First Eddie sleeps, and then he hears talking. At first the talking seems rather unimportant—constant background noise the way that a fan in a room is calming—and then the more he wakes up the more he becomes aware of individual words.
“—starts out up here with the you’re so square, and then—” The voice suddenly drops into a bass. “—goes way down here with the baby I don’t care.” Then back to normal, familiar register: “I fucking love it when songs do that, man, it’s hot, I’ll fuckin’ say it. I don’t know if you remember the nurse yelling at me or what or I’d play you—there’s this song that does it, I don’t remember the name or who sang it but the album art is this frying pan with eggs and bacon in it, but inside one of the eggs is a lion’s mouth snarling? Anyway.”
Eddie thinks nurse? in confusion but then his exhaustion settles on him again. He’s sure there’s something on the other side of his eyelids—someone talking his ear off, someone there with him—but he can’t quite approach. There’s pressure in his chest, like bad heartburn, and he thinks that if he’s sleeping he ought to be sleeping sitting up with pillows stacked behind him, but he can’t find his body.
“…don’t know if you’ve heard of this—it’s like the planes that came back from World War One? World War Two? One of them. And people were looking at all the bullet holes and going, Well that’s where you should reinforce it, until someone pointed out, Hey, jackass, these are the planes that made it back, the ones that got shot in other places crashed over Germany, you know? So you hear about like a half inch one way, a half inch the other way. Like, uh, what’s it—” Faint clicking, someone snapping their fingers. “—motorcycle helmets. When they started requiring them, all these motorcyclists with head injuries came into the ER. Because they weren’t in the morgue. There’s a word for that, but I don’t know, I was shit at propaganda, I passed public speaking through sheer… well, you know…”
This is important, he’s sure of it. The voice says You know in a way more meaningful than a vocal tic, like they really expect Eddie to know. The words pass through his brain the way speech in a dream works—he gets bits and pieces and he can’t hang on to the full train of thought, he just knows that this is important and he can’t tell why.
“…and then it goes oo wee oo I look just like Buddy Holly—which, for the record, I totally fucking did, once upon a time, okay? Write it down. When you, uh, wake up and—never mind. And then it goes oh oh and you’re Mary Tyler Moore. But his wife was, uh… something Catholic. Maria something. She was from Puerto Rico. He asked her to marry him on their first date, can you even imagine? You’re on a date with fucking Buddy Holly and he just—hands you a flower and proposes marriage, and you’re like fuck yeah you’re Buddy Holly. Like, yeah, babe, you got stones…”
Eddie thinks Buddy Holly? and in his struggle to try to remember what the fuck Buddy Holly looks like, he thinks glasses and then he thinks Richie. Holy shit, that’s Richie talking to him.
There’s a loud beeping sound and Richie goes abruptly quiet.
Eddie thinks No no no I have to tell him and sinks back under.
“…think you’d fucking hate it, actually, I don’t know. The whole… juxtaposition of rock and roll with religion—which like, yeah, obviously, but you were always more into that than me—I think you straight up told me I was going to hell once, which I hope so, and then you and Stan argued about whether hell existed at all, and that was a fucking lot, and then I splashed you and you freaked out about piranhas—I swear to God and Don McLean, Eds, you thought there were piranhas in the Kenduskeag, I cannot make this shit up…”
Richie makes a lot of shit up, Eddie knows, but not his own material. But there’s something Eddie’s supposed to tell him, and he can’t for the life of him remember it because Richie is rattling on about… something Eddie can’t grasp, though he doesn’t know why his gut instinct about the piranhas is to go fuck you. That’s not what he’s supposed to tell Richie.
His chest really hurts.
“…found his glasses in, like, the eighties, they’d been in lockup as evidence, and then there was this court case about whether they should go to his wife or his parents, because they’d only been married for like six months…”
He should sit up, take some Tums, drink some water, eat some bread or something to soak up the stomach acid. That beeping rises in his ear again and then sinks away.
The next time he hears Richie, he’s singing “American Pie.” He’s a good mimic—never had a problem with parroting the latest song on the radio, could do an eerie Robert Smith when The Cure came on—but he’s not a singer himself. Their choral teacher used to despair of him, in grade school. Richie rattles along without music but with perfect timing, “Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll? Can music save your mortal soul? And…” He slows down, some of the cheer in his voice sinking low and serious. “…can you teach me how to dance real slow?” He stretches it out like taffy.
Eddie remembers in quick succession the words to “American Pie,” what he was supposed to tell Richie, and the fact that he got impaled through the torso. Suddenly the pain in his chest is obliterating, whiting him out, and his eyes snap open with a burst of stars.
Richie says, “Jesus,” and there’s a crash.
Eddie loses track, somewhat, of what happens after that. The pain dies down in his chest and knifes through his skull as the light pours into his eyes, and then that bodily grievance fades too. It lurks somewhere deep in him, below his conscious radar.
There’s a metal bar in front of him. He’s lying on his side, and he can’t feel the arm under him. The crash was evidently Richie falling out of a chair because now he’s scrabbling up and taking up Eddie’s whole field of vision, all glasses and wide dark eyes and shoulders.
“Hey, you awake, Eddie? You okay? This for real or one of those zombie blinks you’ve been doing, huh?” His hands come up like he’s going to touch Eddie, but then he drops them again.
Eddie stares at him and feels it—his heart clenching like a fist in his chest, just looking at him. He’s in pain but Richie’s here, and it’s going to be okay. He closes his eyes and grits his teeth against the wave of pressure that passes through his chest, wanting to bow forward but somehow immobilized. There’s a pillow jammed between his body and the metal bar, and much as he’d like to move, roll over, sit up, he can’t.
“Oh shit,” Richie says. Eddie opens his eyes and blinks. “Are you in pain? You’re not supposed to feel anything right now, your blood volume’s back to normal and you’re supposed to—” He turns to look over his shoulder and Eddie stares at the sharp clear line of his jaw before he turns back. He looks—like hell, actually, he needs a shave and he’s lost weight and his hair is wild in a way that Eddie remembers. Richie used to get bored and play with it and then he’d wander around looking like he’d gone through a dryer on the spin cycle, and Maggie Tozier despaired of him. In the fourth grade Mrs. Wilson actually summoned Richie over to her desk and brushed his hair right there, in the classroom, while Richie winced and whined.
Eddie has to tell him, so he swallows with his mouth dry as paper and tries to speak. His voice comes out in a little wheeze, and there’s an itch in his chest, somewhere deep down in his lungs. If he’d ever had bronchitis, he would understand that bubbling under his ribs. If he’d ever had pneumonia, he would understand the crackle. As it is, he only knows that instead of I what comes out is “Hh…”
Wild-eyed, Richie’s gaze snaps to his face. “Come on, Eds, nod or shake—are you in pain?”
It’s not important, because Eddie is learning something he learned long ago and forgot about—that he can be in pain and he can live through it. That the things he thought all along would destroy him have room for him, somewhere in there. He’s not exactly in pain but he is, at the same time, and it’s not a question with a nice neat answer, and Richie isn’t listening to him.
Richie brings up one fist, first bobbing it up and down and then shaking it from side to side. “Yes? No?”
Eddie rolls his eyes.
Richie bursts out laughing. “Oh thank god, you’re in there.” He shakes his head, then reaches out and grabs either side of Eddie’s head just above the ears, and plants a kiss on his forehead. He needs to shave; his stubble grates Eddie’s skin.
