Misery, p.21
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       Misery, p.21

           Stephen King
 
Page 21

  This was one of those occasions. When she still hadn't returned to put him in his chair by eleven that morning, he determined to get into it himself. Getting the typewriter off the mantel would be beyond him, but he could write longhand. He was sure he could hoist himself into the chair, knew it was probably a bad idea to let Annie know he could, but he needed his other fix, goddammit, and he could not write lying here in bed.

  He worked himself over to the edge of the bed, made sure the wheelchair brake was on, then grasped its arms and pulled himself slowly into the seat. Pulling his legs up onto the supports one at a time was the only part that hurt. He rolled himself over to the window and picked up his manuscript.

  The key rattled in the lock. Annie was looking in at him, her eyes burned black holes in her face. Her right cheek was swelling up, and it looked like she was going to have a hell of a shiner in the morning. There was red stuff around her mouth and on her chin. For a moment Paul thought it was more blood from her torn lip and then he saw the seeds in it. It was raspberry jam or raspberry filling, not blood. She looked at him. Paul looked back. Neither said anything for a time. Outside, the first drops of rain splatted against the window.

  "If you can get into that chair all by yourself, Paul," she said at last, "then I think you can fill in your own fucking n's. " She then closed the door and locked it again. Paul sat looking at it for a long time, almost as if there were something to see. He was too flabbergasted to do anything else.

  15

  He didn't see her again until late afternoon. After her visit, work was impossible. He made a couple of futile tries, wadded up the paper, and gave up. It was a bust. He rolled himself back across the room. In the process of getting out of the chair and into bed, one of his hands slipped and he came within an ace of falling. He brought his left leg down, and although it took his weight and saved him the fall, the pain was excruciating - it felt as if a dozen bolts had suddenly been driven into the bone. He screamed, scrabbled for the headboard, and pulled himself safely over onto the bed, his throbbing left leg trailing behind the rest of him.

  That will bring her, he thought incoherently. She'll want to see if Sheldon really turned into Luciano Pavarotti, or if it just sounds that way.

  But she didn't come and there was no way he could bear the rotted ache in his left leg. He rolled clumsily onto his stomach burrowed one arm deep under the mattress, and brought out one of the Novril sample cards. He dry-swallowed two, then drifted for awhile.

  When he came back he thought at first he must still be dreaming. It was just too surreal, like the night when she had rolled the barbecue pot in here. Annie was sitting on the side of his bed. She had set a water glass filled with Novril capsules on his bed-table. In her other hand she had a Victor rat-trap. There was a rat in it, too - a large one with mottled gray-brown fur. The trap had broken the rat's back. Its rear feet hung over the sides of the trap's board, twitching randomly. There were beads of blood in its whiskers.

  This was no dream. Just another day lost in the funhouse with Annie.

  Her breath smelled like a corpse decomposing in rotted food.

  "Annie?" He straightened up, eyes moving between her and the rat. Outside it was dusk - a strange blue dusk filled with rain. It sheeted against the window. Strong gusts of wind shook the house, making it creak.

  Whatever had been wrong with her this morning was worse tonight. Much worse. He realized he was seeing her with all her masks put aside - this was the real Annie, the inside Annie. The flesh of her face, which had previously seemed so fearsomely solid, now hung like lifeless dough. Her eyes were blanks. She had dressed, but her skirt was on inside out. There were more weals on her flesh, more food splattered on her clothes. When she moved, they exhaled too many different aromas for Paul to count. Nearly one whole arm of her cardigan sweater was soaked with a half-dried substance that smelled like gravy.

  She held up the trap. "They come into the cellar when it rains. " The pinned rat squeaked feebly, and snapped at the air. Its black eyes, infinitely more lively than those of its captor, rolled. "I put down traps. I have to. I smear the trip-plates with bacon grease. I always catch eight or nine. Sometimes I find others - " She blanked then. Blanked for nearly three minutes, holding the rat in the air, a perfect case of waxy catatonia. Paul stared at her, stared at the rat as it squeaked and struggled, and realized that he had actually believed that things could get no worse. Untrue. Un-fucking true.

  At last, as he had begun to think she had just sailed off into oblivion forever with no fuss or fanfare, she lowered the trap and went on as if she had never stopped speaking.

  " - drowned in the corners. Poor things. " She looked down at the rat and a tear fell onto its matted fur.

  "Poor poor things. " She closed one of her strong hands around the rat and pulled back the spring with the other. It lashed in her hand, head twisting as it tried to bite her. Its squeals were thin and terrible. Paul pressed the heel of a palm against his wincing mouth.

