THE LADY OF SHADOWS CHAPTER 3 ODETTA ON THE OTHER SIDE

1

Not long after, Roland would think: Any other woman, crippled or otherwise, suddenly shoved all the way down the aisle of the mart in which she was doing business - monkey-business, you may call it if you like - by a stranger inside her head, shoved into a little room while some man behind her yelled for her to stop, then suddenly turned, shoved again where there was by rights no room in which to shove, then finding herself suddenly in an entirely different world ...I think any other woman, under those circumstances, would have most certainly have asked "Where am I?" before all else.

Instead, Odetta Holmes asked almost pleasantly, "What exactly are you planning to do with that knife, young man?"

2

Roland looked up at Eddie, who was crouched with his knife held less than a quarter of an inch over the skin. Even with his uncanny speed, there was no way the gunslinger could move fast enough to evade the blade if Eddie decided to use it.

"Yes," Roland said. "What are you planning to do with it?"

"I don't know," Eddie said, sounding completely disgusted with himself. "Cut bait, I guess. Sure doesn't look like I came here to fish, does it?"

He threw the knife toward the Lady's chair, but well to the right. It stuck, quivering, in the sand to its hilt.

Then the Lady turned her head and began, "I wonder if you could please explain where you've taken m求"

She stopped. She had said Iwonder if you before her head had gotten around far enough to see there was no one behind her, but the gunslinger observed with some real interest that she went on speaking for a moment anyway, because the fact of her condition made certain things elementary truths of her life - if she had moved, for instance, someone must have moved her. But there was no one behind her.

No one at all.

She looked back at Eddie and the gunslinger, her dark eyes troubled, confused, and alarmed, and now she asked. "Where am I? Who pushed me? How can I be here? How can I be dressed, for that matter, when I was home watching the twelve o'clock news in my robe? Who am I? Where is this? Who are you?"

"Who am I?" she asked, the gunslinger thought. The dam broke and there was a flood of questions; that was to be expected. But that one question求"Who am I?"求even now I don't think she knows she asked it.

Or when.

Because she had asked before.

Even before she had asked who they were, she had asked who she was.

3

Eddie looked from the lovely young/old face of the black woman in the wheelchair to Roland's face.

"How come she doesn't know?"

"I can't say. Shock, I suppose."

"Shock took her all the way back to her living room, before she left for Macy's? You telling me the last thing she remembers is sitting in her bathrobe and listening to some blow-dried dude talk about how they found that gonzo down in the Florida Keys with Christa McAuliff's left hand mounted on his den wall next to his prize marlin?"

Roland didn't answer.

More dazed than ever, the Lady said, "Who is Christa McAuliff? Is she one of the missing Freedom Riders?"

Now it was Eddie's turn not to answer. Freedom Riders? What the hell were they?

The gunslinger glanced at him and Eddie was able to read his eyes easily enough: Can't you see she's in shock?

Iknow what you mean, Roland old buddy, but it only washes up to a point. I felt a little shock myself when you came busting into my head like Walter Payton on crack, but it didn't wipe out my memory banks.

Speaking of shock, he'd gotten another pretty good jolt when she came through. He had been kneeling over Roland's inert body, the knife just above the vulnerable skin of the throat ... but the truth was Eddie couldn't have used the knife anyway求not then, anyway. He was staring into the doorway, hypnotized, as an aisle of Macy's rushed forward求he was reminded again of The Shining, where you saw what the little boy was seeing as he rode his trike through the hallways of that haunted hotel. He remembered the little boy had seen this creepy pair of dead twins in one of those hallways. The end of this aisle was much more mundane: a white door. The words ONLY TWO GARMENTS AT ONE TIME, PLEASE were printed on it in discreet lettering. Yeah, it was Macy's, all right. Macy's for sure.

One black hand flew out and slammed the door open while the male voice (a cop voice if Eddie had ever heard one, and he had heard many in his time) behind yelled for her to quit it, that was no way out, she was only making things a helluva lot worse for herself, and Eddie caught a bare glimpse of the black woman in the wheelchair in the mirror to the left, and he remembered thinking Jesus, he's got her, all right, but she sure don't look happy about it.

