"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

There are no ghosts: Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959)

Picking up a copy of Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho today is a major challenge for the reader. The novel [as a novel] has been paved-over with several layers of other media, a fraction of which can be listed off the top of my head:

  • Hitchcock's 1960 film.

  • Psycho 2 in 1983

  • Psycho 3 in 1986

  • Psycho 4 in 1990 [I liked it.]

  • A 1998 "remake"

  • Various TV series

  • Mel Brooks' High Anxiety

  • Bloch's own fictional sequels [which I have not yet read].

This week, after reading three collections of Bloch stories and the outstanding novel The Scarf, I decided to try a "somewhere in time" and read the novel for the first time.

The acute characterization of protagonist Norman Bates is a shock to the reader.  Bloch presents us with a flabby, middle-aged alcoholic who likes reading outrĂ© non-fiction about Inca sacrifices and pop psychology and occult books.  He is lazy, lethargic, and carefully encased in the bell jar of his own psychosis.  

As a flabby, lazy, and lethargic middle aged tippler myself, it is hard not to pity Norman Bates.

Especially when he comes up against his mother in the opening chapter:

"Norman, do you know what time it is?"

He sighed and closed the book. He could tell now that she was going to be difficult; the very question was a challenge. Mother had to pass the grandfather clock in the hall in order to come in here and she could easily see what time it was.

Still, no sense making an issue of it. Norman glanced down at his wrist watch, then smiled. "A little after five," he said. "I actually didn't realize it was so late. I've been reading --"

"Don't you think I have eyes? I can see what you've been doing." She was over at the window now, staring out at the rain. "And I can see what you haven't been doing, too. Why didn't you turn the sign on when it got dark? And why aren't you up at the office where you belong?"

"Well, it started to rain so hard, and I didn't expect there'd be any traffic in this kind of weather.

"Nonsense! That's just the time you're likely to get some business. Lots of folks don't care to drive when it's raining."

"But it isn't likely anybody would be coming this way. Everyone takes the new highway." Norman heard the bitterness creeping into his voice, felt it welling up into his throat until he could taste it, and tried to hold it back. But too late now; he had to vomit it out. "I told you how it would be at the time, when we got that advance tip that they were moving the highway. You could have sold the motel then, before there was a public announcement about the new road coming through. We could have bought all kinds of land over there for a song, closer to Fairvale, too. We'd have had a new motel, a new house, made some money. But you wouldn't listen. You never listen to me, do you? It's always what _you_ want and what _you_ think. You make me sick!"

"Do I, boy?" Mother's voice was deceptively gentle, but that didn't fool Norman. Not when she called him "boy." Forty years old, and she called him "boy": that's how she treated him, too, which made it worse. If only he didn't have to listen! But he did, he knew he had to, he always had to listen.

"Do I, boy?" she repeated, even more softly. "I make you sick, eh? Well, I think not. No, boy, _I_ don't make you sick. You make yourself sick.

"That's the real reason you're still sitting over here on this side road, isn't it, Norman? Because the truth is that you haven't any gumption. Never had any gumption, did you, boy?

"Never had the gumption to leave home. Never had the gumption to go out and get yourself a job, or join the army, or even find yourself a girl --"

"You wouldn't let me!"

"That's right, Norman. I wouldn't let you. But if you were half a man, you'd have gone your own way."

He wanted to shout out at her that she was wrong, but he couldn't. Because the things she was saying were the things he had told himself, over and over again, all through the years. It was true. She'd always laid down the law to him, but that didn't mean he always had to obey. Mothers sometimes are overly possessive, but not all children allow themselves to be possessed. There had been other widows, other only sons, and not all of them became enmeshed in this sort of relationship. It was really his fault as much as hers. Because he didn't have any gumption.

He also has my sympathy when Mary Crane gives him an instant reality check over dinner later that rainy night:

"Mr. Bates, you'll pardon me for saying this but how long do you intend to go on this way? You're a grown man. You certainly must realize that you can't be expected to act like a little boy all the rest of your life. I don't mean to be rude, but --"

"I understand. I'm well aware of the situation. As I told you, I've done a bit of reading. I know what the psychologists say about such things. But I have a duty toward my mother."

"Wouldn't you perhaps be fulfilling that duty to her, and to yourself as well, if you arranged to put her in an--institution?"

"She's not crazy!"

