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Dreamcatcherby Stephen King
Pete sits behind his desk just off the showroom of Macdonald Motors in Bridgton, twirling his keychain. The fob consists of four enameled blue letters: NASA.
Dreams age faster than dreamers, that is a fact of life Pete has discovered as the years pass. Yet the last ones often die surprisingly hard, screaming in low, miserable voices at the back of the brain. It's been a long time since Pete slept in a bedroom papered with pictures of Apollo and Saturn rockets and astronauts and space-walks (EVAs, to those in the know) and space capsules with their shields smoked and fused by the fabulous heat of re-entry and LEMs and Voyagers and one photograph of a shiny disc over Interstate 80, people standing in the breakdown lane and looking up with their hands shielding their eyes, the photo's caption reading THIS OBJECT, PHOTOGRAPHED NEAR ARVADA, COLORADO, IN 1971, HAS NEVER BEEN EXPLAINED. IT IS A GENUINE UFO.
A long time.
Yet he still spent one of his two weeks of vacation this year in Washington, D.C., where he went to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum every day and spent nearly all of his time wandering among the displays with a wondering grin on his face. And most of that time he spent looking at the moon rocks and thinking, Those rocks came from a place where the skies are always black and the silence is everlasting. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took twenty kilograms of another world and now here it is.
And here he is, sitting behind his desk on a day when he hasn't sold a single car (people don't like to buy cars when it's raining, and it has been drizzling in Pete's part of the world ever since first light), twirling his NASA keychain and looking up at the clock. Time moves slowly in the afternoons, ever more slowly as the hour of five approaches. At five it will be time for that first beer. Not before five; no way. You drank during the day, maybe you had to look at how much you were drinking, because that's what alcoholics did. But if you could wait...just twirl your keychain and wait...
As well as that first beer of the day, Pete is waiting for November. Going to Washington in April had been good, and the moon rocks had been stunning (they still stun him, every time he thinks about them), but he had been alone. Being alone wasn't so good. In November, when he takes his other week, he'll be with Henry and Jonesy and the Beav. Then he'll allow himself to drink during the day. When you're off in the woods, hunting with your friends, it's all right to drink during the day. It's practically a tradition. It —
The door opens and a good-looking brunette comes in. About five-ten (and Pete likes them tall), maybe thirty. She glances around at the showroom models (the new Thunderbird, in dark burgundy, is the pick of the litter, although the Explorer isn't bad), but not as if she has any interest in buying. Then she spots Pete and walks toward him.
Pete gets up, dropping his NASA keychain on his desk-blotter, and meets her at the door of his office. He's wearing his best professional smile by now — two hundred watts, baby, you better believe it — and has his hand outstretched. Her grip Is cool and firm, but she's distracted, upset.
"This probably isn't going to work," she says.
"Now, you never want to start that way with a car salesman," Pete says. "We love a challenge. I'm Pete Moore."
"Hello," she says, but doesn't give her name, which is Trish. "I have an appointment in Fryeburg in just" — she glances at the clock which Pete watches so closely during the slow afternoon hours — "in just forty-five minutes. It's with a client who wants to buy a house, and I think I have the right one, there's a sizeable commission involved, and..." Her eyes are now brimming with tears and she has to swallow to get rid of the thickness creeping into her voice. "...and I've lost my goddam keys! My goddam car keys!"
She opens her purse and rummages in it.
"But I have my registration...plus some other papers...there are all sorts of numbers, and I thought maybe, just maybe, you could make me a new set and I could be on my way. This sale could make my year, Mr. — " She has forgotten. He isn't offended. Moore is almost as common as Smith or Jones. Besides, she's upset. Losing your keys will do that. He's seen it a hundred times.
"Moore. But I answer just as well to Pete."
"Can you help me, Mr. Moore? Or is there someone in the service department who can?"
Old Johnny Damon's back there and he'd be happy to help her, but she wouldn't make her appointment in Fryeburg, that's for sure.
"We can get you new car keys, but it's liable to take at least twenty-four hours and maybe more like forty-eight," he says.
She looks at him from her brimming eyes, which are a velvety brown, and lets out a dismayed cry. "Damn it! Damn it!"
