Home > The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(6)

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower #3)(6)
Author: Stephen King

Henry taught Eddie how to play basketball in the playground near the apartment building where they lived—this was in a cement suburb where the towers of Manhattan stood against the horizon like a dream and the welfare check was king. Eddie was eight years younger than Henry and much smaller, but he was also much faster. He had a natural feel for the game; once he got on the cracked, hilly cement of the court with the ball in his hands, the moves seemed to sizzle in his nerve-endings. He was faster, but that was no big deal. The big deal was this: he was better than Henry. If he hadn’t known it from the results of the pick-up games in which they sometimes played, he would have known it from Henry’s thunderous looks and the hard punches to the upper arm Henry often dealt out on their way home afterwards. These punches were supposedly Henry’s little jokes—“Two for flinching!” Henry would cry cheerily, and then whap-whap! Into Eddie’s bicep with one knuckle extended—but they didn’t feel like jokes. They felt like warnings. They felt like Henry’s way of saying You better not fake me out and make me look stupid when you drive for the basket, bro; you better remember that I’m Watching Out for You.

The same was true with reading . . . baseball . . . Ring-a-Levio . . . math . . . even jump-rope, which was a girl’s game. That he was better at these things, or could be better, was a secret that had to be kept at all costs. Because Eddie was the younger brother. Because Henry was Watching Out for him. But the most important part of the underneath reason was also the simplest: these things had to be kept secret because Henry was Eddie’s big brother, and Eddie adored him.

Two DAYS AGO, WHILE Susannah was skinning out a rabbit and Roland was starting supper, Eddie had been in the forest just south of camp. He had seen a funny spur of wood jutting out of a fresh stump. A weird, feeling—he supposed it was the one people called deja vu—swept over him, and he found himself staring fixedly at the spur, which looked like a badly shaped doorknob. He was distantly aware that his mouth had gone dry.

After several seconds, he realized he was looking at the spur sticking out of the stump but thinking about the courtyard behind the building where he and Henry had lived—thinking about the feel of the warm cement under his ass and the whopping smells of garbage from the dumpster around the corner in the alley. In this memory he had a chunk of wood in his left hand and a paring knife from the drawer by the sink in his right. The chunk of wood jutting from the stump had called up the memory of that brief period when he had fallen violently in love with wood-carving. It was just that the memory was buried so deep he hadn’t realized, at first, what it was.

What he had loved most about carving was the seeing part, which happened even before you began. Sometimes you saw a car or a truck. Sometimes a dog or cat. Once, he remembered, it had been the face of an idol—one of the spooky Easter Island monoliths he had seen in an issue of National Geographic at school. That had turned out to be a good one. The game was to find out how much of that thing you could get out of the wood without breaking it. You could never get it all, but if you were very careful, you could sometimes get quite a lot. There was something inside the boss on the side of the stump. He thought he might be able to release quite a lot of it with Roland’s knife— it was the sharpest, handiest tool he had ever used. Something inside the wood, waiting patiently for someone—someone like him!—to come along and let it out. To set it free. Oh lookit the sissy! Whatcha makin today, sissy? A dollhouse? A pisspot for your itty-bitty teeny peenie? A slingshot, so you can pretend to hunt rabbits, just like the big boys? Awwww . . . ain’t that CUTE? He felt a burst of shame, a sense of wrongness; that strong sense of secrets that must be kept at any cost, and then he remembered—again— that Henry Dean, who had in his later years become the great sage and eminent junkie, was dead. This realization had still not lost its power to surprise; it kept hitting him in different ways, sometimes with sorrow, sometimes with guilt, sometimes with anger. On this day, two days before the great bear came charging out of the green corridors of the woods, it had hit him in the most surprising way of all. He had felt relief, and a soaring joy.

He was free.

Eddie had borrowed Roland’s knife. He used it to cut carefully around the jutting boss of wood, then brought it back and sat beneath a tree with it, turning it this way and that. He was not looking at it; he was looking into it. Susannah had finished with her rabbit. The meat went into the pot over the fire; the skin she stretched between two sticks, tying it with hanks of rawhide from Roland’s purse. Later on, after the evening meal, Eddie would begin scraping it clean. She used her hands and arms, slipping effortlessly over to where Eddie was sitting with his back propped against the tall old pine. At the campfire, Roland was crumbling some arcane—and no doubt delicious—woods-herb into the pot. “What’s doing, Eddie?”

Eddie had found himself restraining an absurd urge to hide the boss of wood behind his back. “Nothing,” he said. “Thought I might, you know, curve something.” He paused, then added: “I’m not very good, though.” He sounded as if he might be trying to reassure her of this fact. She had looked at him, puzzled. For a moment she seemed on the verge of saying something, then simply shrugged and left him alone. She had no idea why Eddie seemed ashamed to be passing a little time in whittling—her father had done it all the time—but if it was something that needed to be talked about, she supposed Eddie would get to it in his own time. He knew the guilty feelings were stupid and pointless, but he also knew he felt more comfortable doing this work when Roland and Susan-nah were out of camp. Old habits, it seemed, sometimes died hard. Beating heroin was child’s play compared to beating your childhood.

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