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Joe met Dorcas in October and the affair lasted for three months. Joe remembers everything about Dorcas's face and mannerisms with aching sadness; even when he recalls the afternoon on which she said she would leave him. When he lies in bed trying to recall the early days of his marriage to Violet, he can only remember the dates and events but he has long lost the feeling of love that characterized those times. Joe met Dorcas when he was going over to sell cosmetics to a group of women gathered at the home of Alice Manfred. The young girl, whom he had already noticed in the candy store, opened the door for him, and when he left the house he whispered in her ear.
Joe and Violet met when they were both working in the fields in Vesper County, Virginia. Within a short time they found themselves heading on a train up north to New York City, intoxicated by their hopes, love, and their dreams of urban life. The year was 1906, twenty years before Dorcas's murder and Violet's breakdown. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, a great number of blacks from all over the country migrated to New York City, to escape field labor, racism, and the expectations of rural life. Upon arrival in the great metropolis it was easy to forget about their previous existences and these migrants felt that the city had always been home.
Twenty years after their arrival in the city, Joe gives up trying to make a marriage with Violet work and begins his affair with Dorcas. He rents a room from a neighbor for six hours out of the week, allowing him to bring Dorcas to bed with him and tell her things about his childhood. He tells her that when he was fourteen and still in Virginia he sat by a riverbank at dusk and spoke to a woman who he believed to be his mother as she hid in a bush. He asked the crazy woman to make a sign with her hand to tell him definitively if she was indeed his mother but in the dim evening light he could not be sure that she had done so.
Dorcas understands the emptiness that Joe feels because she feels it too. She knew her mother, but the woman had slapped Dorcas and they had fought. While living in East St. Louis, Dorcas was staying over at a friend's house one night when she heard a commotion from across the street. Her family's apartment was on fire and she remembers screaming for her box of dolls. Dorcas also talks at length about Mexico and begs Joe to take her there, where they will dance all night and enjoy a happier life.
Dorcas and Joe relate to each other the secrets of their lives as they lie in bed. The apartment they use belongs to a woman named Malvonne who cleans offices until well past midnight, but Dorcas and Joe think about how nice it would be to stay there until the wee hours. However, Dorcas has to get back to Alice Manfred's house and Joe must return to Violet. In the time they do spend together, she does his nails and they make passionate love. At the end of each meeting, Joe gives Dorcas a present.
Like many of the sections in this novel, the second section is marked off with a fully blank page that must be turned before continuing on with the story. The blank page serves as a pause in the jazz-like structure that informs and shapes the prose, language and narrative tempo. As with a jazz piece, themes from earlier segments are revisited and fleshed out. Section One ended with the words "I love you" and Section Two picks up this theme and continually uses it, as the first words of Section Two are "Or used to."
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