Song of Solomon
Song of Solomon Part 2, Chapter 10 Summary
- Welcome to Part II, everyone.
- We find Milkman looking at an old house that looks like it’s been eaten by a disease. All around is macadam.
- Right about now, Milkman wishes he hadn’t ventured on his own into the Pennsylvania wilderness in search of the famous cave of Pilate and Macon’s youth. But there’s not much he can do about it at this moment, is there? His ride won’t be back around for another couple of hours.
- He wishes Guitar were with him, but remembers how he left his best friend back home, telling him he needed to fly solo, to find the gold on his own.
- This is his recollection of the parting moment: Guitar is skeptical of him at first – because, when has Milkman ever done anything on his own before? – but Milkman is adamant about being independent.
- He promises to bring Guitar his fair share of the booty, and reminds Guitar about how he needs the money to help him get away from his family. He tells his friend that everyone wants something from him.
- Guitar launches into one of his lectures, telling Milkman that everyone wants a piece of his life. He says, "It’s the condition our condition is in. Everybody wants the life of a black man" (2.10.222). He tells Milkman that everyone wants his life, except his fellow black men.
- Milkman then asks why his own father wanted to kill him before he was born, and Guitar responds that Macon, Sr. acts and thinks like a white man.
- Guitar also brings up Pilate and the "performance" she put on for the police when she bailed them out of jail. Her act reminded him again of the way his mother behaved around the white mill owner, who gave her $40 after his father was sawed in half. He starts to feel nauseous.
- Guitar then reminds Milkman of how much the Days need the gold. Henry Porter has been kicked out of his apartment by Macon, Sr., because a little birdie (named Milkman) told Macon that Porter and Corinthians were dating.
- Milkman tries to explain why he spilled the beans, but Guitar dismisses his apology and tells him he is not blaming him.
- Milkman asks Guitar why he trusts him, and Guitar hopes that he never has to ask himself that question.
- This ends Milkman’s recollection.
- Instead of returning to the macadam and the disease-ridden house, we jump back in time to Milkman’s bus ride from the Pittsburgh airport to Danville, Pennsylvania.
- Milkman’s is bored with the green hills and supposedly beautiful scenery that the Greyhound travels through.
- But then he notices the signs and the names of the towns that he passes through. He begins to be intrigued by the foreign life represented by those signs and names: "everybody had to do his act, he thought, for surely anybody who was interested in Dudberry Point already knew where it was" (2.10.226).
- Milkman wishes he had some whiskey.
- Milkman rolls into Danville, PA, only to realize that he doesn’t have a p-l-a-n. Rats. So he leaves his suitcase in the bus depot, and goes roaming the main street looking for people who might know some people he knows.
- He asks one such Danvillian if he knows of a woman named Circe. No such luck, but the Danvillian tells him to seek out Reverend Cooper who lives in a yellow house not too far away.
- Milkman arrives at the yellow house and asks to speak with the Reverend. Milkman soon realizes that he never took Social Skills 101. He’s never had to make nice with random strangers before, so he’s a little awkward at first.
- Luckily, Reverend Cooper is home and is incredibly excited to see him. He tells Milkman he knows his "people." Milkman had never thought he had "people" before this moment, and the idea of having "people," a community, a lineage, is totally exciting.
- They drink rye whiskey, and Reverend Cooper asks him all kinds of questions. Milkman tells him he’s trying to find a woman named Circe, and the Reverend hurdles down memory lane, recollecting the story of Macon and Pilate’s father’s death.
- Milkman asks if anyone ever caught the murderers who shot his grandfather. Reverend Cooper stares at Milkman in disbelief and breaks it down for him.
- The murderers boasted of their killing, and because they were white and because their victim was black, no one did anything at all.
- The Reverend relates another story of having gone to march in the Armistice Day Parade in Philadelphia, right after World War I. The white people at the parade didn’t want black people to be part of the parade, and so they started throwing stones and calling the Reverend and his compatriots names. Then the police got involved, but instead of rendering justice, they trampled the Reverend and his friends with their horses. The Reverend shows Macon the scar on his neck begot of a horse hoof.
- Milkman hangs out at the Cooper’s for four days, and during that time, all of the locals come over to meet him and to reminisce about Macon, Pilate, and Milkman’s grandfather.
- Milkman soon discovers how respected, how loved his grandfather was. The men recall Lincoln’s Heaven with such glee and reverence, it only ignites Milkman’s desire to go in search of Circe and the farm.
- On the fourth day, Reverend Cooper has his nephew (named Nephew) drive Milkman to the house where Circe used to work.
- Nephew, who is thirteen years old, drives Milkman to a patch of bushes. Milkman is confused. The house is through those bushes, Nephew tells him. The car can’t get him any closer.
- Nephew and Milkman settle on a rendezvous time and place. Milkman enters the macadam (there’s that word again) and has three hours to explore Circe’s old house, the farm, and find the gold.
- Easy as pie. Wrong. First of all this city boy has some major issues making his way through the macadam with his fancy shoes. He forgot to plan for that whole nature thing.
- He arrives at the big disease-eaten house where Circe used to work. And look at us! We’re right back to moment at which we began Chapter Ten. Full circle.
- Milkman knocks on the door of the giant house, just for kicks. No one answers. He turns the doorknob. No such luck. He pushes the giant door. It opens.
- Whoa. Milkman loses his breakfast when he gets a whiff of the mansion’s interior smell. It smells hairy and ripe. Deesgusting.
- But then that ginger smell comes back.