An odd thought comes to Pete then: she looks like a girl he knew a long time ago. Not well, they hadn't known her well, but well enough to save her life. Josie Rinkenhauer, her name had been.
"I knew it!" Trish says, no longer trying to keep that husky thickness out of her voice. "Oh boy, I just knew it!" She turns away from him, now beginning to cry in earnest.
Pete walks after her and takes her gently by the shoulder. "Wait, Trish. Wait just a minute."
That's a slip, saying her name when she hasn't given it to him, but she's too upset to realize they haven't been properly introduced, so it's okay.
"Where did you come from?" he asks. "I mean, you're not from Bridgton, are you?"
"No," she says. "Our office is in Westbrook. Dennison Real Estate. We're the ones with the lighthouse?"
Pete nods as if this means something to him.
"I came from there. Only I stopped at the Bridgton Pharmacy for some aspirin because I always get a headache before a big presentation...it's the stress, and oh boy, it's pounding like a hammer now..."
Pete nods sympathetically. He knows about headaches. Of course most of his are caused by beer rather than stress, but he knows about them, all right.
"I had some time to kill, so I also went into tile little store next to the pharmacy for a coffee...the caffeine, you know, when you have a headache the caffeine can help..."
Pete nods again. Henry's the headshrinker, but as Pete has told him more than once, you have to know a fair amount about how the human mind works in order to succeed at selling. Now he's pleased to see that his new friend is calming down a little. That's good. He has an idea he can help her, if she'll let him. He can feel that little click wanting to happen. He likes that little click. It's no big deal, it'll never make his fortune, but he likes it.
"And I also went across the street to Renny's. I bought a scarf...because of the rain, you know..." She touches her hair. "Then I went back to my car...and my son-of-a-damn-bitch keys were gone! I retraced my steps...went backward from Renny's to the store to the pharmacy, and they're not anywhere! And now I'm going to miss my appointment!"
Distress is creeping back into her voice. Her eyes go to the clock again. Creeping for him; racing for her. That's the difference between people, Pete reflects. One of them, anyway.
"Calm down," he says. "Calm down just a few seconds and listen to me. We're going to walk back to the drugstore, you and I, and look for your car keys."
"They're not there! I checked all the aisles, I looked on the shelf where I got the aspirin, I asked the girl at the counter — "
"It won't hurt to check again," he says. He's walking her toward the door now, his hand pressed lightly against the small of her back, getting her to walk with him. He likes the smell of her perfume and he likes her hair even more, yes he does. And if it looks this pretty on a rainy day, how might it look when the sun is out?
"My appointment — "
"You've still got forty minutes," he says. "With the summer tourists gone, it only takes twenty to drive up to Fryeburg. We'll take ten minutes to try and find your keys, and if we can't, I'll drive you myself."
She peers at him doubtfully.
He looks past her, into one of the other offices. "Dick!" he calls. "Hey, Dickie M.!"
Dick Macdonald looks up from a clutter of invoices.
"Tell this lady I'm safe to drive her up to Fryeburg, should it come to that. "
"Oh, he's safe enough, ma'am," Dick says. "Not a sex maniac or a fast driver. He'll just try to sell you a new car."
"I'm a tough sell," she says, smiling a little, "but I guess you're on."
"Cover my phone, would you, Dick?" Pete asks.
"Oh yeah, that'll be a hardship. Weather like this, I'll be beatin the customers off with a stick."
Pete and the brunette woman — Trish — go out, cross the alley, and walk the forty or so feet back to Main Street. The Bridgton Pharmacy is the second building on their left. The drizzle has thickened; now it's almost rain. The woman puts her new scarf up over her hair and glances at Pete, who's bare-headed. "You're getting all wet," she says.
"I'm from upstate," he says. "We grow em tough up there."
"You think you can find them, don't you?" she asks.
Pete shrugs. "Maybe. I'm good at finding things. Always have been."
"Do you know something I don't?" she asks.
No bounce, no play, he thinks. I know that much, ma'am.
"Nope," he says. "Not yet."
They walk into the pharmacy, and the bell over the door jingles. The girl behind the counter looks up from her magazine. At three-twenty on a rainy late-September afternoon, the pharmacy is deserted except for the three of them down here and Mr. Diller up behind the prescription counter.
"Hi, Pete," the counter-girl says.
