Going in style, all right, he thought. Only way you could go in more style would be if you were going in a hearse. But don't worry, Eddie-that's probably how you'll come back. If there's enough of you left to pick up, that is.
Nine-twenty. Plenty of time to talk to her, plenty of time to be kind. Ah, but it would have been so much better if this had been her whist night, if he could have just slipped out, leaving a note under one of the magnets on the refrigerator door (the refrigerator door was where he left all his notes for Myra, because there she never missed them). Leaving that way-like a fugitive-would not have been good, but this was even worse. This was like having to leave home all over again, and that had been so hard he'd had to do it three times.
Sometimes home is where the heart is, Eddie thought randomly. I believe that. Old Bobby Frost said home's the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Unfortunately, it's also the place where, once you're in there, they don't ever want to let you out.
He stood at the head of the stairs, forward motion temporarily spent, filled with fear, breath wheezing noisily in and out of the pinhole his throat had become, and regarded his weeping wife.
"Come on downstairs with me and I'll tell you what I can," he said.
Eddie put his two bags-clothes in one, medicine in the other-by the door in the front hall. He remembered something else then... or rather the ghost of his mother, who had been dead many years but who still spoke frequently in his mind, remembered for him.
You know when your feet get wet you always get a cold, Eddie-you're not like other people, you have a very weak system, you have to be careful. That's why you must always wear your rubbers when it rains.
It rained a lot in Derry.
Eddie opened the front-hall closet, got his rubbers off the hook where they hung neatly in a plastic bag, and put them in his clothes suitcase.
That's a good boy, Eddie.
He and Myra had been watching TV when the shit hit the fan. Eddie went into the television room and pushed the button which lowered the screen of the MuralVision TV-its screen was so big that it made Freeman McNeil look like a visitor from Brobdingnag on Sunday afternoons. He picked up the telephone and called a taxi. The dispatcher told him it would probably be fifteen minutes. Eddie said that was no problem.
He hung up and grabbed his aspirator off the top of their expensive Sony compact-disc player. I spent fifteen hundred bucks on a state-of-the-art sound system so that Myra wouldn't miss a single golden note on her Barry Manilow records and her "supremes Greatest Hits," he thought, and then felt a flush of guilt. That wasn't fair, and he damn well knew it. Myra would have been just as happy with her old scratchy records as she was with the new 45-rpm-sized laser discs, just as she would have been happy to keep on living in the little four-room house in Queens until they were both old and gray (and, if the truth were told, there was a little snow on Eddie Kaspbrak's mountain already). He had bought the luxury sound system for the same reasons that he had bought this low fieldstone house on Long Island, where the two of them often rattled around like the last two peas in a can: because he had been able to, and because they were ways of appeasing the soft, frightened, often bewildered, always implacable voice of his mother; they were ways of saying: I made it, Ma! Look at all this! I made it! Now will you please for Christ's sake shut up awhile?
Eddie stuffed the aspirator into his mouth and, like a man miming suicide, pulled the trigger. A cloud of awful licorice taste roiled and boiled its way down his throat, and Eddie breathed deeply. He could feel breathing passages which had almost closed start to open up again. The tightness in his chest started to ease, and suddenly he heard voices in his mind, ghost-voices.
Didn't you get the note I sent you?
I got it, Mrs Kaspbrak, but-
Well, in case you can't read, Coach Black, let me tell you in person. Are you ready?
Good. Here it comes, from my lips to your ears. Ready? My Eddie cannot take physical education. I repeat: he canNOT take phys ed. Eddie is very delicate, and if he runs... or jumps...
Mrs Kaspbrak, I have the results of Eddie's last physical on file in my office-that's a state requirement. It says that Eddie is a little small for his age, but otherwise he's absolutely normal. So I called your family physician just to be sure and he confirmed -
Are you saying I'm a liar, Coach Black? Is that it? Well, here he is! Here's Eddie, standing right beside me! Can you hear the way he's breathing? CAN you?
Mom... please... I'm all right...
Eddie, you know better than that. I taught you better than that. Don't interrupt your elders.
I hear him, Mrs Kaspbrak, but-
Do you? Good! I thought maybe you were deaf! He sounds like a truck going uphill in low gear, doesn't he? And if that isn't asthma -
Mom, I'll be-
Be quiet, Eddie, don't interrupt me again. If that isn't asthma, Coach Black, then I'm Queen Elizabeth!
