RICHARD MATHESON, 20/02/1926 - 23/06/2013
These entries are from a school notebook which was found two weeks ago in a Brooklyn candy store. Next to it on the counter was a half finished cup of coffee. The owner of the store said no one had been there for three hours prior to the time he first noticed the book.
Saturday morning early
I shouldn't be writing this. What if Mary found it? Then what? The end, that's what, five years out the window.
But I have to put it down. I've been writing too long. There's no peace unless I put things on paper. I have to get them out and simplify my mind. But it's so hard to make things simple and so easy to make them complicated.
Thinking back through the months.
Where did it start? An argument of course. There must have been a thousand of them since we married. And always the same one, that's the horror.
"It's not a question of confidence in your writing," Mary will say. "It's a question of bills and are we or aren't we going to pay them?"
"Bills for what?" I'll say. "For necessities? No. For things we don't even need."
"Don't need!" And off we go. God, how impossible life is without money. Nothing can overcome it, it's everything when it's anything. How can I write in peace with endless worries of money, money, money? The television set, the refrigerator, the washer-none of them paid for yet. And the bed she wants…
But despite all, I-I with wide-eyed idiocy keep making it even worse.
Why did I have to storm out of the apartment that first time? We'd argued, sure, but we'd argued before. Vanity, that's all. After seven years-seven!-of writing I've made only $316 from it. And I'm still working nights at the lousy part-time typing job. And Mary has to keep working at the same place with me. Lord knows she has a perfect right to doubt. A perfect right to keep insisting I take that full-time job Jim keeps offering me on his magazine.
All up to me. An admission of lack, a right move and everything would be solved. No more night work. Mary could stay home the way she wants to, the way she should. The right move, that's all.
So, I've been making the wrong one. God, it makes me sick.
Me, going out with Mike. Both of us glassy-eyed imbeciles meeting Jean and Sally. For months now, pushing aside the obvious knowledge that we were being fools. Losing ourselves in a new experience. Playing the ass to perfection.
And, last night, both of us married men, going with them to their club apartment and…
Can't I say it? Am I afraid, too weak? Fool!
How can things get so mixed up? I love Mary. Very much. And yet, even loving her, I did this thing.
And to make it all even more complicated, I enjoyed it. Jean is sweet and understanding, passionate, a sort of symbol of lost things. It was wonderful. I can't say it wasn't.
But how can wrong be wonderful? How can cruelty be exhilarating? It's all perverse, it's jumbled and confused and enraging.
She's forgiven me, thank God. I'll never see Jean again. Everything will be all right.
This morning I went and sat on the bed and Mary woke up. She stared up at me, then looked at the clock. She'd been crying.
"Where have you been?" she asked in that thin little girl's voice she gets when she's scared.
"With Mike," I told her. "We drank and talked all night."
She stared a second more. Then she took my hand slowly and pressed it against her cheek.
"I'm sorry," she said and tears came to her eyes.
I had to put my head next to hers so she wouldn't see my face. "Oh, Mary," I said. "I'm sorry too."
I'll never tell her. She means too much to me. I can't lose her.
We went down to Mandel's Furniture Mart this afternoon and got a new bed.
"We can't afford it, honey," Mary said. "Never mind," I said. "You know how lumpy the old one is. I want my baby to sleep in style."
She kissed my cheek happily. She bounced on the bed like an excited kid. "Oh, feel how soft!" she said.
Everything is all right. Everything except the new batch of' bills in today's mail. Everything except for my latest story which won't get started. Everything except for my novel which has bounced five times. Burney House has to take it. They've held it long enough. I'm counting on it. Things are coming to a head with my writing. With everything. More and more I get the feeling that I'm a wound-up spring.
Well, Mary's all right.
More trouble. Another argument. I don't even know what it was about. She's sulking. I'm burning. I can't write when I'm upset. She knows that.
I feel like calling Jean. At least she was interested in my writing. I feel like saying the hell with everything. Getting drunk, jumping off a bridge, something. No wonder babies are happy. Life is simple for them. Some hunger, some cold, a little fear of darkness. That's all. Why bother growing up? Life gets too complicated.
Mary just called me for supper. I don't feel like eating. I don't even feel like staying in the house. Maybe I'll call up Jean later. Just to say hello.
Damn, damn, damn!
