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Книга The Dead Zone. Содержание - CHAPTER FIFTEEN

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But now, mercifully, the mail was beginning to taper off. The crazies had discovered some fresher object for their public and private obsessions. Newsmen no longer called for interviews, partly because the phone number had been changed and unlisted, partly because the story was old hat.

Roger Dussault had written a long and angry piece for his paper, of which he was the feature editor. He proclaimed the whole thing a cruel and tasteless hoax. Johnny had undoubtedly boned up on incidents from the pasts of several reporters who were likely to attend the press conference, just in case. Yes, he admitted, his sister Anne's nickname had been Terry. She had died fairly young, and amphetamines might have been a contributing cause. But all of that was accessible information to anyone who wanted to dig it up. He made it all seem quite logical. The article did not explain how Johnny, who had not been out of the hospital, could have come by this “accessible information”, but that was a point most readers seemed to have overlooked. Johnny could not have cared less. The incident was closed, and he had no intention of creating new ones. What good could it possibly do to write the lady who had sent the scarf and tell her that her brother had drowned, screaming, in quicksand because he had gone the wrong way while looking for a place to take a piss? Would it ease her mind or help her live her life any better?

Today's mail was a mere six letters. A power bill. A card from Herb's cousin out in Oklahoma. A lady who had sent Johnny a crucifix with MADE IN TAIWAN stamped on Christ's feet in tiny gold letters. There was a brief note from Sam Weizak. And a small envelope with a return address that made him blink and sit up straighter. S. Hazlett, 12 Pond Street, Bangor.

Sarah. He tore it open.

He had received a sympathy card from her two days after the funeral services for his mother. Written on the back of it in her cool, back-slanting hand had been:

“Johnny-I'm so sorry that this has happened. I heard on the radio that your mom had passed away-in some ways that seemed the most unfair thing of all, that your private grief should have been made a thing of public knowledge. You may not remember, but we talked a little about your mom the night of your accident. I asked you what she'd do if you brought home a lapsed Catholic and you said she would smile and welcome me in and slip me a few tracts. I could see your love for her in the way you smiled. I know from your father that she had changed, but much of the change was because she loved you so much and just couldn't accept what had happened. And in the end I guess her faith was rewarded. Please accept my warm sympathy, and if there's anything I can do, now or later on, please count on your friend-Sarah.”

That was one note he had answered, thanking her for both the card and the thought. He had written it carefully, afraid that he might betray himself and say the wrong thing. She was a married woman now, that was beyond his control or ability to change. But he did remember their conversation about his mother-and so many other things about that night. Her note had summoned up the whole evening, and he answered in a bittersweet mood that was more bitter than sweet. He still loved Sarah Bracknell, and he had to remind himself constantly that she was gone, replaced by another woman who was five years older and the mother of a small boy.

Now he pulled a single sheet of stationery out of the envelope and scanned it quickly. She and her boy were headed down to Kennebunk to spend a week with Sarah's freshman and sophomore roommate, a girl named Stephanie Constantine now, Stephanie Carsleigh then. She said that Johnny might remember her, but Johnny didn't. Anyway, Walt was stuck in Washington for three weeks on combined firm and Republican party business, and Sarah thought she might take one afternoon and come by Pownal to see Johnny and Herb, if it was no trouble.

“You can reach me at Steph's number, 814-6219, any time between Oct. 17th and the 23rd. Of course, if it would make you feel uncomfortable in any way, just call me and say so, either up here or down there in K'bunk. I'll understand. Much love to both of you-Sarah.”

Holding the letter in one hand, Johnny looked across the yard and into the woods, which had gone russet and gold, seemingly just in the last week. The leaves would be falling soon, and then it would be time for winter.

Much love to both of you-Sarah. He ran his thumb across the words thoughtfully. It would be better not to call, not to write, not to do anything, he thought. She would get the message. Like the woman who mailed the scarf what possible good could it do? Why kick a sleeping dog? Sarah might be able to use that phrase, much love, blithely, but he could not. He wasn't over the hurt of the past. For him, time had been crudely folded, stapled, and mutilated. In the progression of his own interior time, she had been his girl only six months ago. He could accept the coma and the loss of time in an intellectual way, but his emotions stubbornly resisted. Answering her condolence note had been difficult, but with a note it was always possible to crumple the thing up and start again if it began to go in directions it shouldn't go, if it began to overstep the bounds of friendship, which was all they were now allowed to share. If he saw her, he might do or say something stupid. Better not to call. Better just to let it sink.

But he would call, he thought. Call and invite her over.

Troubled, he slipped the note back into the envelope.

The sun caught on bright chrome, twinkled there, and tossed an arrow of light back into his eyes. A Ford sedan was crunching its way down the driveway. Johnny squinted and tried to make out if it was a familiar car. Company out here was rare. There had been lots of mail, but people had only stopped by on three or four occasions. Pownal was small on the map, hard to find. If the car did belong to some seeker after knowledge, Johnny would send him or her away quickly, as kindly as possible, but firmly. That had been Weizak's parting advice. Good advice, Johnny thought.

“Don't let anyone rope you into the role of consulting swami, John. Give no encouragement and they will forget. It may seem heartless to you at first-most of them are misguided people with too many problems and only the best of intentions-but it is a question of your life, your privacy. So be firm. “And so he had been.

The Ford pulled into the turnaround between the shed and the woodpile, and as it swung around, Johnny saw the small Hertz sticker in the corner of the wind-shield. A very tall man in very new blue jeans and a red plaid hunting shirt that looked as if it had just come out of an L. L. Bean box got out of the car and glanced around. He had the air of a man who is not used to the country, a man who knows there are no more wolves or cougars in New England, but who wants to make sure all the same. A city man. He glanced up at the porch, saw Johnny, and raised one hand in greeting.

“Good afternoon,” he said. He had a flat city accent as well-Brooklyn, Johnny thought-and he sounded as if he were talking through a Saltine box.

“Hi,” Johnny said. “Lost?”

“Boy, I hope not,” the stranger said, coming over to the foot of the steps. “You're either John Smith or his twin brother.”

Johnny grinned. “I don't have a brother, so I guess you found your way to the right door. Can I do something for you?”

“Well, maybe we can do something for each other. “The stranger mounted the porch steps and offered his hand. Johnny shook it. “My name is Richard Dees. Inside View magazine.”

His hair was cut in a fashionable ear-length style, and it was mostly gray. Dyed gray, Johnny thought with some amusement. What could you say about a man who sounded as if he were talking through a Saltine box and dyed his hair gray?

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