Celestial says that the night at the motel continues to haunt her memory, but that no fight can be fought with the past. In flashback, Celestial tells the story of Roy calling out their safe word and leaving the room, and her subsequent call to Andre. He tells her not to be angry every time Roy tries to come clean. Celestial is still smiling from the call when Roy returns. He apologizes to Celestial, saying he’d been embarrassed about his history because Celestial’s family is so seemingly perfect. Celestial remembers her mother warning her that she will always have to remind Roy that they are equals because of the insecurity caused by the difference in their backgrounds.
Andre’s advice to Celestial—to not get angry with Roy when he tries to share his secrets with her—resonates with later events when Celestial must come clean with Roy for her own indiscretions while he’s been in jail. This moment again underscores the closeness of Celestial and Andre, as well as the tensions created by the class difference between Roy and Celestial.
Roy says that he didn’t want Celestial’s parents to know that Olive was a teenager when he was born. Celestial reminds Roy that her own mother, Gloria, was her father, Franklin’s, second wife, and reveals that she was in fact his mistress for three years while he was still married to his first wife. By the time her parents married, her mother was already pregnant with Celestial. Her father hadn’t told her mother he was already married until they’d been dating a whole month. Celestial tells Roy that her mother was grateful her father didn’t tell her this, however, because she wouldn’t have dated a married man and he turned out to be “the One.” Celestial tells Roy that she never wants to benefit from deception and that she doesn’t want their child to inherit their secrets.
Celestial reassures Roy by drawing his attention to the parallels in their upbringing, highlighting that complicated relationships exist in any social class. Even as Celestial claims that she wouldn’t want to benefit from deception in the same way her mother did, in later dating Andrew while still married she deceives Roy much like father did his first wife.
Celestial and Roy make love, and Celestial cries, believing that her tears are caused by “passion rather than premonition.” Afterwards, Celestial basks in her gratitude and affection for Roy as he drifts off to sleep. Suddenly, the door bursts open. Celestial remembers the door being kicked in, though the later police report claims a key unlocked the door. The woman Roy met earlier that evening has claimed that a man had tried the door to her room and, finding it open, raped her; she believed it was Roy. Celestial claims Roy was with her all night.
The resolution of Celestial and Roy’s argument is sealed with a physical gesture of their love. The differing versions of the way their door is broken down shows the subjectivity of testimony and lived experience—or, perhaps, the attempt by the police to soften the account of Roy’s arrest. The fact that a woman Roy went out of his way to help accuses him of rape highlights the blinding power of racism.
Celestial tells the story, in flashback, of how she met Roy in college. After one bad year at Howard, Celestial transfers to Spelman. Roy and Andre are next door neighbors in their dorm room at Morehouse, and Celestial sometimes sleeps over in Andre’s room, though the relationship is strictly platonic. One night she and Andre hear a breathy voice calling out, “Roy. Othaniel. Hamilton.” Andre and Celestial joke about what they hear, with Celestial conjecturing that the woman is faking her orgasm and Andre countering that if she is, then all of the other girls Roy has brought home are too.
Though Celestial has known Andre all her life, and they have a clearly intimate relationship, their friendship is mostly platonic. Celestial’s first exposure to Roy is overhearing him having sex with a woman in the dorm room next to Andre’s, and though they make fun of the women who call him by his full name, the consistency with which he is able to make his sexual partners exclaim seems to confirm his romantic skills.
Celestial doesn’t meet Roy until a month later when he barges into Andre’s room unannounced. He is cordial, but Celestial notes that something about Roy is dangerous and that she doesn’t want anything to do with danger after what happened at Howard. They don’t speak again for four years, by which point Roy seems marked less by danger and more by “realness,” a quality Celestial now craves even as she questions what it means to be “real.”
Here, Celestial alludes to an incident that caused her to leave her first college, Howard University, though she does not yet explain what that is. When Celestial encounters Roy again in New York City, her idea of “realness” seems to suggest Roy’s strength of character and ambition in contrast to the phoniness of others.
Back in the narrative present, they hire a family friend named Uncle Banks to defend Roy, but he sits in jail for 100 days before his case goes to trial. Celestial remains in Louisiana for a month. When she sends the mayor the doll she made him, she is unable to seal the box to ship it to him. Roy tells Celestial that if he doesn’t win the case, he doesn’t want her to wait for him, but Celestial refuses to believe that things won’t work out in Roy’s favor.