Then the view pivoted and Eddie was looking at himself. The view rushed toward the viewer and he wanted to put up the hand holding the knife to shield his eyes because all at once the sensation of looking through two sets of eyes was too much, too crazy, it was going to drive him crazy if he didn't shut it out, but it all happened too fast for him to have time.

The wheelchair came through the door. It was a tight fit; Eddie heard its hubs squeal on the sides. At the same moment he heard another sound: a thick tearing sound that made him think of some word

(placental)

that he couldn't quite think of because he didn't know he knew it. Then the woman was rolling toward him on the hard-packed sand, and she no longer looked mad as hell求hardly looked like the woman Eddie had glimpsed in the mirror at all, for that matter, but he supposed that wasn't surprising; when you all at once went from a changing-room at Macy's to the seashore of a godforsaken world where some of the lobsters were the size of small Collie dogs, it left you feeling a little winded. That was a subject on which Eddie Dean felt he could personally give testimony.

She rolled about four feet before stopping, and only went that far because of the slope and the gritty pack of the sand. Her hands were no longer pumping the wheels, as they must have been doing (when you wake up with sore shoulders tomorrow you can blame them on Sir Roland, lady, Eddie thought sourly). Instead they went to the arms of the chair and gripped them as she regarded the two men.

Behind her, the doorway had already disappeared. Disappeared? That was not quite right. It seemed to fold in on itself, like a piece of film run backward. This began to happen just as the store dick came slamming through the other, more mundane door求the one between the store and the dressing room. He was coming hard, expecting the shoplifter would have locked the door, and Eddie thought he was going to take one hell of a splat against the far wall, but Eddie was never going to see it happen or not happen. Before the shrinking space where the door between that world and this disappeared entirely, Eddie saw everything on that side freeze solid.

The movie had become a still photograph.

All that remained now were the dual tracks of the wheel-chair, starting in sandy nowhere and running four feet to where it and its occupant now sat.

"Won't somebody please explain where I am and how I got here?" the woman in the wheelchair asked求almost pleaded.

"Well, I'll tell you one thing, Dorothy," Eddie said. "You ain't in Kansas anymore."

The woman's eyes brimmed with tears. Eddie could see her trying to hold them in but it was no good. She began to sob.

Furious (and disgusted with himself as well), Eddie turned on the gunslinger, who had staggered to his feet. Roland moved, but not toward the weeping Lady. Instead he went to pick up his knife.

"Tell her!" Eddie shouted. "You brought her, so go on and tell her, man!" And after a moment he added in a lower tone, "And then tell me how come she doesn't remember herself."

4

Roland did not respond. Not at once. He bent, pinched the hilt of the knife between the two remaining fingers of his right hand, transferred it carefully to his left, and slipped it into the scabbard at the side of one gunbelt. He was still trying to grapple with what he had sensed in the Lady's mind. Unlike Eddie, she had fought him, fought him like a cat, from the moment he came forward until they rolled through the door. The fight had begun the moment she sensed him. There had been no lapse, because there had been no surprise. He had experienced it but didn't in the least understand it. No surprise at the invading stranger in her mind, only the instant rage, terror, and the commencement of a battle to shake him free. She hadn't come close to winning that battle求could not, he suspected求but that hadn't kept her from trying like hell. He had felt a woman insane with fear and anger and hate.

He had sensed only darkness in her求this was a mind entombed in a cave-in.

Except求

Except that in the moment they burst through the doorway and separated, he had wished求wished desperately求 that he could tarry a moment longer. One moment would have told so much. Because the woman before them now wasn't the woman in whose mind he had been. Being in Eddie's mind had been like being in a room with jittery, sweating walls. Being in the Lady's had been like lying naked in the dark while venomous snakes crawled all over you.

Until the end.

She had changed at the end.

And there had been something else, something he believed was vitally important, but he either could not understand it or remember it. Something like

(a glance)

the doorway itself, only in her mind. Something about

(you broke the forspecial it was you)

some sudden burst of understanding. As at studies, when you finally saw求

"Oh, fuck you," Eddie said disgustedly. "You're nothing but a goddam machine."

