Authors: William Gay
In a literary voice that is both original and powerfully unsettling,
William Gay tells the story of Nathan Winer, a young and headstrong Tennessee
carpenter who lost his father years ago to an evil that is greater and closer
at hand than any the boy can imagine— until he learns of it first-hand. Gay’s
remarkable debut novel,
The Long Home
, is also the
story of Amber Rose, a beautiful young woman forced to live beneath that evil,
who recognizes that Nathan is her first and last chance at escape. And it
is the story of William Tell Oliver, a solitary old man who watches the growing
evil from the dark woods and adds to his own weathered guilt by failing to
do anything about it.
Set in rural Tennessee in the 1940s,
The Long Home
will bring to mind once again the greatest Southern novelists and will haunt
the reader with its sense of solitude, longing, and the deliverance that is
always just out of reach.
He lay on a tabled shelf of limestone and watched the
slow, majestic roll of the fall constellations. He realized with something
akin to regret that he had no names to affix to them though he’d known them
all his life. The stars looked bright and close and earlier an orange harvest
moon had cradled up out of the pines so huge he felt he could reach up and
touch them. By its light the Mormon Springs branch was frozen motionless and
it gleamed like silver, the woods deep and still. It seemed strange to lie
here and listen to the sounds of the jukebox filtered up out of the darkness,
windbrought and maudlin plaints, but no less real for being maudlin. Once
or twice cries of anger or exultation arose and he thought he might go see
what prompted them but he did not. He just lay with his coat rolled beneath
his head for a pillow and listened to all the sounds of the night, ears attuned
for her footfalls.
E-published in 2012 by MP Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent, Douglas, Isle of Man, IM2 4NR, British Isles
The Long Home © 1999 William Gay b. 1943
Book Design by Laurie Dolphin
Cover Photograph by Dos Passos/Bruce Coleman Inc.
Realization Gloria Knecht
e-book created by GSH 2011
A novel in two books: 16 “chapters”
First published in 1999 by MacMurray & Beck,
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This e-book is sold subject to the condition that
it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or
otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of
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condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or via any
other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by
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rights is appreciated.
The author would like to acknowledge a debt to his editor,
Greg Michalson, and thank him for his skill and patience. He would also like to
thank Renee Leonard for her help in the preparation of this manuscript.
Like flies, the minute-winning days buzz home to death, and
every moment is a window on all time.
— Thomas Wolfe,
Look Homewards, Angel
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears
shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper
shall be a burden, and desire shall fail; because man goeth to his long home,
and the mourners go about the streets.
Thomas Hovington was walking across his backyard when he heard a sound that caused him to drop the bag of feed he was carrying and stand transfixed. It was a curious kind of sound that seemed to come from the bowels of the earth, from somewhere beneath his feet, a dull, muffled boom that he could feel in his teeth and hear rattle the glass in the unglazed windows behind him. While he stood motionless it came again, somewhere beneath the branch-run, like great round stones rolling down chambered corridors in the earth or some great internal storm flaring in the hollows of the world, lightning quaking unseen in sepulchers dark and sleek and damp, the surfaces of the earth trembling at the thunder’s repercussions.
He went back to the edge of the porch and sat uncertainly and stared at the solid earth he’d taken so for granted. Hovington was in his twenties then and his back not yet bent. He had just recently commenced bootlegging and some vague childhood remnant of religion troubled him, made him look about for signs of retribution. It might be a sign. A warning.
If so, it wanted no misunderstanding. When it came this time it sounded as if a truckload of dynamite had exploded and almost immediately the branch began to rise and the air filled with water and flying stones. “They Goddamn,” Hovington cried. He threw his arms about his head and leapt up wildly while the rocks were falling on the roof in a rising tintinnabulation and below the spring a veritable floor of limestone rose in a solid sheet and subsided in slabs half the size of automobiles. A sluice of water shot upward.
Hovington cowered on the porch alternately praying and swearing in a desperate attempt to cover all the bases. A cloud of rock dust shifted and dissipated in the water and the spring branch had deepened perceptibly. After a while it began to fall again and everything went very quiet.
When he had his courage built up sufficiently he eased through the stones to the spring. About fifty yards from his house the earth had opened up in a shaft eight or ten feet across. A haze of powdered rock still hung over it. He could smell something like cordite.
Brimstone, he breathed. He peered down the sides of the shaft. Smooth stone fell away dizzy and plumb and all there was below was darkness. He dropped a stone and heard it go skittering away down the sides of the aperture to ultimate blackness but he never heard it strike bottom.
He cut chestnut poles and built a fence around the hole four feet high. At first there was no sound at all out of the shaft but in a few days he began to hear a murmur from deep in the earth: you had to strain to hear it but there was an indefinable far-off sound. Some folks likened it to a swarm of bees, other reckoned it was just subterranean waters. Hovington called it voices. They bespoke him with languorous foreboding and if he listened long enough he could separate the sound into different voices, point and counterpoint, query and reply. He wondered what such curious folk as these might have to talk about, what language they expressed themselves in.
Nathan Winer was a native of the county and by trade he was a carpenter who farmed a little on the side. He had a wife and a seven-year-old son who was named Nathan as well and was already much like him.