Even a skilled lawyer is no match for a criminal justice system stacked against black men, and Roy’s case crawls through the process. Celestial’s inability to close the box containing the doll for the mayor reflects her worry that sealing up a doll that resembles Roy will seal his fate, sentencing him to a longer period of containment.
The day before the trial, Celestial cuts off Andre’s dreadlocks. Everyone in the family dresses to look their most “innocent” during the trial. When Celestial is on the witness stand, the prosecutor asks what she and Roy had been fighting about that evening. Celestial pauses, and though Banks objects so she doesn’t need to answer, the pause casts doubt on her testimony, as though she’s hiding something. Banks has coached Celestial to show her passion for Roy, but she doesn’t know how to be anything but well-spoken in front of strangers. She reflects that none of the twelve jury members took her for her word.
Aware of societal prejudice that often deems black people to be dangerous, the characters in the novel feel the need to make themselves appear distinctly nonthreatening. Like Roy’s immediate arrest, this is part of a continuum of racism levied against black Americans. Celestial pauses in her testimony so as not to betray the fact that Roy told her about his biological parentage, but the jury is too quick to take Celestial’s hesitancy as a sign of untruth.
Roy sobs upon being sentenced to twelve years in jail. In his weeping, Celestial recognizes all the tears he wasn’t allowed to cry before. She reflects on the night of the attack, remembering being pulled from the bed and Roy being dragged into the parking lot. On that night at the hotel someone pushed Celestial to the ground and she hit her chin on the pavement, leaving a scar. She and Roy lay beside each other on the ground as if in their burial plots.
In keeping with expectations of masculinity, Roy has been taught not to display his emotions over the years. When he finds out his life is being unjustly stolen from him, he cries all the tears he’s been denied. The way they lie beside one another that night shows how this event is essentially the end of their marriage.
Celestial writes Roy a letter saying that she didn’t think it was possible he would be put in jail. She doesn’t recognize herself because she feels so much has changed so suddenly, and she experiences the house as not “simply empty” but “emptied.” She tells him that, despite knowing he won’t receive mail for a month, she’ll write him every night.
At this point the narrative switches to an epistolary form, meaning the next section of the novel is told in letters between characters. Celestial’s initial dedication to Roy is clear. The distinction she makes between “empty” and “emptied” is a poetic one, noting that while she was fine living alone before, she now feels the absence of Roy.
Roy writes to Celestial saying that he hasn’t written a letter since high school and that this will be his first love letter. He tells her he wants to write something that will remind her of her love for him, but he feels his words are inadequate. He reminds her of the time she thought the hickory tree in the front yard was sick and so he hired a tree doctor to help it, reflecting that he shows his love through action. He also says that when he told her to make her art and he would worry about providing for them, that was another love letter.
Roy is less comfortable writing to Celestial than she is to him, but he embraces the form. Previously he expressed his love through actions that benefitted Celestial, but that is no longer possible. His prior promise that he would provide for them so that she could focus on her art reflects his initial support of Celestial’s career, and underscores that she must now sustain herself financially.
Roy writes to Celestial again to tell her he received all her letters. In three months, he has had three cell partners. His current cellmate is Walter, an older man who has been incarcerated for most of his life. Roy writes letters for Walter in exchange for cigarettes that he then trades for other goods. The letters are mostly to women Walter meets through personal ads. Walter also lived in Eloe and wants to hear all about it and about Roy’s college life. He asks Roy how he got his name and Roy says he got the name from his father. The inmates call Walter “Ghetto Yoda” because of his tendency to advise other inmates. He tells Roy that they need to stick together because they’re both bow-legged.
Though Roy hasn’t written many letters in his own life, he proves still a skilled writer compared to the other prisoners—a testament to the education he sought for himself. Walter’s ability to connect with women via personal ads suggests his womanizing nature. Roy is skeptical of the interest Walter takes in his life, though the reasoning behind his specific questions are made clear when his true identity is later revealed.
Roy tells Celestial that it’s bad in jail and that no one, not even a murderer, deserves to spend more than a couple years there. The number of men in the jail is equivalent to the male population of Morehouse. He tells Celestial he put her on the top of his visitors list and that he’ll put Dre (a nickname for Andre) on the list, too. He thanks her for putting money in his commissary account and calls Celestial “Georgia” because he misses his home with her.