He strode past Roland, went to the woman, knelt beside her, and when she put her arms around him, panic-tight, like the arms of a drowning swimmer, he did not draw away but put his own arms around her and hugged her back.

"It's okay," he said. "I mean, it's not great, but it's okay."

"Where are we?" she wept. "Iwas sitting home watching TV so I could hear if my friends got out ofOxfordalive and now I'm here and I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHERE HERE IS!"

"Well, neither do I," Eddie said, holding her tighter, beginning to rock her a little, "but I guess we're in it together. I'm from where you're from, little old New York City , and I've been through the same thing求well, a little different, but same principle求and you're gonna be just fine." As an afterthought he added: "As long as you like lobster."

She hugged him and wept and Eddie held her and rocked her and Roland thought, Eddie will be all right now. His brother is dead but he has someone else to take care of so Eddie will be all right now.

But he felt a pang: a deep reproachful hurt in his heart. He was capable of shooting求with his left hand, anyway求of killing, of going on and on, slamming with brutal relentlessness through miles and years, even dimensions, it seemed, in search of the Tower. He was capable of survival, sometimes even of protection求he had saved the boy Jake from a slow death at the way station, and from sexual consumption by the Oracle at the foot of the mountains求but in the end, he had let Jake die. Nor had this been by accident; he had committed a conscious act of damnation. He watched the two of them, watched Eddie hug her; assure her it was going to be all right. He could not have done that, and now the rue in his heart was joined by stealthy fear.

Ifyou have given up your heart for the Tower, Roland, you have already lost. A heartless creature is a loveless creature, and a loveless creature is a beast. To be a beast is perhaps bearable, although the man who has become one will surely pay hell's own price in the end, but what if you should gain your object? What if you should, heartless, actually storm theDarkTowerand win it? If there is naught but darkness in your heart, what could you do except degenerate from beast to monster? To gain one's object as a beast would only be bitterly comic, like giving a magnifying glass to an elephaunt. But to gain one's object as a monster ...

To pay hell is one thing. But do you want to own it?

He thought of Allie, and of the girl who had once waited for him at the window, thought of the tears he had shed over Cuthbert's lifeless corpse. Oh, then he had loved. Yes. Then.

I do want to love! he cried, but although Eddie was also crying a little now with the woman in the wheelchair, the gunslinger's eyes remained as dry as the desert he had crossed to reach this sunless sea.

5

He would answer Eddie's question later. He would do that because he thought Eddie would do well to be on guard. The reason she didn't remember was simple. She wasn't one woman but two.

And one of them was dangerous.

6

Eddie told her what he could, glossing over the shoot-out but being truthful about everything else.

When he was done, she remained perfectly silent for some time, her hands clasped together on her lap.

Little streamlets coursed down from the shallowing mountains, petering out some miles to the east. It was from these that Roland and Eddie had drawn their water as they hiked north. At first Eddie had gotten it because Roland was too weak. Later they had taken turns, always having to go a little further and search a little longer before finding a stream. They grew steadily more listless as the mountains slumped, but the water hadn't made them sick.

So far.

Roland had gone yesterday, and although that made today Eddie's turn, the gunslinger had gone again, shouldering the hide water-skins and walking off without a word. Eddie found this queerly discreet. He didn't want to be touched by the gesture求by anything about Roland, for that matter求and found he was, a little, just the same.

She listened attentively to Eddie, not speaking at all, her eyes fixed on his. At one moment Eddie would guess she was five years older than he, at another he would guess fifteen. There was one thing he didn't have to guess about: he was falling in love with her.

When he had finished, she sat for a moment without saying anything, now not looking at him but beyond him, looking at the waves which would, at nightfall, bring the lobsters and with their alien, lawyerly questions. He had been particularly careful to describe them. Better for her to be a little scared now than a lot scared when they came out to play. He supposed she wouldn't want to eat them, not after hearing what they had done to Roland's hand and foot, not after she got a good close look at them. But eventually hunger would win out over did-a-chick and dum-a-chum.

Her eyes were far and distant.