"Yo, Cathy, how's it going?"
"Oh, you know — slow." She looks at the brunette. "I'm sorry, ma'am, I checked around again, but I didn't find them."
"That's all right," Trish says with a wan smile. "This gentleman has agreed to give me a ride to my appointment."
"Well," Cathy says, "Pete's okay, but I don't think I'd go so far as to call him a gentleman."
"You want to watch what you say, darlin," Pete tells her with a grin. "There's a Rexall just down 302 in Naples." Then he glances up at the clock. Time has sped up for him, too. That's okay, that makes a nice change.
Pete looks back at Trish. "You came here first. For the aspirin."
"That's right. I got a bottle of Anacin. Then I had some time to kill, so --"
"I know, you got a coffee next door at Christie's, then went across to Renny's."
"You didn't take your aspirin with hot coffee, did you?"
"No, I had a bottle of Poland water in my car." She points out the window at a green Taurus. "I took them with some of that. But I checked the seat, too, Mr. — Pete. I also checked the ignition." She gives him an impatient look which says, I know what you're thinking: daffy woman.
"Just one more question," he says. "If I find your car keys, would you go out to dinner with me? I could meet you at The West Wharf. It's on the road between here and — "
"I know The West Wharf," she says, looking amused in spite of her distress. At the counter, Cathy isn't even pretending to read her magazine. This is better than Redbook, by far. "How do you know I'm not married, or something?"
"No wedding ring," he replies promptly, although he hasn't even looked at her hands yet, not closely, anyway. "Besides, I was just talking about fried clams, cole slaw, and strawberry shortcake, not a lifetime commitment."
She looks at the clock. "Pete...Mr. Moore...I'm afraid that at this minute I have absolutely no interest in flirting. If you want to give me a ride, I would be very happy to have dinner with you. But — "
"That's good enough for me," he says. "But you'll be driving your own car, I think, so I'll meet you. Would five-thirty be okay?"
"Yes, fine, but — "
"Okay." Pete feels happy. That's good; happy is good. A lot of days these last couple of years he hasn't felt within a holler of happy, and he doesn't know why. Too many late and soggy nights cruising the bars along 302 between here and North Conway? Okay, but is that all? Maybe not, but this isn't the time to think about it. The lady has an appointment to keep. If she keeps it and sells the house, who knows how lucky Pete Moore might get? And even if he doesn't get lucky, he's going to be able to help her. He feels it.
"I'm going to do something a little weird now," he says, "but don't let it worry you, okay? It's just a little trick, like putting your finger under your nose to stop a sneeze or thumping your forehead when you're trying to remember someone's name. Okay?"
"Sure, I guess," she says, totally mystified.
Pete closes his eyes, raises one loosely fisted hand in front of his face, then pops up his index finger. He begins to tick it back and forth in front of him.
Trish looks at Cathy, the counter-girl. Cathy shrugs as if to say Who knows?
"Mr. Moore?" Trish sounds uneasy now. "Mr. Moore, maybe I just ought to — "
Pete opens his eyes, takes a deep breath, and drops his hand. He looks past her, to the door.
"Okay," he says. "So you came in. His eyes move as if watching her come in. "And you went to the counter..." His eyes go there. "You asked, probably, 'Which aisle's the aspirin in?' Something like that."
"Yes, I — "
"Only you got something, too." He can see it on the candy-rack, a bright yellow mark something like a handprint. "Snickers bar?"
"Mounds." Her brown eyes are wide. "How did you know that?"
"You got the candy, then you went up to get the aspirin..." He's looking up Aisle 2 now. "After that you paid and went out...let's go outside a minute. Seeya, Cathy."
Cathy only nods, looking at him with wide eyes.
Pete walks outside, ignoring the tinkle of the bell, ignoring the rain, which now really is rain. The yellow is on the sidewalk, but fading. The rain's washing it away. Still, he can see it and it pleases him to see it. That feeling of click. Sweet. It's the line. It has been a long time since he's seen it so clearly.
"Back to your car," he says, talking to himself now. "Back to take a couple of your aspirin with your water..."
He crosses the sidewalk, slowly, to the Taurus. The woman walks behind him, eyes more worried than ever now. Almost frightened.
