I started the crummy and headed off to the boat at the bottom of the hill, trying to get the memory straight. The whole conversation started coming back to me, clear as a bell; I still wasn't sure right then whether it had really happened or was just a dream, but, real or a dream, I could remember it damn near word for word.
It as from Willard Eggleston, the little gink who used to run the laundry. He was all keyed up and excited and so screwy-sounding I thought at first he was actually drunk. I was still about nine-tenths asleep and he was trying to tell me some story about him and the colored girl that used to work for him, and about their child - this was what made me think he was drunk -- about the child the two of them had had. I just listened for a while, polite, like I did with the other calls, but after he rambled on long enough I began to see he wasn't just calling to give me a hard time, that there was something else on his mind behind all of his rambling and roaming talk. I let him go on; pretty soon he drew a long breath and said, "That's the story, Mr. Stamper; just like it happened. Every bit the truth, I don't care what you think." I said, "All right, Willard, I'll go along with you, but --" "Every word of it the Lord's pure truth. I know, I personally know, so I don't care if you go along with me or not --" "All right, all right; but you had more on your mind when you called than telling me how proud you are to be able to sire yourself a pickaninny --" "A boy, Mr. Stamper, a son! and not just sire him; I was able to pay for his way in the world like a man should for his son --" "Okay, have it your way: a son, but --" "-- until you went and made it impossible for a fellow to make profit enough to pay for the overhead --" "I might hafta be showed just exactly how I did that, Willard, but for the sake of argument --" "You've all but bankrupted the whole town; do you need to be showed that?" "All I need is just for you to get on around to what you had on your mind when --" "I'm doing exactly that, Mr. Stamper --" ""-- because there's a lot of other anonymous callers these days waitin' their turn at me; I don't want to tie up the line too long with one when so many --" "I am not anonymous, Mr. Stamper; I want to be sure of that; this is Eggleston, Willard --" "Eggleston; all right, Willard, now just what is it you had to tell me -- other'n your secret loves -- at, ah, twelve-twenty-two in the morning?" "Just this, Mr. Stamper: I'm on my way this very moment to kill myself. Ah? No wise comment? This wasn't what you expected, I'll bet? Not from Willard Eggleston, I'll bet? But it's as true as I'm standing here. You'll see. No, don't try to stop me. And don't try to phone the police, because they couldn't reach the place before I do anyway, and if you phoned they would know I phoned you, wouldn't they? and that I phoned to tell you it was your fault that I was forced into --" "Forced? Willard, now listen --" "Yes, forced, Mr. Stamper. You see, I have a very large policy with double indemnity in case of violent death, naming as beneficiary my son. Of course, until he's twenty-one it will --" "Willard, those companies don't pay on suicide!" "That's why I can't have you telling anyone, Mr. Stamper. You see now? I am dying for my son. I've arranged everything to look like an accident. But if you were to --" "Willard, you know what I think?" "-- to tell anyone about this phone call then I would have died in vain, wouldn't that be true? And your guilt would then be doubled --" "I think that you been seeing too many of your own movies." "No, Mr. Stamper! You wait! I know you people think that I'm totally without courage, that I'm just 'that spineless Willard Eggleston.' But you'll see. Oh yes. And don't bother trying to stop me, my mind is made up." "I ain't trying to stop you from anything, Willard." "You'll see tomorrow; oh yes, you'll see what kind of spine --" "I ain't trying to stop anybody from anything, but you know, that looks to me like a pretty poor excuse for spine as far I'm concerned --" "It's no use trying to talk me out of it." "What I'd call a man with spine is a man able to pay for his kid by living for him, no matter how hard it comes --" "I'm sorry, sorry, but you're just wasting your breath." "-- not by dying for him. That's a lot of crap, Willard, dying for somebody." "Just whistling at the wind, Mr. Stamper." "That's the one thing that everybody in the world can do, ain't it, Willard? is die... living is the hassle." "No use, Mr. Stamper, not the slightest. I've made my decision." "Well, good luck, then, Willard..." "There's no way anyone can -- what" "I said 'Good luck'" "Good luck? Good luck? Then you don't believe I'm going to do it!" "Yeah... I think I do; I think I probably do. But I'm tired, and not thinking too sharp, and 'good luck' is about the best I can offer. " "The best you can offer? Good luck? To someone who --" "Christ almighty, Willard; you want me to read you a page of scripture or something? 'Good luck' seems as good as anything in your case, it's better than 'Have fun.' Or 'Bon voyage.' Or 'Sweet dreams.' Or just plain old 'Good-by.' Let's leave it like that, Willard: Good luck, and I'll toss in the good-by for good measure... okeydoke?" "But I havn't --" "I got to try to get some sleep, Willard. So, with all my heart, good luck --" "-- completely finished telling --" "-- and good-by."
"Stamper!" Willard hears the phone buzz in his ear. "Wait, please..." He stands, surrounded by his three dimly lit reflections, listening to that electric hum. This isn't the way he planned it; not at all. He wonders if he should call back, make the man understand! But he knows calling back won't do any good because the man obviously does believe his story, whether he understands completely or not. Yes. There is every indication that he believes him. But... no evidence at all that he was concerned; not even the slightest!
"Sometimes a great notion"
Copyright 1963, 1964 by Ken Kesey