Mrs Kaspbrak, Eddie often seems very well and happy in his physical-education classes. He loves to play games, and he runs quite fast. In my conversation with Dr Baynes, the word "psychosomatic" came up. I wonder if you've considered the possibility that-
-that my son is crazy? Is that what you're trying to say? ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY THAT MY SON IS CRAZY????
My son is very delicate.
Mrs Kaspbrak, Dr Baynes confirmed that he could find nothing at all-"physically wrong," Eddie finished. The memory of that humiliating encounter, his mother screaming at Coach Black in the Derry Elementary School gymnasium while he gasped and cringed at her side and the other kids huddled around one of the baskets and watched, had recurred to him tonight for the first time in years. Nor was that the only memory which Mike Hanlon's call was going to bring back, he knew. He could feel many others, as bad or even worse, crowding and jostling like sale-mad shoppers bottlenecked in a department-store doorway. But soon the bottleneck would break and they would be along. He was quite sure of that. And what would they find on sale? His sanity? Could be. Half-Price. Smoke and Water Damage. Everything Must Go.
"Nothing physically wrong," he repeated, took a deep shuddery breath, and stuffed the aspirator into his pocket.
"Eddie," Myra said. "Please tell me what all of this is about!"
Tear-tracks shone on her chubby cheeks. Her hands twisted restlessly together like a pair of pink and hairless animals at play. Once, shortly before actually proposing marriage, he had taken a picture of Myra which she had given him and had put it next to one of his mother, who had died of congestive heart-failure at the age of sixty-four. At the time of her death Eddie's mother had topped the scales at over four hundred pounds-four hundred and six, to be exact. She had become something nearly monstrous by then-her body had seemed nothing more than boobs and butt and belly, all overtopped by her pasty, perpetually dismayed face. But the picture of her which he put next to Myra's picture had been taken in 1944, two years before he had been born (You were a very sickly baby, the ghost-mom now whispered in his ear. Many times we despaired of your life... In 1944 his mother had been a relatively svelte one hundred and eighty pounds.
He had made that comparison, he supposed, in a last-ditch effort to stop himself from committing psychological incest. He looked from Mother to Myra and back again to Mother.
They could have been sisters. The resemblance was that close.
Eddie looked at the two nearly identical pictures and promised himself he would not do this crazy thing. He knew that the boys at work were already making jokes about Jack Sprat and his wife, but they didn't know the half of it. The jokes and snide remarks he could take, but did he really want to be a clown in such a Freudian circus as this? No. He did not. He would break it off with Myra. He would let her down gently because she was really very sweet and had had even less experience with men than he'd had with women. And then, after she had finally sailed over the horizon of his life, he could maybe take those tennis lessons he'd been thinking of for such a long time
(Eddie often seems very well and happy in his physical-education classes)
or there were the pool memberships they were selling at the UN Plaza Hotel
(Eddie loves to play games)
not to mention that health club which had opened up on Third Avenue across from the garage...
(Eddie runs quite fast he runs quite fast when you're not here runs quite fast when there's nobody around to remind him of how delicate he is and I see in his face Mrs Kaspbrak that he knows even now at the age of nine he knows that the biggest favor in the world he could do himself would be to run fast in any direction you're not going let him go Mrs Kaspbrak let him RUN)
But in the end he had married Myra anyway. In the end the old ways and the old habits had simply been too strong. Home was the place where, when you have to go there, they have to chain you up. Oh, he might have beaten his mother's ghost. It would have been hard but he was quite sure he could have done that much, if that had been all which needed doing. It was Myra herself who had ended up tipping the scales away from independence. Myra had condemned him with solicitude, had nailed him with concern, had chained him with sweetness. Myra, like his mother, had reached the final, fatal insight into his character: Eddie was all the more delicate because he sometimes suspected he was not delicate at all; Eddie needed to be protected from his own dim intimations of possible bravery.
