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 (7 page)

BOOK: The road
10Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


He sat crosslegged in the leaves at the crest of a
ridge and glassed the valley below them with the binoculars. The still poured
shape of a river. The dark brick stacks of a mill. Slate roofs. An old wooden
watertower bound with iron hoops. No smoke, no movement of life. He lowered the
glasses and sat watching. What do you see? the boy said. Nothing.

He handed the binoculars across. The boy slung the
strap over his neck and put them to his eyes and adjusted the wheel. Everything
about them so still. I see smoke, he said. Where.

Past those buildings. What buildings? The boy
handed the glasses back and he refocused them. The palest wisp. Yes, he said. I
see it. What should we do, Papa? I think we should take a look. We just have to
be careful. If it's a commune they'll have barricades. But it may just be
refugees. Like us. Yes. Like us. What if it's the bad guys? We'll have to take
a risk. We need to find something to eat.


They left the cart in the woods and crossed a
railroad track and came down a steep bank through dead black ivy. He carried
the pistol in his hand. Stay close, he said. He did. They moved through the streets
like sappers. One block at a time. A faint smell of woodsmoke on the air. They
waited in a store and watched the street but nothing moved. They went through
the trash and rubble. Cabinet drawers pulled out into the floor, paper and
bloated cardboard boxes. They found nothing. All the stores were rifled years
ago, the glass mostly gone from the windows. Inside it was all but too dark to
see. They climbed the ribbed steel stairs of an escalator, the boy holding on
to his hand. A few dusty suits hanging on a rack. They looked for shoes but
there were none. They shuffled through the trash but there was nothing there of
any use to them. When they came back he slipped the suitcoats from their
hangers and shook them out and folded them across his arm. Let's go, he said.


He thought there had to be something overlooked
but there wasnt. They kicked through the trash in the aisles of a foodmarket.
Old packaging and papers and the eternal ash. He scoured the shelves looking
for vitamins. He opened the door of a walk-in cooler but the sour rank smell of
the dead washed out of the darkness and he quickly closed it again. They stood
in the street. He looked at the gray sky. Faint plume of their breath. The boy
was exhausted. He took him by the hand. We have to look some more, he said. We
have to keep looking.


The houses at the edge of the town offered little
more. They climbed the back steps into a kitchen and began to go through the
cabinets. The cabinet doors all standing open. A can of bakingpowder. He stood
there looking at it. They went through the drawers of a sideboard in the
diningroom. They walked into the livingroom. Scrolls of fallen wallpaper lying
in the floor like ancient documents. He left the boy sitting on the stairs
holding the coats while he went up. Everything smelled of damp and rot. In the
first bedroom a dried corpse with the covers about its neck. Remnants of rotted
hair on the pillow. He took hold of the lower hem of the blanket and towed it
off the bed and shook it out and folded it under his arm. He went through the
bureaus and the closets. A summer dress on a wire hanger. Nothing. He went back
down the stairs. It was getting dark. He took the boy by the hand and they went
out the front door to the street.


At the top of the hill he turned and studied the
town. Darkness coming fast. Darkness and cold. He put two of the coats over the
boy's shoulders, swallowing him up parka and all. I'm really hungry, Papa. I
know. Will we be able to find our stuff? Yes. I know where it is. What if
somebody finds it? They wont find it. I hope they dont. They wont. Come on.
What was that? I didnt hear anything. Listen.

I dont hear anything. They listened. Then in the
distance he heard a dog bark. He turned and looked toward the darkening town.
It's a dog, he said. A dog? Yes.

Where did it come from? I dont know. We're not
going to kill it, are we Papa? No. We're not going to kill it. He looked down
at the boy. Shivering in his coats. He bent over and kissed him on his gritty
brow. We wont hurt the dog, he said. I promise.


They slept in a parked car beneath an overpass
with the suitcoats and the blanket piled over them. In the darkness and the
silence he could see bits of light that appeared random on the night grid. The
higher floors of the buildings were all dark. You'd have to carry up water. You
could be smoked out. What were they eating? God knows. They sat wrapped in the
coats looking out the window. Who are they, Papa? I dont know.


He woke in the night and lay listening. He couldnt
remember where he was. The thought made him smile. Where are we? he said. What
is it, Papa? Nothing. We're okay. Go to sleep. We're going to be okay, arent we
Papa? Yes. We are. And nothing bad is going to happen to us. That's right.
Because we're carrying the fire. Yes. Because we're carrying the fire.


In the morning a cold rain was falling. It gusted
over the car even under the overpass and it danced in the road beyond. They sat
and watched through the water on the glass. By the time it had slacked a good
part of the day was gone. They left the coats and the blanket in the floor of
the back seat and went up the road to search through more of the houses.
Woodsmoke on the damp air. They never heard the dog again.


They found some utensils and a few pieces of
clothing. A sweatshirt. Some plastic they could use for a tarp. He was sure
they were being watched but he saw no one. In a pantry they came upon part of a
sack of cornmeal that rats had been at in the long ago. He sifted the meal
through a section of windowscreen and collected a small handful of dried turds
and they built a fire on the concrete porch of the house and made cakes of the
meal and cooked them over a piece of tin. Then they ate them slowly one by one.
He wrapped the few remaining in a paper and put them in the knapsack.


