When Bobby came back from Sully-John's it was quarter past six and getting dark. He had two new books to read, a Perry Mason called The Case of the Velvet Claws and a science-fiction novel by Clifford Simak called Ring Around the Sun. Both looked totally ripshit, and Miss Harrington hadn't given him a hard time at all. On the contrary: she told him he was reading above his level and to keep it up.
Walking home from S-J's, Bobby made up a story where he and Miss Harrington were on a cruise-boat that sank. They were the only two survivors, saved from drowning by finding a life preserver marked S.S. LUSITANIC. They washed up on a little island with palm trees and jungles and a volcano, and as they lay on the beach Miss Harrington was shivering and saying she was cold, so cold, couldn't he please hold her and warm her up, which he of course could and did, my pleasure, Miss Harrington, and then the natives came out of the jungle and at first they seemed friendly but it turned out they were cannibals who lived on the slopes of the volcano and killed their victims in a clearing ringed with skulls, so things looked bad but just as he and Miss Harrington were pulled toward the cooking pot the volcano started to rumble and --
Bobby looked up, even more startled than he'd been when Carol Gerber raced out from behind the tree to put a birthday smackeroo on his cheek. It was the new man in the house. He was sitting on the top porch step and smoking a cigarette. He had exchanged his old scuffed shoes for a pair of old scuffed slippers and had taken off his poplin jacket -- the evening was warm. He looked at home, Bobby thought.
"Oh, Mr. Brautigan. Hi."
"I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't -- "
"I think I did. You were a thousand miles away. And it's Ted. Please."
"Okay." But Bobby didn't know if he could stick to Ted. Calling a grownup (especially an old grownup) by his first name went against not only his mother's teaching but his own inclination.
"Was school good? You learned new things?"
"Yeah, fine." Bobby shifted from foot to foot; swapped his new books from hand to hand.
"Would you sit with me a minute?"
"Sure, but I can't for long. Stuff to do, you know." Supper to do, mostly -- the leftover stew had grown quite attractive in his mind by now.
"Absolutely. Things to do and tempus fugit."
As Bobby sat down next to Mr. Brautigan -- Ted -- on the wide porch step, smelling the aroma of his Chesterfield, he thought he had never seen a man who looked as tired as this one. It couldn't be the moving in, could it? How worn out could you get when all you had to move in were three little suitcases and three carryhandle shopping bags? Bobby supposed there might be men coming later on with stuff in a truck, but he didn't really think so. It was just a room -- a big one, but still just a single room with a kitchen on one side and everything else on the other. He and Sully-John had gone up there and looked around after old Miss Sidley had her stroke and went to live with her daughter.
"Tempus fugit means time flies," Bobby said. "Mom says it a lot. She also says time and tide wait for no man and time heals all wounds."
"Your mother is a woman of many sayings, is she?"
"Yeah," Bobby said, and suddenly the idea of all those sayings made him tired. "Many sayings."
"Ben Jonson called time the old bald cheater," Ted Brautigan said, drawing deeply on his cigarette and then exhaling twin streams through his nose. "And Boris Pasternak said we are time's captives, the hostages of eternity."
Bobby looked at him in fascination, his empty belly temporarily forgotten. He loved the idea of time as an old bald cheater -- it was absolutely and completely right, although he couldn't have said why...and didn't that very inability to say why somehow add to the coolness? It was like a thing inside an egg, or a shadow behind pebbled glass.
Copyright © 1999 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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