- We’re a little unclear about what happens next, whether it’s a dream or for real. Milkman sees a witch standing at the top of the stairs inside the house. He thinks she’s a witch because she looks like every other witch that used to appear in his dreams as a little boy. Her arms are outstretched for him, and so he goes to her.
- The witch grabs him and hugs him, and Milkman gets an erection.
- Milkman hears a humming sound. Strange. He looks down and sees a pack of golden-eyed dogs. We’re talking lots of dogs. And their hair is nicely groomed, and they have "intelligent" eyes. This place is creepy.
- The witch takes Milkman into a sitting room, and Milkman is trying to figure out who the heck this woman is. Can it be Circe? But if she’s Circe, then she is really, really old. Almost impossibly old. And what’s weirder is that she has the voice of a 20 year-old girl.
- The woman is indeed Circe, and she thinks that Milkman is Macon. And when he tells her who he is, she’s a little disappointed.
- Circe tells him that all of the Butlers (the family who used to live in the mansion) have died, and she’s stayed to take care of the dogs.
- She tells Milkman that she has birthed nearly everyone in the county, only losing his grandmother during Pilate’s birth. His grandmother was Native American, and Milkman nearly pees his pants when Circe tells him that her name was Sing.
- Sing. That’s a word he’s heard before, from Pilate’s stories of her ghostly father.
- Circe tells Milkman that Sing watched over her husband with a nervous, crazy love. Sounds familiar.
- Circe tells him about the cave and recalls that Macon and Pilate’s father’s dead body was dumped in that same cave.
- Detective Milkman corrects her and tells her that Macon actually buried their father by the fish pond. Circe retorts that the grave was too shallow and the body eventually floated up. The locals dumped the decomposing body in the cave.
- Circe gives Milkman directions to the cave.
- Milkman offers to give Circe some money so that she can leave, and asks her why she still stays at the house of the hateful murderers who killed his grandfather.
- She tells him the story of the demise of the Butler family, how they eventually lost all of their wealth, how it devastated the sole heir of the property. Circe watched the last Butler go mad and eventually commit suicide because the family wealth disappeared.
- Circe stays in the house, breeding dogs, letting them roam wild throughout the house, destroying the beautiful things that the Butlers killed for.
- Just as Milkman’s about to head out in search of the cave, he asks Circe if he knows what his grandfather’s real name was.
- Circe tells him she thinks his grandfather’s original name was Jake.
- The city boy then attempts the macadam in search of the cave, following Circe’s directions, but getting soaked in a creek. Each time he rips something or falls into a creek, he realizes he could have taken a better path that would have left him high and dry.
- But Milkman is just too excited to get to the gold. He can smell it, and it smells good.
- Finally, he reaches the cave. But wouldn’t you know, he can’t see a thing. His matches are soaked, so he takes a stick and uses it to guide his way deeper into the cave.
- Eventually, after clawing at a lot of dry bat poop, he finds a shallow pit. His stick hits something hard, and Milkman is thrilled beyond belief. This is the pot. This is it. The making of his life.
- He gets down on his belly and remembers he has a lighter in his pocket. He flicks his lighter and scrapes at the pit. Nothing.
- He scrapes again, feeling for any sign of gold or of little bags. No such luck. Milkman screams and starts to cry a little.
- He’s insanely hungry (because he only ate like a grapefruit that morning), his feet hurt, and what’s more, he has to make his trek back to the road where Nephew dropped him off.
- When he gets to the rendezvous stop, the sun tells him that Nephew has come and gone. The only thing left to do is to walk in the direction of what he thinks is Danville.
- His shoe is coming apart, so he uses his tie to strap it together.
- Eventually, he is able to hitch a ride with a man who happens to be driving by. The man gives him a coke, which Milkman wolfs down, and drops him off near the bus depot.
- Milkman tries to pay him for the ride and the coke, but the man is extremely offended and tells Milkman his name is Fred Garnett and that he can afford to give a stranger a ride and a coke every now and then.
- Milkman is left standing there feeling like a big loser.
- He walks to the bus depot to collect his suitcase, but it’s not there. Ruh-roh. So Milkman just orders six cheeseburgers, and he scarfs them down.
- The freight yard where Reverend Cooper works (because his day job doesn’t pay enough to tide him over) is close to the bus depot. Milkman goes to look for Cooper, as he’s known in the freight yard, but he just misses him.
- While there, a man asks Milkman for help hoisting a big crate onto a dolly. Milkman is exhausted and hurting and has eaten one too many cheeseburgers, but (having learned a few more social skills in the past few days) he decides to help the man anyway.
- Milkman gets on a bus headed to Virginia, deciding that he doesn’t feel like going home just yet, only to return to Guitar’s disappointment and his family’s usual suffocating ways.
- He sleeps on the bus, gets some pea soup at a rest stop, buys toiletries to replace the ones he left at Cooper’s, and considers the complete failure of his attempt to grab the gold.
- But he’s no longer bored by the scenery that rolls by him. In fact, he’s totally intrigued. He knows that the hills and wilderness outside of the bus are real and tough.
- Then Milkman thinks about the pieces of the puzzle he gathered while in Danville. Milkman wonders why Pilate didn’t see two skeletons when she went back to the cave all those years ago.
- He surmises that Pilate returned to the cave twice: once to get the gold, and a second time to get the bones. The gold, he concludes is in Virginia, and now he has an excellent reason for having bought a bus ticket to Virginia (even if he doesn’t have a plan).
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