He died in the cafeteria. Right in the middle of the goddamn ca-fe-te-ria. He didn’t make one little peep. He turned beet red, sat down slowly, made as though he was gonna say something and died. What the hell was he gonna say? I don’t know. Help, maybe. I was there too, a table away, eating a disgusting meatloaf sandwich, observing the goings-ons. That’s it. Just sitting there, eating some slimy day-old meat between two pieces of toast. But by the time I tell you my story, you might think it was my fault. That’s what people around here say. But it wasn’t me. I didn’t kill Douglas Weller. The pixie sticks did.
It all started because I didn’t wanna watch TV, which is all my parents do.
“Oh, Jerry’s on!”
“Seinfeld?” my dad screams from across the house, where he’s watching the other TV on the back patio, smoking a cigarette. “No. Springer, dummy” Mom squawks back.
Personally, I’m over it. Not that it matters. My parents are always hogging the TV even if I wanted to watch—which I don’t.
I didn’t wanna watch TV but I did wanna do something. Otherwise I’d end up going nutso from boredom, like Aunt Jemima—her real name’s Raquel—who pours syrup over everything and talks like she’s in s-l-o-o-o-w-m-o-o-o-t-i-o-o-n. What I really wanted was a skateboard ever since Sam came by during Spring Break and let me ride his around the block. The problem was my parents wouldn’t buy me one since they’d seen some special on TV on the skateboarding lifestyle. “I just don’t want you to end up hurt, dear. Besides, skateboarders are just truant vandals. Anyways: no.”
So I racked my brain for an idea. I needed to raise the money for the skateboard without making my parents suspicious.
Then Gummy Sax—who eats gummy bears all the time and plays alto sax in the school band—brought a bag of pixie sticks to school; probably because the store was outa gummy bears. Everybody knows she’s a clutz, so it was no surprise that during history, trying to sneak one, she spilled the whole thing onto the ground and made a worse mess trying to clean it up. News of the incident spread quickly and Gummy ended up being mobbed at lunch. Everybody wanted pixie sticks and not necessary for eating.
The next morning during morning announcements Principal Nestler interrupted and said the following: “Due to a number of incidents yesterday, and complaints from the janitorial staff, as of today, pixie sticks and any other short of powdered candy is banned from campus. Anybody caught with it will get, minimum, three days of detention. That is all. Thank you.”
I knew that I would have more than enough money for that skateboard.
I started small. Three or four pixie sticks at a time. I knew who the troublemaker’s were; I went straight to them and they bought them with whispers. “If you tell anybody, anybody at all, it’s over.” Some of them got smart. They could simply buy them themselves, what use was I? They were right, of course, but I kept at it. If they resisted I sold to them at a loss. If I made enough sales I could get mom to buy me boxes from Costco and I’d start making money again.
They couldn’t resist. Banning them meant everybody wanted one. Word—as I knew it would—spread quickly. Such secrets spread like wildfire. Soon I had two dozen regulars and the number just kept growing. I bought them in bulk, a half-dozen boxes at a time, from a wholesale candy supplier online, with mom’s credit card. She didn’t mind me buying copious amounts of candy but skateboards were a no-go!
I sold them and I waited for the inevitable; I was gonna get caught, probably sooner later than later. All I wanted was to sell enough to buy my skateboard. And I was close, so very close, and then Douglas Weller happened.
Douglas wasn’t somebody I would have chosen to do business with. It wasn’t because he was a dork but because he refused to acknowledge that he was, in fact, a dork and that made him a dork twice over. He had a loud, high-pitched voice which he used constantly to ask questions in class. He did have one redeeming feature in my eyes, however: money.
Nobody knew what Douglas’ parents did; mostly because nobody wanted to talk to him in the first place. This wasn’t entirely true, he did have a couple of friends, but they too were outcasts. All everybody knew was that Douglas Weller could buy anything he fancied and he wasn’t shy about doing exactly that. Perhaps it was his way of getting back at everybody for treating him so badly. He always had the latest of everything and he made sure you knew it. Now that I think about it, I should’a known it was a bad idea to sell him anything—I was looking at him with dollar signs in my eyes.
He came to me during lunch and wanted to buy an entire box but it was the end of day and all I had was a few left. “I’ll buy everything you bring tomorrow. Don’t sell to anybody else. I’ll buy all of it.” That night I stuffed every last pixie stick I could into my backpack. The hell with concealing them; this was the last sale I had to make. I would have more than enough money to buy what I wanted. I knew what Weller wanted: nobody else would have pixie sticks that day. I didn’t care.
It would be an understatement to say that Douglas Weller was not a strong person. He bought the pixie sticks from me not because he wanted them but because he saw it as some kind of retribution against everybody else. He was grasping at some control over what was for him must have been a horrible existence. At lunch that day I found out how far he was willing to go to rub it in our faces. Poor Douglas Weller.
At lunch, with two friends at his side, they emptied his lunchbox and began emptying the pixie sticks into it. They worked fast. Weller’s eye darted quickly around the room. He knew that everybody was watching, however sly they were being about it.
When they were done with all of them—I had sold him hundreds—the lunchbox was a swirl of colored powder. Douglas Weller looked at it and grinned. Then he did what we all knew he was going to do: he began eating it. He spooned it into his mouth greedily, over and over. I thought he’d have to stop eventually. It was too much.
But ten minutes later he slowly swallowed the last tiny bit and grinned at his friends. I sighed. What a pig. I opened my chocolate milk, sipped it slowly and thought about my new skateboard.
He died. I didn’t believe it at first. After he collapsed they corralled us back to class. The whispers said he was dead but the whispers always exaggerated. This time they didn’t have to. He was dead.
I took all the money I had made from my pixie stick sales and buried it during P.E. near the soccer field. I could get it later. I was waiting for the prosecution.
“Mr. Adams, will you come with me please?”
My heart raced. This was it. I was led straight to Principals Nestlers office.
“Good morning, Mr. Adams. Please take a seat.”
I sat down, afraid that he could already see the guilt in my eyes.
“We’ve been aware that somebody was selling powdered candy to students since last week. We were having a hard time tracking the culprit down but now, tragically, we know who it was.”
I sighed, resigned to taking whatever punishment there was.
“There will undoubtedly be many questions, so we’re trying to piece together the course of events.”
The principal fiddled with his tie.
“We know Mr. Weller was selling large amounts of candy to students here. Various people witnessed him carrying a large amount in his backpack this very morning. However, nobody is willing to admit buying any from him, which leaves us tenuous position. You understand, Mr. Adams?”
I nodded, trying to ignore the roar of thoughts in my head.
“You were seen talking to Douglas before class this morning, Mr. Adams.”
He leaned back in his chair and looked at me.
“Did you buy candy from Mr. Weller this morning, Freddy? Nobody is gonna punish you, on my word. You’d be helping your school by telling us the truth. It’s important that you tell us the truth.”
Years later I understood the desperation in his voice. A child had died on his campus doing something that he should have stopped. The buck would stop with him—not that it wouldn’t scathe the rest of the staff. If Douglas was responsible for what killed him then some of the blame would be shifted: to himself and his parents.
I gave them what they wanted. It was a way out and I didn’t feel responsible at the time. I’m not sure if I do now. I’m not sure who holds the responsibility—maybe Douglas himself, his parents, or all of us for making him an outcast.
“Yes, sir, I bought some candy from Douglas this morning.”
I pulled out a pixie stick wrapper I knew was in my pocket.
“I’m sorry. I just…”