looks at Vardaman; her eyes, the life in them, rushing suddenly upon them; the
two flames glare up for a steady instant. Then they go out as though someone had
leaned down and blown upon them.
"Ma," Dewey Dell says; "ma!" Leaning above the bed, her hands lifted a
little, the fan still moving like it has for ten days, she begins to keen. Her
voice is strong, young, tremulous and clear, rapt with its own timbre and
volume, the fan still moving steadily up and down, whispering the useless air.
Then she flings herself across Addle Bundren's knees, clutching her, shaking her
with the furious strength of the young before sprawling suddenly across the
handful of rotten bones that Addie Bundren left, jarring the whole bed into a
chattering sibilance of mattress shucks, her arms outflung and the fan in one
hand still beating with expiring breath into the quilt.
From behind pa's leg Vardaman peers, his mouth full open and all color
draining from his face into his mouth, as though he has by some means fleshed
his own teeth in himself, sucking. He begins to move slowly backward from the
bed, his eyes round, his pale face fading into the dusk like a piece of paper
pasted on a failing wall, and so out of the door.
Pa leans above the bed in the twilight, his humped silhouette partaking of
that owl-like quality of awry-feathered, disgruntled outrage within which lurks
a wisdom too profound or too inert for even thought.
"Durn them boys," he says.
Jewel, I say. Overhead the day drives level and gray, hiding the sun by a
flight of gray spears. In the rain the mules smoke a little, splashed yellow
with mud, the off one clinging in sliding lunges to the side of the road above
the ditch. The tilted lumber gleams dull yellow, water-soaked and heavy as
lead, tilted at a steep angle into the ditch above the broken wheel; about the
shattered spokes and about Jewel's, ankles a runnel of yellow neither water nor
earth swirls, curving with the yellow road neither of earth nor water, down the
hill dissolving into a streaming mass of dark green neither of earth nor sky.
Jewel, I say
Cash comes to the door, carrying the saw. Pa stands beside the bed,
humped, his arms dangling. He turns his head, his shabby profile, his chin
collapsing slowly as he works the snuff against his gums.
"She's gone," Cash says.
"She taken and left us," pa says. Cash does not look at him. "How nigh are
you done?" pa says. Cash does not answer. He enters, carrying the saw. "I reckon
you better get at it," pa says. "You'll have to do the best you can, with them
boys gone off that-a-way." Cash looks down at her face. He is not listening to
pa at all. He does not approach the bed. He stops in the middle of the floor,
the saw against his leg, his sweating arms powdered lightly with sawdust, his
face composed. "If you get in a tight, maybe some of themll get here tomorrow
and help you," pa says. "Vernon could." Cash is not listening. He is looking
down at her peaceful, rigid face fading into the dusk as though darkness were a
precursor of the ultimate earth, until at last the face seems to float detached
upon it, lightly as the reflection of a dead leaf. "There is Christians enough
to help you," pa says. Cash is not listening. After a while he turns without
looking at pa and leaves the room. Then the saw begins to snore again. "They
will help us in our sorrow," pa says.
The sound of the saw is steady, competent, unhurried, stirring the dying
light so that at each stroke her face seems to wake a little into an expression
of listening and of waiting, as though she were counting the strokes. Pa looks
down at the face, at the black sprawl of Dewey Dell's hair, the outflung arms,
the clutched fan now motionless on the fading quilt. "I reckon you better get
supper on," he says.
Dewey Dell does not move.
"Git up, now, and put supper on," pa says. "We got to keep our strength
up. I reckon Doctor Pea-body's right hungry, coming all this way. And Cash'll
need to eat quick and get back to work so he can finish it in time."
Dewey Dell rises, heaving to her feet. She looks down at the face. It is
like a casting of fading bronze upon the pillow, the hands alone still with any
semblance of life: a curled, gnarled ineptness; a spent yet alert quality from
which weariness, exhaustion, travail has not yet departed, as though they
doubted even yet the actuality of rest, guarding with horned and penurious
alertness the cessation which they know cannot last.
Dewey Dell stoops and slides the quilt from beneath them and draws it up
over them to the chin, smoothing it down, drawing it smooth. Then without
looking at pa she goes around the bed and leaves the room.
She will go out where Peabody is, where she can stand in the twilight and
look at his back with such an expression that, feeling her eyes and turning, he
will say: I would not let it grieve me, now. She was old, and sick too.
