Misery Chastain, the heroine of his bestselling novels, was dead. Paul Sheldon had just killed her - with relief, with joy. And now he wanted to get on to some real writing. That's when the car ...(more)
The darkness had prologued the pain and the storm-cloud; he began to remember what had prologued the darkness as she told him what had happened to him. This was shortly, after he had asked the traditional when-the-sleeper-wakes question and she had told him he was in the little town of Sidewinder, Colorado. In addition she told him that she had read each of his eight novels at least twice, and had read her very favorites, the Misery novels, four, five, maybe six times. She only wished he would write them faster.
She said she had hardly been able to believe that her patient was really that Paul Sheldon even after checking the ID in his wallet.
'Where is my wallet, by the way?' he asked.
'I've kept it safe for you,' she said. Her smile suddenly collapsed into a narrow watchfulness he didn't like much -- it was like discovering a deep crevasse almost obscured by summer flowers in the midst of a smiling, jocund meadow.
'Did you think I'd steal something out of it?'
'No, of course not. It's just that --
' It's just that the rest of my life is in it, he thought. My life outside this room. Outside the pain. Outside the way time seems to stretch out like the long pink string of bubble-gum a kid pulls out of his mouth when he's bored. Because that's how it is in the last hour or so before the pills come.
'Just what, Mister Man?' she persisted, and he saw with alarm that the narrow look was growing blacker and blacker. The crevasse was spreading, as if an earthquake was going on behind her brow. He could hear the steady, keen whine of the wind outside, and he had a sudden image of her picking him up and throwing him over her solid shoulder, where he would lie like a burlap sack slung over a stone wall, and taking him outside, and heaving him into a snowdrift. He would freeze to death, but before he did, his legs would throb and scream.
'It's just that my father always told me to keep my eye on my wallet,' he said, astonished by how easily this lie came out. His father had made a career out of not noticing Paul any more than he absolutely had to, and had, so far as Paul could remember, offered him only a single piece of advice in his entire life. On Paul's fourteenth birthday his father had given him a Red Devil condom in a foil envelope. 'Put that in your wallet,' Roger Sheldon said, 'and if you ever get excited while you're making out at the drive-in, take a second between excited enough to want to and too excited to care and slip that on. Too many bastards in the world already, and I don't want to see you going in the Army at sixteen.'
Now Paul went on: 'I guess he told me to keep my eye on my wallet so many times that it's stuck inside for good. If I offended you, I'm truly sorry.'
She relaxed. Smiled. The crevasse closed. Summer flowers nodded cheerfully once again. He thought of pushing his hand through that smile and encountering nothing but flexible darkness.
'No offense taken. It's in a safe place. Wait -- I've got something for you.'
She left and returned with a steaming bowl of soup. There were vegetables floating in it. He was not able to eat much but he ate more than he thought at first he could. She seemed pleased. It was while he ate the soup that she told him what had happened, and he remembered it all as she told him and he supposed it was good to know how you happened to end up with your legs shattered, but the manner by which he was coming to this knowledge was disquieting -- it was as if he was a character in a story or a play, a character whose history is not recounted like history but created like fiction.
She had gone into Sidewinder in the four-wheel drive to get feed for the livestock and a few groceries . . . also to check out the paperbacks at Wilson's Drug Center -- that had been the Wednesday that was almost two weeks ago now, and the new paperbacks always came in on Tuesday.
'I was actually thinking of you,' she said, spooning soup into his mouth and then professionally wiping away a dribble, from the comer with a napkin. 'That's what makes it such a remarkable coincidence, don't you see? I was hoping Misery's Child would finally be out in paperback, but no such luck.'
A storm had been on the way, she said, but until noon that day the weather forecasters had been confidently claiming it would veer south, toward New Mexico and the Sangre di Cristos.
'Yes,' he said, remembering as he said it: 'They said it would turn. That's why I went in the first place.' He tried to shift his legs. The result was an awful bolt of pain, and he groaned.
'Don't do that,' she said. 'If you get those legs of yours talking, Paul, they won't shut up . . . and I can't give you any more pills for two hours. I'm giving you too much as it is.'
