بخش 07کتاب: جاده / فصل 7
- زمان مطالعه 46 دقیقه
- سطح ساده
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
They sat on the embankment and waited. Nothing moved. He handed the pistol to the boy. You take it, Papa, the boy said.
No. That’s not the deal. Take it.
He took the pistol and sat with it in his lap and the man went down the right of way and stood looking at the train. He crossed the tracks to the other side and walked down the length of the cars. When he came out from behind the last coach he waved for the boy to come and the boy rose and put the pistol in his belt.
Everything was covered in ash. The aisles littered. Suitcases stood open in the seats where they’d been lifted down from the overhead racks and rifled long ago. In the club car he found a stack of paper plates and he blew the dust from them and put them inside his parka and that was all.
How did it get here, Papa?
I dont know. I guess someone was taking it south. A group of people. This is probably where they ran out of fuel.
Has it been here for a long time?
Yes. I think so. A pretty long time.
They went through the last of the cars and then walked up the track to the locomotive and climbed up to the catwalk. Rust and scaling paint. They pushed into the cab and he blew away the ash from the engineer’s seat and put the boy at the controls. The controls were very simple. Little to do but push the throttle lever forward. He made train noises and diesel horn noises but he wasnt sure what these might mean to the boy. After a while they just looked out through the silted glass to where the track curved away in the waste of weeds. If they saw different worlds what they knew was the same. That the train would sit there slowly decomposing for all eternity and that no train would ever run again.
Can we go, Papa?
Yes. Of course we can.
They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he’d seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyons with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond.
Long before they reached the coast their stores were all but gone. The country was stripped and plundered years ago and they found nothing in the houses and buildings by the roadside. He found a telephone directory in a filling station and he wrote the name of the town on their map with a pencil. They sat on the curb in front of the building and ate crackers and looked for the town but they couldnt find it. He sorted through the sections and looked again. Finally he showed the boy. They were some fifty miles west of where he’d thought. He drew stick figures on the map. This is us, he said. The boy traced the route to the sea with his finger. How long will it take us to get there? he said.
Two weeks. Three.
Is it blue?
The sea? I dont know. It used to be.
The boy nodded. He sat looking at the map. The man watched him. He thought he knew what that was about. He’d pored over maps as a child, keeping one finger on the town where he lived. Just as he would look up his family in the phone directory. Themselves among others, everything in its place. Justified in the world. Come on, he said. We should go.
In the late afternoon it began to rain. They left the road and took a dirt drive through a field and spent the night in a shed. The shed had a concrete floor and at the far end stood some empty steel drums. He blocked the doors with the drums and built a fire in the floor and he made beds out of some flattened cardboard boxes. The rain drummed all night on the steel roof overhead. When he woke the fire had burned down and it was very cold. The boy was sitting up wrapped in his blanket.
What is it?
Nothing. I had a bad dream.
What did you dream about?
Are you okay?
He put his arms around him and held him. It’s okay, he said.
I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
I’m sorry. I was just so tired.
I meant in the dream.
In the morning when he woke the rain had stopped. He listened to the slack drip of water. He shifted his hips on the hard concrete and looked out through the boards at the gray country. The boy was still sleeping. Water dripped in puddles in the floor. Small bubbles appeared and skated and vanished again. In a town in the piedmont they’d slept in a place like this and listened to the rain. There was an oldfashioned drugstore there with a black marble counter and chrome stools with tattered plastic seats patched with electrical tape. The pharmacy was looted but the store itself was oddly intact. Expensive electronic equipment sat unmolested on the shelves. He stood looking the place over. Sundries. Notions. What are these? He took the boy’s hand and led him out but the boy had already seen it. A human head beneath a cakebell at the end of the counter. Dessicated. Wearing a ballcap. Dried eyes turned sadly inward. Did he dream this? He did not. He rose and knelt and blew at the coals and dragged up the burned board ends and got the fire going.
There are other good guys. You said so.
So where are they?