It is incredibly difficult to focus his eyes on Richie when he’s that close up. Eddie has a good perspective on his throat, his Adam’s apple, his collarbone, his T-shirt under another Hawaiian monstrosity under a leather jacket that for some reason doesn’t look quite right. Under the smell of leather there’s the stale smell of a body made to hurry up and wait. Eddie knows it from airports, from taxi trips, from business meetings that could have been emails, all salt and celery and something warm and animal wicking away. This is Richie, though. Eddie has an absurd instinct to stick his tongue out like he might have when they were kids, to pull a face, to just tap his skin once with that dry, dry touch.
He does not lick Richie. His mouth is so dry anyway.
Richie leans back, relief printed in the corners of his eyes, which are watering. “The last couple of times you woke up, you just looked at me like you had no idea who the fuck I was. Which, like, I can’t blame you, because—” He gestures at his own face with splayed fingers. He blinks several times. Eddie gets distracted by his eyelashes before he realizes that Richie is trying not to cry.
Eddie squints at him, trying to convey what’s the matter? with just his eyes.
“Yeah, I know,” Richie says, which is not a correct response to Eddie’s question, so Eddie must have failed in his attempts at eye-telepathy. He looks around again, all sharp profile, nose and chin. “Where’s the fucking doctor? Christ. Okay.” He turns back to look at Eddie and whispers, “Hey, buddy, if you remember what happened, please don’t tell the docs about the alien clown, because they aren’t too thrilled with me spending all my time in the ICU, I don’t want to know what they’re gonna do if I try to hang out in the psych ward with you, we’d have to call Stan about making a prison break and I don’t know what the fuck the protocols are like in Georgia but here—”
Eddie closes his eyes, trying to clear his head. He feels faintly dizzy and not quite aware of his body. There’s pain but it isn’t important. There are hands, but they aren’t important.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Richie says, and Eddie blinks his eyes open again. “Can you stay awake for the doctors? Please? They should be fucking coming any minute now, Jesus Christ I hate Maine. Come on, buddy.”
“Ri-chie,” Eddie says. His mouth seems intimidated by the second syllable, the ch like some insurmountable hurdle, and the vowels slur out of his mouth on an elastic stretch. His face feels cold and tingly, and his lips a little numb.
You’re about to pass out, his brain informs him helpfully, but there’s no wave of panic that accompanies that thought. He’s already on his side, laying down. His vision’s not fogging up or anything, and there’s no encroaching blackness. There’s just a steady slowness to his heartbeat—which he feels in his ears as he realizes that the beeping above is a heart monitor. He’s on a heart monitor.
“Yeah,” Richie says. “Yeah, I’m here. You all there, Eds?” Oh god, is Richie about to cry?
“I love you,” he says.
The words stumble out of his mouth in descending articulation; the you is almost mumbled. As soon as he’s said them he feels his whole body go slack in relief—there, there it is, he thought he was going to die before he managed to get them out, before he managed to tell Richie.
Richie’s face changes not at all, but he blinks once. He reaches out carefully and touches a fingertip just under Eddie’s eyebrow and lifts his eyelid slightly.
“Oh, sweetheart, they’ve got you on the good drugs, don’t they?” His mouth quirks up at the corner, and Eddie knows that look, the we’re going to laugh about this later look, and Eddie wants to say No! but he can feel himself slipping.
Sweetheart. His mind latches onto that. Sweetheart. Somewhere deep inside himself, Eddie Kaspbrak wraps his arms around that word and hugs it to his chest, a life buoy, as the room sinks away.
“Mr. Kaspbrak?” It’s an unfamiliar woman’s voice.
Eddie startles awake hard. There’s an almost anesthetizing effect to the fear—his chest is so cold and his heart thudding so hard that he feels no pain at all. There’s just the squealing of his heart monitor, and the sound of him trying to catch his breath, and the nurse gasping in response.
“I’m sorry!” she says. “Are you okay?”
She’s wearing bright blue scrubs over a long-sleeved green t-shirt, and she barely clears five feet tall. Maybe the least intimidating person he’s ever seen. She looks just as horrified to have startled Eddie as he feels for his own foolish response.
He tries to take a few deep breaths to calm himself, but that foggy numbness in his chest means he gets no satisfaction from it. No reassurance that he’s processing oxygen. Just the dim knowledge that something should hurt and vague disquiet that it doesn’t.
He read, a long time ago, that pain is a signal that something is wrong. That’s all it is. He spent his whole life expecting it as a symptom—he knew something was wrong, so there must be pain, and when there wasn’t he had to look for it. Every ache in his body, every stomach cramp, every stiff joint or achy neck in the morning, the way his knees started throbbing when he turned twenty—he anticipated them all. When they arrived it was with klaxons singing out, This is it, Eddie! Here it comes!
And then nothing.
“I’m okay?” he manages. He doesn’t mean it to be a question, but that’s how it comes out. He tries to refocus on the person asking him the question. “I’m okay.”
“Good,” she says. She comes a little closer to his bed, unclips his chart from its hook on the footboard, and glances up at his heart monitor. The dinging alarm cuts out abruptly, replaced by the electronic beep of Eddie’s pulse. “I really am sorry about that.”
“It’s all right.” He feels awkward, on his side in this hospital bed, swaddled up between safety rails and with a waffle blanket draped over him. She’s a stranger and his instinct is to be polite, but he has no idea what the social expectations are for intensive care patients. “I’ve been told I’m excitable.”
He’s been told a lot of things.
“Oh really?” She makes a note on his chart. “Do you think you’re excitable?”
He considers that. He wouldn’t call… look, he goes off on rants and tangents and tirades, but he doesn’t know that he’s been excited for any of them. He says what has to be said, and once it’s out in the world he can come down from it.
“I don’t know what I am,” he says. It comes out sincerer than he means it—but there’s a little wonder in it, too.
The nurse smiles. “Well, let’s start with your pain. Do you remember the scale I showed you?”
He stares at her and then manages, “I’m sorry, I don’t.”
“That’s okay,” she says. “Do you have pain?”
“No,” he replies honestly.
“That’s good,” she tells him. “Let me just run a few checks here, and then I think we’ll go for a walk, all right?”
He blinks and then glances down at his own body. His shoulder eclipses most of his torso, and from hip to toes he’s hidden by the waffle blanket, but the last thing he remembers is being impaled. As in, stabbed in the back so it came out the front.
“I can walk?” he asks.
“Every couple of hours,” the nurse confirms. “It’s important to keep your circulation going. Nowhere exciting, just around the room again, but we need to get you on your feet.”
Eddie blinks a few times, completely nonplussed. But she seems to think he can get up, and she’s a nurse. “Okay,” he says, and waits.
She checks his face, and then the little monitor clipped to his index finger. Then she calls in another nurse and, between the two of them, they get Eddie up and out of the bed.
He is wearing a hospital gown. Both the nurses are small enough to fit below his arms, their shoulders pressed into his armpits, their arms supporting his back. He’s very aware of his bare ass, as they creep around the room at a snail’s pace, slowly wheeling the IV and other plastic bags Eddie’s hooked to along with them. He feels almost nothing from his bare feet, not the linoleum under his soles, not even his own weight.
“Am I supposed to… not be able to feel anything?” he asks slowly. Moving this slowly makes his brain feel like he has to speak slowly too. His thoughts ooze like syrup.
“Like what?” asks the second nurse. She has her head shaved on one side and a flop of purple hair across the top. It’s extremely trendy. Myra would hate it.
“Your hair looks very nice,” he tells her. “It’s very bright.”
She smiles. “Thank you. What do you think you should be feeling?”
He looks down at his feet, at the vascularity marbling down his bare legs.
“I just feel cold,” he says.
