The first day of school was always the worst day of the year for me. All
of the freedoms of summer were stolen after eight hours of sleep by the looming
threat of books and homework. It honestly made me sick to my stomach.
There was only one ray of hope through that drab monotonyówhen we finally got
through to the other side of the calendar, when spring finally decided to spread
her wings, she brought with her the greatest game that one could ever hope to be
a part of.
My name is Tony Falcone and back in those days I was the starting catcher
for the Collingston High School Silver Streaks. That first year at the
high school I beat out two seniors for the starting spot. They were not
happy, let me tell you. I think Coach Demera gave me the job because he
liked my work ethic. I had a decent arm as a freshman, but my greatest
asset was my bat. I had hit over four hundred for the last three seasons,
and if everything went right Iíd do it again. No big time colleges were
after me for one reason: I was only five ten. If I were four inches
taller, Iíd be telling them where I was going.
Coach Demera had led the Silver Streaks to the state playoffs for the last ten
years. He has never won the big one though. Even though he
hits the sauce a little too much, heís the best coach Iíve ever been around.
There wasnít anything the man couldnít teach about the game. Only one
thing was keeping us from a state title that yearópitching. Donít get me
wrong: weíve got guys that can throw, but we just donít have that one guy
that can really go out on the hill and just shove it up the other teamís ass.
My friend Johnny the Killer was our ace. Killer, you say? His
last name was really Killman, and the rest will be obvious as the story goes.
He threw in the mid-eighties, nice breaking ball, good control. The
only problem wasóand you can tell this by his nameóhe doesnít quite have what
you call the pitcher mentality. Example. Last year in the first game
of the regional, Johnny got thrown out of the game in the first inning
for arguing about balls and strikes. I did my best to befriend the umpire
and smooth him over, but when a guy says, "fucking bullshit" on the
mound, itís hard to defend him. After Johnny we didnít have anybody that
stood out. A couple guys threw around eighty, but thatís batting practice
when you get to the playoffs. Coach Demera had a knack for developing
pitchers. I hoped heíd find a diamond in the rough.
Collingston High was a massive structure, taking up two and a half city blocks
lengthwise and a half a block widthwise. The outer walls were made of
millions of crimson bricks. A clock tower stood above one of the entrances
that joined the main part (containing most of the classrooms) to the
second part of the building that housed the gym, pool, weight room, field house,
and a few technological classrooms like computer drafting and shop.
The floors in the building were a gray marble, shined to perfection nightly by
the janitors. I imagine it had been that way since the building was built
in the 1930s. There was never any gum or dirt in the hallways, not at the
beginning of the day anyway.
The first day of school was the same as it always was. Opening assembly,
where we got to hear the new policies of what was and wasnít allowed. No
ball caps during school hours, because the junior gangbangers couldnít
wear them the right way; girls couldnít have their thongs showing out the back
of their jeans because one of us sex-crazed males might decide to rape
her; and this one was the best: everyone had to wear a name tag so the prison
guards could bust us easier, and somehow it would feel like the Leave It To
Beaver days, where everybody knew everybody elseís name. The
nametag thing never went over. I threw mine in the garbage one second
after it was issued to me, as did half of the student body. They
threatened detentions and suspensions and all that shit. At first they
carried through with it; but as time went on, it took up a lot of
energy enforcing something that was just plain stupid, so the nametags were
scrapped. We inmates finally won a battle.
Was my take on school harsh? You be
the judge. My limited understanding of the word "school" was that it was a place
where a person went to get educated. To expand his intelligence and to find what
he was supposed to do in life. A place to share ideas. The brick building I
attended is getting ready to put in metal detectors at the entrances, had two
full-time cops present at all times, and a principal that hated teenagers, much
less the ideas that fly from their mouths. It had a no-hat policy. It sanctions
anyone who shows any kind of physical affection for another. Hats and hugs are
deadly these days. It is a place with no religion, no individuality, and no
choices. And once you are there, you become part of a system, much like that of
another state institution.
The cafeteria was in the basement,
under the main part of the building. It was very large, holding up to
fifteen hundred students a time. In the past, school dances and even large
city meetings were held there.
At lunch I sat with Johnny and some other baseball players. Johnny
proceeded to tell us how he banged the bejesus out of Heather the night before.
The messed up thing about it was she sat at our table. We would always get
there before her, so by the time she sat down, everyone had stupid little
grins on their faces. Heather was a real nice girl, and whether Johnny was
screwing her or not, she would have been pissed to know he talked about her like
Directly caddy-corner from us I noticed a nerd sitting by himself. He
didnít have a pocket protector or greased back hair with one wild strand
sticking up, but you could tell he was a nerd. He was timid and skinny.
He read a book while he ate. Like we didnít do enough of that shit during
class! He never looked up from his plate. He never responded to the
clutter and noise that filled the cafeteria. He never acknowledged people
walking by and never made eye contact with anyone.
I guess I wasnít the only one noticing the new geek. Jack Rollings decided
that on his way back from getting a pop, he would pay the new guy a visit.
He stopped and said hello. The new guy just looked at him. Jack
called him a retard and took the guyís milk and poured it on his head. Our
whole table busted up in laughter except for Heather, of course, who only shook
her head in disgust. I watched the guy use his napkins to clean the milk
out of his hair. The geek never got angry. He never cried or ran to
tell one of the prison guards. His face never turned red out of
embarrassment, although it should have. After cleaning his hair and
clothing up, he even went and got more napkins to clean the milk that was
splattered on the table and floor.
Over the next week I watched as
Johnny and the boys would knock his tray off the table, or spit in his food, or
blow their noses with his napkin, or take his books and slide them half way
across the cafeteria floor. It got to the point where people moved to our
side of the lunchroom to see the guy get picked on. People would keep one
eye on their food and one eye on the table caddy-corner from us. It became
the lunch hour entertainment. Even underclassmen were starting to join in
on the antics, young punks that would never have thought about picking on
someone. I sat down everyday wishing that this guy would move to the other
side of the cafeteria away from us, or better yet, not show up at all. You
heard people in class talk about what happened to the lunch geek today.