"Odetta?" he asked after perhaps five minutes had gone by. She had told him her name. Odetta Holmes. He thought it was a gorgeous name.

She looked back at him, startled out of her revery. She smiled a little. She said one word.

"No."

He only looked at her, able to think of no suitable reply. He thought he had never understood until that moment how illimitable a simple negative could be.

"I don't understand," he said finally. "What are you no-ing?"

"All this." Odetta swept an arm (she had, he'd noticed, very strong arms求smooth but very strong), indicating the sea, the sky, the beach, the scruffy foothills where the gunslinger was now presumably searching for water (or maybe getting eaten alive by some new and interesting monster, something Eddie didn't really care to think about). Indicating, in short, this entire world.

"I understand how you feel. I had a pretty good case of the unrealities myself at first."

But had he? Looking back, it seemed he had simply accepted, perhaps because he was sick, shaking himself apart in his need for junk.

"You get over it."

"No," she said again. "I believe one of two things has happened, and no matter which one it is, I am still in Oxford , Mississippi . None of this is real."

She went on. If her voice had been louder (or perhaps if he had not been falling in love) it would almost have been a lecture. As it was, it sounded more like lyric than lecture.

Except, he had to keep reminding himself, bullshit's what it really is, and you have to convince her of that. For her sake.

"I may have sustained a head injury," she said. "They are notorious swingers of axe-handles and billy-clubs in Oxford Town ."

OxfordTown.

That produced a faint chord of recognition far back in Eddie's mind. She said the words in a kind of rhythm that he for some reason associated with Henry ... Henry and wet diapers. Why? What? Didn't matter now.

"You're trying to tell me you think this is all some sort of dream you're having while you're unconscious?"

"Or in a coma," she said. "And you needn't look at me as though you thought it was preposterous, because it isn't. Look here."

She parted her hair carefully on the left, and Eddie could see she wore it to one side not just because she liked the style. The old wound beneath the fall of her hair was scarred and ugly, not brown but a grayish-white.

"I guess you've had a lot of hard luck in your time," he said.

She shrugged impatiently. "A lot of hard luck and a lot of soft living," she said. "Maybe it all balances out. I only showed you because I was in a coma for three weeks when I was five. I dreamed a lot then. I can't remember what the dreams were, but I remember my mamma said they knew I wasn't going to die just as long as I kept talking and it seemed like I kept talking all the time, although she said they couldn't make out one word in a dozen. I do remember that the dreams were very vivid."

She paused, looking around.

"As vivid as this place seems to be. And you, Eddie."

When she said his name his arms prickled. Oh, he had it, all right. Had it bad.

"And him." She shivered. "He seems the most vivid of all."

"We ought to. I mean, we are real, no matter what you think."

She gave him a kind smile. It was utterly without belief.

"How did that happen?" he asked. "That thing on your head?"

"It doesn't matter. I'm just making the point that what has happened once might very well happen again."

"No, but I'm curious."

"I was struck by a brick. It was our first trip north. We came to the town of Elizabeth , New Jersey . We came in the Jim Crow car."

"What's that?"

She looked at him unbelievingly, almost scornfully. "Where have you been living, Eddie? In a bomb-shelter?"

"I'm from a different time," he said. "Could I ask how old you are, Odetta?"

"Old enough to vote and not old enough for Social Security."

"Well, I guess that puts me in my place."

"But gently, I hope," she said, and smiled that radiant smile which made his arms prickle.

"I'm twenty-three," he said, "but I was born in 1964求the year you were living in when Roland took you."

"That's rubbish."

"No. I was living in 1987 when he took me."

"Well," she said after a moment. "That certainly adds a great deal to your argument for this as reality, Eddie."

"The Jim Crow car ... was it where the black people had to stay?"

"The Negros," she said. "Calling a Negro a black is a trifle rude, don't you think?"

"You'll all be calling yourselves that by 1980 or so," Eddie said. "When I was a kid, calling a black kid a Negro was apt to get you in a fight. It was almost like calling him a nigger."

She looked at him uncertainly for a moment, then shook her head again.

"Tell me about the brick, then."