“Would you like some socks?”
They put him and his equipment and tubes back in place on the bed, and then the first nurse retrieves some socks from the cabinet over the sink. She rolls the socks onto his feet and—Eddie doesn’t feel warmer, per se, but when they pull the blanket back up over him he can feel the impression of heat he left in the bedding. He waits for it to comfort him, for it to soak into his body again, but the little wisps of warmth fade from his notice.
“Comfortable?” the first nurse asks.
“Not uncomfortable,” he says. And that’s not bad. The absence of discomfort, after forty years, is an improvement.
He has never dreamed like this before. He’s aware of himself in this hospital bed, aware of his cheek pressed into the flat disposable pillow and the safety rail holding him up. But he also can see outside himself—not in perfect detail, but bleached out by the bright fluorescents shining down on him. He sees his body and is aware of his weakness and his inability to move.
There are flies landing on him. He cannot feel them walking on him, but he can see them. Fat indistinct black blobs. He cannot move to swat them away.
He hears the door open and voices talking—not Richie, a man and a woman, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He cannot move. It’s just the flies on him.
“—middle school. You want all the dirty secrets, these are the guys to ask.” The voice is a man, tired but faintly amused. Like he’s happy and washed out at once.
“Oh yeah?” the woman asks. “Good stories?”
“Let me think.” There’s a pause. Then: “The first date I took a girl on was to a laundromat.”
The woman laughs. “Really?”
“I mean, technically.”
Eddie goes in and out a little bit, watching the flies--he knows that they are flies, but he also knows they’re missing things, like eyes and wings, which is how he knows he’s dreaming--land on him. He feels as though someone is watching him, and he can almost see a face, but nothing clear. It’s dream logic again.
He knows what sleep paralysis is, but there’s no horror sitting on his chest or anything--and he’s had plenty of horror in the last… Well, he doesn’t know how long it’s been since he came back to Derry. He’s had a lifetime’s worth of horror, and no one can dispute that.
The next time the nurses come in and wake him up, he goes heavily. He has to blink several times before he can take stock of the room and notice that his guests--he thinks they were guests--are no longer there, and that the nurse with the purple hair is trying to get his attention.
“It’s too much morphine,” he tells her, his lips feeling numb.
She touches his face gently, turning his chin up and looking at his mouth; taking his hand in hers and examining his nails. “Are you breathing okay?”
“I don’t know,” he tells her honestly. When he thinks about it he starts breathing manually, but he can’t feel an ache in his chest or the constriction of what he used to think were asthma attacks. He can’t feel anything at all. No signals from his body telling him whether things are all right or if there’s something wrong.
Where is Richie?
The nurse with the purple hair clips a meter to his index finger and reports with a frown that his pulse-ox is a little low. “We’ll reduce the dosage,” she says. “You’re still replenishing your blood volume, even after the transfusions, so it’s likely that you’re going to feel pain.”
“That’s okay,” he says, because it is. He’s lived through pain--and now that he’s no longer in a sewer with a demon claw through his torso, it has to be downhill from here, right? Every other pain he’s going to experience will be less than that. A little reminder that something’s wrong--that there’s a breach in his cheek, in his chest--but that he lived through it. “I’m hallucinating when I sleep.”
The nurse frowns. “Hallucinating?”
“I could hear people talking,” he says, “but there were flies landing on me, and I couldn’t move.”
Her frown deepens. “Flies?”
“Dream flies,” he says. “Like I was dead.”
“Yeah, we’ll bring your dosage down,” she says. “I’ll make a note in your chart, we’ll get it approved.”
She and the first nurse get him up on his feet and make him walk around a bit. He’s amazed that they’re able to hold him up, small and slight as they both look, and dizzy and heavy as he feels. But the next thing he knows he’s back in the bed and they’re adjusting his pillows and asking him to sit up and do some deep breathing for them.
“I’ve forgotten your names,” he says apologetically.
The one with the purple hair smiles. “Tracy.” Now that he’s no longer at risk of falling, the other nurse has left the room. “And that was Sarah.”
“Tracy and Sarah,” he says slowly, trying to imprint it in his sieve of a memory. Tracy has purple hair. He thinks he can remember that.
Tracy counts for him as he tries to breathe according to her rhythm. He tries to look down at his chest to see if his stomach is expanding as he breathes, but he’s so thickly bandaged and padded that he can’t, and looking at the clean white gauze that his body vanished into makes him feel insubstantial. Eventually he has to tilt his head back and apologize, but he’s too dizzy to keep going.
“That’s all right,” she says. “You can rest for a minute.”
He isn’t sure what happens next, but he feels better as he relaxes back into the pillows. Distantly he hears shouting and beeping and someone yell, “The patient’s having a seizure!” He thinks consciously, Oh, poor patient, but then he fades out again.
“Mr. Kaspbrak,” says a low, thickly-accented male voice.
Eddie opens his eyes. There’s pain in his chest and in his head, and he can feel sweat drying all over his skin. He’s cold.
The doctor in the room with him is tall, black, and young. He looks very calm.
“Can you tell me your name?” he asks.
Eddie swallows against his dry throat and says, “Edward Francis Kaspbrak.”
“Good. And your date of birth?”
“November third, 1976,” he replies.
“Good,” the doctor says. His coat looks very clean. It still hangs stiffly, as though he’s just put it on. “Can you tell me what day it is?”
Eddie thinks about it and has to admit, “No.” Quickly, because he doesn’t want the doctor to get the wrong idea about his mental state, he says, “I’ve been sleeping a lot, but I came to Derry on August twenty-sixth, and I think I was here for maybe two days before… I got hurt?”
“Of what year?”
“And who is the president?”
“Barack Obama,” he replies.
“And you know where you are, yeah?”
Eddie blinks at him a couple of times. “The hospital?”
“No, I mean, what town.”
“Oh. Derry, Maine.” He blinks once and then considers the likelihood of Derry Home Hospital being able to repair whatever damage was done to his body. “At least, last time I checked.”
“We’ll give you that one,” the doctor says. “You’re at the Sovereign Light Hospital in Bangor, Maine. You got the state right, at least.”
Eddie feels mildly put out by that. If he was moved around while he was unconscious, he doesn’t feel that ought to be held against him.
“I’m Dr. LaCroix,” the man says, turning to look directly at him instead of at the clipboard in his hands. “Was that your first seizure?”
Eddie stares at him for several long seconds before he manages, “My first what?”
“I guess that’s a yes,” Dr. LaCroix says. “Do you remember what happened?”
“I told them they needed to turn down my dose,” Eddie says. “The--I don’t remember what I was on for pain, but the nurse--she kept checking my oxygen, she asked me if I was breathing--I was overdosed, right? She said I was replenishing my blood volume, that was probably the problem--did she say I had a transfusion? Where did the blood come from? Did you have to blood type me? I’m B-positive.”
The doctor’s brow furrows a little bit. He makes a show of raising the clipboard and writing a note, saying slowly as he does so, “Patient presents as alert and energetic.”
Eddie can’t help himself. He snorts and reclines hard against the pillows.
“To answer your question...s,” Dr. LaCroix says. “I agree that the morphine drip they had you on was likely too frequent considering your weight and your still-replenishing blood volume. You’ve had a number of blood transfusions, some from our stock of donated blood, some from volunteers. Your emergency contact, Ms. Marsh, was one of them. Is that your wife?”
Eddie swallows. “No,” he says, and then feels like he has to explain. “I mean, no, she’s… she’s my best friend, really, she’s like my sister. I mean, one of my best friends--we were… we met back when we were in middle school. That’s who I was with. I mean, not just her, there were six people.”
