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 Hearts in Atlantis est paru le le 14 septembre 1999 aux USA.

COEURS PERDUS EN ATLANTIDE est paru chez Albin Michel le 5 Mars 2001

 Coeurs perdus en Atlantide

Albin Michel, 3/ 2001.

Création :1997/ 1999. Première publication : 1999. Édition fr. Albin Michel, 2001. 2 novellas et 3 nouvelles, formant un ensemble (la date [ ] est celle où l'action se passe) : 1. Crapules de bas étage en manteaux jaunes [1960 ] (Low Men in Yellow Coats) se rattache au Cycle de la Tour Sombre. 2. Chasse-coeurs en Atlantide [1966] (Hearts in Atlantis). 3. Willie l'aveugle [1983] (Blind Willie, nouvelle déjà parue dans Six Stories, [1997]. 4. Pourquoi nous étions au Vietnâm (Why We're in Vietnam. 5. Ainsi tombent les ombres célestes de la nuit [1999] (Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling)

Sauf pour mettre en scène des enfants, King n'a pas utilisé la période historique de la seconde partie des années soixante, pendant lesquelles se déroulait la guerre du Vietnam, et n'a pratiquement pas évoqué ses années d'université (une seule nouvelle en parle brièvement, La révolte de Caïn, sur le thème de la tuerie collective qui a fasciné King pendant ses jeunes années). Il le signale dans Anatomie de l'horreur : "Si j'ai délibérément évité d'écrire un roman se passant dans les années 60, c'est parce que cette époque me paraît aujourd'hui infiniment lointaine, comme si quelqu'un d'autre l'avait vécue." (187) C'est dire avec quel intérêt le lecteur attendait ce recueil, dont il savait qu'il comportait un long développement sur la vie d'étudiant de King à l'université du Maine (1966/70)
L'éditeur présente l'ouvrage comme un roman : en fait, il est difficile de lui donner une dénomination. Composé de deux novellas (dont une très longue), de deux nouvelles et d'une coda inclassable, ce récit se passe à des périodes différentes, sa cohérence est assurée par la présence, dans chacun des segments, de relations avec un épisode qui s'est produit entre plusieurs adolescents, l'agression brutale d'une fillette par quelques voyous qui a durablement marqué aussi bien les agressés que les agresseurs. Les situations conflictuelles du roman découleront de cette agression. Certains de ces personnages réapparaissent, devenus étudiants ou adultes, toujours marqués dans leur comportement adulte par ce vécu enfantin. Ce mince lien servira de fil conducteur, et nous permettra de suivre la vie de ces préadolescents devenus des hommes.

La première novella - presque un roman - nous rappelle des souvenirs d'enfants, à l'âge et à la date (1960) où King (né en 1947) pourrait les avoir vécus. Le sujet a été longtemps évoqué par King ( les produits les plus marquants sont Le Corps, Le Talisman, Ça), avant de les abandonner pour y revenir ces dernières années, mais avec un autre état d'esprit. Il ne s'agissait plus maintenant d'évoquer avec émotion des souvenirs liés à la période où l'enfant bascule dans la préadolescence, mais d'insérer des enfants dans des histoires les utilisant pratiquement comme des adultes : David, dans Désolation; Seth, dans Les Régulateurs; Trisha, dans La petite fille qui aimait Tom Gordon. Nous voici donc revenus à Le Corps et à Ça : même âge des protagonistes, mêmes problèmes avec les adultes, leurs échappatoires dans leurs loisirs et leurs sentiments d'enfants. Bien que ce type de récit kingien, si souvent traité, ait perdu toute originalité, le charme opère encore, et le lecteur est vite saisi par un récit qui oppose la difficile entente d'un jeune garçon avec sa mère veuve, et la richesse des rapports qui s'établissent avec un vieil homme, Ted, venu habiter leur logement. Avec Ted apparaissent des éléments liés à la saga de la Tour Sombre. De mystérieux êtres en jaune, aux formes changeantes comme beaucoup d'êtres du monde de la tour, utilisant des voitures voyantes, cherchent en effet à s'emparer du vieil homme, avec des allusions (le roi Pourpre, les pétales de rose) que seuls les kingiens avertis pourront comprendre. De graves faiblesses sont malheureusement liées à cette intrusion. On cherche vainement le sens de l'utilisation par les hommes jaunes d'affichettes recherchant des animaux, ou punaisées à l'envers, des signes particuliers (queue de cerfs-volants!). Une pauvre explication ne justifie pas ces éléments qui occupent une partie du récit (Bobby les recherche pour le compte de Ted) : "Je pense qu'il doit s'agir d'un moyen de communication, même si on peut se demander pourquoi ils ne se retrouvent pas tout simplement au Colony Diner pour échanger leurs informations." (58) Cette intégration faiblarde d'éléments insolites, véritable placage, ne me paraît pas enrichir la nouvelle, qui présente des qualités de tendresse, de compréhension, de réflexion clairvoyante sur la perte de l'innocence. Peut-être leur sens apparaîtra -t-il plus tard : pour l'instant, ils faut vite les oublier, pour ne retenir que la description de vies enfantines où King est passé maître, leurs affections et leurs amours (Bobby a deux copains, Carol, une fille, et Sully-John, un garçon de son âge), leur naïveté roublarde et leur apprentissage du mensonge, le gâchis que certains parents apportent dans la vie de leur progéniture, comme ici la rapacité, l'indifférence ou la méchanceté de la mère..

Les quatre récits qui suivent sont liés à la guerre du Vietnam. La seconde novella, récit à la première personne de l'étudiant Peter, se déroule pendant le dernier trimestre 1966, date où King entre à l'université du Maine (où se passe le récit). Ma déception paraîtra discordante dans le flot des louanges touchant l'oeuvre. Mais il faut bien que j'avoue que le contenu de
Chasse-coeurs en Atlantide m'a vraiment déçu. Bien sûr, est décrite l'intéressante prise de conscience, en quelques mois, par de jeunes étudiants jusque là indifférents, des réalités politiques de l'époque. Ces trois mois peuvent expliquer partiellement l'évolution personnelle de King, et, à ce titre, offrent des perspectives nouvelles, à la fois pour comprendre les exigences des jeunes pour un changement de société (le mouvement français de 1958 s'est produit brutalement en France, alors qu'il s'est étalé sur plusieurs années aux USA) et leur hostilité à une guerre infâme et meurtrière. On aime se représenter le jeune Steve révolté de la couverture du Maine Campus de 1969 où, étudiant barbu, chevelu, agressif, le fusil à la main, il enjoint ironiquement à ses condisciples d'étudier, alors que la confusion et le désordre en rapport avec la guerre du Vietnam règnent alors sur les campus universitaires. On évoque volontiers un King élevé dans un républicanisme de droite bon teint devenant gauchiste en arrivant à la fac, comme il le dit dans certaines interviews. On ne subit telle évolution, peut-on croire, que par une prise de conscience politique des problèmes d'une société en crise, une analyse, serait-elle sommaire, des dysfonctionnements d'une collectivité mal dirigée et mal régulée. La suite logique de l'intransigeance de Rage. On pouvait admettre que, plus tard, l'étudiant King, déçu par les faiblesses d'une position politique morale, mais idéaliste, prenne à la sortie de la fac ses distances avec tout mouvement révolutionnaire, ou simplement contestataire. Ces récits l'expliquent partiellement : les motivations de King n'ont jamais été profondes... Carol, la fillette du premier récit, qu'on retrouve ici étudiante, participe à des manifestations politiques contre le Vietnam? Pas de justification politique : elle répond à une impulsion qui vient de son enfance, quand, agressée et blessée par trois loubards, elle a été secourue par Bobby : "C'est alors que Bobby est arrivé. Il m'a raccompagnée hors du parc et m'a portée jusque chez lui. Il a remonté tout Broad Street Hill alors qu'il faisait une chaleur écrasante. Il m'a portée dans ses bras." (345) Il a ensuite, bien que plus faible, donné une solide raclée à l'agresseur Harry : "La seule chose qui mérite que je m'en souvienne, c'est que Bobby Garfield a pris fait et cause pour moi. (...) J'ai toujours voulu lui dire combien je l'aimais pour ça, et combien je l'aimais pour avoir montré à Harry Doolin qu'on ne s'en tirait pas comme ça quand on s'en prenait aux gens, en particulier à ceux qui sont plus petits que vous et qui ne vous veulent pas de mal." (346) Il est décevant de voir quelles leçons politiques King tire de cet incident ordinaire dans la vie des enfants : l'agressée, devenue étudiante à l'université, participe à des manifestations contre la guerre du Vietnam pour remercier rétrospectivement celui qui lui a porté secours. Pour qui a vécu l'effervescence bouillonnante des idées à cette époque, la comparaison et la mise en critique des systèmes politiques et sociaux existants, le radicalisme dans la remise en cause des institutions, il paraît bien mince de voir ramener des prises de position fondamentales à un geste d'altruisme consécutif à un traumatisme vécu dans l'enfance. Pas meilleure se révèle la prise de position collective du groupe d'étudiants en faveur d'un handicapé qui risque l'exclusion pour avoir tagué un mur d'une inscription contre la guerre : leur soutien ne vient-il pas du fait qu'ils se sont d'abord abondamment moqués de cet handicapé qui avait fait une chute? Et leur approbation du signe de la paix de Russell (la patte de poulet américain!) tient de l'imitation et du remords, et non d'une conviction profonde. La prise de conscience politique est dérisoire. De la psychologie - et d'envergure limitée - utilisée pour expliquer l'histoire... On ne saurait mieux dire les limites des prises de conscience chez King des insuffisances ou des tares de notre société. Le refus partiel de ce monde se traduit chez lui par une tendance à se tenir en marge d'une société sur laquelle il porte un regard acéré et critique, mais que, finalement, il est incapable de vraiment dominer. King est remarquablement doué pour saisir des situations individuelles, et tout se ramène, dans son oeuvre, aux comportements d'individualités. Qu'il ait personnellement vécu ainsi ces événements n'est pas singulier. La plupart les ont traversés ainsi sans rien voir, ou n'y ont vu que des opportunités comme celle de «se lever» une fille en participant à un mouvement. Mais on pouvait attendre davantage : quelle force cette période aurait-t-elle pu prendre dans cette novella si elle avait été vécue par un Charlie comme dans Rage, le King lycéen contestataire et sans concession de dix-sept ans? Si elle avait été décrite dans la foulée de Rage, ou de Marche ou Crève, au moment même des événements?

