Thursday, May 23, 2019
Bag of Bones CHAPTER THIRTEEN
I caught the measles when I was eight, and I was very ill. I thought you were going to die, my father t anile me at one time, and he was non a population given to exaggeration. He told me ab discover how he and my mother had dunked me in a tub of cold water one night, both of them at least half-convinced the shock of it would stop my heart, unflustered both of them completely convinced that Id burn up before their eyes if they didnt do both(prenominal)thing. I had begun to speak in a loud, monotonously discursive voice about the bright figures I saw in the room angels come to bear me a path, my terrified mother was certain(predicate) and the go a counseling time my father took my temperature before the cold plunge, he said that the mercury on the old Johnson & Johnson rectal thermometer had stood at a hundred and sextette degrees. After that, he said, he didnt dare take it anymore.I dont remember any bright figures, plainly I remember a strange geological period of time that was like being in a funhouse corridor whither several different movies were showing at once. The world grew e destructionic, bulging in places w here it had never bulged before, wavering in places where it had always been solid. People nearly of them fillming impossibly t individuallydarted in and out of my room on scissoring, cartoonish legs. Their words alone came out booming, with instant echoes. Someone move a pair of corrupt-shoes in my face. I seem to remember my brother, Siddy, raise uping his hand into his shirt and making repeated arm- far-offt noises. Continuity broke knock down. Everything came in segments, spiritual wieners on a poison string.In the years amid whence and the summer I returned to Sara Laughs, I had the usual sicknesses, infections, and insults to the body, however never anything like that feverous interlude when I was eight. I never expected to believing, I suppose, that such experiences are unique to children, people with malaria, or maybe those suffering catastrophic psychical breakdowns. But on the night of July seventh and the morning of July eighth, I lived through a period of time remarkably like that childhood delirium. Dreaming, waking, moving they were each one. Ill tell you as best I can, save nothing I say can convey the strangeness of that experience. It was as if I had found a secret p butt jointage hidden just beyond the wall of the world and went crawling along it.First in that location was music. non Dixieland, because thither were no horns, but like Dixieland. A primitive, reeling kind of bebop. Three or four acoustic guitars, a harmonica, a stand-up bass (or maybe a pair). Behind all of this was a hard, happy drumming that didnt sound as if it was coming from a real drum it sounded as if someone with a lot of percussive gift was whopping on a bunch of boxes. Then a wo compositions voice joined in a contralto voice, not quite mannish, roughing over the juicy notes. It was laughing and u rgent and ominous all at the like time, and I knew at once that I was hearing Sara Tidwell, who had never cut a express in her life. I was hearing Sara Laughs, and man, she was rocking.You know were going back to MANderley,Were gonna dance on the SANderley,Im gonna sing with the BANderley,We gonna ball all we CANderley Ball me, baby, yeahThe basses yes, at that place were cardinal broke out in a barnyard shuffle like the break in Elviss indication of Baby Lets Play House, and therefore there was a guitar pilot Son Tidwell playing that chickenscratch thing.Lights gleamed in the dark, and I thought of a song from the fifties Claudine Clark singing Party Lights. And here they were, Japanese lanterns hung from the trees above the path of railroad-tie steps leading from the house to the water. Party lights toss awaying mystic circles of radiance in the dark red blue and green.Behind me, Sara was singing the bridge to her Manderley song mom likes it nasty, mama likes it stro ng, mama likes to party all night long but it was fading. Sara and the Red-Top Boys had set up their bandstand in the driveway by the sound, about where George Footman had stage when he came to serve me with Max Devores subpoena. I was descending toward the lake through circles of radiance, past party lights surrounded by soft-winged moths. One had found its way inside a lamp and it cast a monstrous, batlike shadow against the ribbed paper. The flower-boxes Jo had put beside the steps were full of night-blooming roses. In the light of the Japanese lanterns they cyphered blue.Now the band was only a obscure murmur I could hear Sara shouting out the lyric, laughing her way through it as though it were the funniest thing shed ever heard, all that Manderley-sanderley-canderley stuff, but I could no long-run make out the individual words. Much clearer was the lap of the lake against the rocks at the foot of the steps, the hollow clunk of the cannisters to a lower place the swimmin g float, and the cry of a loon drifting out