Roy’s comparison of a single jail’s population to the student body at his historically black university reflects the racialized nature of criminal justice. Mass incarceration robs many young black men of the chance to receive a proper education and participate in society.
Celestial tells Roy that she will have visited by the time he gets this letter and that she’s already memorized the strict guidelines about how visitors should dress. She remembers seeing a wrongly-accused man and his accuser speak in college, but she can’t remember what they said. Celestial didn’t think that such a thing could happen to her or her loved ones, and she wishes she could sit down with the woman who accused Roy. Uncle Banks is preparing his appeal, and he reminds Celestial that things could be worse—Roy could have been shot during the arrest. She prays for him every night and says she wrote down every word of their conversation in the hotel room that night so that, when Roy returns, they can pick up where they left off. She tells Roy that she’s nervous to see him, but that she loves him as much as ever.
Celestial writes to Roy even though they’ll have the time to catch up before this letter arrives because she knows how much the letters mean to him. She tries to gain perspective on the situation by consoling herself that Roy lived through his wrongful arrest, reflecting the fact that many black men do not survive such encounters with the police. Her hopes that she and Roy might resume their lives as though none of this has happened will soon prove misguided and naïve.
Roy thanks Celestial for visiting. He writes that he felt weird seeing her for the first time in front of so many people, and then begins to reveal something that has been kept secret to the readers up until now. Insinuating that Celestial was pregnant upon his sentencing but had an abortion, Roy tells his wife that their child would have had all of their family to help raise him until Roy was free, and that the child would have been something for him to look forward to upon his release. He then says what’s done is done, and that when they decided to have an abortion it was as though they were resigning themselves to the fact that things wouldn’t work out in the courtroom. He asks Celestial who else knows about the abortion and tells her he loves her.
The revelation that Celestial had an abortion is a shock to the reader at this point. This is another way in which his wrongful incarceration has forever shaped Roy’s life and altered their marriage. Disagreements over the abortion will ultimately prove to drive a wedge between Celestial and Roy.
Celestial tells Roy that she tries to force herself not to think about the abortion all the time, but that she feels sadness more than regret. She asks him not to send another letter like the last one and reminds him what it would be like to bring a child into the disgusting county jail to visit him. She reminds him how he told her she couldn’t have the child in this situation, and that whatever Roy is feeling about the abortion, she feels it more.
Roy’s letter to Celestial implies that the decision to have an abortion was Celestial’s alone, but she begs Roy to consider his own insistence that they couldn’t birth their first child in the midst of this situation. Celestial tells Roy that she feels the weight of their decision more than he does, but her reasons for this will only become clear later.
Celestial throws herself into her work of making the dolls. They remind her of a baby doll shop she went to as a child, and the sadness she felt at the idea the dolls didn’t have homes. She wants to sell her dolls to children because she can’t handle them looking at her, but she also can’t stop making them. She tells Roy that only Andre knows about the abortion. He took her to the appointment and reminded her that this wasn’t their last chance to have a baby, and she promises him that they can have as many babies as he wants when he gets out of jail.
Celestial throwing herself into her work has multiple implications. For one, Roy promised her she could focus on her art and he would worry about their finances. Once Roy is no longer the breadwinner, Celestial seeks a way to earn her own living through her art. Her obsession with the dolls, though, is not simply a matter of making money, but also of obsessing over Roy, her muse, who is now physically absent from her life. The baby dolls she’s making are also a parallel for the pregnancy she aborted.
Roy writes back to deny that he forced her into anything. Celestial is a strong woman who wouldn’t just follow anyone’s orders. Celestial was relieved at the thought of not keeping the baby and didn’t argue with the suggestion. They both have responsibility for the decision.
Roy feels that Celestial is placing the blame for the abortion on him, but he sees the decision as having been primarily hers. He wants her to take some of the burden of their decision because he’s already bearing the burden of this wrongful conviction.
Celestial tells Roy she left Howard University for Spelman after just a year because she had an affair with the teacher of her Art of the African Diaspora class. He was forty and married, while Celestial was eighteen. They were unofficially engaged, but he still needed to divorce his wife when Celestial discovered she was pregnant. He talked her into having an abortion to protect his wife from the embarrassment. After the abortion, the teacher broke up with Celestial.