The voice wasn't soft and apologetic any longer; it was high and shrill. And the pudgy man was on his feet, his hands sweeping a cup from the table. It shattered on the floor, but Mary didn't look at it; she could only stare into the shattered face.

"She's not crazy," he repeated. "No matter what you think, or anybody thinks. No matter what the books say, or what those doctors would say out at the asylum. I know all about that. They'd certify her in a hurry and lock her away if they could--all I'd have to do is give them the word. But I wouldn't, because I know. Don't you understand that? I _know_, and they don't know. They don't know how she took care of me all those years, when there was nobody else who cared, how she worked for me and suffered because of me, the sacrifices she made. If she's a little odd now, it's my fault, I'm responsible. When she came to me that time, told me she wanted to get married again, I'm the one who stopped her. Yes, I stopped her, I was to blame for that! You don't have to tell me about jealousy, possessiveness--I was worse than she could ever be. Ten times crazier, if that's the word you want to use. They'd have locked _me_ up in a minute if they knew the things I said and did, the way I carried on. Well, I got over it, finally. And she didn't. But who are you to say a person should be put away? I think perhaps all of us go a little crazy at times."

He stopped, not because he was out of words but because he was out of breath. His face was very red, and the puckered lips were beginning to tremble.

Mary stood up. "I'm--I'm sorry," she said softly. "Really, I am. I want to apologize. I had no right to say what I did."

"Yes. I know. But it doesn't matter. It's just that I'm not used to talking about these things. You live alone like this and everything gets bottled up. Bottled up, or stuffed, like that squirrel up there."

His color lightened, and he attempted a smile. "Cute little fellow, isn't he? I've often wished I had a live one around that I could tame for a pet."

Mary picked up her purse. "I'll be running along now. It's getting late."

"Please don't go. I'm sorry I made such a fuss."

And poor Mary Crane!  Her last act is to make the decision to drive back home and return the stolen money.  She is murdered, and her sister and fiancĂ© will think of her forever as a stranger and a thief.  That's a very bitter fact at the heart of the story for me.

The pivot of the novel are Chapters 13 & 14, a crackerjack build-up of suspense in which Norman finally begins to crumble.


Norman knew they were coming, even before he saw them driving in.

He didn't know _who_ they'd be, or what they'd look like, or even how many of them would come. But he knew they were coming.

He'd known it ever since last night when he lay in bed and listened to the stranger pound on the door. He had stayed very quiet, not even getting up to peek through the upstairs window. In fact, he'd even put his head under the covers while he waited for the stranger to go away. Finally, he _did_ leave. It was lucky that Mother was locked in the fruit cellar. Lucky for him, lucky for hers lucky for the stranger.

But he'd known, then, that this wouldn't be the end of it. And it wasn't. This afternoon, when he was down at the swamp again, cleaning up, Sheriff Chambers had driven in.

It gave Norman quite a start, seeing the Sheriff again, after all these years. He remembered him very well, from the time of the nightmare. That's the way Norman always thought about Uncle Joe Considine and the poison and everything--it had been a long, long nightmare from the moment he phoned the Sheriff until months afterward, when they let him out of the hospital to come back here to the house once more.

Seeing Sheriff Chambers now was like having the same nightmare all over, but people _do_ have the same nightmare again and again. And the important thing to remember was that Norman had fooled the Sheriff the first time, when everything had been much harder. This time it should be even easier, if he remembered to be cairn. It should be, and it was.

He answered all the questions, he gave the Sheriff the keys, he let him search the house alone. That was even funny, in a way--letting the Sheriff go up to the house and search while Norman stayed down at the edge of the swamp and finished smoothing out all the footprints. It was funny, that is, as long as Mother kept quiet. If she thought Norman was down there in the cellar, if she cried out or made a sound, then there'd be real trouble. But she wouldn't do that, she had been warned, and besides the Sheriff wasn't even looking for Mother. He thought she was dead and buried.

How he'd fooled him the first time! Yes, and he fooled him just as easily again, because the Sheriff came back and he hadn't noticed a thing. He asked Norman some more questions about the girl and Arbogast and going to Chicago. Norman was tempted to invent a little more-- maybe even, say that the girl had mentioned staying at a certain hotel up there-but an second thought he realized it wouldn't be wise. It was better to just stick to what he'd already made up. The Sheriff believed that. He almost apologized before he went away.

