Three. This is the number of your fate.
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
When we last saw Roland at the end of “Reshuffle,” he’d left Eddie on the beach with a warning to stay alert for the missing Detta, and had gone through the third door. This week, we’ll read “Bitter Medicine,” the first chapter of the section called “The Pusher.”
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 1
A little catchup: We’re reminded that when the gunslinger entered his first host, Eddie had gotten nauseated and experienced a sense of being watched. When he entered Detta, Roland had been forced to “come forward” immediately to keep her from getting arrested for shoplifting at Macy’s.
Jack Mort, we’re told, didn’t feel a thing, because he was busy watching the boy — a boy he wanted to push.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so the word-play is becoming clearer. The name of the Man in Black’s third card was “Death,” and the word death in French is mort. And Jack Mort is fond of pushing, literally.
I have a feeling the boy is Jake. Didn’t he get pushed in front of a car? But wasn’t it the Man in Black who pushed him? Is our MiB about to make another appearance?
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 2
Roland, looking from the back of Jack Mort’s eyes, sees the boy and it is Jake (knew it!). The boy was holding his lunch in a paper bag and a bookbag, and he was waiting to cross a busy street. At first Roland passively thinks this is his punishment — to watch Jake die again. But “the rejection of brutish destiny had been the gunslinger’s work all his life — it had been his ka, if you pleased — and so he came forward without even thinking, acting with reflexes so deep they had nearly become instincts.”
And only then does he have a horrific thought: what if the body of the man he’d entered was the Man in Black, and that he saw his own hands reach out to push Jake to his death?
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland recognizes New York City as being the same city as the one from which both Eddie and Odetta came, but can’t spend much time pondering it because he needs to intervene with Jake.
Roland’s guilt over Jake comes rushing back when he realizes Jack Mort is about to push Jake in front of a car. “That’s to be my punishment for murdering him in my world — to see him murdered in this one before I can stop it.” It’s interesting, and in character I guess, that Roland doesn’t try to sidestep his role in Jake’s death by splitting hairs between whether failure to save Jake is as much murder as if he’d actively killed Jake.
I’m dying here. Surely, Ro’s not having to possess the Man in Black, is he? Is Jack Mort just another name for Walter?
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 3
When Roland comes forward, Jack Mort loses his concentration for what he thinks is an instant but was in fact seven seconds — enough time for the stoplight to change and his opportunity to push Jake to slip away. Annoyed, he turns back down the street, pushing people out of his way.
What Constant Reader Learns: A little about Jack. He’s ill-tempered and has a scar above his chin. And by profession he is a successful accountant. “Pushing was only his hobby,” we’re told.
So, Jack has been stalking Jake for a while, watching his habits, planning his “push.” Which begs the question: why Jake? Is it personal, or is Jake just a random “innocent” target he’s fixated on? More questions than answers so far.
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 4
After his brief move forward, Roland moves back again and faints. He’s relieved the man he’s invaded isn’t the Man in Black, but is horrified at the other realization: that divorced of his body, his mind and spirit was healthy and sharp and he knew that Jack Mort was also the one who pushed the brick on five-year-old Odetta — “a connection “too fantastic and yet too hideously apt to be coincidental.” He understands what the real drawing of the three might be and who they might be.
Roland realizes that Jack Mort is not the third in his ka-tet. The third was Death, and he — Roland — had become death. He believes himself to be the third.
What Constant Reader Learns: I wish Roland had fainted before he figured all that out, because now I have a headache trying to follow his logic. So… Jack is the same one who pushed Odetta when she was a child and who pushed Jake. Roland is now Jack Mort. So Roland is death. So does Jack have a role other than for Roland to come to this amazing realization? Is Roland going to stay in Jack Mort’s body so that he can continue on his quest and let his gunslinger body die? *headdesk*
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 5
Roland, while he’s in a faint, I guess, is pondering what it means that he has stopped Jack Mort from murdering Jake — if that means everything that happened later, after he met Jake at the weigh station (including the meeting with the Man in Black) didn’t happen. So Roland looks around at the other people in the intersection to make sure Walter isn’t hanging out under the Do Not Walk sign. And he realizes that this wasn’t the right when for Jake to die at Walter’s hand.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is an interesting little section of “what if’s” in a theme Stephen King has often seemed fascinated with: what if you had the chance to change something in the past — how would it impact the future, and would you do it if you could. Would you kill Hitler if you had the chance to go back in time and do so, knowing what you know now? It was a theme of The Dead Zone, and plays into his most recent book, 11/22/63.