Who are they hiding from?
From each other.
Are there lots of them?
We dont know.
Is that true?
Yes. That’s true.
But it might not be true.
I think it’s true.
You dont believe me.
I believe you.
I always believe you.
I dont think so.
Yes I do. I have to.
They hiked back down to the highway through the mud. Smell of earth and wet ash in the rain. Dark water in the roadside ditch. Sucking out of an iron culvert into a pool. In a yard a plastic deer. Late the day following they entered a small town where three men stepped from behind a truck and stood in the road before them. Emaciated, clothed in rags. Holding lengths of pipe. What have you got in the basket? He leveled the pistol at them. They stood. The boy clung to his coat. No one spoke. He set the cart forward again and they moved to the side of the road. He had the boy take the cart and he walked backwards keeping the pistol on them. He tried to look like any common migratory killer but his heart was hammering and he knew he was going to start coughing. They drifted back into the road and stood watching. He put the pistol in his belt and turned and took the cart. At the top of the rise when he looked back they were still standing there. He told the boy to push the cart and he walked out through a yard to where he could see back down the road but now they were gone. The boy was very scared. He laid the gun on top of the tarp and took the cart and they went on.
They lay in a field until dark watching the road but no one came. It was very cold. When it was too dark to see they got the cart and stumbled back to the road and he got the blankets out and they wrapped themselves up and went on. Feeling out the paving under their feet. One wheel on the cart had developed a periodic squeak but there was nothing to be done about it. They struggled on for some hours and then floundered off through the roadside brush and lay shivering and exhausted on the cold ground and slept till day. When he woke he was sick.
He’d come down with a fever and they lay in the woods like fugitives. Nowhere to build a fire. Nowhere safe. The boy sat in the leaves watching him. His eyes brimming. Are you going to die, Papa? he said. Are you going to die?
No. I’m just sick.
I’m really scared.
I know. It’s all right. I’m going to get better. You’ll see.
His dreams brightened. The vanished world returned. Kin long dead washed up and cast fey sidewise looks upon him. None spoke. He thought of his life. So long ago. A gray day in a foreign city where he stood in a window and watched the street below. Behind him on a wooden table a small lamp burned. On the table books and papers. It had begun to rain and a cat at the corner turned and crossed the sidewalk and sat beneath the cafe awning. There was a woman at a table there with her head in her hands. Years later he’d stood in the charred ruins of a library where blackened books lay in pools of water. Shelves tipped over. Some rage at the lies arranged in their thousands row on row. He picked up one of the books and thumbed through the heavy bloated pages. He’d not have thought the value of the smallest thing predicated on a world to come. It surprised him. That the space which these things occupied was itself an expectation. He let the book fall and took a last look around and made his way out into the cold gray light.
Three days. Four. He slept poorly. The racking cough woke him. Rasping suck of air. I’m sorry, he said to the pitiless dark. It’s okay said the boy.
He got the little oillamp lit and left it sitting on a rock and he rose and shuffled out through the leaves wrapped in his blankets. The boy whispered for him not to go. Just a little ways, he said. Not far. I’ll hear you if you call. If the lamp should blow out he could not find his way back. He sat in the leaves at the top of the hill and looked into the blackness. Nothing to see. No wind. In the past when he walked out like that and sat looking over the country lying in just the faintest visible shape where the lost moon tracked the caustic waste he’d sometimes see a light. Dim and shapeless in the murk. Across a river or deep in the blackened quadrants of a burned city. In the morning sometimes he’d return with the binoculars and glass the countryside for any sign of smoke but he never saw any.
Standing at the edge of a winter field among rough men. The boy’s age. A little older. Watching while they opened up the rocky hillside ground with pick and mattock and brought to light a great bolus of serpents perhaps a hundred in number. Collected there for a common warmth. The dull tubes of them beginning to move sluggishly in the cold hard light. Like the bowels of some great beast exposed to the day. The men poured gasoline on them and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be. The burning snakes twisted horribly and some crawled burning across the floor of the grotto to illuminate its darker recesses. As they were mute there were no screams of pain and the men watched them burn and writhe and blacken in just such silence themselves and they disbanded in silence in the winter dusk each with his own thoughts to go home to their suppers.