Not only to hold the book for over three months. That's not bad enough, oh no! They had
to spill coffee all over the manuscript and send me a printed rejection slip to boot. I could kill them! I wonder if they think they know what they're doing?
Mary saw the slip. "Well, what now?" she said disgustedly.
"Now?" I said. I tried not to explode.
"Still think you can write?" she said.
I exploded. "Oh, they're the last judge and jury, aren't they?" I raged. "They're the final word on my writing aren't they?"
"You've been writing seven years," she said. "Nothing's happened."
"And I'll write seven more," I said. "A hundred, a thousand!"
"You won't take that job on Jim's magazine?"
"No, I will not."
"You said you would if the book failed."
"I have a job," I said, "and you have a job and that's the way it is and that's the way it's going to stay."
"It's not the way I'm going to stay!" she snapped.
She may leave me. Who cares! I'm sick of it all anyway. Bills, bills. Writing, writing. Failures, failures, failures! And little old life dribbling on, building up its beautiful, brain-bursting complexities like an idiot with blocks.
You! Who run the world, who spin the universe. If there's anybody listening to me, make the world simpler! I don't believe in anything but I'd give… anything. If only…
Oh, what's the use? I don't care anymore.
I'm calling Jean tonight.
I just went down to call up Jean about Saturday night. Mary is going to her sister's house that night. She hasn't mentioned me going with her so I'm certainly not going to mention it.
I called Jean last night but the switchboard operator at the Club Stanley said she was out. I figured I'd be able to reach her today at her office.
So I went to the corner candy store to look up the number. I probably should have memorized it by now. I've called her enough. But somehow, I never bothered. What the hell, there are always telephone books.
She works for a magazine called Design Handbook or Designer's Handbook or something like that. Odd, I can't remember that either. Guess I never gave it much thought.
I do remember where the office is though. I called for her there a few months ago and took her to lunch. I think I told Mary I was going to the library that day.
Now, as I recall, the telephone number of Jean's office was in the upper right hand corner of the right page in the directory. I've looked it up dozens of times and that's where it always was.
Today it wasn't.
I found the word Design and different business names starting with that word. But they were in the lower left hand corner of the left page, just the opposite. And I couldn't seem to find any name that clicked. Usually as soon as I see the name of the magazine I think: there it is. Then I look up the number. Today it wasn't like that.
I looked and looked and thumbed around but I couldn't find anything like Design Handbook. Finally I settled for the number of Design Magazine but I had the feeling it wasn't the one I was searching for.
I… I'll have to finish this later. Mary just called me for lunch, dinner, what have you? The big meal of the day anyway since we both work at night.
It was a good meal. Mary can certainly cook. If only there weren't those arguments. I wonder if Jean can cook.
At any rate the meal steadied me a little. I needed it. I was a little nervous about that telephone call.
I dialled the number. A woman answered.
"Design Magazine," she said.
"I'd like to talk to Miss Lane," I told her.
"One moment," she said. And I knew it was the wrong number. Every other time I'd called the woman who answered had said, "All right" immediately and connected me with Jean.
"What was that name again?" she asked.
"Miss Lane. If you don't know her, I must have the wrong number."
"You might mean Mr. Payne."
"No, no. Before, the secretary who answered always knew right away who I wanted. I have the wrong number. Excuse me."
I hung up. I was pretty irritated. I've looked that number up so many times it isn't funny.
Now, I can't find it.
Of course I didn't let it get me at first. I thought maybe the phone book in the candy store was an old one. So I went down the street to the drugstore. It had the same book.
Well, I'll just have to call her from work tonight. But I wanted to get her this afternoon so I'd be sure she'd save Saturday night for me.
I just thought of something. That secretary. Her voice. It was the same one who used to answer for Design Handbook.
But… Oh, I'm dreaming.
I called the club while Mary was out of the office getting us some coffee.
I told the switchboard operator the same way I've told her dozens of times. "I'd like to speak to Miss Lane, please."
"Yes sir, one moment," she said.
There was silence a long time. I got impatient. Then the phone clicked again.
"What was that name?" the operator asked.
"Miss Lane, Miss Lane," I said. "I've called her any number of times."
"I'll look at the list again," she said.
I waited some more. Then I heard her voice again.
"I'm sorry. No one by that name is listed here."
"But I've called her any number of times there."
"Are you sure you have the right number?"