Ces réserves faites, l'importance de cette novella est indispensable à la compréhension de King. Le grand tournant que constitue le fait d'assumer sa vie, alors qu'au lycée la voie était tracée par le système, avec la difficile conquête de l'individualité et du contrôle de soi, la fin de l'enfance et l'acceptation du monde adulte et de ses duretés, n'est pas facile. King insiste sur l'importance de ces transformations : "Je suppose que le temps des changements, celui où se produisent les dernières convulsions de la jeunesse, mais je doute qu'il y en ait jamais eu d'une ampleur comparable à ceux que connurent les étudiants qui débarquèrent dans leur campus à la fin des années soixante." (271) Mais ce que le lecteur retient de la novella, c'est le niveau très médiocre de la motivation pour les études de ces jeunes gens, l'impression qu'elles sont une obligation, mais ne leur servent à rien si ce n'est à obtenir les notes qui permettront de garder leur bourse universitaire et le sursis qui leur permet d'éviter le Viêt-Nam, et que l'évasion (dans des parties de cartes endiablées et interminables dans le cas présent, menée une grande gueule à la personnalité douteuse, Malenfant) est la seule issue qui présente quelque intérêt. Le combat politique paraît, dans cette perspective, plus la conséquence d'une sorte d'entraînement collectif qu'un choix lucide et motivé.

La novella permet de préparer le terrain pour les trois autres récits qui se déroulent en 1983 et à notre époque. Le tourbillon de ce dernier trimestre 1966 a disparu, remplacé par un mal-être, un manque, une sorte de grand vide que les personnages, amers, aigris, voire déboussolés ou torturés ne savent comment combler. Dans les deux nouvelles suivantes, ils sont hantés par les souvenirs de leur passé. Willie est aussi bien marqué par sa guerre du Viêt-Nam que par l'épisode pendant lequel Carol a été battue. Moins cynique que les autres, plus religieux aussi, il en garde le désir de se repentir, et passe son temps à recopier interminablement sur des cahiers : je suis désolé. Il s'est inventé une vie compliquée et peu compréhensible, pour concilier les apparences d'un homme d'affaires vivant dans l'aisance et se rendant à son bureau dans un costume de marque, avec la pratique de la mendicité, sa seule source de revenu (il vaut mieux passer sur l'épisode tortueux du passage d'un bureau à un autre par une trappe qu'il a spécialement aménagée). Sur son trottoir, il se présente comme un ancien du Viêt-Nam, médaillé, mais oublié, et, dans ses vêtements militaires, parle occasionnellement de ce qu'il a vu là-bas. Signe concret de son remords, il collecte l'argent des donateurs dans le gant de base-ball abandonné par Bobby lors du sauvetage de Carol. Hystériquement, il devient aveugle dans sa période de mendicité - comme il l'a été un moment au Viêt-Nam. Sa longue pénitence tient lieu de confession, mais il s'arrange pour garder les billets des donateurs pour lui sans remords, en offrant les pièces aux églises, mêlant ainsi Dieu à ses curieuses manigances. Il faut signaler que, pour corser le récit, King lui a fait rencontrer au Viêt-Nam l'animateur du jeu de cartes jadis à la fac, qui fait participer son groupe à ses parties de chasse-coeurs. Il a aussi sauvé de la mort au Viêt-Nam l'ancien ami de Carol, dont il évoque fréquemment le souvenir. Contradictoirement avec ses idées de repentance, il pense faire disparaître un policier véreux qui le taxe abusivement. On ne peut pas dire que la nouvelle, avec ses curiosités, suscite particulièrement l'enthousiasme.

Le quatrième texte met en scène, à la même date, le copain de Carol, Sully-John, jadis sauvé par Willie au Viêt-Nam. Il est hanté par le souvenir d'une vieille femme indochinoise que Malenfant, le passionné de cartes de l'université retrouvé là-bas, a tué à coups de baïonnette. Il s'est fait soigner (diagnostic : fantasme et transfert) et, avec le temps, la voit moins. À l'enterrement d'un ancien du Viêt-Nam, il évoque avec son ancien lieutenant la situation de ceux qui sont revenus de là -bas, la plupart malades (il est question du défoliant, l'agent orange). Il évoque longuement et avec amertume la situation de désespérance des survivants des années soixante : "
Notre conception d'un grand changement dans la vie se résume à l'achat d'un clébard. Les filles qui ont brûlé leur soutien-gorge autrefois achètent maintenant de la lingerie en soie et les types qui baisaient témérairement pour la paix sont maintenant des obèses qui restent tard le soir devant l'écran de leur ordinateur, et se tirent la tige en regardant des photos de gamines de dix-huit ans sur Internet. C'est nous, tout ça, frangin, on aime bien mater. (...) Mais il y a eu une époque... ne rigole pas, vieux, il y a eu une époque où nous avions tout entre les mains. Vraiment. Tu ne savais pas?" (258) Passons sur les illusions que contient cette affirmation. Il y avait beaucoup d'égoïsme frustré et de recherche de satisfactions immédiates dans le comportement des jeunes de la fin des années soixante, à côté d'une véritable générosité et surtout, une croyance quasi absolue dans le pouvoir de l'imagination. Rien n'est plus labile et vague que les suggestions de l'imaginaire, où le réel est complètement mis de côté. King croit-il lui-même qu'à cette période, tout était possible? Il n'a pas dû le croire longtemps. Lui-même déclare, à sa sortie de l'université, dans la dernière de ses chroniques du Maine Campus (21 mai 1970) qu'il est bien revenu de ses espérances : "Si quelqu'un, alors qu'il prenait conscience des réalités, a pu dire qu'il allait «changer le monde avec la vigueur et l'oeil brillant de la jeunesse», maintenant ce jeune homme est prêt à tout envoyer promener et à prendre la fuite, comme un homme qui ne se sent plus tellement l'oeil brillant; en fait, il se sent vieux de deux cents ans." (George Beahm, The Stephen King Story, 67) La désillusion des jeunes des années soixante n'est donc pas récente, et elle a suivi de près les événements. Ce qui se passe avec sa génération ne devrait donc pas l'étonner... Il est facile de se moquer des «vieux» soixante-huitards se masturbant devant leur télé... Ils sont loin d'être les seuls. Oserai-je utiliser le terme d'exemple «simpliste»?

Le seul passage original de cette nouvelle tient dans la chute inexpliquée du ciel d'objets les plus variés lors d'un embouteillage, dans lequel Sully-John meurt d'un infarctus. Seule explication possible (les journaux ne rapportent rien sur la chute des objets) : durant les quelques secondes qui séparent sa vie de sa mort, Sully-John a vu symboliquement les objets de la société de consommation les plus variés écraser les automobilistes, comme les bombes au Vietnam, comme sa génération a été écrasée par cette même société matérialiste (remarquons sa lucidité quand même exceptionnelle pour un mourant, compte-tenu du luxe de détails dont King parsème sa description!) Le plus étonnant étant la chute d'un gant de base-ball, évidemment celui de Bobby, possédé ensuite par Willie... Il y a nécessairement de la Tour Sombre là-dessous.

C'est ce que nous confirme la coda d'un quinzaine de pages qui clôture le recueil, où l'on retrouve Bobby, seulement mis en scène dans le premier récit (mais souvent présent dans les esprits ou les conversations). À cinquante ans, il est revenu sur les lieux de son enfance après de longues années d'absence (situation déjà rencontrée dans
Ça). Ce ne sont pas ses impressions de retour qui constituent l'essentiel, mais sa rencontre avec une Carol fantomatique, devenue énigmatiquement une autre. Carol, dans la réalité morte avec d'autres révolutionnaires lors d'un combat avec les forces de l'ordre, apparaît sous une autre identité, a changé de personnalité (professeur de maths et non de littérature). Cette coda, par sa sobriété et son efficacité dans les liens qu'elle établit entre divers personnages et objets rencontrés dans le recueil, propose des énigmes au lieu d'éclaircir et de dénouer la situation. Réapparaissent mystérieusement le gant de base-ball, qui avait servi de sébile à Willie avant de dégringoler du ciel sur la tête de Sully-John lors de sa mort dans un embouteillage; le roman de William Golding Sa Majesté des Mouches, qui avait eu de l'importance dans les deux premières novellas. Avec des interventions de Ted, qui reste toujours présent quoique ailleurs, ce sont les dernières intrusions du monde de la Tour à notre époque, dans une situation où le monde réel et le monde des rêves se superposent, créant une certaine forme de magie, et suggérant que les apparences de notre monde ne sont qu'un mince vernis, cachant quelque chose d'autre.

