The Shining

Part Five. Matters of Life and Death Chapter 44. Conversations at the Party


He was dancing with a beautiful woman.
He had no idea what time it was, how long he had spent in the Colorado Lounge or how long he had been here in the ballroom. Time had ceased to matter.
He had vague memories: listening to a man who had once been a successful radio comic and then a variety star in TV', infant days telling a very long and very hilarious joke about incest between Siamese twins; seeing the woman in the harem pants and the sequined bra do a slow and sinuous striptease to some bumping-andgrinding music from the jukebox (it seemed it had been David Rose's theme music from The Stripper); crossing the lobby as one of three, the other two men in evening dress that predated the twenties, all of them singing about the stiff patch on Rosie O'Grady's knickers. He seemed to remember looking out the big double doors and seeing Japanese lanterns strung in graceful, curving arcs that followed the sweep of the driveway-they gleamed in soft pastel colors like dusky jewels. The big glass globe on the porch ceiling was on, and night-insects bumped and flittered against it, and a part of him, perhaps the last tiny spark of sobriety, tried to tell him that it was 6 A. M. on a morning in December. But time had been canceled.
(The arguments against insanity fall through with a soft shurring sound/layer on layer...)
Who was that? Some poet he had read as an undergraduate? Some undergraduate poet who was now selling washers in Wausau or insurance in Indianapolis? Perhaps an original thought? Didn't matter.
(The night is dark/ the stars are high/ a disembodied custard piel is floating in the sky...)
He giggled helplessly.
"What's funny, honey?"
And here he was again, in the ballroom. The chandelier was lit and couples were circling all around them, some in costume and some not, to the smooth sounds of some postwar band-but which war? Can you be certain?
No, of course not. He was certain of only one thing: he was dancing with a beautiful woman.
She was tall and auburn-haired, dressed in clinging white satin, and she was dancing close to him, her breasts pressed softly and sweetly against his chest. Her white hand was entwined in his. She was wearing a small and sparkly cat'seye mask and her hair had been brushed over to one side in a soft and gleaming fall that seemed to pool in the valley between their touching shoulders. Her dress was full-skirted but be could feel her thighs against his legs from time to time and had become more and more sure that she was smoothand-powdered naked under her dress,
(the better to feet your erection with, my dear)
and he was sporting a regular railspike. If it offended her she concealed it well; she snuggled even closer to him.
"Nothing funny, honey," he said, and giggled again.
"I like you," she whispered, and he thought that her scent was like lilies, secret and hidden in cracks furred with green moss-places where sunshine is short and shadows long.
"I like you, too."
"We could go upstairs, if you want. I'm supposed to be with Harry, but he'll never notice. He's too busy teasing poor Roger."
The number ended. There was a spatter of applause and then the band swung into "Mood Indigo" with scarcely a pause.
Jack looked over her bare shoulder and saw Derwent standing by the refreshment table. The girl in the sarong was with him. There were bottles of champagne in ice buckets ranged along the white lawn covering the table, and Derwent held a foaming bottle in his hand. A knot of people had gathered, laughing. In front of Derwent and the girl in the sarong, Roger capered grotesquely on all fours, his tail dragging limply behind him. He was barking.
"Speak, boy, speak!" Harry Derwent cried.
"Rowf! Rowf!" Roger responded. Everyone clapped; a few of the men whistled.
"Now sit up. Sit up, doggy!"
Roger clambered up on his haunches. The muzzle of his mask was frozen in its eternal snarl. Inside the eyeholes, Roger's eyes rolled with frantic, sweaty hilarity. He held his arms out, dangling the paws.
"Rowf! Rowf!"
Derwent upended the bottle of champagne and it fell in a foamy Niagara onto the upturned mask. Roger made frantic slurping sounds, and everyone applauded again. Some of the women screamed with laughter.
"Isn't Harry a card?" his partner asked him, pressing close again. "Everyone says so. He's AC/DC, you know. Poor Roger's only DC. He spent a weekend with Harry in Cuba once... oh, months ago. Now he follows Harry everywhere, wagging his little tail behind him."
She giggled. The shy scent of lilies drifted up.
"But of course Harry never goes back for seconds... not on his DC side, anyway... and Roger is just wild. Harry told him if he came to the masked ball as a doggy, a cute little doggy, he might reconsider, and Roger is such a silly that he..."
The number ended. There was more applause. The band members were filing down for a break.
"Excuse me, sweetness," she said. "There's someone I just roust... Darla! Darla, you dear girl, where have you been?"