Some people felt sorry for him. Some people thought it was a matter of
time before he either exploded against this torture (and believe me, as a
teenager the worst thing that can happen to you is have your ego damaged or
destroyed), or he would be the guy you always heard about killing himself just
before prom or graduation. Iím sure the masses would mourn, but only for a
day or so, and then it would be on to someone else.
Iím also not sure what I thought about him. He was just some
fragile little book geek. You never saw him out, or anything.
I knew he worked after school being a janitorís helper or some shit, but that
was it. That was all I knew about him. But there was something about
the guy that I couldnít put my finger on. There was something about the
way he carried himself. He had what my grandpa would have called "the
The guy would always get the healthy mealósalads, applesauce, fruit, stuff like
that. He would always eat one thing at a time before he touched the next.
I remember my mom saying something when I was younger about that being a sign of
The day came in the cafeteriaóthe day I knew would comeóthat Johnny and the boys
would want me to pitch in with their antics.
"I think you're up, Falcone," Johnny the Killer said.
"Whatta ya mean, Iím up?" I said.
Johnny pointed with his fork as he chewed his food. "The faggot janitor
over there. I think youíre the only one that hasnít got a piece of the
The other guys at our table gave me some words of encouragement, or peer
pressure, whichever you want to call it. I picked up my tray and walked
over to his table. I watched the crowd as they watched me. They
stopped eating and drinking. Some people were pointing, others were
already laughing. I looked down at my tray at the lasagna, can of pop, and
garlic bread. I felt a little drop of sweat run from my temple down the
side of my cheek. I got to his table, right next to him, holding the tray
level with the top of his tray. He knew I was there, but didnít look up.
I looked at my lasagna again, thinking it would be easy enough to smash it in
the geekís face. I knew everybody in the cafeteria was looking at me, I
could feel the stares bearing down on me. The geek continued to eat
without acknowledging me. I started for the lasagna with my right hand and
then stopped. Something popped into my head, a story weíve all heard in
one form or another. Mine came in the way of one of those sappy ass emails
you get from time to time.
As the story goes, some nerd freshman is carrying home all of his books,
walking and struggling with the weight. A popular person (weíll call him
the jock) goes and offers to help the poor nerd. The nerd accepts, and the
two throughout their high school years become good friends, even though one is a
nerd and the other is a jock. At graduation, the nerd has to give a
speech because he ends up being Valedictorian. The nerd tells the story of
how his good friend the jock helped him carry his books home four years earlier.
Only thereís a twist. The nerd was taking home his books because he didnít
want his mom to have to clean out his locker after he killed himself over the
weekend. The moral of the story: We never know just how much our
actions will affect someone in the long run. And no matter how untruthful
or cheesy I thought the story was, I couldnít get it out of my head.
I looked at the lasagna.
Then at the nerd.
Then at the crowd.
"You mind if I sit down?" I said.
"Go ahead," he said back.
His voice was very soft; not afraid, but soft. Some people when you talk
to them have that crack in their voice, like theyíre so nervous to talk their
brain short circuits and messes up their voice. That wasnít the case with
this guy. He had a quiet way about him for sure, but he also had a
presence. I mean when I walked over to the guy, he had to be
thinking the same old shit was coming. But he didnít flinch. His
composure didnít change. Either he didnít care or he was that secure.
The first couple of minutes I sat there, there was nothing but silence between
us. The crowdís eyes were still anxious, waiting for me to do something.
Several minutes passed and when the crowd saw I wasnít going to humiliate the
guy, boos began to sprout throughout the cafeteria. Someone even threw an
empty milk carton and hit me in the head.
The guy just kept eating, never looking up at me. I started to think this
was a bad idea until I saw him do something that I hadnít noticed before.
A girl walked by and he looked up. He watched her go all the way to the
pop machines and back to her table. Maybe this guy wasnít as abnormal as I
"Thatís Heather Hawthorne," I said to him. "Sheís the captain of the
cheerleading squad. Real good looking, obviously. Sheís
Johnny the Killerís girlfriend."
"Why do they call him the Killer?" the guy asked as he finally looked up
from his plate.
"Because if you so much as look at Heather, Johnnyíll kill ya."
When I said that, he cracked a smile. We were making progress now.
In the days Iíd been watching him, I had never seen him smile. He had a
good smile. Not that Iím queer or anything like that, but his smile made
other people smile. I was getting ready to give him the old twenty
questions when the bell rang.
"Nice talkiní to ya, man," I said. "By the way, ya got a name?"
"Roman," he replied.
I shook his hand. He had a nice firm grip. I heard boos in the
As I watched him walk away, never did I think that that conversation would be
the start of something that would change a lot of peopleís lives forever.
The next day was no surprise. The same old shit. First hour I had
PE. Second hour was Government. Third hour was English and so
on. High school was nothing more than repetition. It was a lot like
prison in that regard. I guess the only difference was that in high school
you got to go home at the end of the day.
When I watched Roman at lunch, this time was no different. Same healthy
meal. Never looking up as he ate. Except for when Heather got up to
get her pop. The one thing at lunch that day that was different I guess,
was that nobody went and picked on him
After school I was having some severe problems getting my caróa nineteen
eighty-seven Ford Pinto, painted baby blueóstarted.
"You stupid piece of shit. God damn this thing. Start, you son of a
bitch." As I slammed my head into the steering wheel, I saw Roman walking down
the sidewalk next to the parking lot. All of the sudden my cursing
stopped. I just watched him.
"Knock the floorboard out so you can be like Fred Flintstone," someone yelled as
they passed by.
