He stood in overalls which Mannie washed last week listening heard the clod strike the box.
Soon he had one of the shovels, which in his hands resembled the toy shovel a child played with, its half cubic foot of flung dirt no more than the sand the child’s shovel would of flung.
A sawmill gang member yells to rider “lemme have hit rider.” He didn’t falter.
He released one hand in mid stroke, flung it backward, striking him across the chest. flinging the dirt so that the mound seemed to be rising, thrusting upward out of the earth, until at last the grave, marked off without order about the barren plot by shards of pottery and broken bottles and other objects, but actually of profound meaning, which no white man could have read.
He straightened up, flung the shovel into the dirt, began walking away, even when an older woman came out from the people who had known him and his wife and grasped his forearm.
Rider, parent-less, was raised by his aunt.
”Whar you gwine?” she said. “Ah’m goan home,” he said. “You dont wants ter go back dar by yoself,” she said “You need to eat. You come on home and eat.” “Ah’m goan home,” he repeated, walking out from under her hand, his forearm like iron, as if weight on it were no more than that of a fly, the other member of the mill gang whose head he was giving way quietly to let him pass.
"Wait rider.” the other said.“We gots a jug in de bushes” Theres a bottle in the bushes he thought he would never say that in circumtinces like these. He says if they go to the house now his wife’s ghost might be walking around.
Eyes red, he glanced relentlessly in his high. “Lemme lone, Acey,” he said. “Doan mess wid me now,” and went on, stepping over the fence and crossed the road and entered the woods without breaking stride. It wasn’t till dusk that he crossed the last field, stepping over another fence into the lane. It was empty at this hour on Sundays. There were nobody there to judge or even start a pointless conversation at church. Then nostalgia hit him and he remembered his wife and how she would walk bare feet to the commissary to buy their next week’s supplies while he would relax at home.
The house rented from Carothers Edmonds was the last in the lane. Rent was paid in advance. He fixed up the place in just six months, his wife helped. He made plenty of money because he had been working at the sawmill since he was fifteen. He was head of his sawmill gang and they pulled as much wood as anyone. In the old days what he wanted didn’t cost money. Women for every purpose and he didn’t care what his clothes looked like. He ate food at his aunt’s house and gave her two dollars. He would gamble and drink until six months ago he saw Mannie and said, “Ah’m thu wid all dat” they marries and rented to house from Carothers Edmonds. They lit a fire on their wedding night, just like the oldest attendant had done. He would wake up early and eat breakfast by lamplight to walk the four miles to the mill.
He put his hand on the gate but suddenly seemed like nothing was beyond it. The house was never his., but now the new planks, sills, shingles, hearth, stove and bed, were all part of a memory of someone else. He stopped in the half-open gate and said aloud “Whut’s Ah doin Hyar?” before he continued on. He saw the dog, had forgotten it. He didn’t remember seeing or hearing it howl since the day before. A big dog with a strain of mastiff (he told Mannie a month after they were married: “Ah needs a big dawg. You’s de onliest least thing whut ever kep up wid me one day, leff alone fo weeks.”) coming out from the gallery, not running but seeming to drift across the dusk until is stood lightly against his leg, raised it’s head to his fingertips, facing the house making no sound, as if the animal controlled it, was its guardian during the absence and only relinquished during that instant.”But I needs to eat,” he said. “Us bofe needs to eat,” he said moving on through the dog didn’t follow until he cursed it. “Come on hyar!” he said “Whut you skeered of? She lacked you too, same as me.” and they entered the house, dusked filled singled room where the six months crammed in one instant of time, until there was no space left for air to breath, crowded about the hearth where the fire which was supposed to last til the end of them, had already fallen to ashes when the sun rose the day before. He would enter after his four-mile walk from the mill and find her, shielding her face from the fire with one hand and the other in the skillet. Himself standing there as the last of the light died about the beating of his heart, and the steady arc and collapse of his chest, from walking fast through the woods and fields which had not increased standing still in the quiet and fading room had not slowed down.
Then the dog left him. He heard the click and hiss of its claws on the wooden floor as it surged away, he thought at first that it was fleeing. But it stopped just outside the front door, where he could see it now, and upfling of its head as the howl began, then he saw her too. She was standing in the kitchen door, looking at him. He didn’t move. He didn’t breathe nor speak until he knew his voice would be all right, his faced fixed too not to alarm her. “Mannie,” he said. Hit’s awright. Ah aint afraid.” Then he took a step toward her, slow, not even raising his hand yet, and stopped. Then he took another step. But this time as soon as he moved she began to fade. He stopped at once, not breathing again, motionless, willing his eye to see that she had stopped too. But she had nit stopped. She was fading. “Wait,” he said, talking as sweet as he had ever heard his voice speak to a women: “Den lemme go wid you, honey.” But she was going. She was going fast now, he could actually feel between them the insuperable barrier of that very strength which could handle alone a log which would have taken any two other men to handle, of the blood and bones and flesh to strong, having learned at least once with his own eyes how tough, even in sudden and violent death, not a young man’s bones and flesh perhaps but the will of that bone and flesh to remain alive, accutaly was.
