Misery

Page 4

At last the urgency of this thought began to fade and he realized he was going to sleep. He had held everything down long enough for the medication to begin its work. He had won.

This time.

11

He dreamed he was being eaten by a bird. It was not a good dream. There was a bang and he thought, Yes, good, all right! Shoot it! Shoot the goddamned thing!

Then he was awake, knowing it was only Annie Wilkes, pulling the back door shut. She had gone out to do the chores. He heard the dim crunch of her footsteps in the snow. She went past his window, wearing a parka with the hood up. Her breath plumed out, then broke apart on her moving face. She didn't look in at him, intent on her chores in the barn, he supposed. Feeding the animals, cleaning the stalls, maybe casting a few runes - he wouldn't put it past her. The sky was darkening purple - sunset. Five-thirty, maybe six o'clock.

The tide was still in and he could have gone back to sleep - wanted to go back to sleep - but he had to think about this bizarre situation while he was still capable of something like rational thought.

The worst thing, he was discovering, was that he didn't want to think of it even while he could, even when he knew he could not bring the situation to an end without thinking about it. His mind kept trying to push it away, like a child pushing away his meal even though he has been told he cannot leave the table until he has eaten it.

He didn't want to think about it because just living it was hard enough. He didn't want to think about it because whenever he did unpleasant images intervened - the way she went blank, the way she made him think of idols and stones, and now the way the yellow plastic floor-bucket had sped toward his face like a crashing moon. Thinking of those things would not change his situation, was in fact worse than not thinking at all, but once he turned his mind to Annie Wilkes and his position here in her house, they thoughts that came, crowding out all others. His heart would start to beat too fast, mostly in fear, but partly in shame, too. He saw himself putting his lips to the rim of the yellow floor-bucket, saw the rinse-water with its film of soap aid the rag floating in it, saw these things but drank anyway, never hesitating a bit. He would never tell anyone about that, assuming he ever got out of this, and he supposed he might try to lie about it to himself, but he would never be able to do it.

Yet, miserable or not (and he was), he still wanted to live.

Think about it, goddammit! Jesus Christ, are you already so cowed you can't even try?

No - but almost that cowed.

Then an odd, angry thought occurred to him: She doesn't like the new book because she's too stupid to understand what it's up to.

The thought wasn't just odd; under the circumstances, how she felt about Fast Cars was totally immaterial. But thinking about the things she had said was at least a new avenue, and feeling angry at her was better than feeling scared of her, and so he went down it with some eagerness.

Too stupid? No. Too set. Not just unwilling to change, but antagonistic to the very idea of change.

Yes. And while she might be crazy, was she so different in her evaluation of his work from the hundreds of thousands of other people across the country - ninety percent of them women - who could barely wait for each new five-hundred, page episode in the turbulent life of the foundling who I risen to marry a peer of the realm? No, not at all. They wanted Misery, Misery, Misery. Each time he had taken a year or two off to write one of the other novels - what thought of as his "serious" work with what was at first certainty and then hope and finally a species of grim desperation - he had received a flood of protesting letters from these women, many of whom signed themselves "your number-one fan". The tone of these letters varied from bewilderment (that always hurt the most, somehow), to reproach, to outright anger, but the message was always the same: It wasn't what I expected, it wasn't what I wanted. Please go back to Misery. I want to know what Misery is doing. He could write a modern Under the Volcano, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Sound and the Fury; it wouldn't matter. They would still want Misery, Misery, Misery.

It's hard to follow... he's not interesting... and the profanity!

The anger sparked again. Anger at her obdurate density, anger that she could actually kidnap him - keep him prisoner here, force him into a choice between drinking dirty rinse-water from a floor-bucket or suffering the pain of his shattered legs - and then, on top of all that, find the nerve to criticize the best thing he had ever written.

"Bugger you and the effword you rode in on," he said, and he suddenly felt better again, felt himself again, even though he knew this rebellion was petty and pitiful and meaningless - she was in the barn where she couldn't hear him, and the tide was safely in over the splintered pilings. Still...

He remembered her coming in here, withholding the capsules, coercing permission to read the manuscript of Fast Cars. He felt a flush of shame and humiliation warming his face, but now they were mixed with real anger: it had bloomed from a spark into a tiny sunken flame. He had never shown anyone a manuscript before he had proof-read it and then retyped it. Never. Not even Bryce, his agent. Never. Why, he didn't even - For a moment his thoughts broke off cleanly. He could hear the dim sound of a cow mooing.