of the darkness. Someone was standing on The Street to my right, at the edge of the lake. I couldnt see his face, but I could see the cook sportcoat and the tee-shirt he was wearing beneath it. The lapels cut off some of the letters of the message, so it looked like thisORMAEROUNI knew what it said anyway in dreams you just about always know, dont you? NORMAL SPERM COUNT, a Village Cafe yuck-it-up special if ever there was one.I was in the north sleeping room dreaming all this, and here I woke up enough to know I was dreaming . . . except it was like waking into another dream, because Bunters bell was ringing madly and there was someone standing in the hall. Mr. Normal Sperm Count? No, not him. The shadow-shape falling on the door wasnt quite human. It was slumped, the arms indistinct. I sat up into the silver shaking of the bell, clutching a loose puddle of sheet against my naked waist, sure it was the shroud-thing out there the shro ud-thing had come out of its grave to submit me. transport dont, I said in a dry and trembling voice. Please dont, please.The shadow on the door raised its arms. It aint nuthin but a barn-dance sugar Sara Tidwells laughing, raving mad voice sang. It aint nuthin but a round-and-roundI lay back down and pulled the sheet over my face in a childish act of defence reaction . . . and there I stood on our little lick of beach, wearing just my undershorts. My feet were ankle-deep in the water. It was warm the way the lake gets by midsummer. My dim shadow was cast two ways, in one direction by the scantling moon which rode low above the water, in another by the Japanese lantern with the moth caught inside it. The man whod been standing on the path was at rest(p) but he had left a plastic owl to mark his place. It stared at me with frozen, gold-ringed eyes.Hey IrishI looked out at the swimming float. Jo stood there. She must own just climbed out of the water, because she was still drippi ng and her hair was plastered against her cheeks. She was wearing the two- effectuate of music swim get from the photo Id found, grey-haired with red piping.Its been a long time, Irish what do you say?Say about what? I called back, although I knew.About this She put her hands over her breasts and squeezed. urine ran out between her fingers and trickled across her knuckles.Come on, Irish, she said from beside and above me, come on, you bastard, lets go. I matte her strip down the sheet, pulling it easily out of my sleep-numbed fingers. I shut my eyes, but she took my hand and placed it between her legs. As I found that velvety seam and began to stroke it open, she began to rub the back of my neck with her fingers.Youre not Jo, I said. Who are you?But no one was there to answer. I was in the woods. It was dark, and on the lake the loons were crying. I was walking the path to Jos studio. It wasnt a dream I could feel the cool air against my skin and the occasional bite of a rock i nto my bare sole or heel. A mosquito buzzed around my ear and I waved it away. I was wearing Jockey shorts, and at every step they pulled against a huge and throbbing erection.What the hell is this? I asked as Jos little barnboard studio loomed in the dark. I looked behind me and saw Sara on her hill, not the woman but the house, a long lodge jutting toward the nightbound lake. Whats happening to me?Everythings all right, Mike, Jo said. She was standing on the float, watching as I swam toward her. She put her hands behind her neck like a calendar model, lifting her breasts more fully into the damp halter. As in the photo, I could see her nipples poking out the cloth. I was swimming in my underpants, and with the same huge erection.Everythings all right, Mike, Mattie said in the north bedroom, and I open my eyes. She was sitting beside me on the bed, smooth and naked in the weak glow of the nightlight. Her hair was down, hanging to her shoulders. Her breasts were tiny, the size of t eacups, but the nipples were large and distended. Between her legs, where my hand still lingered, was a powderpuff of blonde hair, smooth as down. Her body was wrapped in shadows like moth-wings, like rose-petals. at that place was something desperately attractive about her as she sat there she was like the prize you know youll never win at the carny shooting gallery or the county fair ringtoss. The one they keep on the top shelf. She reached under the sheet and folded her fingers over the stretched material of my undershorts.Everythings all right, it aint nuthin but a round-and-round, said the UFO voice as I climbed the steps to my wifes studio. I stooped, fished for the key from beneath the mat, and took it out.I climbed the ladder to the float, wet and dripping, preceded by my engorged sex is there anything, I wonder, so unintentionally comic as a sexually aroused man? Jo stood on the boards in her wet bathing suit. I pulled Mattie into bed with me. I opened the door to Jos s tudio. All of these things happened at the same time, weaving in and out of each other like strands