Then she was gone. He walked through the door where she was standing, and went to the stove. He did not light the lamp. He needed no light. He set the stove up and built the shelves for the dishes from where he took two plates by feel from the pot sitting cold on the cold stove he ladled food onto the plates, which his aunt brought yesterday. He ate it yesterday but now did not remember when he ate it or what it was. He carried the plates to the scrubbed, bare table beneath the small, fading window and brought two chairs out to sit down. “Come on hyar, now,” he said roughly. “Come on hyar and eat yo supper. Ah aint gonter have no___” and ceased, looking down at his plate. He held himself motionless for a minute, and raised a spoonfull of the cold and glutinous pease to his mouth. The lifeless mass seemed to bounce on contract with his lips. Not even warm from his mouth. His chair crashed backwards and was standing, feeling the muscles of his jaw beginning to drag his mouth open. But he stopped that too before it became sound, holding himself again while he rapidly scraped the food from his plate onto the other and took it up and left the kitchen. He went to the gallery and set the plate on the bottom step and went on toward the gate.
It was evening time , him and his dog were running down the field all night long and trying to hide away from being seen. The dog stayed with the man loyally all through the night fast walking. Even when the rabbit close to them he stuck to rider . They both got very tired to the point that u can hear a harsh snoring from the dog’s chest. By the early morning rider and his dog slept soundly.
When he got to the mill no one was there but the fireman - an older man turning for the wood pile, observing as he crossed a clearing, Striding like he could walk through the boiler shed and through the boiler, the once clean overalls were now drenched to the knees with dew, the cloth cap flung onto the side of his head, over his ear, like he always wore it. The whites of his eyes rimmed with red, they looked strained. “Whar yo bucket?” he said. Before the fireman could answer he was past him and took the pail off the nail. “Ah just wants a buscuit,” he said.
“Eat hit all” the fireman said. “ah’ll eat outen de yuthers’ buckets at dinner. den you gawn home and go to bed. you dont looks good”
“Ah aint come hyar to look” he said, sitting against the post eating with his hands out of the pale. the food was cold. a mixture of yesterdays chicken and a giant biscuit had barely little taste. he began to hear voices outside the shed as the foreman rode in on horse back. rider stood up, and walked to the stream, where he layed down on the grass to take a drink. he inhaled the water with the same intensity he did when he snored, or when he tried to breathe inside his empty, quiet house.
Rider is so strong he lined up the trees and picked them up. His truck team sat there and sang but rider didn’t want to sing. Rider picks the trees up and they are clinging together as he lowers them down the incline. One of his boys gets in the way and almost gets hit if it wasn’t for Rider yelling at him to get out the way before it reached him.
His aunt made him a nice pie, and she sent her husband to Mose’s house she wants him to come home she left a light on for him during the night.
“Ah’m awright,” He said. “You aint awright. De lawd guv, and He tuck away. Put yo faith and trust in Him. And she kin help you.” “whut faith and trust?” he said. “Whut Mannie ever done ter him? Whut wanter come messin wid me and-” “Hush!” the old man said. “Hush!”
Then the trucks were rolling. Then he could stop inventing reason to breath. After awhile he began to believe he forgot about breathing, Sense he couldn’t hear himself above the sound of the rolling logs. As he thought he forgot it he remember he hadn’t. He threw his cant-hook away, and was facing the log on the truck. He had taken a log into his bare hands before, but not one as big as this. All the eyes of everyone were focused on him. He moved the log to the edge of the truck and set his palms on the underside of it. There was no movement, it was as if the wood mesmerized him. A voice said “He’s got it. Hit’s off de truck,” then they saw the gap of air, watching the braced legs, until the knees locked up, and the log was balanced over his head. “Only he aint gonter turn wid dat un,” The same voice said. “And when he try to put hit back on de truck, hit gonter kill him.” No one moved. The log suddenly leaped backwards over his head, spinning, crashing and thundering down the incline. He turned and walked away towards the woods. The foremen called after him “Rider!” and again: You Rider!”
At sundown he and the dog were in the swamp, four miles away- another clearing, not much larger than a room, a hut, a hovel partly of planks and partly of canvas, an unshaven white man standing at the door with a shotgun leaned against the wall, watching him as he got closer, he extended his hand with four silver dollars on his palm. “Ah wants a jug,” he said.
“A jug?” the white man said. “You mean a pint. This is Monday. Aint you all running this week?” “Ah laid off,” he said. “Whar’s my jug?” waiting, looking at nothing, blinking his eyes rapidly, back-titled head, turning with the jug hanging from his middle finger.The white man looked at his eyes like he just saw them for the first time. The eyes which had been strained this morning, seemed to be without vision and showed no white at all and said,
“Here. Gimme that jug. You dont need no gallon. I’m going to give you that pint, give it to you. Then you get out of here and stay out. Dont come back until-” Then the white man grabbed the jug while he swung the other behind him, sweeping his his other arm up so it hit the other white man in the chest.