Celestial reveals the source of her complex feelings around the abortion. Celestial had kept her past romantic history from Roy, never telling him that she had been pregnant before. She has a history of having been shamed for the decision to terminate a pregnancy, and she won’t accept the same treatment from Roy.
Celestial stopped going to classes and the college called her parents, who filed a suit against the professor. Celestial returned home to Atlanta, where only her Aunt Sylvia was able to snap her out of her depression. Sylvia convinced Celestial that she didn’t want the baby to begin with and taught her how to make dolls out of socks to donate to the “crack babies” in the hospital. For Celestial, the dolls were a way to atone for aborting her own child. In her letter to Roy, she tells him that she promised herself that she wouldn’t put herself in that situation again. She sees the abortion of their child more as a miscarriage because, despite her body being fertile, her life was not. She again asks him not to bring up the subject.
While Celestial had previously given Roy a hard time for not revealing his secrets to her, now it is Celestial’s turn to share a secret of her past, explaining why she’s particularly sensitive around the subject of their aborted child. Celestial explains the deep depression she suffered because of the loss of her lover and pregnancy in college, and reveals to Roy the provenance of the baby dolls. This clarifies why Celestial has trouble letting go of the dolls she makes now in Roy’s likeness,.
Roy writes that he has two years done and ten more to go. Uncle Banks finally moves forward with the appeal. Roy dislikes how much money Celestial’s parents are paying Banks, and he vows to pay them back. He likes handwritten letters more than email because they’re like receipts, and he tells Celestial that he wrote an email for another inmate recently in exchange for an onion. He thanks Celestial for always writing him back, though he notes that most people don’t respond to paper letters. He asks for some photos, both old and new.
Roy’s comments reveal that significant time has passed, though the letters are undated. Roy provides a detail into the economy of the prison system, revealing how a service can be traded for a good. Such an exchange will prove important later when we hear of the range of Roy’s experience in jail. His desire for photographs both old and new reflects that he wants to both remember Celestial as she was and be part of her life now.
Celestial writes back to Roy and encloses a few photos: some old photos and some new ones taken by Andre. Dre has a new girlfriend who is only twenty-one. She tells Roy that she’s put on some weight and secured a retail space to sell the dolls as high-end toys or low-end art, because she loves watching little brown girls receive the dolls. She has accepted Franklin as an investor instead of opening the business with Roy as they planned. She tells Roy that she’s kept all the pictures PG-rated but hopes that he’ll keep the new ones to himself and share only the older ones with his friends. She offers to put some money on Walter’s books, a.k.a. his commissary account too.
The fact that Celestial feels self-conscious about Roy sharing the newer photos suggests her belief that Roy only has a true claim over Celestial’s old self rather than her present one. Though suspicions might be raised by it being Andre who took Celestial’s picture, Celestial quickly explains that Dre has a new girlfriend. Celestial displays her generosity in supporting Roy’s cellmate because he doesn’t seem to have the same family network Roy does.
Roy writes to Celestial, telling her he misses everything about her and he can’t believe how much time they wasted fighting. He asks her to forgive him for all the times he could have made her feel more secure. He feels demoralized that he has nothing to offer her for all she does for him, and he tells her that he touches her with his mind and asks if she’ll try to do the same to him.
Roy is so hungry for affection that he turns to metaphysical communication. This underscores the isolating nature of prison and the psychological toll it is taking on Roy.
Roy writes to apologize for the last letter being a little “out there” and asks Celestial to write him back. Celestial writes to tell him he didn’t freak her out, but that she’s been very busy. She has a solo show coming up in which she will exhibit all of the portraits she’s made of Roy over the years. She tells him that working with images of him all day makes her feel as though she is spending time with him, and it causes her to forget to write.
This letter hints at the growing distance between Roy and Celestial’s and the tension her artistic success will ultimately cause. Her excuse that her spending time with his image makes her feel as though she’s spending time with him is an insult to how Roy is unable to similarly distract himself within the prison walls.
Roy writes Celestial to ask if Olive is correct that Celestial is now famous. Celestial writes that she was featured in an article in Ebony and her doll won a contest at the National Portrait Museum. She’d made this doll for Olive based on one of Roy’s baby pictures and it was supposed to be dressed in Roy’s baby clothes, but Celestial couldn’t let it go.
While previously Olive had been informed of Celestial’s growing success by Roy, the roles have reversed. Again, Celestial had been unable to part with a doll based on Roy’s likeness.