Le lecteur se trouve ainsi en présence d'un ensemble disparate et inégal, de qualité nonobstant les importantes réserves de fond qui ont pu être faites. La première novella est superbe pour les situations d'enfance évoquées plus haut, mais aussi la place donnée aux livres et aux films qui peuvent bouleverser et enrichir une vie. L'utilisation du roman de Golding en leitmotiv dans plusieurs textes est une trouvaille de choix, qui n'est pas gâchée par des considérations ou des incidents importuns. Le contexte historique de la guerre froide et de l'affirmation de la jeunesse comme force autonome paraîtra sommaire à celui qui a connu cette époque, mais suffira peut-être aux autres. La sinistrose de ces années de fac privées de sens pour beaucoup d'étudiants, la confusion de leurs sentiments, la peur des parents qui continuent à jouer un rôle important, l'absence de perspective des sentiments amoureux donnent à l'ouvrage tristesse et impression de fermeture. Cette description de la vie dans ses méandres et sa complexité, ses plaisirs et ses blessures, forme finalement un panorama sombre de ce qui s'est passé dans cette fin de siècle. Marqués par leur culpabilité et hantés par les souvenirs du passé, certains ne seront plus que des handicapés de la vie. Le meilleur se situe dans ce que King a raconté avec son coeur, plutôt qu'avec des combinaisons à intentions littéraires douteuses; dans ce qu'il n'a pas calculé, dans ce qu'il a écrit en étant lui-même au lieu de succomber à ses démons familiers et de tomber dans l'artifice. Ce livre est marqué par un grand amour, une compassion bienveillante envers les hommes. Même Malenfant le bien nommé, qui perturbe la scolarité de ses condisciples et en conduit un grand nombre au ratage de leurs études, est humanisé en tant que suppôt du mal, et fait pitié plutôt qu'horreur. Il ne se révèle vraiment maléfique qu'au Viêt-Nam quand, vociférant à son habitude et tenant les autres sous son emprise trouble, il se montre sous son vrai visage, un assassin et un prédateur sans scrupules. Ce livre finalement plaira davantage pour son romantisme littéraire et sa sentimentalité que par son aspect d'exemple d'opposition au Vienam. Mais quand il s'est décide, plus de trente ans plus tard, à évoquer ces années, c'est pour ramener des événements historiques à des situations individuelles d'enfance, de révolte ou de repentance... King ramène les événements à des cas particuliers (attitude normale du romancier, me dira-t-on, il n'est pas historien) et si l'authenticité du récit ne peut être mise en doute, on peut discuter du degré de conscience politique qu'elle témoigne.

Roland Ernould
© mars 2001.

Voir mes deux études :

Stephen King et LA GUERRE DU VIETNAM : .. .

.. 59. 1ère partie : ...KING CONTRE LA GUERRE DU VIETNAM: l'homme et le conflit. 84 Ko

King a vécu la guerre du Vietnam alors qu'il était à l'université. Les allusions au Vietnam sont fréquentes jusqu'à la période allant jusqu'aux Tommyknockers. Elles sont apparu de moins en moins nombreuses, alors qu'elles sont très courantes dans les oeuvres jusque Simetierre. Ensuite elles disparaissent complètement pendant dix ans, pour réapparaître avec Désolation, en 1996 et plus récemment, le Vietnam concerne trois des cinq textes de Coeurs perdus en Atlantide. Il semble ainsi que les notations concernant le Vietnam ont été abondantes dans l'oeuvre de King tant que le conflit était récent, pour être délaissées quand le souvenir s'en est estompé dans les esprits. Les limites des prises de position de King contre une guerre qui l'a mobilisé plusieurs années de jeunesse se révèlent un peu décevantes. King semble avoir quitté l'université avec le seul souci de se faire un destin personnel, et en ayant oublié les luttes collectives, auxquelles il avait cependant participé dans la générosité de sa jeunesse. King n'est pas un politique.

 ..58. 2ème partie : KING ET LA GUERRE DU VIETNAM : l'utilisation littéraire du Vietnam. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. dans Désolation et Coeurs perdus en Atlantide. .. . 104 Ko

Le Vietnam réapparaît maintenant avec l'âge de la maturité et le retour sur les années soixante, années de jeunesse de King. Surtout, à l'imitation de Straub, le Vietnam devient l'objet d'une exploitation littéraire. On peut comprendre ainsi pourquoi il n'y a pas, dans l'oeuvre de King, de déclaration fracassante contre la guerre du Vietnam, ou les autres conflits qui ont suivi. Il n'y a pas, chez lui, un état d'esprit propice à la rupture avec les institutions présentes. Ses valeurs sont des valeurs traditionnelles. Après avoir participé aux luttes politiques et sociales de son temps, qui ont marqué ce descendant de républicains, devenu hostile au conservatisme et à l'étroitesse d'esprit de ce parti, King donne l'impression de fuir l'engagement direct et de trouver dans son oeuvre un exutoire aux tensions qu'il a accumulées pendant sa jeunesse. Exutoire, parce que l'écriture le libère de ses tensions. Attitude politique plus passive qu'active.

 

 

Historique.

Le recueil comporte 5 récits au lieu des quatre prévus initialement qui se passent dans les années 60 :

- Low Men in Yellow Coats se rattache au Cycle de la Tour Sombre.

- Hearts in Atlantis.

-Why We're in Vietnam.

- Blind Willie, déjà parue dans Six Stories, 1997.

S'y ajoute maintenant : Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling, qui aide à boucler le recueil et à lui donner une unité qui le fait plus ressembler à un roman que la première version.

 

Extrait de la 4è de couverture :

Du danger, du suspense et surtout du coeur ; ce nouveau King amènera certains lecteurs là où il n'ont jamais été, d'autres en un lieu qu'ils n'ont jamais pu totalement quitté.

Acclamé par la presse américaine, C¤urs perdus en Atlantide est une fresque étonnante de la fin d'un monde, celui de la perte de l'innocence avec une bonne dose de nostalgie pour un continent englouti : les années 60.

 

Résumé du recueil.

Les 5 récits ont tous un rapport avec les années 60. Pour ceux qui n'étaient pas nés à cette époque, précisons que le premier roman de King, Carrie, a été publié en 1974, l'année qui a précédé les derniers retraits de troupe du Vietnam. Depuis 10 ans, les images de cette guerre et celles des manifestations hostiles qu'elle avait suscitées envahissent les petits écrans aux USA. Ces cinq nouvelles sont étroitement liées et ont pour cadre les 40 dernières années de ce siècle. Chaque récit plonge ses racines dans les années 60 et reste dominé par la guerre du Vietnam.

Dans Low Men in Yellow Coats, Bobby Gardfield, un petit garçon de 11 ans, découvre que méchanceté et rapacité dominent le monde qui l'entoure. Il découvre également que les adultes, loin d'apporter secours et réconfort, sont parfois au coeur de l'horreur.

Dans Hearts in Atlantis, qui donne son titre au recueil, un groupe de jeunes lycéens se prend de passion pour un jeu de cartes, découvre les possibilités de la contestation et doit affronter au sein même du groupe les forces des ténèbres.

Dans Why We're in Vietnam et Blind Willie, deux hommes, qui ont grandi dans la même banlieue du Connecticut que Bobby, essaient désespérément de combler le vide des années qui ont suivi la guerre du Vietnam dans une Amérique qui parfois semble tout aussi vide et tourmentée que leur propre existence.

Enfin, dans Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling, qui constitue le dénouement de ce livre remarquable, Bobby retrouve les lieux où il a grandi et où l'attendent peut-être un ultime secret, la possibilité de se racheter et ses plus chères espérances.

Ce nouveau recueil de King allie frissons et suspense et révèle beaucoup de compassion. Il emménera certains lecteurs là où ils ne se sont jamais aventurés et d'autres là où ils sont demeurés sans pouvoir réellement en sortir. Il décrit bien l'atmosphère des années 60. Chaque récit est relié au suivant d'une certaine façon et regorge de références historiques. L'impact de l'ensemble du recueil est remarquable.

 Si vous désirez découvrir le premier chapitre.

Présentation de Hearts in Atlantis par Stephen King.

 

Une préface inédite de King traduite en français pour ce site.

En complément de l'édition de poche de Bag of Bones (parue cette première semaine de juin) on trouve une lettre de Stephen King, qui nous parle de Hearts in Atlantis, du passage à l'âge adulte dans les années soixante, du métier d'écrivain en général avec un petit commentaire sur son livre On Writing, qui combine souvenirs et conseils techniques:"Je crois qu'ils ne mettront jamais ce livre au
programme dans les écoles. Je me suis trop amusé pour l'écrire" Cette lettre, avec d'autres informations, peut être consultée en langue anglaise sur
http://www.simonsays.com/king/heartsletter.cfm


L'édition de poche de
Bag of Bones comporte cette lettre de Stephen King:

Fidèles lecteurs,
J'espère que
Bag of Bones vous aura empêché de dormir au moins une nuit. Désolé, c'est comme ça que je suis. Moi-même, je n'ai pas pu dormir pendant une nuit ou deux et depuis que j'ai écrit ce bouquin, j'hésite à descendre à la cave -je m'attends toujours à ce que la porte se referme, que les lumières s'éteignent et que l'on se mette à frapper de grands coups. Mais c'est aussi ce qui est amusant, du moins pour moi. Si je ne me sens pas très bien, surtout n'appelez pas le médecin.
Lorsque je suis venu trouver Scribner and Pocket Books, je leur ai proposé trois ouvrages très différents. Le premier, c'est le roman que vous venez de lire (si du moins vous n'êtes pas l'un de ces curieux individus qui commencent par lire ce qui est à la fin d'un livre), le second était un recueil de nouvelles, et le troisième
On writing, un essai sur le métier d'écrivain qui combine souvenirs et conseils techniques. Je crois qu'ils ne mettront jamais ce livre au programme dans les écoles. Je me suis trop amusé pour l'écrire.
Mais je m'écarte du sujet.