of some exotic rope or belt. The thing with Jo felt the most like a dream, the thing in the studio, me crossing the floor and looking down at my old green IBM, the least. Mattie in the north bedroom was somewhere in between.On the float Jo said, Do what you want. In the north bedroom Mattie said, Do what you want. In the studio, no one had to tell me anything. In there I knew exactly what I wanted.On the float I bent my head and put my mouth on one of Jos breasts and sucked the cloth-covered nipple into my mouth. I tasted damp fabric and dank lake. She reached for me where I stuck out and I slapped her hand away. If she touched me I would come at once. I sucked, drinking back trickles of cotton-water, groping with my own hands, original caressing her ass and then yanking down the bottom half of her suit. I got it off her and she dropped to her knees. I did too, finally getting rid of my wet, clinging underpants and tossing them on top of her bikini panty. We faced each other that way, me naked, her almost.Who was the guy at the game? I panted. Who was he, Jo?No one in particular, Irish. Just another bag of bones.She laughed, then leaned back on her haunches and stared at me. Her navel was a tiny saturnine cup. thither was something queerly, attractively snakelike in her posture. Everything down there is death, she said, and pressed her cold palms and white, pruney fingers to my cheeks. She turned my head and then bent it so I was looking into the lake. Under the water I saw decomposing bodies slipping by, pulled by some deep current. Their wet eyes stared. Their fish-nibbled noses gaped. Their tongues lolled between white lips like tendrils of waterweed. Some of the dead trailed pallid balloons of jellyfish guts some were little more than bone. Yet not even the sight of this locomote charnel parade could divert me from what I wanted. I shrugged my head free o f her hands, pushed her down on the boards, and finally cooled what was so hard and contentious, sinking it deep. Her moon-silvered eyes stared up at me, through me, and I saw that one pupil was larger than the other. That was how her eyes had looked on the TV monitor when I had identified her in the Derry County Morgue. She was dead. My wife was dead and I was fucking her corpse. Nor could even that realization stop me. Who was he? I cried at her, covering her cold flesh as it lay on the wet boards. Who was he, Jo, for Christs sake tell me who he wasIn the north bedroom I pulled Mattie on top of me, relishing the feel of those small breasts against my chest and the distance of her entwining legs. Then I turn over her over on the far side of the bed. I felt her hand reaching for me, and slapped it away if she touched me where she meant to touch me, I would come in an instant. Spread your legs, hurry, I said, and she did. I closed my eyes, shutting out all other sensory input in f avor of this. I pressed forward, then stopped. I do one little adjustment, pushing at my engorged penis with the side of my hand, then rolled my hips and slipped into her like a finger in a silk-lined glove. She looked up at me, wide-eyed, then put a hand on my cheek and turned my head. Everything out there is death, she said, as if only explaining the obvious. In the envelopow I saw Fifth Avenue between Fiftieth and Sixtieth all those trendy shops, Bijan and Bally, Tiffany and Bergdorfs and Steuben Glass. And here came Harold Oblowski, northbound and scorch his pigskin briefcase (the one Jo and I had given him for Christmas the year before she died). Beside him, carrying a Barnes and Noble bag by the handles, was the bountiful, beauteous Nola, his secretary. Except her bounty was done for(p). This was a grinning, yellow-jawed skeleton in a Donna Karan suit and alligator pumps scrawny, beringed bones instead of fingers gripped the bag-handles. Harolds teeth jutted in his usual a gents grin, now extended to the point of obscenity. His favorite suit, the doublebreasted charcoal-gray from Paul Stuart, flapped on him like a sail in a fresh breeze. All around them, on both sides of the street, walked the living dead mommy mummies leading baby corpses by the hands or wheeling them in expensive prams, zombie doormen, reanimated skateboarders. Here a tall black man with a last few strips of flesh hanging from his face like cured deer-hide walked his skeletal Alsatian. The cab-drivers were rotting to raga music. The faces looking down from the passing buses were skulls, each wearing its own version of Harolds grin Hey, how are ya, hows the wife, hows the kids, writing any good books lately? The peanut vendors were putrefying. Yet none of it could quench me. I was on fire. I slipped my hands under her buttocks, lifting her, biting at the sheet (the pattern, I saw with no surprise, was blue roses) until I pulled it free of the mattress to keep from biting her on the neck, the shoulder, the breasts, anywhere my teeth could reach. enounce me who he was I shouted at her. You know, I know you do My voice was so muffled