"You opened the door. You've got your purse...your keys...your aspirin...your candy...all this stuff...juggling it around from hand to hand...and that's when..."
He bends, fishes in the water flowing along the gutter, hand in it all the way up to the wrist, and brings something up. He gives it a magician's flourish. Keys flash silver in the dull day.
"...you dropped your keys."
She doesn't take them at first. She only gapes at him, as if he has performed an act of witchcraft (warlock-craft, in his case, maybe) before her eyes.
"Go on," he says, smile fading a little. "Take them. It wasn't anything too spooky, you know. Mostly just deduction. I'm good at stuff like that. Hey, you should have me in the car sometime when you're lost. I'm great at getting unlost."
She takes the keys, then. Quickly, being careful not to touch his fingers, and he knows right then that she isn't going to meet him later. It doesn't take any special gift to figure that; he only has to look in her eyes, which are more frightened than grateful.
"Thank...thank you," she says. All at once she's measuring the space between them, not wanting him to use too much of it up.
"Not a problem. Now don't forget. The West Wharf, at five-thirty. Best fried clams in this part of the state." Keeping up the fiction. You have to keep it up, sometimes, no matter how you feel. And although some of the joy has gone out of the afternoon, some is still there; he has seen the line, and that always makes him feel good. It's a minor trick, but it's nice to know it's still there.
"Five-thirty," she echoes, but as she opens her car door, the glance she throws back over her shoulder is the kind you'd give to a dog that might bite if it got off its leash. She is very glad she won't be riding up to Fryeburg with him. Pete doesn't need to be a mind-reader to know that, either.
He stands there in the rain, watching her back out of the slant parking space, and when she drives away he tosses her a cheerful car-salesman's wave. She gives him a distracted little flip of the fingers in return, and of course when he shows up at The West Wharf (at five-fifteen, just to be Johnny on the spot, just in case) she isn't there and an hour later she's still not there. He stays for quite awhile just the same, sitting at the bar and drinking beer, watching the traffic out on 302. He thinks he sees her go by without slowing at about five-forty, a green Taurus busting past in a rain which has now become heavy, a green Taurus that might or might not be pulling a light yellow nimbus behind it that fades at once in the graying air.
Same shit, different day, he thinks, but now the joy is gone and the sadness is back, the sadness that feels like something deserved, the price of some not-quite-forgotten betrayal. He lights a cigarette — in the old days, as a kid, he used to pretend to smoke but now he doesn't have to pretend anymore — and orders another beer.
Milt brings it, but says, "You ought to lay some food on top of that, Peter."
So Pete orders a plate of fried clams and even eats a few dipped in tartar sauce while he drinks another couple of beers, and at some point, before moving on up the line to some other joint where he isn't so well-known, he tries to call Jonesy, down there in Massachusetts. But Jonesy and Carla are enjoying the rare night out, he only gets the baby-sitter, who asks him if he wants to leave a message.
Pete almost says no, then reconsiders. "Just tell him Pete called. Tell him Pete said SSDD."
"S...S...D...D." She is writing it down. "Will he know what — "
"Oh yeah," Pete says, "he'll know."
By midnight he's drunk in some New Hampshire dive, the Muddy Rudder or maybe it's the Ruddy Mother, he's trying to tell some chick who's as drunk as he is that once he really believed he was going to be the first man to set foot on Mars, and although she's nodding and saying yeah-yeah-yeah, he has an idea that all she understands is that she'd like to get outside of one more coffee brandy before closing. And that's okay. It doesn't matter. Tomorrow he'll wake up with a headache but he'll go in to work just the same and maybe he'll sell a car and maybe he won't but either way things will go on. Maybe he'll sell the burgundy Thunderbird, goodbye, sweetheart. Once things were different, but now they're the same. He reckons he can live with that; for a guy like him, the rule of thumb is just SSDD, and so fucking what. You grew up, became a man, had to adjust to taking less than you hoped for; you discovered the dream-machine had a big OUT OF ORDER sign on it.
In November he'll go hunting with his friends, and that's enough to look forward to...that, and maybe a big old sloppy-lipstick blowjob from this drunk chick out in his car. Wanting more is just a recipe for heartache.
Dreams are for kids.
Copyright © 2001 by Stephen King
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