Small Town Tragedy
John William Tuohy
The bright lights of the Diner were a contrast to the somber, unlit day. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust.
He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table and stared at the old man walking away from the cash register.
“Bobby, you know who that is?” he whispered and nodded his head discreetly towards the old man.
He looked back in the Diner and saw Nick the Greek in an animated conversation with the waitress.
“Nick the Greek,” he answered.
“No, not Nick,” he answered pointing again. “That guy, the tall guy.”
“I don’t know…who is it?” he asked.
“That’s Pete Ares,” he replied. “You remember him?”
“No,” came the reply again.
He used to run a grocery store down there on the corner of North Main and 4th Street, you remember that?”
“Yeah,” he said, “vaguely, kind of. ”
“I’m amazed he’s still alive,” he said. “I’m 55, so he must be ….what?...eighty? eighty-five? Older maybe. Wow. I haven’t thought about him in years. It was a tragic thing.”
“What was?” he asked. “What happened?”
“Just a thing,” he shrugged and watched the old man walk slowly and carefully across the main dining room, to a table towards the back. They looked over th emenus in silence for amoment.
“Just a tragic event that happened a long time ago. It’s interesting, all these years later, I still think about that, about what happened. I was a boy and for some reason it had a great effect on me and I never forgot it, even though I didn’t really know the people involved. That is, I didn’t know them well and I guess that if you had asked them who I was, they would have said that they didn’t know me at all. Still it affects me.
“So how do you know this guy? What happened to him?” he asked looking over his shoulder as the old man took a seat.
“The family ran a grocery store at the bottom of the hill from my house on North Cliff,” he answered. “They’d run that store since at least the 1920s, even before that I guess. It was a corner store. There were a lot of them in those days, mom and pop places. They all looked alike. There were usually five or six aisles of canned goods with a meat counter in the back and a register counter in the front by the door. My mother sent me down there every Sunday after the 9:00 o’clock mass with two dollars to buy a half dozen rolls, a dozen eggs, a bottle of milk and a copy of the New York Daily News. Every Sunday, same order. Their whole family worked in the store.”
“The old man was a football and baseball star in high school. My father talked about him. He said that the New York Yankees had sent a scout out to look him over, but he was drafted into the war and was sent down to Florida with the Navy and that was that. Imagine? ”
“So that’s the great tragedy?” he asked looking around for the waitress.
“He had a son, Rocky, big kid, as I remember. I was still in grammar school, but I remember him. He played quarterback that year in high school, and you know how that is around this town, quarterback. It’s like minor God status. He was pretty good too. We had two good years with him. I heard that in his senior year, Rocky got offers from all the big schools. Trust me, this was a kid who was going places, handsome too.”
“So what happened?” he asked.
“Well anyways,” he answered, “the old man was a pusher I guess, you know? The kind that never lets up on his kids. Always wants them to run faster, jump higher, be better, that kind of thing. That kind of pressure made the kid Rocky kind of jumpy, you know? Nervous, always trying to please his father…..so, Rocky had a sister, beautiful girl, tall blonde, really just angelic you know? I remember her. Really gorgeous. She was like, I dunno, three years younger than Rocky. Her name was Medea, Greek name. I’m pretty sure it was Medea. The father made him look after her but, you know, like a lot of brothers and sisters they didn’t get along.
One night, it was in the winter and it was snowing pretty bad and the roads were all slick and you know, on these hills, it gets dangerous. So it’s a teenage Christmas party, high school stuff, and his father made him give his sister a lift to the party that was in some house over by the Shelton town line.
Well, I guess the beer flowed pretty good and Rocky’s there and he’s drunk and he decides to leave. He looks around for his sister, and he can’t find her, so he just leaves. His sister sees him leave, and she runs to get her coat, says goodbye and all that and by the time she gets outside, Rocky’s already pulling out and starting to go. So, she’s yelling at him, “Rocky! Stop! Wait!” because it’s snowing and it’s late. She doesn’t want to walk home all the way across town….they lived way over by Colony Pond, that neighborhood there. Anyway, like I said, it was snowing, ice on the ground and all. Rocky’s had a few beers and he’s a kid in a muscle car so he peels out onto the street, and Medea, the sister, jumps out in front of the car to get him to stop and he runs her over and kills her. Dead, just like that….bang….imagine that?
So Rocky’s drunk and he’s scared and he doesn’t know who he hit, so he takes off. About an hour later, somebody is leaving the party and they find her, laying there on the road. They called an ambulance but it was too late for that, way too late for that. She’s dead. The sister’s dead. They guy killed his own sister”
When he got home his parents were asleep, so he went to bed, you know, to sleep it off. He was a kid; he didn’t know how to handle his booze yet. Later on that night, the cops come by and tell the parents what happened.
So the father calls Rocky downstairs to talk with the cops, and they ask him what happened and I guess Rocky says that she told him she had a ride home but she didn’t say with whom. Rocky learned then and there, what happened, you know, that he mowed down his own sister.
The mother just went crackers, I mean she really lost it over that. I mean I can understand that, you know? I mean, here you’re a mother and your daughter is killed just like that. Anyway, the next day, the father is out on the streets, banging on kid’s doors demanding to know what they saw. He’s trying to find out who killed his daughter and left her there like that. The cops had to take him home a few times, because he’s acting like a crazy man out there. He went out day after day and stayed out until it was dark, asking questions, looking for the killer. He even posted a reward, put up signs on telephone poles. He was offering a couple of thousand bucks. The whole thing was real big news for a long time. It made the papers like, five times or something. Everybody was talking about it.
One night he goes home and he’s walking through the garage and he finds Rocky in there and the kid is hammering out a bend in the front of the car. So the old man puts two and two together and comes up with the answer. His son killed his daughter. The kid doesn’t deny it. He breaks down and he sobs and the old man beats him down onto the ground. Gives him a good beating too. He breaks his nose, the whole thing, the whole nine yards.
Who knows what happened after that. You know, times goes by and people move along and pretty soon it’s all forgotten and done with. The father never told the cops what happened. I think he told the mother because you could see how she changed, all of sudden. She got thin and she was just…I don’t know…she looked old. I didn’t see her in the store much and one day, about five years after it happened, she died. I don’t know from what, but she died. I remember the funeral.
Rocky didn’t go to school anywhere. He drifted out of town and I heard he got into drugs, you know, that kind of thing. Then, about….I guess it was like twenty years ago now, he comes home. I saw him. He hung around downtown, all alone. He was really fat and he wore a beard. He was nervous, you know, doing that walking back and forth thing. Most folks just avoided him. I know I did. I’d be driving through downtown and if I had to stop at a light where he was on the sidewalk, I would just look the other way. It was pretty sad.
So one day, it was a Saturday, I’m sure it was a Saturday, because I was on call at the fire house when it happened, so it was a Saturday….anyway, Rocky fills up a can with gasoline. There was a neighbor watching all this. He sits down on the lawn, and pours the gas all over himself. He’s got a lighter and he takes it out and he screams, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Watch! Watch how sorry I am,” and he sparks the lighter and whoosh!”
“Yeah, I know. We got the call, over at the Eagle Hose, where I volunteer. When we got there, you know, it was pretty awful. He was dead. We got the body out of there before the father came home. No point in him seeing that.
They buried Rocky over there at the Pine Grove Cemetery with his ma and sister.
The father told the whole story to the cops later on, about the night it snowed and the accident, the whole story. The cops just let it go. There was enough damage done already as it was. Besides, what else could they do, you know? The kids were both dead.”
“Wow….that’s an awful….tragedy. Small town tragedy.”“Yeah, there’s no end to them. Let’s order something.”