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  Outside this, separate of the atmosphere and apart from the deep, maddening itch of his healing legs, its own serene thing, the work continued. The stack of pages to the right of the Royal grew steadily taller. Before this strange experience, he had considered four pages a day to be his optimum output (on Fast Cars it had usually been three - and only two, on many days - before the final finishing sprint). But during this electric three-week period, which came to an end with the rainstorm of April 15th, Paul averaged twelve pages a day - seven in the morning, five more in an evening session. If anyone in his previous life (for so he had come to think of it, without even realizing it) had suggested he could work at such a pace, Paul would have laughed. When the rain began to fall, he had two hundred and sixty-seven pages of Misery's Return - first-draft stuff, sure, but he had scanned through it and thought it amazingly clean for a first.

  Part of the reason was that he was living an amazingly straight life. No long, muddled nights spent bar-hopping, followed by long, muddled days spent drinking coffee and orange juice and gobbling vitamin-B tablets (days when if his glance so much as happened upon his typewriter, he would turn away, shuddering). No more waking up next to a big blonde or redhead he had picked up somewhere the night before - a lass who usually looked like a queen at midnight and a goblin at ten the next morning. No more cigarettes. He had once asked for them in a timid and tentative voice, and she had given him a look of such utter darkness that he had told her at once to forget it. He was Mr Clean. No bad habits (except for his codeine jones, of course, still haven't done anything about that, have we, Paul?), no distractions. Here I am, he thought once, the world's only monastic druggie. Up at seven. Down two Novril with juice. At eight o'clock breakfast came, served at monsieur's bedside. A single egg, poached or scrambled, three days a week. High-fiber cereal the other four days. Then into the wheelchair. Over to the window. Find the hole in the paper. Fall into the nineteenth century, when men were men and women wore bustles. Lunch. Afternoon nap. Up again, sometimes to edit, sometimes just to read. She had everything Somerset Maugham had ever written (once Paul found himself wondering dourly if she had John Fowles's first novel on her shelves and decided it might be better not to ask), and Paul began to work his way through the twenty-odd volumes that comprised Maugham's oeuvre, fascinated by the man's canny grasp of story values. Over the years Paul had grown more and more resigned to the fact that he could not read stories as he had when he was a kid; by becoming a writer of them himself, he had condemned himself to a life of dissection. But Maugham first seduced him and then made him a child again, and that was wonderful. At five o'clock she would serve him a light supper, and at seven she would roll in the black-and-white television and they would watch M*A*S*H* and WKRP in Cincinnati. When these were over, Paul would write. When he was done, he would roll the wheelchair slowly (he could have gone much faster, but it was just as well that Annie should not know that) over to the bed. She would hear come in, and help him back into bed. More medication. Boom. Out like a light. And the next day would be just the same. And the next. And the next.

  Being such a straight arrow was part of the reason for this amazing fecundity, but Annie herself was a bigger one. After all, it was her single hesitant suggestion about the bee-sting which had shaped the book and given it its urgency when Paul had firmly believed he could never feel urgent about Misery again.

  He'd been sure of one thing from the start: there really was no Misery's Retum. His attention had been focused only on finding a way to get the bitch out of her grave without cheating before Annie decided to inspire him by giving him an enema with a handful of Ginsu knives. Minor matters such as what the fucking book was supposed to be about would have to wait.

  During the two days following Annie's trip to town to pay her tax-bill, Paul tried to forget his failure to take advantage of what could have been a golden opportunity to escape and concentrated on getting Misery back to Mrs Ramage's cottage instead. Taking her to Geoffrey's home was no good. The servants - most notably Geoffrey's gossipy butler, Tyler - would see and talk. Also, he needed to establish the total amnesia which had been caused by the shock of being buried alive. Amnesia? Shit, the chick could barely talk. Sort of a relief, given Misery's usual burblings.

  So - what next? The bitch was out of her grave, now where was the fucking story? Should Geoffrey and Mrs Ramage tell Ian that Misery was still alive? Paul didn't think so but he wasn't sure - not being sure of things, he knew, was a charmless corner of purgatory reserved for writers who were driving fast with no idea at all where they were going.

  Not Ian, he thought, looking out at the barn. Not Ian, not yet. The doctor first. That old asshole with all the n's in his name, Shinebone.

  The thought of the doctor brought Annie's comment about bee-stings to mind, and not for the first time. It kept recurring at odd moments. One person in every dozen. . .