"Yes, yes, I'm sure. This is the Club Stanley, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
"Well, that's where I'm calling."
"I don't know what to say," she said. "All I can tell you is that I'm certain there isn't anyone by that name living here."
"But I just called last night! You said she wasn't in."
"I'm sorry, I don't remember."
"Are you sure? Absolutely sure?"
"Well, if you want, I'll look at the list again. But no one by that name is on it, I'm positive."
"And no one by that name moved out within the last few days?"
"We haven't had a vacancy for a year. Rooms are hard to get in New York, you know."
"I know," I said, and hung up.
I went back to my desk. Mary was back from the drugstore.
She told me my coffee was getting cold. I said I was calling Jim in regard to that job. That was an ill-chosen lie. Now she'll start in on that again.
I drank my coffee and typed a while. But I didn't know what I was doing. I was trying hard to settle my mind.
She has to be somewhere, I thought. I know I didn't dream all those moments together. I know I didn't imagine all the trouble I had keeping it a secret from Mary. And I know that Mike and Sally didn't…
Sally! Sally lived at the Club Stanley too.
I told Mary I had a headache and was going out for an aspirin. She said there must be some in the men's room. I told her they were a kind I didn't like. I get involved in the flimsiest
I half ran to the nearby drugstore. Naturally I didn't want to use the phone at work again.
The same operator answered my ring.
"Is Miss Sally Norton there?" I asked.
"One moment please," she said, and I felt a sinking sensation in my stomach. She always knew the regular members right away. And Sally and Jean had been living there for at least two years.
"I'm sorry," she said. "No one by that name is listed here."
I groaned. "Oh my God."
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No Jean Lane and no Sally Norton live there?"
"Are you the same party who called a little while ago?"
"Now look. If this is a joke…"
"A joke! Last night I called you and you told me Miss Lane was out and would I like to leave a message. I said no. Then I call tonight and you tell me there's nobody there by that name."
"I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I was on the board last night but I don't recall what you say. If you like I'll connect you with the house manager."
"No, never mind," I said and hung up.
Then I dialled Mike's number. But he wasn't home. His wife Gladys answered, told me Mike had gone bowling.
I was a little nervous or I wouldn't have slipped up.
"With the boys?" I asked her.
She sounded kind of slighted. "Well, I hope so," she said.
I'm getting scared.
I called Mike again tonight. I asked him about Sally.
"Sally who?" he asked.
"You know damn well Sally who, you hypocrite!"
"What is this, a gag?" he asked.
"Maybe it is," I said. "How about cutting it out?"
"Let's start all over," he said. "Who the hell is Sally?"
"You don't know Sally Norton?"
"No. Who is she?"
"You never went on a date with her and Jean Lane and me?"
"Jean Lane! What are you talking about?"
"You don't know Jean Lane either?"
"No, I don't and this is getting very unfunny. I don't know what you're trying to pull but cut it out. As two married men we…"
"Listen!" I almost shouted into the phone. "Where were you three weeks ago Saturday night?"
He was silent a moment.
"Wasn't that the night you and I bached while Mary and Glad went to see the fashion show at…"
"Bached! There was no one with us?"
"No girls? Sally? Jean?"
"Oh, here we go again," he groaned. "Look, pal, what's eating you? Anything I can do?"
I slumped against the wall of the telephone booth.
"No," I said weakly "No."
"Are you sure you're all right? You sound upset as hell."
I hung up. I am upset. I have a feeling as though I'm starving and there isn't a scrap of food in the whole world to feed me.
There was only one way to find out if Sally and Jean had really disappeared.
I had met Jean through a friend I knew at college. Her home is in Chicago and so is my friend Dave's. He was the one who gave me her New York address, the Club Stanley. Naturally I didn't tell Dave I was married.
So I'd looked up Jean and I went out with her and Mike went out with her friend Sally. That's the way it was, I know it happened.
So today I wrote a letter to Dave. I told him what had happened. I begged him to check up at her home and write quickly and tell me it was a joke or some amazing set of coincidences. Then I got out my address book.
Dave's name is gone from the book.
Am I really going crazy? I know perfectly well that the address was in there. I can remember the night, years ago, when I carefully wrote it down because I didn't want to lose contact with him after we graduated from college. I can even remember the ink blot I made when I wrote it because my pen leaked.
The page is blank.
