Tom is a clever boy

 

I get hit in the facer with volleyball and Tom Mainer laughs.

The laugh hurts more than the ball because we all look up to Tom.

Heís the kind of kid you canít help admire, so full of cleverness you know heís going somewhere some day.

Tom alone can get away with giving the finger to a teacher when her back is turned or making a mocking face turn completely innocent when she turns around.

One time Tom even crawled in the window when he was late to school, pretending he was in his seat when the teacher took attendance. She simply missed him.

Tom manages to convince teachers that heís a model student when the rest of us know heís as big a cut up as the rest of us are.

Me, Iím always the damned goat.

Long legs, a dented chest and teeth as crooked as a broken pianoís, Iím picked on regularly.

Sure, I get Aís on tests, but I have to work them.

Tom gets his with a wink and smile.

Teachers think I cheat when I do well, and pat Tom on his shoulder when he doesnít.

They scrutinize every line twice to make sure my answers are right and give Tom the benefit of the down if heís answer come remotely close.

So his laugh hurts me.

Maybe he feels guilty when he takes me out behind the gym for a smoke.

I tried to tell him I donít smoke but he pops Lucky Strike between my lips and strikes a match to light it fore me.

Naturally, Mr. Trenton -- the history teacher/ hall monitor Ė picks that moment to check behind the gym and grabs me by the ear saying Iím going down to the office with him.

I want to see the cigarette isnít mine, but I donít want to get Tom in trouble.

Itís Tom that tells Mr. Trenton that the cigarette is his.

Mr. Trenton refuses to believe it, saying Tom is just trying to be a good friend by taking the blame for me.

The poor teacher is caught in a bind. He canít very well take me to the office after Tom admitted to the crime, so he lets us both good, telling us (but looking at me) the next time itíll mean suspension.

Tom says in his nicest voice that he understands and takes me down to the grocery store where I can swipe another pack of cigarettes for him.

I do it Ė scared the whole time the clerk might catch me.

I guess Tom wants me to be his friend.

I canít handle the tension and do my best to avoid him when I can.

I donít see much of him later, and after graduation, we go our separate ways.

Years later, I read in the newspaper how the police found his body floating in the bay, the result of a gang style slaying.

So I was right. Tom did turn out to be someone important.

After all, he was always pretty clever.

 


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