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Authors: Stephen King

Christine (9 page)

BOOK: Christine
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Darnell looked at them, then back at me. His face wag very solemn, "You trying to help your buddy right out of here, Junior?"

"No," I said. "Sir.

"Then shut your pie-hole."

He turned back to Arnie and put his meaty hands on his wide, well-padded hips.

"I know a creep when I see one," he said, "and I think I'm looking at one right now. You're on probation, kid. You screw around with me just one time and it don't matter how much you paid up in front, I'll put you out on your ass."

Dull fury went up from my stomach to my head and made it throb. Inside I begged Arnie to tell this fat fuck to bore it and stroke it and then drive it straight up his old tan track just as fast and far as it would go. Of course then Darnell's poker buddies would get into it and we'd both probably end this enchanting evening at the emergency room of Libertyville Community Hospital getting our heads stitched up but it would almost be worth it.

Arnie,
I begged inside,
tell him to shove it and let's get out of here. Stand up to him, Arnie. Don't let him pull this shit on you. Don't be a loser, Arnie-if you can stand up to your mother, you can stand up to this happy asshole. Just this once, don't be a loser.

Arnie stood silent for a long time, his head down, and then he said, "Yessir." The word was so low it was nearly inaudible. It sounded as if he was choking on it.

"What did you say?"

Arnie looked up. His face was deadly pale. His eye's were swimming with tears. I couldn't look at that. It hurt me too bad to look at that. I turned away. The poker players had suspended their game to watch developments over at stall twenty.

"I said, 'Yessir,'" Arnie said in a trembling voice. It was as if he had just signed his name to some terrible confession. I looked at the car again, the '58 Plymouth, sitting in here when it should have been out back in the junkyard with the rest of Darnells rotten plugs, and I hated it all over again for what it was doing to Arnie.

"Arright, get out of here," Darnell said. "We're closed."

Arnie stumbled away blindly. He would have walked right into a stack of old bald tires if I hadn't grabbed his arm and steered him away. Darnell went back the other way to the poker table. When he got there he said something to the others in his wheezy voice. They all roared with laughter.

"I'm all right, Dennis," Arnie said, as if I had asked him. His teeth were locked together and his chest was heaving in quick, shallow breaths. "I'm all right, let go of me, I'm all right, I'm okay."

I let go of his arm. We walked across to the door and Darnell hollered at us, "And you ain't going to bring your hoodlum friends in here, or you're out!"

One of the others chimed, "And leave your dope at home!"

Arnie cringed. He was my friend, but I hated him when he cringed that way.

We escaped into the cool darkness. The door rattled down behind us. And that's how we got Christine to Darnell's Garage. Some great time, huh?

6 OUTSIDE

I got me a car and I got me some gas,

Told everybody they could kiss my ass…

— Glenn Frey

We got into my car and I drove out of the yard. Somehow it had gotten around to past nine o'clock. How the time flies when you're having fun. A half-moon stood out in the sky. That and the orange lights in the acres of parking lot at the Monroeville Mall took care of any wishing stars there might have been.

We drove the first two or three blocks in utter I silence, and then Arnie suddenly burst into a fury of weeping. I had thought he might cry, but the force of this frightened me. I pulled over immediately.

"Arnie—"

I gave up right there. He was going to do it until it was done. The tears and the sobs came in a shrill, bitter flood, and they came without restraint—Arnie had used up his quota of restraint for the day. At first it seemed to be nothing but reaction; I felt the same sort of thing myself, only mine had gone to my head, making it ache like a rotted tooth, and to my stomach, which was sickly clenched up.

So, yeah, at first I thought it was nothing but a reaction sort of thing, a spontaneous release, and maybe at first it was. But after a minute or two, I realized it was a lot more than that; it went a lot deeper than that. And I began to get words out of the sounds he was making: just a few at first, then strings of them.

"I'll get them!"
he shouted thickly through the sobs.
"I'll "get those fucking sons of bitches I'll get them Dennis. I'll make them sorry I'll make those fuckers eat it… EAT IT… EAT IT!"

"Stop it," I said, scared. "Arnie, quit it."

