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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“Bastard! You son of a bitch! Bastard!”
I was almost bored. She stood in front of me like a woman out of one of my books. I had a sudden thought that I might have invented her: long legs, small waist, full breasts half covered by tossed blonde hair. I must have smiled because she swung at me again. I caught her wrist, and she made a stifled sound of anger, almost a growl.
“Put your clothes on and get out,” I told her.
She went on screaming at me. I sat on the edge of the bed and watched her. Her breasts were full, but they hung loose, like bags over a torso on which I could count every rib. The pubic hair told the true color of her bleached head: mousy brown. Her skin, breaking through her smeared make-up, was blotchy.
“I exist!” she was screaming. “I’m a person!”
I yawned and looked at the clock. Four a.m. “No,” I told her. “I invented you, or you tried to invent yourself, right out of my latest book. But some of the details got …”
She lunged at me. She took me by surprise, and I fell back on the bed with her on top of me. She gave a little jump onto her knees and started digging her fingernails into my face. She almost straddled me, but one knee pressed down on my chest. Her hair and her breasts dangled over my eyes, merging like the slack dugs of some obscene animal. Her breath smelled sour, wine and pot mingling in a sickly smell that turned my stomach.
I tried to grab her wrists, but they were slick with sweat and kept slipping away from me. She was stronger than I expected, and she was hurting me, taking long slashes at my face, aiming at my eyes.
Finally I grabbed her by the shoulders and stretched her away from me at arms length. Her fingernails clawed the air an inch from my nose. I pushed, and she landed against the wall behind the bed, making a couple of thick slapping noises as she hit the wall, then bouncing back at me, her eyes and mouth wide, her claws flailing. As she fell toward me, I stretched out my arm and caught her by the throat.
It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been stoned. And if it hadn’t been four o’clock in the morning. And if it hadn’t been for the nightmare. But the nightmare had been especially bad that week, and I’d had hardly any sleep, trying to keep it from me.
It didn’t feel like murder. It was all unreal, like a scene from one of my books. Or she was like a phantom from my nightmare, the phantom I held off with my eyes closed, afraid to look, I wasn’t real either. Nothing could be real at four o’clock in the morning. I might wake up anytime, sweating and shaking, and take another pill to push me to a level beyond or below nightmare.
It had been quiet for a long time when I gradually came to myself. The first thing I realized was that I was cold. Then I felt the ache in my outstretched arm. I looked down my arm to where my hand gripped her throat, pressing her against the wall. My arm ached because she was heavy, hanging in my grip like a wet doll. Her eyes and mouth were still wide, but her face was dark, and she was quiet. I let go and she slid down the wall, crouched as if she would sit resting against it, then toppled over to one side. I could tell by the way she lay there that she was dead. There was something inhuman, deadlike, in the way her body crumpled.
I looked at the clock: 4:15. Was that all? I thought a lifetime must have passed. It had, of course. In those few minutes, my lifetime, all that my life was, had passed away, had died with … it took me a few minutes to remember her name … with Connie.
But I wasn’t thinking of my life, past or future. If I was thinking at all, it was of escape, of running away. And that wasn’t really thinking. It was instinct. Pure panic vibrated through my knees, widening the huge, windy void at the center of my body.
I put my clothes on. I ran out to the garage, got into my car, and drove off.
I didn’t know where I was going. I had some idea of getting far away before the sun came up, before the light shone through the glass doors at the end of my bedroom, and lit up the brittle blonde hair falling over the bloated face that leaned against the baseboard.
That part of me saw the body. That part of me drove.
Another part of me stood off watching, and after a while that second part of me started to talk. You fool. You did it now. You had everything. You had everything you always wanted. You were at the top. There was nothing left that you could want. And you threw it away.
I shook my head and turned onto the freeway. Going south. That was all right. Going somewhere. Anywhere. Going away.
Don’t run away, the other part of me said. Go back. Take the body and dump it somewhere.
You read too many of your own books. (Was it another part of me, arguing? How many ways was I split?) You’ve been seen with her. People know. You don’t go anywhere without being recognized. They’d connect it with you.
“All right, that’s why you pay a lawyer. Call Spanger. He’s gotten you out of messes before. Temporary insanity. Get your psychiatrist in on it. He can tell about the nightmares. You’re a sick man.
A killer or sick. All the same. It’s over. You had it all and threw it away. Now they won’t read your books anymore, they’ll read you, in the morning paper, every stupid voyeur who ever masturbated to your books will take you with his morning coffee and lick his lips.
Where are you going to go?
Did you bring any money?
How far Can you get without more gas?
The nagging voices buzzed like flies around my body. My silent body answered nothing, thought nothing. It heard without listening and kept driving.
I don’t remember turning off the freeway. I don’t remember the road I took to the mountain. I don’t remember the ascent. There was nothing but the whining voices inside me and the still, stolid body driving.
I don’t remember the curve.
It was only when the car began to roll over, when my body driving it no longer drove it, that I realized I’d turned too sharply, skidded, and gone off the edge of the road.
It all happened with incredible slowness. The car shuddered on the edge, then rolled over. I gripped the wheel as my foot lost the pedal and my head bounced against the roof. For one eternal second the car floated through the air. Then it hit, bouncing on its side, shattering the windows, rattling like tin cans on gravel. Then it rolled, and rolled, grating and scraping, rolling, as within the car I spun and crashed like cargo broken loose, until I saw the broken door fly off and felt myself bounced through the opening into space.
I remember that moment when the car spewed me out, that moment of floating in space. It was in that instant that I first realized I might die, in that instant that my whole being unified into the realization of my own death, not as a theoretical possibility or a far distant probability, not as a word unimagined or repressed, but as a palpable thing, a permanent state. My death. I knew, not with the blind panic of my flight from Connie’s death, but with a clear and rational fear that burst on me like the bright sunlight dawning on that mountainside. I knew that my death would be a permanent plunge into the nightmare. I heard myself scream, not in fear of what might happen, but in the sure horror of knowing.
I had never screamed before. It was not a scream, but more like a great howl into which my falling body melted. And then the nightmare swallowed me.
My eyes are shut. I am surrounded by shadowy shapes. They close in. I must fight them off. But I must not look at them. How can I fight if I can’t see them? I must run, but they are all around me. I might run into the grasp of one. Don’t look at them. They are closer. I feel their breath on me. I throw out my arms to hold them off. But they will swallow my hands. I spin around with my arms outstretched, clearing a safe circle around me. I turn and turn, I spin so the shadows cannot come closer, faster, so they cannot catch my hands. I make a great wind circling round me. I spin, faster and faster until I am dizzy. I am dizzy. I am falling. I fall. I fall, and they are on me. They have me.
My eyes opened. I was not dead. It was all just another nightmare. The murder, the drive, the accident, all a refinement on the old nightmare. For a while I lay still, breathing deeply, gratefully. I did not want to move. In a moment, I would roll over, look at the clock and take another pill. But not yet. I wanted to lie still and safe, in my own bed, in my house. In a moment I would sit up and laugh and write down my dream for the psychiatrist. It was a good one. He would dig into it like a kid making mud pies.