by my mouthful of bed-linen that I doubted if anyone but me could have understood it. Tell me, you bitch On the path between Jos studio and the house I stood in the dark with the typewriter in my arms and that dream-spanning erection quivering below its metal bulk all that ready and nothing willing. Except maybe for the night breeze. Then I became aware I was no longer alone. The shroud-thing was behind me, called like the moths to the party lights. It laughed-a brazen, smoke-broken laugh that could belong to only one woman. I didnt see the hand that reached around my hip to grip me the typewriter was in the way but I didnt need to see it to know its color was brown. It squeezed, slowly tightening, the fingers wriggling.What do you want to know, sugar? she asked from behind me. Still laughing. Still teasing. Do you rattling wa nt to know at all? Do you want to know or do you want to feel?Oh, youre killing me I cried. The typewriter thirty or so pounds of IBM Selectric was shaking back and forth in my arms. I could feel my muscles twanging like guitar strings.Do you want to know who he was, sugar? That nasty man?Just do me, you bitch I screamed. She laughed again that harsh laughter that was almost like a cough and squeezed me where the squeezing was best.You hold still, now, she said. You hold still, handsome boy, less you want me to take fright and yank this thing of yours right out by the . . . I lost the rest as the whole world exploded in an orgasm so deep and strong that I thought it would simply tear me apart. I snapped my head back like a man being hung and ejaculated looking up at the stars. I screamed I had to and on the lake, two loons screamed back.At the same time I was on the float. Jo was gone, but I could faintly hear the sound of the band -Sara and Sonny and the Red-Top Boys teari ng through Black Mountain Rag. I sat up, dazed and spent, fucked hollow. I couldnt see the path leading up to the house, but I could discern its switchback course by the Japanese lanterns. My underpants lay beside me in a little wet heap. I picked them up and started to put them on, only because I didnt want to swim back to shore with them in my hand. I stopped with them stretched between my knees, looking at my fingers. They were wretched with decaying flesh. Puffing out from beneath several of the nails were clumps of torn-out hair. Corpsehair.Oh Jesus, I moaned. The strength went out of me. I flopped into wetness. I was in the north-wing bedroom. What I had landed in was hot, and at firstly I thought it was come. The dim glow of the nightlight showed darker stuff, however. Mattie was gone and the bed was full of blood. Lying in the middle of that soaking pool was something I at first glance took to be a clump of flesh or a piece of organ. I looked more closely and saw it was a stuffed animal, a black-furred end matted red with blood. I lay on my side looking at it, wanting to bolt out of the bed and flee from the room but unable to do it. My muscles were in a dead swoon. Who had I really been having sex with in this bed? And what had I done to her? In Gods name, what?I dont trust these lies, I heard myself say, and as though it were an incantation, I was slapped back together. That isnt exactly what happened, bur its the only way of saying that seems to come close to whatever did. There were trey of me one on the float, one in the north bedroom, one on the path and each one felt that hard slap, as if the wind had grown a fist. There was rushing blackness, and in it the steady silver shaking of Bunters bell. Then it faded, and I faded with it. For a little while I was nowhere at all.I came back to the casual chatter of birds on summer vacation and to that peculiar red darkness that means the sun is undimmed through your closed eyelids. My neck was st iff, my head was canted at a weird angle, my legs were folded awkwardly beneath me, and I was hot.I lifted my head with a wince, knowing even as I opened my eyes that I was no longer in bed, no longer on the swimming float, no longer on the path between the house and the studio. It was floorboards under me, hard and uncompromising.The light was dazzling. I squinched my eyes closed again and groaned like a man with a hangover. I eased them back open behind my cupped hands, gave them time to adjust, then cautiously uncovered them, sat all the way up, and looked around. I was in the upstairs hall, lying under the broken air conditioner. Mrs. Meserves note still hung from it. Sitting outside my office door was the green IBM with a piece of paper rolled into it. I looked down at my feet and saw that they were dirty. Pine needles were stuck to my soles, and one toe was scratched. I got up, staggered a little (my right leg had gone to sleep), then braced a hand against the wall and stood s teady. I looked down at myself. I was wearing the Jockeys Id gone to bed in, and I didnt look as if Id had an accident in them. I pulled out the waistband and peeked inside. My cock looked as it usually did small