I am on my third reread of Stephen King’s It. (What can I say, I like it that much.) Those who have read the book know that significant portions of it either take place in, or are related to, the canal and drain system beneath the fictional Maine town of Derry.
I was in the house a few evenings ago reading the book, the part where Bev Marsh is in her bathroom and hears the voices in the drain of her sink. Kelly and the kids were outside, playing. I was totally and completely absorbed in the story, but from somewhere, from a distance (like a voice coming from deep within a drain?) I heard crying. I emerged back to consciousness, feeling the same kind of weary connection back to reality that I experience when I’ve spent much of my day heads-down writing code. I saw that just out front, Kelly was holding the Little Man and that he was crying. Curious, I went out to find what had happened.
They’d been playing with a ball. One of those brightly colored, inflatable plastic balls you see stacked in great piles within mesh bins in grocery stores. Giant gumballs filled with air. Kelly had reinflated one of the balls and it bounced really well. Too well. It got away from the Little Man. It got away from Kelly. It rolled slowly across the street, following a track that curved slightly to the left until it dropped into a drain basin. I’d recovered many a lost object from that drain basis, but the thing is, the ball entered the side of the basin closest to our house–dropping straight down into a pipe that resembled, well, a Morlock hole, and was lost in the waterworks deep below our street.
The Little Man was devastated. “Where does it go? Why can’t we get it?” he asked.
“The pipes are too small for us to fit in,” I said, thinking about those pipes running underneath Derry, thinking about the voices.
“Because they are made for water,” I said.
“Where does the water go?”
“Eventually, out to sea–to the ocean.”
“The salt ocean?” the Little Man asked.
“That’s right,” I said.
He burst into tears again, “There’s sharks in the salt ocean and they’ll eat my ball.”
“No they won’t,” I said, “they don’t eat rubber. Or plastic.” I wasn’t sure this was true, but I am, after all, a fiction writer, and it doesn’t have to be true, it just has to make sense to the audience. My audience, in this case, was my three-going-on-four-year-old.
“But the ball will just stay there?”
“Well,” I said, “I think the ball will eventually get used as a house for some small sea animals.”
“But how will they get inside it?”
A gave him a little grin, “The Octonauts will carve some holes in the ball so the animals can get inside.”
He gave me a half-smile, “That’s just a joke, Daddy?”
“Yeah, that’s just a joke.”
We have another ball, just like the one he lost, only orange instead of green. I figured he’d forget about it right away. But he hasn’t. Even as recent as yesterday afternoon, walking home from school, cheerfully telling me about his day, he paused for a moment, silent. Then he said, rather resignedly, “Daddy, my ball is lost down the drain.”
“I’m sad for my ball,” said the Little Man.
“They all FLOAT!”
“..and you’ll float too.” I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection. Maybe on purpose. Instead, in watching the Little Man grow more upset about losing his ball down the drain, I thought of another phrase from the book: “He thrusts his fists against the post and still insists he sees the ghost.” (Try typing that fast three times!)