This week’s story, brought to us by the Nine of Spades, comes once again from Stephen King’s newest (I think) collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. One of the things that makes this collection so interesting (besides, of course, the excellent stories themselves) is King’s short preface to each story, wherein he gives some background or insight into why he wrote the story or where he got the idea for the story.
For the story “Mister Yummy,” King recalls talking to a friend about wanting to write a story involving gay men in the era of AIDS. His friend told him that he probably didn’t have anything new to say about AIDS, especially as a straight writer. But King strongly disagrees, and this story bears out the validity of his viewpoint. King says that the power of the human imagination is such that anyone should be able to write a story about anything. He points out that when we talk about imagination, we’re really talking about empathy — it all just boils down to understanding what it’s like to be someone else. If we as a society have lost the ability of empathizing with others in our world, then there’s no hope for us. I completely agree with King here.
The other thing I liked about this story was King’s use of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” as a sort of counterpoint to the events of the story. I took the opportunity this week to re-read that story, so in case you haven’t read it, here’s a brief synopsis: despite the best efforts of Prince Prospero to protect himself and everyone in his castle from the menace of the Red Death, he fails. One night during a masquerade ball, The Red Death sneaks in — disguised, oddly enough, as the Red Death.
In “Mister Yummy,” King turns the tables on Poe’s idea. In this story, Death appears as a beautiful, sexy, and utterly desirable young man who shows up one night at a gay bar in the era of AIDS. The story is being told many years later by Ollie Franklin, an elderly gay man living in an assisted living facility. Ollie and his friends nicknamed this young man “Mister Yummy,” and now Ollie is reminiscing about him because he has seen him in various places around the retirement home. The odd thing is, Mister Yummy looks exactly as he did the night Ollie first saw him, decades ago. He begins to think that Mister Yummy is really Death, and is coming for him soon. Every time he sees Mister Yummy, he’s closer and closer, and eventually he will show up in Ollie’s room, and that will be the end.
He tells all this to his friend, Dave, who is more or less incredulous. However, Ollie is insistent that he’s going to die soon, and wants to give Dave his most treasured possession, an antique pocket watch, so his good-for-nothing younger brother won’t get his hands on it. Dave agrees to take it, and soon after, Ollie is discovered in his room, having died peacefully in his sleep.
Dave, of course, has his own “Miss Yummy” that he remembers from his youth, a beautiful young redhead with a too-short skirt that had the propensity to ride up at opportune moments, and it’s not too long before he sees her standing next to the fountain outside the nursing home.
There’s not a whole lot more to the story than that, plot-wise, but this is a beautifully written story that definitely rewards the reader. I also found it a bittersweet meditation on aging and memory, as Dave thinks about his life in the retirement home, and what it all means.
Rating: 5 stars; I have a feeling this is a story I’ll be re-reading many more times.
Deal Me In 2017 is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.