The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early
every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk
arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The
one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the
summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed
sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was
colder he wore over this a shapeless gray sweater. His face was round and
oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved in a gentle, stupid smile.
The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was
always immaculate and very soberly dressed.
Every morning the two friends walked silently together until they
reached the main street of the town. Then when they came to a certain fruit
and candy store they paused for a moment on the sidewalk outside. The
Greek, Spiros Antonapoulos, worked for his cousin, who owned this fruit
store. His job was to make candies and sweets, uncrate the fruits, and to
keep the place clean. The thin mute, John Singer, nearly always put his hand
on his friend"s arm and looked for a second into his face before leaving him.
Then after this good-bye Singer crossed the street and walked on alone to
the jewelry store where he worked as a silverware engraver.
In the late afternoon the friends would meet again. Singer came
back to the fruit store and waited until Antonapoulos was ready to go home.
The Greek would be lazily unpacking a case of peaches or melons, or
perhaps looking at the funny paper in the kitchen behind the store where he
cooked. Before their departure Antonapoulos always opened a paper sack he
kept hidden during the day on one of the kitchen shelves. Inside were stored
various bits of food he had collected—a piece of fruit, samples of candy, or
the butt-end of a liverwurst. Usually before leaving Antonapoulos waddled
gently to the glassed case in the front of the store where some meats and
cheeses were kept. He glided open the back of the case and his fat hand
groped lovingly for some particular dainty inside which he had wanted.
Sometimes his cousin who owned the place did not see him. But if he
noticed he stared at his cousin with a warning in his tight, pale face. Sadly
Antonapoulos would shuffle the morsel from one corner of the case to the
other. During these times Singer stood very straight with his hands in his
pockets and looked in another direction. He did not like to watch this little
scene between the two Greeks. For, excepting drinking and a certain solitary
secret pleasure, Antonapoulos loved to eat more than anything else in the
In the dusk the two mutes walked slowly home together. At home
Singer was always talking to Antonapoulos. His hands shaped the words in a
swift series of designs. His face was eager and his gray-green eyes sparkled
brightly. With his thin, strong hands he told Antonapoulos all that had
happened during the day.
Antonapoulos sat back lazily and looked at Singer. It was seldom
that he ever moved his hands to speak at all—and then it was to say that he
wanted to eat or to sleep or to drink. These three things he always said with
the same vague, fum signs. At night, if he were not too drunk, he would
kneel down before his bed and pray awhile. Then his plump hands shaped
the words "Holy Jesus," or "God," or "Darling Mary." These were the only
words Antonapoulos ever said. Singer never knew just how much his friend
understood of all the things he told him. But it did not matter.
They shared the upstairs of a small house near the business
section of the town. There were two rooms. On the oil stove in the kitchen
Antonapoulos cooked all of their meals. There were straight, plain kitchen
chairs for Singer and an overstuffed sofa for Antonapoulos. The bedroom was
furnished mainly with a large double bed covered with an eiderdown comforter
for the big Greek and a narrow iron cot for Singer.
Dinner always took a long time, because Antonapoulos loved food
and he was very slow. After they had eaten, the big Greek would lie back on
his sofa and slowly lick over each one of his teeth with his tongue, either from
a certain delicacy or because he did not wish to lose the savor of the meal—
while Singer washed the dishes.
Sometimes in the evening the mutes would play chess. Singer
had always greatly enjoyed this game, and years before he had tried to teach
it to Antonapoulos. At first his friend could not be interested in the reasons
for moving the various pieces about on the board. Then Singer began to keep
a bottle of something good under the table to be taken out after each lesson.
The Greek never got on to the erratic movements of the knights and the
sweeping mobility of the queens, but he learned to make a few set, opening
moves. He preferred the white pieces and would not play if the black men
were given him. After the first moves Singer worked out the game by himself
while his friend looked on drowsily. If Singer made brilliant attacks on his own
men so that in the end the black king was killed, Antonapoulos was always
very proud and pleased.
The two mutes had no other friends, and except when they
worked they were alone together. Each day was very much like any other
day, because they were alone so much that nothing ever disturbed them.
Once a week they would go to the library for Singer to withdraw a mystery
book and on Friday night they attended a movie. Then on payday they
always went to the ten-cent photograph shop above the Army and Navy Store
so that Antonapoulos could have his picture taken. These were the only
places where they made customary visits. There were many parts in the town
that they had never even seen.
The town was in the middle of the deep South. The summers were
long and the months of winter cold were very few. Nearly always the sky was
a glassy, brilliant azure and the sun burned down riotously bright. Then the
light, chill rains of November would come, and perhaps later there would be
frost and some short months of cold. The winters were changeable, but the
summers always were burning hot. The town was a fairly large one. On the
main street there were several blocks of two- and three-story shops and
business offices. But the largest buildings in the town were the factories,
which employed a large percentage of the population. These cotton mills
were big and flourishing and most of the workers the town were poor. Often
in the faces along the streets there was the desperate look of hunger and of
But the two mutes were not lonely at all. At home they were
content to eat and drink, and Singer would talk with his hands eagerly to his
friend about all that was in his mind. So the years passed in this quiet way
until Singer reached the age of thirty-two and had been in the town with
Antonapoulos for ten years.
