"Was it a boy or a girl?" he asked.
We'd had names picked out and waiting for most of our marriage. A boy would have been Andrew. Our daughter would have been Kia. Kia Jane Noonan.
Frank, divorced six years and on his own, had been staying with me. On our way back to the house he said, "I worry about you, Mikey. You haven't got much family to fall back on at a time like this, and what you do have is far away."
"I'll be all right," I said.
He nodded. "That's what we say, anyway, isn't it?"
"Guys. 'I'll be all right.' And if we're not, we try to make sure no one knows it." He looked at me, eyes still leaking, handkerchief in one big sunburned hand. "If you're not all right, Mikey, and you don't want to call your brother -- I saw the way you looked at him -- let me be your brother. For Jo's sake if not your own."
"Okay," I said, respecting and appreciating the offer, also knowing I would do no such thing. I don't call people for help. It's not because of the way I was raised, at least I don't think so; it's the way I was made. Johanna once said that if I was drowning at Dark Score Lake, where we have a summer home, I would die silently fifty feet out from the public beach rather than yell for help. It's not a question of love or affection. I can give those and I can take them. I feel pain like anyone else. I need to touch and be touched. But if someone asks me, "Are you all right?" I can't answer no. I can't say help me.
A couple of hours later Frank left for the southern end of the state. When he opened the car door, I was touched to see that the taped book he was listening to was one of mine. He hugged me, then surprised me with a kiss on the mouth, a good hard smack. "If you need to talk, call," he said. "And if you need to be with someone, just come."
"And be careful."
That startled me. The combination of heat and grief had made me feel as if I had been living in a dream for the last few days, but that got through.
"Careful of what?"
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know, Mikey." Then he got into his car -- he was so big and it was so little that he looked as if he were wearing it -- and drove away. The sun was going down by then. Do you know how the sun looks at the end of a hot day in August, all orange and somehow squashed, as if an invisible hand were pushing down on the top of it and at any moment it might just pop like an overfilled mosquito and splatter all over the horizon? It was like that. In the east, where it was already dark, thunder was rumbling. But there was no rain that night, only a dark that came down as thick and stifling as a blanket. All the same, I slipped in front of the word processor and wrote for an hour or so. It went pretty well, as I remember. And you know, even when it doesn't, it passes the time.
My second crying fit came three or four days after the funeral. That sense of being in a dream persisted -- I walked, I talked, I answered the phone, I worked on my book, which had been about eighty per cent complete when Jo died -- but all the time there was this clear sense of disconnection, a feeling that everything was going on at a distance from the real me, that I was more or less phoning it in.
Denise Breedlove, Pete's mother, called and asked if I wouldn't like her to bring a couple of her friends over one day the following week and give the big old Edwardian pile I now lived in alone -- rolling around in it like the last pea in a restaurant-sized can -- a good stem-to-stern cleaning. They would do it, she said, for a hundred dollars split even among the three of them, and mostly because it wasn't good for me to go on without it. There had to be a scrubbing after a death, she said, even if the death didn't happen in the house itself.
Copyright © 1998 by Stephen King
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