"Screw you, asshole!" I yelled back.
As Roman got closer to me, he started to slow down. He held his head
slightly tilted upward. It was a warm day and the wind blew right in his
face. It was like he had nothing more to care about than the breeze in his
face. That might have been the point at which I started admiring this guy.
He was so different from me, yet at the same time I felt I had so much in common
with him. Roman got directly beside my car and glanced over at the
situation as I spat out a few more choice words for the heap I called a car.
"Turn your lights on," Roman said.
"Your headlights; turn them on and then wait a minute or so," he replied.
I really didnít know what the hell Roman was trying to do, but I didnít have
anything to lose so I humored him. Of course I didnít wait a minute.
But I guess I waited long enough. When I turned the key, my angel started
"Well Iíll be damned. How the hellíd you do that? Thatís
outstanding," I said.
"Turning your lights on will some times get the electricity running through.
You probably need a new battery or a new alternator," he said and then walked
away. I pulled up beside him as he got to the end of the parking lot.
"Hey, can I give ya a lift?"
"No thank you."
I just sat there for a while
and watched him walk down Stephenson Street until he got so far away there was
nothing left of him but a dot on the horizon. I turned the opposite
direction and headed for home.
Later that night Roman mopped the floor of the hallway next to a row of lockers
as Heather walked by. She politely went around the place where he already
mopped. Roman glanced up but did not make eye contact with her. As
he got to the row of lockers she went down, his mop started to slow. Roman
couldnít help but stare down the long row of pale colored lockers at her.
As she opened her locker, an object fell out and crashed to the floor scattering
chaos through the lonesome hallways of the high school. She knelt down and
picked up one of the ceramic pieces, rubbing it with her hands. Roman
stopped mopping and put his full attention on her. She picked up several
of the pieces trying to put them back together, like an infant trying to put a
square into the shape of a circle. She stood back up slowly and looked at
"My grandmother gave me it when I was four years old. It was a Precious
Moments cheerleader. They donít even make this one anymore. I never
used to bring it to school. But when she passed away I brought it here
because it me made me feel closer to her. That probably sounds stupid."
"Not at all," Roman said.
Johnny the Killer walked up.
"What are you doing? Iíve been waiting out there for ten minutes," he
"I just broke the cheerleader my grandma gave me," she answered looking down at
the shattered pieces.
Johnny looked down at the mess on the floor. "Well donít worry about it,
the janitor will clean it up. Iíll buy you a new one; letís go, the Vette
is out there running." Johnny didnít realize that the janitor he spoke of
was the one he had been picking on for the last eleven days.
Heather looked at the broken pieces of the cheerleader not wanting to leave
them. Another minute went by and she grabbed her jacket out of the locker
and slowly shut the door. "Iím sorry for the mess, but heís my only way
home." Roman just nodded and out she went to the silver Corvette.
Friday. All of the cheerleaders were dressed in their outfits and the
football players with their jerseys. Fridays were different than the rest
of the week. Especially on game days. Especially when it was the
first home game day. People werenít so lethargic. Even the prison
guards were in a better mood. It also helped that we were on
a shortened schedule because of the first pep rally.
Ten minutes before the first bell rang Heather walked to her locker, unlike her
other cheerleader friends who were skipping around the joint. She opened
her locker but didnít notice it at first. She reached in to put one of her
books on the top shelf of the locker and there it was. She took the book
back down and stared in amazement. The cheerleader she had smashed into a
million pieces was standing eye level right in front of her. A tiny string
was tied around its waist and the other end of the string was tied to the back
of the locker. She undid the string and put the cheerleader in her hand,
turning it over and over. The missing little fragments she thought she
would see or feel were not to be found. The little statue looked as if it
had just come out of the box. A smile brightened her face. And as
the bell rang, she wrapped the little string around the cheerleaderís waist and
stood it gently back in her locker.
By this time I was spending the last half of the lunch period sitting at Romanís
table. It was curiosity that kept me coming back. We would talk
about numerous things. Actually I did most of the talking, and Roman would
comment here or there. He made me feel so stupid sometimes ícause anything
I would bring up, he would know a lot more about it than I did. Sometimes
heíd get to talking so far over my head that I couldnít even converse with him.
I couldnít really tell if he enjoyed my company or if he was just humoring a
dumb ass. He never told me to leave. So I guess that was a good sign
Anyway, I started that day at lunch as I always did sitting at the table with my
friends, caddy-corner from Romanís table. We were already seated and
eating when Heather came up. Johnny would always turn his head toward her
and make some stupid kissy face. Every time, without fail, Heather would
stop briefly and give him a quick kiss on the cheek. It had been that way
for as long as I could remember. But not this time. This time she
didnít even look at Johnny. She passed him by like he was invisible and
went over to Romanís table. The guys at the table looked at each other and
then at Johnny. You have to understand that in four years of high school
she had sat at this very table every day. So when something as little as
this happened everyone was on edge, even maybe a little excited. School is
so boring that people just look for something to break the monotony.
As Heather sat down next to Roman, Johnnyís face went from kissy-kissy to
pissy-pissy. He was obviously not happy. I had seen the stare he was
giving Roman all too many times; some blows usually accompanied it to the head
and stomach of the person it was aimed at. This was not good. Iíd
seen Johnny beat the ever-living dog shit out of countless victims in the past.
You donít earn the rank of Killer just because your last name is Killman.
Nobody ever came close to whippiní him. I canít even remember a time when
somebody got a good lick in on him. I started to feel a little bit scared
for Roman, but at the same time something told me that he would be all right.
Roman looked at Heather as she took the seat next to him, which was more than he
ever did for me. I guess you really couldnít blame the guy; I mean here
was a girl that every person in the school with a penis thought about at least
ten times a day. She was the real deal. Guys never really talked to
her though, on account of what could happen to them if Johnny found out.