She wove her way into the eating, drinking throng and he gazed after her stupidly, wondering how they had happened to be dancing together in the first place. He didn't remember. Incidents seemed to have occurred with no connections. First here, then there, then everywhere. His head was spinning. He smelled lilies and juniper berries. Up by the refreshment table Derwent was now holding a tiny triangular sandwich over Roger's head and urging him, to the general merriment of the onlookers, to do a somersault. The dogmask was turned upward. The silver sides of the dog costume bellowsed in and out. Roger suddenly leaped, tucking his head under, and tried to roll in mid-air. His leap was too low and too exhausted; he landed awkwardly on his back, rapping his head smartly on the tiles. A hollow groan drifted out of the dogmask.
Derwent led the applause. "Try again, doggy! Try again!" The onlookers took up the chant-try again, try again- and Jack staggered off the other way, feeling vaguely ill.
He almost fell over the drinks cart that was being wheeled along by a lowbrowed man in a white mess jacket. His foot rapped the lower chromed shelf of the cart; the bottles and siphons on top chattered together musically.
"Sorry," Jack said thickly. He suddenly felt closed in and claustrophobic; he wanted to get out. He wanted the Overlook back the way it had been... free of these unwanted guests. His place was not honored, as the true opener of the way; he was only another of the ten thousand cheering extras, a doggy rolling over and sitting up on command.
"Quite all right," the man in the white mess jacket said. The polite, clipped English coming from that thug's face was surreal. "A drink?"
From behind him, another comber of laughter broke; Roger was howling to the tune of "Home on the Range." Someone was picking out accompaniment on the Steinway baby grand.
"Here you are."
The frosty cold glass was pressed into his hand. Jack drank gratefully, feeling the gin hit and crumble away the first inroads of sobriety.
"Is it all right, sir?"
"Thank you, sir." The cart began to roll again.
Jack suddenly reached out and touched the man's shoulder.
"Yes, sir?"
"Pardon me, but... what's your name?"
The other showed no surprise. "Grady, sir. Delbert Grady."
"But you... I mean that..."
The bartender was looking at him politely. Jack tried again, although his mouth was mushed by gin and unreality; each word felt as large as an ice cube.
"Weren't you once the caretaker here? When you..., when..." But he couldn't finish. He couldn't say it.
"Why no, sir. I don't believe so."
"But your wife... your daughters...
"My wife is helping in the kitchen, sir. The girls are asleep, of course. It's much too late for them."
"You were the caretaker. You-" Oh say it! "You killed them."
Grady's face remained blankly polite. "I don't have any recollection of that at all, sir." His glass was empty. Grady plucked it from Jack's unresisting fingers and set about making another drink for him. There was a small white plastic bucket on his cart that was filled with olives. For soave reason
they reminded Jack of tiny severed heads. Grady speared one deftly, dropped it into the glass, and handed it to him.
"But you-"
"You're the caretaker, sir," Grady said mildly. "You've always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I've always been here. The same manager hired us both, at the same time. Is it all right, sir?"
Jack gulped at his drink. His head was swirling. "Mr. Ullman -"
"I know no one by that name, sir."
"But he-"
"The manager," Grady said. "The hotel, sir. Surely you realize who hired you, sir."
"No," he said thickly. "No, I-"
"I believe you must take it up further with your son, Mr. Torrance, sir. He understands everything, although he hasn't enlightened you. Rather naughty of him, if I may be so bold, sir. In fact, he's crossed you at almost every turn, hasn't he? And him not yet six."
"Yes," Jack said. "He has." There was another wave of laughter from behind them.
"He needs to be corrected, if you don't mind me saying so. He needs a good talking-to, and perhaps a bit more. My own girls, sir, didn't care for the Overlook at first. One of them actually stole a pack of my matches and tried to burn it down. I corrected them. I corrected them most harshly. And when my wife tried to stop me from doing my duty, I corrected her." He offered Jack a bland, meaningless smile. "I find it a sad but true fact that women rarely understand a father's responsibility to his children. Husbands and fathers do have certain responsibilities, don't they, sir?"
"Yes," Jack said.
"They didn't love the Overlook as I did," Grady said, beginning to make him another drink. Silver bubbles rose in the upended gin bottle. "Just as your son and wife don't love it. not at present, anyway. But they will come to love it. You must show them the error of their ways, Mr. Torrance. Do you agree?"
"Yes. I do."
He did see. He had been too easy with them. Husbands and fathers did have certain responsibilities. Father Knows Best. They did not understand. That in itself was no crime, but they were willfully not understanding. He was not ordinarily a harsh man. But he did believe in punishment. And if his son and his wife had willfully set themselves against his wishes, against the things he knew were best for them, then didn't he have a certain duty-?
"A thankless child is sharper than a serpent's tooth," Grady said, handing him his drink. "I do believe that the manager could bring your son into line. And your wife would shortly follow. Do you agree, sir?"
