The Green Mile
by Stephen King


The rain had quit by the time I got home, and a late grin of moon had appeared over the ridges to the north. My sleepiness seemed to have gone with the clouds. I was wide awake, and I could smell Delacroix on me. I thought I might smell him on my skin - barbecue, me and you, stinky, pinky, phew-phew-phew - for a long time to come.

Janice was waiting up, as she always did on execution nights. I meant not to tell her the story, saw no sense in harrowing her with it, but she got a clear look at my face as I came in the kitchen door and would have it all. So I sat down, took her warm hands in my cold ones (the heater in my old Ford barely worked, and the weather had turned a hundred and eighty degrees since the storm), and told her what she thought she wanted to hear. About halfway through I broke down crying, which I hadn't expected. I was a little ashamed, but only a little; it was her, you see, and she never taxed me with the times that I slipped from the way I thought a man should be ... the way I thought I should be, at any rate. A man with a good wife is the luckiest of God's creatures, and one without must be among the most miserable, I think, the only true blessing of their lives that they don't know how poorly off they are. I cried, and she held my head against her breast, and when my own storm passed, I felt better ... a little, anyway. And I believe that was when I had the first conscious sight of my idea. Not the shoe; I don't mean that. The shoe was related, but different. All my real idea was right then, however, was an odd realization: that John Coffey and Melinda Moores, different as they might have been in size and sex and skin color, had exactly the same eyes: woeful, sad, and distant. Dying eyes.

“Come to bed,” my wife said at last. “Come to bed with me, Paul.”

So I did, and we made love, and when it was over she went to sleep. As I lay there watching the moon grin and listening to the walls tick - they were at last pulling in, exchanging summer for fall - I thought about John Coffey saying he had helped it. I helped Del's mouse. I helped Mr. Jingles. He's a circus mouse. Sure. And maybe, I thought, we were all circus mice, running around with only the dimmest awareness that God and all His heavenly host were watching us in our Bakelite houses through our ivy-glass windows.

I slept a little as the day began to lighten - two hours, I guess, maybe three; and I slept the way I always sleep these days here in Georgia Pines and hardly ever did then, in thin little licks. What I went to sleep thinking about was the churches youth. The names changed, depending on the whims of my mother and her sisters, but they were all really the same, all The First Backwoods Church of Praise Jesus, The Lord Is Mighty. In the shadow of those blunt, square steeples, the concept of atonement came up as regularly as the toll of the bell which called the faithful to worship. Only God could forgive sins, could and did, washing them away in the agonal blood of His crucified Son, but that did not change the responsibility of His children to atone for those sins (and even their simple errors of judgement) whenever possible. Atonement was powerful; it was the lock on the door you closed against the past.

I fell asleep thinking of piney-woods atonement, and Eduard Delacroix on fire as he rode the lightning, and Melinda Moores, and my big boy with the endlessly weeping eyes. These thoughts twisted their way into a dream. In it, John Coffey was sitting on a riverbank and bawling his inarticulate mooncalf's grief up at the early-summer sky while on the other bank a freight-train stormed endlessly toward a rusty trestle spanning the Trapingus. In the crook of each arm the black man held the body of a naked, blonde-haired girlchild. His fists, huge brown rocks at the ends of those arms' were closed. All around him crickets chirred and noseeums flocked; the day hummed with heat. In my dream I went to him, knelt before him, and took his hands. His fists relaxed and gave up their secrets. In one was a spool colored green and red and yellow. In the other was a prison guard's shoe.

“I couldn't help it,” John Coffey said. “I tried to take it back, but it was too late.”

And this time, in my dream, I understood him.