J'ai pensé que le recueil de nouvelles serait d'un abord plus facile. Il devait être un peu plus important que Night Shift (mon premier recueil) et un peu moins important que Skeleton Screw (mon second recueil). J'avais à ma disposition tout un tas de bonnes histoires dont quelques-unes avaient paru dans de petits magazines et plusieurs étaient restées inédites (seules deux nouvelles Everything's Eventual et The Man in the Black Suit avaient été publiées dans des magazines à gros tirage). J'avais même un titre tout trouvé pour ce recueil, One Headlight, d'après la chanson des Wallflowers -il paraissait tout à fait approprié. Si écrire des nouvelles ce n'est pas atteindre son but avec un seul phare, alors je ne m'y entends pas.
[One Headlight = un seul phare. NdT]

Mais voilà. Quelque chose d'inattendu s'est produit. Je crois que j'étais plus ou moins stimulé par la venue d'un autre éditeur et de nouveaux lecteurs; mais surtout j'avais trouvé une bonne idée et je m'étais laissé emporter par cette idée. Entre les différentes périodes de travail intensif sur Bag of Bones (sur la longue ligne sinueuse qui mène à leur publication, j'ai découvert que les livres reviennent vous tourmenter comme des accès de fièvre), j'ai écrit une nouvelle intitulée Hearts in Atlantis. C'est un de mes «petits romans», une oeuvre trop longue pour être une nouvelle, mais trop courte pour être considérée comme un véritable roman. Au cours de ma carrière où l'on n'a pas cessé de ma reprocher d'écrire des ouvrages beaucoup trop longs (comme par exemple, The Stand, It ou The Tommyknockers), j'ai écrit une douzaine de ces petits romans et je les ai gardés pour être publiés à part dans des recueils séparés. Le premier de ces recueils a été Different Seasons, le second Four Past Midnight. J'aime beaucoup ces deux livres; les histoires qui s'y trouvent comptent parmi celles que je préfère. Cependant je n'avais pas l'intention de publier un recueil de ce type après Bag of Bones, car je n'avais plus d'histoires en réserve, mes tiroirs étaient vides. C'est alors qu'est arrivé Hearts in Atlantis, et cela a déclenché chez moi quelque chose qui attendait patiemment de s'exprimer depuis trente ans ou davantage. J'étais un enfant des années 60, j'étais aussi un enfant de la guerre du Vietnam et j'ai toujours eu eu envie au cours de ma carrière d'écrire quelque chose sur cette époque, depuis The Fish Cheer jusqu'à la chute de Saïgon, en passant par la fin des pantalons à pattes d'éléphant et la mort du disco funk. Bref, je voulais parler de ma génération -quel écrivain n'en a pas envie?- mais j'avais l'impression que si je m'essayais, ce serait un épouvantable gâchis. Par exemple, comment imaginer que je puisse écrire une histoire avec des personnages qui seraient adeptes de la non-violence ou qui diraient: «Hey... groovy!» [Ah, sensass! Ndt]
De Los Angeles, Gertrude Stein a dit:
«Voilà un nom qui ne recouvre rien de précis.» C'est ce que je pense des années soixante, au cours desquelles s'est véritablement forgée la conscience des hommes et des femmes de ma génération, et de toutes les années qui ont suivi et qui nous ont vu remporter quelques victoires et subir de cuisantes défaites. Il me semblait plus facile d'avaler une brique que de dire comment la première génération d'après-guerre aux États-Unis était passée des carabines à air comprimé Red Ryder aux fusils de l'armée, puis aux pistolets laser des salles de jeux. Et puis, j'avais peur. Allen Guisberg a dit: «J'ai vu décliner tous les grands esprits de ma génération.» Moi-même j'ai vu quelques-uns des meilleurs écrivains de ma génération essayer de parler de ce qu'on appelle les Baby Boomers et n'exprimer qu'un grand fatalisme dans un flot de platitudes et de lieux communs.

J'en suis venu à penser qu'il n'est pas bon, mais alors pas bon du tout, pour l'écrivain, de trop réfléchir, et lorsque je me suis mis à écrire Hearts in Atlantis je ne pensais pas à grand chose -je n'écrivais pas pour parler d'une génération d'hommes et de femmes mais pour me faire plaisir, en exploitant un incident que j'avais pu observer lorsque je n'étais encore qu'en première année de fac. Je n'avais pas vraiment l'intention de publier cette histoire, mais j'ai pensé qu'elle pourrait amuser mes enfants. Et c'est comme ça que j'ai trouvé la solution. j'ai commencé à entrevoir comment je pourrais parler de ce que nous avons failli avoir, de ce que nous avions perdu et de ce que nous étions finalement devenus, et faire tout cela sans pontifier. Je déteste pontifier dans mes ouvrages, ce que quelqu'un (peut-être Robert Bloch) a défini comme «vendre son droit d'aînesse pour avoir le privilège d'utiliser une tribune.»

Une fois terminé Hearts in Atlantis , je suis revenu en arrière et je me suis mis à écrire une nouvelle histoire d'une bonne longueur, une sorte de roman à part entière, intitulé Low Men in Yellow Coats. Il existait déjà une troisième histoire, Blind Willie. Il suffisait de l'arranger un tout petit peu pour l'adapter à ce que je voulais faire. Une quatrième histoire, également inédite (Why We're in Viet Nam), me paraissait mettre un point final et résumer ce que j'avais à dire. Mais même dans ce cas il me semblait que je n'avais pas tout à fait terminé et j'écrivis une dernière oeuvre intitulée Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling. Hearts in Atlantis débute avec Bobby Garfield à Harwich, Connecticut (une banlieue imaginée de Bridgeport) en 1960 et se termine dans Shades of Night avec le même Bobby Garfield à Harwich quarante ans plus tard. Le produit fini (surtout avec l'adjonction de la dernière oeuvre) ressemble beaucoup plus à un roman qu'à un recueil d'histoires, mais peu importe, j'en suis assez content -je crois que toutes les histoires qui s'y trouvent sont effrayantes, drôles, tristes et font parfois réfléchir. On n'arrive jamais à dire tout ce qu'on voudrait dire mais quelquefois on réussit tout de même à trouver une piste, suffisamment pour être satisfait un certain temps. C'est une piste que je n'aurais jamais imaginé suivre il y a dix ans, un livre que je n'aurai jamais imaginé écrire et que je n'aurais jamais pu écrire si j'avais projeté de l'écrire. Pour reprendre une expression des années 60, ç'a été un véritable «happening»

Hearts in Atlantis sera disponible chez Scribner à partir du mois de septembre. Si vous étiez adolescent à l'époque où régnaient les chaussures à semelles compensées et se produisaient des groupes qui s'appelaient par exemple The Strawberry Alarm Clock, peut-être que le livre vous rappellera ce que vous avez été, ce que vous avez eu, ce que vous avez perdu et ce que vous avez acquis. Si vous êtes né après, Hearts in Atlantis vous aidera peut-être à comprendre ce que nous avons été et les raisons qui font que nous sommes devenus ce que nous sommes. J'espère bien que vous le lirez et que vous me direz ce que vous en pensez. En attendant... allez en paix, les gars.

Tous mes remerciements à Bernard Briandet qui a traduit cette préface pour mon site et à © SimonSays.com. http://www.simonsays.com/king/heartsletter.cfm

 

Hearts in Atlantis - Chapter 1

couverture poche

I. A Boy and His Mother. Bobby's Birthday. The New Roomer. Of Time and Strangers.

Bobby Garfield's father had been one of those fellows who start losing their hair in their twenties and are completely bald by the age of forty-five or so. Randall Garfield was spared this extremity by dying of a heart attack at thirty-six. He was a real-estate agent, and breathed his last on the kitchen
floor of someone else's house. The potential buyer was in the living room, trying to call an ambulance on a disconnected phone, when Bobby's dad passed away. At this time Bobby was three. He had vague memories of a man tickling him and then kissing his cheeks and his forehead. He was pretty sure that man had been his dad. Sadly missed, it said on Randall Garfield's gravestone, but his mom never seemed all that sad, and as for Bobby himself...well, how could you miss a guy you could hardly remember?

Eight years after his father's death, Bobby fell violently in love with the twenty-six-inch Schwinn in the window of the Harwich Western Auto. He hinted to his mother about the Schwinn in every way he knew, and finally pointed it out to her one night when they were walking home from the movies (the show had been The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, which Bobby didn't understand but liked anyway, especially the part where Dorothy McGuire flopped back in a chair and showed off her long legs). As they passed the hardware store, Bobby mentioned casually that the bike in the window would sure make a great eleventh-birthday present for some lucky kid.

"Don't even think about it," she said. "I can't afford a bike for your birthday. Your father didn't exactly leave us well off, you know."

Although Randall had been dead ever since Truman was President and now Eisenhower was almost done with his eight-year cruise, Your father didn't exactly leave us well off was still his mother's most common response to anything Bobby suggested which might entail an expenditure of more than a dollar. Usually the comment was accompanied by a reproachful look, as if the man had run off rather than died.

No bike for his birthday. Bobby pondered this glumly on their walk home, his pleasure at the strange, muddled movie they had seen mostly gone. He didn't argue with his mother, or try to coax her - that would bring on a counterattack, and when Liz Garfield counterattacked she took no
prisoners - but he brooded on the lost bike...and the lost father. Sometimes he almost hated his father. Sometimes all that kept him from doing so was the sense, unanchored but very strong, that his mother wanted him to. As they reached Commonwealth Park and walked along the side of it - two
blocks up they would turn left onto Broad Street, where they lived - he went against his usual misgivings and asked a question about Randall Garfield.

"Didn't he leave anything, Mom? Anything at all?" A week or two before, he'd read a Nancy Drew mystery where some poor kid's inheritance had been hidden behind an old clock in an abandoned mansion. Bobby didn't really think his father had left gold coins or rare stamps stashed someplace, but if there was something, maybe they could sell it in Bridgeport. Possibly at one of the hockshops. Bobby didn't know exactly how hocking things worked, but he knew what the shops looked like - they had three gold balls hanging out front. And he was sure the hockshop guys would be happy to help them. Of course it was just a kid's dream, but Carol Gerber up the street had a whole
set of dolls her father, who was in the Navy, had sent from overseas. If fathers gave things - which they did - it stood to reason that fathers sometimes left things.

