I just beat Keith Jeffers out of the cafeteria. Call Guinness! Jeffers, The Great Lightspeed, nipping at my heels for once, not the other way around. He wouldn’t even pass for a jock–scrawny, weasel-faced, reddish mop of hair. I can smell his body odor. Any closer, and his legs’ll get tangled up in mine. My bell-bottoms flap around my ankles.
“No way!” he guffaws. Keith’s the only one in gym class who actually laughs his way around the wide, wide track while the rest of us lag behind, wheezing.
Here comes Mark Walford with his bowl haircut, juggling an armful of books, looking everywhere but where he’s going. I give him a shove. Down he goes, books flying.
That costs me my lead; Keith matches me step for step now. “You and Sandee going out tonight?” he asks. Today’s Friday.
“Tomorrow.” He knows I never miss Chico and the Man. We slow to a walk, knowing what’s up ahead. By the time we reach the first floor, we’re practically crawling.
“Metal,” I growl, “shop.”
Where the teacher is paddle-happy, especially if you’re late. But they can’t crook their little fingers and make me show up whenever they want! I know my Constitutional rights as an American citizen.
All right, no paddling–substitute teacher today. Final bell, released for the day: I lose Keith in the mob of erupting, laughing, spitball-shooting classmates. Home to dinner. After Stepmom–mom to me, really–serves up potato stroganoff Hamburger Helper transformed into something you couldn’t match in any fancy restaurant, and I help her with the dishes and haul out the garbage, I move our phone from the kitchen counter to the kitchen table, tip back in my chair until I touch the wall, and spin Sandee’s number.
“Have you heard?” she asks.
“Mark Walford. He said he’s going to kill himself.”
Mark Walford. Round moon-face, taller than Keith but shorter than me–not many people tower over me–overweight enough for Keith to yell “Hey Meatball!,” sheepish enough for Joe Teal to tag him “Dork,” and enough into all those radiation-spawned city-stomping monsters for me to call him “Godzilla.”
Actually, before that, I called him Wallflower. Somewhere along the line, I changed it. It was me who dubbed Keith The Great Lightspeed, and that caught on, but I guess lightning doesn’t strike twice. Meatball was what everyone called Mark, including me, though I still kind of hope they’ll start using Godzilla.
Sandee’s in Walford’s Third Bell English class, and she saw it all. Mark raised his hand, and when called on, stood up and made his announcement.
“What did Mrs. Olson do?” I asked.
“She just asked him to sit down. Had him stay after class for a talk.”
“Do you know how he said he’d do it?”
She waits. Finally I ask, “How?”
“He thinks that somewhere on the human body, there’s something like an off switch. Press it, trip it, and that’s it. No pain, no mess. You’re just dead.”