The boy was sitting on the steps when he saw
something move at the rear of the house across the road. A face was looking at
him. A boy, about his age, wrapped in an out-sized wool coat with the sleeves
turned back. He stood up. He ran across the road and up the drive. No one
there. He looked toward the house and then he ran to the bottom of the yard
through the dead weeds to a still black creek. Come back, he called. I wont
hurt you. He was standing there crying when his father came sprinting across
the road and seized him by the arm. What are you doing? he hissed. What are you
doing? There's a little boy, Papa. There's a little boy. There's no little boy.
What are you doing? Yes there is. I saw him. I told you to stay put. Didnt I
tell you? Now we've got to go. Come on. I just wanted to see him, Papa. I just
wanted to see him. The man took him by the arm and they went back up through
the yard. The boy would not stop crying and he would not stop looking back.
Come on, the man said. We've got to go. I want to see him, Papa. There's no one
to see. Do you want to die? Is that what you want? I dont care, the boy said,
sobbing. I dont care. The man stopped. He stopped and squatted and held him.
I'm sorry, he said. Dont say that. You musnt say that.


They made their way back through the wet streets
to the viaduct and collected the coats and the blanket from the car and went on
to the railway embankment where they climbed up and crossed the tracks into the
woods and got the cart and headed out to the highway. What if that little boy
doesnt have anybody to take care of him? he said. What if he doesnt have a
papa? There are people there. They were just hiding. He pushed the cart out
into the road and stood there. He could see the tracks of the truck through the
wet ash, faint and washed out, but there. He thought that he could smell them.
The boy was pulling at his coat. Papa, he said. What?

I'm afraid for that little boy. I know. But he'll
be all right. We should go get him, Papa. We could get him and take him with
us. We could take him and we could take the dog. The dog could catch something
to eat. We cant. And I'd give that little boy half of my food. Stop it. We
cant. He was crying again. What about the little boy? he sobbed. What about the
little boy?


At a crossroads they sat in the dusk and he spread
out the pieces of the map in the road and studied them. He put his finger down.
This is us, he said. Right here. The boy wouldnt look. He sat studying the twisted
matrix of routes in red and black with his finger at the junction where he
thought that they might be. As if he'd see their small selves crouching there.
We could go back, the boy said softly. It's not so far. It's not too late.


They made a dry camp in a woodlot not far from the
road. They could find no sheltered place to make a fire that would not be seen
so they made none. They ate each of them two of the cornmeal cakes and they
slept together huddled on the ground in the coats and blankets. He held the
child and after a while the child stopped shivering and after a while he slept.


The dog that he remembers followed us for two
days. I tried to coax it to come but it would not. I made a noose of wire to
catch it. There were three cartridges in the pistol. None to spare. She walked
away down the road. The boy looked after her and then he looked at me and then
he looked at the dog and he began to cry and to beg for the dog's life and I
promised I would not hurt the dog. A trellis of a dog with the hide stretched
over it. The next day it was gone. That is the dog he remembers. He doesnt
remember any little boys.


He'd put a handful of dried raisins in a cloth in
his pocket and at noon they sat in the dead grass by the side of the road and
ate them. The boy looked at him. That's all there is, isnt it? he said. Yes.

Are we going to die now? No.

What are we going to do? We're going to drink some
water. Then we're going to keep going down the road. Okay.


In the evening they tramped out across a field trying
to find a place where their fire would not be seen. Dragging the cart behind
them over the ground. So little of promise in that country. Tomorrow they would
find something to eat. Night overtook them on a muddy road. They crossed into a
field and plodded on toward a distant stand of trees skylighted stark and black
against the last of the visible world. By the time they got there it was dark
of night. He held the boy's hand and kicked up limbs and brush and got a fire
going. The wood was damp but he shaved the dead bark off with his knife and he
stacked brush and sticks all about to dry in the heat. Then he spread the sheet
of plastic on the ground and got the coats and blankets from the cart and he
took off their damp and muddy shoes and they sat there in silence with their
hands out-held to the flames. He tried to think of something to say but he
could not. He'd had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull
despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The
names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names
of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true.
More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred
idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something
trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.


They slept through the night in their exhaustion
and in the morning the fire was dead and black on the ground. He pulled on his
muddy shoes and went to gather wood, blowing on his cupped hands. So cold. It
could be November. It could be later. He got a fire going and walked out to the
edge of the woodlot and stood looking over the countryside. The dead fields. A
barn in the distance.


They hiked out along the dirt road and along a
hill where a house had once stood. It had burned long ago. The rusted shape of
a furnace standing in the black water of the cellar. Sheets of charred metal
roofing crumpled in the fields where the wind had blown it. In the barn they
scavenged a few handfuls of some grain he did not recognize out of the dusty
floor of a metal hopper and stood eating it dust and all. Then they set out
across the fields toward the road.


They followed a stone wall past the remains of an
orchard. The trees in their ordered rows gnarled and black and the fallen limbs
thick on the ground. He stopped and looked across the fields. Wind in the east.
The soft ash moving in the furrows. Stopping. Moving again. He'd seen it all
before. Shapes of dried blood in the stubble grass and gray coils of viscera
where the slain had been field-dressed and hauled away. The wall beyond held a
frieze of human heads, all faced alike, dried and caved with their taut grins
and shrunken eyes. They wore gold rings in their leather ears and in the wind
their sparse and ratty hair twisted about on their skulls. The teeth in their
sockets like dental molds, the crude tattoos etched in some homebrewed woad
faded in the beggared sunlight. Spiders, swords, targets. A dragon. Runic
slogans, creeds misspelled. Old scars with old motifs stitched along their
borders. The heads not truncheoned shapeless had been flayed of their skins and
the raw skulls painted and signed across the forehead in a scrawl and one white
bone skull had the plate sutures etched carefully in ink like a blueprint for
assembly. He looked back at the boy. Standing by the cart in the wind. He
looked at the dry grass where it moved and at the dark and twisted trees in
their rows. A few shreds of clothing blown against the wall, everything gray in
the ash. He walked along the wall passing the masks in a last review and
through a stile and on to where the boy was waiting. He put his arm around his
shoulder. Okay, he said. Let's go.

BOOK: The road
10Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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