"My mother's youngest sister was going to be married," Odetta said. "Her name was Sophia, but my mother always called her Sister Blue because it was the color she always fancied. 'Or at least she fancied to fancy it,' was how my mother put it. So I always called her Aunt Blue, even before I met her. It was the most lovely wedding. There was a reception afterward. I remember all the presents."

She laughed.

"Presents always look so wonderful to a child, don't they, Eddie?"

He smiled. "Yeah, you got that right. You never forget presents. Not what you got, not what somebody else got, either."

"My father had begun to make money by then, but all I knew is that we were getting ahead. That's what my mother always called it and once, when I told her a little girl I played with had asked if my daddy was rich, my mother told me that was what I was supposed to say if any of my other chums ever asked me that question. That we were getting ahead.

"So they were able to give Aunt Blue a lovely china set, and I remember...."

Her voice faltered. One hand rose to her temple and rubbed absently, as if a headache were beginning there.

"Remember what, Odetta?"

"I remember my mother gave her a forspecial."

"What?"

"I'm sorry. I've got a headache. It's got my tongue tangled. I don't know why I'm bothering to tell you all this, anyway."

"Do you mind?"

"No. I don't mind. I meant to say mother gave her a special plate. It was white, with delicate blue tracework woven all around the rim." Odetta smiled a little. Eddie didn't think it was an entirely comfortable smile. Something about this memory disturbed her, and the way its immediacy seemed to have taken precedence over the extremely strange situation she had found herself in, a situation which should be claiming all or most of her attention, disturbed him.

"I can see that plate as clearly as I can see you now, Eddie. My mother gave it to Aunt Blue and she cried and cried over it. I think she'd seen a plate like that once when she and my mother were children, only of course their parents could never have afforded such a thing. There was none of them who got any thing forspecial as kids. After the reception Aunt Blue and her husband left for the Great Smokies on their honeymoon. They went on the train." She looked at Eddie.

"In the Jim Crow car," he said.

"That's right! In the Crow car! In those days that's what Negros rode in and where they ate. That's what we're trying to change in Oxford Town ."

She looked at him, almost surely expecting him to insist she was here, but he was caught in the webwork of his own memory again: wet diapers and those words. Oxford Town . Only suddenly other words came, just a single line, but he could remember Henry singing it over and over until his mother asked if he couldn't please stop so she could hear Walter Cronkite.

Somebody better investigate soon. Those were the words. Sung over and over by Henry in a nasal monotone. He tried for more but couldn't get it, and was that any real surprise? He could have been no more than three at the time. Somebody better investigate soon. The words gave him a chill.

"Eddie, are you all right?"

"Yes. Why?"

"You shivered."

He smiled. "Donald Duck must have walked over my grave."

She laughed. "Anyway, at least I didn't spoil the wedding. It happened when we were walking back to the railway station. We stayed the night with a friend of Aunt Blue's, and in the morning my father called a taxi. The taxi came almost right away, but when the driver saw we were colored, he drove off like his head was on fire and his ass was catching. Aunt Blue's friend had already gone ahead to the depot with our luggage求there was a lot of it, because we were going to spend a week in New York . I remember my father saying he couldn't wait to see my face light up when the clock in Central Park struck the hour and all the animals danced.

"My father said we might as well walk to the station. My mother agreed just as fast as lickety-split, saying that was a fine idea, it wasn't but a mile and it would be nice to stretch our legs after three days on one train just behind us and half a day on another one just ahead of us. My father said yes, and it was gorgeous weather besides, but I think I knew even at five that he was mad and she was embarrassed and both of them were afraid to call another taxi-cab because the same thing might happen again.

"So we went walking down the street. I was on the inside because my mother was afraid of me getting too close to the traffic. I remember wondering if my daddy meant my face would actually start to glow or something when I saw that clock in Central Park, and if that might not hurt, and that was when the brick came down on my head. Everything went dark for a while. Then the dreams started. Vivid dreams."

She smiled.

"Like this dream, Eddie."

"Did the brick fall, or did someone bomb you?"