Why, he didn't even make a copy until the second draft was done.

The manuscript copy of Fast Cars which was now in Annie Wilkes's possession was, in fact, the only existing copy in the whole world. He had even burned his notes.

Two years of hard work, she didn't like it, and she was crazy.

Misery was what she liked; Misery was who she liked, not some foul-talking little spic car-thief from Spanish Harlem.

He remembered thinking: Turn the pages of the manuscript into paper hats if you want, just... please...

The anger and humiliation surged again, awakening the first dull answering throb in his legs. Yes. The work, the pride in your work, the worth of the work itself... all those things faded away to the magic-lantern shades they really were when the pain got bad enough. That she would do that to him - that she could, when he had spent most of his adult life thinking the word writer was the most important definition of himself - made her seem utterly monstrous, something he must escape. She really was an idol, and if she didn't kill him, she might kill what was in him.

Now he heard the eager squeal of the pig - she had thought he would mind, but he thought Misery was a wonderful name for a pig. He remembered how she had imitated it, the way her upper lip had wrinkled toward her nose, how her cheeks had seemed to flatten, how she had actually looked like a pig for a moment: Whoink! WHOINKK!

From the barn, her voice: "Sooo-ey, pig-pig-pig!" He lay back, put his arm over his eyes, and tried to hold onto the anger, because the anger made him feel brave. A brave man could think. A coward couldn't.

Here was a woman who had been a nurse - he was sure of that. Was she still a nurse? No, because she did not go work. Why did she no longer practice her trade? That seemed obvious. Not all her gear was stowed right; lots of it was rolling around in the holds. If it was obvious to him even through the haze of pain he had been living in, it would surely have been obvious to her colleagues.

And he had a little extra information on which to judge just how much of her gear wasn't stowed right, didn't he? She had dragged him from the wreck of his car and instead of calling the police or an ambulance she had installed him in her guest-room, put IV drips in his arms and a shitload of dope in his body. Enough so he had gone into what she called respiratory depression at least once. She had told no one he was here, and if she hadn't by now, that meant she didn't mean to.

Would she have behaved in this same fashion if it had been Joe Blow from Kokomo she had hauled out of the wreck? No. No, he didn't think so. She had kept him because he was Paul Sheldon, and she - "She's my number-one fan," Paul muttered, and put an arm over his eyes.

An awful memory bloomed there in the dark: his mother had taken him to the Boston Zoo, and he had been looking at a great big bird. It had the most beautiful feathers - red and purple and royal blue - that he had ever seen... and the saddest eyes. He had asked his mother where the bird came from and when she said Africa he had understood it was doomed to die in the cage where it lived, far away from wherever God had meant it to be, and he cried and his mother bought him an ice-cream cone and for awhile he had stopped crying and then he remembered and started again and so she had taken him home, telling him as they rode the trolley back to Lynn that he was a bawl-baby and a sissy.

Its feathers. Its eyes.

The throbbing in his legs began to cycle up.

No. No, no.

He pressed the crook of his elbow more tightly against his eyes. From the barn he could hear spaced thudding noises. Impossible to tell what they were, of course, but in his imagination (your MIND your CREATIVITY that is all I meant) he could see her pushing bales of hay out of the loft with the heel of her boot, could see them tumbling to the barn floor.

Africa. That bird came from Africa. From - Then, cutting cleanly through this like a sharp knife, came her agitated, almost-screaming voice: Do you think that when they put me up there on the stand in Den - Up on the stand. When they put me up on the stand in Denver.

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you God?

("I don't know where he gets it.") I do.

("He's ALWAYS writing things like this down.") State your name.

("Nobody on my side of the family had an imagination like his.") Annie Wilkes.

("So vivid!") My name is Annie Wilkes.

He willed her to say more; she would not.

"Come on," he muttered, his arm over his eyes - this was the way he thought best, the way he imagined best. His mother liked to tell Mrs Mulvaney on the other side of the fence what a marvellous imagination he had, so vivid, and what wonderful little stories he was always writing down (except, of course, when she was calling him a sissy and a bawl-baby). "Come on, come on, come on." He could see the courtroom in Denver, could see Annie Wilkes on the stand, not wearing jeans now but a rusty purple-black dress and an awful hat. He could see that the courtroom was crowded with spectators, that the judge, vas bald and wearing glasses. The judge had a white moustache. There was a birthmark beneath the white moustache. The white moustache covered most of it but not quite all.

