Hi there! Here’s part 5 of a longish short story I wrote about 5 or 6 years ago called On the Way to My Grave.
Part 4 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 1 is here.
He continued to stare with eyes resting on darkened half-circles. I said, “I’m surprised to see the star of the football team hanging out by himself. Where’s all the girls?”
“My brother loved you guys.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “I’m really sorry about what happened.”
“He wanted to be a writer. He used to write essays and short stories and stuff. Poems and lyrics, too. They were real good.”
His suicide letter did show a dramatic flair. I told Paul I’d like to see Brett’s work someday.
“Are you guys gonna put out another album? Maybe you can use some of his words.”
After we were dropped by the label, people would ask when the next album was coming out, and I’d lie and say we were shopping for the right deal. But no one had asked for such a long time, I felt all right telling the truth.
“Unfortunately, our time has passed. I’m pretty sure Brett was the last person who cared about us.”
He gazed at a crumpled Dunkin Donuts cup lying on the sidewalk. “Your song was the only thing that made him feel ok. He fell asleep to it every night.” With forced cheer he said he liked some of our songs, but he didn’t mean it.
“Do you know why he did it, your brother? I guess it’s selfish of me, but I kind of feel responsible, you know?” I stood silent, waiting, and his answer came laced with venom.
“I don’t know why he did it, but it wasn’t you, ok? You can go back to your party life and forget all about my brother. He’s just a stat. You’re all good, man. Life is good. So go fuck yourself, all right?”
As the words spilled out, his rage made me feel ashamed and selfish and at once so aware of my stupid, pointless arrogance.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“Yeah, you told me.” He fought back the tears desperate to get out.
I’d already pissed him off, so I figured I might as well confront him. “Paul, why are you on the football team if you aren’t good enough to get into the games?”
His voice went limp. “I don’t know.”
“Did you call Coach and tell him I was here? Did you follow me to the pub on your skateboard? You know, sometimes people in a position of power can make kids do things they don’t want to do. Does Coach ever make you do things you don’t want to do?”
I cool breeze tore down Main Street, much colder than the air it displaced, kicking up dust and leaves and forcing my hands back into my pockets.
Paul Denson dropped his board on the sidewalk and, as he turned away, said, “Leave me alone.”
“Why did he give you an iPod?” I asked, but he was already rolling off in the opposite direction. If Paul chose to remain as silent as the three dead kids, I had one option left.
~ ~ ~
The big colonial on the hill stands out in Collingwood. Across the street and down a block, I parked in the night shade of a low-hanging tree.
I waited until 11 o’clock to ring the doorbell. Coach Van Der Bruggen didn’t strike me as a guy to hide behind a peephole and ask who’s there, and I was right. Heavy footfalls approached from the beyond the door, with not a moment’s pause before it swung inward.
“Who the hell-” I didn’t think his scowl could get meaner, but it did when he saw my face. “You! I thought I told you to get lost.”
Now what? “I need to talk to you about Paul.”
“What about him?”
To write songs that connect with listeners, you have to know something about human nature. Knowing about human nature helps you manipulate people. Coach needed to be important. “I’m worried he might try to hurt himself,” I said. “I tried to talk to him, but I think he needs to hear it from someone he respects. You, I mean.”
Coach’s scowl softened. Sort of. “All right. Follow me.”
He led me through the foyer and into a well-appointed home office. Lots of real wood and not a hint of particle board. A row of football trophies filled an inset shelf. One statuette, too tall and bulky for the allotted space along the wall, stayed on his desk.
He said, “This one isn’t a trophy. It’s a bronze statue. The mayor had it made a couple of years ago. Town pride.”
He adjusted its angle. “Frankly, if I didn’t win anything to get it, I don’t want it. And the damn thing doesn’t fit on my shelf. But the son-of-a-bitch mayor insists on visiting me all the time, so I leave it out.”
I tilted the statue back, pretending to admire it. It was heavy. “So, is Mrs. Van Der Bruggen home?”
The scowl returned. “What the hell is wrong with you, son? We’re not friends. Tell me about Paul and get out.”
I waited a moment. “People don’t kill themselves because of a song, Coach. It takes a lot more than that. Something traumatic. Shameful, maybe.”
He moved behind his desk. Did he keep photos in there? A flash drive full of secrets? I noticed a safe set into the wall.
“Look,” he said, “I know that. But when a kid is troubled, that song isn’t what he needs to hear. Understand? This town has had enough grief, and you being here doesn’t help. It makes it worse.”
I saw through his stern father-figure routine. “Why is Paul on your team? He’s not an athlete. Why did you give him an iPod?”
His fingers fidgeted. “For heaven’s sake, the kid lost his father. His dead brother was a football hero. Someone has to look out for him.”
Eying his defensive posture, it all become so obvious. I leaned forward, literally with nothing to lose. “You sexually abused Brett Denson and those two other guys on your team, didn’t you? And now you’re doing the same thing to Paul.”
(tomorrow… the conclusion!)