  "How its heart beats! How it struggles to get away! As we do, Paul. As we do. We think we know so much, but we really don't know any more than a rat in a trap - a rat with a broken back that thinks it still wants to live. " The hand holding the rat became a fist. Her eyes never lost that blank, distant cast. Paul wanted to look away and could not. Tendons began to stand out on her inner arm. Blood ran from the rat's mouth in an abrupt thin stream. Paul heard its bones break, and then the thick pads of her fingers punched into its body, disappearing up to the first knuckle. Blood pattered on the floor. The creature's dulling eyes bulged.

  She tossed the body into the corner and wiped her hand indifferently on the sheet, leaving long red smears.

  "Now it's at peace. " She shrugged, then laughed. "I'll get my gun, Paul, shall I? Maybe the next world is better. For rats and people both - not that there's much difference between the two. "

  "Not until I finish," he said, trying to enunciate each word carefully. This was difficult, because he felt as if someone had shot his mouth full of Novocain. He had seen her low before, but he'd seen nothing like this; he wondered if she'd ever had a low as low as this before. This was how depressives got just before shooting all the members of their families, themselves last; it was the psychotic despair of the woman who dresses her children in their best, takes them out for ice-cream, walks them down to the nearest bridge, lifts one into the crook of each arm, and jumps over the side. Depressives kill themselves. Psychotics, rocked in the poison cradles of their own egos, want to do everyone handy a favor and take them along.

  I'm closer to death than I've ever been in my life, he thought, because she means it. The bitch means it.

  "Misery?" she asked, almost as if she had never heard the word before - but there had been a momentary fugitive sparkle in her eyes, hadn't there? He thought so.

  "Misery, yes. " He thought desperately about how he should go on. Every possible approach seemed mined. "I agree that the world is a pretty crappy place most of the time," he said, and then added inanely: "Especially when it rains. " Oh, you idiot, stop babbling!

  "I mean, I've been in a lot of pain these last few weeks, and - "

  "Pain?" She looked at him with sallow, sunken contempt. "You don't know what pain is. You don't have the slightest idea, Paul. "

  "No. . . I suppose not. Not compared to you. "

  "That's right. "

  "But - I want to finish this book. I want to see how it all turns out. " He paused. "And I'd like you to stick around and see, too. A person might as well not write a book at all, if there's no one around to read it. Do you get me?" He lay there looking at that terrible stone face, heart thumping.

  "Annie? Do you get me?"

  "Yes. . . " She sighed. "I do want to know how it comes out. That's the only thing left in the world that I still want, I suppose. " Slowly, apparently unaware of what she was doing, she began to suck the rat's blood from her fingers. Paul jammed his teeth together
and grimly told himself he" would not vomit, would not, would not. "It's like waiting for the end of one of those chapter-plays. " She looked around suddenly, the blood on her mouth like lipstick.

  "Let me offer again, Paul. I can get my gun. I can end all of this for both of us. You are not a stupid man. You know I can never let you leave here. You've known that for some time, haven't you?" Don't let your eyes waver. If she sees your eyes waver, she'll; kill you right now.

  "Yes. But it always ends, doesn't it, Annie? In the end we all swing. " A ghost of a smile at the corners of her mouth; she touched his face briefly, with some affection.

  "I suppose you think of escape. So does a rat in a trap, I'm sure, in its way. But you're not going to, Paul. You might if this was one of your stories, but it's not. I can't let you leave here. . . but I could go with you. " And suddenly, for just a moment, he thought of saying: All right, Annie - go ahead. Let's just call it off. Then his need and will to live - and there was still quite a lot of each in him - rose up and clamored the momentary weakness away. Weakness was what it was. Weakness and cowardice. Fortunately or unfortunately, he did not have the crutch of mental illness to fall back on.

  "Thank you," he said, "but I want to finish what I've started. " She sighed and stood up. "All right. I suppose I must have known you would, because I see I brought you some pills, although I don't remember doing it. " She laughed - a small crazy titter which seemed to come from that slack face as if by ventriloquism. "I'll have to go away for awhile. If I don't, what you or I want won't matter. Because I do things. I have a place I go when I feel like this. A place in the hills. Did you ever read the Uncle Remus stories, Paul?" He nodded.

  "Do you remember Brer Rabbit telling Brer Fox about his Laughing Place?"

  "Yes. "

  "That's what I call my place upcountry. My Laughing Place. Remember how I said I was coming back from Sidewinder when I found you?" He nodded.

  "Well, that was a fib. I fibbed because I didn't know you well then. I was really coming back from my Laughing Place. It has a sign over the door that says that. ANNIE'S LAUGHING PLACE, it says. Sometimes I do laugh when I go there.