"I hope you donít mind if I sit next to you. That was a very nice thing you did
for me. It must have taken you hours to put it back together. I
donít have the words to thank you. How did you get it back together?"
"I used ceramic glue," Roman said. "It didnít take as long you would
think. Besides I like puzzles."
"Why would you do something like that for me?" she asked.
"The look in your eyes when it broke. I know the feeling," Roman replied.
"I finished with my mopping ahead of schedule, and had some time to kill."
"You donít even know me," she said.
"I know you. Your name is Heather," Roman said.
"Thatís it, just Roman?"
"Swivel," he responded.
"Thatís a very unique name, Roman Swivel."
Johnny watched their conversation for several minutes but finally saw enough and
jetted out of his chair on a straight line for Romanís table. He grabbed
Heather under her arm and lifted her up out of the chair. His knuckles
turned white from grabbing her so hard. Roman looked at The Killerís hand
but remained seated. Heather wiggled her way free and WHAP! The
cafeteria turned into a morgue. You could have heard a mouse fart on the
other side the room. Heather slapped him so hard the gum he was chewing
flew out of his mouth and landed on my lap.
"Asshole!" she yelled as she picked her bag up and walked away.
Johnny just stood there staring at Roman. Roman looked back at him but at
the same time took a bite of his applesauce. It was almost like Roman
dared him to do something. Iíll tell you this: if it were any other guy in
that chair, he would be cleaning his pants out instead of shoveling applesauce
into his mouth.
"Iíll deal with you later janitor boy," Johnny said.
With that, the cafeteria turned back into a beehive. I sat there stunned
for a second or two and then picked the gum off my crotch. It was like
nothing had ever happened when I next talked to Roman. I didnít bring it
up and neither did he. I asked him if he was going to the football game.
He said he had to work, but told me to go to room 339 if I wanted. That
room was on the third floor right behind the football field. I had a
feeling that Roman would be watching the game from there.
I sat in the pep rally thinking about how mad Johnny was and how Roman never
lost his demeanor when Johnny came over to him. It doesnít sound like a
big deal but believe me it was. You just donít fuck with Johnny the
Killer. He would get even with Roman. Somebody had to pay for
embarrassing him and it wasnít going to be Heather.
The sun had just set about forty-five minutes ago. The air was crisp and
clean. If it hadnít been for the bright lights overlooking the field, you
could have counted every star in the night sky. I got there about an hour
before game time. You had to if you wanted a good seat. I sat where
I always did in the front row of the north end zone with the rest of the
baseball players. Coach Demera made it mandatory that we attend all home
games and sit together. It had been that way even before I got to high
halftime we were up a touchdown. Johnny and a couple of the other guys
went to sip on a whiskey bottle out in the parking lot. I, on the other
hand, was going to talk to Roman. I could see a couple of rooms on the
third floor of the school had their lights on. Room 339 was one of them I
When I entered the room I saw Roman on his hands and knees. He wore dingy
gray pants and a shirt that matched. There was a nametag on his chest that
read: Roman Student Janitor. One of the desks was overturned and
Roman scraped gum off of the bottom side with a putty knife. He worked
fast. Once one desk was done he went directly to the next without
"Christ man, do they make you do this kind of work all the time?" I asked.
"When youíre low man on the totem pole you really donít have a choice.
Besides this is great work. You should see some of the toilets Iíve
cleaned in the past."
"Why in the hell donít you get a job waiting tables or something? This
"The money is good and I like the hours," Roman responded.
"What are your hours?"
"Seven to midnight."
To tell you the truth, I donít think Roman really liked the hours or the pay for
that matter. I think he liked what he did. Cleaning things up.
Turning chaos into order. Another sign of a genius my mom used to say.
Roman was a neat freak, and this kind of work, believe it or not, was a stress
reliever for him. Not that Roman ever showed any signs of stress, but that
was my take on the situation. Later I would find out that was not the only
reason he worked that god-forsaken job.
"Pretty good game huh?" I asked.
"I havenít been watching but Iíve been listening. It sounds like our
defense is playing better than they have been," Roman said as he continued to
It kind of surprised me that he said that about the game. If I had
guessed, I would have told you that Roman wasnít into sports. But he was
right on the money about our defense. If our "D" played well, we were in
The PA announcer came on during halftime and told the crowd that the
cheerleaders would now be performing their routine at mid-field. When
Roman heard this, the scraping stopped. He went over to the window and
"You need to forget about her, man," I said, looking on with
"Why?" he asked back, still caught up in the routine.
"Sheís taken first of all. If Johnny thinks you are after her, heíll kick
your ass up and down that hallway and use your head for a mop. Believe me
I know. Iíve been friends with him since first grade and heís the baddest
son of a bitch there is, in this school anyway."
"Iím not after his girl. I just think sheís nice," Roman replied.
"Nice? Sheís the most popular girl at Collingston High. Every guy
wants her and every girl wants to be her. You donít get that status by
being fucking nice, Roman," I said.
Romanís eyes were still locked on her. "I think itís just fancy wrapping paper."
"Anyway, Scott Jakowskiís parents are out of town and heís throwing one hell of
a bash after the game."
Roman went back to his scraping.
"You should come. Everybodyís going to be there. Heíll have food and
shit, even a keg if thatís your thing."
"I have to work."
I grabbed a pen and paper
off the desk in the front of the room. "Only ítil midnight, right? The
party will just be getting started. Look, Iíll write down his address and
you can decide later. He lives on the lake, so you might want to throw on
a sweatshirt or something."
I set the piece of paper down next to where Roman was working. He didnít
look up, but continued to scrape the gum off another desk. I headed back
down to the field to catch the second half.
We ended up winning the game by a touch down and just like Roman said our
defense was the reason. They ran two interceptions back for touchdowns.
When I got to Scottyís house, there were already people there. He had a
decent-sized back yard that sloped down toward the lake. At the far end of
the yard were stairs that led down to the dock.