I remember his name, how he looked, how he talked, the things we did, the classes we took together.
I even had a letter of his he sent me one Easter vacation while I was at school. I remember Mike was over at my room. Since we lived in New York there wasn't time to get home because the vacation was only for a few days.
But Dave had gone home to Chicago and, from there, sent us a very funny letter, special delivery. I remember how he sealed it with wax and stamped it with his ring for a gag.
The letter is gone from the drawer where I always kept it.
And I had three pictures of Dave taken on graduation day. Two of them I kept in my picture album. They're still there…
But he's not on them.
They're just pictures of the campus with buildings in the background.
I'm afraid to go on looking. I could write the college or call them and ask if Dave ever went there.
But I'm afraid to try.
Today I went out to Hempstead to see Jim. I went to his office. He was surprised when I walked in. He wanted to know why I'd travelled so far just to see him.
"Don't tell me you've decided to take that job offer," he said.
I asked him, "Jim, did you ever hear me talking about a girl named Jean in New York?"
"Jean? No, I don't think so."
"Come on, Jim. I did mention her to you. Don't you remember the last time you and I and Mike played poker? I told you about her then."
"I don't remember, Bob," he said. "What about her?"
"I can't find her. And I can't find the girl Mike went out with. And Mike denies that he ever knew either of them."
He looked confused so I told him again. Then he said, "What's this? Two old married men gallivanting around with…"
"They were just friends," I cut in. "I met them through a fellow I knew at college. Don't get any bright ideas."
"All right, all right, skip it. Where do I fit in?"
"I can’t find them. They're gone. I can't even prove they existed."
He shrugged. "So what?" Then he asked me if Mary knew about it. I brushed that off.
"Didn't I mention Jean in any of my letters?" I asked him.
"Couldn't say. I never keep letters."
I left soon after that. He was getting too curious. I can see it now. He tells his wife, his wife tells Mary-fireworks.
When I rode to work late this afternoon I had the most awful feeling that I was something temporary. When I sat down it was like resting on air.
I guess I must be cracking. Because I bumped into an old man deliberately to find out if he saw me or felt me. He snarled and called me a clumsy idiot.
I was grateful for that.
Tonight at work I called up Mike again to see if he remembered Dave from college.
The phone rang, then it clicked off. The operator cut in and asked, "What number are you calling, sir?"
A chill covered me. I gave her the number. She told me there wasn't any such number.
The phone fell out of my hand and clattered on the floor. Mary stood up at her desk and looked over. The operator was saying, "Hello, hello, hello…" I hurriedly put the phone back in the cradle.
"What happened?" Mary asked when I came back to my desk.
"I dropped the phone." I said.
I sat and worked and shivered with cold.
I'm afraid to tell Mary about Mike and his wife Gladys.
I'm afraid she'll say she never heard of them.
Today I checked up on Design Handbook. Information told me there was no such publication listed. But I went over to the city anyway. Mary was angry about me going. But I had to go.
I went to the building. I looked at the directory in the lobby. And even though I knew I wouldn't find the magazine listed there, it was still a shock that made me feel sick and hollow.
I was dizzy as I rode up the elevator. I felt as if I were drifting away from everything.
I got off at the third floor at the exact spot where I'd called for Jean that afternoon.
There was a textile company there.
"There never was a magazine here?" I asked the receptionist.
"Not as long as I can remember," she said. "Of course I've only been here three years."
I went home. I told Mary I was sick and didn't want to go to work tonight. She said all right she wouldn't go either. I went into the bedroom to be alone. I stood in the place where we're going to put the new bed when it's delivered next week.
Mary came in. She stood in the doorway restively.
"Bob, what's the matter?" she asked. "Don't I have a right to know?"
"Nothing," I told her.
"Oh, please don't tell me that," she said. "I know there is."
I started toward her. Then I turned away.
"I… I have to write a letter," I said.
I flared up. "That's my business," I said. Then I told her to Jim.
She turned away. "I wish I could believe you," she said.
"What does that mean?" I asked. She looked at me for a long moment and then turned away again.
"Give Jim my best," she said, and her voice shook. The way she said it made me shudder.
I sat down and wrote the letter to Jim. I decided he might help. Things were too desperate for secrecy. I told him that Mike was gone. I asked him if he remembered Mike.
Funny. My hand hardly shook at all. Maybe that's the way it is when you're almost gone.