One night the boy woke from a dream and would not tell him what it was.
You dont have to tell me, the man said. It’s all right.
It’s all right.
No it’s not.
It’s just a dream.
I’m really scared.
The boy turned away. The man held him. Listen to me, he said.
When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you cant give up. I wont let you.
When they set out again he was very weak and for all his speeches he’d become more faint of heart than he had been in years. Filthy with diarrhea, leaning on the bar handle of the shopping cart. He looked at the boy out of his sunken haggard eyes. Some new distance between them. He could feel it. In two day’s time they came upon a country where firestorms had passed leaving mile on mile of burn. A cake of ash in the roadway inches deep and hard going with the cart. The blacktop underneath had buckled in the heat and then set back again. He leaned on the handle and looked down the long straight of way. The thin trees down. The waterways a gray sludge. A blackened jackstraw land.
Beyond a crossroads in that wilderness they began to come upon the possessions of travelers abandoned in the road years ago. Boxes and bags. Everything melted and black. Old plastic suitcases curled shapeless in the heat. Here and there the imprint of things wrested out of the tar by scavengers. A mile on and they began to come upon the dead. Figures half mired in the blacktop, clutching themselves, mouths howling. He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Take my hand, he said. I dont think you should see this.
What you put in your head is there forever?
It’s okay Papa.
They’re already there.
I dont want you to look.
They’ll still be there.
He stopped and leaned on the cart. He looked down the road and he looked at the boy. So strangely untroubled.
Why dont we just go on, the boy said.
They were trying to get away werent they Papa?
Yes. They were.
Why didnt they leave the road?
They couldnt. Everything was on fire.
They picked their way among the mummied figures. The black skin stretched upon the bones and their faces split and shrunken on their skulls. Like victims of some ghastly envacuuming. Passing them in silence down that silent corridor through the drifting ash where they struggled forever in the road’s cold coagulate.
They passed through the site of a roadside hamlet burned to nothing. Some metal storage tanks, a few standing flues of blackened brick. There were gray slagpools of melted glass in the ditches and the raw lightwires lay in rusting skeins for miles along the edge of the roadway. He was coughing every step of it. He saw the boy watching him. He was what the boy thought about. Well should he.
They sat in the road and ate leftover skilletbread hard as biscuit and their last can of tunafish. He opened a can of prunes and they passed it between them. The boy held the tin up and drained the last of the juice and then sat with the tin in his lap and passed his forefinger around the inside of it and put his finger in his mouth.
Dont cut your finger, the man said.
You always say that.
He watched him lick the lid of the tin. With great care. Like a cat licking its reflection in a glass. Stop watching me, he said.
He folded down the lid of the can and set it in the road before him. What? he said. What is it?
I think there’s someone following us.
That’s what I thought.
That’s what you thought?
Yes. That’s what I thought you were going to say. What do you want to do?
I dont know.
What do you think?
Let’s just go. We should hide our trash.
Because they’ll think we have lots of food.
And they’ll try to kill us.
They wont kill us.
They might try to.
I think we should lay in the weeds for them. See who they are.
And how many.
And how many. Yes.
If we can get across the creek we could go up on the bluffs there and watch the road.
We’ll find a place.
They rose and piled their blankets in the cart. Get the tin, the man said.
It was late into the long twilight before the road crossed the creek. They trundled over the bridge and pushed the cart out through the woods looking for some place to leave it where it would not be seen. They stood looking back at the road in the dusk.
What if we put it under the bridge? the boy said.
What if they go down there for water?
How far back do you think they are?
I dont know.
It’s getting dark.
What if they go by in the dark?
Let’s just find a place where we can watch. It’s not dark yet.
