Misery, p.9
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       Misery, p.9

           Stephen King
 
Page 9

  She set the tray of food down on the bureau, then rolled the wheelchair over to the bed. She helped him to sit up - there was a dull, thudding flare of pain in his pelvic area but it subsided - and then she leaned over, the side of her neck pressing against his shoulder like the neck of a horse. For an instant he could feel the thump of her pulse, and his face twisted in revulsion. Then her right arm was firmly around his back, her left under his buttocks.

  "Try not to move from the knees down while I do this," she said, and then simply slid him into the chair. She did it with the ease of a woman sliding a book into an empty slot in her bookcase. Yes, she was strong. Even in good shape the outcome of a fight between him and Annie would have been in doubt. As he was now it would be like Wally Cox taking on Boom Boom Mancini.

  She put the board in front of him, "See how well it fits?" she said, and went to the bureau to get the food.

  "Annie?"

  "Yes. "

  "I wonder if you could turn that typewriter around. So it faces the wall. " She frowned. "Why in the world would you want me to do that?" Because I don't want it grinning at me all night.

  "Old superstition of mine," he said. "I always turn my typewriter to the wall before I start writing. " He paused and added: "Every night while I am writing, as a matter of fact. "

  "It's like step on a crack, break your mother's back," she said. "I never step on a crack if I can help it. " She turned it around so it grinned at nothing but blank wall. "Better?"

  "Much. "

  "You are such a silly," she said, and came over and began to feed him.

  26

  He dreamed of Annie Wilkes in the court of some fabulous Arabian caliph, conjuring imps and genies from bottles and then flying around the court on a magic carpet. When the carpet banked past him (her hair streamed out behind her; her eyes were as bright and flinty as the eyes of a sea-captain navigating among icebergs), he saw it was woven all in green and white; it made a Colorado license plate.

  Once upon a time, Annie was calling. Once upon a time it came to pass. This happened in the days when my grandfather's grandfather was a boy. This is the story of how a poor boy. I heard this from a man who. Once upon a time. Once upon a time.

  27

  When he woke up Annie was shaking him and bright morning sun was slanting in the window - the snow had ended.

  "Wake up, sleepyhead!" Annie was almost trilling. "I've got yogurt and a nice boiled egg for you, and then it will be time for you to begin. " He looked at her eager face and felt a strange new emotion - hope. He had dreamed that Annie Wilkes was Scheherazade, her solid body clad in diaphanous robes, her big feet stuffed into pink sequined slippers with curly toes as she rode on her magic carpet and chanted the incantatory phrases which open the doors of the best stories. But of course it wasn't Annie that was Scheherazade. He was. And if what he wrote was good enough, if she could not bear to kill him until she discovered how it all came out no matter how much or how loudly her animal instincts yelled for her to do it, that she must do it. . .

  Might he not have a chance?

  He looked past her and saw she had turned the typewriter around before waking him; it grinned resplendently at him with its missing tooth, telling him it was all right to hope and noble to strive, but in the end it was doom alone which would count.

  28

  She rolled him over to the window so the sun fell on him for the first time in weeks, and it seemed to him he could feel his pasty-white skin, dotted here and there with minor bedsores, murmur its pleasure and thanks. The windowpanes were edged on the inside with a tracery of frost, and when he held out his hand he could feel a bubble of cold like a dome around the window. The feel of it was both refreshing and somehow nostalgic, like a note from an old friend.

  For the first time in weeks - it felt like years - he was able to look at a geography different from that of his room with its unchanging verities - blue wallpaper, picture of the Arc de Triomphe, the long, long month of February symbolized by the boy sliding downhill on his sled (he thought that his mind would turn to that boy's face and stocking cap each time January became February, even if he lived to see that change of months another fifty times). He looked into this new world as eagerly as he had watched his first movie Bambi - as a child.

