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"Round Here" • Counting Crows (by Mike Smolarek)

Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying, why, I don’t know.

Eleven seconds of silence at the beginning of the first song on an album is an eternity.

I met my Maria shortly after Adam Duritz sang about his Maria, my Maria among the girls in the cafeteria during my freshman year of college.

My Maria kept me in my head, kept me going around, kept me up late with her, and kept me up later without her, thinking about her, and staring at the ceiling as I tried to sleep, wondering what we were, what she wanted and if it was what I wanted. 

When Maria was around, she stood out and everyone else was in soft focus. My roommates and I sat at the same table every night, eating burgers and turkey sandwiches and playing what we called the game, just us gawking at the girls we liked but were too timid to approach. Maria was the one we waited for, the one who kept us playing the game. One night a girl I worked with talked to Maria while holding their dinner trays while waiting in line to swipe their student IDs. Turns out she was her roommate. I asked her to introduce me to her. She said no and told stay away from her. 

I ran into Maria again at a house party that Friday night. Okay, I went to a house party that Friday night because I heard Maria was going. It took three cups of Bud Light to chase away my timidity, but Maria was gone by then. I stumbled home mad at myself for not being braver earlier, but brave enough to call her. I held my breath as it rang and rang but I left a message when it went to voicemail. I was sure she would never call back but a few minutes later the phone rang, and I answered. “Which one are you?” she asked then told me to come over. She was asleep by the time I got there. Her roommate told me to go home and asked me why? I said I don’t know.

Sunday at dinner Maria came up to our table and invited me to come visit her. I did, every night for the next month. I stayed until midnight, then progressively later. We talked about school, parents, high school, roommates, her love of John Travolta and Stayin’ Alive. We talked math a lot since. She insisted we should w she was studying to be a math teacher and I was studying actuarial science. She insisted we write a math dictionary, a reference book that containing math definitions across all math: Algebra, Geometry, Probability and Stats, Calculus. One night I finally got the courage to kiss her while we were watching the movie “Singles.” We made out on her couch. I floated home through the quad that night. 

She came to watch my band play a show in the late-night cafeteria, our best moment.  I played acoustic guitar and sang, and my friend Ron played a pared down drum set as we covered Toad the Wet Sprocket, Beastie Boys, and the Lemonheads. We named our band “The Game.” Maria laughed at the name and snagged the setlist once we finished. It was the best moment of the year. 

But it was fleeting. Finals were on the horizon, and summer break was around the corner. Now she didn’t want me to come over. She didn’t call back. Students were moving home for the summer one by one and erasing themselves from campus and soon there isn’t going to be anyone round here but me since my last final wasn’t until Friday. My roommate moved out four days before I did and took his TV with him. I should have been studying but I stared at the ceiling for hours unable to focus on Prob and Stats, or my Psychology paper, unable to eat or sleep or think about anything but Maria. Why didn’t she want to talk to me before the summer? Did I do something wrong? Did I not do something I was supposed to do? 

I took my last final and went home for the summer without seeing her or talking to her. Eleven seconds of silence from the first song on an album is an eternity.

Mike Smolarek lives in Riverside, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He has been published in Train River Short Stories, Two With Water and in Daddy Cool, an anthology of writing by and for dads. He has been part of several reading series, including Two With Water/Curbside Splendor and Essay Fiesta. His favorite color is green and he can be found at


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