At last the noise and the alarms, the sound and fury of the hunt, dies away, dies out of his hearing. He was not in
the cotton house when the man and the dogs passed, as the sheriff believed.
He paused there only long enough to lace up the brogans: the black shoes, the black shoes smelling of negro. They
looked like they had been chopped out of iron ore with a dull axe. Looking down at the harsh, crude, clumsy
shapelessness of them, he said “Hah” through his teeth. It seemed to him that he could see himself being hunted
by white men at last into the black abyss which had been waiting, trying, for thirty years to drown him and into
which now and at last he had actually entered, bearing now upon his ankles the definite and ineradicable gauge of
its upward moving.
It is just dawn, daylight: that gray and lonely suspension filled with the peaceful and tentative waking of birds.
The air, inbreathed, is like spring water. He breathes deep and slow, feeling with each breath himself diffuse
in the neutral grayness, becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair. ‘That was
all I wanted,’ he thinks in a quiet and slow amazement. ‘That was all, for thirty years. That didn’t seem to
be a whole lot to ask in thirty years.’
He has not slept very much since Wednesday, and now Wednesday has come and gone again, though he does not know it.
When he thinks about time, it seems to him now that for thirty years he has lived inside an orderly parade of
named and numbered days like fence pickets, and that one night he went to sleep and when he waked up he was
outside of them. For a time after he fled on that Friday night he tried to keep up with the days, after the
old habit. Once, after lying all night in a haystack, he was awake in time to watch the farm house wake.
He saw before daylight a lamp come yellowly alive in the kitchen, and then in the gray yet dark he heard the
slow, clapping sound of an axe, and movement, man movement, among the waking cattle sounds in the nearby barn.
Then he could smell smoke, and food, the hot fierce food, and he began to say over and over to himself
I have not eaten since I have not eaten since trying to remember how many days it had been since Friday
in Jefferson, in the restaurant where he had eaten his supper, until after a while, in the lying still with
waiting until the men should have eaten and gone to the field, the name of the day, of the week seemed more
important than the food. Because when the men were gone at last and he descended, emerged, into the level,
jonquil colored sun and went to the kitchen door, he didn’t ask for food at all. He had intended to. He could
feel the harsh words marshaling in his mind, just behind his mouth. And then the gaunt, leatherhard woman come
to the door and looked at him and he could see shock and recognition and fear in her eyes and while he was
thinking She knows me. She has got the word too he heard his mouth saying quietly: “Can you tell me what day
this is? I just want to know what day this is.”
“What day it is?” Her face was gaunt as his, her body as gaunt and as tireless and as driven. She said: “You
get away from here! It’s Tuesday! You get away from here! I’ll call my man!”
He said, “Thank you,” quietly as the door banged. Then he was running. He did not remember starting to run. He
thought for a while that he ran because of and toward some destination that the running had suddenly remembered
and hence his mind did not need to bother to remember why he was running, since the running was not difficult.
It was quite easy, in fact. He felt quite light, weightless. Even in full stride his feet seemed to stray slowly
and lightly and at deliberate random across an earth without solidity, until he fell. Nothing tripped him. He
just fell full length, believing for a while that he was still on his feet and still running. But he was down,
lying on his face in a shallow ditch at the edge of a plowed field. Then he said suddenly, “I reckon I better
get up.” When he sat up he found that the sun, halfway up the sky, now shone upon him from the opposite direction.
At first he believed that he was merely turned around. Then he realised that it was now evening. That it was
morning when he fell running and that, though it seemed to him that he had sat up at once, it was now evening.
‘I have been asleep,’ he thought. ‘I have slept more than six hours. I must have gone to sleep running without
knowing it. That is what I did.’
He felt no surprise. Time, the spaces of light and dark, had long since lost orderliness. It would be either one
now, seemingly at an instant, between two movements of the eyelids, without warning.
He could never know when he would pass from one to the other, when he would find that he had been asleep without
remembering having lain down, or find himself walking without remembering having waked. Sometimes it would seem
to him that a night of sleep, in hay, in a ditch, beneath an abandoned roof, would be followed immediately by
another night without interval of day, without light between to see to flee by; that a day would be followed
by another day filled with fleeing and urgency, without any night between or any interval for rest, as if the sun
had not set but instead had turned in the sky before reaching the horizon and retraced its way. When he went to
sleep walking or even kneeling in the act of drinking from a spring, he could never know if his eyes would open
next upon sunlight or upon stars.