They hid the cart and went up the slope among the rocks carrying their blankets and they dug themselves in where they could see back down the road through the trees for perhaps half a mile. They were sheltered from the wind and they wrapped themselves in their blankets and took turns watching but after a while the boy was asleep. He was almost asleep himself when he saw a figure appear at the top of the road and stand there. Soon two more appeared. Then a fourth. They stood and grouped. Then they came on. He could just make them out in the deep dusk. He thought they might stop soon and he wished he’d found a place further from the road. If they stopped at the bridge it would be a long cold night. They came down the road and crossed the bridge. Three men and a woman. The woman walked with a waddling gait and as she approached he could see that she was pregnant. The men carried packs on their backs and the woman carried a small cloth suitcase. All of them wretched looking beyond description. Their breath steaming softly. They crossed the bridge and continued on down the road and vanished one by one into the waiting darkness.
It was a long night anyway. When it was light enough to see he pulled on his shoes and rose and wrapped one of the blankets around him and walked out and stood looking at the road below. The bare ironcolored wood and the fields beyond. The corrugate shapes of old harrowtroughs still faintly visible. Cotton perhaps. The boy was sleeping and he went down to the cart and got the map and the bottle of water and a can of fruit from their small stores and he came back and sat in the blankets and studied the map.
You always think we’ve gone further than we have.
He moved his finger. Here then.
He folded up the limp and rotting pages. Okay, he said.
They sat looking out through the trees at the road.
Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground.
The country went from pine to liveoak and pine. Magnolias. Trees as dead as any. He picked up one of the heavy leaves and crushed it in his hand to powder and let the powder sift through his fingers.
On the road early the day following. They’d not gone far when the boy pulled at his sleeve and they stopped and stood. A thin stem of smoke was rising out of the woods ahead. They stood watching.
What should we do, Papa?
Maybe we should take a look.
Let’s just keep going.
What if they’re going the same way we are?
So? the boy said.
We’re going to have them behind us. I’d like to know who it is.
What if it’s an army?
It’s just a small fire.
Why dont we just wait?
We cant wait. We’re almost out of food. We have to keep going.
They left the cart in the woods and he checked the rotation of the rounds in the cylinder. The wooden and the true. They stood listening. The smoke stood vertically in the still air. No sound of any kind. The leaves were soft from the recent rains and quiet underfoot. He turned and looked at the boy. The small dirty face wide with fear. They circled the fire at a distance, the boy holding on to his hand. He crouched and put his arm around him and they listened for a long time. I think they’ve gone, he whispered.
I think they’re gone. They probably had a lookout.
It could be a trap, Papa.
Okay. Let’s wait a while.
They waited. They could see the smoke through the trees. A wind had begun to trouble the top of the spire and the smoke shifted and they could smell it. They could smell something cooking. Let’s circle around, the man said.
Can I hold your hand?
Yes. Of course you can.
The woods were just burned trunks. There was nothing to see. I think they saw us, the man said. I think they saw us and ran away. They saw we had a gun.
They left their food cooking.
Let’s take a look.
It’s really scary, Papa.
There’s no one here. It’s okay.
They walked into the little clearing, the boy clutching his hand. They’d taken everything with them except whatever black thing was skewered over the coals. He was standing there checking the perimeter when the boy turned and buried his face against him. He looked quickly to see what had happened. What is it? he said. What is it? The boy shook his head. Oh Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit. He bent and picked the boy up and started for the road with him, holding him close. I’m sorry, he whispered. I’m sorry.
He didnt know if he’d ever speak again. They camped at a river and he sat by the fire listening to the water running in the dark. It wasnt a safe place because the sound of the river masked any other but he thought it would cheer the boy up. They ate the last of their provisions and he sat studying the map. He measured the road with a piece of string and looked at it and measured again. Still a long way to the coast. He didnt know what they’d find when they got there. He shuffled the sections together and put them back in the plastic bag and sat staring into the coals.