Celestial tells Roy the story of how her mother’s family came to Atlanta. One day, at the general store, Celestial’s grandmother, pushing the baby Gloria in a pram, crossed paths with a white lady and her child. The little girl pointed at Gloria and said, “Look, Mommy! A baby maid!” Immediately after that, her grandparents moved to Atlanta to avoid that fate for their daughter.
Celestial’s story shows that, class-wise, she and Roy’s parents are not that far apart after all. Just as Olive refused to let Roy be born under a Confederate flag, Celestial’s grandmother attempted to shield Gloria from racial prejudice.
Celestial tells Roy that about a year ago she had an incident that she didn’t tell him about because she didn’t want to worry him. She and Andre were walking to get food after setting up a show, and she was tired and hungry. She passed a little boy on the street who reminded her of Roy, and thought, “A baby prisoner.” She thought it really was Roy for a moment and broke down. Andre called Gloria and they calmed Celestial down, but Celestial couldn’t shake the idea. She made prison clothing for the doll, transforming it from a toy into art. This was her prize-winning doll, but when interviewed about it, she didn’t mention Roy, instead talking about her mother and Angela Davis’s protest of prisons.
Celestial uses the story of her grandmother to parallel the feeling she had about a little black boy she passed on the street, imagining him the worst of fates despite the best of circumstances. Instead of sending the doll she’d made to Olive, she made it prison blues and talked only about this story, rather than her personal connection to incarceration via Roy—something Roy will come to resent.
Roy writes to Celestial that the idea of a shop was his idea, while she always dreamed of placing her work in galleries. He accuses her of being ashamed of him. He asks to see a picture of the doll, hoping he’ll like it more when he sees it. He tells her that her dolls might help raise awareness, but they don’t actually help anyone who is incarcerated. He tells her that if she doesn’t want to tell people her husband is wrongfully incarcerated, she can tell them that he was recently promoted from picking soybeans to picking up trash. He asks if Andre was at the award ceremony.
Roy calls “nonsense” on Celestial starting a doll business with her father, because that was never her dream, but Roy’s. This admonishment might be dictated by his anger at Celestial for not having visited recently. Her gaining recognition for her doll is not a replacement for the real good it does to visit prisoners. His inferiority complex compared to Celestial’s recent accomplishments is reflected in the way he mocks his own advancement within the prison system and his implication that something might be going on with Andre.
Celestial tells Roy his last letter upset her. She tells him that even when she tells people he’s innocent, all they focus on is the fact that he’s incarcerated, and she wanted to enjoy the honor that she was being awarded. She tells him she won’t dignify his question about Andre with a response.
Celestial wants to defend Roy, but she feels the judgement from others when she brings him up in conversation. While she has suffered the effects of Roy’s incarceration for the last two years, she felt she deserved to experience the joy of the recognition awarded her on this night without the pity and suspicion Roy’s incarceration arouses.
Roy tells Celestial that his cellmate Walter took Celestial’s side in the argument. Walter sees the negative association of incarceration with African American life and reminds Roy that it’s a miracle Celestial has already overcome all of the other negative stereotypes she could have fallen prey to. Roy apologizes to Celestial. He pulled up the article about her at the library and was happy to see she still wore his ring on her finger. He writes her another letter asking if she received his apology and asking her to please write back.
Walter is able to help Roy understand that incarceration is already doing its damage to Roy’s life, and that he shouldn’t let it do damage to Celestial’s. While Roy had been offended by Celestial’s not mentioning his incarceration in the article about her, he views the fact that she still wears her wedding ring as a sign of her continued devotion.
Roy writes to Celestial’s father, saying that he feels he has a lot in common with Mr. Davenport. He recalls the day he asked permission to propose to Celestial, and the way “Mr. D” told him her hand wasn’t his to give—and that Roy might not know Celestial as well as he thought if he believed that approach might work. Now, Roy tells him that Celestial hasn’t visited in two months and he hasn’t heard from her either. Roy asks his father-in-law if he will talk to Celestial on his behalf. He knows that being married to an incarcerated man is a sacrifice and that all he has to offer her is his character. He asks that Mr. Davenport keep the letter to himself.
Roy’s appeal to Mr. Davenport reveals how desperate he is to hear from Celestial. Roy takes a position of humility in acknowledging that he doesn’t have much to offer Celestial at this point, but he remains worried enough about his pride that he asks that Franklin keep the letter to himself.