Dr. LaCroix makes an affirmative noise. “Yes, six people, five of whom volunteered to be blood typed to donate for you. You’re lucky you had a B and an O in the group. Four pints isn’t much, but you needed all you could get right then, if I’m reading this right. And you’ve had visitors almost constantly. You’re a lucky man.”
Eddie looks at him and manages, “I don’t really remember what happened after the accident. I mean, I don’t know… what the damage was. I’m missing… I mean, the nurses said they’d introduced themselves before, but I only remember seeing them one or two times.”
Dr. LaCroix’s face becomes blank and unreadable. “I’m not your primary physician here,” he says. “I responded when they called that there was an ICU patient having a seizure--but I don’t think you had one. Some people twitch when they pass out, is all. You’ve seen a number of doctors but the one in charge of your case is Dr. Fox.” He looks down at the clipboard. “Says she spoke to you after the surgery. But sometimes patients forget, coming out of the anesthesia and all.”
Eddie blinks once and then twice. He’s had surgery. Intellectually he knew that he’d probably had surgery--you don’t get an injury like he had without some surgery to repair the damage, they weren’t just going to pump him full of Bev’s blood without doing something to stop the leak in his chest and the damage to his organs--but hearing it said like it’s something he should know is weird.
“I don’t remember a Dr. Fox,” he says.
Dr. LaCroix nods slowly and says, “That’s all right. How you feeling right now, Edward?”
“Eddie,” he says automatically.
Dr. LaCroix smiles. His teeth are very white. “Eddie.”
He takes a couple of deep breaths, preparing himself, and is almost pleased to feel the ache in his chest and back when he does so. It’s not a stabbing pain, it’s a stretching pain. Some feedback from his body, warning him that there’s something wrong and not to overdo it, but reassuringly stable. There’s a chill between his thighs that he hopes is just sweat. He’s gonna be just mortified if it turns out he peed himself.
“Not bad,” he says. “Only hurts when I breathe, you know.”
Dr. LaCroix whistles. “You must be tough as nails, Eddie. Or you still got too much morphine in your system.”
“This is good,” he says. He breathes again to feel the ache. “No, this is good. I couldn’t feel anything earlier, that was… that was not good, but this isn’t bad. I’m…” He swallows again, doing a systems check. “I’m cold? And kind of thirsty?”
“Probably ought to replenish your blood sugar,” Dr. LaCroix says. “We’re gonna wait a little bit and then see if you can have some juice or a soda or something without throwing up, all right? I can get you some ice for now.”
He’s cold. The idea of more cold does not appeal, but the inside of his mouth tastes like death.
“Ice would be good,” he says.
Dr. LaCroix nods, opens the door, and leans out. Eddie hears low speaking. The doctor’s voice is easy to pick out, with its low rhythmic rise and fall.
Richie would like that, Eddie thinks. He met the Irish cop all of one time back in the Barrens the day they built the dam, and spent the rest of his life busting out his best Irish accent at the nearest opportunity. Part of Eddie wants to see if it’s gotten any better over the years. Part of him doesn’t want to give Richie the opportunity--it’s much funnier watching them come up organically.
When the doctor comes back in, Eddie says quietly, “Can I ask where your accent’s from?” Then, realizing how he’s absolutely going to come across like a racist man from backwoods Maine, he says, “I have a friend. He collects accents.”
“Collects accents?” Dr. LaCroix repeats.
Somehow Eddie doesn’t think explaining that Richie’s a semi-famous comedian will help the situation, because Richie’s latest content is pretty offensive. “He does voices,” he offers weakly. “He wanted to be a ventriloquist when we were kids.”
“A ventriloquist,” Dr. LaCroix says. Then he asks, “Not like that puppet guy, eh?”
Like most people, Eddie remembers consuming Jeff Dunham specials back in 2008 or so and laughing. He feels vaguely guilty about that now. Myra was right next to him telling him how offensive they were, and in a lot of ways she was right.
“Not like the puppet guy,” Eddie says.
Dr. LaCroix nods. “Port of Spain,” he says, and when Eddie looks blank he offers, “Trinidad.”
“Oh,” Eddie says, because he knows where Trinidad and Tobago is. Vaguely. He has an idea.
“Don’t get nervous,” Dr. LaCroix says. “I got my degree in Toronto.”
“I’m not nervous,” Eddie replies, and is startled to find that it’s true. He’s awkward, he’s like a blunt instrument trying to get through this conversation about race and immigration and prejudiced assumptions, but he’s not nervous.
Tracy comes back with a dish of ice chips and a can of Sprite. She asks Eddie how he’s feeling and he responds honestly that he’s okay, and Dr. LaCroix pats him amicably on the top of the foot and says he’s signing Eddie back over to Dr. Fox. Eddie eats his ice chips but keeps looking at the can of soda, sweating on the countertop over there.
Tracy follows his eyeline. “You feel nauseous at all?”
He’s thinking about sugar, about tooth decay, about the ways that dental problems can result in heart problems later down the line. He’s thinking about how he never drinks soda, even when he’s out in restaurants, because he made promises to his mother and his health teacher and his dentist and his wife.
He wants that soda so bad. At this moment, Eddie Kaspbrak cannot remember anything he’s ever wanted more than that can of Sprite. He could not be more enthusiastic about it if Lebron James himself came in and asked him if he wanted one.
“Okay.” Tracy pops the tab on the can with a crack and hiss. She half-holds the can for him--Eddie’s right hand is curiously clumsy.
He takes a few sips. The soda almost burns in its intensity, fizzing into his mouth, sugar and citric acid. He swallows and thinks about carbon dioxide, about the bubbles popping in his stomach, about increasing pressure, about burping, about fizzy lifting drinks, about Richie’s frantic Gene Wilder impressions from a long time ago.
“Good?” Tracy asks.
“Really good,” he replies. He drinks more.
They change his bandages. Apparently sweat is the enemy of his gaping chest wounds—incisions, the medical staff calls them, but the little voice in Eddie’s head that sounds like Richie Tozier definitely has more colorful descriptions. For the one on his back, he can’t look as Tracy wipes down the skin around it, but she definitely tells him not to look while she tends to his exit wound. “You already had one vasovagal event today, and lying down didn’t do anything for it,” she says. “The doc’s gonna come in and give you more instructions, got it?”
Eddie gets it. She’s being very careful as she cleans him up, but he still feels little frissons of pain as she wipes him down. He smells antiseptic. He’s not sure whether to be glad or disappointed when she wraps him back up in new waterproof bandages and ties the neck of his gown back in place. Part of him thinks that she’s a nurse, so she’s probably right that seeing the damage might make him pass out again. Another part of him thinks (knows) he’s tougher than that, and that keeping him from seeing it is just prolonging the completely unnecessary suspense.
The next doctor to knock on the door isn’t Dr. LaCroix--whom Eddie is already oddly fond of, considering the man asked him the terrifying question was that your first seizure?--but instead a woman with a broad face and a bright smile.
“Mr. Kaspbrak,” she says. “I’m Dr. Fox.”
“Eddie,” he corrects immediately. “How are you?”
Her smile widens. “I ought to be asking you that question. I hear you had an event today.”
“It wasn’t bad,” Eddie says, because it wasn’t. He didn’t have a seizure. Dr. LaCroix agreed that he was far too alert and coherent (read: ranty) to have had a seizure. Not that Eddie knows what one feels like. He was mostly happy to discover that the catheter meant he hadn’t peed himself. It may be the happiest any man has ever been to discover that he’s wearing a catheter.