  But it just wouldn't play. Two unrelated women in neighboring townships, both allergic to stings in the same rare way?

  Three days following the Great Annie Wilkes Tax Bailout, Paul had been drowsing his way into his afternoon nap when the guys in the sweatshop weighed in, and weighed in heavy. This time it wasn't a flare; this time it was an H-bomb explosion.

  He sat bolt upright in bed, ignoring the flare of pain which shot up his legs.

  "Annie!" he bawled. "Annie, come in here!" He heard her thump down the stairs two at a time and then run down the hallway. Her eyes were wide and scared when she came in.

  "Paul! What's wrong? Are you cramping? Are you - "

  "No "he said, but of course he was; his mind was cramping. "No. Annie, I'm sorry if I scared you, but you gotta help me into the chair. Mighty fuck! I got it!" The dreaded effword was out before he could help it, but this time it didn't seem to matter - she was looking at him respectfully, and with not a little awe. Here was the secular version of the Pentecostal fire, burning before her very eyes.

  "Of course, Paul. " She got him into the chair as quickly as she could. She began to roll him toward the window and Paul shook his head impatiently. "This won't take long," he said, "but it's very important. "

  "Is it about the book?"

  "It is the book. Be quiet. Don't talk to me. " Ignoring the typewriter - he never used the typewriter to make notes - he seized one of the ballpoints and quickly covered a single sheet of paper with a scrawl that probably no one but himself could have read.

  They WERE related. It was bees and it affected them both the same way because they WERE related. Misery's an orph. And guess what? The Evelyn-Hyde babe was MISERY'S SISTER! Or maybe half-sister. That would probably work better. Who gets the first hint? Shinny? No. Shinny's a ninny. Mrs R. She can go to see Charl. E-H's mommy and

  And now he was struck by an idea of such intense loveliness - in terms of the plot at least - that he looked up, mouth open, eyes wide.

  "Paul?" Annie asked anxiously.

  "She knew," Paul whispered. "Of course she did. At least strongly suspected. But - " He bent to his notes again.

  she - Mrs R. realizes at once that Mrs E-H has got to know M. is related to her daught. Same hair or something. Remember E-H's mom is starting to look like a maj. character. You'll need to work her up. Mrs R. starts to realize Mrs E-H MAY EVEN HAVE KNOWN MISERY WAS BURIED ALIVE!! SHIT ON A SHINGLE! LOVE IT! Suppose the ole lady guessed Misery was a leftover of her fuck-'em-and-leave-'em days and

  He put the pen down, looked at the paper, then slowly picked the pen up again and scrawled a few more lines.

  Three necessary points.

  1. How does Mrs E-H react to Mrs R's suspicions? She should be either murderous or puke-up scared. I prefer scared but think A. W. would like murderous, so OK murd.


  2. How does Ian get into this?


  3. Misery's amnesia?


  Oh and here's one to grow on. Does Misery find out her mom lived with the possibility that n
ot just one but two of her daughters had been buried alive rather than speak up?

  Why not?

  "You could help me back into bed now if you wanted," Paul said. "If I sounded mad, I'm sorry. I was just excited. "

  "That's all right, Paul. " She still sounded awed.

  Since then the work had driven on famously. Annie was right; the story was turning out to be a good deal more gruesome than the other Misery books - the first chapter had not been a fluke but a harbinger. But it was also more richly plotted than any Misery novel since the first, and the characters were more lively. The latter three Misery novels had been little more than straightforward adventure tales with a fair amount of piquantly described sex thrown in to please the ladies. This book, he began to understand, was a gothic novel, and thus was more dependent on plot than on situation. The challenges were constant. It was not just a question of Can You? to begin the book - for the first time in years, it was Can You? almost every day. . . and he was finding he could.

  Then the rain came and things changed.


  From the eighth of April until the fourteenth they enjoyed an unbroken run of fine weather. The sun beamed down from a cloudless sky and temperatures sometimes rose into the mid-sixties. Brown patches began to a appear in the field behind Annie's neat red barn. Paul hid behind his work and tried not to think about his car, the discovery of which was already overdue. His work did not suffer, but his mood did; he felt more and more that he was living in a cloud chamber, breathing an atmosphere thick with uncoalesced electricity. Whenever the Camaro stole into his mind, he immediately called the Brain Police and had the thought led away in handcuffs and leg-irons. Trouble was, the nasty thing had a way of escaping and coming back time after time, in one form or another.

