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Biff Brannon realizes this October that he has been developing inappropriate feelings for Mick Kelly. He keeps his distance and does not approach her, but thinks a lot about her. He notices that his wife, Alice, is dragging about the cafe lately and is shocked when she collapses and dies suddenly. He sews a black arm band on his sleeves and packs away Alice’s things, realizes as he does that he has long since stopped having tender feelings for her. He makes all the arrangements for the funeral with due respect. He speaks to Alice’s sister Lucile. She is the single mother of Baby Wilson and a neighbor of the Kellys. She has pined after a lost lover, Baby’s father, for the years since he left her. She spends her life planning for her daughter’s future as a star. When Biff encourages her to find another man, she tells him she doesn’t want to get close to a man again in her life and he agrees that he also wants to remain single.
At the cafe, he watches as Singer listens to Jake Blount for hours. Singer is so polite that he won’t take his eyes from Blount’s face even though he doesn’t get to eat the food on his plate. Mick Kelly is also in the cafe with her younger brother Bubber. After a while she makes him leave and she stands by Mr. Singer until she is invited to sit with him. As he watches her, Biff thinks that she looks more like a boy than a girl even though she is now wearing a skirt. He decides that he believes that people are really both sexes and that "marriage and the bed are not all by any means." He realizes he has let his newspapers get into a mess over the last two weeks after Alice’s death and funeral. He has been keeping newspapers carefully catalogued since 1918, categorizing the news from international to national to local. As he stands over his paper, he hears a song on the radio and it reminds him of the time he was dating Alice. It takes him so sharply back into the forgotten past of tender moments that he asks Mick to turn the radio off. He goes back to watching Singer listening to the others. He wonders what it is about him that makes him so magnetic for the others, if it is in him or in them.
McCullers uses Biff Brannon as a sort of spectator figure in the novel. He brings people together not only in his cafe where they congregate, but in his thinking. He likes to watch people and ponder over then. He likes unusual people, what he calls freaks.
Here, his wife Alice dies of a cancerous tumor. He has lived with her for twenty-one years but has long since stopped loving her. His feelings at the time of her death are subtle and ponderous at the same time. His sense of self will gradually transform now that he will be living alone. Part of the cue for that transition is given away when he thinks of Mick’s boyishness. He thinks of gender as much more fluid than it is generally supposed to be and wishes sometimes that he could be a mother.