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 (3 page)

BOOK: The road
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

 

They walked through the diningroom where the
firebrick in the hearth was as yellow as the day it was laid because his mother
could not bear to see it blackened. The floor buckled from the rainwater. In
the livingroom the bones of a small animal dismembered and placed in a pile.
Possibly a cat. A glass tumbler by the door. The boy gripped his hand. They
went up the stairs and turned and went down the hallway. Small cones of damp
plaster standing in the floor. The wooden lathes of the ceiling exposed. He
stood in the doorway to his room. A small space under the eaves. This is where
I used to sleep. My cot was against this wall. In the nights in their thousands
to dream the dreams of a child's imaginings, worlds rich or fearful such as
might offer themselves but never the one to be. He pushed open the closet door
half expecting to find his childhood things. Raw cold daylight fell through
from the roof. Gray as his heart. We should go, Papa. Can we go? Yes. We can
go. I'm scared. I know. I'm sorry. I'm really scared. It's all right. We
shouldnt have come.

 

Three nights later in the foothills of the eastern
mountains he woke in the darkness to hear something coming. He lay with his
hands at either side of him. The ground was trembling. It was coming toward
them. Papa? The boy said. Papa? Shh. It's okay. What is it, Papa? It neared,
growing louder. Everything trembling. Then it passed beneath them like an
underground train and drew away into the night and was gone. The boy clung to
him crying, his head buried against his chest. Shh. It's all right. I'm so
scared. I know. It's all right. It's gone. What was it, Papa? It was an
earthquake. It's gone now. We're all right. Shh.

 

In those first years the roads were peopled with
refugees shrouded up in their clothing. Wearing masks and goggles, sitting in
their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators. Their barrows heaped
with shoddy. Towing wagons or carts. Their eyes bright in their skulls.
Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a
feverland. The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues
resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the
class with it. Turns out the light and is gone. Look around you. Ever is a long
time. But the boy knew what he knew. That ever is no time at all.

 

He sat by a gray window in the gray light in an
abandoned house in the late afternoon and read old newspapers while the boy
slept. The curious news. The quaint concerns. At eight the primrose closes. He
watched the boy sleeping. Can you do it? When the time comes? Can you?

 

They squatted in the road and ate cold rice and
cold beans that they'd cooked days ago. Already beginning to ferment. No place
to make a fire that would not be seen. They slept huddled together in the rank
quilts in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him. So thin. My
heart, he said. My heart. But he knew that if he were a good father still it
might well be as she had said. That the boy was all that stood between him and
death.

 

Late in the year. He hardly knew the month. He
thought they had enough food to get through the mountains but there was no way
to tell. The pass at the watershed was five thousand feet and it was going to
be very cold. He said that everything depended on reaching the coast, yet
waking in the night he knew that all of this was empty and no substance to it.
There was a good chance they would die in the mountains and that would be that.

 

They passed through the ruins of a resort town and
took the road south. Burnt forests for miles along the slopes and snow sooner
than he would have thought. No tracks in the road, nothing living anywhere. The
fireblackened boulders like the shapes of bears on the starkly wooded slopes.
He stood on a stone bridge where the waters slurried into a pool and turned
slowly in a gray foam. Where once he'd watched trout swaying in the current,
tracking their perfect shadows on the stones beneath. They went on, the boy
trudging in his track. Leaning into the cart, winding slowly upward through the
switchbacks. There were fires still burning high in the mountains and at night
they could see the light from them deep orange in the soot-fall. It was getting
colder but they had campfires all night and left them burning behind them when
they set out again in the morning. He'd wrapped their feet in sacking tied with
cord and so far the snow was only a few inches deep but he knew that if it got
much deeper they would have to leave the cart. Already it was hard going and he
stopped often to rest. Slogging to the edge of the road with his back to the
child where he stood bent with his hands on his knees, coughing. He raised up
and stood with weeping eyes. On the gray snow a fine mist of blood.

 

They camped against a boulder and he made a
shelter of poles with the tarp. He got a fire going and they set about dragging
up a great brushpile of wood to see them through the night. They'd piled a mat
of dead hemlock boughs over the snow and they sat wrapped in their blankets
watching the fire and drinking the last of the cocoa scavenged weeks before. It
was snowing again, soft flakes drifting down out of the blackness. He dozed in
the wonderful warmth. The boy's shadow crossed over him. Carrying an armload of
wood. He watched him stoke the flames. God's own firedrake. The sparks rushed
upward and died in the starless dark. Not all dying words are true and this
blessing is no less real for being shorn of its ground.

 

He woke toward the morning with the fire down to
coals and walked out to the road. Everything was alight. As if the lost sun
were returning at last. The snow orange and quivering. A forest fire was making
its way along the tinder-box ridges above them, flaring and shimmering against
the overcast like the northern lights. Cold as it was he stood there a long
time. The color of it moved something in him long forgotten. Make a list.
Recite a litany. Remember.

 

It was colder. Nothing moved in that high world. A
rich smell of woodsmoke hung over the road. He pushed the cart on through the
snow. A few miles each day. He'd no notion how far the summit might be. They
ate sparely and they were hungry all the time. He stood looking out over the
country. A river far below. How far had they come?

 

In his dream she was sick and he cared for her.
The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not
take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other
dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell.

 

On this road there are no godspoke men. They are
gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: How does the
never to be differ from what never was?

 

Dark of the invisible moon. The nights now only
slightly less black. By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving
mother with a lamp.

 

People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half
immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides. Others
would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and
deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on
spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of
the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he
took small comfort from it.

 

The air grew thin and he thought the summit could
not be far. Perhaps tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went. It didnt snow again but
the snow in the road was six inches deep and pushing the cart up those grades
was exhausting work. He thought they would have to leave it. How much could
they carry? He stood and looked out over the barren slopes. The ash fell on the
snow till it was all but black.

 

At every curve it looked as though the pass lay
just ahead and then one evening he stopped and looked all about and he
recognized it. He unsnapped the throat of his parka and lowered the hood and
stood listening. The wind in the dead black stands of hemlock. The empty
parking lot at the overlook. The boy stood beside him. Where he'd stood once
with his own father in a winter long ago. What is it, Papa? the boy said. It's
the gap. This is it.

 

In the morning they pressed on. It was very cold.
Toward the afternoon it began to snow again and they made camp early and
crouched under the leanto of the tarp and watched the snow fall in the fire. By
morning there was several inches of new snow on the ground but the snow had
stopped and it was so quiet they could all but hear their hearts. He piled wood
on the coals and fanned the fire to life and trudged out through the drifts to
dig out the cart. He sorted through the cans and went back and they sat by the
fire and ate the last of their crackers and a tin of sausage. In a pocket of
his knapsack he'd found a last half packet of cocoa and he fixed it for the boy
and then poured his own cup with hot water and sat blowing at the rim. You
promised not to do that, the boy said. What?

You know what, Papa. He poured the hot water back
into the pan and took the boy's cup and poured some of the cocoa into his own
and then handed it back. I have to watch you all the time, the boy said. I
know. If you break little promises you'll break big ones. That's what you said.
I know. But I wont.

 

They slogged all day down the southfacing slope of
the watershed. In the deeper drifts the cart wouldnt push at all and he had to
drag it behind him with one hand while he broke trail. Anywhere but in the
mountains they might have found something to use for a sled. An old metal sign
or a sheet of roofingtin. The wrappings on their feet had soaked through and
they were cold and wet all day. He leaned on the cart to get his breath while
the boy waited. There was a sharp crack from somewhere on the mountain. Then
another. It's just a tree falling, he said. It's okay. The boy was looking at
the dead roadside trees. It's okay, the man said. All the trees in the world
are going to fall sooner or later. But not on us. How do you know? I just know.

 

Still they came to trees across the road where
they were forced to unload the cart and carry everything over the trunks and
then repack it all on the far side. The boy found toys he'd forgot he had. He
kept out a yellow truck and they went on with it sitting on top of the tarp.

 

They camped in a bench of land on the far side of
a frozen roadside creek. The wind had blown the ash from the ice and the ice
was black and the creek looked like a path of basalt winding through the woods.
They collected firewood from the north side of the slope where it was not so
wet, pushing over whole trees and dragging them into camp. They got the fire
going and spread their tarp and hung their wet clothes on poles to steam and
stink and they sat wrapped in the quilts naked while the man held the boy's
feet against his stomach to warm them.

 

He woke whimpering in the night and the man held
him. Shh, he said. Shh. It's okay. I had a bad dream. I know. Should I tell you
what it was? If you want to. I had this penguin that you wound up and it would
waddle and flap its flippers. And we were in that house that we used to live in
and it came around the corner but nobody had wound it up and it was really
scary. Okay.

It was a lot scarier in the dream. I know. Dreams
can be really scary. Why did I have that scary dream? I dont know. But it's
okay now. I'm going to put some wood on the fire. You go to sleep. The boy
didnt answer. Then he said: The winder wasnt turning.

 

It took four more days to come down out of the
snow and even then there were patches of snow in certain bends of the road and
the road was black and wet from the up-country runoff even beyond that. They
came out along the rim of a deep gorge and far down in the darkness a river.
They stood listening.

 

High rock bluffs on the far side of the canyon
with thin black trees clinging to the escarpment. The sound of the river faded.
Then it returned. A cold wind blowing up from the country below. They were all
day reaching the river.

 

They left the cart in a parking area and walked
out through the woods. A low thunder coming from the river. It was a waterfall
dropping off a high shelf of rock and falling eighty feet through a gray shroud
of mist into the pool below. They could smell the water and they could feel the
cold coming off of it. A bench of wet river gravel. He stood and watched the
boy. Wow, the boy said. He couldnt take his eyes off it.

 

He squatted and scooped up a handful of stones and
smelled them and let them fall clattering. Polished round and smooth as marbles
or lozenges of stone veined and striped. Black disclets and bits of polished
quartz all bright from the mist off the river. The boy walked out and squatted
and laved up the dark water.

 

The waterfall fell into the pool almost at its
center. A gray curd circled. They stood side by side calling to each other over
the din. Is it cold? Yes. It's freezing. Do you want to go in? I dont know.
Sure you do. Is it okay? Come on. He unzipped his parka and let it fall to the
gravel and the boy stood up and they undressed and walked out into the water.
Ghostly pale and shivering. The boy so thin it stopped his heart. He dove
headlong and came up gasping and turned and stood, beating his arms. Is it over
my head? the boy called. No. Come on. He turned and swam out to the falls and
let the water beat upon him. The boy was standing in the pool to his waist,
holding his shoulders and hopping up and down. The man went back and got him.
He held him and floated him about, the boy gasping and chopping at the water.
You're doing good, the man said. You're doing good.

BOOK: The road
10.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Freckle Juice by Blume, Judy
Beyond the Rage by Michael J. Malone
The Beloved Scoundrel by Iris Johansen
Jerry Junior by Jean Webster
Shift by Raine Thomas
The Last Song by Eva Wiseman
Strike Force Alpha by Mack Maloney