Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one
evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair. It is a
Friday in November, and Eds is only half full; if Skippy makes a
noise as he topples to the floor, no one pays any attention. Nor is
Ruprecht, at first, overly concerned; rather he is pleased, because
it means that he, Ruprecht, has won the race, his sixteenth in a
row, bringing him one step closer to the all-time record held by
Guido The Gland LaManche, Seabrook College class of 93.
Apart from being a genius, which he is, Ruprecht does not have all that much going for him. A hamster-cheeked boy with a chronic weight problem, he is bad at sports and most other facets of life not involving complicated mathematical equations; that is why he savours his doughnut-eating victories so, and why, even though Skippy has been on the floor for almost a minute now, Ruprecht is still sitting there in his chair, chuckling to himself and saying, exultantly, under his breath, Yes, yes until the table jolts and his Coke goes flying, and he realizes that something is wrong.
On the chequered tiles beneath the table Skippy is writhing in silence. Whats the matter? Ruprecht says, but gets no answer. Skippys eyes are bulging and a strange, sepulchral wheezing issues from his mouth; Ruprecht loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, but that doesnt seem to help, in fact the breathing, the writhing, the pop-eyed stare only get worse, and Ruprecht feels a prickling climb up the back of his neck. Whats wrong? he repeats, raising his voice, as if Skippy were on the other side of a busy motorway. Everyone is looking now: the long table of Seabrook fourth-years and their girlfriends, the two St Brigids girls, one fat, one thin, both still in their uniforms, the trio of shelfstackers from the shopping mall up the road they turn and watch as Skippy gasps and dry-heaves, for all the world as if hes drowning, though how could he be drowning here, Ruprecht thinks, indoors, with the sea way over on the other side of the park? It doesnt make any sense, and its all happening too quickly, without giving him time to work out what to do
At that moment a door opens and a young Asian man in an Eds shirt and a badge on which is written, in mock-cursive, Hi Im, and then, in an almost unreadable scrawl, Zhang Xielin, emerges behind the counter, carrying a tray of change. Confronted by the crowd, which has risen to its feet to get a better view, he halts; then he spies the body on the floor and, dropping the tray, vaults over the counter, pushes Ruprecht aside and prises open Skippys mouth. He peers in, but its too dark to see anything, so hoisting him to his feet, he fastens his arms around Skippys midriff and begins to yank at his stomach.
Ruprechts brain, meanwhile, has finally sparked into life: hes scrabbling through the doughnuts on the floor, thinking that if he can find out which doughnut Skippy is choking on, it might provide some sort of a key to the situation. As he casts about, however, he makes a startling discovery. Of the six doughnuts that were in Skippys box at the start of the race, six still remain, none with so much as a bite gone. His mind churns. He hadnt been observing Skippy during the race Ruprecht when eating competitively tends to enter a sort of a zone in which the rest of the world melts away into nothingness, this in fact is the secret of his record-nearing sixteen victories but hed assumed Skippy was eating too; after all, why would you enter a doughnut-eating race and not eat any doughnuts? And, more important, if he hasnt eaten anything, how can he be
Excerpted from Skipp Dies: A Novel by Paul Murray, published August 2010 by Faber and Faber, Inc., and affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Murray. All rights reserved.
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