For a while he had been hungry all the time. He gathered and ate rotting and worm riddled fruit; now and then he
crept into fields and dragged down and gnawed ripened ears of corn as hard as potato graters. He thought of
eating all the time, imagining dishes, food. He would think of that meal set for him on the kitchen table three
years ago and he would live again through the steady and deliberate back swinging of his arm as he hurled the
dishes into the wall, with a kind of writhing and excruciating agony of regret and remorse and rage. Then one
day he was no longer hungry. It came sudden and peaceful. He felt cool, quiet. Yet he knew that he had to eat.
He would make himself eat the rotten fruit, the hard corn, chewing it slowly, tasting nothing. He would eat
enormous quantities of it, with resultant crises of bleeding flux. Yet immediately afterward he would be
obsessed anew with the need and the urge to eat. It was not with food that he was obsessed now, but with the
necessity to eat. He would try to remember when he had eaten last of cooked, of decent food. He could feel,
remember, somewhere a house, a cabin. House or cabin, white or black: he could not remember which. Then, as
he sat quite still, with on his gaunt, sick, stubbled an expression of rapt bemusement, he smelled negro.
Motionless (he was sitting against a tree beside a spring, is head back, his hands upon his lap, his face
worn and peaceful) he smelled and saw negro dishes, negro food. “It was in a room. He did not remember how he
got there. But the room was filled with flight and abrupt consternation, as though people had fled it recently
and suddenly and in fear. He was sitting at a table, waiting, thinking of nothing in an emptiness, a silence
filled with flight. Then there was food before him, appearing suddenly between long, limber black hands fleeing
too in the act of setting down the dishes. It seemed to him that he could hear without hearing them wails of
terror and distress quieter than sighs all about him, with the sound of the chewing and the swallowing. ‘It was
a cabin that time,’ he thought. ‘And they were afraid. Of their brother afraid.’
That night a strange thing came into his mind. He lay ready for sleep, without sleeping, without seeming to need
the sleep, as he would place his stomach acquiescent for food which it did not seem to desire or need. It was
strange in the sense that he could discover neither derivation nor motivation nor explanation for it. He found
that he was trying to calculate the day of the week. It was as though now and at last he had an actual and urgent
need to strike off the accomplished days toward some purpose, some definite day or act, without either falling
short or overshooting. He entered the coma state which sleeping had now become with the need in his mind. When he
waked in the dew ray of dawn, it was so crystallised that the need did not seem strange anymore.
It is just dawn, daylight. He rises and descends to the spring and takes from his pocket the razor, the brush,
the soap. But it is still too dim to see his face clearly in the water, so he sits beside the spring and waits
until he can see better. Then he lathers his face with the hard, cold water, patiently.
His hand trembles, despite the urgency he feels a lassitude so that he must drive himself. The razor is dull;
he tries to wet it upon the side of one brogan, but the leather is iron hard and wet with dew.
He shaves, after a fashion. His hand trembles; it is not a very good job, and he cuts himself three or four times,
stanching the blood with the cold water until it stops. He puts the shaving tools away and begins to walk.
He follows a straight line, disregarding the easier walking of the ridges. After a short distance he comes out
upon a road and sits down beside it. It is a quiet road, appearing and vanishing quietly, the pale dust marked
only by narrow and infrequent wheels and by the hooves of horses and mules and now and then by the print of
human feet. He sits beside it, coatless, the once white shirt and the once creased trousers muddy and stained,
his gaunt face blotched with patches of stubble and with dried blood, shaking slowly with weariness and cold as
the sun rises and warms him. After a time two negro children appear around the curve, approaching. They do not
see him until he speaks; they halt, dead, looking at him with white rolling eyes. “What day of the week is it?”
he repeats. They say nothing at all, staring at him. He moves his head a little. “Go on,” he says. They go on.
He does not watch them. He sits, apparently musing upon the place where they had stood, as though to him they had
in moving merely walked out of two shells. He does not see that they are running.
