Forever Odd Read online
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY DEAN KOONTZ
This book is for Trixie, though she will never read it. On the most difficult days at the key board, when I despair, she can always make me laugh. The words good dog are inadequate in her case. She is a good heart and a kind soul, and an angel on four feet.
Unearned suffering is redemptive.
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Look at those hands, Oh God, those hands toiled to raise me.
—Elvis Presley at his mother’s casket
WAKING, I HEARD A WARM WIND STRUMMING the loose screen at the open window, and I thought Stormy, but it was not.
The desert air smelled faintly of roses, which were not in bloom, and of dust, which in the Mojave flourishes twelve months of the year.
Precipitation falls on the town of Pico Mundo only during our brief winter. This mild February night was not, however, sweetened by the scent of rain.
I hoped to hear the fading rumble of thunder. If a peal had awakened me, it must have been thunder in a dream.
Holding my breath, I lay listening to the silence, and felt the silence listening to me.
The nightstand clock painted glowing numbers on the gloom—2:41 A.M.
For a moment I considered remaining in bed. But these days I do not sleep as well as I did when I was young. I am twenty-one and much older than when I was twenty.
Certain that I had company, expecting to find two Elvises watching over me, one with a cocky smile and one with sad concern, I sat up and switched on the lamp.
A single Elvis stood in a corner: a life-size cardboard figure that had been part of a theater-lobby display for Blue Hawaii. In a Hawaiian shirt and a lei, he looked self-confident and happy.
Back in 1961, he’d had much to be happy about. Blue Hawaii was a hit film, and the album went to number one. He had six gold records that year, including “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and he was falling in love with Priscilla Beaulieu.
Less happily, at the insistence of his manager, Tom Parker, he had turned down the lead in West Side Story in favor of mediocre movie fare like Follow That Dream. Gladys Presley, his beloved mother, had been dead three years, and still he felt the loss of her, acutely. Only twenty-six, he’d begun to have weight problems.
Cardboard Elvis smiles eternally, forever young, incapable of error or regret, untouched by grief, a stranger to despair.
I envy him. There is no cardboard replica of me as I once was and as I can never be again.
The lamplight revealed another presence, as patient as he was desperate. Evidently he had been watching me sleep, waiting for me to wake.
I said, “Hello, Dr. Jessup.”
Dr. Wilbur Jessup was incapable of a response. Anguish flooded his face. His eyes were desolate pools; all hope had drowned in those lonely depths.
“I’m sorry to see you here,” I said.
He made fists of his hands, not with the intention of striking anything, but as an expression of frustration. He pressed his fists to his chest.
Dr. Jessup had never previously visited my apartment; and I knew in my heart that he no longer belonged in Pico Mundo. But I clung to denial, and I spoke to him again as I got out of bed.
“Did I leave the door unlocked?”
He shook his head. Tears blurred his eyes, but he did not wail or even whimper.
Fetching a pair of jeans from the closet, slipping into them, I said, “I’ve been forgetful lately.”
He opened his fists and stared at his palms. His hands trembled. He buried his face in them.
“There’s so much I’d like to forget,” I continued as I pulled on socks and shoes, “but only the small stuff slips my mind—like where I left the keys, whether I locked the door, that I’m out of milk….”
Dr. Jessup, a radiologist at County General Hospital, was a gentle man, and quiet, although he had never before been this quiet.
Because I had not worn a T-shirt to bed, I plucked a white one from a drawer.
I have a few black T-shirts, but mostly white. In addition to a selection of blue jeans, I have two pair of white chinos.
This apartment provides only a small closet. Half of it is empty. So are the bottom drawers of my dresser.
I do not own a suit. Or a tie. Or shoes that need to be shined.
For cool weather, I own two crew-neck sweaters.
Once I bought a sweater vest. Temporary insanity. Realizing that I had introduced an unthinkable level of complexity to my wardrobe, I returned it to the store the next day.
My four-hundred-pound friend and mentor, P. Oswald Boone, has warned me that my sartorial style represents a serious threat to the apparel industry.
I’ve noted more than once that the articles in Ozzie’s wardrobe are of such enormous dimensions that he keeps in business those fabric mills I might otherwise put in jeopardy.
Barefoot, Dr. Jessup wore cotton pajamas. They were wrinkled from the rigors of restless sleep.
“Sir, I wish you’d say something,” I told him. “I really wish you would.”
Instead of obliging me, the radiologist lowered his hands from his face, turned, and walked out of the bedroom.
I glanced at the wall above the bed. Framed behind glass is a card from a carnival fortune-telling machine. It promises YOU ARE DESTINED TO BE TOGETHER FOREVER.
Each morning, I begin my day by reading those seven words. Each night, I read them again, sometimes more than once, before sleep, if sleep will come to me.
I am sustained by the cert