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 Ed’s 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. ‘What’s the matter?’ Ruprecht says, but gets no answer. Skippy’s eyes are bulging and a strange, sepulchral wheezing issues from his mouth; Ruprecht loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, but that doesn’t 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. ‘What’s 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. Brigid’s 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 he’s drowning, though how could he be drowning here, Ruprecht thinks, indoors, with the sea way over on the other side of the park? It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s all happening too quickly,without giving him time to work out what to do—
Excerpted from Skippy Dies: A Novel by Paul Murray, published by Faber and Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Murray. All rights reserved.