Then, sitting there, the sun warming him slowly, he goes to sleep without knowing it, because the next thing of
which he is conscious is a terrific clatter of jangling and rattling wood and metal and trotting hooves. He opens
his eyes in time to see the wagon whirl slewing around the curve beyond and so out of sight, its occupants looking
back at him over their shoulders, the whiphand of the driver rising and falling. ‘They recognised me too,’ he thinks.
‘Them, and that white woman. And the negroes where I ate that day. Any of them could have captured me, if that’s
what they want. Since that’s what they all want: for me to be captured. But they all run first. They all want me
to be captured, and then when I come up ready to say Here I am Yes I would say Here I am I am tired I am tired of
running of having to carry my life like it was a basket of eggs they all run away. Like there is a rule to catch
me by, and to capture me that way would not be like the rule says.’
So he moves back into the bushes. This time he is alert and he hears the wagon before it comes into sight. He does
not show himself until the wagon is abreast of him. Then he steps forth and says, “Hey.” The wagon stops, jerked up.
The negro driver’s head jerks also; into his face also comes the astonishment, then the recognition and the terror.
“What day is this?” Christmas says.
The negro glares at him, slack jawed. “W-what you say?”
“What day of the week is this? Thursday? Friday? What? What day? I am not going to hurt you.”
“It’s Friday,” the negro says. “O Lawd God, it’s Friday.”
“Friday,” Christmas says. Again he jerks his head. “Get on.” The whip falls, the mules surge forward. This wagon
too whirls from sight at a dead run, the whip rising and falling. But Christmas has already turned and entered
the woods again.
Again his direction is straight as a surveyor’s line, disregarding hill and valley and bog. Yet he is not hurrying.
He is like a man who knows where he is and where he wants to go and how much time to the exact minute he has to
get there in. It is as though he desires to see his native earth in all its phases for the first or the last time.
He had grown to manhood in the country, where like the unswimming sailor his physical shape and his thought had
been molded by its compulsions without his learning anything about its actual shape and feel. For a week now he
has lurked and crept among its secret places, yet he remained a foreigner to the very immutable laws which earth
must obey. For some time as he walks steadily on, he thinks that this is what it is—the looking and seeing—which
gives him peace and unhaste and quiet, until suddenly the true answer comes to him. He feels dry and light.
‘I don’t have to bother about having to eat anymore,’ he thinks. ‘That’s what it is.’
By noon he has walked eight miles. He comes now to a broad gravelled road, a highway. This time the wagon stops
quietly at his raised hand. On the face of the negro youth who drives it there is neither astonishment nor
recognition. “Where does this road go?” Christmas says.
“Mottstown. Whar I gwine.”
“Mottstown. You going to Jefferson too?”
The youth rubs his head. “Don’t know whar that is. I gwine to Mottstown.”
“Oh,” Christmas says. “I see. You don’t live around here, then.”
“Naw, sir. I stays two counties back yonder. Been on the road three days. I gwine to Mottstown to get a yellin calf
pappy bought. You wanter go to Mottstown?”
“Yes,” Christmas says. He mounts to the seat beside the youth. The wagon moves on.
‘Mottstown,’ he thinks. Jefferson is only twenty miles away. ‘Now I can let go for a while,’ he thinks. ‘I haven’t
let go for seven days, so I guess I’ll let go for a while.’ He thinks that perhaps, sitting, with the wagon’s motion
to lull him, he will sleep. But he does not sleep. He is not sleepy or hungry or even tired. He is somewhere between
and among them, suspended, swaying to the motion of the wagon without thought, without feeling. He has lost account
of time and distance; perhaps it is an hour later, perhaps three. The youth says: “Mottstown. Dar tis.”
Looking, he can see the smoke low on the sky, beyond an imperceptible corner; he is entering it again, the street
which ran for thirty years. It had been a paved street, where going should be fast. It had made a circle and he
is still inside of it. Though during the last seven days he has had no paved street, yet he has travelled further
than in all the thirty years before. And yet he is still inside the circle. ‘And yet I have been further in these
seven days than in all the thirty years,’ he thinks. ‘But I have never got outside that circle. I have never
broken out of the ring of what I have already done and cannot ever undo,’ he thinks quietly, sitting on the seat,
with planted on the dashboard before him the shoes, the black shoes smelling of negro: that mark on his ankles
the gauge definite and ineradicable of the black tide creeping up his legs, moving from his feet upward as death moves.