But he wouldn't quit it. He began to slam his fists down on the padded dashboard of my Duster, hard enough to make marks.

"I'll get them you see if I don't!"

In the dim glow of the moon and a nearby streetlight, his face looked ravaged and haglike. He was like a stranger to me then. He was off walking in whatever cold places of the universe a fun-loving God reserves for people like him. I didn't know him. I didn't want to know him. I could only sit there helplessly and hope that the Arnie I did know would come back. After a while, he did.

The hysterical words disappeared into sobs again. The hate was gone and he was only crying. It was a deep, bawling, bewildered sound.

I sat there behind the wheel of my car, not sure what I should do, wishing I was someplace else, anyplace else, trying on shoes at Thom McAn's, filling out a credit application in a discount store, standing in front of a pay toilet stall with diarrhea and no dime. Anyplace, man. It didn't have to be Monte Carlo. Mostly I sat there wishing I was older. Wishing we were both older.

But that was a copout job. I knew what to do. Reluctantly, not wanting to, I slid across the seat and put my arms around him and held him. I could feel his face, hot and fevered, mashed against my chest. We sat that way for maybe five minutes, and then I drove him to his house and dropped him off. After that I went home myself. Neither of us talked about it later, me holding him like that. No one came along the sidewalk and saw us parked at the curb. I suppose if someone had, we would have looked like a couple of queers, I sat there and held him and loved him the best I could and wondered how come it had to be that I was Arnie Cunningham's only friend, because right then, believe me, I didn't want to be his friend.

Yet, somehow—I realized it then, if only dimly—maybe Christine was going to be his friend now, too. I wasn't sure if I liked that either, although we had been through the same shit-factory on her behalf that long crazy day.

When we rolled up to the curb in front of his house I said, "You going to be all right, man?"

He managed a smile. "Yeah, I'll be okay." He looked at me sadly. "You know, you ought to find some other favorite charity. Heart Fund. Cancer Society. Something."

"Ahh, get out of here."

"You know what I mean."

"If you mean you're a wet end, you're not telling me anything I didn't know."

The front porch light came on, and both Michael and Regina came flying out, probably to see if it was us or the State Police come to inform them that their only chick and child had been run over on the highway.

"Arnold?" Regina called shrilly.

"Bug out, Dennis," Arnie said, grinning a little more honestly now. "This shit you don't need." He got out of the car and said dutifully, "Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad."

"Where have you been?" Michael asked. "You had your mother badly frightened, young man!"

Arnie was right. I could do without the reunion scene. I glanced back in the rearview mirror just briefly and saw him standing there, looking solitary and vulnerable—and then the two of them enfolded him and began shepherding him back to the $60,000 nest, no doubt turning the full force of all their latest parenting trips on him—Parent Effectiveness Training, Erhard Seminars Training, who knows what else. They were so perfectly rational about it, that was the thing. They had played such a large part in what he was, and they were just too motherfucking (and fatherfucking) rational to see it.

I turned the radio on to FM-104, where the Block Party Weekend was continuing, and got Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band singing "Still the Same". The serendipity was just a little too hideously perfect, and I dialed away to the Phillies game.

The Phillies were losing. That was all right. That was par for the course.

7 BAD DREAMS

I'm a roadrunner, honey,

And you can't catch me.

Yes, I'm a roadrunner, honey,

And you can't keep up with me.

Come on over here and race,

Baby, baby, you'll see.

Move over, honey! Stand back!

I'm gonna put some dirt in your eye!

— Bo Diddley

When I got home, my dad and my sister were sitting in the kitchen eating brown-sugar sandwiches. I started feeling hungry right away and realized I'd never gotten any supper.

"Where you been, Boss?" Elaine asked, hardly looking up from her
16
or
Creem
or
Tiger Beat
or whatever it was. She had been calling me Boss ever since I discovered Bruce Springsteen the year before and became a fanatic. It was supposed to get under my skin.

