Christmas on Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”

The man tucked the pistol into the waistband of his pants and looked out over the ash-covered asphalt. They would have to get moving soon. He looked down at the boy, cherubic lick of hair sticking up over the damp, smelling blankets, that had been covered by a thin layer of gray snow dead ash in the night. Soon it would be dawn and he would have to wake him. Not yet. Let him sleep.

They tied their shoes in plastic bags to keep out the damp. The hill-line was crested with the darkened silhouettes of what were once trees, now turned to so much burnt timber. In the flat gray waste of morning he thought of the kitchen in the half-collapsed track house on the edge of a burning town, where he and the boy had scavenged for the food, of which they???d eaten the last five days ago. He thought of the desiccated bodies he found on the second floor, their frozen rictus screams and the crushed skull of a baby, it???s head still collapsed beneath the mercy brick it???s mother had used before taking her own with the razor. He thought of that as he tried to smile for the boy. Time to go, he said. I know, the boy said.

Hours on the road, flat and gray. In places it was slippery where the snow had packed and frozen. They moved slowly. Pushing the cart through the thin, gravely snow, and dead ash was difficult work, and occasionally they would hear a sound and have to rush over the razed ground to hide in a drainage ditch, careful to tip the cart and cover it with the tarpaulin to hide it from scavenging eyes. The boy shivered at his side. Thoughts of heads on pikes filled the man???s mind???s eye, barricades of stripped bodies, their flesh long since made into fuel for the warring gangs. Are we going to die? the boy asked. No, the man said. How do you know? The man said nothing.

Already the sun had fallen and only four, maybe five miles covered. He took out the pieces of map and layed them over the tarpaulin, trying to find a world that made sense. They moved through the cold, dead grass to a copse of barren trees where they could make a fire with the hope that it would remain hidden from the road. All day he had kept his eyes on the southward-moving tracks of a truck in the dead gray ash. He wished for an impossible invisibility. The pistol???s chamber only held two bullets. Need was growing, death gnawing like a hunger, as hard as he tried to fend it off.

The orange light of the fire. The boy???s hollowed out face???by hunger and fear. The man handed him something, wrapped in an old shred of newspaper he???d found in what had once been a basement and was now a tomb. He closed his eyes against the rat eaten bodies and worse of his imagination. What is it, the boy asked, looking at the words, trying to decipher an existence he had never known. Take off the paper, the man said. The boy removed the paper carefully, his look more concerned than excited. What is it, Papa? An iPhone, the man said. Oh no shit, the boy said. Go ahead, turn it on. The boy slid his finger across the touchscreen interface and unlocked the menu panel. After surfing the wireless internet for a few minutes, checking his RSS feed for updates on his favorite blogs, he turned to look into the dirt-smeared face of the man. How many gigs, the boy asked. 8, the man said. This is awesome, Papa, he said. My only regret is that the world ended before they could make an iPhone with more memory. I mean, my iPod holds 80 gigs of music and movies, so this seems kind of like a sad joke. Oh, the man said, wait until you find all the bugs embedded in its first generation software. Is this just an over-priced piece of crap? the boy asked. The man nodded. Together they stared into the fire and no one said anything. The man would cry, but he was too dehydrated. We don???t even have Cingular, the boy said. We have Verizon. Yes, the man said, but who are you going to call anyway? Everyone is dead? The boy began to cry quietly. In his mind, the man cursed God with the most damning of curses. And also Cingular for their exclusive proprietary rights agreement with Apple. He cursed Cingular straight to hell.

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