“Verlie I Say Unto You” Summary: Alice Adams Short Story

“Verlie I Say Unto You” is a short story by Alice Adams about a maid who lives in fear of her absent husband’s return, and her relationship to her employer’s family. It can be read in the Amazon sample of The Stories of Alice Adams (18% in). Here’s a summary of “Verlie I Say Unto You”.

“Verlie I Say Unto You” Summary

Verlie Jones works for the Todds as their maid. She walks to their place every morning, two miles uphill. She walks past fields of broomstraw, the woods and crosses the creek at a concrete bridge. Going by the filling station, she’s sometimes greeted by the white men there.

Sometimes there’s a chain gang on the road with a guard. She’s afraid of them and doesn’t look. Her absent husband, Horace, could be there too and she never wants to see him again.

Next, she reaches the houses. She goes around to the back of the Todds’ place through the kitchen. She changes into her apron in her bathroom on the back porch. She starts by making breakfast for the four members of the family, who all eat different things.

Verlie has worked for the Todds about ten years, back when Avery was born. They can’t imagine getting by without her. She’s paid thirteen dollars a week, more than most maids. She works until six in the evening and gets every third Sunday off.

Tom Todd is handsome, unfaithful and a professor. He asked about her name and she said it was like in the Bible: “Verlie I say unto you.” It makes for a good story for his colleagues.

Avery brings a book to the breakfast table; she’s always reading. They had an incident once when Verlie called Avery in and she said, “Blah, blah, blah”. Verlie thought she was saying “black” and went home offended. Avery explained the next day and they’ve been fine since.

Verlie is over forty, good-looking and strong. She can’t read. She lives in a floorless cabin with her four children.

Tom comes to breakfast and tells Avery to put away her book. He and Verlie are fond of each other. He bosses his family around but doesn’t hit them. He knows her tendencies to shirk work if possible and sneak a drink. He doesn’t mind. He doesn’t have any romantic interest in her, nor does he for any Black woman.

Devlin comes to breakfast. He’s a small and timid boy, afraid of Verlie. Then comes Mrs. Todd, Jessica, whom no one acknowledges. They finish and Verlie cleans up.

A Black man named Clifton sometimes does yardwork and odd jobs for the Todds. Verlie thinks he’s beautiful, but also thinks he looks sick and sad.

In Tom’s office to help index his book, Jessica wonders what Verlie and Clifton talk about, maybe them. Her own communication with Verlie is mostly nonverbal. She doesn’t really want to work on the index. Verlie announces a long-distance phone call for Tom.

“Verlie I Say Unto You” Summary, Cont’d

Clifton talks to Verlie while she hangs up the sheets to dry. He does feel sick and he lost his wife and three little children to an illness. He’s had little success with jobs. He likes working for the Todds. She tells him he’ll feel better in summer, but seems not to believe it.

Clifton takes hold of Verlie and kisses her. They’re interrupted by Avery, who saw, but Verlie knows she won’t say anything. It looked different from when she’s seen her father kissing someone; they were more absorbed in it.

The phone call was about Verlie’s husband, Horace. He died in a Memphis hospital from a knife wound. The Todds aren’t sure how to tell her.

Tom tells her the news gently. When she confirms it was really Horace who died, she smiles, which surprises Tom. Jessica offers her the afternoon off, but Verlie continues with her duties.

The Todds don’t know about Horace. They’ve never seen Verlie’s scars, nor do they know about the worse things that didn’t leave scars. She tries to imagine him dead in the coffin, but can only see him alive. It makes her cry.

Jessica witnesses the tears and is relieved that Verlie cried. Talking to Tom about it, she tries not to cry herself.

Verlie superstitiously decides not to tell Clifton about Horace, thinking this could make it untrue. She’s always afraid Horace will be waiting at the house.

At her desk, Jessica is in despair. She knows Tom is unfaithful and feels the distance with her children. She briefly considers confiding in Verlie. She has no friends to tell such things. She’s been thinking lately of her happy college years.

While working and avoiding Jessica’s sad eyes, Verlie fully realizes Horace is dead and feels happy. Clifton is in kitchen. They talk about going to the church social.

It’s a long, hot summer, the happiest of Verlie’s life. It doesn’t get cold until November. The Todds get a call from the Macombers, where Clifton also does some work. He had a seizure and died. They tell Verlie, because they were friends.

At the news, Verlie wails uncontrollably and then coughs terribly. Jessica was not prepared for this reaction and doesn’t know what to do. She slinks out of the room quietly.

Tom remarks to his mistress that Clifton and Verlie probably had real affection for each other.

Verlie is sick for over a week, but comes back the next day. She has a grayish tinge that never goes away. Jessica wonders if Clifton and Verlie were together but is uncomfortable and dismisses the thought.

Months earlier, on the day Horace died, Verlie walked home lightly, happily and hopeful.

I hope this summary of “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams was helpful.