Ray and Mary argue. She’s fat and he smokes, and they argue about that. They argue about the lawn, they argue about Biznezz, their Jack Russell terrier. But as Ray knows, “It’s really all the same argument. It has circularity.” In addition to arguing, they lie. He lies about how much he smokes and she lies about the Little Debbie cakes she eats. As the story opens, they’re on their way to Wal-Mart, but Mary wants to stop at the Quik-Pik to get a purple ball for her niece, a 99 cent birthday present. And Ray asks her to also get some cigarettes while she’s inside and he stays with the dog in the car, and to save money he’s willing to accept Premium Harmony, a cheap brand. We get the point. They don’t have much money, but they’re killing themselves with the things they’re wasting money on. Which is what happens.
When Mary doesn’t come back, Ray investigates. (We’ve seen him keep the windows up because it’s so hot, so when he locks the door, leaving the dog inside, we know what’s going to happen.) He gets into the store and finds Mary dead on the floor from an apparent heart attack. He protests, but he’s not terribly upset about it. It takes some time for formalities, the body is carted away. Time goes by, and then he remembers the dog. Who, when Ray opens the door, is dead, and Ray is both amused and saddened by the idea of a baked Jack Russell terrier.
Ray now cries, but it occurs to him that now no one will complain about his smoking. He can smoke when and where he pleases.
What? This is a story? Stephen King gets away with this?
November 9, 2009: “Premium Harmony” by Stephen King