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       Misery, p.30

           Stephen King
Page 30

  His stints at the typewriter grew gradually longer as the pain slowly receded and some of his endurance returned. . . but ultimately he wasn't able to write fast enough to satisfy her demands.

  The gotta which had kept them both alive - and it had, for without it she surely would have murdered both him and herself long since - was also what had caused the loss of his thumb. It was horrible, but also sort of funny. Have a little irony, Paul - it's good for your blood.

  And think how much worse it could have been.

  It could have been his penis, for instance.

  "And I only have one of those," he said, and began to laugh wildly in the empty room in front of the hateful Royal with its gap-toothed grin. He laughed until his gut and stump both ached. Laughed until his mind ached. At some point the laughter turned to horrible dry sobs that awoke pain even in what remained of his left thumb, and when that happened he was finally able to stop. He wondered in a dull sort of way how close he was to going insane.

  Not that it really mattered, he supposed.

  Chapter 2


  One day not long before the thumbectomy - perhaps even less than a week - Annie had come in with two giant dishes of vanilla ice-cream, a can of Hershey's chocolate syrup, a pressure can of Reddi-Whip, and a jar in which maraschino cherries red as heart's blood floated like biology specimens.

  "I thought I'd make us sundaes, Paul," Annie said. Her tone was spuriously jolly. Paul didn't like it. Not her tone of voice, nor the uneasy look in her eyes. I'm being a naughty girl, that look said. It made him wary, put his wind up. It was too easy for him to imagine her looking exactly the same way when she put a heap of clothes on one set of stairs, a dead cat on another.

  "Why, thank you, Annie. " he said, and watched as she poured the syrup and puffed two cumulus clouds of whipped cream out of the pressure can. She performed these chores with the practiced, heavy hand of the long-time sugar junkie.

  "No need for thanks. You deserve it. You've been working so hard. " She gave him his sundae. The sweetness became cloying after the third bite, but he kept on. It was wiser. One of the key rules to survival here on the scenic Western Slope was, to wit, When Annie's treatin, you best be eatin. There was silence for awhile, and then Annie put her spoon down, wiped a mixture of chocolate syrup and melting ice-cream off her chin with the back of her hand, and said pleasantly: "Tell me the rest. " Paul put his own spoon down. "I beg your pardon?"

  "Tell me the rest of the story. I can't wait. I just can't. " And hadn't he known this was coming? Yes. If someone had delivered all twenty reels of the new Rocket Man chapter-play to Annie's house, would she have waited, parcelling out only one a week, or even one a day?

  He looked at the half-demolished avalanche of her sundae, one cherry almost buried in whipped cream, another floating in chocolate syrup. He remembered the way the living room had looked, with sugar-glazed dishes everywhere.

  No. Annie was not the waiting type. Annie would have watched all twenty episodes in one night, even if they gave her eyestrain and a splitting headache.

  Because Annie loved sweet things.

  "I can't do that," he said.

  Her face had darkened at once, but hadn't there been a shadowy relief there, as well? "Oh? Why not?" Because you wouldn't respect me in the morning, he thought of saying, and clamped down on that. Clamped down hard.

  "Because I'm a rotten story-teller," he answered instead.

  She slurped up the remainder of her sundae in five huge spoonfuls that would have left Paul's throat gray with frostbite. Then she set her dish down and looked at him angrily, not as if he were the great Paul Sheldon but as if he were someone who had presumed to criticize the great Paul Sheldon.

  "If you're such a rotten story-teller, how come you have best-sellers and millions of people love the books you write?"

  "I didn't say I was a rotten story-writer. I actually happen to think I'm pretty good at that. But as a story-teller, I'm the pits. "

  "You're just making up a big cockadoodie excuse. " Her face was darkening. Her hands were clenched into shiny fists on the heavy material of her skirt. Hurricane Annie was back in the room. Everything that went around came around. Except things no longer had been quite the same, had they? He was as scared of her as ever, but her hold over him had nonetheless diminished. His life no longer seemed like such a big deal, gotta or no gotta. He was only afraid she would hurt him.

  "It's not an excuse," he had replied. "The two things are like apples and oranges, Annie. People who tell stories usually can't write stories. If you really think people who can write stories can talk worth a damn, you never watched some poor slob of a novelist fumbling his way through an interview on the Today show. "

  "Well, I don't want to wait," she sulked. "I made you that nice sundae and the least you could do is tell me a few things. It doesn't have to exactly be the whole story, I guess, but. . . did the Baron kill Calthorpe?" Her eyes sparkled. "That's one thing I really want to know. And what did he do with the body if he did? Is it all cut up in that trunk his wife won't let out of her sight? That's what I think. " Paul shook his head - not to indicate she had it wrong but to indicate he would not tell.