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 6
Roland realizes Jack Mort had once sat inside the window of a deserted tenement room in an abandoned building, waiting for someone to walk past so he could bean that person with a brick. Of course, it’s Odetta Holmes’ family that comes by, and Jack Mort chooses the little girl to push his brick onto.
He delights in the perfection of his shot with the brick. He pauses just long enough to hear the screams of Odetta’s mother and to see the bright blood on the girl’s head, then hightails it away just in case there’s any suspicion it wasn’t an accident. He doesn’t care about the aftermath, anyway — he only cares about how the “thing which pushed changed the ordinary course of things,” knowing the effects will ripple out in a widening circle. He carefully planned his escape in advance — a trait that plays to his advantage in his vocation as an accountant — and it went off without a hitch.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jack has blond hair and darker blue eyes than Roland, and he’s a planner — even down to how to camouflage his thin body with baggy clothes before getting his jollies by hurting someone. He appears to be a sociopath who thinks of life in terms of (get ready for a “Sign That the World Has Moved On”) the old children’s TV show “Romper Room,” where an oversized bumblebee called Mr. Do-Bee admonished kids on right versus wrong.
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 7
Roland saw all that, and even more, before he can shut it all out.
What Constant Reader Learns: I learn only that Roland is shocked by what he’s seeing, which surprises me. Is he shocked at the brutality of it? Surely he’s seen worse. Even so, he wants to turn his eyes from it, so maybe it’s just the ugliness of the inside of Jack Mort’s head.
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 8
So now we get to see what else Roland saw in Jack’s head. He saw Jack cutting newspaper clippings of the Odetta incident and putting them in a scrapbook that looked to be full of other clippings. Roland realizes Jack has pushed a great many people — including Odetta twice: Once with the brick, and again when he pushed her off the train platform where she lost her legs. Roland is horrified. “What sort of man is this that I am supposed to use?” he asks himself. Then he thinks of Jake, and the push that sent Jake into his world, and hears the laughter of the Man in Black. Then he faints.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so now Roland faints. I guess all that seeing was just done in the instants before he fainted and we were backtracking through his thoughts. Well, wasn’t that confusing. I guess I’m still a bit surprised that Roland would be so shocked after surviving so long in his own brutal world. But he seems horrified by what appears to be the insanity and evil occupying Jack Mort.
I kind of feel like I’m back in The Gunslinger again, with no idea what’s going on. Only without the religious metaphors.
The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 9
When Roland comes to, Jack Mort seems to be at work, looking down at “neat rows of figures marching down a sheet of green paper.” (Another sign the world has moved on: computer spreadsheet and accounting programs!)
He wonders how long he’s been out, and comes forward to find out. He directs Jack Mort’s eyes to a clock. Roland freaks a little to see that it’s after one-thirty, and he wonders if Eddie’s been able to stay awake. So he turns to look behind him at the door to the beach. Standing outside the door are two shadows: a wheelchair, and a legless human supporting itself on its arms. Roland whips his head around so Detta won’t see anything if she looks in the door except the back of Jack Mort’s head.
Then he realizes if Detta looks in she won’t see Jack; she’ll see whatever Jack is seeing. But Roland doesn’t want Detta to see Odetta, even in his head. He ponders going back to save Eddie but realizes that’s what Detta is counting on. Since he saw only her shadow, he realizes she’s lying beside the door with one of his revolvers and as soon as his Roland-body moves, she’ll shoot. Then she’d torture Eddie before she killed him.
Roland stays forward in Jack Mort’s body, feigns illness to a fellow accountant (after realizing Jack’s coworkers are afraid of him without really knowing why), and then leaves to set his plan in motion.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is starting to formulate a plan, but he needs some time. I can’t wait to see how he handles this, and how he uses Jack Mort.
Also, what’s to keep Detta from just killing Roland’s body anyway, trapping his spirit inside Jack Mort, and then stalking Eddie on little stump legs as slowly as she wants to? Why doesn’t that occur to Roland?
That’s it for this week! Next week — same time, same place — we’ll read “The Honeypot,” the first chapter of the section entitled “The Pusher.”