Mr. Davenport writes Roy to tell him that Gloria prays for him every day. He revises Roy’s story about asking him for Celestial’s hand in marriage, saying that he only told Roy that Celestial had a mind of her own. He tells Roy that he proposed to Gloria three times before she accepted. He tells Roy that he’ll ask Celestial why she hasn’t visited, but that a marriage is between two people. He adds that he is sure his daughter will be loyal to Roy in the same way Gloria has always been loyal to himself.
This letter from Mr. Davenport reveals his less traditional side, showing that when he told Roy he couldn’t approve of the marriage he meant only that the decision was Celestial’s alone. This letter marks a moment where Mr. Davenport and Roy begin to develop a rapport. Mr. Davenport, despite his past, believes that his daughter will act as faithfully as his own wife did to him, rather than as faithfully as he did to his first wife.
Roy writes to Celestial, mentioning that he wrote to Franklin to ask him to talk to her. He recalls the first time he visited Celestial’s parents’ home and the way they sat on the porch as her father rolled a blunt, and how he felt welcomed into the family. He shares his shock to discover that his cellmate is actually his biological father. When Roy was helping Walter with something, he saw his full name on his face sheet, Othaniel Walter Jenkins, and knew in that moment that he must be his father. People in prison had called him Roy’s pops, but he’d just assumed it was a joke.
Here it is revealed that one of the reasons that Roy wants Celestial to reply to his letters is because he has received quite a shock in finding out that his cellmate is his father. While there had been a few clues that this was the case, Roy hadn’t considered this even the slightest possibility, thinking the clues odd, but not indicative of actual parentage.
Roy backtracks to explain that Olive knew Walter had fathered quite a few children already, and when he found out Olive was pregnant he left her, too. When she went out looking for him, someone told her he was in Eloe, but he was already gone. She did find a job and a husband there, though. Roy tells Celestial that he felt like a sucker when he found out the truth about his cellmate, and that he understands now how Celestial felt upon learning that Roy hadn’t told her about his being adopted by Big Roy.
Roy provides more detail about Olive and Walter’s relations. This return to the story of Roy’s biological parentage is important because it helps Roy recognize the similarity between Walter having concealed his identity from him while living in the same cell, and Roy keeping his own secrets from Celestial.
Walter tells Roy that his first instinct when Olive told him she was pregnant was to run, and Roy worries he reacted similarly when Celestial told him she was pregnant. Walter forces Roy to admit that life in prison improved once Walter became his cellmate. He says while Big Roy will always be his father, Walter is his “old man” while in prison. He asks once more for Celestial to come visit him.
Roy’s worry about his reaction to Celestial’s pregnancy implies that he is finally taking responsibility for his part in the decision to have an abortion. Roy admits that Walter is helping look out for him in prison, showing the way his once estranged father has shown up for him in a different situation.
Celestial writes to Roy to ask for his forgiveness. She says that initially she didn’t visit because she was going through a lot, but recently she had just been busy with work. Her employee Tamar is going to mind the shop soon so that Celestial can visit. She asks if she’ll be allowed to meet Walter as well as for his commissary information, so that she can put money in for the holidays.
Celestial’s letter shows how her anger and sadness pushed her to take solace in her work, rather than facing her situation head-on. In asking for Roy’s forgiveness and to donate money to Walter’s account, Celestial seems to want to repair her and Roy’s relationship.
Roy writes to Celestial to thank her for visiting. He tells her that something about her seems different and asks if she is all right. He says he’s not asking if she’s seeing someone else. Celestial is uncertain how to respond to Roy’s question. She says change can be expected, as he’s been away for three years and they’re growing older. Celestial confirms that Roy’s ring is on her finger.
When Roy and Celestial see one another after a long period of not having visited, Roy senses a change in Celestial. He’s careful to indicate he’s not implying that she’s seeing someone else, though his mentioning this as a possibility for the change isn’t the most eloquent way to express his concern. Celestial, perhaps having felt time pass and the world change more acutely than Roy has in his cell, thinks change is only logical. Though she doesn’t deny that she’s seeing someone, she says Roy’s ring is on her finger, a symbol that implies her fidelity.
Roy writes to tell Celestial that Olive has lung cancer. He asks if Celestial will visit Olive, apologizing for running up his list of debts with her. He can tell she feels obligated by all that he requires of her, but he needs to know Celestial’s opinion of the situation because he believes Big Roy is withholding information from him.