Suffering more than we knew. She couldn't have got well. Vardaman's getting big
now, and with you to take good care of them all. I would try not to let it
grieve me. I expect you'd better go and get some supper ready. It dont have to
be much. But they'll need to eat, and she looking at him, saying You could do
so much for me if you just would. If you just knew. I am I and you are you and
I know it and you dont know it and you could do so much for me if you just
would and if you just would then I could tell you and then nobody would have to
know it except you and me and Darl
Pa stands over the bed, dangle-armed, humped, motionless. He raises his
hand to his head, scouring his hair, listening to the saw. He comes nearer and
rubs his hand, palm and back, on his thigh and lays it on her face and then on
the hump of quilt where her hands are. He touches the quilt as he saw Dewey Dell
do, trying to smoothe it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries
to smoothe it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the
wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with
perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and
stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh. The sound of the saw snores
steadily into the room. Pa breathes with a quiet, rasping sound, mouthing the
snuff against his gums. "God's will be done," he says. "Now I can get them
Jewel's hat droops limp about his neck, channelling water onto the soaked
towsack tied about his shoulders as, ankle-deep in the running ditch, he pries
with a slipping two-by-four, with a piece of rotting log for fulcrum, at the
axle. Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead
Then I begin to run. I run toward the back and come to the edge of the porch and
stop. Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut
up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. Then it
wasn't so. It hadn't happened then. And now she is getting so far ahead I cannot
The trees look like chickens when they ruffle out into the cool dust on
the hot days. If I jump off the porch I will be where the fish was, and it all
cut up into not-fish now. I can hear the bed and her face and them and I can
feel the floor shake when he walks on it that came and did it. That came and did
it when she was all right but he came and did it.
"The fat son of a bitch."
I jump from the porch, running. The top of the barn comes swooping up out
of the twilight. If I jump I can go through it like the pink lady in the circus,
into the warm smelling, without having to wait My hands grab at the bushes;
beneath my feet the rocks and dirt go rubbling down.
Then I can breathe again, in the warm smelling. I enter the stall, trying
to touch him, and then I can cry then I vomit the crying. As soon as he gets
through, kicking I can and then I can cry, the crying can.
"He kilt her. He kilt her."
The life in him runs under the skin, under my hand, running through the
splotches, smelling up into my nose where the sickness is beginning to cry,
vomiting the crying, and then I can breathe, vomiting it. It makes a lot of
noise. I can smell the life running up from under my hands, up my arms, and then
I cart leave the stall.
I cannot find it. In the dark, along the dust, the walls I cannot find it.
The crying makes a lot of noise. I wish it wouldn't make so much noise. Then I
find it in the wagon shed, in the dust, and I run across the lot and into the
road, the stick jouncing on my shoulder.
They watch me as I run up, beginning to jerk back, their eyes rolling,
snorting, jerking back on the hitch-rein. I strike. I can hear the stick
striking; I can see it hitting their heads, the breast-yoke, missing altogether
sometimes as they rear and plunge, but I am glad.
"You kilt my maw!´
The stick breaks, they rearing and snorting, their feet popping loud on
the ground; loud because it is going to rain and the air is empty for the rain.
But it is still long enough. I run this way and that as they rear and jerk at
the hitch-rein, striking.
"You kilt her!"
I strike at them, striking, they wheeling in a long lunge, the buggy
wheeling onto two wheels and motionless like it is nailed to the ground and the
horses motionless like they are nailed by the hind feet to the center of a
I run in the dust.. I cannot see, running in the sucking dust where the
buggy vanishes tilted on two wheels. I strike, the stick hitting into the
ground, bouncing, striking into the dust and then into the air again and the
dust sucking on down the road faster than if a car was in it. And then I can
cry, looking at the stick. It is broken down to my hand, not longer than stove
wood that was a long stick. I throw it away and I can cry. It does not make so
much noise now.
The cow is standing in the barn door, chewing. When she sees me come into
the lot she lows, her mouth full of flopping green, her tongue flopping.
"I aint a-goin to milk you. I aint a-goin to do nothing for them."
I hear her turn when I pass. When I turn she is just behind me with her
sweet, hot, hard breath.
"Didn't I tell you I wouldn't?"
She nudges me, snuffing. She moans deep inside, her mouth closed. I jerk
my hand, cursing her like Jewel does.
I stoop my hand to the ground and run at her. She jumps back and whirls
away and stops, watching me. She moans. She goes on. to the path and stands
there, looking up the path.
It is dark in the barn, warm, smelling, silent. I can cry quietly,
watching the top of the hill.
Cash comes to the hill, limping where he fell off of the church. He looks
down at the spring, then up the road and back toward the barn. He comes down the
path stiffly and looks at the broken hitch-rein and at the dust in the road and
then up the road, where the dust is gone.
"I hope they've got clean past Tull's by now. I so hope hit."
Cash turns and limps up the path.
"Durn him. I showed him. Durn him."
I am not crying now. I am not anything. Dewey Dell comes to the hill and
calls me. Vardaman. I am not anything. I am quiet. You, Vardaman. I can cry
quiet now, feeling and hearing my tears.
"Then hit want. Hit hadn't happened then. Hit was a-layin right there on
the ground. And now she's git-tin ready to cook hit."
