Full dark no stars, p.36
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       Full Dark, No Stars, p.36
 

           Stephen King

  Bob

  He had drawn a little Valentine heart around his name, a thing he hadn't done in years. She felt a wave of love for him, as thick and cloying as the scent of dying flowers. She wanted to wail like some woman in an Old Testament story, and stifled the sound with a napkin. The refrigerator kicked on and began its heartless whir. Water dripped in the sink, plinking away the seconds on the porcelain. Her tongue was a sour sponge crammed into her mouth. She felt time--all the time to come, as his wife in this house--close around her like a straitjacket. Or a coffin. This was the world she had believed in as a child. It had been here all the time. Waiting for her.

  The refrigerator whirred, the water dripped in the sink, and the raw seconds passed. This was the Darker Life, where every truth was written backward.

  - 12 -

  Her husband had coached Little League (also with Vinnie Eschler, that master of Polish jokes and big enveloping manhugs) during the years when Donnie had played shortstop for the Cavendish Hardware team, and Darcy still remembered what Bob said to the boys--many of them weeping--after they'd lost the final game of the District 19 tourney. Back in 1997 that would have been, probably only a month or so before Bob had murdered Stacey Moore and stuffed her into her cornbin. The talk he'd given to that bunch of drooping, sniffling boys had been short, wise, and (she'd thought so then and still did thirteen years later) incredibly kind.

  I know how bad you boys feel, but the sun will still come up tomorrow. And when it does, you'll feel better. When the sun comes up the day after tomorrow, a little better still. This is just a part of your life, and it's over. It would have been better to win, but either way, it's over. Life will go on.

  As hers did, following her ill-starred trip out to the garage for batteries. When Bob came home from work after her first long day at home (she couldn't bear the thought of going out herself, afraid her knowledge must be written on her face in capital letters), he said: "Honey, about last night--"

  "Nothing happened last night. You came home early, that's all."

  He ducked his head in that boyish way he had, and when he raised it again, his face was lit with a large and grateful smile. "That's fine, then," he said. "Case closed?"

  "Closed book."

  He opened his arms. "Give us a kiss, beautiful."

  She did, wondering if he had kissed them.

  Do a good job, really use that educated tongue of yours, and I won't cut you, she could imagine him saying. Put your snooty little heart into it.

  He held her away from him, his hands on her shoulders. "Still friends?"

  "Still friends."

  "Sure?"

  "Yes. I didn't cook anything, and I don't want to go out. Why don't you change into some grubbies and go grab us a pizza."

  "All right."

  "And don't forget to take your Prilosec."

  He beamed at her. "You bet."

  She watched him go bounding up the stairs, thought of saying Don't do that, Bobby, don't test your heart like that.

  But no.

  No.

  Let him test it all he wanted.

  - 13 -

  The sun came up the next day. And the next. A week went by, then two, then a month. They resumed their old ways, the small habits of a long marriage. She brushed her teeth while he was in the shower (usually singing some hit from the eighties in a voice that was on-key but not particularly melodious), although she no longer did it naked, meaning to step into the shower as soon as he'd vacated it; now she showered after he'd left for B, B & A. If he noticed this little change in her modus operandi, he didn't mention it. She resumed her book club, telling the other ladies and the two retired gentlemen who took part that she had been feeling under the weather and didn't want to pass on a virus along with her opinion of the new Barbara Kingsolver, and everyone chuckled politely. A week after that, she resumed the knitting circle, Knuts for Knitting. Sometimes she caught herself singing along with the radio when she came back from the post office or the grocery store. She and Bob watched TV at night--always comedies, never the forensic crime shows. He came home early now; there had been no more road trips since the one to Montpelier. He got something called Skype for his computer, saying he could look at coin collections just as easily that way and save on gas. He didn't say it would also save on temptation, but he didn't have to. She watched the papers to see if Marjorie Duvall's ID showed up, knowing if he had lied about that, he would lie about everything. But it didn't. Once a week they went out to dinner at one of Yarmouth's two inexpensive restaurants. He ordered steak and she ordered fish. He drank iced tea and she had a Cranberry Breeze. Old habits died hard. Often, she thought, they don't die until we do.

