Squatting over the lantern, Cash reaches back and picks up four sticks and
drives them into the earth and takes Dewey Dell's raincoat from pa and spreads
it over the sticks, forming a roof above the lantern. Pa watches him. "I dont
know what you'll do," he says. "Darl taken his coat with him."
"Get wet", Cash says. He takes up the saw again; again it moves up and
down, in and out of that unhurried imperviousness as a piston moves in the oil;
soaked, scrawny, tireless, with the lean light body o£ a boy or an old man. Pa
watches him, blinking, his. face streaming; again he looks up at the sky with
that expression of dumb and brooding outrage and yet of vindication, as though
he had expected no less; now and then he stirs, moves, gaunt and streaming,
picking up a board or a tool and then laying it down. Vernon Tull is there now,
and Cash is wearing Mrs Tull's raincoat and he and Vernon are hunting the saw.
After a while they find it in pa's hand.
"Why dont you go on to the house, out of the rain?" Cash says. Pa looks at
him, his face streaming slowly. It is as though upon a face carved by a savage
caricaturist a monstrous "burlesque of all bereavement flowed. "You go on in,"
Cash says. "Me and Vernon can finish it."
Pa looks at item. The sleeves of Jewel's coat are too short for him. Upon
his face the rain streams, slow as cold glycerin. "I dont begrudge her the
wetting," he says. He moves again and falls to shifting the planks, picking them
up, laying them down again carefully, as though they are glass. He goes to the
lantern and pulls at the propped raincoat until he knocks it down and Cash
conies and fixes it back.
"You get on to the house," Cash says. He leads pa to the house and returns
with the raincoat and folds it and places it beneath the shelter where the
lantern sits. Vernon has not stopped. He looks up, still sawing.
"You ought to done that at first," he says. "You knowed it was fixing to
"It's his fever," Cash says. He looks at the board.
"Ay," Vernon says. "He'd a come, anyway."
Cash squints at the board. On the long flank of it the rain crashes
steadily, myriad, fluctuant. "I'm going to bevel it," he says.
³It'll take more time," Vernon says. Cash sets th
e plank on edge; a moment
longer Vernon watches him, then he hands him the plane.
Vernon holds the board steady while Cash, bevels the edge of it with the
tedious and minute care of a jeweler. Mrs Tull comes to the edge of the porch
and calls Vernon. "How near are you done?" she says.
Vernon does not look up. "Not long. Some, yet."
She watches Cash stooping at the plank, the turgid savage gleam of the
lantern slicking on the raincoat AS he moves. "You go down and get some planks
off the barn and finish it and come in out of the rain," she says. "You'll both
catch your death." Vernon does not move. "Vernon," she says.
"We wont be long," he says. "We’ll be done after a spell." Mrs Tull
watches them a while. Then she reenters the house.
"If we get in a tight, we could take some of them planks," Vernon says.
"I'll help you put them back."
Cash ceases the plane and squints along the plank, wiping it with his
palm. "Give me the next one," he says.
Some time toward dawn the rain ceases. But it is not yet day when Cash
drives the last nail and stands stiffly up and looks down at the finished
coffin, the others watching him. In the lantern light his face is calm, musing;
slowly he strokes his hands on his rain-coated thighs in a gesture deliberate,
final and composed. Then the four of them--Cash and pa and Vernon and Peabody--
raise the coffin to their shoulders and turn toward the house. It is light, yet
they move slowly; empty, yet they carry it carefully; lifeless, yet they move
with hushed precautionary words to one another, speaking of it as though,
complete, it now slumbered lightly alive, waiting to come awake. On the dark
floor their feet clump awkwardly, as though for a long time they have not walked
They set it down by the bed. Peabody says quietly:
³Let's eat a snack.
It's almost daylight. Where's Cash?"
He has returned to the trestles, stooped again in the lantern's feeble
glare as he gathers up his tools and wipes them on a cloth carefully and puts
them into the box with its leather sling to go over the shoulder. Then he takes
up box, lantern and raincoat and returns to the house, mounting the steps into
faint silhouette against the paling east.
In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are
emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are
not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am.
I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he
does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he
is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear
the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that
felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either,
lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only
to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and
wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie
Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be,
or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not
emptied yet, I am is.
How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.
I made it on the bevel.
