Robbie is currently working on Me & Tuffy, a piece of fiction about the meaning of friendship which he plans to publish as a collection of short stories or possibly as a novella or set of interconnected pieces. So far, he has posted three excerpts of this piece on his website. The selection which appears below is from part one; visit Robbie's site to read the complete text of part one.
It was a sweltering hot July afternoon. It was so hot that sometimes you'd see the air shimmer over the asphalt at the end of the street--it felt like God was flicking through the channels on his giant TV set. You could picture him sitting around with Jesus and the Holy Ghost, checking up on people all over the world. The only problem was you never knew whether he was watching your channel or clicking over to someone else's.
The heat settled onto our neighbourhood like a thick, soggy blanket, pushing everyone who couldn't afford an air conditioner--which was pretty much everyone--out of their apartments. Old people sat on their stoops and balconies fanning themselves, or cruised the frosty aisles of the supermarket down the street. Everyone else headed for the pool.
By noon, every precious inch of the concrete deck had been staked out by hundreds of brightly colored beach towels. A soothing cacophony of shrieks and splashing and laughter wafted out to the street as bodies of every shape and size were corralled into the shallow end. Swimming underwater was like getting lost in a forest of pasty arms and legs. Tuffy and I weren't old enough to go off the diving boards, but one of the big kids said the line-ups were so long you could catch sunstroke and die before you got your turn.
Lifeguards in red speedo bathing suits patrolled the sides of the pool like prison guards, doing their best to make sure that no one had any fun. No running. No roughhousing. No diving into the shallow end. Everyone knew the rules but broke them anyway. When the lifeguards blew their whistles and pointed at you, you stopped whatever you were doing, waited until their heads were turned, and went right back to doing it.
Tuffy and I were walking along the edge of the pool, looking for a good spot to jump.
"You know what we should do? We should come back tonight when the pool is closed and throw paint in the water. The janitor in my building has like, ten cans stored down in the basement. We can throw them over the fence and then no one will want to come to their stupid pool anymore and they'll all get fired."
I realized that Tuffy would just keep on talking. Maybe forever. I had to say something, if only to keep him from getting us into even deeper shit.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Tuffy? Are you an idiot? Why do you always have to go and ruin everything?"
He stopped and turned to face me. I could see tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. His lower lip was quivering. I looked around to make sure that no one was watching us--the last thing I needed was to be seen with a crybaby.
He swallowed hard and blinked a few times, trying to suck it up. I was backing nervously away when he reached out and grabbed my arm. "Mikey," he said, staring gravely into my eyes, "you're my best friend. And best friends stick together. No matter what."
I'd never had a best friend before and I wasn't sure I wanted one. To be honest, I was still wondering whether the lifeguards would believe me if I told them that I didn't even know who Tuffy was. I thought that maybe, if I could convince them he was some sort of deranged imbecile, and that he had only pushed the lifeguard because he was having a brain seizure, I might be able to get myself, or even both of us--but mostly myself--back into the pool.
Now that Tuffy had gone out on a limb like that, it didn't seem right to ask whether I had any say in the matter, or to point out that sticking together meant we'd probably be finished high school before we could go swimming again.
"With friends like you..." I muttered under my breath.
"Ah, forget it."