Why aren't I in the hospital? This was clearly the question that wanted asking, but he wasn't sure it was a question either of them wanted asked. Not yet, anyway.
'When I got to the feed store, Tony Roberts told me I better step on it if I was going to get back here before the storm hit, and I said-'
'How far are we from this town?' he asked.
'A ways,' she said vaguely, looking off toward the window.
There was a queer interval of silence, and Paul was frightened by what he saw on her face, because what he saw was nothing; the black nothing of a crevasse folded into an alpine meadow, a blackness where no flowers grew and into which the drop might be long. It was the face of a woman who has come momentarily untethered from all of the vital positions and landmarks of her life, a woman who has forgotten not only the memory she was in the process of recounting but memory itself. He had once toured a mental asylum -- this was years ago, when he had been researching Misery, the first of the four books which had been his main source of income over the last eight years -- and he had seen this look . . . or, more precisely, this unlook. The word which defined it was catatonia, but what frightened him had no such precise word -- it was, rather, a vague comparison: in that moment he thought that her thoughts had become much as he had imagined her physical self: solid, fibrous, unchannelled, with no places of hiatus.
Then, slowly, her face cleared. Thoughts seemed to flow back into it. Then he realized flowing was just a tiny bit wrong. She wasn't filling up, like a pond or a tidal pool; she was warming up. Yes . . . she is warming up, like some small electrical gadget. A toaster, or maybe a heating pad.
'I said to Tony, "That storm is going south."'
She spoke slowly at first, almost groggily, but then her words began to catch up to normal cadence and to fill with normal conversational brightness. But now he was alerted. Everything she said was a little strange, a little offbeat. Listening to Annie was like listening to a song played in the wrong key.
'But he said, "It changed its mind." "'Oh poop!" I said. '"I better get on my horse and ride." "I'd stay in town if you can, Miz Wilkes," he said. "Now they're saying on the radio that it's going to be a proper jeezer and nobody is prepared." 'But of course I had to get back -- there's no one to feed the animals but me. The nearest people are the Roydmans, and they are miles from here. Besides, the Roydmans don't like me.' She cast an eye shrewdly on him as she said this last, and when he didn't reply she tapped the spoon against the rim of the bowl in peremptory fashion.
'Yes, I'm full, thanks. It was very good. Do you have a lot of livestock?'
Because, he was already thinking, if you do, that means you've got to have some help. A hired man, at least. 'Help' was the operant word. Already that seemed like the operant word, and he had seen she wore no wedding ring.
'Not very much,' she said. 'Half a dozen laying hens. Two cows. And Misery.'
He blinked. She laughed.
'You won't think I'm very nice, naming a sow after the brave and beautiful woman you made up. But that's her name, and I meant no disrespect.'
After a moment's thought she added: 'She's very friendly.'
The woman wrinkled up her nose and for a moment became a sow, even down to the few bristly whiskers that grew on her chin. She made a pig-sound: 'Whoink! Whoink! Whuh-Whuh-WHOINK!'
Paul looked at her wide-eyed. She did not notice; she had gone away again, her gaze dim and musing. Her eyes held no reflection but the lamp on the bed-table, twice reflected, dwelling faintly in each.
At last she gave a faint start and said: 'I got about five miles and then the snow started. It came fast -- once it starts up here, it always does. I came creeping along, with my lights on, and then I saw your car off the road, overturned.'
She looked at him disapprovingly. 'You didn't have your lights on.'
'It took me by surprise,' he said, remembering only at that moment how he had been taken by surprise. He did not yet remember that he had also been quite drunk.
'I stopped,' she said. 'If it had been on an upgrade, I might not have. Not very Christian, I know, but there were three inches on the road already, and even with a four-wheel drive you can't be sure of getting going again once you lost your forward motion. It's easier just to say to yourself, "Oh they probably got out, caught a ride," et cetera, et cetera. But it was on top of the third big hill past the Roydmans' and it's flat there for awhile. So I pulled over, and as soon as I got out I heard groaning. That was you, Paul.'
She gave him a strange maternal grin.
For the first time, clearly, the thought surfaced in Paul Sheldon's mind: I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.