“I heard you poisoned him.”
Dave could imagine John’s expression: morbid interest like childlike curiosity as he watched Dave for a reaction. Dave felt him watching, John’s bright eyes fixed on him.
Nothing prompted that question. It wasn’t like they were sitting quietly before that, John making himself at home on the shitty couch in Dave’s parents basement and Dave just there, tense, while they enjoyed each other’s company, but there had been a pause in the conversation, perfectly natural. Dave had looked away, at something other than John. Then he’d asked.
John – he was the kind of tactless to just come out and say something like that. Maybe cunning enough to try to be trying to work out if Dave started the rumour or if someone else did. Not the kind of cunning to wait for Dave to look away before he asked, to catch him off guard.
A whole fifteen seconds had passed. Dave shrugged; he didn’t look at John. Did hesitating make it look more or less suspicious? “How did I do it?”
“Rat poison,” John said.
A flicker of a smile pulled at the corner of Dave’s lip. It dropped away just as quickly.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Oh, you know,” he said. Dave smelled the smoke from John’s cigarette. They were in Dave’s basement and even though the window was open, it was too small to get any air circulation. The smell would stick for days, but it wasn’t like anyone besides Dave came down here. “Here and there. Everyone knows it.”
The last bit of news he heard that way was about the funeral. It was on a Tuesday, for Billy’s family and closest friends. The wake had been on Saturday. Apparently, there was quite the turn-out. If Dave knew anyone who went, they didn’t tell him, which was too bad because he had some questions he wanted to ask. Things like how many people were actually there. What kind of people mourned for something like that?
“They say I killed him.”
“Yeah, dude. I just told you. With rat poison.”
“No, not with rat poison,” Dave snapped. “That he offed himself, but it was my fault.”
John was watching him, like Dave thought.
“Who told you that?”
“It’s – everyone knows it. There are rumours. What do you think his friends are doing?”
John took a slow puff of his cigarette and blew the smoke towards the half-open window, then shrugged. “Getting high. Pretending it didn’t happen. Isn’t that what you do when someone dies?”
Dave had never lost someone close to him; John’s confidence as he said this rattled him.
“Do you think they went to his funeral?”
“So they were actually friends.”
“One of them cried,” John said. “I forget who.”
“How do you know this?” Dave asked, then added, almost like an afterthought, like they were talking about stopping by the 7-11 on the way home from school, “You didn’t go, did you?”
There was a good chance that John was talking out of his ass, but he did have more friends than Dave. Sometimes, through all the crap, there was a nugget of truth.
“What kind of eulogies did people give?”
“Just usual crap,” John said. “It was just a lot of stories about what a great guy he was and what a tragedy this is.”
When his dad first told him about the funeral, Dave thought about going. If he thought he could get away with it – if he hadn’t known his chickenshit knees would give him away for how hard they knocked against each other, even if he could get in there unnoticed – he might have wanted to go. See what half-baked pictured his loved ones cobbled together in an attempt to immortalise someone worth mourning.
See if he’d feel something once he saw Billy’s wretched family crying over him, or if it would just be more of what he saw when he saw the obituary in the paper: an empty portrait around this evil teenager that Dave would see right through. What intimate moments were they sharing with each other in their collective grief, and how were they lying to themselves that this was a tragedy?
“They’re probably wondering how this could happen.”
“‘Why does tragedy exist?’” John mocked, being as intentionally overdramatic as possible. It was nice to see that he wasn’t taking this too seriously, which was good, because he thought he’d probably die if John ever cornered him while they were alone, or in front of his friends, and asked if he was all right.
“I can tell you why.”
John gave him a long, solemn look. “Rat poison, Dave. That’s what I’ve heard, and that’s what I believe.”
“It wouldn’t be worth getting arrested over him.” Again.
“Only if you were caught. And you’re smart. You wouldn’t get caught.”
“John,” he started to say, but John raised his hand not holding the cigarette and motioned for him to be silent.
“Did you do it, Dave?”
Dave thought about saying something. He almost opened his mouth, but at the last moment stopped himself. Was John talking about the rat poison, or about the suicide? Did cutting out Billy’s eyes make it Dave’s fault he was dead?
Dave shrugged, and flopped back onto his sofa. John was almost done with his cigarette. Soon they’d be able to go upstairs or shut the window down here.
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“It’s safe with me. And everyone else who knows already. Rat poison.”