  She became even blacker. Yet her voice was soft. "You're making me very angry - you know that, don't you, Paul?"

  "Of course I know it. But I can't help it. "

  "I could make you. I could make you help it. I could make you tell. " But she looked frustrated, as if knowing that she could not. She could make him say some things, but she could not make him tell.

  "Annie, do you remember telling me what a little kid says to his mother when she catches him playing with the cleaning fluid under the sink and makes him stop? Mommy, you're mean! Isn't that what you're saying now? Paul, you're mean!"

  "If you make me much madder, I don't promise to be responsible," she said, but he sensed the crisis was already past - she was strangely vulnerable to these concepts of discipline and behavior.

  "Well, I'll have to chance that," he said, "because I'm just like that mother - I'm not saying no to be mean, or to spite you - I'm saying no because I really want you to like the story. . . and if I give you what you want, you won't like it, and you won't want it anymore. " And then what will happen to me, Annie? he thought but did not say.

  "At least tell me if that nigger Hezekiah really does know where Misery's father is! At least tell me that!"

  "Do you want the novel, or do you want me to fill out a questionnaire?"

  "Don't you take that sarcastic tone to me!"

  "Then don't you pretend you don't understand what I'm saying!" he shouted back. She recoiled from him in surprise and unease, the last of that blackness going out of her face, and all that was left was that weird little-girl look, that I've-been-naughty look. "You want to cut open the golden goose! That's what it comes down to! But when the farmer in the story finally did that, all he had was a dead goose and a bunch of worthless guts!"

  "All right," she said. "All right, Paul. Are you going to finish your sundae?"

  "I can't eat any more," he said.

  "I see. I've upset you. I'm sorry. I expect that you're right. I was wrong to ask. " She was perfectly calm again. He had half-expected another period of deep depression or rage to follow, but none had. They had simply gone back to the old routine, Paul writing, Annie reading each day's output, and enough time had passed between the argument and the thumbectomy that Paul had missed the connection. Until now.

  I bitched about the typewriter, he thought, looking at it now and listening to the drone of the mower. It sounded fainter now, and he was marginally aware that wasn't because Annie was moving away but because he was. He was drowsing off. He did that a lot now, simply drowsed off like some old fart in a nursing home.

  Not a lot; I only bitched about it that once. But once was enough, wasn't it? More than enough. That was - what? - a week after she brought those oogy sundaes? Just ab
out that. Just one week and one bitch. About how the clunk of that dead key was driving me crazy. I didn't even suggest she get another used typewriter from Nancy Whoremonger or whoever that woman was, one with all its keys intact. I just said those clunks are driving me crazy, and then, in almost no time at all, presto chango, when it comes to Paul's left thumb, now you see it and now you don't. Except she didn't really do it because I bitched about the typewriter, did she? She did it because I told her no and she had to accept that. It was an act of rage. The rage was the result of realization. What realization? Why, that she didn't hold all the cards after all - that I had a certain passive hold over her. The power of the gotta. I turned out to be a pretty passable Scheherazade after all.

  It was crazy. It was funny. It was also real. Millions might scoff, but only because they failed to realize how pervasive the influence of art - even of such a degenerate sort as popular fiction - could become. Housewives arranged their schedules around the afternoon soaps. If they went back into the workplace, they made buying a VCR a top priority so they could watch those same soap operas at night. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, all of Victorian England rose as one and demanded him back. The tone of their protests had been Annie's exactly - not bereavement but outrage. Doyle was berated by his own mother when he wrote and told her of his intention to do away with Holmes. Her indignant reply had come by return mail: "Kill that nice Mr Holmes? Foolishness! Don't you dare!" Or there was the case of his friend Gary Ruddman, who worked for the Boulder Public Library. When Paul had dropped over to see him one day, he had found Gary's shades drawn and a black crepe fluff on the door. Concerned, Paul had knocked hard until Gary answered. Go away, Gary had told him. I'm feeling depressed today. Someone died. Someone important to me. When Paul asked who, Gary had responded tiredly: Van der Valk. Paul had heard him walk away from the door, and although he knocked again, Gary had not come back. Van der Valk, it turned out, was a fictional detective created - and then uncreated - by a writer named Nicolas Freeling.

