The Rock Cried Out

The Rock Cried Out

Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Rock Cried Out
    Book Description:

    This story of the modern South, of love denied and love fulfilled, is a powerful account of the potential for violence that underlies this country's passionate history. Ellen Douglas, a native of Mississippi and a prize-winning novelist of rare distinction, reveals the turbulent changes that rocked the South in the sixties and continue to this day.

    No event is predictable in this powerful novel. A young man who has spent several years in the North returns to his native Mississippi seeking rural peace. But solitude is not to be his, for soon he is caught up again in a traumatic event that happened seven years before in 1964--the death in an auto accident of the beautiful young cousin whom he loved.

    As the story unfolds, the people who were involved in that senseless tragedy reveal their part in it, and as they do, the reader becomes intensely involved not only in their lives but in what it means to be black or white in the modern South.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-046-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-2)
  2. ONE
    (pp. 3-13)

    I got off the bus at the intersection, wearing my old army surplus trench coat, carrying my backpack, my portable typewriter, and a suitcase full of books and papers, and walked two blocks to the overpass through which the road ran out toward Chickasaw Ridge. I figured it would be easy to thumb a ride as far as the front gate. I had stood there only a minute or two watching the sun go down, dull red behind heavy clouds, before a car stopped, a white VW with a young girl in it. Her dark hair was long and shining...

  3. TWO
    (pp. 14-27)

    I let myself into the house, turned on a light, and put my typewriter on the dining-room table, breathing the familiar air: the smell of age, emptiness, damp plaster, and ashes. The chill struck through my trench coat as through paper. In winter an old house like this, empty, untended, gets colder than the outdoors; the log walls under their clapboard sheathing are like thick slabs of ice, and the plaster is clammy with icy sweat. It takes days of roaring fires to make it dry and warm.

    I got my flashlight from the backpack and stepped out onto the...

  4. THREE
    (pp. 28-40)

    Early the next morning, chirping like a cricket, excited as a kid on Christmas Eve, I went to look at the abandoned house my father had told me I could tear down—circled northward around the horse lot and through the woods, climbed the steeply sloping grassy side of the dam, and ran across its broad wheel-rutted top. The sun, just risen behind the dead pecan tree at the southeast corner of the lake, unhooked itself from a snag and shed a feeble light on the blackish water; a few wisps of fog drifted southward across the lake (a light...

  5. FOUR
    (pp. 41-50)

    I knew in my teens that our life at Chickasaw had been different for a long time before Sam attacked the SPASURSTA. The change had come when Phoebe and Timmie were killed: the wrecking of the SPASURSTA was the crackling up of a fire smoldering since that year—1964; a dark slow fire without air to fan it, under the mat of pine needles, as it were, consuming the earth, hollowing out underground caves, as a fire smoldering in the refuse piles around a sawmill will burn out caves in the mounds of sawdust before anyone sees even a wisp...

  6. FIVE
    (pp. 51-58)

    I would not cross the SPASURSTA. Instead, I detoured around the northern end—no more than a quarter of a mile out of my way—and tramped down the dry bed of a ravine, bare now, except where the open network of unleaved branches was broken by the winter green of cedar, live oak, holly, or magnolia; or where the evergreen smilax twined among the bare limbs. A foot-deep carpet of leaves lay on the ground, live and springy to the step. In March yellow jasmine and dogwood bloom here; trillium springs up everywhere, thousands of fragile three-pointed stars; and...

  7. SIX
    (pp. 59-69)

    Before the week was out I had visitors.

    The sixth day Noah Daniels, Sam’s father, came by. It was mid-afternoon and I had just come from emptying the last load of debris at Chickasaw dump. Surrounded by leafless briars that in May and June would be loaded with dewberries and blackberries, I was standing in the abandoned garden, admiring my house. A four-room cabin with a long porch across the south side, it grew out of the south slope of Chickasaw Ridge like a plant, gray as lichen on the clay-colored brick of its high foundation. What distinguished it from...

  8. SEVEN
    (pp. 70-77)

    Carrying a thirty-aught-six rifle balanced muzzle down in his right hand, Dallas came quietly out of the woods. Silence—that’s the quality in him that has always struck me first. As a child I felt called upon to chatter, to entertain, to ingratiate myself, and his silence must have seemed to me then to be a statement of his confidence in his own worth.

    Small (as tall at fifteen as he would ever be), compact, dark-haired, and pale-skinned, the thin firm mouth always closed, not as if it were natural to keep it closed, but in a straight line, slightly...

  9. EIGHT
    (pp. 78-82)

    Some days I might be sorry when he came, because he broke into the solitude that for the first time in my life I had imposed on myself. But I could always walk away from the house. If I wanted to be alone all day, I would knock off and take a walk in the woods (telling him the day before, if he came by, that I wasn’t going to be working the following afternoon). Sometimes on my walks I had an eerie feeling that he was watching me. I would pass through the close-set ranks of pine trees, hearing,...