By midnight the back yard was packed. There must have been two hundred
people and at least half of them were girls. Tonight might be my lucky
night. Sally was in attendanceóthe one I almost had in the poolóand if
things went my way, we would finish where we left off.
Scotty was passed out at his own party. Not shocking though, he could
never hold his liquor. Most everybody was outside, but there were a few
guys in Scottyís kitchen playing the Century Clubóa drinking game in which you
took a shot of beer every minute for a hundred minutes. It doesnít sound
that bad because itís beer youíre shooting, but it adds up to almost nine beers
in an hour and forty minutes. The majority of people get so wasted they
canít finish. Like our friend Billy over there. They were on their
seventieth shot, but Billy wasnít going to make it to eighty. He kept
cussing at the timekeeper because he couldnít believe the next minute was up.
Iíve been there. After about an hour of playing, what at first seems like
a long minute turns into a millisecond between shots.
Billy, on his seventy-seventh shot, fell backward out of his chair and slammed
to the kitchen floor. As he went he knocked a bottle of whiskey off the
table and needless to say it shattered all over. Billy was out cold.
The guys he was playing with laughed so hard they started to cry. Sam
Peterman took a pitcher of beer and started to pour it on Billyís head.
This really broke up the table, and even I started to laugh.
Outside the music was blaring. People were dancing. Johnny was
making some under-classmen do keg stands. Heather was over talking to her
friends, ignoring him. Evidently they still had not made up from
the incident at lunch. Johnny was more drunk than usual because of it.
Around 2 AM I ran over to the bushes next to the stairs that went down to the
dock. The last Jack and Coke I had didnít go down real smooth and I was
ralphing it up with what felt like my intestines. I must have been bent
over those bushes for a good twenty minutes or so. I could hear people
laughing and shit behind me. As I looked up in between vomits, I glanced
down at the dock
"Iíll be damned."
Roman sat Indian style at the end of the dock with his head tilted back and the
September breeze blowing against his face. He was little against the size
of the lake and even smaller against the star-filled sky. As I collected
myself from puking and wiping my face off with a couple of leaves, I started
down the stairs.
There were a lot of those goddamn stairs, and I must have missed the last two
because all of a sudden I was hurtling through the air heading face first for
the lake. Without breaking his Native American sitting posture Roman stuck
out his arm and stopped my fall. I did slam hard against the dock though.
"Jesus Christ," I said. "Thanks for grabbing me."
"No problem," Roman replied.
"How long have you been here?" I asked, catching my breath.
"About an hour I suppose," Roman answered.
"Why didnít you come up with everyone else?" I asked back.
"And leave all this?" Roman said as he waved his hand toward the lake.
"No offense to nature Roman, but Iíve got a piece of ass waiting for me up
there. Are you gonna stay down here or what?"
Roman nodded. "Here, you might need this." He pulled out a stick of
gum and placed it in my hand.
"Thanks, Iíll tell Heather youíre down here." I started up the stairs not
knowing why I was going to tell Heather that Roman was on the dock. I
still thought he should stay away from her, but I guess I felt sorry for him
being down there all by himself. Then again it might have just been Jack
Danielís filling my head with stupid ideas.
When I got back up to Scottyís back yard, the party was still going. The
music was still blaring, but it didnít have the attention it once did.
Some people had left by this time. Others were just passed out in the
yard. It was like somebody came through with a machine gun and just
leveled half the people at the party. Johnny was passed out too, with a
bottle of Jack Danielís in his hand, and his head using a rock for pillow.
Most important though my piece of ass was still coherent. Well maybe not
coherent, but she wasnít asleep.
Sally was over talking to Heather and the rest of them. Man was she
wasted. Swaying back and forth and shit. I had to hurry before she
bit the dust. As I grabbed her arm, she fell to her knees laughing.
"Come on letís go," I said as I picked her up off the ground. Her legs
"Where we goiní?" she asked as she tried to look at me. You know what I
mean? That look drunk people give you. Theyíre looking right at you
but their eyes arenít focusing or something. Anyway I told her we were
going home (which if home was to Scottyís basement then I guess I was telling
the truth). I picked her up over my shoulder and turned to face Heather.
"By the way, Romanís down on the dock"
I started to carry Sally off but stopped. "Yeah, heís down there
counting stars or some shit."
Heather immediately headed for the dock. She made it down a little easier
than I did. Roman was in his own little world looking up at the stars.
"Do you mind if I join you?" Heather asked as she already started to sit.
"Please,"Roman said as he looked up at her.
She sat down next to him Indian style as well. Her leg lay next to his.
Roman continued to look up at the stars. Heather wrapped both of her arms
around her chest like she needed a hug to stay warm. Roman noticed, took
off his flannel, and put it over her shoulders.
"Itís a little chilly isnít it?"
"A little, but Iím so warm blooded the cold doesnít really bother me.
Youíre only as cold as you tell yourself anyway."
"Is that so? What are you doing down here by yourself anyway?"
"Trying to look back in time," Roman said.
"I donít understand."
"You donít believe in time travel?"
Heather said nothing, looking more confused.
"The greatest thinker of our time thought it might be possible. Time is
"Youíre losing me, Roman."
Roman put his arm on her shoulder and pointed with his free hand toward the sky,
moving his face close to hers. Heather flinched, surprised at first at the
closeness, but then welcomed it when he began to speak.
"You see that star right there? Thatís Sirius. Itís the closest star
to us besides the sun, which we can see in the northern hemisphere. Itís
only fifty-one trillion miles away. How you see that star right this
instant is how it existed over eight years ago. How it actually looks now
at this very instant we wonít know for another eight years, because thatís how
long it takes for light to travel from it. So, relatively that star
is on a different time plane than us. If you could travel at speeds
approaching the speed of light to that star, you would have traveled eight years
into the future."
