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 (4 page)

BOOK: The road
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They dressed shivering and then climbed the trail
to the upper river. They walked out along the rocks to where the river seemed
to end in space and he held the boy while he ventured out to the last ledge of
rock. The river went sucking over the rim and fell straight down into the pool
below. The entire river. He clung to the man's arm. It's really far, he said.
It's pretty far. Would you die if you fell? You'd get hurt. It's a long way.
It's really scary.

 

They walked out through the woods. The light was
failing. They followed the flats along the upper river among huge dead trees. A
rich southern wood that once held may-apple and pipsissewa. Ginseng. The raw
dead limbs of the rhododendron twisted and knotted and black. He stopped. Something
in the mulch and ash. He stooped and cleared it away. A small colony of them,
shrunken, dried and wrinkled. He picked one and held it up and sniffed it. He
bit a piece from the edge and chewed. What is it, Papa? Morels. It's morels.
What's morels? They're a kind of mushroom. Can you eat them? Yes. Take a bite.
Are they good? Take a bite. The boy smelled the mushroom and bit into it and
stood chewing. He looked at his father. These are pretty good, he said.

 

They pulled the morels from the ground, small
alien-looking things that he piled in the hood of the boy's parka. They hiked
back out to the road and down to where they'd left the cart and they made camp
by the river pool at the falls and washed the earth and ash from the morels and
put them to soak in a pan of water. By the time he had the fire going it was
dark and he sliced a handful of the mushrooms on a log for their dinner and
scooped them into the frying pan along with the fat pork from a can of beans
and set them in the coals to simmer. The boy watched him. This is a good place
Papa, he said.

 

They ate the little mushrooms together with the
beans and drank tea and had tinned pears for their desert. He banked the fire
against the seam of rock where he'd built it and he strung the tarp behind them
to reflect the heat and they sat warm in their refuge while he told the boy
stories. Old stories of courage and justice as he remembered them until the boy
was asleep in his blankets and then he stoked the fire and lay down warm and
full and listened to the low thunder of the falls beyond them in that dark and
threadbare wood.

 

He walked out in the morning and took the river
path downstream. The boy was right that it was a good place and he wanted to
check for any sign of other visitors. He found nothing. He stood watching the
river where it swung loping into a pool and curled and eddied. He dropped a
white stone into the water but it vanished as suddenly as if it had been eaten.
He'd stood at such a river once and watched the flash of trout deep in a pool,
invisible to see in the teacolored water except as they turned on their sides
to feed. Reflecting back the sun deep in the darkness like a flash of knives in
a cave.

 

We cant stay, he said. It's getting colder every
day. And the waterfall is an attraction. It was for us and it will be for
others and we dont know who they will be and we cant hear them coming. It's not
safe. We could stay one more day. It's not safe. Well maybe we could find some
other place on the river. We have to keep moving. We have to keep heading
south. Doesnt the river go south? No. It doesnt. Can I see it on the map? Yes.
Let me get it. The tattered oilcompany roadmap had once been taped together but
now it was just sorted into leaves and numbered with crayon in the corners for
their assembly. He sorted through the limp pages and spread out those that
answered to their location. We cross a bridge here. It looks to be about eight
miles or so. This is the river. Going east. We follow the road here along the
eastern slope of the mountains. These are our roads, the black lines on the
map. The state roads. Why are they the state roads? Because they used to belong
to the states. What used to be called the states. But there's not any more
states? No.

What happened to them? I dont know exactly. That's
a good question. But the roads are still there. Yes. For a while. How long a
while? I dont know. Maybe quite a while. There's nothing to uproot them so they
should be okay for a while. But there wont be any cars or trucks on them. No.

Okay. Are you ready? The boy nodded. He wiped his
nose on his sleeve and shouldered up his small pack and the man folded away the
map sections and rose and the boy followed him out through the gray palings of
the trees to the road.

 

When the bridge came in sight below them there was
a tractor-trailer jackknifed sideways across it and wedged into the buckled
iron railings. It was raining again and they stood there with the rain
pattering softly on the tarp. Peering out from under the blue gloom beneath the
plastic. Can we get around it? the boy said. I dont think so. We can probably
get under it. We may have to unload the cart.

 

The bridge spanned the river above a rapids. They
could hear the noise of it as they came around the curve in the road. A wind
was coming down the gorge and they pulled the corners of the tarp about them
and pushed the cart out onto the bridge. They could see the river through the
ironwork. Below the rapids was a railroad bridge laid on limestone piers. The
stones of the piers were stained well above the river from the high water and
the bend of the river was choked with great windrows of black limbs and brush
and the trunks of trees.

 

The truck had been there for years, the tires flat
and crumpled under the rims. The front of the tractor was jammed against the
railing of the bridge and the trailer had sheared forward off the top plate and
jammed up against the back of the cab. The rear of the trailer had swung out
and buckled the rail on the other side of the bridge and it hung several feet
out over the river gorge. He pushed the cart up under the trailer but the
handle wouldnt clear. They'd have to slide it under sideways. He left it
sitting in the rain with the tarp over it and they duckwalked under the trailer
and he left the boy crouched there in the dry while he climbed up on the
gastank step and wiped the water from the glass and peered inside the cab. He
stepped back down and reached up and opened the door and then climbed in and
pulled the door shut behind him. He sat looking around. An old doghouse sleeper
behind the seats. Papers in the floor. The glovebox was open but it was empty.
He climbed back between the seats. There was a raw damp mattress on the bunk
and a small refrigerator with the door standing open. A fold-down table. Old
magazines in the floor. He went through the plywood lockers overhead but they
were empty. There were drawers under the bunk and he pulled them out and looked
through the trash. He climbed forward into the cab again and sat in the driver's
seat and looked out down the river through the slow trickle of water on the
glass. The thin drum of rain on the metal roof and the slow darkness falling
over everything.