  10. NINE
    (pp. 83-90)

    Leila is divorced. At the time she came down to chaperon Miriam and me at Chickasaw she had already led a celibate—that is to say, unmarried, but not abstemious—life for years. She has told me that she married too young. (I’ll get to the details of that later.) I suppose a great many girls like her used to marry too young. (I should use some qualifier here: small-town girls, southern, God-fearing girls.) Their mothers and fathers filled them with ideals of chastity and monogamy, and at seventeen or eighteen, when they had been soul-kissing and petting to climax...

  11. TEN
    (pp. 91-101)

    It was at Calloway’s store that Miriam and I met Lindsay Lee Boykin.

    We left Leila surrounded by skeins of yarn and drove off to the store, Miriam, who had never been in the Deep South before, hanging out the window of the pickup and gazing at the moss-dripping live oaks and twisted dark cedars that rose from mats of sodden leaves and hung across the road from the tops of crumbling shale bluffs. Bare tangled vines dragged at the trees and reached down to reroot themselves, and clumps of wood fern clung, limp and frost-blackened, to the bluff sides....

  12. ELEVEN
    (pp. 102-111)

    The cells die and slough off, the body changes, but events stay intractable. There they are, stored in my memory, seeming gradually to become detached from the living dying body, but there still. My life flows over the past like water over a rocky, sandy creek bed, and the changing light on the surface strikes off now this distortion, now another. In 1970, again in 1975, it may be in 1985, Sam, his back and shoulders looming against the branches, steps out ahead of the boy sitting on the log across the ravine. The child balances precariously, admiring Sam, feeling...

  13. TWELVE
    (pp. 112-122)

    Chairs were scraping into place and I was gazing, transfixed with joy, on my bowl of gumbo, when Lorene, still standing behind her chair, slight and shy and hesitant, said, “May I say a blessing, Miss Leila?” and Leila said, “Of course.”

    “ ‘The people asked and he brought quails and satisfied them with the bread of heaven,’ ” Lorene said. “ ‘He opened the rock and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. And he brought forth his people with joy and his chosen with gladness. Praise ye the Lord. Amen.’ ” She...

    (pp. 123-131)

    Since Lorene had achieved such success dancing around the table and speaking in tongues, Leila may have thought she should try out her version of the same thing. And although Lorene’s act was a hard one to follow, Leila was up to it. Some of us are reckless enough to follow any act. Besides, Leila, under the influence of the moon or of whiskey, or both, goes naturally into her own kind of trance. She gets the Spirit. The tongue she speaks in (unfortunately, I thought at the time, since I had no desire to hear what she said) is...

    (pp. 132-141)

    She had come home, she said, after the end of her marriage, to begin to put her life together again. “I was thinking about childhood refuges,” she said. “About getting as far away as I could from what I had had. Away from the queer young executives and their queer wives—the queerest people I had ever known, except that it turned out that I was queer and the world was entirely peopled with them. Well, if I was the last eccentric in the world, I would have to put up with myself—I couldn’t put up with them. I...

    (pp. 142-145)

    The affair ended. Either no one found out about it or, as used to be the practice among respectable people, no one admitted to what he knew. Leila went off to Memphis and became phenomenally successful at fabric designing. Sam got married and, until the family leased the last of his land to the SPASURSTA, went right on raising cattle. In the loss of his land lay the real sequel to the affair. But more of that in its proper place.

    After we were in bed the night of Leila’s confession and Lorene’s dance, Miriam and I quarreled—briefly and,...

    (pp. 146-158)

    Lester has always been a restless man, I suppose, although I don’t remember noticing it as a child. Now that I think back about him, though, I have a sense of him as someone who always stood or walked up and down the house. I see him, particularly at a picnic or a barbecue, standing at the edge of a group in which everyone else is seated—on the ground or on blankets, maybe. I must have taken it for granted that he didn’t want to get his clothes dirty. The other men would have on khakis and the women...

    (pp. 159-172)

    Sunday night we went to church. The state campground and regional offices for Lorene and Dallas’s church are outside Homochitto, and the local congregation turned out to be far larger and richer and more joyous—gayer—than I had expected it to be. I had thought we would go to some little hole-in-corner building with a prefab spire and sit in uneasy boredom while a few pitifully drab and unfortunate misfits induced in themselves the hysteria that provided the only excitement in their lives. Such was not the case.

    “We did have a frame church,” Lorene told us, “big, but...

    (pp. 173-179)

    Monday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Lee—that bastard, that shithead, that salesman—came by again and again, always with news or questions about our project, earnest talk about making money and offing the system at the same time.

    Here he comes—gets out of his shiny, spotless VW. (He’s probably still a car freak and, now that he’s made it, spends Saturday afternoon washing and waxing and polishing his BMW and has an antique Chrysler or a reproduction Cord in the garage.) His hair is squeaky clean and his beard is combed and trimmed like General Grant’s and his...

    (pp. 180-192)

    Monday, as I said, we had taped Noah. Miriam didn’t have time to type up the transcript, but I did, and here it is:

    Alan: Hi, Noah. Here we are.

    Noah: Yeah. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants.

    Lee: It’s a privilege for us to be taping you, Mr. Daniels, sir. Alan says you know everything there is to know about this part of the world. What it was like living here sixty and seventy years ago; sharecropping and the Depression and all that. We want to put what you know on the...