Then one day the Greek became ill. He sat up in bed with his
hands on his fat stomach and big, oily tears rolled down his cheeks. Singer
went to see his friend"s cousin who owned the fruit store, and also he
arranged for leave from his own work. The doctor made out a diet for
Antonapoulos and said that he could drink no more wine. Singer rigidly
enforced the doctor"s orders. All day he sat by his friend"s bed and did what
he could to make the time pass quickly, but Antonapoulos only looked at
him angrily from the corners of his eyes and would not be amused. The
Greek was very fretful, and kept finding fault with the fruit drinks and food that
Singer prepared for him. Constantly he made his friend help him out of bed so
that he could pray. His huge buttocks would sag down over his plump little
feet when he kneeled. He fumbled with his hands to say "Darling Mary" and
then held to the small brass cross tied to his neck with a dirty string. His big
eyes would wall up to the ceiling with a look of fear in them, and afterward he
was very sulky and would not let his friend speak to him.
Singer was patient and did all that he could. He drew little
pictures, and once he made a sketch of his friend to amuse him. This picture
hurt the big Greek"s feelings, and he refused to be reconciled until Singer had
made his face very young and handsome and colored his hair bright yellow
and his eyes china blue. And then he tried not to show his pleasure.
Singer nursed his friend so carefully that after a week
Antonapoulos was able to return to his work. But from that time on there was
a difference in their way of life. Trouble came to the two friends.
Antonapoulos was not ill any more, but a change had come in
him. He was irritable and no longer content to spend the evenings quietly in
their home. When he would wish to go out Singer followed along close behind
him. Antonapoulos would go into a restaurant, and while they sat at the table
he slyly put lumps of sugar, or a peppershaker, or pieces of silverware in his
pocket. Singer always paid for what he took and there was no disturbance.
At home he scolded Antonapoulos, but the big Greek only looked at him with
a bland smile.
The months went on and these habits of Antonapoulos grew
worse. One day at noon he walked calmly out of the fruit store of his cousin
and urinated in public against the wall of the First National Bank Building
across the street. At times he would meet people on the sidewalk whose
faces did not please him, and he would bump into these persons and push at
them with his elbows and stomach. He walked into a store one day and
hauled out a floor lamp without paying for it, and another time he tried to take
an electric train he had seen in a showcase.
For Singer this was a time of great distress. He continually
marching Antonapoulos down to the courthouse during lunch hour to settle
these infringements of the law. Singer became very familiar with the
procedure of the courts and he was in a constant state of agitation. The
money he had saved in the bank was spent for bail and fines. All of his efforts
and money were used to keep his friend out of jail because of such charges
as theft, committing public indecencies, and assault and battery.
The Greek cousin for whom Antonapoulos worked did not enter
into these troubles at all. Charles Parker (for that was the name this cousin
had taken) let Antonapoulos stay on at the store, but he watched him always
with his pale, tight face and he made no effort to help him. Singer had a
strange feeling about Charles Parker. He began to dislike him.
Singer lived in continual turmoil and worry. But Antonapoulos was
always bland, and no matter what happened the gentle, flaccid smile was still
on his face. In all the years before it had seemed to Singer that there was
something very subtle and wise in this smile of his friend. He had never
known just how much Antonapoulos understood and what he was thinking.
Now in the big Greek"s expression Singer thought that he could detect
something sly and joking. He would shake his friend by the shoulders until he
was very tired and explain things over and over with his hands. But nothing
did any good.
All of Singer"s money was gone and he had to borrow from the
jeweler for whom he worked. On one occasion he was un- able to pay bail for
his friend and Antonapoulos spent the night in jail. When Singer came to g the next day he was very sulky. He did not want to leave. He had
enjoyed his dinner of sowbelly and cornbread with syrup poured over it. And
the new sleeping arrangements and his cellmates pleased him.
They had lived so much alone that Singer had no one to help him
in his distress. Antonapoulos let nothing disturb him or cure him of his
habits. At home he sometimes cooked the new dish he had eaten in the jail,
and on the streets there was never any knowing just what he would do.
And then the final trouble came to Singer.
One afternoon he had come to meet Antonapoulos at the fruit
store when Charles Parker handed him a letter. The letter explained that
Charles Parker had made arrangements for his cousin to be taken to the
state insane asylum two hundred miles away. Charles Parker had used his
influence in the town and the details were already settled. Antonapoulos was
to leave and to be admitted into the asylum the next week.
Singer read the letter several times, and for a while he could not
think. Charles Parker was talking to him across the counter, but he did not
even try to read his lips and understand. At last Singer wrote on the little pad
he always carried in his pocket:
You cannot do this. Antonapoulos must stay with me.
Charles Parker shook his head excitedly. He did not know much
American. "None of your business," he kept saying over and over.
Singer knew that everything was finished. The Greek was afraid
that some day he might be responsible for his cousin. Charles Parker did not
know much about the American language —but he understood the A and he had used his money and influence to admit his cousin
to the asylum without delay.
There was nothing Singer could do.
The next week was full of feverish activity. He talked and talked.
And although his hands never paused to rest he could not tell all that he had
to say. He wanted to talk to Antonapoulos of all the thoughts that had ever
been in his mind and heart, but there was not time. His gray eyes glittered
and his quick, intelligent face expressed great strain. Antonapoulos watched
him drowsily, and his friend did not know just what he really understood.
Then came the day when Antonapoulos must leave. Singer
brought out his own suitcase and very carefully packed the best of their joint
possessions. Antonapoulos made himself a lunch to eat during the journey.
In the late afternoon they walked arm in arm down the street for the last time
together. It was a chilly afternoon in late November, and little huffs of breath
showed in the air before them.
Charles Parker was to travel with his cousin, but he stood apart
from them at the station. Antonapoulos crowded into the bus and settled
himself with elaborate preparations on one of the front seats. Singer watched
him from the window and his hands began desperately to talk for the last
time with his friend. But Antonapoulos was so busy checking over the various
items in his lunch box that for a while he paid no attention.
Excerpted from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by McCullers, Carson Excerpted by permission.
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