"Thatís amazing, a little over my head, but amazing nonetheless. It is
beautiful, all those stars so bright against the void." Heather looked
over, noticing the new face had not retreated from hers. "Iíve always
wanted to see a shooting star but never have."
"What youíre looking for is a meteor and youíve come to the right spot," Roman
"What, you can control the sky as well as magically bring ceramic dolls back to
"Most people havenít seen a shooting star because they havenít looked up at the
sky for more than a couple seconds. Theyíre too busy driving or talking;
too busy to stop and live their life; instead they run through it. The
truth is, if you look for a couple of minutes on a clear night like tonight,
chances are youíll see one."
Roman had a way of convincing you of things. I think it was the honesty in
his voice. So there they sat for more than ten minutes, looking and
waiting. Not saying a word. And sure enough there was a shooting star. And
then another. And then several in a row.
"Itís like fireworks," Heather said as she continued to watch.
"Itís a meteor shower. You just have to be patient," Roman said.
"I should do this more often. Itís very peaceful. I can see why you
like it so much. How rude of me; do you want something to drink?"
"No thanks, Iím not thirsty."
"I mean do you want something to drink as in liquor?" Heather said back.
"No thanks, I had a bad experience with liquor one time. Whereís Johnny?"
"Heís up there passed out in the yard like some sort of ape. Isnít the
first time and wonít be the last Iím sure. I canít remember the last time
he and I actually went on a date. By ourselves I mean. He cares more
about being with these drunks than he does me," Heather replied.
"Can I ask you something, Heather?"
"Why are you with him?"
Heather paused a moment. "Heís really not a bad guy. I see a
different side of him when itís just us. Iíve been with him for so long.
Itís just habit now I guess. I do care for him even though he is an ass a
lot of the time."
Me and Sally were going at it pretty good down in the laundry room in Scottyís
basement. Her kissing was as sloppy as hell, although I didnít mind in my
drunken stupor. Besides that, I had just finished puking so I was probably
getting the better end of the deal. I had her shirt and bra off and was
working my way south when she started to talk.
"Do you have something?" She couldnít even open her eyes.
"Yeah honey of course I do."
"Put it on, I donít need any accidents." I think thatís what she said
anyway. Her mumbling was getting worse.
I grabbed my pants off the floor next to me and picked them up. Shuffling
through the first pocket and then the second, I remembered I left the damn
things in my glove box. I threw my jeans on and zipped up making sure not
catch myself in the zipper. I raced up the stairs stepping on an arm
belonging to one of the passed-out drunks. Bob Franklin maybe, hell I
donít know, and neither did he at that point.
"Hurry!" came the voice from down the stairs.
I wasnít used to hearing that from a chic. The sound of it gave me an
adrenaline boost as I ran through the kitchen. I was like an Olympic
hurdler jumping over bodies and broken bottles, not for a medal but for
something much sweeter. Hurry was right.
I got to the Pinto, got the protection, and as quick as I was out, I was back
down in the basement. As I turned the corner to the laundry room, the
happy smile on both my faces melted away. There she was, fully clothed and
fully passed out. The story of my life. Not giving up all hope I
gently shook her and said her name. Nothing. It was over and yet
another condom goes back in the pocket. Just at that moment I heard some
drunk yelling something from outside. I went to check it out.
"Hey janitor boy!" came a yell from the top of the hill. "I thought I told
you to stay the hell away from her."
Roman just looked at Johnny without responding. Heather looked at Roman,
then at Johnny, then back at Roman. "We are just talking, Johnny."
"That ainít good enough, Heather. Iím going to show this scamp when I say
something I mean it," Johnny garbled as he headed down the steps.
Heather tried to reason with him on his way down, but this made Johnny more
enraged. He was very careful on hitting every step on the way down, but it
was still apparent he was wasted. When he got to the dock, he jumped
toward Roman like a wrestler coming off the ropes. Roman was too quick and
moved out of the way. Johnny went flying into the lake. When he hit
the water he swallowed a sizable amount. He tried to swim but started
coughing and gasping for air. Then there was silence, the helpless
splashes stopped, and Johnnyís head disappeared under the water, turning the
waves into a smooth mirror again.
"Heís drowning!" Heather screamed.
By this time a crowd of people were at the top of the stairs looking down at the
chaos below. Roman dove off the dock into the cold fall water and went
under to get him. Twenty seconds passed and up came Roman with Johnnyís
arm around his shoulder. He swam carrying the seemingly lifeless corpse
with him. Heather helped Roman pull Johnny onto the dock. The crowd
including myself was now rushing down the stairs.
"Heís not breathing, Roman!" Heather said.
Roman put his ear to Johnnyís nose and mouth and then felt for his pulse.
"Heís still got a pulse." Roman said calmly.
Roman tilted Johnnyís head back and squeezed his nostrils shut with the other
hand. He blew into Johnnyís mouth, paused and then again. He did
this three times and on the fourth Johnny spit up some water and began to cough.
The coughing turned into puking. Roman turned him on his side so he
wouldnít choke on his own vomit. The crowd gathered around and as quickly
as it started it was finished. Heather was bent down holding Johnnyís head
making sure he was all right. The confusion started to diminish and before
long Johnny was on his feet. I looked around for Roman, but there was no
sign of him. He left the same way he came, without anyone noticing him.
Dreadful Monday came and as I sat in algebra class I stared into the nowhere
that was everywhere but Algebra. I was a senior in high school and should
have been in trig or calculus, but instead I was in a class with a bunch of
stupid freshman. Whoís the stupid one really? I spent three years of
my life doing just enough to get by. Why should I be shocked at the
result? The kicker of it all is that I was barely passing the class.
X equals five, y squared is 16, I donít know what the hell any of it means.
Donít care to either. Itís my senior year, and Iíll be damned if Iím going
to worry about anything.