1. There is more surface for the nails to grip.
2. There is twice the gripping-surface to each seam.
3. The water will have to seep into it on a slant. Water moves easiest up
and down or straight across.
4. In a house people are upright two thirds of the time. So the seams and
joints are made up-and-down. Because the stress is up-and-down.
5. In a bed where people lie down all the time, the joints and seams are
made sideways, because the stress is sideways.
7. A body is not square like a crosstie.
8. Animal magnetism.
9. The animal magnetism of a dead body makes the stress come slanting, so
the seams and joints of a coffin are made on the bevel.
10. You can see by an old grave that the earth sinks down on the bevel.
11. While in a natural hole it sinks by the center, the stress being upand-
12. So I made it on the bevel.
13. It makes a neater job.
My mother is a fish.
It was ten oclock when I got back, with Peabody's team hitched on to the back of
the wagon. They had already dragged the buckboard back from where
Quick found it upside down straddle of the ditch about a mile from the spring.
It was pulled out of the road at the spring, and about a dozen wagons was
already there. It was Quick found it. He said the rive was up and still rising.
He said it had already covered the highest water-mark on the bridge-piling he
ever seen. "That bridge wont stand a whole lot water," I said. "Has somebody
told Anse about it?"
"I told him," Quick said. "He says he reckons the boys has heard and
unloaded and are on the way by now. He says they can load up and get across."
"He better go on and bury her at New Hope," Armstid said. "That bridge is
old. I wouldn't monkey with it."
"His mind is set on taking her to Jefferson," Quick said.
"Then he better get at it soon as he can," Armstid said.
Anse meets us at the door. He has shaved, but not good. There is a long
cut on his jaw, and he is wearing his Sunday pants and a white shirt with the
neckband buttoned. It is drawn smooth over his hump, making it look bigger than
ever, like a white shirt will, and his face is different too. He looks folks in
the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed, shaking us by the hand as
we walk up onto the porch and scrape our shoes, a little stiff in our Sunday
clothes, our Sunday clothes rustling, not looking full at him as he meets us.
"The Lord giveth," we say.
"The Lord giveth."
That boy is not there. Peabody told about how he come into the kitchen,
hollering, swarming and clawing at Cora when he found her cooking that fish, and
how Dewey Dell taken him down to the barn. "My team all right?" Peabody says.
"All right," I tell him. "I give them a bait this morning. Your buggy
seems all right too. It aint hurt."
"And no fault of somebody's," he says. "I'd give a nickel to know where
that boy was when that team broke away."
"If it's broke anywhere, I'll fix it," I say.
The women folks go on into the house. We can hear them, talking and
fanning. The fans go whish. whish. whish and them talking, the talking sounding
kind of like "bees murmuring in a water bucket. The men stop on the porch,
talking some, not looking at one another.
"Howdy, Vernon," they say. "Howdy, Tull."
"Looks like more rain."
"It does for a fact."
"Yes, sir. It will rain some more."
"It come up quick."
"And going away slow. It dont fail."
I go around to the back. Cash is filling up the holes lie bored in the top
of it. He is trimming out plugs for them, one at a time, the wood wet and hard
to work. He could cut up a tin can and hide the holes and nobody wouldn't know
the difference. Wouldn't mind, anyway. I have seen him spend a hour trimming out
a wedge like it was glass he was working, when, he could have reached around and
picked tip a dozen sticks and drove them Into the joint and made it do.
When we finished I go back to the front. The men have gone a little piece
from the house, sitting on the ends of the boards and on the sawhorses where we
made it last night, some sitting and some squatting, Whitfield aint come yet.
They look up at me, their eyes asking.
"It's about," I say. "He's ready to nail."
While they are getting up Anse comes to file clod and looks at us and we
return to the porch. We scrape our shoes again, careful, waiting for one another
to go in first, milling a little at the door. Anse stands inside the door,
dignified, composed. He waves us in and leads the way into the room.
They had laid her in it reversed. Cash made it clock-shape, like this
seam bevelled and with every joint a scrubbed with the plane, tight as a drum
and neat as a sewing basket, and they had laid her in it head to foot so it
wouldn't crush her dress. It was her wedding dress and it had a flare-out
bottom, and they had laid her head to foot in it so the dress could spread out,
and they had made her a veil out of a mosquito bar so the auger holes in her
face wouldn't show.