So that part was settled, but Norman knew there'd be more. Sheriff Chambers hadn't come out here just on his own initiative. He wasn't following up any hunch--he couldn't be, because he hadn't known anything. His phone call yesterday was the tipoff. It meant somebody else knew about Arbogast and the girl. They got Sheriff Chambers to call. They sent the stranger out here last night, to snoop. They sent the Sheriff out today. And the next step would be to come out themselves. It was inevitable. Inevitable.

When Norman thought about that, his heart started up again. He wanted to do all sorts of crazy things--run away, go down into the cellar and put his head in Mother's lap, go upstairs and pull the coverS back over his head. But none of this would help. He couldn't run away and leave Mother, and he couldn't risk taking her with him, now; not in her condition. He couldn't even go to her for comfort or advice. Up until last week, that's just what he would have done, but he didn't trust her any more, couldn't trust her after what had happened. And pulling the covers over his head wouldn't help.

If they came here again, he'd have to face them. That was the only sensible solution. Just face them, stick to his story, and nothing would happen.

But meanwhile he had to do something about the way his heart pounded.

He sat there in the office, all alone. Alabama had pulled out early this morning, and Illinois had left right after lunch There were no new customers. It was beginning to cloud up again, and if the storm came he needn't expect any business this evening. So one drink wouldn't hurt. Not if it made his heart calm down again.

Norman found a bottle in the cubbyhole under the counter. It was the second bottle of the three he'd put there over a month ago. That wasn't bad; just the second bottle. Drinking the first one had gotten him into all this trouble, but it wouldn't happen that way again. Not now, when he could be sure Mother was safely out of the way. In a little while, when it got dark, he'd see about fixing her some dinner. Maybe tonight they could talk. But right now, he needed this drink. These thinks. The first didn't really help, but the second did the trick. FIe was quite relaxed now. Quite relaxed. He could even take a third one if he wanted to.

And then he wanted to very much, because he saw the car drive in.

It had nothing to distinguish it from any other car, no out-of-state license or anything like that, but Norman knew right away that _they_ were here. When you're a psychic sensitive, you can _feel_ the vibrations. And you can feel your heart pound, so you gulp the drink and watch them get out of the car. The man was ordinary looking, and for a moment Norman wondered if he hadn't made a mistake. But then he saw the girl.

He saw the girl, and he tilted the bottle up -- tilted it up to take a hasty swallow and to hide her face at the same time--because it was _the_ girl.

_She'd come back, out of the swamp!_

No. No, she couldn't. That wasn't the answer, it couldn't be. Look at her again. Now, in the light. Her hair wasn't the same color at all, really; it was brownish blond. And she wasn't as heavy. But she looked enough like the girl to be her sister.

Yes, of course. That must be who she was. And it explained everything. This Jane Wilson or whatever her real name was had run away with that money. The detective came after her, and now her sister. That was the answer.

He knew what Mother would do in a case like this. But thank God he'd never have to run _that_ risk again. All he had to do was stick to his story and they'd go away. Just remember nobody could find anything, nobody could prove anything. And there was nothing to worry about, now that he knew what to expect.

The liquor had helped. It helped him to stand patiently behind the counter while he waited for them to come in. He could see them talking together outside the office, and that didn't bother him. He could see the dark clouds coming on out of the west, and that didn't bother him either. He saw the sky darken as the sun surrendered its splendor. _The sun surrendered its splendor_--why, it was like poetry; he was a poet; Norman smiled. He was many things. If they only knew --

But they didn't know, and they wouldn't know, and right now he was just a fat, middleaged motel proprietor who blinked up at the pair of them as they came in and said, "Can I help you?"

The man came up to the counter. Norman braced himself for the first question, then blinked again when the man didn't ask it. Instead he was saying, "Could we have a room, please?"

Norman nodded, unable to answer. Had he made a mistake? But no, now the girl was stepping forward, and she _was_ the sister, no doubt about it.

"Yes. Would you like to --"

"No, that's not necessary. We're anxious to get into some clean clothes."

It was a lie. Their clothing was fresh. But Norman smiled. "All right. It's ten dollars, double. If you'll just sign here and pay me now --"

He pushed the register forward. The man hesifated for a moment, then scribbled. Norman had had long practice when it came to reading names upside down. _Mr. and Mrs. Sam Wright. Independence, Mo._

That was another lie. Wright was wrong. Filthy, stupid liars! They thought they were so clever, coming in here and trying to pull their tricks on him. Well, they'd see!