“Look out, white folks,” he said. “Hits mine. Ah done paid you.” A man cursed him. “No you aint. Here’s your money. Put that jug down, asshole.”
“Hit’s mine,” he said
He is in the night and he seeing the moon, and his shadow appears. He starts drinking the sliver air out of his bottle. he says to the bottle “Come on now. You always claim you’s a better man den me. Come on now Prove it.” He drank again out of his bottle again. He stood still as the cold air blows by him. From a far he seess his aunts husband approach him.
“Dey tole me at de mill - Wait!”
“You cant keep up,” he said as he ran into the wind. As he ran, he felt free. The air rushing past him made him imagine a horse running free. He stopped.
Then, drinking, he discovered suddenly that no more of the liquid was entering his mouth. Swallowing, it was no longer passing down his throat. He drank again. Again, his throat merely filled solidly until two icy streams ran from the corners of his mouth. The jug poised before his mouth while he spoke to it: “Awright. Ah’m ghy try you again. Soon as you makes up yo mind to stay whar I puts you, Ah’ll leff you alone.” He drank, filling his belly for the third time and lowered the jug one instant ahead of the bright intact repetition, panting, taking in the cool of air until he could breathe. He stoppered the cob carefully back into the jug and stood, slanting away across the hill and beyond. “Awright,” he said. “Ah just misread de sign wrong. Hit’s done done me all de help Ah needs. Ah’m awright now. Ah doan needs no mo of hit.”
He saw the lamp in the window as he crossed the pasture, passing by the black and silver sandy ditch where he used to play in as a child. He passed a garden patch where he worked as a child with his aunt. He entered the house and stopped at the door with his head tilted back a little like he cant see, with the jug hanging from his fingers. “Unc Alec say you wanter see me,” he said.
“Not just to see you,” his aunt said. “To come home, whar we kin help you.” “Ah’m awright,” he said. “Ah doan needs no help.” “No,” she said. She rose from the chair and came and grasped his arm as she had grasped it yesterday at today. Again, just like yesterday, the forearm was like iron under her hand. “No! When Alec come back and tole me how you had wawked off de mill and de sun no half down, Ah knowed why and whar. And dat cant help you.” “Hit done awready hope me. Ah’m awright now.” “Dont lie to me,” she said. “You aint never lied to me. Dont lie to me now.”
“Nome,” he said, “Hit aint dont me no good.” “And hit cant! Cant nothing help you but Him! Ax Him! Tole Him about hit! He wants to hyar you and help you!”
“Efn he God, Ah dont needs to tole him. Efn He God, he awready know hit. Awright. Hyar Ah is. Leff Him come down hyar and do me some good.”
“On yo knees!” she cried “On you knees and ax him!” He never got on his knees he stayed standing. He heard her on the plank as well. The Women cried “Spoot!” “Spoot!”. That was his name when he was a kid. He forgotten until he saw Mannie that day and said “Ah’m thu wid al dat,” began to call him Rider.
The jug was still in his hand as he entered the clearing and paused among the soaring of moonblond lumber-stacks. He stood in the middle of the shadow which was treading again like last night, swaying a little blinking at the stacked lumber. He was drinking, the liquid was tasteless and required no swallowing. But it was alright. The jug was gone and he didnt know when or where he lost it. He crossed the clearing and entered the boiler shed. The faint glow of lantern beyond the plank joints. the soft sound of dice clicking and scuttering. He layed his hand loud on the barred door with his voice loud also: “Open hit. Hit’s me. Ah’m snakebit and bound to die.”
Then he was through the door and inside the tool room. They were the same faces. Three members of his timber gang, three or four others of the mill crew, the pocket and the small heap of coins and worn bills on the floor before him, one who was called Rider. Rider was standing above the squatting circle, swaying a little, blinking. The dead muscles of his face shaped into a smile while the white man stared up at him. “Make room, gamblers,” he said. “Make room. Ah’m snakebit and de pizen cant hawn me.”
“You’re drunk,” the white man said. “Get out of here. One of you niggers open the door and get him out of here.” “Dass awright, boss-man,” he said, his voice equal, his face fixed, smiling, with blinking red eyes; “Ah saint drunk. Ah just cant wawk stright fer des yar money weighin me down.”
“Shoots a dollar,” he said. “Ah lets hit lay,” he said. Mose’s and his friends play dice. He thinks the white man set the dice. He grabs the white mans wrist and looks him in the eye, and says “Ah kin pass even wid missouts. But dese hyar yuther boys” don’t rip him or his friends off. The white man swings his hand back and gets his pistol out of his back pocket.
A razor hung from a piece of string around his neck behind his shoulder-blades. as he brought his hand around, the blade was flung open. making a fist, he whipped the blade around to the front of his knuckles. before the pistol was fired, he struck the man in the throat with his fist, slicing the mans neck and following through so quickly, not one drop of blood had landed on him.
- William Faulkner, edited for length by juniors in Reading/Writing workshop
Westbrook High School