John McLendon returns to his neat, new home at around midnight, and upon entering, notices that his wife is still awake. He confronts her, scolding her for staying up and waiting for him. She denies waiting up for him, noting that the heat kept her awake, but McLendon doesn’t believe her and grabs her shoulder, hurting her. He then strikes her, leaving her crumpled across the chair as he exits the room.
Walking into the screened porch he uses as a bedroom, McLendon mops the sweat off of himself, undresses and takes his gun from his waistband and leaves it on the bedside table. By the time he is undressed, he is sweating all over again and must use his clothes to re-dry himself. He stands at the dusty screen, panting in the heat. The night is silent, “stricken beneath the cold moon and lidless stars.”
The gun on McLendon’s bedside table is a symbol of the omnipresence of violence in his life as a form of dominance over other people, especially more vulnerable groups like women and black men. Heat again is ever-present throughout the scene, reflecting McLendon’s prejudice. The story ends with a symbolic parallel: just as the heat has not broken that night, the murder of Mayes will do nothing to alleviate the racial tensions in Jefferson.