.

A new tree had grown from the stump and its trunk had grown along the ground until it reached a place where there were no wash lines above it. Then it had started to grow towards the sky again.

Annie, the fir tree, that the Nolans had cherished with waterings and manurings, had long since sickened and died. But this tree in the yard—this tree that men chopped down. . . this tree that they built a bonfire around, trying to burn up its stump—this tree lived!

It lived! And nothing could destroy it.

Once more she looked at Florry Wendy reading on the fire escape.

“Goodbye, Francie,” she whispered.

She closed the window.


Published in: on December 31, 2009 at 8:57 AM  Leave a Comment  

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