The following day they crossed the river by a narrow iron bridge and entered an old mill town. They went through the wooden houses but they found nothing. A man sat on a porch in his coveralls dead for years. He looked a straw man set out to announce some holiday. They went down the long dark wall of the mill, the windows bricked up. The fine black soot raced along the street before them.
Odd things scattered by the side of the road. Electrical appliances, furniture. Tools. Things abandoned long ago by pilgrims enroute to their several and collective deaths. Even a year ago the boy might sometimes pick up something and carry it with him for a while but he didnt do that any more. They sat and rested and drank the last of their good water and left the plastic jerry jug standing in the road. The boy said: If we had that little baby it could go with us.
Yes. It could.
Where did they find it?
He didnt answer.
Could there be another one somewhere? I dont know. It’s possible.
I’m sorry about what I said about those people. What people?
Those people that got burned up. That were struck in the road and got burned up.
I didnt know that you said anything bad.
It wasnt bad. Can we go now?
Okay. Do you want to ride in the cart?
Why dont you ride for while?
I dont want to. It’s okay.
Slow water in the flat country. The sloughs by the roadside motionless and gray. The coastal plain rivers in leaden serpentine across the wasted farmland. They went on. Ahead in the road was a dip and a stand of cane. I think there’s a bridge there, he said. Probably a creek.
Can we drink the water?
We dont have a choice.
It wont make us sick.
I dont think so. It could be dry.
Can I go ahead?
Yes. Of course you can.
The boy set off down the road. He’d not seen him run in a long time. Elbows out, flapping along in his outsized tennis shoes. He stopped and stood watching, biting his lip.
The water was little more than a seep. He could see it moving slightly where it drew down into a concrete tile under the roadway and he spat into the water and watched to see if it would move. He got a cloth from the cart and a plastic jar and came back and wrapped the cloth over the mouth of the jar and sank it in the water and watched it fill. He raised it up dripping and held it to the light. It didnt look too bad. He took the cloth away and handed the jar to the boy. Go ahead, he said.
The boy drank and handed it back.
Drink some more.
You drink some, Papa.
They sat filtering the ash from the water and drinking until they could hold no more. The boy lay back in the grass.
We need to go.
I’m really tired.
He sat watching him. They’d not eaten in two days. In two more they would begin to get weak. He climbed the bank through the cane to check the road. Dark and black and trackless where it crossed the open country. The winds had swept the ash and dust from the surface. Rich lands at one time. No sign of life anywhere. It was no country that he knew. The names of the towns or the rivers. Come on, he said. We have to go.
They slept more and more. More than once they woke sprawled in the road like traffic victims. The sleep of death. He sat up reaching about for the pistol. In the leaden evening he stood leaning with his elbows on the cart handle and looking across the fields at a house perhaps a mile away. It was the boy who had seen it. Shifting in and out of the curtain of soot like a house in some uncertain dream. He leaned on the cart and looked at him. It would cost them some effort to get there. Take their blankets. Hide the cart someplace along the road. They could reach it before dark but they couldnt get back.
We have to take a look. We have no choice.
I dont want to.
We havent eaten in days.
I’m not hungry.
No, you’re starving.
I dont want to go there Papa.
There’s no one there. I promise.
How do you know?
I just know.
They could be there.
No they’re not. It will be okay.
They set out across the fields wrapped in their blankets, carrying only the pistol and a bottle of water. The field had been turned a last time and there were stalks of stubble sticking out of the ground and the faint trace of the disc was still visible from east to west. It had rained recently and the earth was soft underfoot and he kept his eye on the ground and before long he stopped and picked up an arrowhead. He spat on it and wiped away the dirt on the seam of his trousers and gave it to the boy. It was white quartz, perfect as the day it was made. There are more, he said. Watch the ground, you’ll see. He found two more. Gray flint. Then he found a coin. Or a button. Deep crust of verdigris. He chipped at it with the nail of his thumb. It was a coin. He took out his knife and chiseled at it with care. The lettering was in Spanish. He started to call to the boy where he trudged ahead and then he looked about at the gray country and the gray sky and he dropped the coin and hurried on to catch up.