The girl was staring at the register now. Not at the name the man had written, but at another one, up on top of the page. Her sister's name. _Jane Wilson_, or whatever it was.

She didn't think he noticed when she squeezed the man's arm, but he did.

"I'll give you Number One," Norman said.

"Where is that?" the girl asked.

"Down at the end."

"How about Number Six?"

_Number Six_. Norman remembered now. He'd written it down, as he always did after each signature. Number Six had been the room he'd given the sister, of course. She'd noticed that.

"Number Six is up at this end," he said "But you wouldn't want that. The fan's broken."

"Oh, we won't need a fan. Storm's coming up, it'll cool off in a hurry." _Liar_. "Besides, six is our lucky number. We were married on the sixth of this month." _Dirty, filthy liar_.

Norman shrugged. "All right," he said.

And it _was_ all right. Now that he thought it over, it was even _better_ than all right. Because if that's the way the liars were going to play it, if they weren't going to come out with any questions but just sneak around, then Number Six was ideal. He didn't have to worry about them finding anything in there. And he could keep an eye on them. Yes, he could keep an eye on them. Perfect!

So he took the key and he escorted them next door to Number Six. It was only a few steps, but already the wind had come up and it felt chilly there in the twilight. He unlocked the unit while the man brought out a bag. One ridiculous little bag, all the way from Independence. _Nasty, rotten liars!_

He opened the door and they stepped in. "Will there be anything else?" he asked.

"No, we're all right now, thank you."

Norman closed the door. He went back to the office and took another drink. A congratulatory drink. This was going to be even easier than he'd dreamed. It was going to be easy as pie.

Then he tilted the license in its frame and stared through the crack into the bathroom of Number Six.

They weren't occupying it, of course; they were in the bedroom beyond. But he could hear them moving around, and once in a while he caught muffled phrases of their conversation. The two of them were searching for something. What it was he couldn't imagine. Judging from what he overheard, they weren't even sure, themselves.

". . . help if we knew what we were looking for." _The man's voice_.

_And then, the girl's_. ". . . anything happened, there'd be something he overlooked. I'm sure of it. Crime laboratories you read about... always little clues . . ."

_Man's voice again_. "But we're not detectives. I still think . . . better to talk to him.. . come right out, frighten him into admitting . . ."

Norman smiled. They weren't going to frighten _him_ into anything. Any more than they were going to find anything. He'd been over that room thoroughly, from top to bottom. There were no telltale signs of what had happened, not the tiniest stain of blood, not a single hair.

_Her voice, coming closer now_. ". . . understand? If we only _could_ find something to go on, then we'd be able to scare him so that he'd talk."

_She was walking into the bathroom now, and he was following her_. "With any kind of evidence at all we could make the Sheriff come out. The State Police do that kind of laboratory work, don't they?"

_He was standing in the doorway of the bathroom, watching her as she examined the sink_. "Look how clean everything is! I tell you, we'd better talk to him. It's our only chance."

_She had stepped out of Norman's field of vision. She was looking into the shower stall now, he could hear the curtains swishing back. The little bitch, she was just like her sister, she had to go into the shower. Well, let her. Let her and be damned!_

". . . not a sign . . ."

Norman wanted to laugh out loud. Of course there wasn't a sign! He waited for her to step out of the shower stall, but she didn't reappear. Instead he heard a sudden thumping noise.

"What are you doing?"

It was the man who asked the question, but Norman echoed it. What _was_ she doing?

"Just reaching around in back here, behind the stall. You never know . . . Sam. Look! I've found something!"

_She was standing in front of the mirror again, holding something in her hand. What was it, what had the little bitch found?_

"Sam, it's an earring. One of Mary's earrings!"

"Are you sure?"

_No, it couldn't be the other earring. It couldn't be_.

"Of course it's one of hers. I ought to know. I gave them to her myself, for her birthday, last year. There's a custom jeweler who runs a little hole-in-the-wall shop in Dallas. He specializes in making up individual pieces--just one of a kind, you know. I had him do these for her. She thought it was terribly extravagant of me, but she loved them."

_He was holding the earring under the light now, staring at it as she spoke_.

"She must have knocked it off when she was taking her shower and it fell over in back of the stall. Unless something else happ -- Sam, what's the matter?"

