"Just one," I said. I told him what she'd purchased in the drugstore just before she died. Then I asked my question.
The days leading up to the funeral and the funeral itself are dreamlike in my memory -- the clearest memory I have is of eating Jo's chocolate mouse and crying...crying mostly, I think, because I knew how soon the taste of it would be gone. I had one other crying fit a few days after we buried her, and I will tell you about that one shortly.
I was glad for the arrival of Jo's family, and particularly for the arrival of her oldest brother, Frank. It was Frank Arlen -- fifty, red-cheeked, portly, and with a head of lush dark hair -- who organized the arrangements...who wound up actually dickering with the funeral director.
"I can't believe you did that," I said later, as we sat in a booth at Jack's Pub, drinking beers.
"He was trying to stick it to you, Mikey," he said. "I hate guys like that." He reached into his back pocket, brought out a handkerchief, and wiped absently at his cheeks with it. He hadn't broken down -- none of the Arlens broke down, at least not when I was with them -- but Frank had leaked steadily all day; he looked like a man suffering from severe conjunctivitis.
There had been six Arlen sibs in all, Jo the youngest and the only girl. She had been the pet of her big brothers. I suspect that if I'd had anything to do with her death, the five of them would have torn me apart with their bare hands. As it was, they formed a protective shield around me instead, and that was good. I suppose I might have muddled through without them, but I don't know how. I was thirty-six, remember. You don't expect to have to bury your wife when you're thirty-six and she herself is two years younger. Death was the last thing on our minds.
"If a guy gets caught taking your stereo out of your car, they call it theft and put him in jail," Frank said. The Arlens had come from Massachusetts, and I could still hear Malden in Frank's voice -- caught was coowat, car was cah, call was caul. "If the same guy is trying to sell a grieving husband a three-thousand-dollar casket for forty-five hundred dollars, they call it business and ask him to speak at the Rotary Club luncheon. Greedy asshole, I fed him his lunch, didn't I?"
"Yes. You did."
"You okay, Mikey?"
"How the fuck should I know?" I asked him, loud enough to turn some heads in a nearby booth. And then: "She was pregnant."
His face grew very still. "What?"
I struggled to keep my voice down. "Pregnant. Six or seven weeks, according to the...you know, the autopsy. Did you know? Did she tell you?"
"No! Christ, no!" But there was a funny look on his face, as if she had told him something. "I knew you were trying, of course...she said you had a low sperm count and it might take a little while, but the doctor thought you guys'd probably...sooner or later you'd probably..." He trailed off, looking down at his hands. "They can tell that, huh? They check for that?"
"They can tell. As for checking, I don't know if they do it automatically or not. I asked."
"She didn't just buy sinus medicine before she died. She also bought one of those home pregnancy-testing kits."
"You had no idea? No clue?"
I shook my head.
He reached across the table and squeezed my shoulder. "She wanted to be sure, that's all. You know that, don't you?"
A refill on my sinus medicine and a piece of fish, she'd said. Looking like always. A woman off to run a couple of errands. We had been trying to have a kid for eight years, but she had looked just like always.
"Sure," I said, patting Frank's hand. "Sure, big guy. I know."
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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