Stephen king, the last rung on the ladder

I got Katrina’s letter yesterday, less than a week after my father and I got back from Los Angeles. It was addressed to Wilmington, Delaware, and I’d moved twice since then. People move around so much now, and it’s funny how those crossed-off addresses and change-of-address stickers can look like accusations. Her letter was rumpled and smudged, one of the corners dog-eared from handling. I read what was in it and the next thing I knew I was standing in the living room with the phone in my hand, getting ready to call Dad. I put the phone down with something like horror. He was an old man, and he’d had two heart attacks. Was I going to call him and tell about Katrina’s letter so soon after we’d been in L. A.? To do that might very well have killed him.

So I didn’t call. And I had no one I could tell. . . a thing like that letter, it’s too personal to tell anyone except a wife or a very close friend. I haven’t made many close friends in the last few years, and my wife Helen and I divorced in 1971. What we exchange now are Christmas cards. How are you? How’s the job? Have a Happy New Year.

I’ve been awake all night with it, with Katrina’s letter. She could have put it on a postcard. There was only a single sentence below the ‘Dear Larry’. ‘But a sentence can mean enough. It can do enough.

I remembered my dad on the plane, his face seeming old and wasted in the harsh sunlight at 18,000 feet as we went west from New York. We had ‘just passed over Omaha, according to the pilot, and Dad said, ‘It’s a lot further away than it looks, Larry.’ There was a heavy sadness in his voice that made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t understand it. I understood it better after getting Katrina’s letter.

We grew up eighty miles west of Omaha in a town called Hemingford Home – my dad, my mom, my sister Katrina, and me. I was two

years older than Katrina, whom everyone called Kitty. She was a beautiful child and a beautiful woman – even at eight, the year of the incident in the barn, you could see that her cornsilk hair was never going to darken and that those eyes would always be a dark, Scandinavian blue. A look in those eyes and a man would be gone.

I guess you’d say we grew up hicks. My dad had three hundred acres of flat, rich land, and he grew feed corn and raised cattle. Everybody just called it ‘the home place’. In those days all the roads were dirt except Interstate 80 and Nebraska Route 96, and a trip to town was something you waited three days for.

Nowadays I’m one of the best independent corporation lawyers in America, so they tell me – and I’d have to admit for the sake of honesty that I think they’re right. A president of a large company once introduced me to his board of directors as his hired gun. I wear expensive suits and my shoe-leather is the best. I’ve got three assistants on full-time pay, and I can call in another dozen if [need them. But in those days I walked up a dirt road to a one-room school with books tied in a belt over my shoulder, and Katrina walked with me. Sometimes, in the spring, we went barefoot. That was in the days before you couldn’t get served in a diner or shop in a market unless you were wearing shoes.

Later on, my mother died – Katrina and I were in high school up at Columbia City then – and two years after that my dad lost the place and went to work selling tractors. It was the end of the family, although that didn’t seem so bad then. Dad got along in his work, bought himself a dealership, and got tapped for a management position about nine years ago.

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Stephen king, the last rung on the ladder