Squatters, hunched over a small warm candle flame, cooking from a crinkled silver can, dipping their rusty spoons in the bubbling beans, pass back and forth a plastic bottle of blood-brown hooch as nits fall like rice grains from their beards. Outside the ice creeps up the wallboards and wrinkles the windows.
Grub Merrill, all knuckles and cheekbones, sees the swallow count as the sour mash swings around his way: This’ll be his last pull. So he turns up the bottle and his neck cords stick out like fiddle bows.
As if no one is watching. As if all the yellow eyes hovering above the flickering flame aren’t drawing a bead on the bottom of the bottle.
And the last scene in the living room of Cormac McCarthy’s childhood home is thus: A braid of drunken limbs, cold fists, and bloody toothless mouths. Until someone kicks over the candle and like fleas the men scatter from the house in all directions, one of them, the lucky one, the smart one, clutching the last few drops of booze to his chest as he hops the fence and vanishes into the freezing and darkening night.
Ben White, Maryville