I turned the page and read this: Strickland's injurious calm robbed Stroeve of his self-control. Blind rage seized him, and without knowing what he was doing he flung himself on Strickland. Strickland was taken by surprise and he staggered, but he was very strong, even after his illness, and in a moment, he did not exactly know how, Stroeve found himself on the floor.
"You funny little man, " said Strickland.
It occurred to me that Jo was never going to turn the page and hear Strickland call the pathetic Stroeve a funny little man. In a moment of brilliant epiphany I have never forgotten -- how could I? it was one of the worst moments of my life -- I understood it wasn't a mistake that would be rectified, or a dream from which I would awaken. Johanna was dead.
My strength was robbed by grief. If the bed hadn't been there, I would have fallen to the floor. We weep from our eyes, it's all we can do, but on that evening I felt as if every pore of my body were weeping, every crack and cranny. I sat there on her side of the bed, with her dusty paperback copy of The Moon and Sixpence in my hand, and I wailed. I think it was surprise as much as pain; in spite of the corpse I had seen and identified on a high-resolution video monitor, in spite of the funeral and Pete Breedlove singing "Blessed Assurance" in his high, sweet tenor voice, in spite of the graveside service with its ashes to ashes and dust to dust, I hadn't really believed it. The Penguin paperback did for me what the big gray coffin had not: it insisted she was dead.
You funny little man, said Strickland.
I lay back on our bed, crossed my forearms over my face, and cried myself to sleep that way as children do when they're unhappy. I had an awful dream. In it I woke up, saw the paperback of The Moon and Sixpence still lying on the coverlet beside me, and decided to put it back under the bed where I had found it. You know how confused dreams are -- logic like Dalí clocks gone so soft they lie over the branches of trees like throw-rugs.
I put the playing-card bookmark back between pages 102 and 103 -- turn of the index finger away from You funny little man, said Strickland now and forever -- and rolled onto my side, hanging my head over the edge of the bed, meaning to put the book back exactly where I had found it.
Jo was lying there amid the dust-kitties. A strand of cobweb hung down from the bottom of the box spring and caressed her cheek like a feather. Her red hair looked dull, but her eyes were dark and alert and baleful in her white face. And when she spoke, I knew that death had driven her insane.
"Give me that," she hissed. "It's my dust-catcher." She snatched it out of my hand before I could offer it to her. For a moment our fingers touched, and hers were as cold as twigs after a frost. She opened the book to her place, the playing card fluttering out, and placed Somerset Maugham over her face -- a shroud of words. As she crossed her hands on her bosom and lay still, I realized she was wearing the blue dress I had buried her in. She had come out of her grave to hide under our bed.
I awoke with a muffled cry and a painful jerk that almost tumbled me off the side of the bed. I hadn't been asleep long -- the tears were still damp on my cheeks, and my eyelids had that funny stretched feel they get after a bout of weeping. The dream had been so vivid that I had to roll on my side, hang my head down, and peer under the bed, sure she would be there with the book over her face, that she would reach out with her cold fingers to touch me.
There was nothing there, of course -- dreams are just dreams. Nevertheless, I spent the rest of the night on the couch in my study. It was the right choice, I guess, because there were no more dreams that night. Only the nothingness of good sleep.
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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