Misery Page 6

At first he thought he had lapsed into delirium. What he was seeing was too bizarre to be sane. When Annie returned, she was pushing a charcoal grill in front of her.

"Annie, I'm in terrible pain." Tears coursed down his cheeks.

"I know, my dear." She kissed his cheek, the touch of her" lips as gentle as the fall of a feather. "Soon." She left and he looked stupidly at the charcoal grill something meant for an outdoor summer patio which now stood in his room, calling up relentless images of idols and sacrifices.

And sacrifice was what she had in mind, of course - when she came back she was carrying the manuscript of Fast Cars, the only existing result of his two years" work, in one hand. In the other she had a box of Diamond Blue Tip wooden matches.

17

"No," he said, crying and shaking. One thought worked at him, burned in him like acid: for less than a hundred bucks he could have had the manuscript photocopied in Boulder. People - Bryce, both of his ex-wives, hell, even his mother - had always told him he was crazy not to make at least one copy of his work and put it aside; after all, the Boulderado could catch on fire, or the New York townhouse; there might be a tornado or a flood or some other natural disaster. He had constantly refused, for no rational reason: it was just that making copies seemed a jinx thing to do.

Well, here was the jinx and the natural disaster all rolled up m one; here was Hurricane Annie. In her innocence it had apparently never even crossed her mind that there might be another copy of Fast Cars someplace, and if he had just listened, if he had just invested the lousy hundred dollars - "Yes," she replied, holding out the matches to him. The manuscript, clean white Hammermill Bond with the title page topmost, lay on her lap. Her face was still clear and calm.

"No," he said, turning his burning face away from her.

"Yes. It's filthy. That aside, it's also no good."

"You wouldn't know good if it walked up and bit your nose off!" he yelled, not caring.

She laughed gently. Her temper had apparently gone on vacation. But, Paul thought, knowing Annie Wilkes, it could arrive back unexpectedly at any moment, bags in hand: Couldn't stand to stay away! How ya doin?

"First of all," she said, "good would not bite my nose off. Evil might, but not good. Second of all, I do know good when I see it - you are good, Paul. All you need is a little help. Now, take the matches." He shook his head stiffly back and forth. "No."

"Yes."

"No!"

"Yes."

"No goddammit!"

"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 unbuttered 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 compassion, 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 manuscript - 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 passed.

The pills. The pills. He had to have the goddam pills. The lives were shadows. The pills were not. They were real.

"Paul?"

"No!" he sobbed.

The faint rattle of the capsules in their blisters - silence then the woody shuffle of the matches in their box.

"Paul?"

"No!"

"I'm waiting, Paul." Oh why in Christ's name are you doing this asshole 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 manuscript 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 shit 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 fucking 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 FUCKING 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."

"Why not?"

"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 manuscript under her arm.

Chapter 4

18

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 mass.

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.

19

She made him bum the first page, the last page, and nine pairs of pages from various points in the manuscript 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 manuscript 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 manuscript. 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 manuscript 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.

20

"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 shit? 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.

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