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Authors: Toni Morrison

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BOOK: Tar Baby
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Gideon interrupted his questions. “What will you do?”

“Find her. Go to Paris and find her.” He pressed his temples with his fingers to stop the drone.

“But if she’s with another?”

“I’ll take her away from him.”

“A woman, man. Just a woman,” said Gideon patiently.

“I have to find her.”

“How? Paris is a big place.”

“I’ll get her address.”


“From over there.”

“They won’t give it to you.”

“They will. I’ll make them. Make them tell me who the man is. Where she went.” He was standing now. Nervous. Eager to get going.

“You not going for the address, you going to cause mayhem.”

“Let him,” said Thérèse. “Kill them, chocolate eater.”

“Don’t be crazy. It’s just a woman, man.”

It was true. He wanted to find her but he wanted to smash something too. Smash the man who took the woman he had loved while she slept, and smash where they had first made love, where she took his hand and was afraid and needed him and they walked up the stairs holding hands, just like she walked to the plane holding somebody else’s hand. She should not have done that if she was going to get on an airplane and put her head on another man’s shoulder.

“Get me there,” he said to Gideon. “Now, while there is still light.”

Gideon ran his tongue over his stone-white teeth. “No. I’m not doing that. Take you to smash up the place?”

“I only want her address. That’s all.”

“You won’t be welcome there and neither me.”

“I will only talk to them.”

“And if they won’t talk to you?”

“They will. They’ll tell me.”

“No, man. That’s final.”

“All right. I’ll take the launch.”

“Good,” said Gideon. “Take the launch. In two days maybe you’ll be cooler.”

“Two days?”

“Two, yes. Launch don’t go again till Monday. Today is market day. Saturday.”

“I can’t wait that long.”

“Telephone them.”

“They won’t tell me anything on the telephone. Take me.”

“This is crazy-mad shit, man. You can’t go there.”

“I don’t have a choice. There’s nothing else for me to do. You think I’d choose this if I had a choice?”

Thérèse turned around and looked at him. Then she looked at the airplane food on the record player. “I can take you,” she said.

“You not taking him nowhere. You blind as a bat.”

“I can take you,” she repeated.

“The sun’s going down. You’ll drown!” said Gideon. “We’ll fish you off the beach in the morning.”

“I can see better in the dark and I know that crossing too well.”

“Don’t trust her, man. Don’t. I’m telling you.”

Son looked at Thérèse and nodded. “Get me there, Thérèse.”

“Two big fools,” said Gideon. “One blind, the other gone mad!”

“Eat,” said Thérèse to Son. “I’ll take you when it’s time.”

Son stood up. “I can’t eat,” he said. “And I’ve been awake for days. Sleep won’t come and I can’t get hungry.”

“Come with me then,” said Gideon. “Let’s go out. Go to Grande Cinq, have a drink and relax a little.”

“No,” he said. “I don’t want a woman.”

“Christ!” Gideon was disgusted. He never got over being amazed at that kind of passion, though he had seen it enough. “Well, rum’s good anywhere. I resign from the sober world tonight.” He went into the bedroom and returned with a pint of rum, the bottle half-full. He poured and passed a cup to Son who took it in tiny sips with much time in between. All three sat at the table, Son alone not eating the fish and rice. Gideon told stories about women he had known: their “wiles” and their “ways” till he settled on the nurse he’d married in the States. His grievances about the lady were trotted out one by one for show: her children by a former marriage; her ailments; her habits of dress; her laugh; her relatives; her food; her looks. He allowed as how she was faithful, but that’s all she was. Had she been otherwise he swore he would never have left her out of gratitude. As it was, she was insatiable: mean, arrogant and insatiable. He went to bed fully clothed on that note: the abnormal sexual hunger of black American nurses.

Son lay down on the cot Alma Estée sometimes used while Thérèse got ready and he did not know he slept until she woke him. He sat up relieved that the jaw’s harp in his head had stopped. She brought a flashlight, but they did not need it to walk down the hill or to find the
Prix de France.
They checked the gas and agreed there was enough for a round trip. They rowed away from the dock until they were far enough out to start a motor without attracting the attention of any gendarmes who might be on contraband patrol. It was raining a little, getting foggier, but the sea was not high. Thérèse insisted on steering for she knew the way, she said, and could not talk the directions to him. The feel of the current was what she went by. She only prayed no larger boats were out there, as hampered in vision as she was in the fog.

He remembered the trip over as half an hour, forty-five minutes at most, but this trip seemed longer. They’d been out at least an hour. The boat rocked and skipped, rocked and skipped to a regular beat. The jaw’s harp was back like a nuthouse lullaby and he dozed a little and woke; dozed a little and woke. Each time his eyes opened they rested on the shadow of Marie Thérèse Foucault. Each time her shoulders and profile grew darker—her outline fainter. Till finally he could barely make her out at all, he simply felt her feet against his. Even her breathing could not be heard over the motor’s breath and the insistent harp in his head. The light rain stopped and the clouds descended to examine that party of two. One tranquil, dozing, weakly fighting sleep—the other, head turned landward intent on a horizon she could not possibly see even if she were not as blind as justice. Her hands on the lever were nimble, steady. The upper part of her body leaned forward straining as if to hear fish calling from the sea. Behind the curious clouds, hills crouched on all fours and at their knees were rocks and the permanent sea. Thérèse cut the motor and dropped one oar to guide with. The tide carried them and the little boat seemed to be floating on its own. She held the oar midships until it struck a rock, split and slowed the boat to a half turn and then a rocking on baby waves. Son stirred and opened his eyes. There was nothing to see—not sky or island or Marie Thérèse. The sea was very still as in a lagoon or a cove.