It is dark. I can hear wood, silence: I know them. But not living sounds,
not even him. It is as though the dark were resolving him out of his integrity,
into an unrelated scattering of components--snuffings and stampings; smells of
cooling flesh and ammoniac hair; an illusion of a co-ordinated whole of
splotched hide and strong bones within which, detached and secret and familiar,
an is different from my is. I see him dissolve--legs, a rolling eye, a gaudy
splotching like cold flames and float upon the dark in fading solution; all one
yet neither; all either yet none. I can see hearing coil toward him, caressing,
shaping his hard shape--fetlock, hip, shoulder and head; smell and sound. I am
"Cooked and et. Cooked and et."
He could do so much for me if he just would. He could do everything for me. It's
like everything in the world for me is inside a tub full of guts, so that you
wonder how there can be any room in it for anything else very important. He is a
big tub of guts and I am a little tub of guts and if there is not any room for ,
anything else important in a big tub of guts, how can it be room in a little tub
of guts. But I know it is there because God gave women a sign when something has
It's because I am alone. If I could just feel it, it would be different,
because I would not be alone. But if I were not alone, everybody would know it.
And he could do so much for me, and then I would not be alone. Then I could be
all right alone.
I would let him come in between me and Lafe, like Darl came in between me
and Lafe, and so Lafe is alone too. He is Lafe and I am Dewey Dell, and when
mother died I had to go beyond and outside of me and Lafe and Darl to grieve
because he could do so much for me and he dont know it. He dont even know it.
From the back porch I cannot see the barn. Then the sound of Cash's sawing
comes in from that way. It is like a dog outside the house, going back and forth
around the house to whatever door you come to, waiting to come in. He said I
worry more than you do and I said You dont know what worry is so I cant worry. I
try to but I cant think long enough to worry.
I light the kitchen lamp. The fish, cut into jagged pieces, bleeds quietly
in the pan. I put it into the cupboard quick, listening into the hall, hearing.
It took her ten days to die; maybe she dont know it is yet. Maybe she wont go
until Cash. Or maybe until Jewel. I take the dish of greens from the cupboard
and the bread pan from the cold stove, and I stop, watching the door.
"Where's Vardaman?" Cash says. In the lamp his sawdusted arms look like
"I dont know. I aint seen him."
³Peabody's team run away. See if you can find Vardaman. The horse will let
him catch him."
"Well. Tell them to come to supper."
I cannot see the barn. I said, I dont know how to worry. I dont know how to cry.
I tried, but I cant. After a while the sound of the saw comes around, coming
dark along the ground in the dust-dark. Then I can see him, going up and down
above the plank.
"You come in to supper," I say. "Tell him." He could do everything for me.
And he dont know it. He is his guts and I am my guts. And I am Lafe's guts.
That's it. I dont see why he didn't stay in town. We are country people, not as
good as town people. I dont see why he didn't. Then I can see the top of the
barn. The cow stands at the foot of the path, lowing. When I turn back, Cash is
I carry the buttermilk in. Pa and Cash and he are at the table.
"Where's that big fish Bud caught, sister?" he says.
I set the milk on the table. "I never had no time to cook it."
"Plain turnip greens is mighty spindling eating for a man my size," he
says. Cash is eating. About his head the print of his hat is sweated into his
hair. His shirt is blotched with sweat. He has not washed his hands and arms.
"You ought to took time," pa says. "Where's Vardaman?"
I go toward the door. "I cant find him."
"Here, sister," he says; "never mind about the fish. It'll save, I reckon.
Come on and sit down."
"I aint minding it," I say. "I'm going to milk before it sets in to rain."
Pa helps himself and pushes the dish on. But he does not begin to eat. His
hands are halfclosed on either side of his plate, his head bowed a little, his
awry hair standing into the lamplight. He looks like right after the maul hits
the steer and it no longer alive and dont yet know that it is dead.
But Cash is eating, and he is too. "You better eat something," he says. He
is looking at pa. "Like Cash and me. You'll need it."
"Ay," pa says. He rouses up, like a steer that's been kneeling in a pond
and you run at it. "She would not begrudge me it."
When I am out of sight of the house, I go fast. The cow lows at the foot
of the bluff. She nuzzles at me, snuffing, blowing her breath in a sweet, hot
blast, through my dress, against my hot nakedness, moaning. "You got to wait a
little while. Then I'll tend to you." She follows me into the barn where I set
the bucket down. She breathes into the bucket, moaning. "I told you. You just
got to wait, now. I got more to do than I can tend to." The barn is dark. When I
pass, he kicks the wall a single blow. I go on. The broken plank is like a pale
plank standing on end. Then I can see the slope, feel the air moving on my face
again, slow, pale with lesser dark and with empty seeing, the pine clumps
blotched up the tilted slope, secret and waiting.
The cow in silhouette against the door nuzzles at the silhouette of the
Then I pass the stall. I have almost passed it, I listen to it saying for
a long time before it can say the word and the listening part is afraid that
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