Cormac McCarthy Rides the Red Line

Capitol Hill Books

See the man. In the cold half-dark of morning he sets out on foot. He traverses all manner of snow encrusted paths speckled with salt born of time immemorial. He passes brick rowhouses. He passes Full Yum carryout. And when he arrives at the opening in the earth he does submit himself to the hell-forged iron stairs.

The man stands to the left. His hand is clenched on black rubber as he is lowered into an unseen netherworld. Men and women pass on his right, assailing him with curses he does not understand. Below him, a bestial roar emanates and the man’s pulse quickens.

The stairs deliver him unto a platform where he stands in bewilderment until a sleeping sentinel in a brown kiosk awakens and beckons him deeper into the subterrane. The man continues on and arrives at the gate. He takes the plastic ticket from his pocket and passes it over a circle until the gate relents and allows him to proceed unmolested into a yet lower level of the cavern only to find himself delivered once more to a concrete landing where the unwashed multitudes have gathered.

The man is engulfed by a beggared rabble of fellow travelers. Somewhere on the platform the lunatic ramblings of a besotted mendicant swaddled in rough-hewn blankets reverberate through the crowd in rebuke.

In near unison, the congregation turns their eyes to an opening in the wall, as if waiting for a long-dead prophet to reappear. The air is stained with a sickly burnt rubber and a low industrial rumble fills the cavern. The opening flickers with light, illuminated from beyond, and then the vessel bolts in front of the crowd like a rifle shot.

The doors open and the congregants push forward. The man is carried into the vessel by great heaving waves of humanity. He is pushed up against a window and forced to hold fast to the only thing in his reach which is the metal edge of a plastic divider. On the wall in front of him someone has written You A Bama in crude ochre.

The vessel plunges forward into the darkness and a distorted disembodied voice says a word in another tongue: judishuary. There is a shifting among the passengers. A sulfuric fetor has entered the vessel and the man fights the urge to wretch. A stream of smoke seeps in and a woman cries out and a man bangs his fist on the window.

The vessel emerges from the black once more and slows before a new platform but the doors do not open. The passengers clamor for relief but none comes. The man now senses impending violence. Three years past he lost his left ear in a steakhouse melee in Nacogdoches when the gluttonous throngs descended upon the baked potato bar after a rumor spread that the last of the sour cream had been placed at the disposition of the insatiable patrons.

Since that fracas, the man possesses an inveterate sense of oncoming menace and is not surprised when a traveler in a long black coat says look out and grabs someone’s arm and then they are fighting and swearing in snarls.

The doors finally open and the red-eyed crowd is birthed onto the platform in coughs and moans. As they exit, a uniformed custodian stands abreast of the vessel shaking his head and saying arcing insulator. The man ascends the stairs like some flummoxed Virgil reemerging from infernal perdition.

On the street he steadies himself on a trash can. Then after a few moments he sees a peddler and asks him where is the white house.

Capitol Hill Books

Written by

Bookstore. Into selective luddism and remembering that we are all doomed. Maybe come buy our books.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade