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gasping, then slid slowly down against his pillows, mindful to push his legs straight ahead as he did. There were pale furrows in his thin wrists. As he watched they began to fill in red.
Annie stuffed the cuffs absently into her skirt pocket, as if police restraints were found in most decent houses, like Kleenex or coathangers.
"What's a lien?" she asked again. "Does that mean they own my house? Is that what it means?"
"No," he said. "It means that you. . . He cleared his throat and got another after-taste of that fumey dust-rag. His chest hitched as he dry-heaved again. She took no notice of that; simply stood impatiently staring at him until he could talk. After awhile he could. "Just means you can't sell it. "
"Just? Just? You got a funny idea of just, Mr Paul Sheldon. But I suppose the troubles of a poor widow like me don't seem very important to a rich Mister Smart Guy like you. "
"On the contrary. I think of your troubles as my troubles, Annie. I just meant that a lien isn't much compared to what they could do if you got seriously in arrears. Are you?"
"Arrears. That means in the bucket, doesn't it?"
"In the bucket, in the hole, behind. Yes. "
"I'm no shanty-Irish moocher!" He saw the thin sheen of her teeth as her upper lip lifted. "I pay my bills. I just. . . this time I just. . . " You forgot, didn't you? You forgot, just the way you keep forgetting to change February on that damned calendar. Forgetting to make the quarterly property-tax payment is a hell of a lot more serious than forgetting to change the calendar page, and you're upset because this is the first time you forgot something that big. Fact is, you're getting worse, Annie, aren't you? A little worse every day. Psychotics can cope in the world - after a fashion - and sometimes, as I think you well know, they get away with some very nasty shit. But there's a borderline between the lands of manageable and unmanageable psychosis. You're getting closer to that line every day. . . and part of you knows it.
"I just hadn't got around to it yet," Annie said sullenly. "Having you here has kept me busier than a one-armed paperhanger. " An idea occurred to him - a really fine one. The potential for brownie-points in this idea seemed almost unlimited. "I know," he said with quiet sincerity. "I owe you my life and I haven't been anything but a pain in the tail to you. I've got about four hundred bucks in my wallet. I want you to pay your arrears with it. "
"Oh, Paul - " She was looking at him, both confused and pleased. "I couldn't take your money - "
"It's not mine," he said. He grinned at her, his number-one Who loves ya, baby? grin. And inside he thought: What I want, Annie, is for you to do one of your forgetting acts when I've got access to one of your knives and I'm sure I can move well enough to use it. You'll be frying in hell ten seconds before you know you're dead. "It's yours. Call it a down-payment, if you want. " He paused, then took a calculated risk: "If you don't think I know I'd be dead if it wasn't for you, you're crazy. "
"Paul. . . I don't know. . . "
"I'm serious. " He allowed his smile to melt into an expression of winning (or so he hoped - please, God, let it be winning) sincerity. "You did more than save my life, you know. You saved two lives - because without you, Misery would still be lying in her grave. " Now she was looking at him shiningly, the paper in her hand forgotten.
"And you showed me the error of my ways, got me back on track again. I owe you a lot more than four hundred bucks just for that. And if you don't take that money, you're going to make me feel bad. "
"Well, I. . . all right. I. . . thank you. "
"I should be thanking you. May I see that paper?" She gave it to him with no protest at all. It was an overdue tax notice. The lien was little more than a formality. He scanned it quickly, then handed it back.
"Have you got money in the bank?" Her eyes shifted away from his. "I've got a little put aside, but not in the bank. I don't believe in banks. "
"This says they can't execute the lien on you unless the bill remains unpaid by March 25th. What's today?" She frowned at the calendar. "Goodness! That's wrong. " She untacked it, and the boy on his sled disappeared Paul watched this happen with an absurd pang of regret. March showed a white-water stream rushing pell-mell between snowy banks.
She peered myopically at the calendar for a moment and then said: "Today is March 25th. " Christ, so late, so late, he thought.
"Sure - that's why he came out. " He wasn't telling you they had slapped a lien on your house, Annie - he was telling you they would have to if you didn't cough up by the time the town offices closed tonight. Guy was actually trying to do you a favor. "But if you pay this five hundred and six dollars before - "
"And seventeen cents," she put in fiercely. "Don't forget the cockadoodie seventeen cents. "
"All right, and seventeen cents. If you pay it before they close the town offices this afternoon, no lien. If people in town really feel about you the way you say they do, Annie - "
"They hate me! They are all against me, Paul!"
" - then your taxes are one of the ways they'll try to pry you out. Hollering "lien" at someone who has missed on quarterly property-tax payment is pretty weird. It smells. Well - it stinks. If you missed a couple of quarterly payments, they might try to take your home - sell it at auction. It's a crazy idea, but I guess they'd technically be within their rights. " She laughed, a harsh, barking sound. "Let them try! I'd guthole a few of them! I'll tell you that much. Yes, sir! Yessiree Bob!"
"In the end they'd guthole you," he said quietly. "But the isn't the point. "
"Then what is?"
"Annie, there are probably people in Sidewinder who at two and three years behind on their taxes. No one is taking their homes or auctioning their furnishings down at the town hall. The worst that happens to people like that most of the time is that they lose their town water. The Roydmans, now. " He looked at her shrewdly. "You think they pay their taxes on time?"
"That white trash?" she nearly shrieked. "Hah!"
"I think they are on the prod for you, Annie. " He did in fact believe this.
"I'll never go! I'll stay up here just to spite them! I'll stay up here and spit in their eye!"
"Can you come up with a hundred and six bucks to go with the four hundred in my wallet?"
"Yes. " She was beginning to look cautiously relieved.
"Good enough," he said. "Then I suggest you pay their crappy tax-bill today. " And while you're gone, I'll see what can do about those damned marks on the door. And when that's done, I believe I'll see if I can do anything about getting the fuck out of here, Annie. I'm a little tired of your hospitality.
He managed a smile.
"I think there must be at least seventeen cents there in the night-table," he said.
Annie Wilkes had her own interior set of rules; in her way she was strangely prim. She had made him drink water from a floor-bucket; had withheld his medication until he was in agony; had made him burn the only copy of his new novel; had handcuffed him and stuck a rag reeking of furniture polish in his mouth; but she would not take the money from his wallet. She brought it to him, the old scuffed Lord Buston he'd had since college, and put it in his hands.
All the ID had vanished. At that she had not scrupled. He did not ask her about it. It seemed wiser not to.
The ID was gone but the money was still there, the bills - mostly fifties - crisp and fresh. With a clarity that was both surprising and somehow ominous he saw himself pulling the Camaro up to the drive-in window of the Boulder Bank the day before he had finished Fast Cars and dropping his check for four hundred and fifty dollars, made out to cash and endorsed on the back, into the tray (perhaps even then the guys in the sweatshops had been talking vacation? - he thought it likely). The man who had done that had been free and healthy and feeling good, and had been without the wit to appreciate any of those fine things. The man who had done that had eyed the drive-up teller with a lively, interested eye - tall, blonde, wearing a pur
ple dress that had cupped her curves with a lover's touch. And she had eyed him back. . . What would she think, he wondered, of that man as he looked now, forty pounds lighter and ten years older, his legs a pair of crooked useless horrors?
He looked up at her, holding the money in one hand. There was four hundred and twenty, in all.
"Yes?" She was looking at him with that disconcerting expression of matemal love and tenderness - disconcerting because of the total solid blackness underlying it.
"Are you crying, Paul?" He brushed his cheek with his free hand and, yes, there was moisture there. He smiled and handed her the money. "A little. I was thinking how good you've been to me. Oh, I suppose a lot of people wouldn't understand. . . but I think I know. " Her own eyes glistened as she leaned forward and gently touched his lips. He smelled something on her breath, something from the dark and sour chambers inside her, something that smelled like dead fish. It was a thousand times worse than the taste/smell of the dust-rag. It brought back the memory of her sour breath (!breathe goddammit BREATHE!) blowing down his throat like a dirty wind from hell. His stomach clenched, but he smiled at her.
"I love you, dear," she said.
"Would you put me in my chair before you go? I want to write. "
"Of course. " She hugged him. "Of course, my dear. "
Her tenderness did not extend to leaving the bedroom door unlocked, but this presented no problem. He was not half-mad with pain and withdrawal symptoms this time. He had collected four of her bobby-pins as assiduously as a squirrel collects nuts for the winter, and had secreted them under his mattress along with the pills.
