We last left off with Charles Campion crashing into the gas pumps and infecting the men who were gathered there. Now we are going over to meet another main protagonist, Frannie Goldsmith.
I admit, I had a hard time with this chapter, because I do not understand romantic relationships.
We first see Frannie as she goes to meet her boyfriend at the pier at the Atlantic ocean in a small town in Maine. A lot of Stephen King’s books are either set in Maine or have characters that visit Maine or are from Maine. It’s like Stephen King really likes Maine or something.
Gus, a balding, paunchy town fixture, was coming out to meet her. The fee for visitors was a dollar a car, but he knew Frannie lived in town without bothering to look at the RESIDENT sticker on the corner of her Volvo’s windshield. Fran came here a lot.
Poor Gus. He’s probably gonna die.
Sure I do, Fran thought. In fact, I got pregnant right down there on the beach, just about 12 feet above the high tide line.
Poor Fran. She thinks she’s just an ordinary college student dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. She has no idea what novel she’s really in.
We are then told that the date is June 17. I haven’t really been keeping track of when things happen, and I probably should be.
Frannie…was a tall girl with chestnut hair that fell halfway down the back of the buff colored shift she was wearing. Good figure. Long legs that got appreciative glances. Prime stuff was the correct frat house term, she believed. Looky-looky-looky-here-comes-nooky. Miss College Girl, 1990.
Obviously that date is different in the edited edition, but set that aside. This is character development: Frannie is sexy and she knows it. It’s possibly supposed to come across as conceited on her part, but eh, more power to her if she feels empowered by “appreciative glances.” I personally would feel a bit creeped out, but to each her own.
Jess Rider, age 20, one year younger than our Heroine, Little Fran. He was a practicing college student undergraduate poet. You could tell by his immaculate blue chambray workshirt.
Frannie begins making her way along the pier, out to where Jesse is skipping stones.
She walked slowly, trying her best to cope with the thought that she might have fallen out of love with him in the space of the 11 days that she had known she was “a little bit preggers,” in the words of Amy Lauder. Well, he had gotten her into that condition, hadn’t he?
Yes….and no… spoiler alert, Fran wasn’t raped. She and Jesse got her into this condition.
But not alone, that was for sure.
Yes. Both of you are equally responsible for this.
And she had been on the pill. That was the simplest thing in the world. She’d gone to the campus infirmary, told the doctor she was having painful menstruation and all sorts of embarrassing eructations on her skin, and the doctor had written her a prescription.
Yeah, it really is that simple. I was kind of surprised I was able to get it so easily. Of course in my case I really was having painful cramps, but set that aside.
It occurred to her that the infirmary doctors probably heard about painful menstruation and too many pimples often…. she could just as easily have gone to him and said: “Gimme the pill. I’m gonna fuck.” She was of age, why be coy? She looked at Jesse’s back and sighed. Because coyness gets to be a way of life. She began to walk again.
All of which is true. Even in 2017, there’s still a lot of stigma about women who want to have sex with their boyfriends. King originally wrote this in the 1970s, so I imagine this was more pronounced back then. So yeah, I understand that Frannie wouldn’t want to discuss it (though she probably should disclose to her doctor that she has an active sex life so she can get regular STD screening, but set that aside.)
Fran thinks she’s pregnant because
- Someone at quality control in the birth control factory fucked up
- Fran forgot a pill and then forgot that she forgot
Nowhere does anyone mention that the efficacy of the pill is still only in the high 90s range. Even when taken as prescribed, birth control isn’t 100% effective, and there are some people for whom it just doesn’t work as a contraceptive. That’s why the little instruction booklet that comes with each pack of pills tells you to always use a backup method, just in case. No method of birth control is 100% reliable. Even abstinence failed once in 6,000 years.
Fran sneaks up behind Jesse, startling him into almost falling off the pier. This makes Fran laugh hilariously. Jesse doesn’t think it’s so funny.
“We almost fell in the water,” he said, taking a resentful step toward her. She took a step backward to compensate, tripped over a rock, and sat down hard. Her jaws clicked together hard with her tongue between them–exquisite pain!–and….her tongue was bleeding and tears of pain were streaming from her eyes.
Jesse asks Fran if she’s ok, and Fran thinks about how she really is still in love with him. She says that only her pride is hurt, and sticks out her tongue to show him.
“Jesus, Fran, you’re really bleeding.”
Fran begins to spit out lots and lots of blood, then asks if they can go for ice cream.
They were walking back along the pier now, hand in hand. She paused every now and then to spit over the side. Bright red.
I like this, because it’s almost like a bait and switch. At this point, we have no idea what the symptoms of the disease look like. So for all we know, one of the onset symptoms could be “excessive bleeding from minor wounds.” When I first read this, I wondered if Fran and her baby were both about to die horrific deaths.
“Are there any arteries in a person’s tongue?” [Fran asked]
Actually there kinda is…. though from looking at this picture I doubt it’s in the place where Fran is likely to have bitten it.
“Good.” She squeezed his hand and smiled at him reassuringly. “I’m pregnant.”