“Go through life mindin your own business and everybody else will mind theirs,” he used to tell the boy.
But in spite of minding his own business, he was forced in the spring of 1932 to go down to Hovinton’s looking for Dallas Hardin, a man who had simply moved in on Hovington, taken over his bootlegging business, and, folks said, his wife Pearl as well.
In the past year Hovington’s health had so deteriorated that he stayed in bed. His spine was bent like some metal God Almighty had heated to pliable temperature and laid hands and bent to his liking. He could not even turn over by himself. Already the disease that would kill him incubated within him. He lay curled by the window where by day he could see across the yard to whatever traffic accomplished itself on the road. By night his own lamplit reflection, the room its weary backdrop.
The house had four rooms. The long front room where Hovington slept—lived, actually—and where Hovinton’s black-haired daughter slept on a foldup army cot that doubled as a couch in the daytime. A kitchen. A bedroom where Hardin and Hovington’s wife Pearl slept. A room that was used to store oddments of junk and as a repository for the cases of beer and wine Hardin had taken to stocking.
Hardin came through the kitchen door carrying a coaloil lamp just as a rap sounded on the door. He set the lamp on the sewing-machine cabinet and opened the door a crack. Wind from the rainy night guttered the flame, it dished and wavered in the globe, steadied.
“I need to talk to you, Hardin,” Winer said. Lamplight glinted onto goldcapped teeth.
“Then come on in out of the rain.”
“I want to talk to you out here.”
Hardin took down his hat from a nail beside the door and stepped into the muddy yard and closed the door behind him. He stood coatless in the rain.
“What is it you wanted that had to be said in the rain?” he asked.
“I wanted to tell you somethin,” Winer said. He stood with his feet apart, hands shoved deep in his coat pockets, his head cocked back a little, his face flinty and arrogant beneath the ruined hat. “I found your whiskey still on my land and this is what I come to say. Now, I don’t care if you make whiskey till you’re ass deep in it but don’t make it on my land. If the law found that still they’d come down on me, not you.”
“That’s about the way I figured it too,” Hardin said. “Did you bust it up?”
“You damn right I did. I broke that whiskey too.”
“Now, you ortnt done that.”
“Why Goddamn you. If the son of a bitch hadn’t been so heavy I’d’ve dumped it in your front yard. I don’t know who you are or where you come from. Nor what kind of a deal you run on Hovington here. But I’ll tell you one thing. Don’t mess with me. If piece one of that thing goes up on my ground again, me and you goin around and around.”
Hardin’s face looked as if the skin had suddenly been drawn taut. “I never took a order in my life from a tenant-farmin redneck and I’m too old to start now.”
Winer grasped him by the front of the shirt and jerked and slapped him hard openhanded then slung him backward into the mud. Hardin looked like a drunken bird falling, legs askew as if they were too fragile to maintain his weight: he lit sitting and fumbling out a pistol. Winer saw what he was about and advanced rapidly on him, his knife out and his left hand on the blade opening it when Hardin shot him in the left eye. He fell straight forward like something suspended from a rope suddenly cut and landed across Hardin’s body, a leaden weight that pinned the other man for a moment where he lay. Hardin shoved at him, cursing. He could feel Winer’s blood seeping down his side. He came scrambling from beneath the body, tearing his bloody shirt off as he rose.
He stood leaning into the rain, hands on knees, his sides heaving. The door opened a crack and yellow light spilled into the yard and in this light rain fell plumb and silver.
“Dallas?” Pearl said
He could hear the rain beating on the tin. The knife lay gleaming in the mud beneath his feet, half open. “Shut the fuckin door,” he said. The light disappeared. He picked up the knife and wiped it on his trousers. He closed and pocketed it, stood trying to think what to do.
Pale light from the weeping heaves. By this light Winer’s face upturned, right eye staring up unblinking, left a black hole, long hair fanned out sliding through the mud, head leaving a weallike track in the slick yard. Mouth open a little, a glint of spare light off the gold teeth.
Hardin had him by the feet, a leg under each arm, walking backward through the yard toward the spring. Winer was a big man and every few minutes Hardin had to stop and rest and catch his breath. He rested hunkered over the dead man’s feet and scanning the road for car lights. Then rising and taking up the legs again and hurrying until they were out of sight in the brush and he could breathe a little easier. The going was rough until they reached the limestone lip of the pit and he moved faster here, Winer’s head bouncing a little across the uneven stone floor. He dragged him through the honeysuckle to the lip of the pit and paused to go through his pockets, storing in his own such miserable chattel as he found. A handful of linty change, a cheap pocketwatch from which his ear could detect no ticking. Little it seemed to him to show for a life as long as Winer’s.
“Get your last look at this world,” he told Winer. “It sure looks dark in the next one.”
The depth of the abyss looked beyond blackness. Like a pit cleft to a stygian world leaking off blackness to fill this world as well. He rolled the body with a booted foot, the legs swinging over the precipice, the body overbalancing on the edge in illusory erectness and the startled face fixing Hardin with a fierce and impotent eye then vanishing.