I glanced around the room noticing my other co-genius, Johnny, was
nowhere to be found. Not surprising really. He might still be hung
over from the party Friday. Or maybe heís still getting his lungs pumped
from almost drowning. Probably the best explanation, and weíll never hear
the truth from Johnny the Killer, was that he was embarrassed. Embarrassed
that Heather slapped him in front of the entire cafeteria. Embarrassed
that he charged and missed Roman. Embarrassed that he fell into the
water and was too drunk to swim. Most of all though, he was embarrassed
that the man he called the geek janitor saved his sorry hide. Most people
would be happy to just be alive, but Johnny would rather have drowned in that
lake than have to face the crowd and especially the guy who saved him. Iím
quite sure that Roman was slowly moving up the long totem pole of Johnnyís shit
list; in fact I wouldnít be surprised if he was already at the top. The
time was coming that I would have to stand up and take a side. My father
was always preaching at me from what Jesus said. Something along the lines
about a person shouldnít be lukewarm. Eventually I got the drift. A
person has to choose one side or the other; there is no such thing as in
"Tony," I heard a voice in the room say.
Without hesitation I said, "Sorry, I donít know the answer." That was my
standard answer in a classroom and it wasnít a lie; I really didnít know.
It probably would have helped though if I were paying attention.
The teacher, Mr. Buttworst, moved on to the next unsuspecting victim without
getting in my shit. He knew it was a waste of time. I really liked
the guy though; he was a student body favorite probably for several reasons.
He was burly with gray hair and an even grayer beard. He always wore a dress
shirt and tie but at the same time wore jeans and cowboy boots. His little
beer gut hung out over the front of his belt. He had real thick glasses
and his breath smelled like an ashtray mixed with coffee grounds. Very
nice though, he never raised his voice or gave people detentions for not paying
attention. There were pictures of deer and ducks hanging on the wall.
Behind his desk toward the ceiling there was a banner that read: If guns
cause crime, then matches cause arson. He always brought a thermos to
school and filled that thing up between every class. The man could drink
The best thing about Mr. Buttworst was getting him off the subject. He
would give us the first few minutes of every class period to talk about whatever
we wanted. He was the mediator and the antagonist at the same time.
We would talk about everything from politics to cartoons and a lot of the time
the bell would ring before we so much as opened our books. If you got him
real fired up, heíd drop a "hell" or "damn" during our discussions.
Iím sure the rest of the prison guards wouldnít have approved, but thatís the
reason students liked him the best. He was real.
It was common knowledge that his wife and daughter were killed in a car wreck
some years ago. You couldnít tell it now. I really think he liked
what he did and was pretty good at it. He was one of those people that
liked to get up in the morning, just the opposite of me I guess.
Roman had Mr. Buttworst for 6th hour. Not for Algebra, but for Calculus.
I couldnít even dream of what that would be about, but Roman was really good at
it. In fact I found out later that Roman never missed a single question on
a quiz or test or final. No one had ever done that in one of Mr.
Buttworstís classes and he had been teaching for damn near twenty years.
It goes without saying that Roman was definitely one of his favorites. Mr.
Buttworst caught up with him one day after class
"Roman?" Mr. Buttworst asked.
"Yes, sir?" Roman replied.
"I just wanted to congratulate you on the fine work youíve been doing in this
class. Right now youíre on pace to be the brightest student Iíve ever had
and thereís been some mighty fine young men and women to have came out of here.
I was looking over some of your work, and it occurred to me that you
havenít missed a single point on any problem. I donít mean to pry, but
have you taken a class like this before?"
"No, sir," Roman replied.
"I notice that during class you never open your book or take a single note down.
I checked with some of your other teachers and they all say the same thing.
Your schedule is as tough as they come but you have straight Aís. Do you
spend hours studying at home?"
Roman broke eye contact with Mr. Buttworst and stared out the window. "No
sir, I donít. Iíve got what some people would call a photographic memory."
Mr. Buttworst stared at Roman for a minute and then smiled. " A
photographic memory is one thing when youíre memorizing vocabulary or spelling
but this class is about comprehension, and you also do that very well."
Roman looked back at him, his mouth locking away secrets in his head.
"Thereís a competition in Chicago next Saturday for the top students in
Illinois. Itís sort of a scholastic bowl, if you will. The winning
school gets the high honor of being named champion. The individual with
the highest score gets a five thousand dollar scholarship for college, his or
her picture in the paper, and gets to meet the governor. What colleges
have you applied to.
Roman took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. "None sir."
Mr. Buttworst took his glasses off and stared again at Roman.
"You donít have to give me an answer today Roman, but I would like you to
compete. You should look into applying to some colleges also. The
mind is a terrible thing to waste you know."
"Yes sir, Iíll let you know tomorrow."
The next day at lunch me and Roman sat at our usual spot. I noticed Johnny
was not at lunch for the second day in a row. I went over and asked Sam
Peterman if he had heard from Johnny. Come to find out Johnny had come
down with the flu, at least that was what he was telling people. I think
it was bullshit.
I brought up the fact that Homecoming was coming up and Roman should ask
somebody to go. He informed me that he had to work on the cleanup crew and
dancing wasnít his thing anyway. That had to suck. I was taking
Sallyóthe one I had in the basement that nightóand this time I was going to
finish the deal. At least I hoped.
Heather came over and I knew I was now playing second fiddle. As I
listened to them talk I noticed the guys at the table were giving Roman dirty
looks. A few fingers pointed in our direction and whispers went in and out
of ears. Johnny had probably rallied the troops against Roman. I
knew the day wasnít far off when the shit would finally hit the fan.