When we are going out, Whitfield comes. He is wet and muddy to the waist,
coming in. "The Lord comfort this house," he says. "I was late because the
bridge has gone. I went down to the old ford and swum my horse over, the Lord
protecting me. His grace be upon this house."
We go back to the trestles and plank-ends and sit or squat.
"I knowed it would go," Armstid says.
³It's been there a long time, that ere bridge," Quick says.
"The Lord has kept it there, yon mean," Uncle Billy says. "I dont know ere
a man that's touched hammer to it in twenty-five years."
"How long has it been there, Uncle Billy?" Quick says.
"It was built in. . . . . . .let me see. . . . . . .It was in the year 1888,"
Uncle Billy says. "I mind it because the first man to cross it was Peabody
coming to my house when Jody was born."
"If I'd a crossed it every time your wife littered since, it'd a been wore
out long before this, Billy," Peabody says.
We laugh, suddenly loud, then suddenly quiet again. We look a little aside
at one another.
"Lots of folks has crossed it that wont cross no more bridges," Houston
"It's a fact," Littlejohn says. It's so."
"One more aint, no ways," Armstid says. "lt'd taken them two-three days to
got her to town in the wagon. They'd be gone a week, getting her to Jefferson
"What's Anse so itching to take her to Jefferson for, anyway?" Houston
"He promised her," I say. "She wanted it. She come from there. Her mind
was set on it."
"And Anse is set on it, too," Quick says.
"Ay," Uncle Billy says. "It's like a man that's let everything slide all
his life to get set on something that will make the most trouble for everybody
"Well, it'll take the Lord to get her over that river now," Peabody says.
"Anse cant do it."
"And I reckon He will," Quick says. "He's took care of Anse a long time,
³It's a fact," Littlejohn says.
"Too long to quit now," Armstid says.
"I reckon He's like everybody else around here, Uncle Billy says. "He's
done it so long now He cant quit."
Cash comes out. He has put on a clean shirt; his hair wet, is combed
smooth down on his brow, smooth and black as if he had painted it onto his head,
squats stiffly among us, we watching him.
"You feeling this weather, aint you?" Armstid says.
Cash says nothing.
"A broke bone always feels it," Littlejohn says. . fellow with a broke
bone can tell it a-coming."
"Lucky Cash got off with just a broke leg," Armstid says. "He might have
hurt himself bed-rid. How far'd you fall, Cash?"
-eight foot, four and a half inches, about," Cash says. I move over
"A fellow can sho slip quick on wet planks," Quick says.
"It's too bad," I say. "But you couldn't a holp it."
"It's them durn women," he says. "I made it to balance with her. I made it
to her measure and weight"
If it takes wet boards for folks to fall, it’s fixing to be lots of
falling before this spell is done.
"You couldn't have holp it" I say.
I dont mind the folks falling. It's the cotton and corn I mind.
Neither does Peabody mind the folks falling. How bout it, Doc?
It's a fact. Washed clean outen the ground it will be. Seems like
something is always happening to it.
Course it does. That's why it's worth anything. If nothing didn't happen
and everybody made a big crop, do you reckon it would be worth the raising?
Well, I be durn if I like to see my work washed outen the ground, work I
It’s a fact. A fellow wouldn't mind seeing it washed up if he could just
turn on the rain himself.
Who is that man can do that? Where is the color of his eyes?
Ay. The Lord made it to grow. It's Hisn to wash up if He sees it fitten
"You couldn't have holp it," I say.
"It's them durn women," he says.
In the house the women begin to sing. We hear the first line commence,
beginning to swell as they take hold, and we rise and move toward the door,
taking off our hats and throwing our chews away. We do not go in. We stop at the
steps, clumped, holding our hats between our lax hands in front or behind,
standing with one foot advanced and our heads lowered, looking aside, down at
our hats in our hands and at the earth or now and then at the sky and at one
another's grave, composed face.
The song ends; the voices quaver away with a rich and dying fall.
Whitfield begins. His voice in bigger than him. It's like they are not the same.
It's like he is one, and his voice is one, swimming on two horses side by side
across the ford and coming into the house, the mud-splashed one and the one that
never even got Wet, triumphant and sad. Somebody in the house begins to cry. It
sounds like her eyes and her voice were turned back inside her, listening; we
move, shifting to the other leg, meeting one another's eye and making like they
Whitfield stops at last. The women sing again. In the thick air it's like
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