  In the daytime, while he was gone, she now rarely turned on the television. It was easier to listen to the refrigerator with it off, and to the small creaks and groans of their nice Yarmouth house as it settled toward another Maine winter. It was easier to think. Easier to face the truth: he would do it again. He would hold off as long as he could, she would gladly give him that much, but sooner or later Beadie would gain the upper hand. He wouldn't send the next woman's ID to the police, thinking that might be enough to fool her, but probably not caring if she saw through the change in MO. Because, he would reason, she's a part of it now. She'd have to admit she knew. The cops would get it out of her even if she tried to hide that part.

  Donnie called from Ohio. The business was going great guns; they had landed an office products account that might go national. Darcy said hooray (and so did Bob, cheerily admitting he'd been wrong about Donnie's chances of making it so young). Petra called to say they had tentatively decided on blue dresses for the bridesmaids, A-line, knee-high, matching chiffon scarves, and did Darcy think that was all right, or would outfits like that look a bit childish? Darcy said she thought they would look sweet, and the two of them went on to a discussion of shoes--blue pumps with three-quarter-inch heels, to be exact. Darcy's mother got sick down in Boca Grande, and it looked like she might have to go into the hospital, but then they started her on some new medication and she got well. The sun came up and the sun went down. The paper jack-o'-lanterns in the store windows went down and paper turkeys went up. Then the Christmas decorations went up. The first snow flurries appeared, right on schedule.

  In her house, after her husband had taken his briefcase and gone to work, Darcy moved through the rooms, pausing to look into the various mirrors. Often for a long time. Asking the woman inside that other world what she should do.

  Increasingly the answer seemed to be that she would do nothing.

  - 14 -

  On an unseasonably warm day two weeks before Christmas, Bob came home in the middle of the afternoon, shouting her name. Darcy was upstairs, reading a book. She tossed it on the night table (beside the hand mirror that had now taken up permanent residence there) and flew down the hall to the landing. Her first thought (horror mixed with relief) was that it was finally over. He had been found out. The police would soon be here. They would take him away, then come back to ask her the two age-old questions: what did she know, and when did she know it? News vans would park on the street. Young men and women with good hair would do stand-ups in front of their house.

  Except that wasn't fear in his voice; she knew it for what it was even before he reached the foot of the stairs and turned his face up to her. It was excitement. Perhaps even jubilation.

  "Bob? What--"

  "You'll never believe it!" His topcoat hung open, his face was flushed all the way to the forehead, and such hair as he still had was blown every which way. It was as if he had driven home with all his car windows open. Given the springlike quality of the air, Darcy supposed he might've.

  She came down cautiously and stood on the first riser, which put them eye-to-eye. "Tell me."

  "The most amazing luck! Really! If I ever needed a sign that I'm on the right track again--that we are--boy, this is it!" He held out his hands. They were closed into fists with the knuckles up. His eyes were sparkling.
Almost dancing. "Which hand? Pick."

  "Bob, I don't want to play g--"

  "Pick!"

  She pointed to his right hand, just to get it over with. He laughed. "You read my mind... but you always could, couldn't you?"

  He turned his fist over and opened it. On his palm lay a single coin, tails-side up, so she could see it was a wheat penny. Not uncirculated by any means, but still in great shape. Assuming there were no scratches on the Lincoln side, she thought it was either F or VF. She reached for it, then paused. He nodded for her to go ahead. She turned it over, quite sure of what she would see. Nothing else could adequately explain his excitement. It was what she expected: a 1955 double-date. A double- die, in numismatic terms.

  "Holy God, Bobby! Where... ? Did you buy it?" An uncirculated '55 double-die had recently sold at an auction in Miami for over eight thousand dollars, setting a new record. This one wasn't in that kind of shape, but no coin dealer with half a brain would have let it go for under four.

