Rose Madder - By Stephen King



She sits in the corner, trying to draw air out of a room which seemed to have plenty just a few minutes ago and now seems to have none. From what sounds like a great distance she can hear a thin whoop-whoop sound, and she knows this is air going down her throat and then sliding back out again in a series of feverish little gasps, but that doesn’t change the feeling that she’s drowning here in the comer of her living room, looking at the shredded remains of the paperback novel she was reading when her husband came home.

Not that she cares much. The pain is too great for her to worry about such minor matters as respiration, or how there seems to be no air in the air she is breathing. The pain has swallowed her as the whale reputedly swallowed Jonah, that holy draft-dodger. It throbs like a poison sun glowing deep down in the middle of her, in a place where until tonight there was only the quiet sense of a new thing growing.

There has never been any pain like this pain, not that she can remember—not even when she was thirteen and swerved her bike to avoid a pothole and wiped out, bouncing her head off the asphalt and opening up a cut that turned out to be exactly eleven stitches long. What she remembered about that was a silvery jolt of pain followed by starry dark surprise which had actually been a brief faint ... but that pain had not been this agony. This terrible agony. Her hand on her belly registers flesh that is no longer like flesh at all; it is as if she has been unzipped and her living baby replaced with a hot rock.

Oh God please, she thinks. Please let the baby be okay.

But now, as her breath finally begins to ease a little, she realizes that the baby is not okay, that he has made sure of that much, anyway. When you’re four months pregnant the baby is still more a part of you than of itself, and when you’re sitting in a corner with your hair stuck in strings to your sweaty cheeks and it feels as if you’ve swallowed a hot stone—

Something is putting sinister, slippery little kisses against the insides of her thighs.

“No,” she whispers, “no. Oh my dear sweet God, no. Good God, sweet God, dear God, no.”

Let it be sweat, she thinks. Let it be sweat... or maybe I peed myself. Yes, that’s probably it. It hurt so bad after he hit me the third time that I peed myself and didn’t even know it. That’s it.

Except it isn’t sweat and it isn’t pee. It’s blood. She’s sitting here in the comer of the living room, looking at a dismembered paperback lying half on the sofa and under the coffee-table, and her womb is getting ready to vomit up the baby it has so far carried with no complaint or problem whatsoever.

“No, ” she moans, “no, God, please say no.”

She can see her husband’s shadow, as twisted and elongated as a cornfield effigy or the shadow of a hanged man, dancing and bobbing on the wall of an archway leading from the living room into the kitchen. She can see shadow-phone pressed to shadow-ear, and the long corkscrew shadow-cord. She can even see his shadow-fingers pulling the kinks out of the cord, holding for a moment and then releasing it back into its former curls again, like a bad habit you just can’t get rid of.

Her first thought is that he’s calling the police. Ridiculous, of course—he is the police.

“Yes, it’s an emergency,” he’s saying. “You’re goddam tooting it is, beautiful, she’s pregnant.” He listens, slipping the cord through his fingers, and when he speaks again his tone is testy. Just that faint irritation in his voice is enough to renew her terror and fill her mouth with a steely taste. Who would cross him, contradict him? Oh, who would be so foolish as to do that? Only someone who didn’t know him, of course—someone who didn’t know him the way she knew him. “Of course I won’t move her, do you think I’m an idiot?”

Her fingers creep under her dress and up her thigh to the soaked, hot cotton of her panties. Please, she thinks. How many times has that word gone through her mind since he tore the book out of her hands? She doesn’t know, but here it is again. Please