When Bobby asked the question, they were passing one of the streetlamps which ran along this side of Commonwealth Park, and Bobby saw his mother's mouth change as it always did when he ventured a question about his late father. The change made him think of a purse she had: when you pulled on the drawstrings, the hole at the top got smaller.

"I'll tell you what he left," she said as they started up Broad Street Hill. Bobby already wished he hadn't asked, but of course it was too late now. Once you got her started, you couldn't get her stopped, that was the thing.
"He left a life insurance policy which lapsed the year before he died. Little did I know that until he was gone and everyone - including the undertaker - wanted their little piece of what I didn't have. He also left a large stack of unpaid bills, which I have now pretty much taken care of - people have been very understanding of my situation, Mr. Biderman in
particular, and I'll never say they haven't been."

All this was old stuff, as boring as it was bitter, but then she told Bobby something new. "Your father," she said as they approached the apartment house which stood halfway up Broad Street Hill, "never met an inside straight he didn't like."

"What's an inside straight, Mom?"

"Never mind. But I'll tell you one thing, Bobby-O: you don't ever want to let me catch you playing cards for money. I've had enough of that to last me a lifetime."

Bobby wanted to enquire further, but knew better; more questions were apt to set off a tirade. It occurred to him that perhaps the movie, which had been about unhappy husbands and wives, had upset her in some way he could not, as a mere kid, understand. He would ask his friend John Sullivan about inside straights at school on Monday. Bobby thought it was poker, but wasn't
completely sure.

"There are places in Bridgeport that take men's money," she said as they neared the apartment house where they lived. "Foolish men go to them. Foolish men make messes, and it's usually the women of the world that have to clean them up later on. Well..."

Bobby knew what was coming next; it was his mother's all-time favorite.

"Life isn't fair," said Liz Garfield as she took out her housekey and prepared to unlock the door of 149 Broad Street in the town of Harwich, Connecticut. It was April of 1960, the night breathed spring perfume, and
standing beside her was a skinny boy with his dead father's risky red hair. She hardly ever touched his hair; on the infrequent occasions when she caressed him, it was usually his arm or his cheek which she touched.

"Life isn't fair," she repeated. She opened the door and they went in.

It was true that his mother had not been treated like a princess, and it was certainly too bad that her husband had expired on a linoleum floor in an empty house at the age of thirty-six, but Bobby sometimes thought that things could have been worse. There might have been two kids instead of just
one, for instance. Or three. Hell, even four.

Or suppose she had to work some really hard job to support the two of them? Sully's mom worked at the Tip-Top Bakery downtown, and during the weeks when she had to light the ovens, Sully-John and his two older brothers hardly even saw her. Also Bobby had observed the women who came filing out of the Peerless Shoe Company when the three o'clock whistle blew (he himself got out of school at two-thirty), women who all seemed way too skinny or way too fat, women with pale faces and fingers stained a dreadful old-blood color, women with downcast eyes who carried their work shoes and pants in Total Grocery shopping bags. Last fall he'd seen men and women picking apples
outside of town when he went to a church fair with Mrs. Gerber and Carol and little Ian (who Carol always called Ian-the-Snot). When he asked about them Mrs. Gerber said they were migrants, just like some kinds of birds - always on the move, picking whatever crops had just come ripe. Bobby's mother could have been one of th ose, but she wasn't.

What she was was Mr. Donald Biderman's secretary at Home Town Real Estate, the company Bobby's dad had been working for when he had his heart attack. Bobby guessed she might first have gotten the job because Donald Biderman liked Randall and felt sorry for her - widowed with a son barely out of diapers - but she was good at it and worked hard. Quite often she worked late. Bobby had been with his mother and Mr. Biderman together on a couple of occasions - the company picnic was the one he remembered most clearly, but there had also been the time Mr. Biderman had driven them to the dentist's in Bridgeport when Bobby had gotten a tooth knocked out during a recess game - and the two grownups had a way of looking at each other. Sometimes Mr. Biderman called her on the phone at night, and during those conversations she called him Don. But "Don" was old and Bobby didn't think about him much.

Bobby wasn't exactly sure what his mom did during her days (and her evenings) at the office, but he bet it beat making shoes or picking apples or lighting the Tip-Top Bakery ovens at four-thirty in the morning. Bobby bet it beat those jobs all to heck and gone. Also, when it came to his mom,
if you asked about certain stuff you were asking for trouble. If you asked, for instance, how come she could afford three new dresses from Sears, one of them silk, but not three monthly payments of $11.50 on the Schwinn in the Western Auto window (it was red and silver, and just looking at it made Bobby's gut cramp with longing). Ask about stuff like that and you were asking for real trouble.

Bobby didn't. He simply set out to earn the price of the bike himself. It would take him until the fall, perhaps even until the winter, and that particular model might be gone from the Western Auto's window by then, but he would keep at it. You had to keep your nose to the grindstone and your
shoulder to the wheel. Life wasn't easy, and life wasn't fair.

When Bobby's eleventh birthday rolled around on the last Tuesday of April, his mom gave him a small flat package wrapped in silver paper. Inside was an orange library card. An adult library card. Goodbye Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Don Winslow of the Navy. Hello to all the rest of it, stories as full of mysterious muddled passion as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Not to mention bloody daggers in tower rooms. (There were mysteries and tower rooms in the stories about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but precious little blood and never any passion.)

"Just remember that Mrs. Kelton on the desk is a friend of mine," Mom said. She spoke in her accustomed dry tone of warning, but she was pleased by his pleasure - she could see it. "If you try to borrow anything racy like Peyton Place or Kings Row, I'll find out."

Bobby smiled. He knew she would.

"If it's that other one, Miss Busybody, and she asks what you're doing with an orange card, you tell her to turn it over. I've put written permission over my signature."

"Thanks, Mom. This is swell."

She smiled, bent, and put a quick dry swipe of the lips on his cheek, gone almost before it was there. "I'm glad you're happy. If I get home early enough, we'll go to the Colony for fried clams and ice cream. You'll have to wait for the weekend for your cake; I don't have time to bake until then.
Now put on your coat and get moving, sonnyboy. You'll be late for school."

They went down the stairs and out onto the porch together. There was a Town Taxi at the curb. A man in a poplin jacket was leaning in the passenger window, paying the driver. Behind him was a little cluster of luggage and paper bags, the kind with handles.

"That must be the man who just rented the room on the third floor," Liz said. Her mouth had done its shrinking trick again. She stood on the top step of the porch, appraising the man's narrow fanny, which poked toward them as he finished his business with the taxi driver. "I don't trust people
who move their things in paper bags. To me a person's things in a paper sack just looks slutty."

"He has suitcases, too," Bobby said, but he didn't need his mother to point out that the new tenant's three little cases weren't such of a much. None matched; all looked as if they had been kicked here from California by someone in a bad mood.

Bobby and his mom walked down the cement path. The Town Taxi pulled away. The man in the poplin jacket turned around. To Bobby, people fell into three broad categories: kids, grownups, and old folks. Old folks were grownups with white hair. The new tenant was of this third sort. His face was thin and tired-looking, not wrinkled (except around his faded blue eyes) but deeply lined. His white hair was baby-fine and receding from a liverspotted brow. He was tall and stooped-over in a way that made Bobby think of Boris Karloff in the Shock Theater movies they showed Friday nights at 11:30 on WPIX. Beneath the poplin jacket were cheap workingman's clothes that looked too big for him. On his feet were scuffed cordovan shoes.

"Hello, folks," he said, and smiled with what looked like an effort. "My name's Theodore Brautigan. I guess I'm going to live here awhile."

He held out his hand to Bobby's mother, who touched it just briefly. "I'm Elizabeth Garfield. This is my son, Robert. You'll have to pardon us, Mr. Brattigan - "

"It's Brautigan, ma'am, but I'd be happy if you and your boy would just call me Ted."

"Yes, well, Robert's late for school and I'm late for work. Nice to meet you, Mr. Brattigan. Hurry on, Bobby. Tempus fugit."

She began walking downhill toward town; Bobby began walking uphill (and at a slower pace) toward Harwich Elementary, on Asher Avenue. Three or four steps into this journey he stopped and looked back. He felt that his mom had been rude to Mr. Brautigan, that she had acted stuck-up. Being stuck-up was the worst of vices in his little circle of friends. Carol loathed a stuck-up person; so did Sully-John. Mr. Brautigan would probably be halfway up the walk by now, but if he wasn't, Bobby wanted to give him a smile so he'd know at least one member of the Garfield family wasn't stuck-up.

His mother had also stopped and was also looking back. Not because she wanted another look at Mr. Brautigan; that idea never crossed Bobby's mind. No, it was her son she had looked back at. She'd known he was going to turn around before Bobby knew it himself, and at this he felt a sudden darkening in his normally bright nature. She sometimes said it would be a snowy day in Sarasota before Bobby could put one over on her, and he supposed she was right about that. How old did you have to be to put one over on your mother, anyway? Twenty? Thirty? Or did you maybe have to wait until she got old and a little chicken-soupy in the head?

Mr. Brautigan hadn't started up the walk. He stood at its sidewalk end with a suitcase in each hand and the third one under his right arm (the three paper bags he had moved onto the grass of 149 Broad), more bent than ever under this weight. He was right between them, like a tollgate or something.

Liz Garfield's eyes flew past him to her son's. Go, they said. Don't say a word. He's new, a man from anywhere or nowhere, and he's arrived here with half his things in shopping bags. Don't say a word, Bobby, just go.

But he wouldn't. Perhaps because he had gotten a library card instead of a bike for his birthday. "It was nice to meet you, Mr. Brautigan," Bobby said. "Hope you like it here. Bye."

"Have a good day at school, son," Mr. Brautigan said. "Learn a lot. Your mother's right - tempus fugit."

