Stephen King


For my mother, Ruth Pillsbury King

“What does a woman want?”

—Sigmund Freud

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”

—Aretha Franklin
TOTAL ECLIPSE of the sun SATURDAY July 20, 1963

Foreword to Paperback Edition

In the northwestern part of Maine—in the area known as the Lakes District—the small town of Sharbot curves like a crescent around a beautiful body of water called Dark Score Lake. Dark Score is one of the deepest lakes in New England—better than three hundred feet in some places. Some of the locals have been known to claim it is bottomless… but usually only after a few beers (in Sharbot, half a dozen is considered a few).

If one were to draw a straight line across a map of the state from northwest to southeast, beginning at the tiny cartographic point which represents Sharbot and continuing through the larger dot that marks the city of Bangor, one would eventually come to the smallest dot of all—a tiny green grain standing off in the Atlantic about sixteen miles from Bar Harbor. This small green grain is Little Tall Island, population 204 in the 1990 census, down from an all-time high of 527 in the census of 1960.

These two tiny communities, exactly one hundred and forty miles apart as the crow flies, bracket the island and coastal aspects of New England’s largest state like a pair of nondescript book-ends. They have nothing whatever in common; one would be hard put, in fact, to find a citizen in either who had any knowledge of the other.

Yet in the summer of 1963, the last summer before America—and the whole world—would be changed forever by an assassin’s bullet, Sharbot and Little Tall were linked by a remarkable celestial phenomenon: the last total eclipse visible in northern New England until the year 2016.

Both Sharbot, in far western Maine, and Little Tall Island, the state’s easternmost spot, lay in the path of totality. And although over half the towns along the path of the eclipse were denied a view of the phenomenon by low-hanging clouds on that still, humid day, both Sharbot and Little Tall enjoyed perfect viewing conditions. For residents of Sharbot, the eclipse began at 4:29 P.M., EDT; for residents of Little Tall, it began at 4:34. The period of totality which raced across the state lasted almost exactly three minutes. In Sharbot, total darkness lasted from 5:39 until 5:41; on Little Tall, darkness was total from 5:42 until almost 5:43, a period of fifty-nine seconds, in fact.

As this strange darkness rolled its wave across the state, stars came out and filled the daytime sky; birds went to roost; bats circled aimlessly above chimneys; cows lay down in the fields where they had been cropping and went to sleep. The sun became a blazing fairy-ring in the sky, and as the world within that swatch of unnatural blackness lay suspended and hushed and the crickets began to sing, two people who would never meet sensed each other, turned toward each other as flowers turn to follow the heat of the sun.

One was a girl named Jessie Mahout—she was in Sharbot, at the western end of the state. The other was a mother of three named Dolores St. George—she was on Little Tall Island, at the eastern end of the state.

Both heard owls hoot in the daytime. Both lay in deep valleys of terror, nightmare geographies of which both believed they would never speak. Both felt the darkness was entirely fitting, and thanked God for it.

Jessie Mahout would marry a man named Gerald Burlingame, and her story is told in Gerald’s Game. Dolores St. George would take back her birth name, Dolores Claiborne, and she tells her story in the pages that follow. Both are tales of women in the path of the eclipse, and of how they emerge from the darkness.

What did you ask, Andy Bissette? Do I “understand these rights as you’ve explained em to me”?

Gorry! What makes some men so numb?

No, you never mind—still your jawin and listen to me for awhile. I got an idear you’re gonna be listenin to me most of the night, so you might as well get used to it. Coss I understand what you read to me! Do I look like I lost all m’brains since I seen you down to the market? That was just Monday afternoon, in case you lost track. I told you your wife would give you merry hell about buying that day-old bread—penny wise and pound foolish, the old saying is—and I bet I was right, wasn’t I?

I understand my rights just fine, Andy; my mother never raised no fools. I understand my responsibilities too, God help me.

Anything I say might be used against me in a court of law, you say? Well will wonders never cease! And you can just get that smirk off your face, Frank Proulx. You may be a hot-shot town cop these days, but it hasn’t been too long since I seen you runnin around in a saggy diaper with that same foolish grin on your face. I’ll give you a little piece of advice—when you get around an old biddy like me, you just want to save that grin. I c’n read you easier’n an underwear ad in the Sears catalogue.

All right, we’ve had our fun; might as well get down to it. I’m gonna tell you three a hell of a lot startin right about now, and a hell of a lot of it prob’ly could be used against me in a court of law, if anyone wanted to at this late date. The joke of it is, folks on the island know most of it already, and I’m just about half-past give-a-shit, as old Neely Robichaud used to say when he was in his cups. Which was most of the time, as anyone who knew him will tell you.

I do give a shit about one thing, though, and that’s why I come down here on my own hook. I didn’t kill that bitch Vera Donovan, and no matter what you think now, I intend to make you believe that. I didn’t push her down that frigging staircase. It’s fine if you want to lock me up for the other, but I don’t have none of that bitch’s blood on my hands. And I think you will believe that by the time I’m finished, Andy. You was always a good enough boy, as boys go—fair-minded, is what I mean—and you’ve turned into a decent man. Don’t let it go to your head, though; you grew up same as any other man, with some woman to warsh your clothes and wipe your nose and turn you around when you got y’self pointed in the wrong direction.

One other thing before we get started—I know you, Andy, and Frank, accourse, but who’s this woman with the tape-recorder?

Oh Christ, Andy, I know she’s a stenographer! Didn’t I just tell you my Mamma

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