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STEPHEN KING EXERCISE
(Fun with Dick and Jane)
Giandalone, March 7, 2002
She’d done some whacked out stuff in the past, but two nights ago Jane went the distance and landed in jail for assault with a dangerous weapon.
Mrs. Hatch heard what sounded like a fisher cat announcing a fresh kill, and did what any concerned scared shitless neighbor would do. She dialed 911.
The dispatcher asked her if she knew what might be the problem. Mrs. Hatch looked through her window into her neighbor’s living room and saw Jane smacking a telephone receiver over and over on Dick’s head. The dispatcher wasn’t surprised. A flag next to the address had appeared on her computer monitor noting, “restraining order in effect.”
He’d felt kind of foolish at the time, standing in a court room telling a judge that he was afraid of her, but he certainly wasn’t lying. They’d been divorced for more than two years, and during that time her presence in his life had become more and more menacing. He had hoped the two of them could keep things on a civil keel for Nell’s sake but after awhile he realized he wasn’t doing his daughter any favors by appearing to tolerate Jane’s emotional drawing and quartering of their child. He knew divorces were never pleasant, but he didn’t think it possible that Jane would rip Nellie out of a sound sleep and drive her across town at 2 a.m. shouting, “Your father insists that I bring you home now!” He was awakened by the sound of a vehicle rushing into the drive and Jane shrieking, “You want to cry all night for your father well then you can just go to him!” Nell was dressed in her night shirt, it was cold, and she’d been left crying in the yard as Jane flew off.
Dick brought his daughter inside and warmed feet. Settled into her bed, the child fell into his arms sobbing, “I don’t want you to die, Daddy!” Nell was exhausted from crying, her eyes swollen, filled with fear. Over supper her mother had told her that Dick had cancer and was dying very soon. The fact that Jane was a nurse made this horrible lie more believable to Nell, and more frightening to Dick. The next morning he called his attorney requesting advice and they met at the courthouse and obtained an emergency restraining order.
She wasn’t supposed to be within 100 yards of either one of them, but she didn’t abide by it. For the past six months Dick had endured the non-protection of the court order. He’d be picking out yogurt in the grocery store, and she’d be glaring at him over by the orange juice. He’d go to the bank to make a deposit and by the time the receipt was in his wallet, she’d be using the ATM. Cold needles of fear would surge through his spine when he’d leave through the lobby followed by her hateful gaze. She filled his answering machine tape day after day with vicious ranting. He found her car parked next to his truck when he and Nell came from her dance class. On that occasion he pointed the parlayed parking out to a town officer. “Restraining orders go both ways, Denny. If I walk to my truck, I’m within 100 yards of her and she could start screaming and have me arrested.”
Denny Ringwald went over and spoke to her. She drove off and the officer told Dick she said she hadn’t noticed his truck was there. “How many brown trucks with rusty ladder racks are likely to be parked in front of Donna’s Dance Academy,” he thought, but he felt like shouting it and drowning in it at the same time.
A blush of shame rushed from his chest to his knees. Nell’s empty juice box slid off the dashboard as he turned into the drive.
It wasn’t all for nothing. He had Nell, and they had their small house by Pennig’s Pond. That Jane ended up with the family business and a rental property didn’t bother him near as much as her ending up with, and shredding, every piece of documentation he ever had about himself. Deeds, mortgages, tax forms, birth certificate—all things he never thought much about until he needed to prove things in Probate Court, and then he found out fast that possession is nine-tenths of the law.
He thought about changing door locks as he let himself inside. “What for,” he thought. “She’s locked up now.” He wasn’t entirely sure she’d remain there, but for now she was being held without bail, and would be until a hearing Monday morning. The smell of the present perhaps wasn't roses, but he felt able to fill his lungs up and breathe a brief sigh of relief.
When he got inside his belly lurched with embarrassment as he pictured what his neighbor must have seen. The big man beaten down by a wisp of a woman. Police intervention. An ambulance needing to come. He was still unsure what had really happened as he touched the top of his head and felt the sutures. Seven perfectly spaced reminders to never let his guard down again and to always keep his front drapes open. He didn’t expect he’d be waltzing around in his underwear anytime soon; not with a nine-year-old at home. His metaphorical balls had been hung like a storm flag. What else was left to keep private?
Thursdays were Nell’s swimming lessons and special time with Aunt Kathy. Kath would pick her up from school, take her to lessons with her two cousins, and bring her home in the evening after supper. Usually pizzas that they’d build themselves then watch cook through the oven door. Kath was wonderful with kids, and Richard was truly grateful for her generosity. He cherished his quiet time on Thursdays, often using the time to catch up on reading, phone calls, and sometimes totally derelict, simply collapsing in his recliner. But this past Thursday hadn’t gone the way of the others. He still couldn’t believe Jane had simply let herself into the house with a key. How could he have not seen this coming? What if she’d let herself in in the middle of the night? What if Nellie had seen or heard or gotten between his head and the telephone? What if.
He didn’t have time to get caught up in the “what ifs.” He had to think about what to do now. He decided quickly that he would change the locks, and he promised himself he’d take Nell to the animal shelter after school some afternoon in the coming week. They were going to learn about how to care for a dog and adopt the loudest one there.
It was all still so unbelievable. He’d walked into the house to find Jane sitting on the couch. She was holding a copy of the restraining order in her lap. She looked contrite, ashamed of herself, and pitifully lonely. A part of him was tempted to comfort her.
“I just want all of this to go away Ricky. Please. Can’t we just make it stop? I’ll do whatever it takes to make us OK together as a family again. This isn’t right. I’m walking around like a zombie. I feel as if the most important parts of me have been cut away. Please. I need to be part of your life.”