Bobby looked at his mother to see if his small rebellion might be forgiven in light of this equally small flattery, but Mom's mouth was ungiving. She turned and started down the hill without another word. Bobby went on his own way, glad he had spoken to the stranger even if his mother later made him regret it.

As he approached Carol Gerber's house, he took out the orange library card and looked at it. It wasn't a twenty-six-inch Schwinn, but it was still pretty good. Great, actually. A whole world of books to explore, and so what if it had only cost two or three rocks? Didn't they say it was the thought that counted?

Well...it was what his mom said, anyway.

He turned the card over. Written on the back in her strong hand was this message: "To whom it may concern: This is my son's library card. He has my permission to take out three books a week from the adult section of the Harwich Public Library." It was signed Elizabeth Penrose Garfield.

Beneath her name, like a P.S., she had added this: Robert will be responsible for his own overdue fines.

"Birthday boy!" Carol Gerber cried, startling him, and rushed out from behind a tree where she had been lying in wait. She threw her arms around his neck and smacked him hard on the cheek. Bobby blushed, looking around to see if anyone was watching - God, it was hard enough to be friends with a girl without surprise kisses - but it was okay. The usual morning flood of students was moving schoolward along Asher Avenue at the top of the hill, but down here they were alone.

Bobby scrubbed at his cheek.

"Come on, you liked it," she said, laughing.

"Did not," said Bobby, although he had.

"What'd you get for your birthday?"

"A library card," Bobby said, and showed her. "An adult library card."

"Cool!" Was that sympathy he saw in her eyes? Probably not. And so what if it was? "Here. For you." She gave him a Hallmark envelope with his name printed on the front. She had also stuck on some hearts and teddy bears.

Bobby opened the envelope with mild trepidation, reminding himself that he could tuck the card deep into the back pocket of his chinos if it was gushy.

It wasn't, though. Maybe a little bit on the baby side (a kid in a Stetson on a horse, HAPPY BIRTHDAY BUCKAROO in letters that were supposed to look like wood on the inside), but not gushy. Love, Carol was a little gushy, but of course she was a girl, what could you do?

"Thanks."

"It's sort of a baby card, I know, but the others were even worse," Carol said matter-of-factly. A little farther up the hill Sully-John was waiting for them, working his Bo-lo Bouncer for all it was worth, going under his
right arm, going under his left arm, going behind his back. He didn't try going between his legs anymore; he'd tried it once in the schoolyard and rapped himself a good one in the nuts. Sully had screamed. Bobby and a couple of other kids had laughed until they cried. Carol and three of her
girlfriends had rushed over to ask what was wrong, and the boys all said nothing - Sully-John said the same, although he'd been pale and almost crying. Boys are boogers, Carol had said on that occasion, but Bobby didn't believe she really thought so. She wouldn't have jumped out and given him that kiss if she did, and it had been a good kiss, a smackeroo. Better than the one his mother had given him, actually.

"It's not a baby card," he said.

"No, but it almost is," she said. "I thought about getting you a grownup card, but man, they are gushy."

"I know," Bobby said.

"Are you going to be a gushy adult, Bobby?"

"I hope not," he said. "Are you?"

"No. I'm going to be like my mom's friend Rionda."

"Rionda's pretty fat," Bobby said doubtfully.

"Yeah, but she's cool. I'm going to go for the cool without the fat."

"There's a new guy moving into our building. The room on the third floor. My mom says it's really hot up there."

"Yeah? What's he like?" She giggled. "Is he ushy-gushy?"

"He's old," Bobby said, then paused to think. "But he had an interesting face. My mom didn't like him on sight because he had some of his stuff in shopping bags."

Sully-John joined them. "Happy birthday, you bastard," he said, and clapped Bobby on the back. Bastard was Sully-John's current favorite word; Carol's was cool; Bobby was currently between favorite words, although he thought ripshit had a certain ring to it.

"If you swear, I won't walk with you," Carol said.

"Okay," Sully-John said companionably. Carol was a fluffy blonde who looked like a Bobbsey Twin after some growing up; John Sullivan was tall, black-haired, and green-eyed. A Joe Hardy kind of boy. Bobby Garfield walked between them, his momentary depression forgotten. It was his birthday and he was with his friends and life was good. He tucked Carol's birthday card into his back pocket and his new library card down deep in his front pocket, where it could not fall out or be stolen. Carol started to skip. Sully-John told her to stop.

"Why?" Carol asked. "I like to skip."

"I like to say bastard, but I don't if you ask me," Sully-John replied reasonably.

Carol looked at Bobby.

"Skipping - at least without a rope - is a little on the baby side, Carol," Bobby said apologetically, then shrugged. "But you can if you want. We don't mind, do we, S-J?"

"Nope," Sully-John said, and got going with the Bo-lo Bouncer again. Back to front, up to down, whap-whap-whap.

Carol didn't skip. She walked between them and pretended she was Bobby Garfield's girlfriend, that Bobby had a driver's license and a Buick and they were going to Bridgeport to see the WKBW Rock and Roll Extravaganza. She thought Bobby was extremely cool. The coolest thing about him was that
he didn't know it.

Bobby got home from school at three o'clock. He could have been there sooner, but picking up returnable bottles was part of his Get-a-Bike-by-Thanksgiving campaign, and he detoured through the brushy area just off Asher Avenue looking for them. He found three Rheingolds and a Nehi. Not much, but hey, eight cents was eight cents. "It all mounts up" was another of his mom's sayings.

Bobby washed his hands (a couple of those bottles had been pretty scurgy), got a snack out of the icebox, read a couple of old Superman comics, got another snack out of the icebox, then watched American Bandstand. He called Carol to tell her Bobby Darin was going to be on - she thought Bobby Darin was deeply cool, especially the way he snapped his fingers when he sang "Queen of the Hop" - but she already knew. She was watching with three or four of her numbskull girlfriends; they all giggled pretty much nonstop in the background. The sound made Bobby think of birds in a petshop. On TV, Dick Clark was currently showing how much pimple-grease just one Stri-Dex Medicated Pad could sop up.

Mom called at four o'clock. Mr. Biderman needed her to work late, she said. She was sorry, but birthday supper at the Colony was off. There was leftover beef stew in the fridge; he could have that and she would be home by eight to tuck him in. And for heaven's sake, Bobby, remember to turn off the gas-ring when you're done with the stove.

Bobby returned to the television feeling disappointed but not really surprised. On Bandstand, Dick was now announcing the Rate-a-Record panel. Bobby thought the guy in the middle looked as if he could use a lifetime supply of Stri-Dex pads.

He reached into his front pocket and drew out the new orange library card. His mood began to brighten again. He didn't need to sit here in front of the TV with a stack of old comic-books if he didn't want to. He could go down to the library and break in his new card - his new adult card. Miss Busybody would be on the desk, only her real name was Miss Harrington and Bobby thought she was beautiful. She wore perfume. He could always smell it on her skin and in her hair, faint and sweet, like a good memory. And although Sully-John would be at his trombone lesson right now, after the library Bobby could go up his house, maybe play some pass.

Also, he thought, I can take those bottles to Spicer's - I've got a bike to earn this summer.

All at once, life seemed very full.

Sully's mom invited Bobby to stay for supper, but he told her no thanks, I better get home. He would much have preferred Mrs. Sullivan's pot roast and crispy oven potatoes to what was waiting for him back at the apartment, but he knew that one of the first things his mother would do when she got back from the office was check in the fridge and see if the Tupperware with the leftover stew inside was gone. If it wasn't, she would ask Bobby what he'd had for supper. She would be calm about this question, even offhand. If he told her he'd eaten at Sully-John's she would nod, ask him what they'd had and if there had been dessert, also if he'd thanked Mrs. Sullivan; she might even sit on the couch with him and share a bowl of ice cream while they watched Sugarfoot on TV. Everything would be fine...except it wouldn't be. Eventually there would be a payback. It might not come for a day or two, even a week, but it would come. Bobby knew that almost without knowing he knew it. She undoubtedly did have to work late, but eating leftover stew by himself on his birthday was also punishment for talking to the new tenant when he wasn't supposed to. If he tried to duck that punishment, it would mount up just like money in a savings account.

When Bobby came back from Sully-John's it was quarter past six and getting dark. He had two new books to read, a Perry Mason called The Case of the Velvet Claws and a science-fiction novel by Clifford Simak called Ring Around the Sun. Both looked totally ripshit, and Miss Harrington hadn't
given him a hard time at all. On the contrary: she told him he was reading above his level and to keep it up.

Walking home from S-J's, Bobby made up a story where he and Miss Harrington were on a cruise-boat that sank. They were the only two survivors, saved from drowning by finding a life preserver marked S.S. LUSITANIC. They washed up on a little island with palm trees and jungles and a volcano, and as they lay on the beach Miss Harrington was shivering and saying she was cold, so
cold, couldn't he please hold her and warm her up, which he of course could and did, my pleasure, Miss Harrington, and then the natives came out of the jungle and at first they seemed friendly but it turned out they were cannibals who lived on the slopes of the volcano and killed their victims in
a clearing ringed with skulls, so things looked bad but just as he and Miss Harrington were pulled toward the cooking pot the volcano started to rumble and -

"Hello, Robert."

Bobby looked up, even more startled than he'd been when Carol Gerber raced out from behind the tree to put a birthday smackeroo on his cheek. It was the new man in the house. He was sitting on the top porch step and smoking a cigarette. He had exchanged his old scuffed shoes for a pair of old scuffed slippers and had taken off his poplin jacket - the evening was warm. He looked at home, Bobby thought.

"Oh, Mr. Brautigan. Hi."

"I didn't mean to startle you."

"You didn't - "

"I think I did. You were a thousand miles away. And it's Ted. Please."

"Okay." But Bobby didn't know if he could stick to Ted. Calling a grownup (especially an old grownup) by his first name went against not only his mother's teaching but his own inclination.

"Was school good? You learned new things?"