  The horizon was near; it always was in the Rockies, where longer views of the world were inevitably cut off by uptilted plates of bedrock. The sky was a perfect early-morning blue, innocent of clouds. A carpet of green forest climbed the flank of the nearest mountain. There were perhaps seventy acres of open ground between the house and the edge of the forest - the snow-cover over it was a perfect and blazing white. It was impossible to tell if the land beneath was tilled earth or open meadow. The view of this open square was interrupted by only one building: a neat red barn. When she spoke of her livestock or when he saw her trudging grimly past his window, breaking her breath with the impervious prow of her face, he had imagined a ramshackle outbuilding like an illustration from a child's book of ghost stories - rooftree bowed and sagging from years of snowweight, windows blank and dusty, some broken and blocked with pieces of cardboard, long double doors perhaps off their tracks and swaying outward. This neat and tidy structure with its dark-red paint and neat cream-colored trim looked like the five-car garage of a well-to-do country squire masquerading as a barn. In front of it stood a jeep Cherokee, maybe five years old but obviously well cared for. To one side stood a Fisher plow in a home-made wooden cradle. To attach the plow to the Jeep, she would only need to drive the Jeep carefully up to the cradle so that the hooks on the frame matched the catches on the plow, and throw the locking lever on the dashboard. The perfect vehicle for a woman who lived alone and had no neighbor she could call upon for help (except for those dirty-birdie Roydmans, of course, and Annie probably wouldn't take a plate of pork chops from them if she was dying of starvation). The driveway was neatly plowed, a testament to the fact that she did indeed use the blade, but he could not see the road - the house cut off the view.

  "I see you're admiring my barn, Paul. " He looked around, startled. The quick and uncalculated movement awoke his pain from its doze. It snarled dully in what remained of his shins and in the bunched salt-dome that had replaced his left knee. It turned over, needling him from where it lay imprisoned in its cave of bones, and then fell lightly asleep again.

  She had food on a tray. Soft food, invalid food. . . but his stomach growled at the sight of it. As she crossed to him he saw that she was wearing white shoes with crepe soles.

  "Yes," he said. "It's very handsome. " She put the board on the arms of the wheelchair and then put the tray on the board. She pulled a chair over beside him and sat down, watching him as he began to eat.

  "Fiddle-de-foof! Handsome is as handsome does, my mother always said. I keep it nice because if I didn't, the neighbors would yap. They are always looking for a way to get at me, or start a rumor about me. So I keep everything nice. Keeping up appearances is very, very important. As far as the barn goes, it really isn't much work, as long as you don't let things pile up. Keeping the snow from breaking in the roof is the oogiest part. " The oogiest part, he thought. Save that one for the Annie Wilkes lexicon in your memoirs - if you ever get a chance to write your memoirs, that is. Along with dirty birdie and fiddle-de-foof and all the others which I'm sure will come up in time.

  "Two years ago I had Billy Haversham put heat-tapes in the roof. You throw a switch and they get hot and melt the ice. I won't need them much longer this winter, though see how it's melting on its own?" He had a forkful of egg halfway to his mouth. It stopped in midair as he looked out at the barn. There was a row of icicles along the cave. The tips of these icicles were dripping - dripping fast. Each drop sparkled as it fell onto a narrow canal of ice which lay at the base of the barn's side.

  "It's up to forty-five degrees and it's not even nine o'clock!" Annie was going on gaily as Paul imagined the rear bumper of his Camaro sur
facing through the rotted snow for the sun to twinkle on. "Of course it won't last - we've got a hard snap or three ahead of us yet, and probably another big storm as well - but spring is coming, Paul, and my mother always used to say that the hope of spring is like the hope of heaven. " He put his fork back down on the plate with the egg still on it.

  "Don't want that last bite? All done?"

  "All done," he agreed, and in his mind he saw the Roydmans driving up from Sidewinder, saw a bright arrow of light strike Mrs Roydman's face, making her wince and put a shielding hand up - What's down there, Ham?. . . Don't tell me I'm crazy, there's something down there! Reflection damn near burned m'eye out! Back up, I want to take another look.

  "Then I'll just take the tray," she said, "and you can get started. " She favored him with a glance that was very warm. "I just can't tell you how excited I am, Paul. " She went out, leaving him to sit in the wheelchair and look at the water running from the icicles which clung to the edge of the barn.

  Chapter 6

  29

  "I'd like some different paper, if you could get it," he said when she came back to put the typewriter and paper on the board.

  "Different from this?" she asked, tapping the cellophane-wrapped package of Corrasable Bond. "But this is the most expensive of all! I asked when I went into the Paper Patch!"

  "Didn't your mother ever tell you that the most expensive is not always the best?" Annie's brow darkened. Her initial defensiveness had been replaced by indignation. Paul guessed her fury would follow.

