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“Use all the profanity you want. I’ve heard it all before.”
“I won’t do it.” He closed his eyes.
When he opened them she was holding out a cardboards square with the word NOVRIL printed across the top in bright blue letters. SAMPLE, the red letters just below the trade name read NOT TO BE DISPENSED WITHOUT PHYSICIAN’S PRESCRIPTION. Below the warning were four capsules in blister-packs. He grabbed. She pulled the cardboard out of his reach.
“When you burn it,” she said. “Then I’ll give you the capsules – all four of these, I think – and the pain will go away. You will begin to feel serene again, and when you’ve got hold of yourself, I will change your bedding – I see you’ve wet it, and it must be uncomfortable – and I’ll also change you. By then you will be hungry and I can give you some soup. Perhaps some unbumered toast. But until you burn it, Paul, I can do nothing. I’m sorry.” His tongue wanted to say Yes! Yes, okay! and so he bit it. He rolled away from her again – away from the enticing, maddening cardboard square, the white capsules in their lozenge-shaped transparent blisters. “You’re the devil,” he said.
Again he expected rage and got the indulgent laugh, with its undertones of knowing sadness.
“Oh yes! Yes! That’s what a child thinks when mommy comes into the kitchen and sees him playing with the cleaning fluid from under the sink. He doesn’t say it that way, of course, because he doesn’t have your education. He just says, “Mommy, you’re mean!”” Her hand brushed his hair away from his hot brow. The fingers trailed down his cheek, across the side of his neck, and then squeezed his shoulder briefly, with compbumion, before drawing away.
“The mother feels badly when her child says she’s mean or if he cries for what’s been taken away, as you are crying now. But she knows she’s right, and so she does her duty. As I am doing mine.” Three quick dull thumps as Annie dropped her knuckles on the mbumcript – 190,000 words and five lives that a well and pain-free Paul Sheldon had cared deeply about, 190,000 words and five lives that he was finding more dispensable as each moment pbumed.
The pills. The pills. He had to have the goddam pills. The lives were shadows. The pills were not. They were real.
“No!” he sobbed.
The faint rattle of the capsules in their blisters – silence then the woody shuffle of the matches in their box.
“I’m waiting, Paul.” Oh why in Christ’s name are you doing this bumhole Horatio-at-the-bridge act and who in Christ’s name are you trying to impress? Do you think this is a movie or a TV show and you are getting graded by some audience on your bravery? You can do what she wants or you can hold out. If you hold out you’ll die and then she’ll burn the mbumcript anyway. So what are you going to do, lie here and suffer for a book that would sell half as many copies as the least successful Misery book you ever wrote, and which Peter Prescott would **** upon in his finest genteel disparaging manner when he reviewed it for that great literary oracle, Newsweek? Come on, come on, wise up! Even Galileo recanted when he saw they really meant to go through with it!
“Paul? I’m waiting. I can wait all day. Although I rather suspect that you may go into a coma before too long; I believe you are in a near-comatose state now, and I have had a lot of . . . ” Her voice droned away.
Yes! Give me the matches! Give me a blowtorch! Give me a Baby Huey and a load of napalm! I’ll drop a tactical nuke on it if that’s what you want, you ****ing beldame!
So spoke the opportunist, the survivor. Yet another part, failing now, near-comatose itself, went wailing off into the darkness: A hundred and ninety thousand words! Five lives! Two years” work! And what was the real bottom line: The truth! What you knew about THE ****ING TRUTH!
There was the creak of bedsprings as she stood up.
“Well! You are a very stubborn little boy, I must say, and I can’t sit by your bed all night, as much as I might like to! After all, I’ve been driving for nearly an hour, hurrying to get back here. I’ll drop by in a bit and see if you’ve changed y – ”
“You burn it, then!” he yelled at her.
She turned and looked at him. “No,” she said, “I cannot do that, as much as I would like to and spare you the agony you feel.”
“Because,” she said primly, “you must do it of your own free will.” He began to laugh then, and her face darkened for the first time since she had come back, and she left the room with the mbumcript under her arm.
When she came back an hour later he took the matches.
She laid the title page on the grill. He tried to light one of the Blue Tips and couldn’t because it kept missing the rough strip or falling out of his hand.
So Annie took the box and lit the match and put the lit match in his hand and he touched it to the comer of the paper and then let the match fall into the pot and watched, fascinated, as the flame tasted, then gulped. She had a barbecue fork with her this time, and when the page began to curl up, she poked it through the gaps in the grill.
“This is going to take forever,” he said. “I can’t – ”
“No, we’ll make quick work of it,” she said. “But you must bum a few of the single pages, Paul – as a symbol of your understanding.” She now laid the first page of Fast Cars on the grill, words he remembered writing some twenty-four months ago, in the New York townhouse: ”’I don’t have no wheels,” Tony Bonasaro said, walking up to the girt coming down the steps, “and I am a slow learner, but I am a fast driver.”” Oh it brought that day back like the right Golden Oldie on the radio. He remembered walking around the apartment from room to room, big with book, more than big, gravid, and here were the labor pains. He remembered finding one of Joan’s bras under a sofa cushion earlier in the day, and she had been gone a full three months, showed you what kind of a job the cleaning service did; he remembered hearing New York traffic, and, faintly, the monotonous tolling of a church bell calling the faithful to mbum.