and soft, curled up and asleep in its thatch of hair. If Noonans imbecility had been adventuring in the night, there was no sign of it now.It sure felt like an adventure, I croaked. I armed sweat off my forehead. It was stifling up here. Not the kind I ever read about in The Hardy Boys, though.Then I remembered the blood-soaked sheet in the north bedroom, and the stuffed animal lying on its side in the middle of it. There was no sense of relief attached to the memory, that thank-God-it-was-only-a-dream feeling you get after a particularly nasty nightmare. It felt as real as any of the things Id experienced in my measles fever-delirium . . . and all those things had been real, just distorted by my overheated brain.I staggered to the stairs and limped down them, holding tigh t to the bannister in case my tingling leg should buckle. At the foot I looked dazedly around the living room, as if sightedness it for the first time, and then limped down the north-wing corridor.The bedroom door was ajar and for a moment I couldnt bring myself to push it all the way open and go in. I was very badly scared, and my mind kept trying to replay an old episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the one about the man who strangles his wife during an pelter blackout. He spends the whole half hour looking for her, and finally finds her in the pantry, bloated and open-eyed. Kyra Devore was the only kid of stuffed-animal age Id met recently, but she had been sleeping peacefully under her cabbage-rose coverlet when I left her mother and headed home. It was stupid to think I had driven all the way back to Wasp Hill Road, probably wearing nothing but my Jockeys, that I had What? Raped the woman? Brought the child here? In my sleep?I got the typewriter, in my sleep, didnt I? Its si tting right upstairs in the unholy hallway.Big difference between going thirty yards through the woods and five miles down the road to I wasnt going to stand out here listening to those quarrelling voices in my head. If I wasnt crazy and I didnt think I was listening to those contentious assholes would probably send me there, and by the express. I reached out and pushed the bedroom door open.For a moment I actually saw a spreading octopus-pattern of blood soaking into the sheet, thats how real and focused my terror was. Then I closed my eyes tight, opened them, and looked again. The sheets were ruffle, the bottom one mostly pulled free. I could see the quilted satin hide of the mattress. One pillow lay on the far edge of the bed. The other was scrunched down at the foot. The throw rug a piece of Jos work was askew, and my water-glass lay overturned on the nighttable. The bedroom looked as if it efficiency have been the site of a brawl or an orgy, but not a murder. There was n o blood and no little stuffed animal with black fur.I dropped to my knees and looked under the bed. Nothing there not even dust-kitties, thanks to Brenda Meserve. I looked at the ground-sheet again, first passing a hand over its rumpled topography, then pulling it back down and resecuring the elasticized corners. Great invention, those sheets if women gave out the Medal of Freedom instead of a bunch of white politicians who never made a bed or washed a load of clothes in their lives, the guy who thought up fitted sheets would undoubtedly have gotten a piece of that tin by now. In a Rose Garden ceremony.With the sheet pulled taut, I looked again. No blood, not a single drop. There was no stiffen patch of semen, either. The former I hadnt really expected (or so I was already telling myself), but what about the latter? At the very least, Id had the worlds most creative wet-dream a triptych in which I had screwed two women and gotten a handjob from a third, all at the same time. I th ought I had that morning-after feeling, too, the one you get when the previous nights sex has been of the headbusting variety. But if there had been fireworks, where was the burnt gunpowder?In Jos studio, most likely, I told the empty, sunny room. Or on the path between here and there. Just be glad you didnt leave it in Mattie Devore, bucko. An affair with a post-adolescent widow you dont need.A part of me disagreed a part of me thought Mattie Devore was exactly what I did need. But I hadnt had sex with her last night, any more than I had had sex with my dead wife out on the swimming float or gotten a handjob from Sara Tidwell. Now that I saw I hadnt killed a nice little kid either, my thoughts turned back to the typewriter. Why had I gotten it? Why dun?Oh man. What a silly question. My wife might have been keeping secrets from me, maybe even having an affair there might be ghosts in the house there might be a rich old man half a mile south who wanted to put a sharp stick into me a nd then break it off there might be a few toys in my own humble attic, for that matter. But as I stood there in a bright shaft of sunlight, looking at my shadow on the far wall, only one thought seemed to matter I had gone out to my wifes