“Really? That’s good. Do you know who I saw in Port–“
I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to tell your boyfriend you’re pregnant, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.
After a section break, we cut to a scene of them sitting in the dairy queen parking lot. Jesse has a coke, and Fran has a banana split. Fran starts talking about the quality of Dairy Queen ice cream, then bursts into tears.
Jesse gets up to throw away their trash, and Fran thinks about how Jesse’s walking funny, like she’s just kicked him in the balls.
But, if you wanted to look at it another way, well, that was just about the way she had walked after he had taken her virginity on the beach. She had felt like she had a bad case of diaper rash. Only diaper rash didn’t make you preggers.
Diaper rash? Why…. maybe it’s because I’m a naive little virgin, but I don’t think this make sense? I know a woman’s first time can hurt, but I feel like “diaper rash” would be a sign of something else.
Jesse asks how this could have happened if Fran was on the pill, and Fran repeats, word for word, exactly what I have listed above. One explanation is enough, and the other could be cut. There’s no need to have the explanation in both places.
All that aside, it is a reasonable question. When something like this happens, it’s natural to ask “how?” Fran has had 11 days to cope with this already. Jesse hasn’t.
“What are you mad about, Fran? I just asked.”
I didn’t notice Fran getting mad, but ok? Maybe it’s a case where tone isn’t coming through very well or it is and I’m just not picking up on it.
“Well, to answer your question in a different way, on a warm night in April….you put your penis into my vagina and had an orgasm, thus ejaculating sperm by the millions–“
Jesse tells her to stop, and I probably would too. Because no shit lady, he knows how sex works. You were on birth control, and he wants to know why that didn’t work. Not an unreasonable reaction.
Jesse tells Fran he’s not going to run out on her, then turns to the next bit of business, asking Fran what she plans to do about the little problem. Fran turns the question around, asking Jesse what he wants to do. Jesse smokes a cigarette and says, “oh hell.”
Fran then outlines what she thinks their choices are:
- Fran and Jesse can get married and keep the baby
- Fran and Jesse can get married and give the baby up
- Fran can keep the baby, and she and Jesse can not get married
- Fran doesn’t marry Jesse and she doesn’t keep the baby
- Fran gets an abortion
Jesse interrupts, asking if they can just talk about this, to which Fran and I both respond with, “we are talking!”
Well, Fran is talking, at any rate. Jesse isn’t really listening. I almost can’t blame him for needing more time to think and process, but at the same time, she asked Jesse what he wanted to do, and he didn’t come up with anything. Even if he’d said something like, “I need some time to process this,” that would come across better than “oh hell.”
Fran does admit that she’s had more time to think about it than Jesse has, and Jesse offers her a cigarette. Fran declines, because they’re bad for the baby.
“Why are you shouting?” She asked softly.
“Because you seem determined to aggravate me as much as you can,” Jesse said hotly.
By…. refusing to smoke? I mean, I have seen zero evidence of this. All I’ve seen is her outlining your options while you interrupt her.
He controlled himself. “I’m sorry, I just can’t think of this as my fault.”
Well, it’s both your faults. Fran points this out, and Jesse says he thought Fran was on the pill, which she was. Fran points out that how it happened is kind of beside the point, because here the pregnancy is, and now they have to deal with it.
“So what do we do?”
“You keep asking me, Jesse. I just outlined the choices as I see them. I thought you might have some ideas…..so pick the choice you like and we’ll talk about it.”
Alright, sounds reasonable.
“Let’s get married,” he said in a sudden strong voice. He had the air of a man who has decided that the best way to solve the Godian knot* problem would be to hack right down through the middle of it.
Fran tells Jesse she doesn’t want to marry him. She’s not sure yet what her reasons are, so she’s not going to discuss them. Ok, but if she doesn’t want to marry him, why did she list it as one of the options? Why not just…. not list it?
I think one of her reasons for not wanting to marry Jesse is that she can’t figure out whether or not she’s still in love with him. First she wasn’t, then she was, and now she’s…… not again? Fran isn’t really sure what she wants, and that’s one of the reasons why this conversation is so frustrating for both of them. It’s not just Jesse that needs to take some time to think about things.
There’s more arguing, and Jesse slaps Fran. Well, there’s the reason she doesn’t want to marry him, I guess. I wouldn’t want to marry someone who hit me either.
Fran drives Jesse back to his bike, and there’s a section break. Afterward, Jesse apologizes to Fran, who accepts the apology. Jesse tells Fran he’ll come up with the money for an abortion if that’s what she wants, and then they kiss. Jesse tells Fran that he loves her.
I don’t believe you do, she thought suddenly. I don’t believe it at all…
I’m not sure I believe either of these two really love each other, to be honest. Well, Jesse doesn’t, at any rate. Fran can’t make up her damn mind.
The chapter ends with Fran driving away, crying. She spits out what she thinks is more blood, but it turns out it’s just regular saliva. So, Fran isn’t dying, at least, not yet.
*The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian Gordium associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) solved easily by cheating or “thinking outside the box” (“cutting the Gordian knot“).