He was suddenly uncertain. "I... but... if they could just leave... I mean, after all, it's me the manager wants, isn't it? It must be. Because-" Because why? He should know but suddenly he didn't. Oh, his poor brain was swimming.
"Bad dog!" Derwent was saying loudly, to a counterpoint of laughter. "Bad dog to piddle on the floor."
"Of course you know," Grady said, leaning confidentially over the cart, "your son is attempting to bring an outside party into it. Your son has a very great talent, one that the manager could use to even further improve the Overlook, to further... enrich it, shall we say? But your son is attempting to use that very talent against us. He is willful, Mr. Torrance, Sir. Willful."
"Outside party?" Jack asked stupidly.
Grady nodded.
"A nigger," Grady said. "A nigger cook."
"I believe that is his name, sir, yes."
Another burst of laughter from behind them was followed by Roger saying something in a whining, protesting voice.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" Derwent began to chant. The others around him took it up, but before Jack could hear what they wanted Roger to do now, the band began to play again-the tune was "Tuxedo Junction," with a lot of mellow sax in it but not much soul.
(Soul? Soul hasn't even been invented yet. Or has it?)
(A nigger... a nigger cook.)
He opened his mouth to speak, not knowing what might come out. What did was:
"I was told you hadn't finished high school. But you don't talk like an uneducated man."
"It's true that I left organized education very early, sir. But the manager takes care of his help. He finds that it pays. Education always pays, don't you agree, sir?"
"Yes," Jack said dazedly.
"For instance, you show a great interest in learning more about the Overlook Hotel. Very wise of you, sir. Very noble. A certain scrapbook was left in the basement for you to find-"
"By whom?" Jack asked eagerly.
"By the manager, of course. Certain other materials could be put at your disposal, if you wished them... "
"I do. Very much." He tried to control the eagerness in his voice and failed miserably.
"You're a true scholar," Grady said. "Pursue the topic to the end. Exhaust all sources." He dipped his low-browed head, pulled out the lapel of his white mess jacket, and buffed his knuckles at a spot of dirt that was invisible to Jack.
"And the manager puts no strings on his largess," Grady went on. "Not at all. Look at me, a tenth-grade dropout Think how much further you yourself could go in the Overlooks organizational structure. Perhaps... in time... to the very top."
"Really?" Jack whispered.
"But that's really up to your son to decide, isn't it?" Grady asked, raising his eyebrows. The delicate gesture went oddly with the brows themselves, which were bushy and somehow savage.
"Up to Danny?" Jack frowned at Grady. "No, of course not. I wouldn't allow my son to make decisions concerning my career. Not at all. What do you take me for? "
"A dedicated man," Grady said warmly. "Perhaps I put it badly, sir. Let us say that your future here is contingent upon how you decide to deal with your son's waywardness."
"I make my own decisions," Jack whispered.
"But you must deal with him."
"I will."
"Firmly "
"I will."
"A man who cannot control his own family holds very little interest for our manager. A man who cannot guide the courses of his own wife and son can hardly be expected to guide himself, let alone assume a position of responsibility in an operation of this magnitude. He-"
"I said I'll handle him!" Jack shouted suddenly, enraged.
"Tuxedo Junction" had just concluded and a new tune hadn't begun. His shout fell perfectly into the gap, and conversation suddenly ceased behind him. His skin suddenly felt hot all over. He became fixedly positive that everyone was staring at him. They had finished with Roger and would now commence with him. Roll over. Sit up. Play dead. If you play the game with us, we'll play the game with you. Position of responsibility. They wanted him to sacrifice his son.
(-Now he follows Harry everywhere, wagging his little tail behind him-)
(Roll over. Play dead. Chastise your son.)
"Right this way, sir," Grady was saying. "Something that might interest you."
The conversation had begun again, lifting and dropping in its own rhythm, weaving in and out of the band music, now doing a swing version of Lennon and McCartney's "Ticket to Ride."
(I've heard better over supermarket loudspeakers.)
He giggled foolishly. He looked down at his left hand and saw there was another drink in it, half-full. He emptied it at a gulp.
Now he was standing in front of the mantelpiece, the heat from the crackling fire that bad been laid in the hearth warming his legs.
(a fire?... in August?... yes... and no... all times are one)
There was a clock under a glass dome, flanked by two carved ivory elephants. Its hands stood at a minute to midnight. He gazed at it blearily. Had this been what Grady wanted him to see? He turned around to ask, but Grady had left him.
Halfway through "Ticket to Ride," the band wound up in a brassy flourish.
"The hour is at hand!" Horace Derwent proclaimed. "Midnight! Unmask! Unmask!"
He tried to turn again, to see what famous faces were hidden beneath the glitter and paint and masks, but he was frozen now, unable to look away from the clock-its hands had come together and pointed straight up.
"Unmask! Unmask!" the chant went up.