"They never found anyone. The police (my mother told me this long after, when I was sixteen or so) found the place where they thought the brick had been, but there were other bricks missing and more were loose. It was just outside the window of a fourth-floor room in an apartment building that had been condemned. But of course there were lots of people staying there just the same. Especially at night."

"Sure," Eddie said.

"No one saw anyone leaving the building, so it went down as an accident. My mother said she thought it had been, but I think she was lying. She didn't even bother trying to tell me what my father thought. They were both still smarting over how the cab-driver had taken one look at us and driven off. It was that more than anything else that made them believe someone had been up there, just looking out, and saw us coming, and decided to drop a brick on the niggers.

"Will your lobster-creatures come out soon?"

"No," Eddie said. "Not until dusk. So one of your ideas is that all of this is a coma-dream like the ones you had when you got bopped by the brick. Only this time you think it was a billy-club or something."

"Yes."

"What's the other one?"

Odetta's face and voice were calm enough, but her head was filled with an ugly skein of images which all added up to Oxford Town , Oxford Town . How did the song go? Two men killed by the light of the moon,/Somebody better investigate soon. Not quite right, but it was close. Close.

"I may have gone insane," she said.

7

The first words which came into Eddie's mind were If you think you've gone insane, Odetta, you're nuts.

Brief consideration, however, made this seem an unprofitable line of argument to take.

Instead he remained silent for a time, sitting by her wheelchair, his knees drawn up, his hands holding his wrists.

"Were you really a heroin addict?"

"Am," he said. "It's like being an alcoholic, or 'basing. It's not a thing you ever get over. I used to hear that and go 'Yeah, yeah, right, right,' in my head, you know, but now I understand. I still want it, and I guess part of me will always want it, but the physical part has passed."

"What's 'basing?" she asked.

"Something that hasn't been invented yet in your when. It's something you do with cocaine, only it's like turning TNT into an A-bomb."

"You did it?"

"Christ, no. Heroin was my thing. I told you."

"You don't seem like an addict," she said.

Eddie actually was fairly spiffy ... if, that was, one ignored the gamy smell arising from his body and clothes (he could rinse himself and did, could rinse his clothes and did, but lacking soap, he could not really wash either). His hair had been short when Roland stepped into his life (the better to sail through customs, my dear, and what a great big joke that had turned out to be), and was a still a respectable length. He shaved every morning, using the keen edge of Roland's knife, gingerly at first, but with increasing confidence. He'd been too young for shaving to be part of his life when Henry left for 'Nam, and it hadn't been any big deal to Henry back then, either; he never grew a beard, but sometimes went three or four days before Mom nagged him into "mowing the stubble." When he came back, however, Henry was a maniac on the subject (as he was on a few others求foot-powder after showering; teeth to be brushed three or four times a day and followed by a chaser of mouthwash; clothes always hung up) and he turned Eddie into a fanatic as well. The stubble was mowed every morning and every evening. Now this habit was deep in his grain, like the others Henry had taught him. Including, of course, the one you took care of with a needle.

"Too clean-cut?" he asked her, grinning.

"Too white," she said shortly, and then was quiet for a moment, looking sternly out at the sea. Eddie was quiet, too. If there was a comeback to something like that, he didn't know what it was.

"I'm sorry," she said. "That was very unkind, very unfair, and very unlike me."

"It's all right."

"It's not. It's like a white person saying something like 'Jeez, I never would have guessed you were a nigger' to someone with a very light skin."

"You like to think of yourself as more fair-minded," Eddie said.

"What we like to think of ourselves and what we really are rarely have much in common, I should think, but yes求I like to think of myself as more fair-minded. So please accept my apology, Eddie."

"On one condition."

"What's that?" she was smiling a little again. That was good. He liked it when he was able to make her smile.

"Give this a fair chance. That's the condition."

"Give what a fair chance?" She sounded slightly amused. Eddie might have bristled at that tone in someone else's voice, might have felt he was getting boned, but with her it was different. With her it was all right. He supposed with her just about anything would have been.