At fourteen Elaine was beginning to leave her childhood behind and to turn into the full-fledged American beauty that she eventually became—tall, dark-haired, and blue-eyed. But in that late summer of 1978 she was the total teenaged crowd animal. She had begun with Donny and Marie at nine, then had gotten all moony for John Travolta at eleven (I made the mistake of calling him John Revolta one day and she scratched me so badly that I almost needed a stitch in my cheek—I supposed I deserved it, sort of). At twelve she was gone for Shaun. Then it was Andy Gibb. Just lately she had developed more ominous tastes: heavy-metal rockers like Deep Purple and a new group, Styx.

"I was helping Arnie get his car squared away, I said, as much to my father as to Ellie. More, really.

"That creep." Ellie sighed and turned the page of her magazine.

I felt a sudden and amazingly strong urge to rip the magazine out of her hands, tear it in two, and throw the pieces in her face. That went further toward showing me exactly how stressful the day had been than anything else could have done. Elaine doesn't really think Arnie's a creep; she just takes every possible opportunity to get under my skin. But maybe I had heard Arnie called a creep too often over the last few hours. His tears were still drying on the front of my shirt, for Christ's sake, and maybe I felt a little bit creepy myself.

"What's Kiss doing these days, dear?" I asked her sweetly. "Written any love-letters to Erik Estrada lately? 'Oh, Erik, I'd die for you, I go into a total cardiac arrest every time I think of your thick, greasy lips squelching down on mine…' "

"You're an animal," she said coldly. "Just an animal, that's all you are."

"And I don't know any better."

"That's right." She picked up her magazine and her brown-sugar sandwich and flounced away into the living room.

"Don't you get that stuff on the floor, Ellie," Dad warned her, spoiling her exit a bit.

I went to the fridge and rummaged out some bologna and a tomato that didn't look as if it was working. There was also half a package of processed cheese, but wild overindulgence in that shit as a grade-schooler had apparently destroyed my craving for it. I settled for a quart of milk to go with my sandwich and opened a can of Campbell's Chunky Beef.

"Did he get it?" Dad asked me. My dad is a tax-consultant for H&R Block. He also does freelance tax work. In the old days he used to be a full-time accountant for the biggest architectural firm in Pittsburgh, but then he had a heart attack and got out. He's a good man.

"Yeah, he got it."

"Still look as bad to you as it did?"

"Worse. Where's Mom?"

"Her class," he said.

His eyes met mine, and we both almost got the giggles. We immediately looked away in separate directions, ashamed of ourselves—but even being honestly ashamed didn't seem to help much. My mom is forty-three and works as a dental hygienist. For a long time she didn't work at her trade, but after Dad had his heart attack, she went back.

Four years ago she decided she was an unsung writer. She began to produce poems about flowers and stories about sweet old men in the October of their years. Every now and then she would get grittily realistic and do a story about a young girt who was tempted "to take a chance" and then decided it would be immeasurably better if she Saved It for the Marriage Bed. This summer she had signed up for a directed writing course at Horlicks—where Michael and Regina Cunningham taught, you will remember—and was putting all her themes and stories in a book she called Sketches of Love and Beauty.

Now you could be saying to yourself (and more power to you if you are) that there is nothing funny about a woman who has managed to hold a job and also to raise her family deciding to try something new, to expand her horizons a little. And of course you'd be right. Also you could be saying to yourself that my father and I had every reason to be ashamed of ourselves, that we were nothing more than a couple of male sexist pigs oinking it up in our kitchen, and again you'd be perfectly right. I won't argue either point, although I will say that if you had been subjected to frequent oral readings from Sketches of Love and Beauty, as Dad and I—and also Elaine—had been, you might understand the source of the giggles a little better.

Well, she was and is a great mom, and I guess she is also a great wife for my father—at least I never heard him complain, and he's never stayed out all night drinking and all I can say in our defense is that we never laughed to her face, either of us. That's pretty poor, I know, but at least it's better than nothing. Neither of us would have hurt her like that for the world.

I put a hand over my mouth and tried to squeeze the giggles off. Dad appeared to be momentarily choking on his bread and brown-sugar. I don't know what he was thinking of, but what had lodged in my mind was a fairly recent essay entitled "Did Jesus Have a Dog?"

BOOK: Christine
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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