Home > Misery(7)

Author: Stephen King


The tide went out. The pilings were back. He began to wait for the clock to chime. Two chimes. The chimes came. He lay propped up on the pillows, watching the door. She came in. She was wearing an apron over her cardigan and one of her skirts. In one hand she held a floor-bucket.

"I suppose you want" your cockadoodie medication," she said.

"Yes, please." He tried to smile at her ingratiatingly and felt that shame again - he felt grotesque to himself, a stranger.

"I have it," she said, "but first I have to clean up the mess in the comer. The mess you made. You'll have to wait until I do that." He lay in the bed with his legs making shapes like broken branches under the coverlet and cold sweat running down his face in little slow creeks, he lay and watched as she crossed to the corner and set the bucket down and then picked up the pieces of the bowl and took them out and came back and knelt by the bucket and fished in it and brought out a soapy rag and wrung it out and began to wash the dried soup from the wall. He lay and watched and at last he began to shiver and the shivering made the pain worse but he could not help it. Once she turned around and saw him shivering and soaking the bedclothes in sweat, and she favored him with such a sly knowing smile that he could easily have killed her.

"It's dried on," she said, turning her face back into tie corner. "I'm afraid this is going to take awhile, Paul." She scrubbed. The stain slowly disappeared from the plaster but she went on dipping the cloth, wringing it out, scrubbing, and then repeating the whole process. He could not see her face, but the idea - the certainty - that she had gone blank and might go on scrubbing the wall for hours tormented him.

At last - just before the clock chimed once, marking two-thirty - she got up and dropped the rag into the water. She took the bucket from the room without a word. He lay in bed, listening to the creaking boards which marked tier heavy, stolid passage, listening as she poured the water (out of her bucket - and, incredibly, the sound of the faucet as she drew more. He began to cry soundlessly. The tide had never gone out so far; he could see nothing but drying mudflats and those splintered pilings which cast their eternal damaged shadows.

She came back and stood for just a moment inside the doorway, observing his wet face with that same mixture of sternness and maternal love. Then her eyes drifted to the corner, where no sign of the splashed soup remained.

"Now I must rinse," she said, "or else the soap will leave a dull spot. I must do it all; I must make everything right. Living alone as I do is no excuse whatever for scamping the job. My mother had a motto, Paul, and I live by it. "Once nasty, never neat," she used to say."

"Please," he groaned. "Please, the pain, I'm dying."

"No. You're not dying."

"I'll scream," he said, beginning to cry harder. It hurt lo cry. It hurt his legs and it hurt his heart. "I won't be able lo help it."

"Then scream," she said. "But remember that you made that mess. Not me. It's nobody's fault but your own." Somehow he was able to keep from screaming. He watched as she dipped and wrung and rinsed, dipped and wrung and rinsed. At last, just as the clock in what he assumed was the parlor began to strike three, she rose and picked up the bucket.

She's going to go out now. She's going to go out and I'll hear her pouring the rinse-water down the sink and maybe she won't come back for hours because maybe she's not done punishing me yet.

But instead of leaving, she walked over to the bed and fished in her apron pocket. She brought out not two capsules but three.

"Here," she said tenderly.

He gobbled them into his mouth, and when he looked up he saw her lifting the yellow plastic floor-bucket toward him. It filled his field of vision like a falling moon. Grayish water slopped over the rim onto the coverlet.

"Wash them down with this," she said. Her voice was still tender.

He stared at her, and his face was all eyes.

"Do it," she said. "I know you can dry-swallow them, but please believe me when I say I can make them come right back up again. After all, it's only rinse-water. It won't hurt you." She leaned over him like a monolith, the bucket slightly tipped. He could see the rag twisting slowly in its dark depths like a drowned thing; he could see a thin scrum of soap on top. Part of him groaned but none of him hesitated. He drank quickly, washing the pills down, and the taste in his mouth was as it had been on the occasions when his mother made him brush his teeth with soap.

His belly hitched and he made a thick sound.

"I wouldn't throw them up, Paul. No more until nine tonight." She looked at him for a moment with a flat empty gaze, and then her face lit up and she smiled.

"You won't make me mad again, will you?"

"No," he whispered. Anger the moon which brought the tide? What an idea! What a bad idea!

"I love you," she said, and kissed him on the cheek. She left, not looking back, carrying the floor-bucket the way a sturdy countrywoman might carry a milk-pail, slightly away from her body with no thought at all, so that none would spill.

He lay back, tasting grit and plaster in his mouth and throat. Tasting soap.

I won't throw up... won't throw up... won't throw up.

At last the urgency of this thought began to fade and he realized he was going to sleep. He had held everything down long enough for the medication to begin its work. He had won.

This time.


He dreamed he was being eaten by a bird. It was not a good dream. There was a bang and he thought, Yes, good, all right! Shoot it! Shoot the goddamned thing!

Then he was awake, knowing it was only Annie Wilkes, pulling the back door shut. She had gone out to do the chores. He heard the dim crunch of her footsteps in the snow. She went past his window, wearing a parka with the hood up. Her breath plumed out, then broke apart on her moving face. She didn't look in at him, intent on her chores in the barn, he supposed. Feeding the animals, cleaning the stalls, maybe casting a few runes - he wouldn't put it past her. The sky was darkening purple - sunset. Five-thirty, maybe six o'clock.

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