Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The New York Times At Special Bargain Rates

Another short story from Stephen King's compilation,'Just After Sunset'. The story has an eerie impact. This story is about Anne. The story begins when she is in a shower and getting ready to attend her husband's memorial service who had gone missing in an airline crash. The relatives have assembled in the drawing room. She is ready to go to them when the phone rings. She picks it up and the voice on the other end is of James, her husband. 'They had thirty years together and one word is all she needs. He says Annie like no one else, always did'.
'For a moment, she can't speak or even breathe.He has caught her on the exhale and her lungs feel as flat as sheets of paper'.
"James? Where are you? What happened?" . 'The murmuring relatives are, after all, planning his funeral'.
James chuckles, "I don't exactly know where I am".
'Her first confused thought is that he must have missed the plane in London, even though he called her from Heathrow not long before it took off. Then a clearer idea comes; although both the New York Times and the TV news say there were no survivors, there was at least one'.
"Jimmy, are you all right"? "Are you burnt"? "Are you in the hospital"?
"Hush", he says. "I'm all right. Most of us are".
"Most-? There are others"?
"Not the pilot", he says, "He's not so good. Or maybe it's the co-pilot".
"Who's this really? Why are you being so horrible"? She's cold all over. 'There's a clear strand of mucus hanging from one of her nostrils'.
'It's his voice'. "Jimmy, Are you still there"?
"Yeah, but I can't talk long. I was trying to call you when we went down and I guess that's the only reason I was able to get through at all".
"Jimmy, did you know you were going down?"
"Not really", he says, "Everything seemed all right until the very end - maybe the last thirty seconds."
"James.. honey.. the plane crashed two days ago."
"Really? Mrs. Corey said time was funny here."
"Where are you exactly?"
"Looks like Grand Central Station.. only bigger and emptier.. there certainly aren't any trains .. and we can't hear any in the distance.. but there are doors going everywhere. Oh, and there's an escalator, but it's broken.."
"Are you scared?"
"Scared? No. A little worried, that's all. Mostly about which door to use... Listen, not to let the McCormack kid do the gutters this fall, last year he almost broke his fucking neck.. And don't go to the bakery anymore on sundays. Something's going to happen there, and I know it's going to be on a sunday, but I don't know which sunday. Time really is funny here... I have to go, Annie, I can't stay here and the phone's going to hit the bed any second now.."
'Then in her ear there is only black silence'.
'There is no record of an incoming call at 3:17 P.M. on that afternoon of her widowhood'.
Time passes by. The memorial service is held for her husband and the world goes on. After few days, she reads in the bargain rate New York Times,'Jason McCormack, the son of old Hughie McCormack, was killed in an accident on Labor Day. He fell from the roof of a summer cottage while cleaning the gutters and broke his neck.'
'Five years after the death of her husband and the death of Jason McCormack, Annie remarries... Craig, the new husband, is only semi-retired, and his business takes him to New York every three or four months... When she and Craig go back to New York, they fly. And when she's back home, she stops going to Zoltan's Family Bakery on sundays when she's home despite her favourite raisin bagels. She goes to Froger's instead. She's at Frogers buying doughnuts when she hears the blast. She hears it clearly even though Zoltan's is eleven blocks away. LP gas explosion. Four killed, including the woman who always passed Annie her bagels with the top of the bag rolled down, saying, " Keep it that way until you get home or you lose the freshness..."
'When she gets home , Annie can hear the phone ringing inside. Either everyone has gone down the block to where the local school is having a sidewalk art sale or no one can hear that ringing phone.. Except for her, that is. And by the time she gets her key turned in the lock, the ringing has stopped.'
'Star sixty nine reports the last call at eight forty last night. Annie dials it anyway, hoping against hope that somewhere outside the big room that looks like a Grand Central Station movie-set, he found a place to re-charge his phone. To him, it might seem he last spoke to her yesterday. Or only minutes ago. Time is funny here, he said. She has dreamed of that call so many times it now almost seems like a dream itself, but she never told anyone about it.'
'She has almost turned ninety now and with a firmly held belief in the afterlife.'
'She nevertheless holds the phone very tightly as the number she has star-sixty-nined rings once, then twice. Annie stands in the living room with the phone to her ear and her free hand touching the brooch above her left breast, as if touching the brooch could still the pounding heart beneath it. Then the ringing stops and a recorded voice offers to sell her The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates that will not be repeated.'
The short story has a punch of an impact. AAA.