  One night he dreamed that Mr Rancho Grande returned to Annie's place. He got out of his well-kept Chevrolet Bel Air, holding part of the Camaro's bumper in one hand and its steering wheel in the other. Do these belong to you? he asked Annie in this dream.

  Paul had awakened in a less-than-cheery frame of mind.

  Annie, on the other hand, had never been in better spirits than she was during that sunny early-spring week. She cleaned; she cooked ambitious meals (although everything she cooked came out tasting strangely industrial, as if years of eating in hospital cafeterias had somehow corrupted any culinary talent she might once have had); each afternoon she bundled Paul up in a huge blue blanket, jammed a green hunting cap on his head, and rolled him out onto the back porch.

  On those occasions he would take Maugham along, but rarely read him - being outside again was too great an experience to allow much concentration on other things. Mostly he just sat, smelling sweet cool air instead of the bedroom's stale indoor smell, sly with sickroom undertones, listened to the drip of the icicles, and watched the cloud-shadows roll slowly and steadily across the melting field. That was somehow best of all.

  Annie sang in her on-pitch but queerly tuneless voice. She giggled like a child at the jokes on M*A*S*H* and WKRP, laughing especially hard at the jokes which were mildly off-color (which, in the case of WKRP, was most of them. ). She filled in n s tirelessly as Paul finished Chapters 9 and 10.

  The morning of the fifteenth dawned windy and dull with clouds, and Annie changed. Perhaps, Paul thought, it was the falling barometer. It was as good an explanation as any.

  She did not show up with his medication until nine o'clock, and by then he needed it quite badly - so badly that he had been thinking of going to his stash. There was no breakfast. just the pills. When she came in she was still in her pink quilted housecoat. He noted with deepening misgivings that there were red marks like weals on her cheeks and arms. He also saw gooey splatters of food on the housecoat, and she had only managed to get on one of her slippers. Thud-slush, went Annie's feet as she approached him. Thud-slush, thud-slush, thud-slush. Her hair hung around her face. Her eyes were dull. i "Here. " She threw the pills at him. Her hands were also covered with mixed streaks of goo. Red stuff, brown stuff, sticky white stuff. Paul had no idea what it was. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. The pills hit his chest and bounced into his lap. She turned to go. Thud-slush, thud-slush, thud-slush.

  "Annie?" She stopped, not turning around. She looked bigger that way, with her shoulders rounding the pink housecoat, her hair like some battered helmet. She looked like a Piltdown woman staring out of her cave.

  "Annie, are you all right?"

  "No," she said indifferently, and turned around. She looked at him with that same dullard's expression as she pinched her lower lip between the thumb and first finger of her right hand. She pulled it out and then twisted it, pinching inward at the same time. Blood first welled between lip and then gushed down her chin. She turned and left without speaking a word, before his stunned mind could persuade itself that he had really seen her do that. She closed the door. . . and locked it. He heard her thud-slushing her way down the hall to the parlor. He heard the creak of her favorite chair as she sat down. Nothing else. No TV. No singing. No click-clink of silver on crockery. No, she was just sitting there. Just sitting there being not all right.

  Then there was a sound. It was not repeated, but it was utterly distinctive. It was a slap. A damned hard one. And since he was in here on one side of a locked door and she was out there on the other side of it, you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that she'd slapped herself. Good and hard, from the sound. He saw her pulling her lip out, digging her short nails into its sensitive pink meat.

  He suddenly remembered a note on mental illness he had taken for the first Misery book, where much of the action had been set in London's Bedlam Hospital (Misery had been railroaded there by the madly jealous villainess). When a manic-depressive personality begins to slide deeply into a depressive period, he had written, one symptom he or she may exhibit is acts of self-punishment: slapping, punching, pinching, burning one's self w/ cigarette butts, etc He was suddenly very scared.


  Paul remembered an essay by Edmund Wilson where Wilson had said, in typically grudging Wilson manner, that Wordsworth's criterion for the writing of good poetry - strong emotion recalled in a time of tranquility - would do well enough for most dramatic fiction as well. It was probably true. Paul had known writers who found it impossible to write after so much as a minor marital spat, and he himself usually found it impossible to write when upset. But there were times when a kind of reverse effect obtained - these were times when he had gone to the work not just because the work ought to be done but because it was a way to escape whatever was upsetting him. These were usually occasions when rectifying the source of the upset was beyond him.