"That there's a third alternative. That this really is happening. I mean ..." Eddie cleared his throat. "I'm not very good at this philosophical shit, or, you know, metamorphosis or whatever the hell you call it求"

"Do you mean metaphysics?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I think so. But I know you can't go around disbelieving what your senses tell you. Why, if your idea about this all being a dream is right求"

"I didn't say a dream求"

"Whatever you said, that's what it comes down to, isn't it? A false reality?"

If there had been something faintly condescending in her voice a moment ago, it was gone now. "Philosophy and metaphysics may not be your bag, Eddie, but you must have been a hell of a debater in school."

"I was never in debate. That was for gays and hags and wimps. Like chess club. What do you mean, my bag? What's a bag?"

"Just something you like. What do you mean, gays? What are gays?"

He looked at her for a moment, then shrugged. "Homos. Fags. Never mind. We could swap slang all day. It's not getting us anyplace. What I'm trying to say is that if it's all a dream, it could be mine, not yours. You could be a figment of my imagination."

Her smile faltered. "You ... nobody bopped you."

"Nobody bopped you, either."

Now her smile was entirely gone. "No one that I remember," she corrected with some sharpness.

"Me either!" he said. "You told me they're rough in Oxford . Well, those Customs guys weren't exactly cheery joy when they couldn't find the dope they were after. One of them could have head-bopped me with the butt of his gun. I could be lying in a Bellevue ward right now, dreaming you and Roland while they write their reports, explaining how, while they were interrogating me, I became violent and had to be subdued."

"It's not the same."

"Why? Because you're this intelligent socially active black lady with no legs and I'm just a hype from Co-Op City ?" He said it with a grin, meaning it as an amiable jape, but she flared at him.

"I wish you would stop calling me black!"

He sighed. "Okay, but it's gonna take getting used to."

"You should have been on the debate club anyway."

"Fuck," he said, and the turn of her eyes made him realize again that the difference between them was much wider than color; they were speaking to each other from separate islands. The water between was time. Never mind. The word had gotten her attention. "I don't want to debate you. I want to wake you up to the fact that you are awake, that's all."

"I might be able to at least operate provisionally according to the dictates of your third alternative as long as this ... this situation ... continued to go on, except for one thing: There's a fundamental difference between what happened to you and what happened to me. So fundamental, so large, that you haven't seen it."

"Then show it to me."

"There is no discontinuity in your consciousness. There is a very large one in mine."

"I don't understand."

"I mean you can account for all of your time," Odetta said. "Your story follows from point to point: the airplane, the incursion by that ... that ... by him求

She nodded toward the foothills with clear distaste.

"The stashing of the drugs, the officers who took you into custody, all the rest. It's a fantastic story, it has no missing links.

"As for myself, I arrived back from Oxford , was met by Andrew, my driver, and brought back to my building. I bathed and I wanted sleep求I was getting a very bad headache, and sleep is the only medicine that's any good for the really bad ones. But it was close on midnight , and I thought I would watch the news first. Some of us had been released, but a good many more were still in the jug when we left. I wanted to find out if their cases had been resolved.

"I dried off and put on my robe and went into the living room. I turned on the TV news. The newscaster started talking about a speech Krushchev had just made about the American advisors in Viet Nam . He said, 'We have a film report from求' and then he was gone and I was rolling down this beach. You say you saw me in some sort of magic doorway which is now gone, and that I was in Macy's, and that I was stealing. All of this is preposterous enough, but even if it was so, I could find something better to steal than costume jewelry. I don't wear jewelry."

"You better look at your hands again, Odetta," Eddie said quietly.

For a very long time she looked from the "diamond" on her left pinky, too large and vulgar to be anything but paste, to the large opal on the third finger of her right hand, which was too large and vulgar to be anything but real.

"None of this is happening," she repeated firmly.

"You sound like a broken record!" He was genuinely angry for the first time. "Every time someone pokes a hole in your neat little story, you just retreat to that 'none of this is happening' shit. You have to wise up, 'Detta."

"Don't call me that! I hate that!" she burst out so shrilly that Eddie recoiled.

"Sorry. Jesus! I didn't know."

"I went from night to day, from undressed to dressed, from my living room to this deserted beach. And what really happened was that some big-bellied redneck deputy hit me upside the head with a club and that is all!"