“I guess you have new standards for ‘bad,’” Dr. Fox allows. “Dr. LaCroix told me that you had some confusion over what has happened since you arrived here and that you didn’t remember our conversation post-surgery. I also gave some instructions to your wife--” Eddie isn’t sure what his face does then, but the doctor breaks off immediately. “Not your wife?” she guesses. “Ms. Marsh?”
Eddie relaxes. “Not my wife,” he says. Part of him is flattered that she thinks a man like him could ever marry a woman like Beverly, but then he remembers that he has a wife and what does that say about her? Myra might be unfortunate enough to have a gay husband (yeah, Eddie, unfortunate, like you had nothing at all to do with that problem), but there’s no reason for her to have a rude one. “Bev’s a friend. She’s like my sister.”
Dr. Fox nods in what looks like complete understanding. “Right. Have you had a chance to speak with her about what happened?”
Eddie shakes his head slowly. “I only remember talking to one visitor, and the nurses. And Dr. LaCroix, I mean, I remember today. And I know I had guests, but I think my morphine dosage was too high, because I could hear them but I couldn’t respond and I was… having some weird dreams.”
She nods again. “That can be a side effect of morphine. Are you feeling better now that the dose is reduced? How is your pain?”
Eddie’s pain is… present. After Tracy cleaned up his wounds he felt a persistent sting, like she’d made them angry or something. Now it’s the stretching pain, making him alternate between breaths shallow enough not to strain them and deep breaths to test the boundaries of it.
“It’s okay,” he says.
Her face contracts in something like a sympathetic prompt to go on.
Eddie clears his throat awkwardly. “I mean, I can feel something, and that’s better. Earlier when they had me getting up to walk around, I couldn’t feel anything.”
“It’s better to feel some pain than none at all?” she asks, like she’s trying to clarify.
“I couldn’t feel anything at all,” Eddie replies. “I was just cold. I mean, I’m still kind of cold, but.” He shrugs and winces immediately.
“We are keeping the temperature in here low to prevent sweating,” Dr. Fox says. “Tracy tells me she’s discussed the importance of keeping your surgical sites clean. Since you’ve been sleeping a lot, and people naturally sweat when we sleep, we’ve been trying to compensate for that.”
What Eddie hears is that if he spends some time conscious, they’ll turn up the thermostat. “They got me socks,” he offers. “The nurses. Tracy and…” He closes his eyes, trying to think. “Sarah.”
“With the grips on the bottom?”
He nods. If he moves his toes he can still feel the rubbery bottoms of the socks.
“It’s very important that you do not fall when you get up to stretch your legs and move around,” she says. “That’s why I want you to be very careful, only try to get out of bed when the nurses are there to support you, and wear the appropriate footwear. Otherwise, just stay in bed.”
A faint frisson of anxiety goes through him. Go back to bed, Eddie-bear, a voice says from a long, long time ago.
But he just hurt himself shrugging, and he’s not sick. This isn’t an illness, this is an injury.
“Okay,” he agrees.
Dr. Fox smiles again. “So you’ve had three surgeries,” she says. “Your first was at Derry Home Hospital; you had some medical events on the table, and in response they brought you here in a Life Flight helicopter, where you underwent two more surgeries. When the beam went through you it punctured part of your lung, which collapsed, understandably.”
Eddie supposes he can’t hold that against his lung. He collapsed too. He nods for Dr. Fox to go on.
“There are also a lot of major blood vessels in the thoracic cavity,” she says. “The wound was low enough to avoid your heart, and seems to have missed your spine by about an inch and a half. You are very lucky.”
He breathes in and feels his chest ache as though in confirmation. He’s lucky. He gets to live to feel the chest pain. He thinks absurdly of Phineas Gage, that old nineteenth-century medical marvel who had an iron bar drive through his mouth, through his brain, and up out the top of his head, and got up, talked, and walked around after a few minutes. He’s Eddie Kaspbrak. He might not have the traumatic brain injury (please don’t let him have a traumatic brain injury), but he feels no less… marvelous.
“When you arrived you had lost a lot of your blood volume. Derry Home Hospital did their best to repair the damage to your blood vessels and supplied you with a transfusion, but your interrupted circulation might have some consequences. We’re a little concerned about potential nerve damage in your right arm. Also you sustained broken ribs while—it’s my understanding—your friends performed CPR on you while waiting for the ambulance.”
“Oh,” Eddie says.
“The friends also donated blood when you arrived, which is good. Hospitals are perpetually in need of more blood—that tided you over while we waited for another delivery from the Red Cross.” She smiled. “You’re still replenishing blood—you did lose a… frankly astonishing amount, to be honest. As a result, some of your responses to the anesthesia and morphine were concerning, but it’s encouraging that you’re as alert as you are now.”
“And you’re going to keep the morphine down?” he asks.
She nods. “We’re going to keep the morphine down. Our strategy is going to be medicating to manage the pain, not medicating to no pain. You still might have some odd dreams, though.”
That’s fine. Eddie’s head already feels clearer.
“When can I go home?” he asks, and feels like a child.
She nods her head in the general vicinity of his side. “We’re waiting to confirm that there’s no more air leaking from your chest cavity. We don’t want to have another collapse. Once your intercostal drain—that’s the tube in your armpit—shows that there’s no more air, and the fluid from your chest has decreased to an expected amount, we’ll take out the chest tube and see about sending you home. Where do you live?”
“New York,” Eddie replies.
Dr. Fox gives him a perplexed look. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, what were you doing in an abandoned house in Maine?”
“Yeah, I was asking myself that too,” Eddie says, and declines to explain in any way that would be useful.
In a way, Eddie suspects that almost-dying is even more inconvenient than dying would have been. There’s a kind of lawlessness to Derry, a sense that you can get away with anything. (And fuck he needs to ask one of the Losers what the fuck they did with Bowers’s body; is Richie going to be arrested for murder before Eddie can see him again?) The hospital is, by comparison, so regulated that Eddie almost can’t breathe.
Almost. They’re very intent on him breathing here. There are deep breathing exercises every hour, and coughing exercises to come later, once they’re sure he’s not going to tear his stitches. There are brief walks around his room every two hours to be sure that he doesn’t develop blood clots. There are clean white plasters that stick to the skin around his incisions—not on his incisions, but around the stitches so it doesn’t pull on the thread when they have to be removed—and clean white bandages that go over and around his chest and back. It’s all very regulated. The nurses are good about wrapping his bandages just tight enough, and Sarah always finishes them with an oddly pretty knot instead of a metal pin.
There are visiting hours.
He knows he’s had visitors—has reasoned out that Richie was visiting, has thought back on his confused morphine dream and decided it was either Stan or Bill because they’re the ones who married, so maybe he’s about to meet Mrs. Uris or Mrs. Denbrough. He kind of hopes it’s Stan’s wife. Nothing against Bill’s wife, but he heard that she’s an actual movie star and Eddie has no idea what to do with that.
But who he really wants to visit him is Richie.
Obviously. It was like that when he was a kid too—maybe not early on but certainly later, when he started thinking I’ll walk down to the Barrens, see if Bill or Stan is there, but man I hope Richie’s free. And if he was, Eddie would try to hide how happy he was, how relieved he was, by packing all that delight down tight and then waiting for Richie to say something, and then just exploding at him. And Richie always looked pretty thrilled about it too, dumb grin getting wider, mouth getting smarter.
Eddie was friends with Bill because how could he not be friends with Big Bill Denbrough, who had the best games and the fastest bike and the kind of magnetic charisma that made Eddie want to run after him. The games they played involved running—sprinting—or walking for a long time, eating up the ground with their feet, or hiking up a snow-slick hill on hands and knees and pretending at being mountain climbers. Bill adventured, Bill traveled, and Eddie followed in his wake and was glad to do it.
