Fort Pierce, Florida

In 1948 she moved to Ft. Pierce, Florida, where she wrote a series of magazine and newspaper articles while working as a maid and a substitute teacher.

—Baltimore Authors, about Zora Neale Hurston

Mouths don’t empty themselves unless the ears are sympathetic and knowing.

—Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men

Here is a white man, outside the open door of this motel room. He’s slightly yellow around the eyes, the bones in his face pushing out. A balding, youngish person, with thin, pale hands, in a slept-in-looking white shirt. “I don’t think I want maid service now,” he mutters at her. But then he smiles.

“Well,” she tells him, “you got it anyway.”

“You’re new.”

“Been here a while.”

“Never seen you.”

She shrugs. “I’ve been here.”

He waits there in the doorway, and it takes her a second to gather herself. It’s almost as if she has to come back to her body from her pain. It’s been three days now. The slightest motion and she’s out of breath. She has six rooms to clean on this floor alone. She has pulled the bedspread off the bed, ignoring the typewriter and the pages under the lamp by the telephone.

“Do you want me to leave, sir?” she asks him now.

“What’s your name?”

In this part of the country, they can ask you anything. They can be openly curious about you and demand to know your name. And you better answer.

“Zora,” she tells him.

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