  21. TWENTY
    (pp. 193-205)

    It was Sunday again. Almost a week had gone by since Miriam’s confession. We had been living side by side, uneasy, affectionate, sleeping like two lost children with our arms about each other, as if we would protect each other; open, yet secret, me trying to keep the ape under wraps, Miriam pursuing (quietly, so as to cause me as little pain as possible) her new, to me, inexplicable passion for the salesman.

    What do they say you are? Hoist on your own petard? A phrase for a writer, even if he doesn’t know what it means. I used to...

    (pp. 206-211)

    Levitt: To begin with, it wasn’t the Boykins I got involved with. It was your mother’s family. You know your mother was adopted (taken in—I don’t know if they ever adopted her) by Mac Boykin’s uncle, don’t you?

    Lee: Yes, sir. She never talked much about her early childhood. Said she couldn’t remember it. But she told us that the Boykins took her in after her mama and daddy both died and that they, her parents, weren’t either one from around here. I don’t think she knew where they were from or what they were doing here or remembered...

    (pp. 212-221)

    Levitt: He was the first man I’d been around since I got out of college who liked to sit by the fire and talk about why things are like they are and that they might be some other way—that maybe he or I could begin to make them some other way. Always before I had not thought much about things being some other way.

    Oh, I knew I could go up to New York and eat in the same automat as a white man. But I didn’t want to eat in an automat. The way my mind worked was...

    (pp. 222-232)

    Levitt: So that was your mama and she never was like the people around her, not at the beginning when she was already quiet and independent, solitary, and not later, after she married Mac Boykin. She always kept to herself and, if I knew her at all, it’s because we had that secret together of what her mama and daddy had been, and that Edna and I were the ones who had set her on the path she had to take. We might see each other at Calloway’s or even sometimes in town at the post office or the A...

    (pp. 233-243)

    The wind had begun to blow. Under a sky alternately overcast and blue, I came out of the woods to the east of the horse lot. Far away I heard a calf bawling—that hollow country cry of loss. I gave an experimental bawl myself; I could have used a warm titty and a comfortable flank to lean against.

    Behind the house I saw the salesman’s VW parked. I didn’t think I could look at him or listen to him. I circled around through the woods, along the edge of the horse lot and the garden back of Sam’s house,...

    (pp. 244-252)

    It began to rain while Miriam and I were talking and it rained all night—one of those rains that ride in on the leading edge of a Gulf storm, so hard and steady that within a few hours every gully and ravine and creek and bayou is filling its banks. Gusts of wind drove hailstones clattering against the tin roof.

    I didn’t sleep much. I remember getting up and going out on the long gallery where the hammock flapped and knocked against the side of the house in the wind. I took it off its hooks and rolled it...

    (pp. 253-257)

    There’s a maze of oil field roads and old county roads and turn rows and fire lanes on Chickasaw. I know them like the back of my hand, rode them with Phoebe every summer of my childhood, on horseback to begin with, and then, as soon as she got a driver’s license, in her mother’s car.

    Late at night all through the summers when she was sixteen and seventeen, we’d play a wild game we called Foxhunt, chasing each other, doubling back and forth, cutting from one road to another on the fire lanes. She’d be driving her car and...

    (pp. 258-270)

    To begin with, listening to Dallas, trying to use his voice and Lorene’s on the base to triangulate, I only halfway paid attention to what he was saying. I drove, the tearing sound of gravel raveling out behind me, the gallows shadow of the winch rushing along the ground beside me. I concentrated on bucking that stiff two-ton over ruts and washouts and wondered why the hell it was me who had to be out chasing a lunatic around the county because the Holy Ghost wouldn’t visit him. But afterwards I remembered most of what he said as I remember...

    (pp. 271-283)

    “All right. I’m going on with it.

    “Alan and his family come on down to Chickasaw like they did every summer and she—Phoebe—began to go out on the lake with him. I wasn’t jealous. Alan didn’t seem like much to me then. Him being there was like you might be listening to a beautiful piece of music and begun to hear static in the background. And so I wouldn’t follow them when they went off together, only her when she went alone. But she wasn’t alone all that much anymore.

    “And some days I would come around and...

    (pp. 284-293)

    His voice stopped. He had finished. He was waiting and I knew where he was. There was only one place where you could look out over the dam and lake, turn and look the other way over the horse lot and the roofs of the house and outbuildings, turn again and look down on the pool below the spillway and the ravine that wound away to the south.

    When he stopped talking, I was driving toward his voice along an oil field road on the east side of the lake. A quarter of a mile from the lake, where the...

  31. THIRTY
    (pp. 294-303)

    Finishing my cabin that spring, I spent some time thinking about the future. I knew I would never go back to shoveling sugar and shit and, despite Uncle Lester’s recommendation, Penney’s stores were no more to my taste than the caverns of Israel Putnam’s sugar refinery. I decided to acquire a skill.

    I persuaded my father to finance me in a course in welding at the local “industrial college” and to lend me five thousand dollars to buy a used Lincoln welding machine, a used truck, a cutting torch, and some tools. I made myself—I was going to write...