And Stan was mostly still. He watched, he waited, he collected. He stared out into the distance as though at something none of them could see. Eddie would tilt his head and try to do it and sometimes he imagined he could see it, the world rushing up with all its information at Stan, everything open to his perusal. You could never hide anything from Stan, was the thing, and even when you thought you were being honest sometimes he’d look at you with a cutting stare as if he knew there was more, and sometimes he’d just shrug and smirk a little and let it go, but in a way that made Eddie almost feral with rage—what do you know? But Stan, aside from being Jewish, could almost always get Eddie out of the house when his mother came to the door, asking if Eddie could come over to work on a puzzle with him, or to help him with a school project, or to put together a model—and then they’d go play outside just like they had always intended. Stan could lie cold-blooded to Sonia Kasbrak like butter wouldn’t melt.
So Bill ran out ahead and Stan was still. But Richie would pop up out of nowhere and fucking tackle Eddie. And Eddie hit the dirt and shouted, Richie! Stop—knocking me over! But the outward annoyance hid some deep satisfaction. And Richie would pick him up and stand him on his feet and make a show of dusting him off and play the English butler.
All of this is to say that Eddie is ready for his first visiting hours once his morphine is down. He’s been awake for a little bit, he’s done his breathing exercises, and he stumbled around the room with Tracy, and when she asks him if he’d like to see his visitors he answers yes so fast she doesn’t even get all the words out. He apologizes. She just smiles and reminds him that he can have up to two visitors at a time and that she’ll be back in an hour to do breathing and coughing exercises with him.
So Eddie is… not exactly disappointed to see Bev. But he’s definitely surprised.
“I know,” Bev says, coming in and making room in the doorway for Ben. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been impaled,” Eddie replies seriously.
She bends to hug him as best she can while he’s sitting up in the hospital bed. Her cheek presses to his, and he raises his arm as best he can.
“Nice beard,” she says when she straightens up, smiling.
Eddie groans. “I know.” Tracy offered to shave it for him, and assured him that she shaved her own head regularly. But with the wound in his cheek, he’s still too jumpy to let anyone near his face with a blade.
Ben reaches out and clasps Eddie’s hand, and Eddie squeezes back as best he can. Sometimes he can tell why the doctors are worried about the nerves in his right arm. His fingers are thick and clumsy in a way they’re not usually.
“I hear you gave me blood,” he says to Bev.
She sits down heavily in one of the plastic chairs and leans back. She looks… tired, but also relaxed in a way she didn’t, even when they were all back at the restaurant. There was something about her that seemed brittle, even when Stanley staggered in half an hour late and she got up and threw her arms around him. Some of that brittleness has faded now. Eddie supposes that, like him, she’s realized what she can live through.
“Yeah, me and Richie,” she says.
Ben says, “We all tested, except for Stan, but they were the only ones compatible. I’m sorry.”
Eddie has to focus pretty hard on how Ben is apologizing for his blood type right now because if he doesn’t, he’s going to think about Richie’s blood going around in his veins and his heart monitor is going to do something to embarrass him.
“Is Stan okay?” he asks.
“He got an infection,” Ben says.
“His wife came up to meet him. He’s fine now. She’s really sweet.” Bev tugs on the hem of Ben’s shirt so that he sits in the chair next to hers instead of hovering there awkwardly. “She won’t swear. Or, she starts to and then she catches herself and says the name of a cookie instead.”
Eddie stares at her, nonplussed.
“Apparently she teaches elementary school,” Bev says.
Eddie looks down to Bev’s hand, which is still on Ben’s thigh. He looks back up at her, and then to Ben, whose blush is growing deeper the longer Eddie just looks at them.
“So is this happening?” Eddie asks dryly.
Bev grins. “Not that I haven’t been dedicating every waking moment to your recovery—“
Eddie blows a raspberry at her and then relaxes down against his pillows. As Bev laughs he observes, “Someone should be having a good time.”
Ben says loudly, “So what did the doctor say, Eddie?”
“I have a tube in my armpit,” Eddie offers. “And I can go home once they’re satisfied my lung isn’t leaking.”
Ben blanches a little bit.
“Can you walk?” Bev asks.
“Yeah, they get me up every two hours to do laps,” Eddie says. “Got to prevent blood clots. My hands are so cold, can you…?”
“I got it,” Ben says, and takes Eddie’s left hand and rubs it between both of his. The friction helps. He moves on to the other.
Into the silence of Ben rubbing Eddie’s hands, Bev says, “What else do you need, Eddie?”
There are a lot of possible responses Eddie could give to that, ranging from a twelve-pack of Sprite to for someone to tell me what the fuck happened with the demon and the dead body we left in the library to a working cell phone.
And Eddie is just ravenous. Eating through needles. Starved of information. Body numbed by drugs but waking up slowly and telling him about the things he wants, the things he needs, after decades of having every impulse carefully regulated, every input measured and every output clockwork smooth. He’s an automaton come to life. He’s Pinocchio who got his wish. Being a real boy hurts a lot more than he expected.
Against the white hospital wall, Bev’s hair warps as though distorted by heat waves. Eddie’s perception trying to make sense of something so bright after the bland inoffensive blankness of the hospital room.
“Did we do it?” he asks her, watching her face carefully. If she lied to him, he thinks he’d be able to tell. “Did we get It? Did we win?”
Bev blinks once, so beautiful Eddie feels like his safety rail ought to be a velvet rope between the two of them. She belongs in a museum. How did somebody like Bev Marsh ever come out of a place like Derry?
“Yes,” she says, her voice surprisingly sweet and hushed. “Yes, we did. You got It.”
Knots come untied in his body all at once, his whole spine slackening.
“Oh God, Eddie, we didn’t realize you didn’t know,” Bev sighs.
Eddie looks at her blankly. “How would I know?” It’s not even an accusation. As Bev and Ben exchange guilty looks, Eddie asks, “What about—the, the thing. In the library.” The body. What happened to the body? Tell me that we’re safe and nobody’s going to jail.
Bev’s face doesn’t change but Ben’s does, his eyes widening just slightly as if to tell Eddie to be careful. Which Eddie is. That’s why he’s being vague and saying the thing and not the axe-murder, did we get It and not did we kill that fucking clown.
“Yes,” Ben says, his voice just as soft as Bev’s. “Yes, we took care of it.”
A little pulse of stress goes through Eddie. A shadow of the same way that he felt walking into the library and figuring out that Bowers had attacked Mike too but Richie had killed him. It’s not that Eddie wants to be taken care of, because he doesn’t. He emphatically doesn’t. But it’s also nice, in a way, to know that things are settled.
“And Stan’s okay?” he checks again. If Stan survives the clown only to die of sepsis Eddie’s going to have to fight God with his bare hands or something. It’s enough crushing unfairness in an already-pretty-indifferent life.
“Stan’s okay,” Bev confirms.
Mike was also injured. “And Mike’s okay?” Bowers cut him and Ben bandaged him up and Stan watched and paled because Mike’s wound was also on his forearm, and Eddie watched him carefully to see if his blood pressure was just going to tank.
“Yes, Mike’s okay.”
“Did Mike get his—” He motions toward his own wrist, where the IV rests in his forearm. Eddie’s fully willing to admit that most of his life has been dedicated to unreasonable caution—but his job also counts on him knowing what is reasonable. He’s anxious, he’s not deranged. Mike walked through a sewer with an open wound just like Eddie and Stan.
