Read The road Online

Authors: Cormac McCarthy

Tags: #FICTION / General, #Fiction / Literary, #Fiction / Science Fiction / General, #Fiction / Classics, #FICTION / Fantasy / General, #United States, #Fiction / Action & Adventure, #Voyages and travels/ Fiction, #Robinsonades, #Fathers and Sons, #Survival skills, #Regression (Civilization), #Voyages And Travels, #Fathers and sons/ Fiction, #Regression (Civilization)/ Fiction

The road

BOOK: The road
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




Cormac McCarthy



When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold
of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark
beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like
the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell
softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and
raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east
for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had
wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing
over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost
among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water
dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours
and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great
stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature
that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light
with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head
low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching
there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on
the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a
dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low
moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.


With the first gray light he rose and left the boy
sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the
south. Barren, silent, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasnt
sure. He hadnt kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There'd be no
surviving another winter here.


When it was light enough to use the binoculars he
glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash
blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The
segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of
color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and
pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his
wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the
binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. He knew only
that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never


When he got back the boy was still asleep. He
pulled the blue plastic tarp off of him and folded it and carried it out to the
grocery cart and packed it and came back with their plates and some cornmeal
cakes in a plastic bag and a plastic bottle of syrup. He spread the small tarp
they used for a table on the ground and laid everything out and he took the
pistol from his belt and laid it on the cloth and then he just sat watching the
boy sleep. He'd pulled away his mask in the night and it was buried somewhere
in the blankets. He watched the boy and he looked out through the trees toward
the road. This was not a safe place. They could be seen from the road now it
was day. The boy turned in the blankets. Then he opened his eyes. Hi, Papa, he
said. I'm right here. I know.


An hour later they were on the road. He pushed the
cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential
things. In case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to
the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the
road behind them. He shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out
over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the
still gray serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a
burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? he said. The boy nodded. Then they set out
along the blacktop in the gun-metal light, shuffling through the ash, each the
other's world entire.


They crossed the river by an old concrete bridge
and a few miles on they came upon a roadside gas station. They stood in the
road and studied it. I think we should check it out, the man said. Take a look.
The weeds they forded fell to dust about them. They crossed the broken asphalt
apron and found the tank for the pumps. The cap was gone and the man dropped to
his elbows to smell the pipe but the odor of gas was only a rumor, faint and
stale. He stood and looked over the building. The pumps standing with their
hoses oddly still in place. The windows intact. The door to the service bay was
open and he went in. A standing metal toolbox against one wall. He went through
the drawers but there was nothing there that he could use. Good half-inch drive
sockets. A ratchet. He stood looking around the garage. A metal barrel full of
trash. He went into the office. Dust and ash everywhere. The boy stood in the
door. A metal desk, a cashregister. Some old automotive manuals, swollen and
sodden. The linoleum was stained and curling from the leaking roof. He crossed
to the desk and stood there. Then he picked up the phone and dialed the number
of his father's house in that long ago. The boy watched him. What are you
doing? he said.


A quarter mile down the road he stopped and looked
back. We're not thinking, he said. We have to go back. He pushed the cart off
the road and tilted it over where it could not be seen and they left their
packs and went back to the station. In the service bay he dragged out the steel
trashdrum and tipped it over and pawed out all the quart plastic oilbottles.
Then they sat in the floor decanting them of their dregs one by one, leaving
the bottles to stand upside down draining into a pan until at the end they had
almost a half quart of motor oil. He screwed down the plastic cap and wiped the
bottle off with a rag and hefted it in his hand. Oil for their little slutlamp
to light the long gray dusks, the long gray dawns. You can read me a story, the
boy said. Cant you, Papa? Yes, he said. I can.


On the far side of the river valley the road
passed through a stark black burn. Charred and limbless trunks of trees
stretching away on every side. Ash moving over the road and the sagging hands
of blind wire strung from the blackened lightpoles whining thinly in the wind.
A burned house in a clearing and beyond that a reach of meadow-lands stark and
gray and a raw red mudbank where a roadworks lay abandoned. Farther along were
billboards advertising motels. Everything as it once had been save faded and
weathered. At the top of the hill they stood in the cold and the wind, getting
their breath. He looked at the boy. I'm all right, the boy said. The man put
his hand on his shoulder and nodded toward the open country below them. He got
the binoculars out of the cart and stood in the road and glassed the plain down
there where the shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing
sketched across the waste. Nothing to see. No smoke. Can I see? the boy said.
Yes. Of course you can. The boy leaned on the cart and adjusted the wheel. What
do you see? the man said. Nothing. He lowered the glasses. It's raining. Yes,
the man said. I know.