He remembered sitting down.
As always, the blessed relief of starting, a feeling that was like falling into a hole filled with bright light.
As always, the glum knowledge that he would not write as well as he wanted to write.
As always, the terror of not being able to finish, of accelerating into a blank wall.
As always, the marvellous joyful nervy feeling of journey begun.
He looked at Annie Wilkes and said, clearly but not loud: “Annie, please don’t make me do this.” She held the matches immovably before him and said: “You can do as you choose.” So he burned his book.
She made him bum the first page, the last page, and nine pairs of pages from various points in the mbumcript because nine, she said, was a number of power, and nine doubled was lucky. He saw that she had used a magic marker to black out the profanities, at least as far as she had read.
“Now,” she said, when the ninth pair was burned. “You’ve been a good boy and a real sport and I know this hurts you almost as badly as your legs do and I won’t draw it out any longer.” She removed the grill and set the rest of the mbumcript into the pot, crunching down the crispy black curls of the pages he had already burned. The room stank of matches and burned paper. Smells like the devil’s cloakroom, he though deliriously, and if there had been anything in the wrinkle. walnut-shell that had once been his stomach, he supposed he would have vomited it up.
She lit another match and put it in his hand. Somehow he was able to lean over and drop the match into the pot. I didn’t matter anymore. It didn’t matter.
She was nudging him.
Wearily, he opened his eyes.
“It went out.” She scratched another match and put it in his hand.
So he somehow managed to lean over again, awakening rusty handsaws in his legs as he did so, and touched the match to the corner of the pile of mbumcript. This time the flame spread instead of shrinking and dying around the stick.
He leaned back, eyes shut, listening to the crackling sound, feeling the dull, baking heat.
“Goodness!” she cried, alarmed.
He opened his eyes and saw that charred bits of paper were wafting up from the barbecue on the heated air.
Annie lumbered from the room. He heard water from the tub taps thud into the floorpail. He idly watched a dark piece of mbumcript float across the room and land on or of the gauzy curtains. There was a brief spark – he had time to wonder if perhaps the room was going to catch on fire – that winked once and then went out, leaving a tiny hole like a cigarette burn. Ash sifted down on the bed. Some landed on his arms. He didn’t really care, one way or the other.
Annie came back, eyes trying to dart everywhere at once trying to trace the course of each carbonized page as it rose and seesawed. Flames flipped and flickered over the edge the pot.
“Goodness!” she said again, holding the bucket of water and looking around, trying to decide where to throw it or it needed to be thrown at all. Her lips were trembling and wet with spit. As Paul watched, her tongue darted out and slicked them afresh. “Goodness! Goodness!” It seemed to be all she could say.
Even caught in the squeezing vise of his pain, Paul felt an instant of intense pleasure – this was what Annie Wilkes looked like when she was frightened. It was a look he could come to love.
Another page wafted up, this one still running with little tendrils of low blue fire, and that decided her. With another “Goodness!” she carefully poured the bucket of water into the barbecue pot. There was a monstrous hissing and a plume of steam. The smell was wet and awful, charred and yet somehow creamy.
When she left he managed to get up on his elbow one final time. He looked into the barbecue pot and saw something that looked like a charred lump of log floating in a brackish pond.
After awhile, Annie Wilkes came back.
Incredibly, she was humming.
She sat him up and pushed capsules into his mouth.
He swallowed them and lay back, thinking: I’m going to kill her.
“Eat,” she said from far away, and he felt stinging pain. He opened his eyes and saw her sitting beside him – for the first time he was actually on a level with her, facing her. He realized with bleary, distant surprise that for the first time in untold eons he was sitting, too . . . actually sitting up.
Who gives a ****? he thought, and let his eyes slip shut again. The tide was in. The pilings were covered. The tide had finally come in and the next time it went out it might go out forever and so he was going to ride the waves while there were waves left to ride, he could think about sitting up later . . .
“Eat!” she said again, and this was followed by a recurrence of pain. It buzzed against the left side of his head, making him whine and try to pull away.
“Eat, Paul! You’ve got to come out of it enough to eat or . . . ” Zzzzzing! His earlobe. She was pinching it.
“Kay,” he muttered. “Kay! Don’t yank it off, for God’s sake.” He forced his eyes open, Each lid felt as if it had a cement block dangling from it. Immediately the spoon was in his mouth, dumping hot soup down his throat. He swallowed to keep from drowning.
Suddenly, out of nowhere – the most amazing comeback this announcer has ever seen, ladies and gentlemen! – I Got the Hungries came bursting into view. It was as if that first spoonful of soup had awakened his gut from a hypnotic trance. He took the rest as fast as she could spoon it into his mouth, seeming to grow more rather than less hungry as he slurped and swallowed.