When he was sure she was really gone a not hanging around to see if he was going to "get up to didoes" (another Wilkesism for his growing lexicon), he rolled the wheelchair over to the bed and got the pins, along with the pitcher of water and the box of Kleenex from the night-table. Rolling the wheelchair with the Royal perched on the board in front of him was not very difficult - his arms had gotten a lot stronger. Annie Wilkes might be surprised to know just how strong they were now - and he sincerely hoped that someday soon she would be.
The Royal typewriter made a shitty writing machine, but as an exercise tool it was great. He had begun lifting it and setting it down whenever he was penned in the chair behind it and she was out of the room. Five lifts of six inches or so had been the best he could manage at first. Now he could do eighteen or twenty without a pause. Not bad when you considered the bastard weighed at least fifty pounds.
He worked on the lock with one of the bobby-pins, holding two spares in his mouth like a seamstress hemming a dress. He thought that the piece of bobby-pin still somewhere inside the lock might screw him up, but it didn't. He caught the rocker almost at once and pushed it up, drawing the lock's tongue along with it. He had just a moment to wonder if she might not have put a bolt on the outside of the door as well - he had tried very hard to seem weaker and sicker than he now really felt, but the suspicions of the true paranoiac spread wide and ran deep. Then the door was open.
He felt the same nervous guilt, the urge to do this fast. Ears attuned for the sound of Old Bessie returning - although she had only been gone for forty-five minutes - he pulled a bunch of the Kleenex, dipped the wad in the pitcher, and bent awkwardly over to one side with the soppy mass in his hand. Gritting his teeth and ignoring the pain, he began to rub at the mark on the right-hand side of the door.
To his intense relief, it began to fade almost at once. The hubs of the wheelchair had not actually scored through the paint, as he had feared, but only scuffed it.
He reversed away from the door, turned the chair, and backed up so he could work on the other mark. When he had done all he could, he reversed again and looked at the door, trying to see it through Annie's exquisitely suspicious eyes. The marks were there - but faint, almost unnoticeable. He thought he would be okay.
He hoped he would be okay.
"Tornado cellars," he said, licked his lips, and laughed dryly. "What the fuck, friends and neighbors. " He rolled back to the door and looked out at the corridor - but now that the marks were gone he felt no urge to go farther or dare more today. Another day, yes. He would know that day when it came around.
What he wanted to do now was to write.
He closed the door, and the click of the lock seemed very loud.
That bird came from Africa.
But you mustn't cry for that bird, Paulie, because after awhile it forgot about how the veldt smelled at noonday, and the sounds of the wildebeests at the waterhole, and the high acidic smell of the ieka-ieka trees in the great clearing north of the Big Road. After awhile it forgot the cerise color of the sun dying behind Kilimanjaro. After awhile it only knew the muddy, smogged-out sunsets of Boston, that was all it remembered and all it wanted to remember. After awhile it didn't want to go back anymore, and if someone took it back and set it free it would only crouch in one place, afraid and hurting and homesick in two unknown and terribly ineluctable directions, until something came along and killed it.
"Oh, Africa, oh, shit," he said in a trembling voice.
Crying a little, he rolled the wheelchair over to his wastebasket and buried the wet wads of Kleenex under the wastepaper. He repositioned the wheelchair by the window and rolled a piece of paper into the Royal.
And by the way, Paulie, is the bumper of your car sticking out of the snow yet? Is it sticking out, twinkling cheerily in the sun, just waiting for someone to come along and see it while you sit here wasting what may be your last chance?
He looked doubtfully at the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter.
I won't be able to write now anyway. That spoiled it.
But nothing had ever spoiled it, somehow. It could be spoiled, he knew that but in spite of the reputed fragility of the creative act, it had always been the single toughest thing, the most abiding thing, in his life - nothing had ever been able to pollute that crazy well of dreams: no drink, no drug, no pain. He fled to that well now, like a thirsty animal finding a waterhole at dusk, and he drank from it; which is to say he found the hole in the paper and fell thankfully through it. By the time Annie got back home at quarter of six, he had done almost five pages.
During the next three weeks, Paul Sheldon felt surrounded by a queer electric peacefulness. His mouth was always dry. Sounds seemed too loud. There were days when he felt he could bend spoons simply by looking at them. Other days he felt like weeping hysterically.