  Paul had been convinced Gary's reaction had been more than false; he thought it had been pretentiously arty. In short, a pose. He continued to feel this way until 1983, when he read The World According to Garp. He made the mistake of reading the scene where Garp's younger son dies, impaled on a gearshift]ever, shortly before bed. It was hours before he slept. The scene would not leave his mind. The thought that grieving for a fictional character was absurd did more than cross his mind during his tossings and turnings. For grieving was exactly what he was doing, of course. The realization had not helped, however, and this had caused him to wonder if perhaps Gary Ruddman hadn't been a lot more serious about Van der Valk than Paul had given him credit for at the time. And this had caused another memory to resurface: finishing William Golding's Lord of the Flies at the age of twelve on a hot summer day, going to the refrigerator for a cold glass of lemonade. . . and then suddenly changing direction and speeding up from an amble to an all-out bolt which had ended in the bathroom. There he had leaned over the toilet and vomited.

  Paul suddenly remembered other examples of this odd mania: the way people had mobbed the Baltimore docks each month when the packet bearing the new installment of Mr Dickens's Little Dorrit or Oliver Twist was due (some had drowned, but this did not discourage the others); the old woman of a hundred and five who had declared she would five until Mr Galsworthy finished The Forsyte Saga - and who had died less than an hour after having the final page of the final volume read to her; the young mountain climber hospitalized with a supposedly fatal case of hypothermia whose friends had read The Lord of the Rings to him nonstop, around the clock, until he came out of his coma; hundred s of other such incidents.

  Every "best-selling" writer of fiction would, he supposed, have his own personal example or examples of radical reader involvement with the make-believe worlds the writer creates. . . examples of the Scheherazade complex, Paul thought now, half-dreaming as the sound of Annie's mower ebbed and flowed at some great echoing distance. He remembered getting two letters suggesting Misery theme parks, on the order of Disney World or Great Adventure. One of these letters had included a crude blueprint. But the blue-ribbon winner (at least until Annie Wilkes had entered his life) had been Mrs Roman D. Sandpiper III, of Ink Beach, Florida. Mrs Roman D. Sandpiper, whose given name was Virginia, had turned an upstairs room of her home into Misery's Parlor. She included Polaroids of Misery's Spinning Wheel, Misery's Escritoire (complete with a half-completed bread-and-butter note to Mr Faverey, saying she would be in attendance at the School Hall Recitation on 20th Nov. inst. - done in what Paul thought was an eerily apt hand for his heroine, not a round and flowing ladies" script but a half-feminine copperplate), Misery's Couch, Misery's Sampler (Let Love Instruct You; Do Not Presume to Instruct Love), etc. , etc. The furnishings, Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper's letter said, were all genuine, not reproductions and while Paul could not tell for sure, he guessed that it was the truth. If so, this expensive bit of make-believe must have cost Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper thousands of dollars. Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper hastened to assure him that she was not using his character to make money, nor did she have any plans in that direction - heaven forbid! - but she did want him to see the pictures, and to tell her what she had wrong (which, she was sure, must be a great deal). Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper also hoped for his opinion. Looking at those pictures had given him a feeling which was strange yet eerily intangible - it had been like looking at photographs of his own imagination, and he knew that from that moment on, whenever he tried to imagine Misery's little combination parlor and study, Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper's Polaroids would leap immediately into his mind, obscuring imagination with their cheery but one-dimensional concreteness. Tell her what was wrong? That was madness. From now on he would be the one to wonder about that. He had written back, a brief note of congratulations and admiration - a note which hinted not at all at certain questions concerning Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper which had crossed his mind: how tightly wrapped was she? for instance - and had received another letter in return, with a fresh slew of Polaroids. Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper's first communication had consisted of a two-page handwritten letter and seven Polaroids. This second consisted of a ten-page handwritten letter and forty Polaroids. The letter was an exhaustive (and ultimately exhausting) manual of where Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper had found each piece, how much she had paid, and the restoration processes involved. Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper told him that she had found a man named McKibbon who owned an old squirrel-rifle, and had gotten him to put the bullet-hole in the wall by the chair while she could not swear to the historical accuracy of the gun, Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper admitted, she knew the caliber was right. The pictures were mostly close detail shots. But for the handwritten captions on the backs, they could have been photos in one of those WHAT IS THIS PICTURE? features in puzzle magazines, where maxiphotography makes the straight-arm of a paper-clip took like a pylon and the pop-top of a beer-can like a Picasso sculpture. Paul had not answered this letter, but that had not deterred Mrs Roman D. ("Virginia") Sandpiper, who had sent five more (the first four with additional Polaroids) before finally lapsing into puzzled, slightly hurt silence.

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