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Authors: Stephen King

Christine (7 page)

BOOK: Christine
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"MrLeBay," I said. "I only wish my friend could make the same statement. If you knew the trouble he was in over that rustbucket with his folks—"

"Get out of here," he said, "You sound like a goddam sheep. Just baa, baa, baa, that's all I hear comin out'n your hole. I think your friend there knows more than you do. Go and see if he needs a hand."

I started down the lawn to my car. I didn't want to hang around LeBay a moment longer.

"Nothin but baa, baa, baa!" he yelled shrewishly after me, making me think of that old song by the Youngbloods—
I am a one-note man, I play it all I can
"You don't know half as much as you think you do!"

I got into my car and drove away. I glanced back once as I made the turn onto Martin Street and saw him standing there on his lawn, the sunlight gleaming on his bald head.

As things turned out, he was right.

I didn't know half as much as I thought I did.

5 HOW WE GOT TO DARNELL'S

I got a '34 wagon and we call it a woody,

You know she's not very cherry,

She's an oldy but a goody...

— Jan and Dean

I drove down Martin to Walnut and turned right, toward Basin Drive. It didn't take long to catch up with Arnie. He was pulled into the curb, and Christine's boot-lid was up. An automobile jack so old that it almost looked as if it might once have been used for changing wheels on Conestoga wagons was leaning against the crooked back bumper. The right rear tire was flat.

I pulled in behind him and had no more than gotten out when a young woman waddled down towards us from her house, skirting a pretty good collection of plastic-fantastic that was planted on her lawn (two pink flamingos, four or five little stone ducks in a line behind a big stone mother duck, and a really good plastic wishing well with plastic flowers planted in the plastic bucket). She was in dire need of Weight Watchers.

"You can't leave that junk here," she said around a mouthful of chewing gum. "You can't leave that junk parked in front of our house, I just hope you know that."

"Ma'am," Arnie said. "I had a flat tire, is all. I'll get it out of here just as soon as—"

"You can't leave it there and I hope you know that," she said with a maddening kind of circularity. "My husband'll be home pretty soon. He don't want no junk car in front of the house."

"It's not junk," Arnie said, and something in his tone made her back up a step.

"You don't want to take that tone of voice to me, sonny this overweight be-bop queen said haughtily. "It don't take much to get my husband mad."

"Look," Arnie began in that same dangerous flat voice he had used when Michael and Regina began ganging up on him. I grabbed his shoulder hard. More hassle we didn't need.

"Thanks, ma'am," I said. "We'll get it taken care of right away. We're going to take care of it so quick you'll think you hallucinated this car."

"You better," she said, and then hooked a thumb at my Duster. "And
your
car is parked in front of my driveway."

I backed my Duster up. She watched and then joggled back up to her house, where a little boy and a little girl were crammed into the doorway. They were pretty porky, too. Each of them was eating a nice nourishing Devil Dog.

"Wassa matta, ma?" the little boy asked. "Wassa matta that man's car, Ma? Wassa matta?"

"Shut up," the be-bop queen said, and hauled both kids back inside. I always like to see enlightened parents like that; it gives me hope for the future.

I walked back to Arnie.

"Well," I said, dragging out the only witticism I could think of, "it's only flat on the bottom, Arnie. Right?"

He smiled wanly. "I got a slight problem, Dennis," he said.

I knew what his problem was; he had no spare Arnie dragged out his wallet again—it hurt me to see him do it—and looked inside. "I got to get a new tire," he said.

"Yeah, I guess you do. A remold—"

"No remolds. I don't want to start out that way." I didn't say anything, but I glanced back toward my Duster. I had two remolds on it and I thought they were just fine.

"How much do you think a new Goodyear or Firestone would cost, Dennis?"

I shrugged and consulted the little automotive accountant, who guessed that Arnie could probably get a new no-frills blackwall for around thirty-five dollars.

He pulled out two twenties and handed them to me. "If it's more—with the tax and everything—I'll pay you back."

I looked at him sadly. "Arnie, how much of your week's pay you got left?"