Roy sees asking his wife to visit his sick mother as one more favor owed, a toxic way of viewing a life of partnership that evidences his growing insecurity in their marriage.
Celestial writes to Roy to apologize for writing a letter she promised herself she would never write. She says she can no longer be his wife, though she feels like she was never given a chance to fully occupy the role. After seeing the way Big Roy behaved at Olive’s funeral, Celestial saw how weak her connection with Roy was. They aren’t able to share their lives with each other, both unable to bear hearing about the other’s days even when they visit. She tells him she’ll continue to support and visit him, but she can’t do so as his wife.
Though Celestial doesn’t explain Big Roy’s behavior at the funeral, the implication is that he acted with a considerable amount of devotion that dwarfed her own feelings for Roy. Celestial feels that love is a day-to-day connection, and she and Roy don’t have that right now. While Celestial still loves Roy as a friend, the feelings she has for him no longer seem sufficient for her to continue being his wife.
Roy tells Celestial she should do what she has to do, but that plenty of women are more dedicated to their incarcerated men than Celestial is. He tells her not to visit as a friend. Celestial asks that Roy consider her perspective, and how things like being strip-searched each time she visits are slowly diminishing her spirit. Roy writes back that he is innocent, and Celestial says that she is, too.
Roy replies to Celestial’s difficult declaration with passive aggression, implying that Walter’s acquaintances from the personal ads are more dedicated to Walter than Celestial is to Roy. Celestial attempts to make a case for how miserable it is for her to visit Roy in prison but fails to understand how her experience is far less extreme than his. Their declarations that they are both innocent reflects the ways in which incarceration affects far more than the incarcerated.
Roy writes Celestial formally discontinuing their relationship. He asks that she not come to visit him. He then writes to Uncle Banks, telling him to release him as his attorney and to remove Celestial from his visitors list. Uncle Banks writes back to say that the Davenports intend to retain him so he may continue his lawyerly duties. He urges Roy to reconsider removing Celestial from his list, adding that Roy’s case has been the most upsetting of any he has worked on and that he believes they possess the same determination. He acknowledges that the appeal being denied was a disheartening setback, but that there is still hope. He recommends that Roy stay connected with those people who remind him he had a life outside the prison.
Uncle Banks denies Roy’s request to discontinue his service and tries to show Roy the mistake he’d be making in removing Celestial from his list of approved visitors—effectively robbing himself of reminders of his life in the outside world, and the hope such reminders encourage. This case is particularly affecting for Banks, who has worked on many criminal cases, because of the way he identifies with Roy and can see how it was chance and prejudice that landed Roy in this position.
Roy writes Banks to accept his continued services and to say he’ll leave Celestial on his list, but to please not tell her that this is the case. Roy promises to repay the Davenports and Banks for all he has done, saying he is Roy’s only hope.
Roy likely accepts Banks’ suggestions because he appreciates the way Banks identified with him and expressed continued faith in his innocence.
Celestial writes Roy on their anniversary to tell him she’s thinking of him. She mentions that, while married, they used “November 17” as a safe word to halt a fight, and hopes that maybe now they can use it to resume communication. She writes him again to wish him a merry Christmas. She writes once more to say that she finds his refusal to see her unkind. He writes her back to ask that she please respect his wishes. Celestial writes to wish Roy a happy birthday. She writes again around the anniversary of Olive’s death to say she’s thinking of him.
Celestial, in trying to revive her correspondence with her husband, tries to evoke their old safe word to appeal to Roy’s sentimentality, but his lack of response indicates the gesture doesn’t work. Celestial’s writing around the anniversary of Olive’s death also marks a year having passed since Celestial told Roy she no longer wanted to be married.
Roy writes Celestial after having been incarcerated for five years to say that he is coming home, since his conviction has been vacated. He tells her he should be free in time for Christmas and regrets not answering her letters, saying that he hasn’t heard from her in more than a year. He says that while he knows they can’t start over, he believes there’s a reason she hasn’t divorced him. Roy tells Celestial this note is a love letter.
This letter reveals how much time has passed and suggests that, despite their lack of communication, Celestial has not filed for divorce because part of her is still tied to Roy. The revelation that Roy’s case has been overturned and he will be set free earlier than planned pushes Roy into reconsidering their relationship.