African-American, trickster folktale from Alabama about how the Devil uses a powerful female temptation to try splitting apart a “lovey-dovey” couple.
Now, I know y’all think the Devil is a little red man with horns growing out of his head with a red tail and a pitchfork. Well, the folks down in south Alabama say that just ain’t so. They say the Devil is nothin’ but an ol’ trixster, just like Brer Rabbit. And you all know how Brer Rabbit’s always going around trickin’ folks, especially Brer Fox and Brer Bear.
Well, that ol’ Devil was travelin’ back and forth all over Alabama trickin’ folks.What he liked to do most of all was to get loving couples to start fightin’ with one another. He had husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends fightin’ all over the place. Once the Devil came a-callin’, it wasn’t long before somebody said the wrong thing to their mate, or somebody forgot an anniversary, or one person cheated on the other. Pretty soon, the loving couple would fight and split up, and the Devil would strut down the road toward the next house, laughin’ all the way!
Well, the Devil was doing a pretty good job until he came across a couple of newlyweds down in the valley. They were so lovey-dovey that the Devil couldn’t get them to part, no matter how hard he tried. After several days, the Devil got real frustrated and just gave up on those two lovebirds. The Devil was walkin’ down the road all discouraged when he ran across a strange woman who was as barefoot as an ol’ possum. The Barefoot Woman looked at the Devil and said, “What’s wrong with you, Mister Devil? You sick or somethin’?”
“Nah,” said the Devil, “I’ve just been tryin’ to break up that couple down in the valley. But they’re so lovey-dovey, I can’t get ’em to part.”
“Shoot, is that all?” said the Barefoot Woman. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. I ain’t ever had a new pair of shoes before. If you’ll get me a brand new pair of fancy red shoes, I’ll part that couple for you.”
“If you can get ’em to part, I’ll get you the most expensive shoes in town,” said the Devil. “But you don’t get ’em ’til after you do the job.”
“No problem,” said the Barefoot Woman. “You just meet me down at the crossroads tomorrow evenin’ with my shoes.”
The next morning, the Barefoot Woman baked a mouth-watering apple pie and went up to the newlyweds’ home in the valley. The Husband was in the field chopping cotton, his shirt soaked with sweat. The Barefoot Woman asked if she could visit with his Wife, for she had just moved into the valley, and she wanted to get to know her new neighbors. The Husband smiled and pointed the Barefoot Woman toward the house.
The Wife invited the Barefoot Woman in and they began to chatter away. The Barefoot Woman took a seat and began to praise everything in the house as the “prettiest thing she ever saw” – the kitchen, the dishes, the furniture, even the ol’ rooster outside! The Wife thanked her for all her kind words and gave her a bucket of freshly-picked blackberries. “Yessir, everything in this house is pretty,” said the Barefoot Woman. “But you know what the prettiest thing of all is? You are.”
The Wife blushed and said, “Oh, no, I’m not the prettiest. My husband is prettier than I am.”
“Yeah, yeah, he’s pretty alright,” said the Barefoot Woman. “But he’d be even prettier if he didn’t have that big ol’ flesh-mole on his neck with those ugly black hairs stickin’ out.”
The smile briefly faded on the Wife’s face, and she said, “Yeah, I know. He’s pretty embarrassed ’bout it. But I’m used to it by now.”
“You don’t have to get used to it,” said the Barefoot Woman. “Why don’t you just cut it off?”
The Wife’s jaw dropped. “I couldn’t do that!” she exclaimed. “He’d bleed to death!”
“Naw, he wouldn’t,” said the Barefoot Woman. “Here’s what you do: take a razor with you to bed tonight. When he’s fast asleep, reach over and whack that thing off real fast. Then dab his neck with some spider webs to stop the bleeding. He won’t even know you did it ’til the next morning. And I’m sure he’ll thank you for it!”
The Wife finally agreed to do it, thanking the Barefoot Woman over and over again. After telling the Wife good-bye, the Barefoot Woman went outside and visited with the Husband, who was still working in the field. “Boy, you sure is a hard worker,” said the Barefoot Woman.
“Yes, ma’am,” said the Husband. “But I don’t mind it at all, ’cause the harder I work, the more I can give to my beautiful wife. She means the world to me.”
The Barefoot Woman chuckled and said, “Yeah, I’m sure she does. But from what I hear, she means the world to somebody else, too.”
The Husband stopped working and glared at her. “What you mean by that?” he asked.
“Well, from what I hear, she’s seein’ another man in town. And one of these nights, if you’re not careful, she’s gonna do away with you.”
The Husband clenched his fists in rage. “Get offa my property, you lyin’ ol’ hag! Nobody talks ’bout my wife like that!”
The Barefoot Woman shrugged her shoulders and turned away. “Alls I’m sayin’ is watch out,” she said over her shoulder as she walked back down the road.
Later that evening, the Barefoot Woman snuck back toward the newlyweds’ home, hid outside in the smokehouse, and watched the couple through the window as they prepared for bed. Even though he loved his Wife, the Husband had been thinking all day about what the Barefoot Woman had said. He barely spoke a word to his Wife all night, and pretended he was asleep when she crawled into bed beside him. After midnight, the Wife awoke, saw that her Husband was sleeping, then reached under the bed for the razor. She slowly moved toward her Husband and positioned the razor by the big mole on his neck, ready to cut away. Suddenly, the Husband opened his eyes and grabbed her wrist with a vise-like grip. “I knew it!” he screamed. “That ol’ Barefoot Woman said you’s gonna try and kill me so’s you could be with your new man!”
“But…” protested the Wife.
“I don’t want to hear it,” screamed the Husband. “Get outta my house, you hear? Get out! And don’t you ever come back!”
The Wife cried, packed her things and moved away, her heart broken. And the newlyweds never saw each other again.
The next evening, the Barefoot Woman went down to the crossroads to meet the Devil, just as they had arranged. When she got there, she found the Devil holding out a brand new pair of red shoes to her on the end of a long stick.
“What’s goin’ on here?” she asked. “Why you holdin’ those shoes out like that? I did what you asked.”
“Yeah, you sure did,” answered the Devil. “But anybody that can cause that much disturbance, I don’t want no part of. Here, take your shoes.”
The Barefoot Woman then smiled and said, “Why, Mister Devil, don’t you know who I am?”
Suddenly, the Barefoot Woman’s skin started smoking like it was on fire. It melted right off her body, and there in the bright moonlight stood the Devil’s own wife – Mrs. Devil!
“Mrs. Devil!” exclaimed the Devil. “Why’d you go and trick me like that?”
“Mister Devil, I’ve been tryin’ to get you to buy me a brand new pair of shoes for years, and you been too stingy to do it!”
The Devil stared at the ground and shook his head. “Husband of mine,” she said, “don’t you ever underestimate the power of a woman – especially your own wife!”
And that’s the story of The Barefoot Woman.
The Barefoot Woman – Story Credits
Adapted from folklore by The Moonlit Road and Evelyn McCray
Directed by The Moonlit Road
Told by Evelyn McCray
Music by Barbara Panter
Sound Design by Henry Howard
All Photography by Jon Kownacki