“Yes, he did,” Bev says. “That’s fine too. I think they gave him something to take care of it.”
Okay. Eddie lets his hands rest on the waffle blanket, right palm turned up so that the IV tube doesn’t snag. He takes some breaths, feeling the slow stretch of his broken ribs. It’s like pushing a bruise; he can’t help doing it.
What does he need?
“Can I see Richie?” he asks without looking up. He kind of instinctively wants to check for their reactions—are they offended? Are they suspicious?—but it’s better for his peace of mind if he doesn’t. They asked him what he needed.
That gets Eddie to look up. Anger spikes up out of nowhere, but it’s driven by fear. “Did he leave?” he demands.
“Not by choice,” Ben says quickly.
Eddie’s brain immediately clicks back to the murder. Was Richie dragged back to Derry in handcuffs? Ben said it was taken care of, what the fuck—?
“He just went back to the hotel,” Ben says.
Eddie is still stuck in Richie is in Derry mode, flatly uncomprehending.
“Look, he hadn’t slept in a couple days, and he was still pretty beat-up from—you know,” Ben says, trying to skirt around our trip through Derry’s sewage system in case anyone in the hospital overhears. “And we thought it might stress you out if the next time you saw him he was still wearing scrubs and a biohazard, and honestly we didn’t know whether they’d let him into the ICU like that.”
“What Ben means to say,” Bev says, “is that he and Mike threatened Richie into a shower, and then Richie was so exhausted he fell asleep, and we’re still waiting for him to wake up, realize that it’s visiting hours, and storm the hospital.”
Eddie has the cognitive dissonance of imagining thirteen-year-old Richie trying to storm anything—uh, no—and then remembers that Richie is not just an adult but a goddamn huge adult with the ability to make himself other people’s problem. So maybe.
“Oh,” he says, because he’s not sure what kind of response is appropriate there. Inexplicably he feels a little embarrassed for asking, and then wants to kick himself. There is nothing more conspicuous about asking for Richie when he’s in a hospital bed than there is in asking for any one of them, because he’s in a hospital bed, and even if there were—well, fuck conspicuous. He’s exhausted of worrying about other people’s perception, of moving through his life like a ballerina on eggshells as if that’ll stop people from making assumptions about his health or his—
Sex life, he tells himself flatly, and feels himself color immediately. You were afraid people were going to make assumptions about your sex life. No point in being squeamish about it now. The bluntness of his inner thoughts is unfamiliar. It doesn’t even sound like him all the way.
Well, Eddie can barely move. Nobody’s going to assume he’s asking for Richie so they can—and here his train of thought takes on a very Richie tone—fuck in this hospital bed. His blush deepens. There’s a safety rail. Eddie barely fits in here by himself, and Richie—
“I’m still a little high,” he says without looking up, because it’s the only way he can credit this frankly ridiculous train of thought. He has to blame it on the drugs.
“That’s fine, honey,” Bev says, but there’s no laugh in her voice, just a tender concern. Maybe Eddie’s blood levels haven’t replenished enough to make his blush conspicuous. He hopes so.
Richie would laugh at him, Eddie thinks, and his chest tightens in a way that’s not the pain of broken ribs or the constriction of an asthma attack. It’s—something like loss. Like the fear he felt when he thought Stan wasn’t coming to the restaurant at all.
He wants Richie, is all. Overlarge and casual in one of the cheap plastic chairs, loud and inappropriate and eating up the silence and the hours and distracting Eddie from the room around him.
“We can call him,” Ben says, helpfully pointing out the blindingly obvious.
“No,” Eddie says quickly. “No, let him sleep.”
Eddie said I love you and Richie laughed and asked if he was high. But Richie called him sweetheart when he did it, so. And maybe a hospital room isn’t the right setting for that kind of thing, maybe Eddie’s just going to have to wait for… for something. A moment. The ability to stand up on his own again. He doesn’t know.
“Can I see Stan?” he asks.
“Of course,” Bev says. “Do you want one of us to stay, or do you want to meet Patty, or do you just want to talk to him one-on-one?”
Eddie’s grateful for her laying out his options like that. He feels like his brain is struggling to build a roadmap.
“I’ll meet Patty,” he says.
All in all, Patty Blum Uris seems to be doing a great job adjusting to the existential horror that is her husband’s suicide attempt, subsequent escape from psychiatric care, flight to Maine, reunion with his childhood friends, and immediate re-hospitalization. That is: she’s still standing up, smiling, and making conversation, which is more than Eddie expected of any outsiders to the situation.
At first Eddie watches Stan carefully when Patty speaks. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for—some kind of guide to how Eddie should interact with the real world for the rest of his life, maybe?—but it becomes clear that Stan loves his wife.
Stan loves his wife. There’s a little smirk in the corner of his mouth when he says, “Eddie, this is my wife, Patricia.”
She immediately says, “Patty,” and leans over to carefully shake his hand, more squeezing it than anything else. “Do you prefer Eddie?”
“Yeah,” Eddie says.
Patty sits down in the other chair and laces her arm through Stan’s. They sit shoulder-to-shoulder—Stan, almost as reserved about touch as a child as Eddie was—and Stan’s smirk turns soft as Patty’s brow furrows. “I only ask because, uh, there’s someone here everyone keeps calling Trashmouth—”
This startles Eddie into a sharp jerk of laughter that really does hurt his chest, and Patty Uris begins apologizing.
Stan looks just as tired as Beverly. If Bev showed up to the Jade of the Orient looking brittle and shaken, Stan arrived looking fragile and drawn and sick. He still looks a little bit shaky, maybe, but the way he leans on his wife is… nice. Certainly nothing Eddie would think to do with Myra. She’s never been able to comfort Eddie just by pushing her shoulder into his.
It confirms something in the back of Eddie’s mind. Some sort of it’s not marriage, it’s just me question he didn’t know he was still wondering about. Some small issues settling as he understands better, though he couldn’t put it into words if he tried.
“Did you save my life?” he asks Stan, because that seems to be the most pertinent one.
Inexplicably Patty turns bright pink. It throws into relief how pale Stan still is, next to her. Patty is healthy and alive, and Stan’s still a little bit wan.
“I mean, I helped do CPR,” he says. “I breathed for you.”
“My lung popped,” Eddie says, in case Stan doesn’t know.
Stan almost smiles. “Yeah, but that wasn’t my fault.”
“I never said it was.”
“But.” Stan shrugs a little. “Trashmouth—” Patty looks around, apparently just as perplexed. “—doesn’t know how to apply pressure to a wound, so maybe a little bit.”
“A little bit?”
Eddie smiles. “You saved my life a little bit?”
“Like, a percentage,” Stan replies.
“A percentage of my life?”
Stan’s smiling back now. “Yeah, a percentage.”
“I think the two of us can work that out together,” Eddie says. “Mathematically.”
“That’s right, what’s your job? Risk analyst?”
And Stan’s an accountant. They ought to be able to calculate, between the two of them, exactly what portion of Eddie’s life was saved by Stan, and what portion by Richie, and what portion by Derry Home Hospital, and what portion by Sovereign Light. The idea is oddly comforting. Stan’s hair has darkened a lot now he’s older, but Eddie can still remember sunlit afternoons in the Urises’ living room, him and Stan and Ben all putting together a LEGO kit to rigid specification.
“For now,” Eddie says. He’s been hospitalized with no word to work for a while; he might be fired by the time he gets back. There ought to be a swooping sensation of anxiety about that, but there isn’t, and he can’t decide whether he’s buoyed by the morphine or by that feeling of being not-bad that came over him in the cavern. He lets his head loll back on the pillow and asks, “What’s Georgia like?”
