Excerpt from “Deliverance” by James Dickey


He came back and behind him was an albino boy with pink eyes like a white rabbit’s; one of them stared off at a furious and complicated angle. That was the eye he looked at us with, and with his face set in another direction. The sane, rational eye was fixed on something that wasn’t there, somewhere in the dust of the road. ‘Git yer banjo,’ the old man said, and then to Drew, ‘Come on, play us a little something.’ Drew grinned, rolled down the back window of the wagon, got out the big cracked Martin and put on his finger picks. He came back to the front of the Olds and hiked himself onto the hood with one leg up to hold the guitar. He tuned for a minute, and Lonnie came back holding up a five-string banjo with a capo made out of rags and rubber bands.

‘Lonnie don’t know nothin’ but banjo-pickin’,’ the old man said.
‘He ain’t never been to school; when he was little he used to sit out in the yard and beat on a lard can with a stick.’
‘What’re we going to play, Lonnie?’ Drew asked, his glasses opaque with pleasure.
Lonnie stood holding the banjo, looking off from us now with both eyes, the eyes splitting apart and all of us in the blind spot.
‘Anything’, the old man said. ‘Play anything .’

Drew started in on ‘Wildwood Flower’, picking it out at medium tempo and not putting in many runs. Lonnie dragged on the rubber bands and slipped the capo up. Drew started to come on with the volume; the Martin boomed out and over the dusty filling station. I had never heard him play so well, and I really began to listen deeply, moved as an unmusical person is moved when he sees that the music is meant. After a little while it sounded as though Drew were adding another kind of sound to every note he played, a higher, tinny echo of the melody, and then it broke in on me that this was the banjo, played so softly and rightly that it sounded like Drew’s own fingering. I could not see Drew’s face, but the back of his neck was sheer joy. He eased out of the melody and played rhythm, and Lonnie took it. He emphasized nothing, but through everything he played there was a lovely unimpeded flowing that seemed endless. His hands, full of long scratches, took time; the fingers moved only slightly, about like those of a good typist; the music was just there. Drew came back in the new key and they finished, riding together. For the last couple of minutes of the song, Drew slid down and went over and stood beside Lonnie. They put the instruments together and leaned close to each other in the pose you see vocal groups and phony folk singers take on TV programmes, and something rare and unrepeatable took hold of the way I saw them, the demented country kid, and big-faced decent city man, the minor civic leader and hedge-clipper. I was glad for Drew’s sake we had come. Just this incident would be plenty to satisfy him.


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