"Yeah, fine." Bobby shifted from foot to foot; swapped his new books from hand to hand.

"Would you sit with me a minute?"

"Sure, but I can't for long. Stuff to do, you know." Supper to do, mostly - the leftover stew had grown quite attractive in his mind by now.

"Absolutely. Things to do and tempus fugit."

As Bobby sat down next to Mr. Brautigan - Ted - on the wide porch step, smelling the aroma of his Chesterfield, he thought he had never seen a man who looked as tired as this one. It couldn't be the moving in, could it? How worn out could you get when all you had to move in were three little suitcases and three carryhandle shopping bags? Bobby supposed there might be men coming later on with stuff in a truck, but he didn't really think so. It was just a room - a big one, but still just a single room with a kitchen on one side and everything else on the other. He and Sully-John had gone up
there and looked around after old Miss Sidley had her stroke and went to live with her daughter.

"Tempus fugit means time flies," Bobby said. "Mom says it a lot. She also says time and tide wait for no man and time heals all wounds."

"Your mother is a woman of many sayings, is she?"

"Yeah," Bobby said, and suddenly the idea of all those sayings made him tired. "Many sayings."

"Ben Jonson called time the old bald cheater," Ted Brautigan said, drawing deeply on his cigarette and then exhaling twin streams through his nose. "And Boris Pasternak said we are time's captives, the hostages of eternity."

Bobby looked at him in fascination, his empty belly temporarily forgotten. He loved the idea of time as an old bald cheater - it was absolutely and completely right, although he couldn't have said why...and didn't that very inability to say why somehow add to the coolness? It was like a thing inside an egg, or a shadow behind pebbled glass.

"Who's Ben Jonson?"

"An Englishman, dead these many years," Mr. Brautigan said. "Self-centered and foolish about money, by all accounts; prone to flatulence as well.
But - "

"What's that? Flatulence?"

Ted stuck his tongue between his lips and made a brief but very realistic farting sound. Bobby put his hands to his mouth and giggled into his cupped fingers.

"Kids think farts are funny," Ted Brautigan said, nodding. "Yeah. To a man my age, though, they're just part of life's increasingly strange business. Ben Jonson said a good many wise things between farts, by the way. Not so many as Dr. Johnson - Samuel Johnson, that would be - but still a good
many."

"And Boris..."

"Pasternak. A Russian," Mr. Brautigan said dismissively. "Of no account, I think. May I see your books?"

Bobby handed them over. Mr. Brautigan (Ted, he reminded himself, you're supposed to call him Ted) passed the Perry Mason back after a cursory glance at the title. The Clifford Simak novel he held longer, at first squinting at the cover through the curls of cigarette smoke that rose past his eyes, then
paging through it. He nodded as he did so.

"I have read this one," he said. "I had a lot of time to read previous to coming here."

"Yeah?" Bobby kindled. "Is it good?"

"One of his best," Mr. Brautigan - Ted - replied. He looked sideways at Bobby, one eye open, the other still squinted shut against the smoke. It gave him a look that was at once wise and mysterious, like a not-quite-trustworthy character in a detective movie. "But are you sure you can read this? You can't be much more than twelve."

"I'm eleven," Bobby said. He was delighted that Ted thought he might be as old as twelve. "Eleven today. I can read it. I won't be able to understand it all, but if it's a good story, I'll like it."

"Your birthday!" Ted said, looking impressed. He took a final drag on his cigarette, then flicked it away. It hit the cement walk and fountained sparks. "Happy birthday dear Robert, happy birthday to you!"

"Thanks. Only I like Bobby a lot better."

"Bobby, then. Are you going out to celebrate?"

"Nah, my mom's got to work late."

"Would you like to come up to my little place? I don't have much, but I know how to open a can. Also, I might have a pastry - "

"Thanks, but Mom left me some stuff. I should eat that."

"I understand." And, wonder of wonders, he looked as if he actually did. Ted returned Bobby's copy of Ring Around the Sun. "In this book," he said, "Mr. Simak postulates the idea that there are a number of worlds like ours. Not other planets but other Earths, parallel Earths, in a kind of ring around the sun. A fascinating idea."

"Yeah," Bobby said. He knew about parallel worlds from other books. From the comics, as well.

Ted Brautigan was now looking at him in a thoughtful, speculative way.

"What?" Bobby asked, feeling suddenly self-conscious. See something green? his mother might have said.

For a moment he thought Ted wasn't going to answer - he seemed to have fallen into some deep and dazing train of thought. Then he gave himself a little shake and sat up straighter. "Nothing," he said. "I have a little idea. Perhaps you'd like to earn some extra money? Not that I have much, but - "

"Yeah! Cripes, yeah!" There's this bike, he almost went on, then stopped himself. Best keep yourself to yourself was yet another of his mom's sayings. "I'd do just about anything you wanted!"

Ted Brautigan looked simultaneously alarmed and amused. It seemed to open a door to a different face, somehow, and Bobby could see that, yeah, the old guy had once been a young guy. One with a little sass to him, maybe. "That's a bad thing to tell a stranger," he said, "and although we've progressed to Bobby and Ted - a good start - we're still really strangers to each other."

"Did either of those Johnson guys say anything about strangers?"

"Not that I recall, but here's something on the subject from the Bible: 'For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner. Spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence...'" Ted trailed off for a moment. The fun had gone out of his face and he looked old again. Then his voice firmed and he
finished. "'...before I go hence, and be no more.' Book of Psalms. I can't remember which one."

"Well," Bobby said, "I wouldn't kill or rob anyone, don't worry, but I'd sure like to earn some money."

"Let me think," Ted said. "Let me think a little."

"Sure. But if you've got chores or something, I'm your guy. Tell you that right now."

"Chores? Maybe. Although that's not the word I would have chosen." Ted clasped his bony arms around his even bonier knees and gazed across the lawn at Broad Street. It was growing dark now; Bobby's favorite part of the evening had arrived. The cars that passed had their parking lights on, and
from somewhere on Asher Avenue Mrs. Sigsby was calling for her twins to come in and get their supper. At this time of day - and at dawn, as he stood in the bathroom, urinating into the bowl with sunshine falling through the little window and into his half-open eyes - Bobby felt like a dream in
someone else's head.

"Where did you live before you came here, Mr....Ted?"

"A place that wasn't as nice," he said. "Nowhere near as nice. How long have you lived here, Bobby?"

"Long as I can remember. Since my dad died, when I was three."

"And you know everyone on the street? On this block of the street, anyway?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"You'd know strangers. Sojourners. Faces of those unknown."

Bobby smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh, I think so."

He waited to see where this would lead next - it was interesting - but apparently this was as far as it went. Ted stood up, slowly and carefully. Bobby could hear little bones creak in his back when he put his hands around there and stretched, grimacing.

"Come on," he said. "It's getting chilly. I'll go in with you. Your key or mine?"

Bobby smiled. "You better start breaking in your own, don't you think?"

Ted - it was getting easier to think of him as Ted - pulled a keyring from his pocket. The only keys on it were the one which opened the big front door and the one to his room. Both were shiny and new, the color of bandit gold. Bobby's own two keys were scratched and dull. How old was Ted? he wondered again. Sixty, at least. A sixty-year-old man with only two keys in his pocket. That was weird.

Ted opened the front door and they went into the big dark foyer with its umbrella stand and its old painting of Lewis and Clark looking out across the American West. Bobby went to the door of the Garfield apartment and Ted went to the stairs. He paused there for a moment with his hand on the
bannister. "The Simak book is a great story," he said. "Not such great writing, though. Not bad, I don't mean to say that, but take it from me, there is better."

Bobby waited.

"There are also books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words - the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers that won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book."

"Are there many of those, do you think?" Bobby asked.

"More than the book-snobs and play-it-safers think. Many more. Perhaps I'll give you one. A belated birthday present."

"You don't have to do that."

"No, but perhaps I will. And do have a happy birthday."

"Thanks. It's been a great one." Then Bobby went into the apartment, heated up the stew (remembering to turn off the gas-ring after the stew started to bubble, also remembering to put the pan in the sink to soak), and ate supper by himself, reading Ring Around the Sun with the TV on for company. He hardly heard Chet Huntley and David Brinkley gabbling the evening news. Ted was right about the book; it was a corker. The words seemed okay to him, too, although he supposed he didn't have a lot of experience just yet.

I'd like to write a story like this, he thought as he finally closed the book and flopped down on the couch to watch Sugarfoot. I wonder if I ever could.

Maybe. Maybe so. Someone had to write stories, after all, just like someone had to fix the pipes when they froze or change the streetlights in Commonwealth Park when they burned out.

An hour or so later, after Bobby had picked up Ring Around the Sun and begun reading again, his mother came in. Her lipstick was a bit smeared at one corner of her mouth and her slip was hanging a little. Bobby thought of pointing this out to her, then remembered how much she disliked it when
someone told her it was "snowing down south." Besides, what did it matter? Her working day was over and, as she sometimes said, there was no one here
but us chickens.

She checked the fridge to make sure the leftover stew was gone, checked the stove to make sure the gas-ring was off, checked the sink to make sure the pot and the Tupperware storage container were both soaking in soapy water. Then she kissed him on the temple, just a brush in passing, and went into her bedroom to change out of her office dress and hose. She seemed distant, preoccupied. She didn't ask if he'd had a happy birthday.

Later on he showed her Carol's card. His mom glanced at it, not really seeing it, pronounced it "cute," and handed it back. Then she told him to wash up, brush up, and go to bed. Bobby did so, not mentioning his interesting talk with Ted. In her current mood, that was apt to make her angry. The best thing was to let her be distant, let her keep to herself as long as she needed to, give her time to drift back to him. Yet he felt that sad mood settling over him again as he finished brushing his teeth and climbed into bed. Sometimes he felt almost hungry for her, and she didn't know.

