Then he was off me, because Joe had dragged him off. “That’s enough, god-dammit!” he was shouting.
“Don’t you know that’s enough?”
I got up, still crying. There was dirt in my hair. My head didn’t hurt enough for me to still be crying, but
there it was. I couldn’t stop. They were all staring at me with that funny hangdog look kids get when they’ve gone too far, and I could see they didn’t want to look at me and see me crying. They looked at their feet to make sure they were still there. They glanced around at the chain-link fence to make sure no one was stealing it. A few of them glanced over at the swimming pool in the yard next door, just in case someone might be drowning and in need of a quick rescue.
Carol was standing there, and she started to take a step forward. Then she looked around to see if anyone else was stepping forward, and no one else was. Dicky Cable was combing his hair. There was no dirt in it. Carol shuffled her feet. The wind made ripples on her blouse.
Mrs. Granger had stopped singing “Swanee. ” She was on the porch, her mouth wide open.
Joe came up and put a hand on my shoulder. “Hey, Charlie,” he said. “What do you say we go now, huh?”
I tried to shove him away and only made myself fall down. “Leave me alone!” I shouted at him. My voice was hoarse and raw. I was sobbing more than yelling. There was only one button left on the corduroy jacket, and it was hanging by a string. The pants were all juiced up with grass stains. I started to crawl around on the matted earth, still crying, picking up buttons. My face was hot.
Dicky was humming some spry ditty and looking as if he might like to comb his hair again. Looking back, I have to admire him for it. At least he didn’t put on a crocodile face about the whole thing.
Mrs. Granger came waddling toward me. “Charlie . . . Charlie, dear-”
“Shut up, fat old bag!” I screamed. I couldn’t see anything. It was all blurred in my eyes, and all the faces seemed to be crowding in on me. All the hands seemed to have claws. I couldn’t see to pick up any more buttons. “Fat old bag!”
Then I ran away.
I stopped behind an empty house down on Willow Street and just sat there until all the tears dried up.
There was dried snot underneath my nose. I spat on my hand-kerchief and wiped it off. I blew my nose.
An alley cat came by, and I tried to pet it. The cat shied from my hand. I knew exactly how he felt.
The suit was pretty well shot, but I didn’t care about that. I didn’t even care about my mother, although she would probably call Dicky Cable’s mother and complain in her cultured voice. But my father. I could see him sitting, looking, carefully poker-faced, saying: How does the other guy look?
And my lie.
I sat down for the best part of an hour, planning to go down to the highway and stick out my thumb, hook a ride out of town, and never come back.
But in the end I went home.
Outside, a regular cop convention was shaping up. Blue trooper cars, white cruis-ers from the Lewiston P.D., a black-and-white from Brunswick, two more from Auburn. The police responsible for this automotive cornucopia ran hither and yon, ducked over low. More newsmen showed up. They poked cameras equipped with cobra-like telephoto lenses over the hoods of their vehicles. Sawhorses had been set up on the road above and below the school, along with double rows of those sooty little kerosene pots-to me those things always look like the bombs of some cartoon anarchist. The DPW people had put up a DETOUR sign. I guess they didn’t have anything more appropriate in stock-slow! MADMAN AT
WORK, for instance. Don Grace and good old Tom were hobnobbing with a huge, blocky man in a state -police uniform. Don seemed almost angry. The big blocky man was listening, but shaking his head.
I took him to be Captain Frank Philbrick of the Maine State Po-lice. I wondered if he knew I had a clear shot at him.
Carol Granger spoke up in a trembling voice. The shame on her face was alarm-ing. I hadn’t told that story to shame her. “I was just a kid, Charlie.” “I know that,” I said, and smiled. “You were awful pretty that day. You sure didn’t look like a kid.”
“I had kind of a crush on Dicky Cable, too. ”
“After the patty and all?”
She looked even more ashamed. “Worse than ever. I went with him to the eighth-grade picnic. He seemed . . . oh, daring, I guess. Wild. At the picnic he . . . you know, he got fresh, and I let him, a little.
But that was the only time I went anyplace with him. I don’t even know where he is now.”
“Placerville Cemetery,” Dick Keene said flatly.
It gave me a nasty start. It was as if I had just seen the ghost of Mrs. Underwood. I could still have pointed to the places where Dicky had pounded on me. The idea that he was dead made for a strange, almost dreamy terror in my mind-and I saw a reflection of what I was feeling on Carol’s face. He got fresh, and I let him, a little, she had said. What, exactly, did that mean to a bright college-bound girl like Carol? Maybe he had kissed her. Maybe he had even gotten her out into the puck-erbrush and mapped the virgin territory of her burgeoning chest. At the eighth -grade picnic, God save us all. He had been daring and wild.
“What happened to him?” Don Lordi asked.
Dick spoke slowly. “He got hit by a car. That was really funny. Not ha-ha, you know, but peculiar. He got his driver’s license just last October, and he used to drive like a fool. Like a crazy man. I guess he wanted everybody to know he had, you know, balls. It got so that no one would ride with him, hardly.
He had this 1966 Pontiac, did all the body work himself. Painted her bottle green, with the ace of spades on the passenger side.”
“Sure, I used to see that around,” Melvin said. “Over by the Harlow Rec.”
“Put in a Hearst four-shifter all by himself,” Dick said. “Four-barrel carb, overhead cam, fuel injection.
She purred. Ninety in second gear. I was with him one night when he went up the Stackpole Road in Harlow at ninety-five. We go around Brissett’s Bend and we start to slide. I hit the floor. You’re right, Charlie. He looked weird when he was smiling. I dunno if he looked exactly like a lawn-mower, but he
sure looked weird. He just kept grinning and grinning all the time we were sliding. And he goes . . . like, to himself he goes, ‘I can hold ‘er, I can hold ‘er,’ over and over again. And he did, I made him stop, and I walked home. My legs were all rubber. A couple of months later he got hit by a delivery truck up in Lewiston while he was crossing Lisbon Street. Randy Milliken was with him, and Randy said he wasn’t even drunk or stoned. It was the truck driver’s fault entirely. He went to jail for ninety days. But Dicky was dead. Funny.”
Carol looked sick and white. I was afraid she might faint, and so, to take her mind somewhere else, I said, “Was your mother mad at me, Carol?”
“Huh?” She looked around in that funny, startled way she had.
“I called her a bag. A fat old bag, I think. ”
“Oh.” She wrinkled her nose and then smiled, gratefully, I think, picking up on the gambit. “She was. She sure was. She thought that fight was all your fault. ”
“Your mother and my mother used to both be in that club, didn’t they?”
“Books and Bridge? Yeah.” Her legs were still uncrossed, and now her knees were apart a little. She laughed. “I’ll tell you the truth, Charlie. I never really cared for your mother, even though I only saw her a couple of times to say hi to. My mother was always talking about how dreadfully intelligent Mrs. Decker was, what a very fine grasp she had on the novels of Henry James, stuff like that. And what a fine little gentleman you were.”
“Slicker than owl shit,” I agreed gravely. “You know, I used to get the same stuff about you. ”
“Sure.” An idea suddenly rose up and smacked me on the nose. How could I have possibly missed it so long, an old surmiser like me? I laughed with sudden sour delight. “And I bet I know why she was so deternuned I was going to wear my suit. It’s called ‘Matchmaking,’ or ‘Wouldn’t They Make a Lovely Couple?’ or, ‘Think of the Intelligent Offspring.’ Played by all the best families, Carol. Will you marry me?”