Stephen King, My Old Pal

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

I’ll admit it – I’m not feeling very inspired right now. I haven’t worked on my book since I got laid off last week. Admittedly, I was not highly enamored of my job. Still, it was a shock to have it suddenly ripped away from me, like a bandage off a still-healing wound. 

There was a book by Stephen King containing four novellas that I had snapped up at Half-Price Books a month or so ago: Full Dark, No Stars. What a satisfyingly descriptive title. That title seems to embody how I feel way down deep inside, tamped-down feelings I barely acknowledge as I scan job listings, go to staffing agencies, and sign up for unemployment. Stephen King, my old pal. 

I have countless concrete memories of reading King, from seventh grade through high school. Reading Carrie in the small Corbin public library, killing the hours after school until my mother picked up me and my brother, fascinated by the opening scene with the tampons, and Carrie’s manifested rage. Reading Cujo in a motel room on a trip my father and stepmother took us on, my young brain acknowledging that this book, which details realistic horrors such as affairs and divorce, red dye in cereal that kills a business deal, even rabies – this book was truly depressing (years later I would discover in King’s On Writing that he drank so heavily while writing Cujo that he doesn’t even remember writing parts of it). My stone-cold worship of the poetic lines in ‘Salem’s Lot, and my heart-felt sympathy for Johnny Smith, the cursed protagonist of The Dead Zone

But here’s my most vivid memory from this time – it’s 2 or 3 in the morning, and I’m awake and in pain from menstrual cramps. This was back some years ago, when ibuprofen hadn’t yet hit the market, and Tylenol never touched those cramps for me. A heating pad was glued to my stomach, which had turned a dull red with white welts. The heat only helped a little. My mother had kindly gotten up and made me hot tea. I told her I felt sick and asked for the umpteenth time whether cramps could make you throw up. My mother, a nurse, assured me that they did not (mark those words, o reader!). 

So I sipped the tea while I read Christine, a book I had read a couple of times before. Re-reading King in those days was a reassuring activity, the ebb and flow of the narrative a comfort. 

I got to the part where Arnie brings special sandwiches to his best friend Dennis in the hospital. These sandwiches are exactly like the ones their mothers made when they were kids – white bread and yellow mustard. Yep, that’s all that was in those sandwiches – am I the only one who cringes a bit, still, at the thought of sinking my teeth into mushy white bread slathered with chemical-yellow mustard AND NOTHING ELSE? 

Reading Christine before, I had never enjoyed the description of those sandwiches – but this time, with monumental cramps twisting my insides, the thought of the mushiness and the harsh mustard tang was enough to tip my nausea into solidity. I scrambled for the bathroom, afterwards tearily proclaimed to my mother that she was wrong – menstrual cramps could make you throw up. 

Or Stephen King could. Not the descriptions of the rats and the teeth, the blood and the screams, you understand – the white bread and mustard sandwiches.

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