  "But mostly I just scream. "

  "How long will you be gone, Annie?" She was drifting dreamily toward the door now. "I can't tell. I've brought you pills. You'll be all right. Take two every six hours. Or six every four hours. Or all of them at once. " But what will I eat? he wanted to ask her, and didn't. He didn't want her attention to return to him - not at all. He wanted her gone. Being here with her was like being with the Angel of Death.

  He lay stiffly in his bed for a long time, listening to her, movements, first upstairs, then on the stairs, then in the" kitchen, fully expecting her to change her mind and come back with the gun after all. He did not even relax when he heard the side door slam and lock, followed by splashing steps outside. The gun could just as easily be in the Cherokee.

  Old Bessie's motor whirred and caught. Annie gunned it fiercely. A fan of headlights came on, illuminating a shining silver curtain of rain. The lights began to retreat down the driveway. They swung around, dimming, and then Annie was gone. This time she was not heading downhill, toward Sidewinder, but up into the high country.

  "Going to her Laughing Place," Paul croaked, and began to laugh himself. She had hers; he was already in his. The wild gales of mirth ended when he looked at the mangled body of the rat in the corner.

  A thought struck him.

  "Who said she didn't leave me anything to eat" he asked the room, and laughed even harder. In the empty house" Paul Sheldon's Laughing Place sounded like the padded cell of a madman.

  16

  Two hours later, Paul jimmied the bedroom's lock again and for the second time forced the wheelchair through the doorway that was almost too small. For the last time, he hoped. He had a pair of blankets in his lap. All the pills he had cached under the mattress were wrapped in a Kleenex tucked into his underwear. He meant to get out if he could rain or no rain; this was his chance and this time he meant to take it. Sidewinder was downhill and the road would be slippery in the rain and it was darker than a mineshaft; he meant to try it all the same. He hadn't lived the life of a hero or a saint, but he did not intend to die like an exotic bird in a zoo.

  He vaguely remembered an evening he'd spent drinking Scotch with a gloomy playwright named Bernstein at the Lion's Head, down in the Village (and if he lived to see the Village again he would get down on whatever remained of his knees and kiss the grimy sidewalk of Christopher Street). At some point the conversation had turned to the Jews living in Germany during the uneasy four or five years before the Wehrmacht rolled into Poland and the festivities began in earnest. Paul remembered telling Bernstein, who had lost an aunt and a grandfather in the Holocaust, that he didn't understand why the Jews in Germany - hell, all over Europe but especially in Germany - hadn't gotten out while there was still time. They were not, by and large, stupid people, and many had had first-hand experience of such persecution. Surely they had seen what was coming. So why had they stayed?

  Bernstein's answer had struck him as frivolous and cruel and incomprehensible: Most of them had pianos. We Jews are very partial to the piano. When you own a piano, it's harder to think about moving.

  Now he understood. Yes. At first it was his broken legs, and crushed pelvis. Then, God help him, the book had taken off. In a crazy way he was even having fun with it. It would be easy - too easy - to blame everything on his broken bones, or the dope, when in fact so much of it had been the book. That and the droning passage of days with their simple convalescent pattern. Those things - but mostly the stupid goddam book - had been his piano. What would she do if he was gone when she came back from her Laughing Place? Burn the manuscript?

  "I don't give a fuck," he said, and this was almost the truth. If he lived, he could write another book - re-create this one, even, if he wanted to. But a dead man couldn't write a book any more than he could buy a new piano.

  He went into the parlor. It had been tidy before, but now there were dirty dishes stacked on every available surface; it looked to Paul as if every one in the house must be here. Annie apparently not only pinched and slapped herself when she was feeling depressed. It looked like she really chowed down as well, and never mind cleaning up after. He half-remembered the stinking wind that had blown down his throat during his time in the cloud and felt his stomach, clench. Most of the remains were of sweet things. Ice-cream had dried or was drying in many of the bowls and soup dishes. There were crumbs of cake and smears of pie on the plates. A mound of lime Jell-O covered with a crack-glaze of dried whipped cream stood on top of the TV next to a two-liter plastic bottle of Pepsi and a gravy-boat. The Pepsi bottle looked almost as big as the nosecone of a Titan-II rocket. Its surface was dull and smeary, almost opaque. He guessed she had drunk directly from it, and that her fingers had been covered with gravy or ice-cream when she did it. He had not heard the clink of silverware and that was not surprising because there was none here. Dishes and: bowls and plate, but no cutlery. He saw drying drips and splashes - again, mostly of ice-cream - on the rug and couch.

 
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