Every Friday in Mr. Buttworstís class, the bearded teacher would put problems on
the board and the first person to raise their hand and complete the problem
would get extra credit points. Basically, although Mr. Buttworst would
never have said it, it was a way for dumb asses like myself to not quite redeem
ourselves, but we could avoid flunking if we could answer even a few of the
This went on in all of his classes, even the higher calculus class that Roman
was in. Roman sat in the front row of the classóprobably because no one
else wouldóand watched as Mr. Buttworst drew equations on the board. Mr.
Buttworst finished, and the pencils and calculators went to work. Roman
looked at the problem a couple seconds and then stared off into space.
There was no paper or pencil or calculator in front of him, only the blank desk
that he scraped the gum off the night before. His backpack sat on the
Mr. Buttworst looked around the room as the keys of the scientific calculators
were pounded over and over, and marks on paper were chiseled down and then
erased. People scratched their heads and chewed their gum. Roman
stared at the top of his empty desk.
"Has anyone got it yet?" Mr. Buttworst asked.
Roman turned and looked at Kathy a seat next to him. Kathy was bright, and
behind Roman the smartest person in the class, but on this occasion she was as
lost as the rest of the flock. Sam Peterman snapped his pencil in
frustration and quit working on the problem. Mr. Buttworst looked at Sam
almost asking if he had got it, but then saw the pencil and thought differently.
Mr. Buttworst looked around the room and saw Roman with his head down.
"Do you have it, Roman?" he asked.
Roman nodded, getting up from his chair. Once at the board, he
picked up the chalk and went through the equation without hesitation, circled
the answer at the bottom, put the chalk down, and walked back to his seat.
Mr. Buttworst looked at Romanís work and then at his own notes, but before he
could say it was right, the rest of the class was already copying what Roman had
just written. Satisfied that everyone had copied the solution, Mr.
Buttworst erased it and wrote another problem on the board.
Roman looked at it briefly, and then stared at his desk. The calculators
began to tap and type and papers rustled again. Mr. Buttworst stared at
Roman this time. Roman looked up and made eye contact with him.
"If anyone has the solution please raise your hand as soon as you have it," Mr.
Buttworst said, his eyes maintaining contact with the reluctant janitor.
Roman raised his hand.
Roman went to the board and quickly solved the problem. The class started
copying before he was finished. Mr. Buttworst checked his notes when Roman
was finished and nodded his head. Mr. Buttworst flipped to the back of the
classís textbook, as he watched Roman walk back to his seat. He picked out
a problem from a chapter that this class would not get to before the end of the
school year. He went to the board and wrote it down. The class
looked around at each other in bewilderment. The calculators were even
When Mr. Buttworst turned around Roman already had his hand up. The result
was the same. The class started to copy the problem
"Wait, wait, thereís no need to copy this, we might not get to this by the end
of the year, I just wanted to see if.... anyone could get it," Mr. Buttworst
The bell rang and the class began to file out. Mr. Buttworst grabbed
Romanís arm as he passed by.
"Did you get your permission slip signed Roman?"
"I have a little problem with that day, sir. My parents have a trip
planned to go see relatives back in Iowa. They want me to go as
well," Roman responded, without looking him in the eye.
"Thatís too bad, Roman. You are a shoo-in for that scholarship and
you give our chances as a team an extraordinary edge. Maybe I could talk to your
parents and convince them of what a great opportunity this is for you."
Roman hesitated. "I donít think that would be too good of an idea sir.
My dad has been planning this trip for a year, and I donít think he can be
"I see," Mr. Buttworst said. "Let me know if they change their mind."
Roman began to walk toward the hallway.
"Roman," Mr. Buttworst said.
Roman turned and looked at him.
"Nice job on the problems today. Next time Iíll let the people that need
the credit answer, I just wanted to see if you could answer a problem we have
not covered yet," Mr. Buttworst said.
"If you donít mind me asking, Roman, how do you know about things we havenít
covered in here?"
"I read the book the first day of school, sir," Roman answered. "I have to
Mr. Buttworst nodded in disbelief.
After school I offered Roman a ride home; as usual he declined and started to
walk. It was a nice fall day, but I just couldnít believe that someone
liked to walk that much. Roman was headed home, but where was home?
I decided that I would find out. Instead of starting my car, I waited and
watched Roman as he headed down Stephenson Street. When he got a block
away from me I got out of the car and started to follow on the opposite side of
Roman was carefree, walking at a steady pace, looking around at the houses he
passed and the cars that passed him. I think if Roman would have
looked back to see me walking he would have stopped, but he never looked back.
He stopped for a moment at a newspaper vending machine and got a paper. He
read as he walked, not slowing for the cracks and craters in the sidewalk.
It was as if he had the obstacles on the route memorized down to the last step.
A woman walking her dog headed toward him but Roman moved politely to the side
avoiding a collision, not looking up from his paper.
On Vine Street Roman turned left. I hid behind a tree in someoneís yard in
case he looked in my direction, but the only thing he looked at was now the
third page of the paper. When Roman was safely out of my view I began to
jog, making sure not to lose him. When I got to Vine I peeked around the
corner. Roman was still walking, heading toward the cemetery. I
waited until he went in the entrance and then jogged there myself.
The cemetery was old, filled to capacity with headstones from this age all the
way back to the Civil War. Large oaks and maples shaded the sunlight from
the tombstones. After the entrance there were two roads paved and well
kept that circled the cemetery and met again in the back of it. I looked
to my left and then to my right. Roman was on neither of the roads.
I squinted and scanned the landscape of the cemetery. I could see the
other side and the other entrance. There were people placing flowers on
graves, people standing, a young man had his arm around a woman. She was
crying. But there was no Roman in sight. I looked frantically again
to be sure. Still no Roman. I stood there waiting for him to pop out
from behind a tree but it never happened. I wanted to call out his name
but didnít. I wouldíve looked like a dick head standing there, babbling
excuses of why I was following him. Just like that Roman had walked into a
cemetery and vanished like the ghosts that occupied it.
I turned and walked back to my car.