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THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING - CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS
When Frankie is twelve years old, she has an unusual summer. She realizes at some point in the summer that she is not a member of anything. This state of being scares Frankie. Frankie walks around her neighborhood doing nothing. She feels like she’s in "so much secret trouble" with these negative thoughts that she had better stay at home. At home, she spends time with Berenice, the housekeeper, and her cousin John Henry West. These three spend so much time together that they repeat their stories over and over until "the words began to rhyme with each other and sound strange." On the last Friday of August, everything changes.
She tells Berenice that it’s funny how everything has changed. Her brother had come home with his fiancee and they plan to get married in the town of Winter Hill this coming Sunday. Berenice wonders if Frankie is jealous. She tells Frankie to go look at herself in the mirror to see how jealous she looks. Frankie sees a tall, gangly girl, now five foot, five inches, with too-narrow shoulders and too-long arms. She has cut her hair like a boy’s and it has grown out shaggily. She thinks she looks like a freak. She tells the others that her brother and his fiancee were the most beautiful people she had ever seen. Frankie thinks they must have a good time every minute of every day. John Henry suggests playing cards so they can have a good time too. They sit down at the kitchen table and play three-handed bridge.
Frankie examines Berenice. She has been saying she is thirty-five years old for the past three years. She only has one thing wrong with her, a blue glass eye. No one understands why she chose the color blue. Her other eye is dark and sad. John Henry watches as Berenice deals the sweaty cards. He is shirtless and has a tiny lead donkey on a string around his neck. He is six years old, but looks too small for his age. He watches the cards so closely because he is in debt to Berenice more than five million dollars. John Henry and Frankie argue over who can deal the spade. Frankie says she doesn’t care and she means it. She plays cards without paying attention to what she’s doing. She hates the walls of the kitchen. John Henry had drawn on them all summer long. The walls are covered to the height he could reach with "queer, child drawings." Frankie’s father had gotten angry and then decided to paint the kitchen when summer was over, so the drawings had stayed on the walls all summer.
Frankie remarks that the world is a small place and that it is certainly a "sudden place." Berenice thinks it’s sometimes sudden and sometimes slow. Before yesterday, Frankie hadn’t ever thought about a wedding before. Her brother Jarvis had become engaged to a girl from Winter Hill before he went to Alaska. He had lived in Alaska for what seemed like a very long time. Frankie had been dreaming about Alaska the whole time. She had sent her brother fudge once and had loved the idea of her fudge being eaten in Alaska. Jarvis’s letters home sometimes disturbed Frankie because they contained incongruous information. He had mentioned being plagued with mosquitoes, for instance. Jarvis’s fiancee’s name is Janice Evans. Frankie has already packed her suitcase for the one hundred-mile trip to Winter Hill.
Frankie can’t wait for Sunday to come, the day she and her father will go to Winter Hill to the wedding. She has been wanting to leave town for so long it seems. She says, "I wish I had a hundred dollars and could just light out and never see this town again." Frankie also wishes she were someone else besides herself.
Frankie spent that afternoon like she had spent all her other Friday afternoons in August. She hung around the kitchen and then went outside to the yard after it became dark. The scuppernong arbor is full of purple blooms. Frankie is too big to get inside it any more. John Henry West sits under it in a wicker chair. She asks him what he’s doing, but he will only reply that he is thinking. Frankie is afraid and can’t say what is making her feel so. She asks John Henry to eat supper with her and then spend the night. She urges him to go home and ask his mother, Aunt Pet, and then meet her in the kitchen. Frankie goes inside and tells Berenice she has invited John Henry to dinner. Berenice wonders at Frankie’s invitation since she has been saying she is "sick and tired" of him. Frankie agrees that is so, but adds that John Henry looked a little scared to her. Then she says maybe he looks more lonesome than scared.
Later on John Henry comes over. Frankie takes his bag and lets him begin to make his biscuit man. John Henry works on the biscuit man very seriously. He spends a good deal of time breaking the raisins apart to make eyes, a nose, and a mouth. The biscuit man reminds Frankie of John Henry himself. They eat supper with Berenice because Frankie’s father has telephoned that he will work late at the jewelry store. The cooked biscuit man looks like any other biscuit man made by a child. It had swelled all out of proportion. They can hear the radio that is playing in the other room. It is a mix of stations, a war voice, an advertiser, and the "sleazy music of a sweet band." The radio had stayed on non-stop all summer. They had stopped noticing the sound long since.
Frankie asks John Henry what he would like to do for entertainment. He wants to play outside, but she doesn’t. John Henry thinks he would rather go home. Frankie convinces him that it would be too rude to eat dinner and then leave right away to go home. They go upstairs to Frankie’s room. Frankie sits at her typewriter trying to think of letters she could write, but she has no one to write to. John Henry wants to go home, but Frankie tells him to sit in the corner and play with her motor, used for filing finger nails and sharpening knives. Frankie looks at her lavender seashell and glass, snow-filled globe. She likes to hold the shell to her ear and think of the Gulf of Mexico and she likes the make the snow fall and think of Alaska.
John Henry points out the window at some older girls who are having a party at their club house. Frankie doesn’t want to hear about them. Frankie isn’t a member of their clubhouse. The members are thirteen and fourteen year olds. Before this summer, Frankie had been a younger member of their group, but now they told her she was too young and too mean to be a member. Sometimes during the summer, Frankie has watched them from a distance. Frankie cries a little thinking about it. She says she thinks these girls have been spreading the gossip that she doesn’t smell good. She had boils at one point and had to use a bitter smelling ointment. Helen Fletcher had asked her what her funny smell was. She calls the girls "son-of-a-bitches." John Henry assures her that she smells sweet. Frankie ignores him. She tells him the girls were spreading false rumors about married couples, saying she can’t help but think of Aunt Pet and Uncle Ustace, not to mention her father.
Frankie gets the bottle of Sweet Serenade out of her suitcase and pours it on herself. She also pours some on John Henry. They watch moths trying to get in the window screen, attracted by Frankie’s desk lamp. Frankie thinks it’s an "irony of fate" that the moths come to her window when they could go anywhere. She notices John Henry’s glasses and tells him to take them off. She tests his vision. Since he can distinguish large objects in the room, she tells him he shouldn’t wear his glasses any more.
They go to bed, changing into their night clothes with their backs turned to each other. Frankie muses on the strangeness of the fact that the world spins so fast that it seems impossible that people land in one place when they jump up into the air. John Henry falls asleep. Frankie watches him, then lies close to him and licks the back of his ear. She relaxes now that she has "someone sleeping in the dark with her."
The next morning, John Henry refuses to leave because Berenice is cooking a ham. Frankie’s father reads the paper, then goes downtown to wind the clocks at the store. On the day when Frankie’s brother and his fiancee came to visit, Frankie and John Henry had been sitting in the arbor shade talking about Christmas. Frankie, John Henry and Berenice play cards. Frankie comments on how the world is "a sudden place." She accuses John Henry of cheating because he refuses to play his spade. Frankie gets very agitated about his lack of respect for "The first beginning laws." Then she exclaims that she is "sick unto death." They had been playing cards every day after dinner. The cards are layered with all the dinners of that August along with the sweat from their hands. Berenice tells Frankie she’s jealous. She admits that she was jealous when her foster brother married, but now she loves her sister-in-law Clorina.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version