The clock began to chime delicately. Along the steel runner below the clockface, from the left and right, two figures advanced. Jack watched, fascinated, the unmasking forgotten. Clockwork whirred. Cogs turned and meshed, brass warmly glowing. The balance wheel rocked back and forth precisely.
One of the figures was a man standing on tiptoe, with what looked like a tiny club clasped in his hands. The other was a small boy wearing a dunce cap. The clockwork figures glittered, fantastically precise. Across the front of the boy's dunce cap he could read the engraved word FOOLE.
The two figures slipped onto the opposing ends of a steel axis bar. Somewhere, tinkling on and on, were the strains of a Strauss waltz. An insane commercial jingle began to run through his mind to the tune: Buy dog food, rowf-rowf, rowfrowf, buy dog food...
The steel mallet in the clockwork daddy's hands came down on the boy's head. The clockwork son crumpled forward. The mallet rose and fell, rose and fell. The boy's upstretched, protesting hands began to falter. The boy sagged from his crouch to a prone position. And still the hammer rose and fell to the light, tinkling air of the Strauss melody, and it seemed that he could see the man's face, working and knotting and constricting, could see the clockwork daddy's mouth opening and closing as he berated the unconscious, bludgeoned figure of the son.
A spot of red flew up against the inside of the glass dome.
Another followed. Two more splattered beside it.
Now the red liquid was spraying up like an obscene rain shower, striking the glass sides of the dome and running, obscuring what was going on inside, and flecked through the scarlet were tiny gray ribbons of tissue, fragments of bone and brain. And still he could see the hammer rising and falling as the clockwork continued to turn and the cogs continued to mesh the gears and teeth of this cunningly made machine.
"Unmask! Unmask!" Derwent was shrieking behind him, and somewhere a dog was howling in human tones.
(But clockwork can't bleed clockwork can't bleed)
The entire dome was splashed with blood, he could see clotted bits of hair but nothing else thank God he could see nothing else, and still he thought he would be sick because he could hear the hammerblows still falling, could hear them through the glass just as he could hear the phrases of "The Blue Danube." But the sounds were no longer the mechanical tink-tink-tink noises of a mechanical hammer striking a mechanical head, but the soft and squashy thudding sounds of a real hammer slicing down and whacking into a spongy, muddy ruin. A ruin that once had been-
(-the Red Death held sway over all!)
With a miserable, rising scream, he turned away from the clock, his hands outstretched, his feet stumbling against one another like wooden blocks as he begged them to stop, to take him, Danny, Wendy, to take the whole world if they wanted it, but only to stop and leave him a little sanity, a little light.
The ballroom was empty.
The chairs with their spindly legs were upended on tables covered with plastic dust drops. The red rug with its golden tracings was back on the dance floor, protecting the polished hardwood surface. The bandstand was deserted except for a disassembled microphone stand and a dusty guitar leaning stringless against the wall. Cold morning light, winterlight, fell languidly through the high windows.
His head was still reeling, he still felt drunk, but when he turned back to the mantelpiece, his drink was gone. There were only the ivory elephants... and the clock.
He stumbled back across the cold, shadowy lobby and through the dining room. His foot hooked around a table leg and he fell full-length, upsetting the table with a clatter. He struck his nose hard on the floor and it began to bleed. He got up, snufing back blood and wiping his nose with the back of his hand. He crossed to the Colorado Lounge and shoved through the batwing doors, making them fly back and bang into the walls.
The place was empty... but the bar was fully stocked:. God be praised! Glass and the silver edging on labels glowed warmly in the dark.
Once, he remembered, a very long time ago, he had been angry that there was no backbar mirror. Now he was glad. Looking into it he would have seen just another drunk fresh off the wagon: bloody nose, untucked shirt, hair rumpled, cheeks stubbly.
(This is what it's like to stick your whole hand into the nest.)
Loneliness surged over him suddenly and completely. He cried out with sudden wretchedness and honestly wished he were dead. His wife and son were upstairs with the door locked against him. The others bad all left. The party was over.
He lurched forward again, reaching the bar.
"Lloyd, where the fuck are you?" he screamed.
There was no answer. In this well-padded
room, his words did not even echo back to give the illusion of company.
No answer. Only the bottles, standing stiffly at attention.
(Roll over. Play dead. Fetch. Play dead. Sit up. Play dead.)
"Never mind, I'll do it myself, goddammit."
Halfway over the bar he lost his balance and pitched forward, hitting his head a muffled blow on the floor. He got up on his hands and knees, his eyeballs moving disjointed from side to side, fuzzy muttering sounds coming from his mouth. Then he collapsed, his face turned to one side, breathing in harsh snores.
Outside, the wind whooped louder, driving the thickening snow before it. It was 8:30 A. M.