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Days Of Nineteen

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Jake looked at the heaped Wolves. . . . Nothing but smooth metal, plus lenses that served as eyes, a round mesh grille that doubtless served as a nose, two sprouted microphones at the temples for ears. No, all the personality these things had was in the masks and clothing they wore. "Crazy or not, I know what they are, Eddie. Or where they came from, at least. Marvel comics." A look of sublime relief filled Eddie's face. He bent and kissed Jake on the cheek. A ghost of a smile touched the boy's mouth. It wasn't much, but it was a start. (the wolves of the calla. (694))

baby Jesus, meek and mild,
pray for me, an orphan child.
be my strength, be my friend.
be with me until the end.
amen.
(john coffey. the green mile)

Days Of Nineteen

Jake smokes incessantly, having taken up the habit without thought, just as Roland and Cuthbert and Alain had. When called on the habit, he'd said wryly that this was one thing his father would likely have approved of, and he'd kept doing it. Rosa bans him from the ranch-house when he smokes, so he sits quietly on the porch with his legs dangling between the rails, chain-smoking with a patient, beaten look in his eyes.

Eddie is worried about him -- well, as worried as a man can be who has lost his wife to a magic portal and a fucking whore who has taken over her mind so she could have a demon baby. That kind of takes precedence, but Jake's beat-dog look still sits in the back of his mind. Who will be the one to see if he's all right?

Roland is poor comfort. Eddie remembers vividly how much he cried when he was coming off smack, and how Roland would look at him like a species of bug and say nothing. "Beat it or bear it," that's Roland's motto, and it makes a man out of you, but a hard man. It grieves Eddie in a vague way to think of Jake growing up so hard (if he grows up at all, and Eddie's beginning to doubt they any of them will live much longer).

Several times during the day, Eddie tries to go out to the porch and tell Jake something comforting. He just can't manage it, though.

* * *

In the days of nineteen, everyone died. Roland has told enough stories that Jake knows that. Everyone died in an endless list, remembered only by one man (and now by a boy and his bumbler, and by a former junkie and a woman cut off at the knees). Jake can name them off but prefers not to: Roland's parents, his friends with the lovely names, his strong teacher. His woman -- his girl, really. Cities. Towns (one blown to shreds by Roland himself). Preachers. Girls and boys. Old people. Lord Perth. Rotten muties and nameless diseased people. Talking trains.

And now -- the list has gobbled up more people, this time it's real people that Jake -- that he --

It's hard for him to think. "Days of nineteen," says his mind to itself. Days of nineteen, days of nineteen, days of nineteen, till he is driven wretched by it. Gunfire and the crumping sound of sneetches have deafened him; he can still see in his mind's eye the lovely shine of light from one of Susannah's plates as it shears a Wolf in half.

* * *

Lit up, the Calla is almost beautiful. If you discount the ugly gaps in the fields where the Wolves came through, it could be some kind of painting by Wyeth. Every New York child, even one as academically limited as Eddie, knows about Wyeth. Every kid has seen that painting with the girl contorted into a weird position with the farmhouse in the background.

Shit, if that girl didn't have any legs, she could be his wife. It's consumptive, how much he thinks about it: that moment when Susannah ceded her body, willing or un-, to Mia and the chap inside her. How Mia probably sat in that very Wyeth position for a moment before she hauled ass up the mountainside as fast (and as far away from Eddie) as she could.

It's consumptive -- he's diseased with it, he can't be shut of that moment. He can't sit still. He stomps from room to room, unable to eat, unable to lie down. He stomps out to the porch and there again is Jake, head bent, hand cupped to keep a match from the wind. That position strikes him out of his obsessive thoughts -- Henry used to light up the same way. Henry's just a voice in a cavern full of ghosts now, but for a moment, he's superimposed over Jake, lighting a cigarette and boasting about how many Borough girls he's done the nasty with.

Henry! What would he think now, if he could see his brother? Dead Henry, the great sage, the eminent junkie, looking down (or up, or around) from Limbo and convulsed with laughter at Eddie's predicament. "You kicked heroin, but you're still an addict," he'd say. "You're addicted to that woman instead."

* * *
"Baby Jesus, meek and mild," thinks Jake, with no real sense of piety. "Pray for me, an orphan child." In the days of nineteen, gunslingers are orphans, and they can't keep anyone alive.

He's thinking about maybe going and checking on Benny's dad -- seeing if there's a chore or two he can do -- when he hears Eddie step out onto the porch. Instantly there's a picture in his mind of a young man, shaggy-haired and slightly good-looking, saying something to a much better-looking boy, who laughs and looks at him adoringly. It's Henry Dean, and Jake has heard enough stories about him to stand back from that mind-picture and be a little wry about it.

Eddie's mind then shifts from Henry to Susannah sitting in a field overlooking the Calla, then back to Henry again with such force that it knocks Jake back a little. He lets out a little whoosh as if he's been hit in the stomach, which blows his match out.

"Be my strength," goes the rest of that little prayer. "Be my friend. Be with me until the end." In the days of nineteen, the end swings at you like a Beam, and you're paralyzed in the sights of it. Eddie says nothing, and Jake either, because he's too busy watching Henry's gory death.

* * *

Jake drops his last cigarette unlit onto the porch and swings his head around to look at Eddie. The beat-dog look is gone, but his eyes are queerly flat, unemotional. "You fought naked for your brother's life," he says,and it's not a question. "Skinny-assed, bloody, waving that revolver of Roland's around like you knew something about it."

Startled, Eddie nods. "I did." Jake sounds years older, not like that kid who'd cried over Benny Slightman's body yesterday. He sounds like Roland. It's eerie.

"But in the end he was dead anyway."

"Yeah. In the end he was dead anyway."

"We're all orphans," says Jake. "Not a one of us have anyone left." He holds up a hand when Eddie opens his mouth. "And don't bother saying we have each other, either. Ka brought us together and ka will rip us apart if it suits. Witness your wife --when ka thought it right, she high-tailed it off to nowhere without a word to you, didn't she?"

Beat it or bear it, thinks Eddie. Jake's already grown up Roland's way, and what's there to do about that?

"That's a hard thing to say," he says now, quietly, giving Jake an unemotional look of his own.

"These are the days of nineteen," says Jake. "Everything's hard. Everything spits in your face."

And what is there to say to that? Park Avenue shrink bullshit like, it's okay to be angry? Sing a song, everything'll be just fine?

Jake has turned back to his cig and he's striking a match, and his hands are shaking. Eddie goes and sits down next to him, and in spite of everything a man should do or say to another man, he puts his arm around Jake and just leaves it there.

Immediately Jake stops fiddling with the match; he drops his hands to his lap and looks around. Eddie, looking down at him, sees that he looks a little bit like a boy again, a boy with a rose reflected in his eyes.

"You're not -- you're not an orphan," he says, remembering how good Henry could make him feel sometimes with just a word. Yes, Henry had often been the world's crappiest brother -- he'd made Cain look positively angelic at times -- but once in awhile. . . .

Jake kind of smiles. "Once in awhile, he got it right," he says, and he puts his head on Eddie's shoulder, and they take what comfort they can from it while the world moves on with a smash into the days of nine, ninety-nine, nineteen.

--the end--

Note 1: Sorry it couldn't be more upbeat.
Note 2: The painting is of course "Christina's World," which can be viewed at: http://www.artchive.com/artchive/W/wyeth/christinas_world.jpg.html