On rainy days Myra always took his rubbers out of the plastic bag in the closet and put them by the coat-rack next to the door. Beside his plate of unbuttered wheat toast each morning was a dish of what might have been taken at a casual glance for a multi-colored pre-sweetened children's cereal, but which a closer look would have revealed to be a whole spectrum of vitamins (most of which Eddie had in his medicine-bag right now). Myra, like Mother, under-, stood, and there had really been no chance for him. As a young unmarried man he had left his mother three times and returned home to her three times. Then, four years after his mother had died in the front hall of her Queens apartment, blocking the front door so completely with her bulk that the Medcu guys (called by the people downstairs when they heard the monstrous thud of Mrs Kaspbrak going down for the final count) had had to break in through the locked door between the apartment's kitchen and the service stairwell, he had returned home for a fourth and final time. At least he had believed then it was for the final time-home again, home again, jiggety-jog; home again, home again, with Myra the hog. A hog she was, but she was a sweet hog, and he loved her, and there had really been no chance for him at all. She had drawn him to her with the fatal, hypnotizing snake's eye of understanding., Home again forever, he had thought then.
But maybe I was wrong, he thought. Maybe this isn't home, nor ever was-maybe home is where I have to go tonight. Home is the place where when you go there, you have to finally face the thing in the dark.
He shuddered helplessly, as if he had gone outside without his rubbers and caught a terrible chill.
She was beginning to weep again. Tears were her final defense, just as they had always been his mother's: the soft weapon which paralyzes, which turns kindness and tenderness into fatal chinks in one's armor.
Not that he'd ever worn much armor anyway-suits of armor did not seem to fit him very well.
Tears had been more than a defense for his mother; they had been a weapon. Myra had rarely used her own tears so cynically... but, cynically or not, he realized she was trying to use them that way now... and she was succeeding.
He couldn't let her. It would be too easy to think of how lonely it was going to be, sitting in a seat on that train as it barrelled north toward Boston through the darkness, his suitcase overhead and his tote-bag full of nostrums between his feet, the fear sitting on his chest like a rancid Vicks-pack. Too easy to let Myra take him upstairs and make love to him with aspirins and an alcohol-rub. And put him to bed, where they might or might not make a franker sort of love.
But he had promised. Promised.
"Myra, listen to me," he said, making his voice purposely dry, purposely matter-of-fact.
She looked at him with her wet, naked, terrified eyes.
He thought he would try now to explain-as best he could; he would tell her atibut how Mike Hanlon had called and told him that it had started again, and yes, he thought most of the others were coming.
But what came out of his mouth was much saner stuff.
"Go down to the office first thing in the morning. Talk to Phil. Tell him I had to take off and that you'll drive Pacino-"
"Eddie I just can't!" she wailed. "He's a big star! If I get lost he'll shout at me, I know he will, he'll shout, they all do when the driver gets lost... and... and I'll cry... there could be an accident... there probably will be an accident... Eddie... Eddie you have to stay home..."
"For God's sake! Stop it!"
She recoiled from his voice, hurt; although Eddie gripped his aspirator, he would not use it. She would see that as a weakness, one she could use against him. Dear God, if You are there, please believe me when I say I don't want to hurt Myra. I don't want to cut her, don't even want to bruise her. But I promised, we all promised, we swore in blood, please help me God because I have to do this...
"I hate it when you shout at me, Eddie," she whispered.
"Myra, I hate it when I have to," he said, and she winced. There you go, Eddie-you hurt her again. Why don't you just punch her around the room a few times? That would probably be kinder. And quicker.
Suddenly-probably it was the thought of punching someone around the room which caused the image to come-he saw the face of Henry Bowers. It was the first time he had thought of Bowers in years, and it did nothing for his peace of mind. Nothing at all.
He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and said: "You won't get lost, and he won't shout at you. Mr Pacino is very nice, very understanding. " He had never driven Pacino before in his life, but contented himself with knowing that at least the law of averages was on the side of this lie-according to popular myth most celebrities were shitheels, but Eddie had driven enough of them to know it usually wasn't true.
There were, of course, exceptions to the rule-and in most cases the exceptions were real monstrosities. He hoped fervently for Myra's sake that Pacino wasn't one of these.
"Is he?" she asked timidly.
"Yes. He is."
"How do you know?"
"Demetrios drove him two or three times when he worked at Manhattan Limousine," Eddie said glibly. "He said Mr Pacino always tipped at least fifty dollars."