He had a vague memory of her wheeling out the sinister, smoking barbecue and then wheeling in something which, in his drugged and fading state, he had thought might be a shopping cart. The idea had caused him to feel neither surprise nor wonder; he was visiting with Annie Wilkes, after all. Barbecues, shopping carts; maybe tomorrow a parking meter or a nuclear warhead. When you lived in the funhouse, the laff riot just never stopped.
He had drifted off, but now he realized that the shopping cart had been a folded-up wheelchair. He was sitting in it, his sprinted legs stuck stiffly out in front of him, his pelvic area feeling uncomfortably swollen and not very happy with the new position.
She put me in it while I was conked out, he thought. Lifted me. Dead weight. Christ she must be strong.
“Finished!” she said. “I’m pleased to see how well you took that soup, Paul. I believe you are going to mend. We will not say “Good as new” – alas, no – but if we don’t have any more of these . . . these contretemps . . . I believe you’ll mend just fine. Now I’m going to change your nasty old bed, and when that’s done I’m going to change nasty old you, and then, if you’re not having too much pain and still feel hungry, I am going to let you have some toast.”
“Thank you, Annie,” he said humbly, and thought: Your throat. If I can, I’ll give you a chance to lick your lips and say “Goodness!” But only once, Annie.
Four hours later he was back in bed and he would have burned all his books for even a single Novril. Sitting hadn’t bothered him a bit while he was doing it – not with enough **** in his bloodstream to have put half the Prussian Army to steep – but now it felt as if a swarm of bees had been loosed in the lower half of his body.
He screamed very loudly – the food must have done something for him, because he could not remember being able to scream so loudly since he had emerged from the dark cloud.
He sensed her standing just outside the bedroom door in the hallway for a long time before she actually came in, immobile, turned off, unplugged, gazing blankly at no more than the doorknob or perhaps the pattern of lines on her own hands.
“Here.” She gave him his medication – two capsules this time.
He swallowed them, holding her wrist to steady the glbum.
“I bought you two presents in town,” she said, getting up.
“Did you?” he croaked.
She pointed at the wheelchair which brooded in the corner with its steel leg-rests stuck stiffly out.
“I’ll show you the other one tomorrow. Now get some sleep, Paul.”
But for a long time no sleep came. He floated on the dope and thought about the situation he was in. It seemed a little easier now. It was easier to think about than the book which he had created and then uncreated.
Things . . . isolated things like pieces of cloth which may be pieced together to make a quilt.
They were miles from the neighbors who, Annie said, didn’t like her. What was the name? Boynton. No, Roydman. That was it. Roydman. And how far from town? Not too far, surely. He was in a circle whose diameter might be as small as fifteen miles, or as large as forty-five. Annie Wilkes’s house was in that circle, and the Roydmans”, and downtown Sidewinder, however pitifully small that might be. . . .
And my car. My Camaro’s somewhere in that circle, too. Did the police find it?
He thought not. He was a well-known person; if a car had been found with tags registered in his name, a little elementary checking would have shown he had been in Boulder and had then dropped out of sight. The discovery of his wrecked and empty car would have prompted a search, stories on the news . . .
She never watches the news on IV, never listens to the radio at all – unless she’s got one with an earplug, or phones.
It was all a little like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story – the one that didn’t bark. His car hadn’t been found because the cops hadn’t come. If it had been found, they would have checked everyone in his hypothetical circle, wouldn’t they?
And just how many people could there be in such a circle, here close to the top of the Western Slope? The Roydmans, Annie Wilkes, maybe ten or twelve others?
And just because it hadn’t been found so far didn’t mean it wouldn’t be found.
His vivid imagination (which he had not gotten from anyone on his mother’s side of the family) now took over. The cop was tall, handsome in a cold way, his sideburns perhaps a bit longer than regulation. He was wearing dark sunglbumes in which the person being questioned would see his own face in duplicate. His voice had a flat Midwestern twang.
We’ve found an overturned car halfway down Humbuggy Mountain which belongs to a famous writer named Paul Sheldon. There’s some blood on the seats and the dashboard, but no sign of him. Must have crawled out, may even have wandered away in a daze – That was a laugh, considering the state of his legs, but of course they would not know what injuries he might have sustained. They would only bumume that, if he was not here, he must have been strong enough to get at least a little way. The course of their deductions was not apt to lead to such an unlikely possibility as kidnapping, at least not at first, and probably never.
Do you remember seeing anyone on the road the day of the storm? Tall man, forty-two years old, sandy hair? Probably wearing blue jeans and a checked flannel shirt and a parka? Might have looked sort of bunged up? Hell, might not even have known who he was?
Annie would give the cop coffee in the kitchen; Annie would be mindful that all the doors between there and the spare bedroom should be closed. In case he should groan.
Why, no, officer – I didn’t see a soul. In fact, I came back from town just as quick as I could chase when Tony Roberts told me that bad old storm wasn’t turning south after all.
The cop, setting down the coffee cup and getting up: Well, if you should see anyone fitting the description, ma’am, I hope you’ll get in touch with us just as fast as you can. He’s quite a famous Person. Been in People magazine. Some other ones, too.
|Posted On: 11/07/2008 5:17PM||View Johnny Mac's Profile | #|