"But your memories don't stop in Oxford ," he said softly.

"W-What?" Uncertain again. Or maybe seeing and not wanting to. Like with the rings.

"If you got whacked in Oxford , how come your memories don't stop there?"

"There isn't always a lot of logic to things like this." She was rubbing her temples again. "And now, if it's all the same to you, Eddie, I'd just as soon end the conversation. My headache is back. It's quite bad."

"I guess whether or not logic figures in all depends on what you want to believe. I saw you in Macy's, Odetta. I saw you stealing. You say you don't do things like that, but you also told me you don't wear jewelry. You told me that even though you'd looked down at your hands several times while we were talking. Those rings were there then, but it was as if you couldn't see them until I called your attention to them and made you see them."

"I don't want to talk about it!" she shouted. "My head hurts!"

"All right. But you know where you lost track of time, and it wasn't in Oxford ."

"Leave me alone," she said dully.

Eddie saw the gunslinger toiling his way back with two full water-skins, one tied around his waist and the other slung over his shoulders. He looked very tired.

"I wish I could help you," Eddie said, "but to do that, I guess I'd have to be real."

He stood by her for a moment, but her head was bowed, the tips of her fingers steadily massaging her temples.

Eddie went to meet Roland.

8

"Sit down." Eddie took the bags. "You look all in."

"I am. I'm getting sick again."

Eddie looked at the gunslinger's flushed cheeks and brow, his cracked lips, and nodded. "I hoped it wouldn't happen, but I'm not that surprised, man. You didn't bat for the cycle. Balazar didn't have enough Keflex."

"I don't understand you."

"If you don't take a penicillin drug long enough, you don't kill the infection. You just drive it underground. A few days go by and it comes back. We'll need more, but at least there's a door to go to. In the meantime you'll just have to take it easy." But Eddie was thinking unhappily of Odetta's missing legs and the longer and longer treks it took to find water. He wondered if Roland could have picked a worse time to have a relapse. He supposed it was possible; he just didn't see how.

"I have to tell you something about Odetta."

"That's her name?"

"Uh-huh."

"It's very lovely," the gunslinger said.

"Yeah. I thought so, too. What isn't so lovely is the way she feels about this place. She doesn't think she's here."

"I know. And she doesn't like me much, does she?"

No, Eddie thought, but that doesn't keep her from think-ing you're one booger of a hallucination. He didn't say it, only nodded.

"The reasons are almost the same," the gunslinger said. "She's not the woman I brought through, you see. Not at all.''

Eddie stared, then suddenly nodded, excited. That blurred glimpse in the mirror ... that snarling face ... the man was right. Jesus Christ, of course he was! That hadn't been Odetta at all.

Then he remembered the hands which had gone pawing carelessly through the scarves and had just as carelessly gone about the business of stuffing the junk jewelry into her big purse求almost, it had seemed, as if she wanted to be caught.

The rings had been there.

Same rings.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the same hands, he thought wildly, but that would only hold for a second. He had studied her hands. They were the same, long-fingered and delicate.

"No," the gunslinger continued. "She is not." His blue eyes studied Eddie carefully.

"Her hands求"

"Listen," the gunslinger said, "and listen carefully. Our lives may depend on it求mine because I'm getting sick again, and yours because you have fallen in love with her."

Eddie said nothing.

"She is two women in the same body. She was one woman when I entered her, and another when I returned here."

Now Eddie could say nothing.

"There was something else, something strange, but either I didn't understand it or I did and it's slipped away. It seemed important."

Roland looked past Eddie, looked to the beached wheel-chair, standing alone at the end of its short track from nowhere. Then he looked back at Eddie.

"I understand very little of this, or how such a thing can be, but you must be on your guard. Do you understand that?"

"Yes." Eddie's lungs felt as if they had very little wind in them. He understood求or had, at least, a moviegoer's understanding of the sort of thing the gunslinger was speaking of求but he didn't have the breath to explain, not yet. He felt as if Roland had kicked all his breath out of him.

"Good. Because the woman I entered on the other side of the door was as deadly as those lobster-things that come out at night."