  "God no! Some of the other fellows invited me to lunch at that Thai place, Eastern Promises, and I almost went, but I was working the goddarn Vision Associates account--you know, the private bank I told you about?--and so I gave Monica ten bucks and told her to get me a sandwich and a Fruitopia at Subway. She brought it back with the change in the bag. I shook it out... and there it was!" He plucked the penny from her hand and held it over his head, laughing up at it.

  She laughed with him, then thought (as these days she often did): HE DID NOT "SUFFER!"

  "Isn't it great, honey?"

  "Yes," she said. "I'm happy for you." And, odd or not (perverse or not), she really was. He had brokered sales of several over the years and could have bought one for himself any old time, but that wasn't the same as just coming across one. He had even forbidden her to give him one for Christmas or his birthday. The great accidental find was a collector's most joyous moment, he had said so during their first real conversation, and now he had what he had been checking handfuls of change for all his life. His heart's desire had come spilling out of a white sandwich-shop paper bag along with a turkey-bacon wrap.

  He enveloped her in a hug. She hugged him back, then pushed him gently away. "What are you going to do with it, Bobby? Put it in a Lucite cube?"

  This was a tease, and he knew it. He cocked a finger-gun and shot her in the head. Which was all right, because when you were shot with a finger-gun, you did not "suffer."

  She continued to smile at him, but now saw him again (after that brief, loving lapse) for what he was: the Darker Husband. Gollum, with his precious.

  "You know better. I'm going to photo it, hang the photo on the wall, then tuck the penny away in our safe deposit box. What would you say it is, F or VF?"

  She examined it again, then looked at him with a rueful smile. "I'd love to say VF, but--"

  "Yeah, I know, I know--and I shouldn't care. You're not supposed to count the teeth when someone gives you a horse, but it's hard to resist. Better than VG, though, right? Honest opinion, Darce."

  My honest opinion is that you'll do it again.

  "Better than VG, definitely."

  His smile faded. For a moment she was sure he had guessed what she was thinking, but she should have known better; on this side of the mirror, she could keep secrets, too.

  "It's not about the quality, anyway. It's about the finding. Not getting it from a dealer or picking it out of a catalogue, but actually finding one when you least expect it."

  "I know." She smiled. "If my dad was here right now, he'd be cracking a bottle of champagne."

  "I'll take care of that little detail at dinner tonight," he said. "Not in Yarmouth, either. We're going to Portland. Pearl of the Shore. What do you say?"

  "Oh, honey, I don't know--"

  He took her lightly by the shoulders as he always did when he wanted her to understand that he was really serious about a thing. "Come on--it's going to be mild enough tonight for your prettiest summer dress. I heard it on the weather when I was driving back. And I'll buy you all the champagne you can drink. How can you say no to a deal like that?"

  "Well..." She considered. Then smiled. "I guess I can't."

  - 15 -

  They had not just one bottle of very pricey Moet et Chandon but two, and Bob drank most of it. Consequently it was Darcy who drove home in his quietly humming little Prius while Bob sat in the passenger seat, singing "Pennies from Heaven" in his on-key but not particularly melodious voice. He was drunk, she realized. Not just high, but actually drunk. It was the first time she had seen him that way in ten years. Ordinarily he watched his booze intake like a hawk, and sometimes, when someone at a party asked him why he wasn't drinking, he'd quote a line from True Grit : "I would not put a thief in my mouth to steal my mind." Tonight, high on his discovery of the double-date, he had allowed his mind to be stolen, and she knew what she intended to do as soon as he ordered that second bottle of bubbly. In the restaurant, she wasn't sure she could carry it through, but listening to him sing on the way home, she knew. Of course she could do it. She was the Darker Wife now, and the Darker Wife knew that what he thought of as his good luck had really been her own.

  - 16 -

  Inside the house he whirled his sport coat onto the tree by the door and pulled her into his arms for a long kiss. She could taste champagne and sweet creme brulee on his breath. It was not a bad combination, although she knew if things happened as they might, she would never want either again. His hand went to her breast. She let it linger there, feeling him against her, and then pushed him away. He looked disappointed, but brightened when she smiled.