  "No, she did not. What she told me, Mister Smart Guy, is that when you buy cheap, you get cheap. " The climate inside her, he had come to discover, was like springtime in the Midwest. She was a woman full of tornadoes waiting to happen, and if he had been a farmer observing a sky which looked the way Annie's face looked right now, he would have at once gone to collect his family and herd them into the storm cellar. Her brow was too white. Her nostrils flared regularly, like the nostrils of an animal scenting fire. Her hands had begun to spring limberly open and then snatch closed again, catching air and squashing it.

  His need for her and his vulnerability to her screamed at him to back off, to placate her while there was still time if indeed there still was - as a tribe in one of -those Rider Haggard stories would have placated their goddess when she was angry, by making sacrifice to her effigy.

  But there was another part of him, more calculating and less cowed, which reminded him that he could not play the part of Scheherazade if he grew frightened and placatory whenever she stormed. If he did, she would storm all the more. If you didn't have something she badly wants, this part of him reasoned, she would have taken you to the hospital right away or killed you later on to protect herself from the Roydmans - because for Annie the world is full of Roydmans, for Annie they're lurking behind every bush. And if you don't bell this bitch right now, Paulie my boy, you may never be able to.

  She was beginning to breathe more rapidly, almost to hyperventilate; the rhythm of her clenching hands was likewise speeding up, and he knew that in a moment she would be beyond him.

  Gathering up the little courage he had left, trying desperately to summon exactly the right note of sharp and yet almost casual irritability, he said: "And you might as well stop that. Getting mad won't change a thing. " She froze as if he had slapped her and looked at him, wounded.

  "Annie," he said patiently, "this is no big deal. "

  "It's a trick," she said. "You don't want to write my book and so you're making up tricks not to start. I knew you would. Oh boy. But it's not going to work. It - "

  "That's silly," he said. "Did I say I wasn't going to start?"

  "No. . . no, but - "

  "That's right. Because I am. And if you come here and take a look at something, I'll show you what the problem is. Bring that Webster Pot with you, please. "

  "The what?"

  "Little jar of pens and pencils, " he said. "On newspapers, they sometimes call them Webster Pots. After Daniel Webster. " This was a lie he had made up on the spur of the moment, but it had the desired effect - she looked more confused than ever, lost in a specialists" world of which she had not the slightest knowledge. The confusion had diffused (and thus defused) her rage even more; he saw she now didn't even know if she had any right to be angry.

  She brought over the jar of pens and pencils and slammed them down on the board and he thought: Goddam! I won No - that wasn't right. Misery had won.

  But that isn't right, either. It was Scheherazade. Scheherazade won.

  "What?" she said grumpily.

  "Watch. " He opened the package of Corrasable and took out a sheet He took a freshly sharpened pencil and drew a fine on the paper. Then he took a ballpoint pen and drew another line parallel to the first. Then he slid his thumb across the slightly waffled surface of the paper. Both lines blurred smudgily in the direction his thumb was travelling, the pencil-line slightly more than the one he had drawn with the pen.

  "See?"

  "So what?"

  "Ribbon-ink will blur, too," he said. "It doesn't blur a much as that pencil-line, but it's worse than the ballpoint-ink line. "

  "Were you going to sit and rub every page with your thumb?"

  "Just the shift of the pages against each other will accomplish plenty of blurring over a period of weeks or ever days," he said, "and when a manuscript is in work, it get shifted around a lot. You're always hunting back through to find a name or a date. My God, Annie, one of the first thing you find out in this business is that editors hate reading manuscripts typed on Corrasable Bond almost as much a they hate hand-written manuscripts. "

  "Don't call it that. I hate it when you call it that. " He looked at her, honestly puzzled. "Call what what?"

  "When you pervert the talent God gave you by calling it a business. I hate that. "

  "I'm sorry. "

  "You ought to be," she said stonily. "You might as well call yourself a whore. " No, Annie, he thought, suddenly filled with fury. I'm no whore. Fast Cars was about not being a whore. That's what killing that goddamned bitch Misery was about, now that I think about it. I was driving to the West Coast to celebrate my liberation from a state of whoredom. What you did was to pull me out of the wreck when I crashed my car and stick me back in the crib again. Two dollar straight up, four dollar I take you around the world. And every now and then I see a flicker in your eyes that tells me a part of you way back inside knows it too. A jury might let you off by reason of insanity, but not me, Annie. Not this kid.

 
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