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Actions & Adventure
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Just because she doesn't have anyone to chatter with all day doesn't mean she is incapable of understanding that accidents can happen; she could fall downstairs and break an arm or a leg, the barn might catch on fire - How many times have you heard this supposed telephone ring?
So now there's a requirement? Your phone has to ring at least once a day or Mountain Bell comes and takes it out? Besides, I haven't even been conscious most of the time.
You're pushing your luck. You're pushing your luck and you know it.
Yes. He knew it, but the thought of that telephone, the imagined sensation of the cool black plastic under his fingers, the click of the rotary dial or the single booping sound as he touch-toned 0 - these were seductions too great to resist.
He worked the wheelchair around until it was directly facing the parlor, and then he rolled down to it.
The place smelled musty, unaired, obscurely tired. Although the curtains guarding the bow windows were only half-drawn, affording a lovely view of the mountains, the room seemed too dark - because its colors were too dark, he thought. Dark red predominated, as if someone had spilled a great deal of venous blood in here.
Over the mantel was a tinted photograph portrait of a forbidding woman with tiny eyes buried in a fleshy face. The rosebud mouth was pursed. The photograph, enclosed in a rococo frame of gold gilt, was the size of the President's photograph in the lobby of a big-city post office. Paul did not need a notarised statement telegram to tell him that this was Annie's sainted mother.
He rolled farther into the room. The left side of the wheelchair struck a small occasional table covered with ceramic gewgaws. They chattered together and one of them - a ceramic penguin sitting on a ceramic ice-block - fell off the side.
Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed it. The gesture was almost casual. . . and then reaction set in. He held the penguin tightly in his curled fist, trying to will the shakes away. You caught it, no sweat, besides, there's a rug on the floor, probably wouldn't have broken anyway - But if it HAD! his mind screamed back. If it HAD! Please, you have to go back to your room before you leave something. . . a track. . .
No. Not yet. Not yet, no matter how frightened he was. Because this had cost him too much. If there was a payoff, he was going to have it.
He looked around the room, which was stuffed with heavy graceless furniture. It should have been dominated by the bow windows and the gorgeous view of the Rockies beyond them but was instead dominated by the picture of that fleshy woman imprisoned in the ghastly glaring frame with its twists and curlicues and frozen gilded swags.
On a table at the far end of the couch, where she would sit to watch TV, was a plain dialer telephone.
Gently, hardly daring to breathe, he put the ceramic penguin (NOW MY TALE IS TOLD! the legend on the block of ice read) back on the knickknack table and rolled across the room toward the phone.
There was an occasional table in front of the sofa; he gave it a wide berth. On it was a spray of dried flowers in an ugly green vase, and the whole thing looked topheavy, ready to tip over if he so much as brushed it.
No cars coming outside - only the sound of the wind.
He grasped the handset of the phone in one hand and slowly picked it up.
A queer predestinate sense of failure filled his mind even before he got the handset to his ear and heard the nothing. He replaced the receiver slowly, a line from an old Roger Miller song occurring to him and seeming to make a certain senseless sense: No phone, no pool, no pets. . . I ain't got no cigarettes. . .
He traced the phone cord with his eye, saw the small square module on the baseboard, saw that the jack was plugged into it. Everything looked in perfect working order.
Like the barn, with its heat-tapes.
Keeping up appearances is very, very important.
He closed his eyes and saw Annie removing the jack and squeezing Elmer's Glue into the hole in the module. Saw her replacing the jack in the dead-white glue, where it would harden and freeze forever. The phone company would have no idea that anything was wrong unless someone attempted to call her and reported the line out of service, but no one called Annie, did they? She would receive regular monthly bills on her dead line and she would pay them promptly, but the phone was only stage dressing, part of her never-ending battle to keep up appearances, like the neat barn with its fresh red paint and cream trim and heat-tapes to melt the winter ice. Had she castrated the phone in case of just such an expedition as this? Had she foreseen the possibility that he might get out of the room? He doubted it. The phone - the working phone - would have gotten on her nerves long before he came. She would have lain awake at night, looking up at the ceiling of her bedroom, listening to the high-country whine of the wind, imagining the people who must be thinking of her with either dislike or outright malevolence - all the world's Roydmans - people who might, any of them, at any time, take a notion to call her on the telephone and scream: You did it, Annie! They took you all the way to Denver, and we know you did it! They don't take you all the way to Denver if you're innocent! She would have asked for and gotten an unlisted number, of course - anyone tried for and acquitted of some major crime (and if it had been Denver, it had been major) would have done that - but even an unlisted number would not comfort a deep neurotic like Annie Wilkes for long. They were all in league against her, they could get the number if they wanted, probably the lawyers who had been against her would be glad to pass it out to anyone who asked for it, and people would ask, oh yes - for she would see the world as a dark place full of moving human masses like seas, a malevolent universe surrounding a single small stage upon which a single savagely bright pinspot illuminated. . . only her. So best to eradicate the phone, silence it, as she would silence him if she knew he had gotten even this far.