"I'm afraid something did happen, Lila. Do you see this? Looks to me like dried blood."


"Yes. Lila, you were right."

_The bitch. They were all bitches. Listen to her, now_.

"Sam, we've got to get into that house. We've _got_ to."

"That's a job for the Sheriff."

"He wouldn't believe us, even if we showed him this. He'd say she fell, bumped her head in the shower, something like that."

"Maybe she did."

"Do you really believe that, Sam? Do you?"

"No." He sighed. "I don't. But it still isn't proof that Bates had anything to do with-- whatever did happen here. It's up to the Sheriff to find out more."

"But he won't do anything, I know he won't! We'd have to have something that would really convince him, something from the house. I know we could find something there."

"No. Too dangerous."

"Then let's find Bates, show this to him. Maybe we can make him talk."

"Yes, and maybe we can't. If he _is_ involved, do you think he's just going to break down and confess? The smartest thing to do is go after the Sheriff, right now."

"What if Bates is suspicious? If he sees us leave, he might run away."

"He doesn't suspect us, Lila. But if you're worried, we could just put through a call --"

"The phone is in the office. He'd hear us." Lila paused for a moment. "Listen, Sam. Let _me_ go after the Sheriff. You stay here and talk to Bates."

"And accuse him?"

"Certainly not! Just go in and talk to him while I leave. Tell him I'm running into town to go to the drugstore, tell him anything, just so he doesn't get alarmed and stays put. Then we can be sure of things."

"Well --"

"Give me the earring, Sam."

The voices faded, because they were going back into the other room. The voices faded, but the words remained. The man was staying here while _she_ went and got the Sheriff. That's the way it was going to be. And he couldn't stop her. If Mother was here, she'd stop her. She'd stop them both. But Mother wasn't here. She was locked up in the fruit cellar.

Yes, and if that little bitch showed the Sheriff the bloody earring, he'd come back and look for Mother. Even if he didn't find her in the cellar, he might get an idea. For twenty years now he hadn't even dreamed the truth, but he might, now. He might do the one thing Norman kad always been afraid he'd do. He might find out what really happened the night Uncle Joe Considine died.

There were more sounds coming from next door. Norman adjusted the license frame hastily; he reached for the bottle again. But there was no time to take another drink, not now. Because he could hear the door slam, they were coming out of Number Six, she was going to the car and he was walldng in here.

He turned to face the man, wondering what he was going to say.

But even more, he was wondering what the Sheriff would do. _The Sheriff could go up to Fairvale Cemetery and open Mother's grave. And when he opened It, when he saw the empty coffin, then he'd know the real secret._

_He'd know that Mother was alive._

There was a pounding in Norman's chest, a pounding that was drowned out by the first rumble of thunder as the man opened the door and came in.


For a moment Sam hoped that the sudden thunder would muffle the sound of the car starting in the driveway. Then, he noticed that Bates was standing at the end of the counter. From that position he could see the entire driveway and a quarter of a mile up the road. So there was no sense trying to ignore Lila's departure.

"Mind if I come in for a few minutes?" Sam asked. "Wife's taking a little ride into town. She's fresh out of cigarettes."

"Used to have a machine here," Bates answered. "But there wasn't enough call for them, so they yanked it out." He peered over Sam's shoulder, gazing off into the dusk, and Sam knew he was watching the car move onto the highway. "Too bad she has to go all that way. Looks as if it's going to be raining pretty hard in a few minutes.

"Get much rain around here?" Sam sat down on the arm of a battered sofa.

"Quite a bit." Bates nodded vaguely. "We get all kinds of things around here."

What did he mean by that remark? Sam peered up at him in the dim light. The eyes behind the fat man's glasses seemed vacant. Suddenly Sam caught the telltale whiff of alcohol, and at the same moment he noticed the bottle standing at the edge of the counter. That was the answer; Bates was a little bit drunk. Just enough to immobilize his expression, but not enough to affect his awareness. He caught Sam looking at the whiskey bottle.

"Care for a drink?" he was asking. "Just about to pour a little one for myself when you came in."

Sam hesitated. "Well --"

"Find you a glass. There's one under here someplace." He bent behind the counter, emerged holding a shot-glass. "Don't generally bother with them, myself. Don't generally take a drink when I'm on duty, either. But with the damp coming on, a little something helps, particularly if you have rheumatism the way I do."