They stood in front of the house looking at it. There was a gravel drive that curved away to the south. A brick loggia. Double stairs that swept up to the columned portico. At the rear of the house a brick dependency that may once have been a kitchen. Beyond that a log cabin. He started up the stairs but the boy pulled at his sleeve.
Can we wait a while?
Okay. But it’s getting dark.
They sat on the steps and looked out over the country.
There’s no one here, the man said.
Are you still scared?
They went up the stairs to the broad brickfloored porch. The door was painted black and it was propped open with a cinderblock. Dried leaves and weeds blown behind it. The boy clutched his hand. Why is the door open, Papa?
It just is. It’s probably been open for years. Maybe the last people propped it open to carry their things out.
Maybe we should wait till tomorrow.
Come on. We’ll take a quick look. Before it gets too dark. If we secure the area then maybe we can have a fire.
But we wont stay in the house will we?
We dont have to stay in the house.
Let’s have a drink of water.
He took the bottle from the side pocket of his parka and screwed off the top and watched the boy drink. Then he took a drink himself and put the lid back on and took the boy’s hand and they entered the darkened hall. High ceiling. An imported chandelier. At the landing on the stairs was a tall palladian window and the faintest shape of it headlong on the stairwell wall in the day’s last light.
We dont have to go upstairs, do we? the boy whispered.
No. Maybe tomorrow.
After we’ve secured the area.
They entered the drawingroom. The shape of a carpet beneath the silty ash. Furniture shrouded in sheeting. Pale squares on the walls where paintings once had hung. In the room on the other side of the foyer stood a grand piano. Their own shapes sectioned in the thin and watery glass of the window there. They entered and stood listening. They wandered through the rooms like skeptical housebuyers. They stood looking out through the tall windows at the darkening land.
In the kitchen there was cutlery and cooking pans and english china. A butler’s pantry where the door closed softly behind them. Tile floor and rows of shelves and on the shelves several dozen quart jars. He crossed the room and picked one up and blew the dust from it. Green beans. Slices of red pepper standing among the ordered rows. Tomatoes. Corn. New potatoes. Okra. The boy watched him. The man wiped the dust from the caps of the jars and pushed on the lids with his thumb. It was getting dark fast. He carried a pair of the jars to the window and held them up and turned them. He looked at the boy. These may be poison, he said. We’ll have to cook everything really well. Is that okay?
I dont know.
What do you want to do?
You have to say.
We both have to say.
Do you think they’re okay?
I think if we cook them really good they’ll be all right.
Okay. Why do you think nobody has eaten them?
I think nobody found them. You cant see the house from the road.
We saw it.
You saw it.
The boy studied the jars.
What do you think? the man said.
I think we’ve got no choice.
I think you’re right. Let’s get some wood before it gets any darker.
They carried armloads of dead limbs up the back stairs through the kitchen and into the diningroom and broke them to length and stuffed the fireplace full. He lit the fire and smoke curled up over the painted wooden lintel and rose to the ceiling and curled down again. He fanned the blaze with a magazine and soon the flue began to draw and the fire roared in the room lighting up the walls and the ceiling and the glass chandelier in its myriad facets. The flames lit the darkening glass of the window where the boy stood in hooded silhouette like a troll come in from the night. He seemed stunned by the heat. The man pulled the sheets off the long Empire table in the center of the room and shook them out and made a nest of them in front of the hearth. He sat the boy down and pulled off his shoes and pulled off the dirty rags with which his feet were wrapped. Everything’s okay, he whispered. Everything’s okay.