“But Stanley said you were in New York!” Patty bursts out, apparently very excited by this. She only calls Stan Stanley. Eddie wonders if she’s heard anyone call him Stan-the-Man in front of her, or if Richie has already warped her married name into Urine in front of her. “How long were you there?”
Eddie sighs a little. “Moved there when I was a teenager,” he replies. “It was…” He grins suddenly. “I hated it.”
“We were there in college!” Patty says, which Eddie realizes slowly is the point she finds interesting. “We met in New York, and we got married there. What if we’d met? What if we ran across each other in… I don’t know, a deli or something?”
Eddie knows too many health inspectors to dine out in New York with any regularity, and has too many dietary restrictions—or rather, has needlessly restricted his own diet for so many years that he hasn’t actually enjoyed food in…
Actually, no. Eddie can’t remember the last time he enjoyed food.
“You eat at a lot of delis?”
“Not in Georgia,” Stan replies dryly.
“There are some,” Patty says.
“Yeah, but not like we ate in college.”
“You ate in college,” Patty replies, a faintly sulky tone to her voice that makes Stan smile. “I was at least five-percent bagel in college.”
“Everyone is five-percent bagel in college.”
“I have definitely never been any percentage bagel,” Eddie replies.
“Have you eaten a bagel in your life?”
“Then at some point, you have been a percentage bagel. It might be—no, listen—it might have been a fraction of a percentage, but you were definitely some percent bagel.”
“No, no, no,” Patty says. “You can’t argue that the moment you consume the bagel it becomes a part of you. It’s not like uranium—there’s no half-life to bagels.”
Stan looks to her. “I mean, I’m not saying that he’s still part bagel.”
“No, but like, this is totally dependent on whether we accept ‘you are what you eat’ as true.”
At this point Eddie remembers that, before Stan showed up at the restaurant, Richie declared that Stan was a pussy. For several moments his attempts to stifle his giggling make Patty and Stan assume he’s having some kind of medical incident, until they just realize that he’s laughing over something that--as far as they know—isn’t that funny. Richie would make the joke out loud. Eddie’s just laughing over the idea of what Stan’s face would do and how horrified Patty Uris, elementary school teacher, might be. If it were just Stan he might make the joke, but the idea that anyone he doesn’t know might make any assumptions about his own sex life was so horrifying just a few minutes ago that he can’t say anything like that to Patty, it would just be unacceptable. And rude.
Richie would definitely make the joke, though.
Why does he miss Richie over something so stupid?
Well, maybe because he’s been quietly missing him for thirty years, but whatever.
Over the course of the conversation, Eddie learns that Stan and Patty have a house just outside Atlanta. Stan has his own practice, which is doing pretty well. No one speaks of any of the effects that extended unplanned time off work has on a career, but if Stan is his own boss, Eddie’s a bit less concerned for him than he is for himself.
“Do you and your wife have any kids?” Patty asks Eddie.
“No,” Eddie says quickly. “No, thank god.”
Patty’s eyebrows climb. “You don’t want them?”
Eddie doesn’t know what to say to that. Myra hasn’t been on birth control for years, and her doctors made some noises about her weight affecting her fertility, but her doctors always attribute her problems to her weight. But if Eddie thinks about it, thinks about having kids with or without Myra, he doesn’t know if he wants them. He doesn’t know what he’d do with a child, to be honest—doesn’t know the kind of parent he’d be, and is a little afraid to find out.
“I don’t know if I want kids,” he says, trying to be honest. “I don’t think… Myra and I would be great parents.” Regardless of their respective parenting skills, as a team they would… they would not be great. It would be irresponsible of Eddie to inflict that on a child. Part of Eddie wants to add I’m going to ask for a divorce, but he doesn’t think he can say that out loud to Stan’s wife before he says it to his own.
And that’s something he’s going to have to do, now that the clown is dead and Bowers is… taken care of, whatever that means. Besides the obvious, which is that Richie took care of it, but Ben said we took care of it, and Eddie isn’t sure who we is, but he knows that they’re protecting him and Richie and Mike. He’s going to have to ask for more detail when he’s assured that they won’t be overheard.
Eddie’s going to have to get on with the rest of his life. Which he thought he was doing, just by going out and living it and picking up the phone and saying Edward Kaspbrak speaking and by going to work every day and by speaking to Myra and by getting paid and buying groceries and paying bills. But he wasn’t, because he’s slowly understanding that he wasn’t really himself, after all these years, except in the ways that he doesn’t like. He’s sunk four decades of effort into… (and here the risk analyst portion of his brain is clicking online, trying to be heard over the morphine haze and the cavern-calm) the idea that he’s already started dating Myra and it’s what people expect so he might as well marry her, the idea that they’re not getting any younger and they’re already married so they might as well have children.
Eddie has arrived where his sunk-cost fallacy and his bygones principle intersect, and he can see it now. He’s a man who bought a ticket to a baseball game but now doesn’t want to go. He can go and be miserable, or he can waste the money but spend his time doing something he’ll like better.
Stan is an accountant.
“You know the sunk-cost fallacy?” Eddie asks him out loud.
Stan nods, apparently tracking the leap in conversation without issue. Patty’s brow furrows but she says nothing. To her, Stan says, “The idea that you’ve already invested time and money and effort into something, so you should keep investing.”
“I knew the gist, but that helps,” Patty says. “Throwing good money after bad.”
“Fourth-graders don’t really get into logical fallacies by name that way,” she says dryly.
“You do a lot of business like that?” Stan asks Eddie.
“Yeah.” Edward, what’s the risk of this promotion? What does our profit and loss statement look like? Is this a solid investment considering—But Eddie’s already thinking about the next steps after a sunk-cost fallacy, which is the idea that when the plan is already failing, you just have to keep going. That’s his marriage. He knew going in—he didn’t know, but he knew, in some way—that it was a bad idea, and yet he’s an aircraft pilot who knows the disaster is going to be fatal, but goddamnit he’s going to stick with the plan because it’s the only thing he has the nerve to do.
Well. Say you’ve bought the ticket to the baseball game. Maybe you’ll go on the off-chance that you might enjoy yourself, even though you’re reluctant about going. Eddie has had a number of social engagements turn out that way, especially when the alternative is staying at home. If you don’t have anything better to do with your time, maybe you’ll go to the baseball game. When the choice is between that and wasting the money with no guarantee that anything better is available, maybe that’s how the fallacy gets you.
Down the hallway he hears footsteps and he knows, without knowing how he knows, who they belong to.
A lot of Eddie’s success as a risk analyst is his ability to ignore the way that the investors settle on optimism. They don’t want to admit failure. They don’t want to think for themselves and voice the misgivings that they’re all feeling. They need Eddie to come in and be the realist and show them the numbers and what is and isn’t true and what the best and worst possible outcomes are.
One of the side effects of morphine--though, admittedly, the incidence is not known, is the false or unusual sense of well-being. But in all honesty Eddie has been riding this train since he started bleeding out, so he can’t chalk that up to the morphine; it’s going to be the exsanguination, and maybe a little bit of the new lease on life, and maybe a little bit of the conviction that something better has just walked back into his life.
Walked back into his hospital room with a new leather jacket and a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a scowl and perpetual stubble and smudged glasses and a declaration of “Fucking hate all of you—not you, Patty, you’re an angel and we’re happy you’re here—are there Jewish angels?—and not you, Eddie, though if they’d told me you were awake—”
“Hi, Richie,” Eddie says.