Panic burst shrilly up in his mind, telling him that he had to get out of here and back into his room, hide the pills somewhere, return to his place by the window so that when she returned she would see no difference, no difference at all, and this time he agreed with the voice. He agreed wholeheartedly. He backed carefully away from the phone, and when he gained the room's one reasonably clear area, he began the laborious job of turning the wheelchair around, careful not to bump the occasional table as he did so.
He had nearly finished the turn when he heard an approaching car and knew, simply knew it was her, returning from town.
He nearly fainted, in the grip of the greatest terror he had ever known, a terror that was filled with deep and unmanning guilt. He suddenly remembered the only incident in his life that came remotely close to this one in its desperate emotional quality. He had been twelve. It was summer vacation, his father working, his mother gone to spend the day in Boston with Mrs Kaspbrak from across the street. He had seen a pack of her cigarettes and had lit one of them. He smoked it enthusiastically, feeling both sick and fine, feeling the way he imagined robbers must feel when they stick up banks. Halfway through the cigarette, the room filled with smoke, he had heard her opening the front door. "Paulie? It's me I've forgotten my purse!" He had begun to wave madly at the smoke, knowing it would do no good, knowing he was caught, knowing he would be spanked.
It would be more than a spanking this time.
He remembered the dream he'd had during one of his gray-outs: Annie cocking the shotgun's twin triggers and saying If you want your freedom so badly, Paul, I'll be happy to grant it to you.
The sound of the engine began to drop as the approaching car slowed down. It was her.
Paul settled hands he could barely feel on the wheels and rolled the chair toward the hallway, sparing one glance at the ceramic penguin on its block of ice. Was it in the same place it had been? He couldn't tell. He would have to hope.
He rolled down the hall toward the bedroom door, gaining speed. He hoped to shoot right through, but his aim was a little off. Only a little. . . but the fit was so tight that a little was enoug
h. The wheelchair thumped against the right side of the doorway and bounced back a little.
Did you chip the paint? his mind screamed at him. Oh Jesus Christ, did you chip the paint, did you leave a track?
No chip. There was a small dent but no chip. Thank God. He backed and filled frantically, trying to navigate the fineness of the doorway's tight fit.
The car motor swelled, nearing, still slowing. Now he could hear the crunch of its snow tires.
Easy. . . easy does it. . .
He rolled forward and then the hubs of the wheels stuck solid against the sides of the bedroom door. He pushed harder, knowing it wasn't going to do any good, he was stuck in the doorway like a cork in a wine-bottle, unable to go either way - He gave one final heave, the muscles in his arms quivering like overtuned violin strings, and the wheelchair passed through with that same low squealing noise.
The Cherokee turned into the driveway.
She'll have packages, his mind gibbered, the typewriter paper, maybe a few other things as well, and she'll be careful coming up the walk because of the ice, you're in here now, the worst is over, there's time, still time. . .
He rolled farther into the room, then turned in a clumsy semicircle. As he rolled the wheelchair parallel to the open bedroom door, he heard the Cherokee's engine shut off.
He leaned over, grasped the doorknob, and tried to pull the door shut. The tongue of the lock, still stuck out like a stiff steel finger, bumped the jamb. He pushed it with the ball of his thumb. It began to move. . . then stopped. Stopped dead, refusing to let the door close.
He stared at it stupidly for a moment, thinking of that old Navy maxim: Whatever CAN go wrong WILL go wrong.
Please God, no more, wasn't it enough she killed the phone?
He let go of the tongue. It sprang all the way out again. He pushed it in again and encountered the same obstruction. Inside the guts of the lock he heard an odd rattling and understood. It was the part of the bobby-pin which had broken off. It had fallen in some way that was keeping the lock's tongue from retracting completely.
