CHAPTER 12

No one said anything for maybe five minutes-not until the fire engines got to the high school. They looked at me, and I looked at them. Maybe they still could have bolted, and they’re still asking me why they didn’t. Why didn’t they cut and run, Charlie? What did you do to them? Some of them ask that almost fearfully, as if I had the evil eye. I don’t answer them. I don’t answer any questions about what happened that morning in Room 16. But if I told them anything, it would be that they’ve forgotten what it is to be a kid, to live cheek-by-jowl with violence, with the commonplace fistfights in the gym, brawls at the PAL hops in Lewiston, beatings on television, murders in the movies. Most of us had seen a little girl puke pea soup all over a priest right down at our local drive-in. Old Book Bags wasn’t much shakes by comparison.

I’m not taking on any of those things, hey, I’m in no shape for crusades these days. I’m just telling you that American kids labor under a huge life of violence, both real and make-believe. Besides, I was kind of interesting: Hey, Charlie Decker went apeshit today, didja hear? No! Did he? Yeah. Yeah. I was there. It was just like Bonnie and Clyde, except Charlie’s got zitzes and there wasn’t any popcorn.

I know they thought they’d be all right. That’s part of it. What I wonder about is this: Were they hoping I’d get somebody else?

Another shrieking sound had joined the fire siren, this one getting closer real fast. Not the cops. It was that hysterical yodeling note that is all the latest rage in ambulances and paramedic vehicles these days. I’ve always thought the day will come when all the disaster vehicles will get smart and stop scaring the almighty shit out of everyone they’re coming to save. When there’s a fire or an accident or a natural disaster like me, the red vehicles will rush to the scene accompanied by the amplified sound of the Darktown Strutters playing “Banjo Rag.” Someday. Oh, boy.

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