All he could hear was, “I.” That’s how it had always been, and he knew that’s how it always would be. He cringed when she stood to put her hands on his shoulders, and that gesture was enough to throw her into a rage.
When he came to his living room was upside down and EMTs were mopping his head and strapping him to a board.
The police were ready to arrest him at first. That’s the usual scenario with restraining order violations. Fortunately Denny Ringwald was in the second cruiser to arrive and able to clarify things. Jane was handcuffed and taken to the police station. Dick recited Kathy’s phone number through an oxygen mask as he was lifted into an ambulance.
That was then. This was now. He slipped his key into the lock and heard the familiar comforting “pop” of it letting go before the door opened.
The rugs weren’t stained with blood, and no furniture was tipped over, but he still felt as if she were in his home pounding on him. He wondered if he’d ever be able to free himself from the stench of the emotional stew that boiled over that night, searing his lungs with flames of acrid fury.
Her fragrance first alerted him. “Euforbia.” Was he that whacked out? Olfactory hallucinations?
A blast erupted from the stairs. A metal box of coins and a woman exploded in his face. Something tore at his nostril. He felt a rip then struck out to stop it.
Pure ferocity lunged at him again, this time slicing his scalp with a fractured picture frame.
In a matter of seconds his entire world was thrust into a maelstrom and he had to figure out what it was he needed to do to keep on living.
When did life become so
life and death?
He rose from beneath the weight of her body and reached for the telephone receiver, tempted to turn the top of her head into meatloaf. She wasn’t breathing, and he was struck by his feelings to not want to help her. He thought he’d probably broken her neck when he knocked her into the TV cabinet, but was surprised to discover a knife protruding from her abdomen. He didn’t know where it had come from, nor did he realize he’d been cut by it as well. He thought the hot stinging he felt on his shoulder was a scrape or a rug burn. What the hell had just happened? Connections of any kind weren’t coming easily for him.
“This call is being recorded. What is your emergency?”
My effing life, he thought as he told the voice on the phone that his ex-wife, who was supposed to be in jail, had entered his home and was now on the living room floor with a knife in her.
“Is she breathing?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Get close to her face and look, listen and feel for any signs of breathing.”
The very thought repulsed him.
“Is she breathing sir?”
“I really don’t think so.”
“Can you feel a pulse?”
Don’t make me touch her. I know what’s coming next. You’re going to ask me to breathe for her. Don’t ask me to breathe for her. I can’t, just can’t touch those lips with my own.
“Sir, do you find a pulse?”
“There’s so much blood. Where’s all this blood coming from?”
He grew very tired and
let his head rest on the floor. He
tried to form more words but found his voice held back with a dam of wet
Marge Baxter motioned for a supervisor as she turned on the “assistance needed” light above her station.
“I’ve got a knife wound not breathing and a non-responsive reporting party, possibly the result of a domestic disturbance.”
Marge hid her disappointment. It always feels so much better to have the voice on the other end of the “tunnel” talking back at you, even if they’re swearing that Martians have invaded their bathroom, and they’re fending them off with non-stick fry pans. When the conversation turns one sided, it usually means matters on the other side have taken a serious turn for the worse.
While her supervisor
stayed on the “dead end,” she got the responding units moving. She notified the town police so they could arrive first.
She decided to send two ambulances in case both parties needed
transport, though she really wanted to send a steam roller to crush the
life out of the son of a bitch who’d stuck a knife into some poor
woman. She probably
hadn’t fixed what he wanted for supper.
Or maybe she’d cooked it too much, or too little.
The reason never matters. As
long as it can be pulled out of thin air, it’s enough.
“Son of a flea bitten sea cook!”
Officer Ringwald threw his sandwich back in its bag and wiped the chewed stuff off of his face. He had a feeling Thursday that this wasn’t going to end until one of them was dead. He notified the dispatcher that he was responding and requested a second officer be sent for back-up.
“And Marge, last I knew the female party was in custody. Will you try to find out why she’s not?”
“The reporting party
mentioned something about that. We’re
on it sir.”
Officer Ringwald arrived on the scene just as his backup was pulling in front of the house and an ambulance appeared in his rear mirror. A second ambulance was already positioned at the end of the driveway, awaiting word that it was safe to enter.
“Dick, it’s Denny. We’re coming in.” Officer Stanton was behind him.
He was hoping to hear Dick’s voice, but the silence that answered made the hair on his neck stand up and his hopes sink. The two entered the living room. Stanton went to the woman and Denny went to Dick. Stanton couldn’t feel a pulse and reported this to the ambulance. Denny found Dick breathing, but unconscious. The medical technicians were told to come in, and the thick silence was filled with noises of latex gloves snapping and oxygen tanks jangling.
Denny surveyed the room and found a colorful pile of paper on the dining room table. Next to it, a child’s birthday party invitation told him what he wanted to know. He didn’t need to check the closets for a traumatized witness, for which he was grateful. He checked back in his notebook for the aunt’s phone number he’d called the last time.
Officer Stanton was a bit annoyed because he couldn’t have the knife to bag as evidence. “You can collect it at the hospital, sir.” Impaled objects get removed in operating rooms. The EMTs were having a difficult time trying to stabilize the knife and perform CPR simultaneously. The newest member of the crew stood back in horror, fearing that the knife would glow or melt when they used the defibrillator.
Dick felt himself being rolled onto his stomach while his shirt was being cut to pieces. He was still trying to communicate to the voice on the phone as an oxygen mask was plied to his face. Snippets of sentences filtered through muffled chaos. “Brachial artery.” “Direct pressure.” “Saline push.” Was he hearing these words or dreaming them? Did it matter either way? He let himself relax and slip into a quiet place where no one was shredding him or biting at his face.
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