“Here,” she said. “We are here.”

“Where?” All he could see was mist. “Where’s the dock?”

“On the other side. We are at the back of Isle des Chevaliers. You can climb here on the rocks. They are all together here, like a bridge. You can crawl them all the way to shore.”

“It’s too foggy,” he said. “I can’t see my way.”

“Don’t be afraid. This is the place. On the far side.”

“I can’t see shit. I can hardly see you.”

“Don’t see; feel,” she said. “You can feel your way, but hurry, hurry. I have to get back.”

“This doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you go to the other side, where the dock is?”

“No,” she said. “This is the place.”

“Isle des Chevaliers?”

“Yes. Yes. The far side.”

“Are you sure?”


Son took his tie out of his jacket pocket and began to knot it around the handle of his traveling bag. “I don’t get it, Thérèse. You bring me here as a favor, but before I can say thanks, you make it hard for me to land and even harder to get to the house. What’d you do that for?”

“This is the place. Where you can take a choice. Back there you say you don’t. Now you do.”

“What the hell are you talking about? If I get off these rocks without drowning, I have to stomp all around in those hills to get to the other side. It must be, good God, ten miles. I’ll be all night and half the day…”

“Hurry! Get out. I have to get away before the water is too small.”

He attached the tie to his waist so the bag hung from behind him. Then he moved over to negotiate the rocks.

“It’s easy,” she said. “Climb to it and the next one is right behind, then another and another like a road. Then the land.”

“You sure, Thérèse?”

“Yes. Yes,” she said, then as he turned toward the rocks she touched his back. “Wait. Tell me. If you cannot find her what will you do? Live in the garden of some other white people house?”

He looked around to tell her to mind her own business, but the inability to see her face in the fog stopped him.

“Small boy,” she said, “don’t go to L’Arbe de la Croix.” Her voice was a calamitous whisper coming out of the darkness toward him like jaws. “Forget her. There is nothing in her parts for you. She has forgotten her ancient properties.”

He swallowed and, saying nothing, turned back to the rocks, kneeling, stretching his hand to feel them. He touched one. It was dry above the water line and rough, but large enough, it seemed to him, to hold a grown man.

He leaned out of the boat tipping it so it took a little water. The bag knocked clumsily against his thigh. He sat back down and undid the knot. “Keep it for me,” he said. Then he grabbed with both hands the surface of the rock and heaved himself onto it. He lay there for a bit, then stretched his arm again and felt the sister rock at his fingertips. Now he could smell the land.

“Hurry,” she urged him. “They are waiting.”

“Waiting? Who’s waiting?” Suddenly he was alarmed.

“The men. The men are waiting for you.” She was pulling the oars now, moving out. “You can choose now. You can get free of her. They are waiting in the hills for you. They are naked and they are blind too. I have seen them; their eyes have no color in them. But they gallop; they race those horses like angels all over the hills where the rain forest is, where the champion daisy trees still grow. Go there. Choose them.” She was far from him now, but her voice was near like skin.

“Thérèse!” he shouted, turning his head around to the place where the urging of her jaws had come from. “Are you sure?”

If she answered, he could not hear it, and he certainly couldn’t see her, so he went. First he crawled the rocks one by one, one by one, till his hands touched shore and the nursing sound of the sea was behind him. He felt around, crawled off and then stood up. Breathing heavily with his mouth open he took a few tentative steps. The pebbles made him stumble and so did the roots of trees. He threw out his hands to guide and steady his going. By and by he walked steadier, now steadier. The mist lifted and the trees stepped back a bit as if to make the way easier for a certain kind of man. Then he ran. Lickety-split. Lickety-split. Looking neither to the left nor to the right. Lickety-split. Lickety-split. Lickety-lickety-lickety-split.


Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in Rockland County, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey.







Song of Solomon


The Bluest Eye


The Dancing Mind

Playing in the Dark:
Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

Acclaim for


“That rare commodity, a truly public novel…. Morrison’s genius lies in her uncanny ability to immerse you totally in the world she creates.”


“Powerful…. A stunning performance…. Morrison is one of the most exciting living American writers.”

The Kansas City Star

“It takes one to the sheer edge of human relationships.”


“Wise, beautiful, astonishing, absolutely breathtaking.”

St. Louis Globe-Democrat

“Reminds us again that Toni Morrison is one of the finest writers in America today.”

Louisville Courier-Journal

Tar Baby
is stupendous. Morrison is a writer of amazing skill.”

The Roanoke Times & World

“Its scope is grand and the interplay complex. But Morrison has the control of a skilled choreographer, with a careful eye pinned on pacing, suspense, grace, and frenzy…. She has an awesome lyric flair.”

The Charlotte Observer


Copyright © 1981, 2004 by Toni Morrison

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in slightly different form in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 1981.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

Morrison, Toni.

Tar baby.

I. Title.

PS3563.08749 T37 1981



eISBN: 978-0-307-38815-5


BOOK: Tar Baby
9.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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