Annie Wilkes.

(He read at just three! Can you imagine!") That spirit of... of fan-love...

("He's always writing things down, making things up.") Now I must rinse.

(Africa. That bird came from") "Come on," he whispered, but could get no further. The bailiff asked her to state her name, and over and over again she said it was Annie Wilkes, but she said no more; she sat there with her fibrous solid ominous body displacing air and said her name over and over again but no more than that.

Still trying to imagine why the ex-nurse who had taken him prisoner might have once been put on the stand in Denver, Paul drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 3

12

He was in a hospital ward. Great relief swept through him - so great he felt like crying. Something had happened when he was asleep, someone had come, or perhaps Annie had had a change of heart or mind. It didn't matter. He had gone to sleep in the monster-woman's house and had awakened in the hospital.

But surely they would not have put him in a long ward like this? It was as big as an airplane hangar! Identical rows of men (with identical bottles of nutrient hung from identical IV trays beside their beds) filled the place. He sat up and saw that the men themselves were also identical - they were all him. Then, distantly, he heard the clock chime, and understood that it was chiming from beyond the wall of sleep. This was a dream. Sadness replaced the relief.

The door at the far end of the huge ward opened and in came Annie Wilkes - only she was dressed in a long aproned dress and there was a mobcap on her head; she was dressed as Misery Chastain in Misery's Love. Over one arm she held a wicker basket. There was a towel over the contents. She folded the towel back as he watched. She reached in and took out a handful of something and flung it into the face of the first sleeping Paul Sheldon. It was sand, he saw this was Annie Wilkes pretending to be Misery Chastain pretending to be the sandman. Sandwoman.

Then he saw that the first Paul Sheldon's face had turned a ghastly white as soon as the sand struck it and fear jerked him out of the dream and into the bedroom, where Annie Wilkes was standing over him. She was holding the fat paperback of Misery's Child in one hand. Her bookmark suggested she was about three-quarters of the way through.

"You were moaning," she said.

"I had a bad dream."

"What was it about?" The first thing which was not the truth that popped into his head was what he replied: "Africa."

13

She came in late the following morning, her face the color of ashes. He had been dozing, but he came awake at once; jerking up on his elbows.

"Miss Wilkes? Annie? Are you all r - "

"No." Christ, she's had a heart attack, he thought, and there was a moment's alarm which was immediately replaced by joy. Let her have one! A big one! A fucking chest-buster! He would be more than happy to crawl to the telephone, no matter how much it might hurt. He would crawl to the telephone over broken glass, if that was what it took.

And it was a heart attack... but not the right kind.

She came toward him, not quite staggering but rolling, the way a sailor will when he's just gotten off his ship at the enc of a long voyage.

"What - " He tried to shrink away from her, but there was no place to go. There was only the headboard, and behind that, the wall.

"No!" She reached the side of the bed, bumped it, wavered and for a moment seemed on the verge of falling on top of him. Then she just stood there, looking down at him out of her paper-white face, the cords on her neck standing out, one vein pulsing in the center of her forehead. Her hands snapped open, hooked shut into solid rocklike fists, then snapped open again.

"You... you... you dirty bird!"

"What - I don't - " But suddenly he did, and his entire midsection first seemed to turn hollow and then to entirely disappear. He remembered where her bookmark had been last night, three-quarters of the way through. She had finished it. She knew all there was to know. She knew that Misery hadn't been the barren one, after all; it had been Ian. Had she sat there in her as-yet-unseen-by-him parlor with her mouth open and her eyes wide as Misery finally realized the truth and made her decision and sneaked off to Geoffrey? Had her eyes filled with tears when she realized that Misery and Geoffrey, far from having a clandestine affair behind the back of the man they both loved, were giving him the greatest gift they could - a child he would believe to be his own? And had her heart risen up when Misery told Ian she was pregnant and Ian had crushed her to him, tears flowing from his eyes, muttering "My dear, oh, my dear!" over and over again? He was sure, in those few seconds, that all of those things had happened. But instead of weeping with exalted grief as she should have done when Misery expired giving birth to the boy whom Ian and Geoffrey would presumably raise together, she was mad as hell.

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