  "I'm going upstairs and getting out of this dress," she said. "There's Perrier in the refrigerator. If you bring me a glass--with a wedge of lime--you might get lucky, mister."

  He broke into a grin at that--his old, well-loved grin. Because there was one long-established habit of marriage they had not resumed since the night he had smelled her discovery (yes, smelled it, just as a wise old wolf may smell a poisoned bait) and come rushing home from Montpelier. Day by day they had walled up what he was--yes, as surely as Montresor had walled up his old pal Fortunato--and sex in the connubial bed would be the last brick.

  He clicked his heels and threw her a British-style salute, fingers to forehead, palm out. "Yes, ma'am."

  "Don't be long," she said pleasantly. "Mama wants what Mama wants."

  Going up the stairs, she thought: This will never work. The only thing you'll succeed in doing is getting yourself killed. He may not think he's capable of it, but I think he is.

  Maybe that would be all right, though. Assuming he didn't hurt her first, as he'd hurt those women. Maybe any sort of resolution would be all right. She couldn't spend the rest of her life looking in mirrors. She wasn't a kid anymore, and couldn't get away with a kid's craziness.

  She went into the bedroom, but only long enough to toss her purse onto the table beside the hand mirror. Then she went out again and called, "Are you coming, Bobby? I could really use those bubbles!"

  "On my way, ma'am, just pouring it over ice!"

  And here he came out of the living room and into the hall, holding one of their good crystal glasses up before him at eye level like a comic-opera waiter, weaving slightly as he crossed to the foot of the stairs. He continued to hold the glass up as he mounted them, the wedge of lime bobbing around on top. His free hand trailed lightly along the banister; his face shone with happiness and good cheer. For a moment she almost weakened, and then the image of Helen and Robert Shaverstone filled her mind, hellishly clear: the son and his molested, mutilated mother floating together in a Massachusetts creek that had begun to grow lacings of ice at its sides.

  "One glass of Perrier for the lady, coming right uh--"

  She saw the knowledge leap into his eyes at the very last second, something old and yellow and ancient. It was more than surprise; it was shocked fury. In that moment her understanding of him was complete. He loved nothing, least of all her. Every kindness, ca
ress, boyish grin, and thoughtful gesture--all were nothing but camouflage. He was a shell. There was nothing inside but howling emptiness.

  She pushed him.

  It was a hard push and he made a three-quarters somersault above the stairs before coming down on them, first on his knees, then on his arm, then full on his face. She heard his arm break. The heavy Waterford glass shattered on one of the uncarpeted risers. He rolled over again and she heard something else inside him snap. He screamed in pain and somersaulted one final time before landing on the hardwood hall floor in a heap, the broken arm (not broken in just one place but in several) cocked back over his head at an angle nature had never intended. His head was twisted, one cheek on the floor.

  Darcy hurried down the stairs. At one point she stepped on an ice cube, slipped, and had to grab the banister to save herself. At the bottom she saw a huge knob now poking out of the skin on the nape of his neck, turning it white, and said: "Don't move, Bob, I think your neck is broken."

  His eye rolled up to look at her. Blood was trickling from his nose--that looked broken, too--and a lot more was coming out of his mouth. Almost gushing out. "You pushed me," he said. "Oh Darcy, why did you push me?"

  "I don't know," she said, thinking we both know. She began to cry. Crying came naturally; he was her husband, and he was badly hurt. "Oh God, I don't know. Something came over me. I'm sorry. Don't move, I'll call 911 and tell them to send an ambulance."

  His foot scraped across the floor. "I'm not paralyzed," he said. "Thank God for that. But it hurts."

  "I know, honey."

  "Call the ambulance! Hurry!"

  She went into the kitchen, spared a brief glance for the phone in its charger-cradle, then opened the cabinet under the sink. "Hello? Hello? Is this 911?" She took out the box of plastic GLAD bags, the storage-size ones she used for the leftovers when they had chicken or roast beef, and pulled one from the box. "This is Darcellen Anderson, I'm calling from 24 Sugar Mill Lane, in Yarmouth! Have you got that?"

 
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