He filled the shot-glass, pushed it forward on the counter. Sam rose and walked over to it.

"Besides, there won't be any more customers coming along in this rain. Look at it come down!"

Sam turned. It was raining hard, flow; he couldn't see mere than a few feet up the road in the downpour. It was getting quite dark, too, but Bates made no movement to switch on any lights.

"Go ahead, take your drink and sit down," Bates said. "Don't worry about me. I like to stand here."

Sam returned to the sofa. He glanced at his watch. Lila had been gone about eight minutes now. Even in this rain, she'd get to Fairvale in less than twenty--then ten minutes to find the Sheriff, or say fifteen just to be on the safe side--twenty minutes more to return. Still, it would be better than three quarters of an hour. That was a long time to stall. What could he talk about?

Sam lifted his glass. Bates was taking a swig out of the bottle. He made a gulping noise.

"Must get pretty lonesome out. here sometimes," Sam said.

"That's right." The bottle thumped down on the counter. "Pretty lonesome."

"But interesting, too, in a way, I suppose. I'll bet you get to see all kinds of people in a spot like this."

"They come and go. I don't pay much attention. After a while you hardly notice."

"Been here a long time?"

"Over twenty years, running the motel. I've always lived here, all my life.

"And you run the whole place by yourself?"

"That's right." Bates moved around the counter, carrying the bottle. "Here, let me fill your glass."

"I really shouldn't."

"Won't hurt you. I'm not going to tell your wife." Bates chuckled. "Besides, I don't like to drink alone."

He poured, then retreated behind the counter.

Sam sat back. The man's face was only a gray blur in the growing darkness. The thunder sounded overhead again, but there was no lightning. And here inside everything seemed quiet and peaceful.

Looking at this man, listening to him, Sam was beginning to feel slightly ashamed. He sounded so--so damned _ordinary!_ It was hard to imagine him being mixed up in something like this.

And just what was he mixed up in, anyway, if he _was_ mixed up? Sam didn't know. Mary had stolen some money, Mary had been here overnight, she had lost an earring in the shower. But she could have banged her head, she could have cut her ear when the earring came off. Yes, and she could have gone on to Chicago, too, just the way Arbogast and the Sheriff seemed to think. He really didn't know very much about Mary, when he came right down to it. In a way, her sister seemed more familiar. A nice girl, but too hair-triggered, too impulsive. Always making snap judgments and decisions. Like this business of wanting to run straight up and search Bates's house. Good thing he'd talked her out of that one. Let her bring the Sheriff. Maybe even that was a mistake. The way Bates was acting now, he didn't seem like a man who had anything on his conscience.

Sam remembered that he was supposed to be talking. It wouldn't do to just sit here.

"You were right," he murmured. "It is raining pretty hard."

"I like the sound of the rain," Bates said. "I like the way it comes down hard. It's exciting."

"Never thought of it in that way. Guess you can use a little excitement around here."

"I don't know. We get our share."

"We? I thought you said you lived here alone."

"I said I operated the motel alone. But it belongs to both of us. My mother and me."

Sam almost choked on the whiskey. He lowered the glass, clenching it tightly in his fist. "I didn't know --"

"Of course not, how could you? Nobody does. That's because she always stays in the house. She has to stay there. You see, most people think she's dead."

The voice was calm. Sam couldn't see Bates's face in the dimness now, but he knew it was calm, too.

"Actually, there _is_ excitement around here, after all. Like there was twenty years ago, when Mother and Uncle Joe Considine drank the poison. I called the Sheriff and he came out and found them. Mother left a note, explaining everything. Then they had an inquest, but I didn't go to it. I was sick. Very sick. They took me to the hospital. I was in the hospital a long time. Almost too long to do any good when I got out. But I managed."


Bates didn't reply, but Sam heard the gurgle and then the bottle's thump.

"Here," Bates said. "Let me pour you another."

"Not yet."

"I insist." He was coming around the counter now, and his shadowy bulk loomed over Sam. He reached for Sam's glass.

Sam drew back. "First tell me the rest," he said quickly.