His eyes narrowed and shifted away from mine. "Enough," he said.

I decided to try one more time—you must remember that I was only seventeen and still under the impression that people could be shown where their best interest lay. "You couldn't get into a nickel poker game," I said. "You plugged just about the whole fucking wad into that car. Dragging out your wallet is going to become a very familiar action to you, Arnie. Please, man. Think it over."

His eyes went flinty. It was an expression I had not seen before on his face, and although you'll probably think I was the most naive teenager in America, I couldn't really remember having seen it on
any
face before. I felt a mixture of surprise and dismay—I felt the way I might have felt if I suddenly discovered I was trying to have a rational conversation with a fellow who just happened to be a lunatic. I have seen the expression since, though; I imagine you have too. Total shutdown. It's the expression a man gets on his face when you tell him the woman he loves is whoring around behind his back.

"Don't get going on that, Dennis," he said.

I threw my hands up in exasperation. "All right! All right!"

"And you don't have to go after the damn tire, either, if you don't want to." That flinty, obdurate, and—so help me, it's true—stupidly stubborn expression was still on his face. "I'll find a way."

I started to reply, and I might have said something pretty hot, but then I happened to glance to my left. The two porky kids were there at the edge of their lawn. They were astride identical Big Wheels, their fingers smeared with chocolate. They were watching us solemnly.

"No big deal, man," I said. "I'll get the tire."

"Only if you want to, Dennis," he said. "I know it's getting late."

"It's cool," I said.

"Mister?" the little boy said, licking chocolate off his fingers.

"What?" Arnie asked.

"My mother says that car is poopy."

"That's right," the little girl chimed. "Poopy-kaka."

"Poopy-kaka," Arnie said. "Why, that's very perceptive, isn't it, kids? Is your mother a philosopher?"

"No," the little boy said. "She's a Capricorn. I'm a Libra. My sister is a—"

"I'll be back quick as I can," I said awkwardly.

"Sure."

"Stay cool."

"Don't worry, I'm not going to punch anybody."

I trotted to my car. As I slipped behind the wheel I heard the little girl ask Arnie loudly, "Why is your face all messy like that, mister?"

I drove a mile and a half down to JFK Drive, which according to my mother, who grew up in Libertyville used to be at the center of one of the town's most desirable neighborhoods back around the time Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Maybe renaming old Barnswallow Drive for the slain President had been bad luck, because since the early sixties, the neighborhood around the street had degenerated into an exurban strip. There was a drive-in movie, a McDonald's, a Burger King, an Arby's, and the Big Twenty Lanes. There were also eight or ten service stations, since JFK Drive leads to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Getting Arnie's tire should have gone lickety-split, but the first two stations I came to were those self-service jobbies that don't even sell oil; there's just gas and a marginally retarded girl in a booth made of bullet-proof glass who sits in front of a computer console reading a
National Enquirer
and chewing a wad of Bubblicious Gum big enough to choke a Missouri mule.

The third one was a Texaco having a tire sale. I was able to buy Arnie a blackwall that would fit his Plymouth (I could not bring myself then to call her Christine or even think of her—
it
—by that name) for just twenty-eight-fifty plus tax, but there was only one guy working there, and he had to put the new tire on Arnie's wheel-rim and pump gas at the same time. The operation stretched out over forty-five minutes. I offered to pump gas for the guy while he did it, but he said the boss would shoot him if he heard of it.

By the time I had the mounted tire back in my boot and had paid the guy two bucks for the job, the early evening light had become the fading purple of late evening. The shadow of each bush was long and velvety, and as I cruised slowly back up the street I saw the day's last light Streaming almost horizontally through the trash-littered space between the Arby's and the bowling alley. That light, so much flooding gold, was nearly terrible in its strange, unexpected beauty.