Mary had to work on some special typing today. She left early.
After I had breakfast I got the bank book out of the metal box in the bedroom closet. I was going down to the bank to get the money for the bed.
At the bank I filled out a withdrawal slip for $97. Then I waited in line and finally handed the slip and the book to the teller.
He opened it and looked up with a frown.
"This supposed to be funny?" he asked.
"What do you mean, funny?"
He pushed the book across to me. "Next," he said.
I guess I shouted. "What's the matter with you!"
Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the men at the front desks jump up and hurry over. A woman behind me said, "Let me at the window, if you please."
The man came fussing up.
"What seems to be the trouble, sir?" he asked me.
"The teller refuses to honour my bank book," I told him.
He asked for the book and I handed it to him. He opened it. Then he looked up in surprise. He spoke quietly.
"This book is blank," he said.
I grabbed it and stared at it, my heart pounding.
It was completely unused.
"Oh, my God," I moaned.
"Perhaps we can check on the number of the book," the man said. "Why don't you step over to my desk?"
But there wasn't any number on the book. I saw that. And I felt tears coming into my eyes.
"No," I said. "No." I walked past him and started toward the doorway
"One moment, sir," he called after me.
I ran out and ran all the way home.
I waited in the front room for Mary to come home. I'm waiting now. I'm looking at the bank book. At the line where we both signed our names. At the spaces where we had made our deposits. Fifty dollars from her parents on our first anniversary
Two hundred and thirty dollars from my veteran's insurance dividend. Twenty dollars. Ten dollars.
Everything is going. Jean. Sally. Mike. Names fluttering away and the people with them.
Now this. What's next?
Mary hasn't come home.
I called up the office. I heard Sam answer and I asked him if Mary was there. He said I must have the wrong number, no Mary works there. I told him who I was. I asked him if I worked there.
"Stop the kidding around," he said. "See you Monday night."
I called up my cousin, my sister, her cousin, her sister, her parents. No answer. Not even ringing. None of the numbers work. Then they're all gone.
I don't know what to do. All day I've been sitting in the living room looking out at the street. I've been watching to see if anybody I know comes by the house. But they don't. They're all strangers.
I'm afraid to leave the house. That's all there is left. Our furniture and our clothes.
I mean my clothes. Her closet is empty. I looked into it this morning when I woke up and there wasn't a scrap of clothing left. It's like a magic act, everything disappearing, it's like…
I just laughed. I must be…
I called the furniture store. It's open Sunday afternoons. They said they had no record of us buying a bed. Would I like to come in and check?
I hung up and looked out the window some more.
I thought of calling up my aunt in Detroit. But I can't remember the number. And it isn't in my address book any more. The entire book is blank. Except for my name on the cover stamped in gold.
My name. Only my name. What can I say? What can I do? Everything is so simple. There's nothing to do.
I've been looking at my photograph album. Almost all the pictures are different. There aren't any people on them.
Mary is gone and all of our friends and our relatives.
In the wedding picture I sit all by myself at a huge table covered with food. My left arm is out and bent as though I were embracing my bride. And all along the table are glasses floating in the air.
I just got back the letter I sent Jim. It has NO SUCH ADDRESS stamped on the envelope.
I tried to catch the mailman but I couldn't. He was gone before I woke up.
I went down to the grocer before. He knew me. But when I asked him about Mary he said stop kidding, I'd die a bachelor and we both knew it.
I have only one more idea. It's a risk, but I'll have to take it. I'll have to leave the house and go downtown to the Veteran's Administration. I want to see if my records are there. If they are, they'll have something about my schooling and about my marriage and the people who were in my life.
I'm taking this book with me. I don't want to lose it. If I lost it, then I wouldn't have a thing in the world to remind me that I'm not insane.
The house is gone.
I'm sitting in the corner candy store.
When I got back from the V.A. I found an empty lot there. I asked some of the boys playing there if they knew me. They said they didn't. I asked them what happened to the house. They said they'd been playing in that empty lot since they were babies.
The V.A. didn't have any records about me. Not a thing.
That means I'm not even a person now. All I have is all I am, my body and the clothes on it. All the identification papers are gone from my wallet.
My watch is gone too. Just like that. From my wrist.
It had an inscription on the back. I remember it.
To my own darling with all my love. Mary.
I'm having a cup of cof