Home > Revival(9)

Stephen King

“Zip your lip,” my mother said, cutting her eyes in my direction. “Little pitchers have big ears.”

Like I didn’t know what getting a girl pregnant meant: sex. Boys lay down on top of girls and wiggled around until they got the feeling. When that happened, a mysterious something called jizz came from the boy’s dink. It sank into the girl’s belly, and nine months later it was time for diapers and a baby carriage.

My parents didn’t stop Con and Andy from going to the resort once or twice a week during the summer in spite of my sister’s dog-in-the-manger barking, and when the Fergusons came up for February vacation in 1965 and invited my brothers to go skiing with them, my parents sent them off to Goat Mountain without a qualm, my brothers’ scarred old skis strapped to the station wagon’s roof right along with the Fergusons’ gleaming new ones.

When they came back, there was a bright red weal across Con’s throat. “Did you drift off-course and run into a tree branch?” Dad asked when he came home for supper and saw the mark.

Con, a fine skier, was indignant. “Gosh no, Dad. Me n Norm were racing. We were side by side, going like hell’s kitchen—”

Mom pointed her fork at him.

“Sorry, Mom, like heck’s kitchen. Norm hit a mogul and just about lost his balance. He stuck out his arm like this”—Con demonstrated, almost knocking over his glass of milk—“and his ski pole hit me in the neck. It hurt like . . . you know, bad, but it’s better now.”

Only it wasn’t. The next day the red mark had faded to a necklace-like bruise, but his voice had gotten hoarse. By that night he could hardly speak above a whisper. Two days later, he was completely mute.

• • •

A hyperextension of the neck resulting in a stretched laryngeal nerve. That was Dr. Renault’s diagnosis. He said he’d seen them before, and in a week or two, Conrad’s voice would begin to come back. By the end of March Connie would be as right as a trivet. Nothing to worry about, he said, and there wasn’t. Not for him, at least; his voice was fine. This was not true of my brother. When April rolled around, Con was still writing notes and making gestures when he wanted something. He insisted on going to school, even though the other boys had started making fun of him, especially since he had solved the problem of class participation (to a degree, anyway) by writing YES on one palm and NO on the other. He had a pile of file cards with more communications written on them in block letters. The one his classmates found particularly hilarious was MAY I USE THE RESTROOM.

Con seemed to take all this in good spirits, knowing that to do otherwise would only make the teasing worse, but one night I went into the room he shared with Terry and found him lying on his bed and weeping soundlessly. I went to him, asking what was wrong. A stupid question, since I knew, but you have to say something in that situation, and I could say it, because I wasn’t the one who’d been struck across the throat with the Ski Pole of Destiny.

Get out! he mouthed. His cheeks and forehead, studded with newly arrived pimples, were flaming. His eyes were swollen. Get out, get out! Then, shocking me: Get the fuck out, cocksucker!

The first gray began to appear in my mother’s hair that spring. One afternoon when my father came in, looking more tired than usual, Mom told him that they had to take Con to a specialist in Portland. “We’ve waited long enough,” she said. “That old fool George Renault can say whatever he likes, but I know what happened, and so do you. That careless rich boy ruptured my son’s vocal cords.”

My father sat down heavily at the table. Neither of them noticed me in the mudroom, taking an inordinate amount of time to lace up my Keds. “We can’t afford it, Laura,” he said.

“But you could afford to buy Hiram Oil in Gates Falls!” she said, using an ugly, almost sneering tone of voice I had never heard before.

He sat looking at the table instead of at her, although there was nothing on it except the red-and-white-checked oilcloth. “That’s why we can’t afford it. We’re skating on mighty thin ice. You know what kind of winter it was.”

We all knew: a warm one. When your family’s income depends on heating oil, you keep a close eye on the thermometer between Thanksgiving and Easter, hoping the red line will stay low.

My mother was at the sink, hands buried in a cloud of soapsuds. Somewhere beneath the cloud, dishes were rattling as if she wanted to break them instead of clean them. “You had to have it, didn’t you?” Still in that same tone of voice. I hated that voice. It was as if she was egging him on. “The big oil baron!”

“That deal was made before Con’s accident,” he said, still not looking up. His hands were once more stuffed deep into his pockets. “That deal was made in August. We sat together looking at The Old Farmer’s Almanac—a cold and snowy winter, it said, coldest since the end of World War II—and we decided it was the right thing to do. You ran the numbers on your adding machine.”

The dishes rattled harder under the soapsuds. “Take out a loan!”

“I could, but Laura . . . listen to me.” He raised his eyes at last. “I may have to do that just to make it through the summer.”

“He’s your son!”

“I know he is, goddammit!” Dad roared. It scared me, and must have scared my mother, because this time the dishes under the cloud of suds did more than rattle. They crashed. And when she raised her hands, one of them was bleeding.

She held it up to him—like my silent brother showing YES or NO in class—and said, “Look what you made me d—” She caught sight of me, sitting on the woodpile and staring into the kitchen. “Buzz off! Go out and play!”

“Laura, don’t take it out on Ja—”

“Get out!” she shouted. It was the way Con would have shouted at me, if he’d had a voice to shout with. “God hates a snoop!”

She began to cry. I ran out the door, crying myself. I ran down Methodist Hill, and across Route 9 without looking in either direction. I had no idea of going to the parsonage; I was too upset to even think of seeking pastoral advice. If Patsy Jacobs hadn’t been in the front yard, checking to see if any of the flowers she’d planted the previous fall were coming up, I might have run until I collapsed. But she was out, and she called my name. Part of me wanted to just keep on running, but—as I think I’ve said—I had my manners, even when I was upset. So I stopped.

She came to where I was standing, my head down, gasping for breath. “What happened, Jamie?”

I didn’t say anything. She put her fingers under my chin and raised my head. I saw Morrie sitting on the grass beside the parsonage’s front stoop, surrounded by toy trucks. He was goggling at me.

“Jamie? Tell me what’s wrong.”

Just as we had been taught to be polite, we had been taught to keep our mouths shut about what went on in the family. It was the Yankee way. But her kindness undid me and it all came pouring out: Con’s misery (the depth of which I’m convinced neither of our parents comprehended, in spite of their very real concern), my mother’s fear that his vocal cords had been ruptured and he might never speak again, her insistence on a specialist and Dad’s on how they couldn’t afford it. Most of all, the shouting. I didn’t tell Patsy about the stranger’s voice I had heard coming from my mother’s mouth, but only because I could not think how to say it.

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