They left the cart in a gully covered with the
tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing
trees to where he'd seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock
overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was
very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats
and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the


When it had cleared they went down to the cart and
pulled away the tarp and got their blankets and the things they would need for
the night. They went back up the hill and made their camp in the dry dirt under
the rocks and the man sat with his arms around the boy trying to warm him.
Wrapped in the blankets, watching the nameless dark come to enshroud them. The
gray shape of the city vanished in the night's onset like an apparition and he
lit the little lamp and set it back out of the wind. Then they walked out to
the road and he took the boy's hand and they went to the top of the hill where
the road crested and where they could see out over the darkening country to the
south, standing there in the wind, wrapped in their blankets, watching for any
sign of a fire or a lamp. There was nothing. The lamp in the rocks on the side
of the hill was little more than a mote of light and after a while they walked
back. Everything too wet to make a fire. They ate their poor meal cold and lay
down in their bedding with the lamp between them. He'd brought the boy's book
but the boy was too tired for reading. Can we leave the lamp on till I'm
asleep? he said. Yes. Of course we can.


He was a long time going to sleep. After a while
he turned and looked at the man. His face in the small light streaked with
black from the rain like some old world thespian. Can I ask you something? he
said. Yes. Of course. Are we going to die? Sometime. Not now. And we're still
going south. Yes.

So we'll be warm. Yes.

Okay. Okay what? Nothing. Just okay. Go to sleep.

I'm going to blow out the lamp. Is that okay? Yes.
That's okay. And then later in the darkness: Can I ask you something? Yes. Of
course you can. What would you do if I died? If you died I would want to die
too. So you could be with me? Yes. So I could be with you. Okay.


He lay listening to the water drip in the woods.
Bedrock, this. The cold and the silence. The ashes of the late world carried on
the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and
scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring.
Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If
only my heart were stone.


He woke before dawn and watched the gray day
break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his
shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended
into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a
long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling
day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck
by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul?
Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.


They passed through the city at noon of the day
following. He kept the pistol to hand on the folded tarp on top of the cart. He
kept the boy close to his side. The city was mostly burned. No sign of life.
Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil
tracks in the dried sludge. A corpse in a doorway dried to leather. Grimacing
at the day. He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put
into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, dont you? Yes. You forget what you want to remember and
you remember what you want to forget.


There was a lake a mile from his uncle's farm
where he and his uncle used to go in the fall for firewood. He sat in the back
of the rowboat trailing his hand in the cold wake while his uncle bent to the
oars. The old man's feet in their black kid shoes braced against the uprights.
His straw hat. His cob pipe in his teeth and a thin drool swinging from the
pipebowl. He turned to take a sight on the far shore, cradling the oarhandles,
taking the pipe from his mouth to wipe his chin with the back of his hand. The
shore was lined with birchtrees that stood bone pale against the dark of the
evergreens beyond. The edge of the lake a riprap of twisted stumps, gray and
weathered, the windfall trees of a hurricane years past. The trees themselves
had long been sawed for firewood and carried away. His uncle turned the boat
and shipped the oars and they drifted over the sandy shallows until the transom
grated in the sand. A dead perch lolling belly up in the clear water. Yellow
leaves. They left their shoes on the warm painted boards and dragged the boat
up onto the beach and set out the anchor at the end of its rope. A lardcan
poured with concrete with an eyebolt in the center. They walked along the shore
while his uncle studied the treestumps, puffing at his pipe, a manila rope
coiled over his shoulder. He picked one out and they turned it over, using the
roots for leverage, until they got it half floating in the water. Trousers
rolled to the knee but still they got wet. They tied the rope to a cleat at the
rear of the boat and rowed back across the lake, jerking the stump slowly
behind them. By then it was already evening. Just the slow periodic rack and
shuffle of the oarlocks. The lake dark glass and windowlights coming on along
the shore. A radio somewhere. Neither of them had spoken a word. This was the
perfect day of his childhood. This the day to shape the days upon.

BOOK: The road
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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