He found candles in a kitchen drawer and lit two of them and then melted wax onto the counter and stood them in the wax. He went outside and brought in more wood and piled it beside the hearth. The boy had not moved. There were pots and pans in the kitchen and he wiped one out and stood it on the counter and then he tried to open one of the jars but he could not. He carried ajar of green beans and one of potatoes to the front door and by the light of a candle standing in a glass he knelt and placed the first jar sideways in the space between the door and the jamb and pulled the door against it. Then he squatted in the foyer floor and hooked his foot over the outside edge of the door and pulled it against the lid and twisted the jar in his hands. The knurled lid turned in the wood grinding the paint. He took a fresh grip on the glass and pulled the door tighter and tried again. The lid slipped in the wood, then it held. He turned the jar slowly in his hands, then took it from the jamb and turned off the ring of the lid and set it in the floor. Then he opened the second jar and rose and carried them back into the kitchen, holding the glass in his other hand with the candle rolling about and sputtering. He tried to push the lids up off the jars with his thumbs but they were on too tight. He thought that was a good sign. He set the edge of the lid on the counter and punched the top of the jar with his fist and the lid snapped off and fell in the floor and he raised the jar and sniffed at it. It smelled delicious. He poured the potatoes and the beans into a pot and carried the pot into the diningroom and set it in the fire.
They ate slowly out of bone china bowls, sitting at opposite sides of the table with a single candle burning between them. The pistol lying to hand like another dining implement. The warming house creaked and groaned. Like a thing being called out of long hibernation. The boy nodded over his bowl and his spoon clattered to the floor. The man rose and came around and carried him to the hearth and put him down in the sheets and covered him with the blankets. He must have gone back to the table because he woke in the night lying there with his face in his crossed arms. It was cold in the room and outside the wind was blowing. The windows rattled softly in their frames. The candle had burned out and the fire was down to coals. He rose and built back the fire and sat beside the boy and pulled the blankets over him and brushed back his filthy hair. I think maybe they are watching, he said. They are watching for a thing that even death cannot undo and if they do not see it they will turn away from us and they will not come back.
The boy didnt want him to go upstairs. He tried to reason with him. There could be blankets up there, he said. We need to take a look.
I dont want you to go up there.
There’s no one here.
There could be.
There’s no one here. Dont you think they’d have come down by now?
Maybe they’re scared.
I’ll tell them we wont hurt them.
Maybe they’re dead.
Then they wont mind if we take a few things. Look, whatever is up there it’s better to know about it than to not know.
Why. Well, because we dont like surprises. Surprises are scary. And we dont like to be scared. And there could be things up there that we need. We have to take a look.
Okay? Just like that?
Well. You’re not going to listen to me.
I have been listening to you.
Not very hard.
There’s no one here. There has been no one here for years. There are no tracks in the ash. Nothing disturbed. No furniture burned in the fireplace. There’s food here.
Tracks dont stay in the ash. You said so yourself. The wind blows them away.
I’m going up.
They stayed at the house for four days eating and sleeping. He’d found more blankets upstairs and they dragged in great piles of wood and stacked the wood in the corner of the room to dry. He found an antique bucksaw of wood and wire that he used to saw the dead trees to length. The teeth were rusty and dull and he sat in front of the fire with a rattail file and tried to sharpen them but to little purpose. There was a creek some hundred yards from the house and he hauled endless pails of water across the stubble fields and the mud and they heated water and bathed in a tub off the back bedroom on the lower floor and he cut their hair and shaved his beard. They had clothes and blankets and pillows from the upstairs rooms and they fitted themselves out in new attire, the boy’s trousers cut to length with his knife. He made a nesting place in front of the hearth, turning over a tallboy chest to use as a headboard for their bed and to hold the heat. All the while it continued to rain. He set pails under the downspouts at the housecorners to catch fresh water off the old standing-seam metal roof and at night he could hear the rain drumming in the upper rooms and dripping through the house.
They rummaged through the outbuildings for anything of use. He found a wheelbarrow and pulled it out and tipped it over and turned the wheel slowly, examining the tire. The rubber was glazed and cracked but he thought it might hold air and he looked through old boxes and jumbles of tools and found a bicycle pump and screwed the end of the hose to the valvestem of the tire and began to pump.
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