 

They slept that night in the truck and in the
morning the rain had stopped and they unloaded the cart and passed everything
under the truck to the other side and reloaded it. Down the bridge a hundred
feet or so were the blackened remains of tires that had been burned there. He
stood looking at the trailer. What do you think is in there? he said. I dont
know. We're not the first ones here. So probably nothing. There's no way to get
in. He put his ear to the side of the trailer and whacked the sheetmetal with
the flat of his hand. It sounds empty, he said. You can probably get in from the
roof. Somebody would have cut a hole in the side of it by now. What would they
cut it with? They'd find something. He took off his parka and laid it across
the top of the cart and climbed on to the fender of the tractor and on to the
hood and clambered up over the windscreen to the roof of the cab. He stood and
turned and looked down at the river. Wet metal underfoot. He looked down at the
boy. The boy looked worried. He turned and reached and got a grip on the front
of the trailer and slowly pulled himself up. It was all he could do and there
was a lot less of him to pull. He got one leg up over the edge and hung there
resting. Then he pulled himself up and rolled over and sat up.

 

There was a skylight about a third of the way down
the roof and he made his way to it in a walking crouch. The cover was gone and
the inside of the trailer smelled of wet plywood and that sour smell he'd come
to know. He had a magazine in his hip pocket and he took it out and tore some
pages from it and wadded them and got out his lighter and lit the papers and
dropped them into the darkness. A faint whooshing. He wafted away the smoke and
looked down into the trailer. The small fire burning in the floor seemed a long
way down. He shielded the glare of it with his hand and when he did he could
see almost to the rear of the box. Human bodies. Sprawled in every attitude.
Dried and shrunken in their rotted clothes. The small wad of burning paper drew
down to a wisp of flame and then died out leaving a faint pattern for just a
moment in the incandescence like the shape of a flower, a molten rose. Then all
was dark again.

 

They camped that night in the woods on a ridge
overlooking the broad piedmont plain where it stretched away to the south. He
built a cookfire against a rock and they ate the last of the morels and a can
of spinach. In the night a storm broke in the mountains above them and came
cannonading downcountry cracking and booming and the stark gray world appeared
again and again out of the night in the shrouded flare of the lightning. The
boy clung to him. It all passed on. A brief rattle of hail and then the slow
cold rain.

 

When he woke again it was still dark but the rain
had stopped. A smoky light out there in the valley. He rose and walked out
along the ridge. A haze of fire that stretched for miles. He squatted and
watched it. He could smell the smoke. He wet his finger and held it to the
wind. When he rose and turned to go back the tarp was lit from within where the
boy had wakened. Sited there in the darkness the frail blue shape of it looked
like the pitch of some last venture at the edge of the world. Something all but
unaccountable. And so it was.

 

All the day following they traveled through the
drifting haze of woodsmoke. In the draws the smoke coming off the ground like
mist and the thin black trees burning on the slopes like stands of heathen
candles. Late in the day they came to a place where the fire had crossed the
road and the macadam was still warm and further on it began to soften
underfoot. The hot black mastic sucking at their shoes and stretching in thin
bands as they stepped. They stopped. We'll have to wait, he said.

 

They backtracked and camped in the actual road and
when they went on in the morning the macadam had cooled. Bye and bye they came
to a set of tracks cooked into the tar. They just suddenly appeared. He
squatted and studied them. Someone had come out of the woods in the night and
continued down the melted roadway. Who is it? said the boy. I dont know. Who is
anybody?

 

They came upon him shuffling along the road before
them, dragging one leg slightly and stopping from time to time to stand stooped
and uncertain before setting out again. What should we do, Papa? We're all
right. Let's just follow and watch. Take a look, the boy said. Yes. Take a
look.

 

They followed him a good ways but at his pace they
were losing the day and finally he just sat in the road and did not get up
again. The boy hung on to his father's coat. No one spoke. He was as
burntlooking as the country, his clothing scorched and black. One of his eyes
was burnt shut and his hair was but a nitty wig of ash upon his blackened
skull. As they passed he looked down. As if he'd done something wrong. His
shoes were bound up with wire and coated with roadtar and he sat there in
silence, bent over in his rags. The boy kept looking back. Papa? he whispered.
What is wrong with the man? He's been struck by lightning. Cant we help him?
Papa? No. We cant help him. The boy kept pulling at his coat. Papa? he said.
Stop it. Cant we help him Papa? No. We cant help him. There's nothing to be
done for him.

 

They went on. The boy was crying. He kept looking
back. When they got to the bottom of the hill the man stopped and looked at him
and looked back up the road. The burned man had fallen over and at that
distance you couldnt even tell what it was. I'm sorry, he said. But we have
nothing to give him. We have no way to help him. I'm sorry for what happened to
him but we cant fix it. You know that, dont you? The boy stood looking down. He
nodded his head. Then they went on and he didnt look back again.

 

At evening a dull sulphur light from the fires.
The standing water in the roadside ditches black with the runoff. The mountains
shrouded away. They crossed a river by a concrete bridge where skeins of ash
and slurry moved slowly in the current. Charred bits of wood. In the end they
stopped and turned back and camped under the bridge.

 

He'd carried his billfold about till it wore a
cornershaped hole in his trousers. Then one day he sat by the roadside and took
it out and went through the contents. Some money, credit cards. His driver's
license. A picture of his wife. He spread everything out on the blacktop. Like
gaming cards. He pitched the sweatblackened piece of leather into the woods and
sat holding the photograph. Then he laid it down in the road also and then he
stood and they went on.

BOOK: The road
7.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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