I was surprised by a choking panic that climbed up in my throat like dry fire. It was the first time a feeling like that came over me that year—that long, strange year—but not the last. Yet it's hard for me to explain, or even define. It had something to do with realizing that it was August 11, 1978, that I was going to be a senior in high school next month, and that when school started again it meant the end of a long, quiet phase of my life. I was getting ready to be a grown-up, and I saw that somehow—saw it for sure, for the first time in that lovely but somehow ancient spill of golden light flooding down the alleyway between a bowling alley and a roast beef joint. And I think I understood then that what really scares people about growing up is that you stop trying on the life-mask and start trying on another one. If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.

The feeling passed, but in its wake I felt shaken and melancholy. Neither state was much like my usual self.

When I turned back onto Basin Drive I was feeling suddenly removed from Arnie's problems and trying to cope with my own—thoughts of growing up had led naturally to such gigantic (at least they seemed gigantic to me) and rather unpleasant ideas as college and living away from home and trying to make the football team at State with sixty other qualified people competing for my position instead of only ten or twelve. So maybe you're saying, Big deal, Dennis, I got some news for you: one billion Red Chinese don't give a shit if you make the first squad as a college freshman. Fair enough. I'm just trying to say that those things seemed really real to me for the first time and really frightening. Your mind takes you on trips like that sometimes—and if you don't want to go, it takes you anyway.

Seeing that the be-pop queen's husband had indeed arrived home, and that he and Arnie were standing almost nose to nose, apparently ready to start mixing it up at any second, didn't help my mood at all.

The two little kids still sat solemnly astride their Big Wheels, their eyes shifting back and forth from Arnie to Daddy and back again to Arnie like spectators at some apocalyptic tennis match where the ref would cheerfully shoot the loser. They seemed to be waiting for the moment of combustion when Daddy would flatten my skinny friend and do the Cool Jerk all the way up and down his broken body.

I pulled over quickly and got out, almost running over to them.

"I'm done talkin atcha face!" Dads bellowed. "I'm telling you I want it out and I want it out right now!" He had a big flattened nose full of burst veins. His cheeks were flushed to the color of new brick, and above his gray twill workshirt, corded veins stood out on his neck.

"I'm not going to drive it on the rim," Arnie said. "I told you that. You wouldn't do it if it was yours."

"I'll drive
you
on the rim, Pizza-face," Daddy said, apparently intent on showing his children how big people solve their problems in the Real World. "You ain't parking your cruddy hotrod in front of my house. Don't you aggravate me, kiddo, or you're gonna get hurt."

"Nobody's going to get hurt," I said. "Come on, mister. Give us a break."

Arnie's eyes shifted gratefully to me, and I saw how scared he had been—how scared he still was. Always an out, he knew there was something about him, God knew what, that made a certain type of guy want to pound the living shit out of him. He must have been pretty well convinced it was going to happen again—but this time he wasn't backing down.

The man's eyes shifted to me. "Another one," he said, as if marveling that there could be so many assholes in the world. "You want me to take you both on? Is that what you want? Believe me, I can do it."

Yes, I knew the type. Ten years younger and he would have been one of the guys at school who thought it was terribly amusing to slam Arnie's books out of his arms when he was on his way to class or to throw him into the shower with all his clothes on after phys ed. They never change, those guys. They just get older and develop lung cancer from smoking too many Luckies or step out with a brain embolism at fifty-three or so,

"We don't want to take you on," I said. "He had a flat tire, for God's sake! Didn't you ever have a flat?"

"Ralph, I want them out of here!" The porky wife was standing on the porch. Her voice was high and excited. This was better than the
Phil Donahue Show.
Other neighbors had come out to watch developments, and I thought "again with great weariness that if someone had not called the cops already, someone soon would,

"I never had a flat and left some old piece of junk sitting in front of someone's house for three hours," Ralph said loudly. His lips were pulled back and I could see spit shining on his teeth in the light of the setting sun.

"It's been an hour," I said quietly, "if that."

"Don't give me any of your smartmouth, kid," Ralph said. "I ain't interested. I ain't like you guys. I work for a living. I come home tired, I ain't got time to argue. I want it out and I want it out
now."

"I've got a spare right in my boot," I said. "if we could just put it on—"

BOOK: Christine
9.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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