He reached out of bed and closed the door, blocking off the sound of some old movie. He turned off the light. And then, just as he was starting to drift off, she came in, sat on the side of his bed, and said she was sorry she'd been so stand-offy tonight, but there had been a lot going on at the office and she was tired. Sometimes it was a madhouse, she said. She stroked a finger across his forehead and then kissed him there, making him shiver. He sat up and hugged her. She stiffened momentarily at his touch, then gave in to it. She even hugged him back briefly. He thought maybe it would now be all right to tell her about Ted. A little, anyway.

"I talked with Mr. Brautigan when I came home from the library," he said.

"Who?"

"The new man on the third floor. He asked me to call him Ted."

"You won't - I should say nitzy! You don't know him from Adam."

"He said giving a kid an adult library card was a great present." Ted had said no such thing, but Bobby had lived with his mother long enough to know what worked and what didn't.

She relaxed a little. "Did he say where he came from?"

"A place not as nice as here, I think he said."

"Well, that doesn't tell us much, does it?" Bobby was still hugging her. He could have hugged her for another hour easily, smelling her White Rain shampoo and Aqua Net hold-spray and the pleasant odor of tobacco on her breath, but she disengaged from him and laid him back down. "I guess if he's
going to be your friend - your adult friend - I'll have to get to know him a little."

"Well - "

"Maybe I'll like him better when he doesn't have shopping bags scattered all over the lawn." For Liz Garfield this was downright placatory, and Bobby was satisfied. The day had come to a very acceptable ending after all. "Goodnight, birthday boy."

"Goodnight, Mom."

She went out and closed the door. Later that night - much later - he thought he heard her crying in her room, but perhaps that was only a dream.

Copyright 1999 by Stephen King. Tous mes remerciements à Simon and Schulter.

ing suddenly self-conscious. See something green? his mother might have said.

For a moment he thought Ted wasn't going to answer - he seemed to have fallen into some deep and dazing train of thought. Then he gave himself a little shake and sat up straighter. "Nothing," he said. "I have a little idea. Perhaps you'd like to earn some extra money? Not that I have much, but - "

"Yeah! Cripes, yeah!" There's this bike, he almost went on, then stopped himself. Best keep yourself to yourself was yet another of his mom's sayings. "I'd do just about anything you wanted!"

Ted Brautigan looked simultaneously alarmed and amused. It seemed to open a door to a different face, somehow, and Bobby could see that, yeah, the old guy had once been a young guy. One with a little sass to him, maybe. "That's a bad thing to tell a stranger," he said, "and although we've progressed to Bobby and Ted - a good start - we're still really strangers to each other."

"Did either of those Johnson guys say anything about strangers?"

"Not that I recall, but here's something on the subject from the Bible: 'For I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner. Spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence...'" Ted trailed off for a moment. The fun had gone out of his face and he looked old again. Then his voice firmed and he
finished. "'...before I go hence, and be no more.' Book of Psalms. I can't remember which one."

"Well," Bobby said, "I wouldn't kill or rob anyone, don't worry, but I'd sure like to earn some money."

"Let me think," Ted said. "Let me think a little."

"Sure. But if you've got chores or something, I'm your guy. Tell you that right now."

"Chores? Maybe. Although that's not the word I would have chosen." Ted clasped his bony arms around his even bonier knees and gazed across the lawn at Broad Street. It was growing dark now; Bobby's favorite part of the evening had arrived. The cars that passed had their parking lights on, and
from somewhere on Asher Avenue Mrs. Sigsby was calling for her twins to come in and get their supper. At this time of day - and at dawn, as he stood in the bathroom, urinating into the bowl with sunshine falling through the little window and into his half-open eyes - Bobby felt like a dream in
someone else's head.

"Where did you live before you came here, Mr....Ted?"

"A place that wasn't as nice," he said. "Nowhere near as nice. How long have you lived here, Bobby?"

"Long as I can remember. Since my dad died, when I was three."

"And you know everyone on the street? On this block of the street, anyway?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"You'd know strangers. Sojourners. Faces of those unknown."

Bobby smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh, I think so."

He waited to see where this would lead next - it was interesting - but apparently this was as far as it went. Ted stood up, slowly and carefully. Bobby could hear little bones creak in his back when he put his hands around there and stretched, grimacing.

"Come on," he said. "It's getting chilly. I'll go in with you. Your key or mine?"

Bobby smiled. "You better start breaking in your own, don't you think?"

Ted - it was getting easier to think of him as Ted - pulled a keyring from his pocket. The only keys on it were the one which opened the big front door and the one to his room. Both were shiny and new, the color of bandit gold. Bobby's own two keys were scratched and dull. How old was Ted? he wondered again. Sixty, at least. A sixty-year-old man with only two keys in his pocket. That was weird.

Ted opened the front door and they went into the big dark foyer with its umbrella stand and its old painting of Lewis and Clark looking out across the American West. Bobby went to the door of the Garfield apartment and Ted went to the stairs. He paused there for a moment with his hand on the bannister. "The Simak book is a great story," he said. "Not such great writing, though. Not bad, I don't mean to say that, but take it from me, there is better."

Bobby waited.

"There are also books full of great writing that don't have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don't be like the book-snobs who won't do that. Read sometimes for the words - the language. Don't be like the play-it-safers that won't do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book."

"Are there many of those, do you think?" Bobby asked.

"More than the book-snobs and play-it-safers think. Many more. Perhaps I'll give you one. A belated birthday present."

"You don't have to do that."

"No, but perhaps I will. And do have a happy birthday."

"Thanks. It's been a great one." Then Bobby went into the apartment, heated up the stew (remembering to turn off the gas-ring after the stew started to bubble, also remembering to put the pan in the sink to soak), and ate supper by himself, reading Ring Around the Sun with the TV on for company. He hardly heard Chet Huntley and David Brinkley gabbling the evening news. Ted was right about the book; it was a corker. The words seemed okay to him, too, although he supposed he didn't have a lot of experience just yet.

I'd like to write a story like this, he thought as he finally closed the book and flopped down on the couch to watch Sugarfoot. I wonder if I ever could.

Maybe. Maybe so. Someone had to write stories, after all, just like someone had to fix the pipes when they froze or change the streetlights in Commonwealth Park when they burned out.

An hour or so later, after Bobby had picked up Ring Around the Sun and begun reading again, his mother came in. Her lipstick was a bit smeared at one corner of her mouth and her slip was hanging a little. Bobby thought of pointing this out to her, then remembered how much she disliked it when someone told her it was "snowing down south." Besides, what did it matter? Her working day was over and, as she sometimes said, there was no one here but us chickens.

She checked the fridge to make sure the leftover stew was gone, checked the stove to make sure the gas-ring was off, checked the sink to make sure the pot and the Tupperware storage container were both soaking in soapy water. Then she kissed him on the temple, just a brush in passing, and went into her bedroom to change out of her office dress and hose. She seemed distant, preoccupied. She didn't ask if he'd had a happy birthday.

Later on he showed her Carol's card. His mom glanced at it, not really seeing it, pronounced it "cute," and handed it back. Then she told him to wash up, brush up, and go to bed. Bobby did so, not mentioning his interesting talk with Ted. In her current mood, that was apt to make her angry. The best thing was to let her be distant, let her keep to herself as long as she needed to, give her time to drift back to him. Yet he felt that sad mood settling over him again as he finished brushing his teeth and climbed into bed. Sometimes he felt almost hungry for her, and she didn't know.

He reached out of bed and closed the door, blocking off the sound of some old movie. He turned off the light. And then, just as he was starting to drift off, she came in, sat on the side of his bed, and said she was sorry she'd been so stand-offy tonight, but there had been a lot going on at the office and she was tired. Sometimes it was a madhouse, she said. She stroked a finger across his forehead and then kissed him there, making him shiver. He sat up and hugged her. She stiffened momentarily at his touch, then gave in to it. She even hugged him back briefly. He thought maybe it would now be all right to tell her about Ted. A little, anyway.

"I talked with Mr. Brautigan when I came home from the library," he said.

"Who?"

"The new man on the third floor. He asked me to call him Ted."

"You won't - I should say nitzy! You don't know him from Adam."

"He said giving a kid an adult library card was a great present." Ted had said no such thing, but Bobby had lived with his mother long enough to know what worked and what didn't.

She relaxed a little. "Did he say where he came from?"

"A place not as nice as here, I think he said."

"Well, that doesn't tell us much, does it?" Bobby was still hugging her. He could have hugged her for another hour easily, smelling her White Rain shampoo and Aqua Net hold-spray and the pleasant odor of tobacco on her breath, but she disengaged from him and laid him back down. "I guess if he's
going to be your friend - your adult friend - I'll have to get to know him a little."

"Well - "

"Maybe I'll like him better when he doesn't have shopping bags scattered all over the lawn." For Liz Garfield this was downright placatory, and Bobby was satisfied. The day had come to a very acceptable ending after all. "Goodnight, birthday boy."

"Goodnight, Mom."

She went out and closed the door. Later that night - much later - he thought he heard her crying in her room, but perhaps that was only a dream.

Copyright 1999 by Stephen King. Tous mes remerciements à Simon and Schulter.

 

Une info en provenance des USA:

King's collection of five linked stories reads like a novel, and its theme is the real-life enchantment and horrors of the 1960s generation, haunted by the specter of Vietnam. Atlantis is King's metaphor for that vanished era, inspired by pop singer Donovan's "sweet and stupid" song about the lost continent. The collection is poignant, melancholy, ambitious, and deeply influenced by the one book King wishes he'd written, "Lord of the Flies." Though it's artfully realistic fiction, it does connect with the horror tradition, particularly in the 250-page opening novella, "Low Men in Yellow Coats," in which a small American town gets invaded by uncanny monsters from King's Dark Tower series.

Pour en savoir davantage, vous pouvez consulter:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684853515/ref=mk_pb_2

  

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