He entered his grandfather's office and went to the desk and turned on the lamp and sat down in the old oak swivelchair. On the desk was a small brass calendar mounted on swivels that changed dates when you tipped it over in its stand. It still said September 13th. An ashtray. A glass paperweight. A blotter that said Palmer Feed and Supply. His mother's highschool graduation picture in a small silver frame.
The room smelled of old cigarsmoke. He leaned and turned off the little brass lamp and sat in the dark. Through the front window he could see the starlit prairie falling away to the north. The black crosses of the old telegraph poles yoked across the constellations passing east to west. His grandfather said the Comanche would cut the wires and splice them back with horsehair. He leaned back and crossed his boots on the desktop. Dry lightning to the north, forty miles distant. The clock struck eleven in the front room across the hall.
She came down the stairs and stood in the office doorway and turned on the wall switch light. She was in her robe and she stood with her arms cradled against her, her elbows in her palms. He looked at her and looked out the window again.
What are you doing? she said.
She stood there in her robe for a long time. Then she turned and went back down the hall and up the stairs again. When he heard her door close he got up and turned off the light.
There were a few last warm days yet and in the afternoon sometimes he and his father would sit in the hotel room in the white wicker furniture with the window open and the thin crocheted curtains blowing into the room and they'd drink coffee and his father would pour a little whiskey in his own cup and sit sipping it and smoking and looking down at the street. There were oilfield scouts' cars parked along the street that looked like they'd been in a warzone.
If you had the money would you buy it? the boy said.
I had the money and I didnt.
You mean your backpay from the army?
No. Since then.
What's the most you ever won?
You dont need to know. Learn bad habits.
Why dont I bring the chessboard up some afternoon?
I aint got the patience to play.
You got the patience to play poker.
What's different about it?
Money is what's different about it.
There's still a lot of money in the ground out there, his father said. Number one I C Clark that come in last year was a big well.
He sipped his coffee. He reached and got his cigarettes off the table and lit one and looked at the boy and looked down at the street again. After a while he said:
I won twenty-six thousand dollars in twenty-two hours of play. There was four thousand dollars in the last pot, three of us in. Two boys from Houston. I won the hand with three natural queens.
He turned and looked at the boy. The boy sat with the cup in front of him halfway to his mouth. He turned and looked back out the window. I dont have a dime of it, he said.
What do you think I should do?
I dont think there's much you can do.
Will you talk to her?
I caint talk to her.
You could talk to her.
Last conversation we had was in San Diego California in nineteen forty-two. It aint her fault. I aint the same as I was. I'd like to think I am. But I aint.
You are inside. Inside you are.
His father coughed. He drank from his cup. Inside, he said.
They sat for a long time.
She's in a play or somethin over there.
Yeah. I know.
The boy reached and got his hat off the floor and put it on his knee. I better get back, he said.
You know I thought the world of that old man, dont you?
Excerpted from All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy Copyright © 1992 by Cormac McCarthy. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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