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Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER FIVE

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“Vera shut up!”

For a moment all three of them were silent, as if considering the world and its not-so-amusing ways: Herb, his bulk squashed into the phone nook bench with his knees crushed up against the underside of the desk and a bouquet of plastic flowers in his face: Vera with her knees planted on the hallway furnace grille; the unseen Sergeant Meggs was in a strange auditory way witnessing this black comedy.

“Mr. Smith?”

“Yes. I… I apologize for the ruckus.”

“Quite understandable,” Meggs said.

“My boy… Johnny… was he driving his Volkswagen?”

“Deathtraps, deathtraps, those little beetles are death-traps,” Vera babbled. Tears streamed down her face, sliding over the smooth hard surface of the nightpack like rain on chrome.

“He was in a Bangor amp; Orono Yellow Cab,” Meggs said. “I'll give you the situation as I understand it now. There were three vehicles involved, two of them driven by kids from Cleaves Mills. They were dragging. They came up over what's known as Carson's Hill on Route 6, headed east. Your son was in the cab, headed west, toward Cleaves. The cab and the car on the wrong side of the road collided headon. The cab driver was killed, and so was the boy driving the other car. Your son and a passenger in that other car are at Eastern Maine Med. I understand both of them are listed as critical.”

“Critical,” Herb said.

“Critical! Critical! “Vera moaned.

Oh, Christ, we sound like one of those weird off Broadway shows, Herb thought. He felt embarrassed for Vera, and for Sergeant Meggs, who must surely be hearing Vera, like some nutty Greek chorus in the back-ground. He wondered how many conversations like this Sergeant Meggs had held in the course of his job. He decided he must have had a good many. Possibly he had already called the cab driver's wife and the dead boy's mother to pass the news. How had they reacted? And what did it matter? Wasn't it Vera's right to weep for her son? And why did a person have to think such crazy things at a time like this?

“Eastern Maine,” Herb said. He jotted it on a pad. The drawing on top of the pad showed a smiling telephone handset. The phone cord spelled out the words PHONE PAL. “How is he hurt?”

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Smith?”

“Where did he get it? Head? Belly? What? Is he burned?”

Vera shrieked.

“Vera can you please shut UP!”

“You'd have to call the hospital for that information,” Meggs said carefully. “I'm a couple of hours from having a complete report.”

“All right. All right.”

“Mr. Smith, I'm sorry to have to call you in the middle of the night with such bad news…

“It's bad, all right,” he said. “I've got to call the hospital, Sergeant Meggs. Good-bye.”

“Good night, Mr. Smith.”

Herb hung up and stared stupidly at the phone. Just like that it happens, he thought. How “bout that. Johnny.

Vera uttered another shriek, and he saw with some alarm that she had grabbed her hair, rollers and all, and was pulling it. “It's a judgment! A judgment on the way we live, on sin, on something! Herb, get down on your knees with me…”

“Vera, I have to call the hospital. I don't want to do it on my knees.”

“We'll pray for him… promise to do better… if you'd only come to church more often with me I know… may be it's your cigars, drinking beer with those men after work… cursing… taking the name of the Lord God in vain… a judgment… it's a judgment…”

He put his hands on her face to stop its wild, uneasy whipping back and forth. The feel of the night cream was unpleasant, but he didn't take his hands away. He felt pity for her. For the last ten years his wife had been walking somewhere in a gray area between devotion to her Baptist faith and what he considered to be a mild religious mania. Five years after Johnny was born, the doctor had found a number of benign tumors in her uterus and vaginal canal. Their removal had made it impossible for her to have another baby. Five years later, more tumors had necessitated a radical hysterectomy. That was when it had really begun for her, a deep religious feeling strangely coupled with other beliefs. She avidly read pamphlets on Atlantis, spaceships from heaven, races of “pure Christians” who might live in the bowels of the earth. She read Fate magazine almost as frequently as the Bible, often using one to illuminate the other.

“Vera,” he said.

“We'll do better,” she whispered, her eyes pleading with him. “We'll do better and he'll live. You'll see. You'll…”

“Vera.”

She fell silent, looking at him.

“Let's call the hospital and see just how bad it really is,” he said gently.

“A-All right. Yes.”

“Can you sit on the stairs there and keep perfectly quiet?”

“I want to pray,” she said childishly. “You can't stop me.”

“I don't want to. As long as you pray to yourself.”

“Yes. To myself. All right, Herb.”

She went to the stairs and sat down and pulled her robe primly around her. She folded her hands and her lips began to move. Herb called the hospital. Two hours later they were headed north on the nearly deserted Maine Turnpike. Herb was behind the wheel of their “66 Ford station wagon. Vera sat bolt upright in the passenger seat. Her Bible was on her lap.

The telephone woke Sarah at quarter of nine. She went to answer it with half her mind still asleep in bed. Her back hurt from the vomiting she had done the night before and the muscles in her stomach felt strained, but otherwise she felt much better.

She picked up the phone, sure it would be Johnny. “Hello?”

“Hi, Sarah. “It wasn't Johnny. It was Anne Strafford from school. Anne was a year older than Sarah and in her second year at Cleaves. She taught Spanish. She was a bubbly, effervescent girl and Sarah liked her very much. But this morning she sounded subdued.

“How are you, Annie? It's only temporary. Probably Johnny told you. Carnival hot dogs, I guess…”

“Oh, my God, you don't know. You don't… “The words were swallowed in odd, choked sounds. Sarah listened to them, frowning. Her initial puzzlement turned to deadly disquiet as she realized Anne was crying.

“Anne? What's wrong? It's not Johnny, is it? Not…”

“There was an accident,” Anne said. She was now sobbing openly. “He was in a cab. There was a head-on collision. The driver of the other car was Brad Freneau, I had him in Spanish II, he died, his girl friend died this morning, Mary Thibault, she was in one of Johnny's classes, I heard, it's horrible, just horr.

“Johnny!” Sarah screamed into the phone. She was sick to her stomach again. Her hands and feet were suddenly as cold as four gravestones. “What about Johnny?”

“He's in critical condition, Sarah. Dave Pelsen called the hospital this morning. He's not expected… well, it's very bad.”

The world was going gray. Anne was still talking but her voice was far and wee, as e. e. cummings had said about the balloon man. Flocked images tumbling over and over one another, none making sense. The carny wheel. The mirror maze. Johnny's eyes, strangely violet, almost black. His dear, homely face in the harsh, county fair lighting, naked bulbs strung on electric wire.

“Not Johnny,” she said, far and wee, far and wee. “You're mistaken. He was fine when he left here.”

And Anne's voice coming back like a fast serve, her voice so shocked and unbelieving, so affronted that such a thing should have happened to someone her own age, someone young and vital. “They told Dave he'd never wake up even if he survived the operation. They have to operate because his head… his head was…”

Was she going to say crushed? That Johnny's head had been crushed?

Sarah fainted then, possibly~to avoid that final irrevocable word, that final horror. The phone spilled out of her fingers and she sat down hard in a gray world and then slipped over and the phone swung back and forth in a decreasing arc, Anne Strafford's voice coming out of it: “Sarah?… Sarah?. Sarah?”

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