Bates halted. "Oh, yes. I brought Mother back home with me. That was the exciting part, you see--going out to the cemetery at night and digging up the grave. She'd been shut up in that coffin for such a long time that at first I thought she really _was_ dead. But she wasn't, of course. She couldn't be. Or else she wouldn't have been able to communicate with me when I was in the hospital all that while. It was only a trance state, really; what we call suspended animation. I knew how to revive her. There _are_ ways, you know, even if some folks call it magic. Magic--that's just a label, you know. Completely meaningless. It wasn't so very long ago that people were saying that electricity was magic. Actually, it's a force, a force which can be harnessed if you know the secret. Life is a force, too, a vital force. And like electricity, you can turn it off and on, off and on. I'd turned it off, and I knew how to turn it on again. Do you understand me?"

"Yes--it's very interesting."

"I thought you might be interested. You and the young lady. She isn't really your wife, is she?"

"Why --"

"You see, I know more than you think I know. And more than _you_ know, yourself."

"Mr. Bates, are you quite sure you're all right. I mean --"

"I know what you mean. You think I'm drunk, don't you? But I wasn't drunk when you came here. I wasn't drunk when you found that earring and told the young lady to go to the Sheriff."

"I --"

"Sit still, now. Don't be alarmed. I'm not alarmed, am I? And I would be if anything was wrong. But nothing is wrong. You don't think I'd tell you all this if there was anything wrong, do you?" The fat man paused. "No, I waited until I saw her drive up the road. I waited until I saw her stop."

"Stop?" Sam tried to find the face in the darkness, but all he could hear was the voice.

"Yes. You didn't know that she stopped the car, did you? You thought she went on to get the Sheriff, the way you told her. But she has a mind of her own. Remember what she wanted to do? She wanted to take a look at the house. And that's what she did do. That's where she is, now."

"Let me out of here --"

"Of course. I'm not hindering you. It's just that I thought you might like another drink, while I told you the rest about Mother. The reason I thought you might like to know is because of the girl. She'll be meeting Mother, now."

"Get out of my way!"

Sam rose, swiftly, and the blurred bulk fell back.

"You don't want another drink, then?" Bates's voice sounded petulantly over his shoulder. Very well. Have it your own w----"

The end of his sentence was lost in the thunder, and the thunder was lost in the darkness as Sam felt the bottle explode against the roof of his skull. Then voice, thunder, explosion, and Sam himself all disappeared into the night. . . .

And it was still night, but somebody was shaking him and shaking him; shaking him up out of the night and into his room where the light burned, hurting his eyes and making him blink. But Sam could feel now, and somebody's arms were around him, lifting him up, so that at first he felt as if his head would drop off. Then it was only throbbing, throbbing, and he could open his eyes and look at Sheriff Chambers.

Sam was sitting on the floor next to the sofa and Chambers was gazing down at him. Sam opened his mouth.

"Thank God," he said. "He was lying about Lila, then. She did get to you."

The Sheriff didn't seem to be listening. "Got a call from the hotel about half an hour ago. They were trying to locate your friend Arbogast. Seems he checked out, but he never took his bags with him. Left 'em downstairs Saturday morning, said he'd be back, but he never showed. Got to thinking it over, and then I tried to find you. Had a hunch you might have come out here on your own--lucky I followed through."

"Then Lila didn't notify you?" Sam tried to stand up. His head was splitting.

"Take it easy, there." Sheriff Chambers pushed him back. "No, I haven't seen her at all. Wait --"

But this time Sam managed to make it. He stood on his feet swaying.

"What happened here?" the Sheriff muttered. "Where's Bates?"

"He must have gone up to the house after he slugged me," Sam told him. "They're up there now, he and his mother."

"But she's dead --"

"No, she isn't," Sam murmured. "She's alive, the two of them are up at the house with Lila!"

"Come on." The big man ploughed out into the rain. Sam followed him, scrambling along the slippery walk, panting as they began the ascent of the steep slope leading to the house beyond.

"Are you sure?" Chambers called over his shoulder. "Everything's dark up there."

"I'm sure," Sam wheezed. But he might have saved his breath.

The thunder came suddenly and sharply, and the other sound was fainter and much more shrill. Yet both of them heard it, somehow, and both of them recognized it.

Lila was screaming.

I enjoyed reading the novel Psycho, breathing in some of the stale air of 1959. Robert Bloch gives us a world of real desperation. Not only the desperation of Norman Bates, but of people like Sam Loomis, sweating out the debt his dad saddled him with; and Darla Crane, sick and tired of the complacency and timidity of the men around her.

Psycho is a real novel, not just a sociological artifact.  Bravo!

No comments:

Post a Comment