He heard the Cherokee's door open. He even heard her grunt as she got out. He heard the rattle of paper bags as she gathered up her parcels.
"Come on," he whispered, and began to chivvy the tongue gently back and forth. It went in perhaps a sixteenth of an inch each time and then stopped. He could hear the goddam bobby-pin rattling inside there. "Come on. . . come on. . . come on. . . " He was crying again and unaware of it, sweat and tears mingling freely on his cheeks; he was vaguely aware that he was still in great pain despite all the dope he had swallowed, that he was going to pay a high price for this little piece of work.
Not so high as the one she'll make you pay if you can't get this goddam door closed again, Paulie.
He heard her crunching, cautious footsteps as she made her way up the path. The rattle of bags. . . and now the rattle of her housekeys as she took them from her purse.
"Come on. . . come on. . . come on. . . " This time when he pushed the tongue there was a flat click from inside the lock and the jut of metal slid a quarter of an inch into the door. Not enough to clear the jamb. . . but almost.
"Please. . . come on. . . " He began to chivvy the tongue faster, diddling it, listening as she opened the kitchen door. Then, like a hideous flashback to that day when his mother had caught him smoking, Annie called cheerily: "Paul? It's me! I've got your paper!" Caught! I'm caught! Please God, no God, don't let her hurt me God - His thumb pressed convulsively tight against the tongue of the lock, and there was a muffled snap as the bobby-pin broke. The tongue slid all the way into the door. In the kitchen he heard a zipper-rasp as she opened her parka.
He closed the bedroom door. The click of the latch (did she hear that? must have must have heard that!) sounded as loud as a track-starter's gun.
He backed the wheelchair up toward the window. He was still backing and filling as her footsteps began to come down the hallway.
"I've got your paper, Paul! Are you awake?" Never. . . never in time. . . She'll hear. . .
He gave the guide-lever a final wrench and rolled the wheelchair into place beside the window just as her key rattled in the lock.
It won't work. . . the bobby-pin. . . and she'll be suspicious. . .
But the piece of alien metal must have fallen all the way to the bottom of the lock, because her key worked perfectly. He sat in his chair, eyes half-closed, hoping madly that he had gotten the chair back where it had been (or at least close enough to it so she wouldn't notice), hoping that she would take his sweat-drenched face and quivering body simply as reactions to missing his medication, hoping most of all that he hadn't left a track - It was as the door swung open that he looked, down and saw that by looking for individual tracks with such agonized concentration, he had ignored a whole buffalo run: the boxes of Novril were still in his lap.
She had two packages of paper, and she held one up in each hand, smiling. "Just what you asked for, isn't it? Triad Modem. Two reams here, and I have two more in the kitchen, just in case. So you see - " She broke off, frowning, looking at him.
"You're dripping with sweat. . . and your color is very hectic. " She paused. "What have you been doing?" And although that set the panicky little voice of his lesser self to squealing again that he was caught and might as well give it up, might as well confess and hope for her mercy, he managed to meet her suspicious gaze with an ironic weariness.
"I think you know what I've been doing," he said. "I've been suffering. " From the pocket of her skirt she took a Kleenex and wiped his brow. The Kleenex came away wet. She smiled at him with that terrible bogus maternity.
"Has it been very bad?"
"Yes. Yes, it has. Now can I - "
"I told you about making me mad. Live and learn, isn't that what they say? Well, if you live, I guess you'll learn. "
"Can I have my pills now?"
"In a minute," she said. Her eyes never left his sweaty face, its waxy pallor and red rashlike blotches. "First I want to make sure there's nothing else you want. Nothing else stupid old Annie Wilkes forgot because she doesn't know how a Mister Smart Guy goes about writing a book. I want to make sure you don't want me to go back to town and get you a tape recorder, or maybe a special pair of writing slippers, or something like that. Because if you want me to, I'll go. Your wish is my command. I won't even wait to give you your pills. I'll hop right into Old Bessie again and go. So what do you say, Mister Smart Guy? You all set?"
"I'm all set," he said. "Annie, please - "
"And you won't make me mad anymore?"
"No. I won't make you mad anymore. "
"Because when I get mad I'm not really myself. " Her eyes dropped. She was looking down to where his hands were cupped tightly together over the sample boxes of Novril. She looked for a very long time.