studio and gotten my old typewriter, and there was only one reason to do something like that.I went into the bathroom, wanting to get rid of the sweat on my body and the dirt on my feet before doing anything else. I reached for the shower-handle, then stopped. The tub was full of water. Either I had for some reason filled it during my sleepwalk . . . or something else had. I reached for the drain-lever, then stopped again, remembering that moment on the shoulder of Route 68 when my mouth had filled up with the taste of cold water. I realized I was waiting for it to happen again. When it didnt, I opened the bathtub drain to let out the standing water and started the shower.I could have brought the Selectric downstairs, perhaps even lugged it out on to the deck where there was a little breeze coming over the surface of the lake, but I didnt. I had brought it all the way to the door of my office, and my office was where Id work . . . if I could work. Id work in there even if the temperature beneath the roofpeak built to a hundred and twenty degrees . . . which, by three in the afternoon, it just might.The paper rolled into the machine was an old strike hard-carbon receipt from Click, the photo shop in Castle Rock where Jo had bought her supplies when we were down here. Id put it in so that the blank side faced the Courier type-ball. On it I had typed the names of my little harem, as if I had tried in some struggling way to report on my three-faceted dream even while it was going onJo Sara Mattie Jo Sara Mattie Mattie Mattie Sara Sara Jo Johanna Sara Jo MattieSaraJo.Below this, in lower casenormal spermatozoon count sperm norm alls rosyI opened the office door, carried the typewriter in, and put it in its old place beneath the poster of Richard Nixon. I pulled the pink slip out of the roller, balled it up, and tossed it into the wastebasket. Then I picked up the Selectrics plug and stuck it in the baseboard socket. My heart was beating hard and fast, the way it had when I was thirteen and go up the ladder to the high board at the Y-pool. I had climbed that ladder three times when I was twelve and then slunk back down it again once I turned thirteen, there could be no chickening out I really had to do it.I thought Id seen a fan hiding in the far corner of the closet, behind the box marked GADGETS. I started in that direction, then turned around again with a ragged little laugh. Id had moments of self-confidence before, hadnt I? Yes. And then the iron bands had clamped around my chest. It would be stupid to get out the fan and then discover I had no business in this room after all.Take it easy, I said, take it easy. But I couldnt, no more than that narrow-chested boy in the ridiculous purple bathing suit had been able to take it easy when he walked to the end of the diving board, the pool so green below him, the upraised faces of the boys and girls in it so small, so small.I bent to one of the drawers on the right side of the desk and pulled so hard it came all the way out. I got my bare foot out of its arrive zone just in time and barked a gust of loud, humorless laughter. There was half a ream of paper in the drawer. The edges had that faintly crispy look paper gets when its been sitting for a long time. I no more than saw it before remembering I had brought my own supply stuff a good deal fresher than this. I left it where it was and put the drawer back in its hole. It took several tries to get it on its tracks my hands were shaking.At last I sat down in my desk chair, hearing the same old creaks as it took my weight and the same old rumble of the casters as I rolled it forward, snugging my legs into the kneehole. Then I sat facing the keyboard, sweating hard, still rememberin g the high board at the Y, how springy it had been under my bare feet as I walked its length, remembering the echoing quality of the voices below me, remembering the smell of chlorine and the steady low throb of the air-exchangers fwung-fwung-fwung-fwung, as if the water had its own secret heartbeat. I had stood at the end of the board wondering (and not for the first time) if you could be paralyzed if you hit the water wrong. Probably not, but you could die of fear. There were documented cases of that in Ripleys Believe It or Not, which served me as science between the ages of eight and fourteen.Go on Jos voice cried. My version of her voice was usually settle and collected this time it was shrill. Stop dithering and go onI reached for the IBMs rocker-switch, now remembering the day I had dropped my Word Six program into the Powerbooks trash. Goodbye, old pal, I had thought.Please let this work, I said. Please.I lowered my hand and flicked the switch. The machine came on. The Cour ier ball did a preliminary twirl, like a concert dance dancer standing in the wings, waiting to go on. I picked up a piece of paper, saw my sweaty fingers were leaving marks, and didnt care. I rolled it into the machine, centered it, then wroteChapter Oneand waited for the storm to break.