a town as inbred as Trent, intimate knowledge of your neighbor, of the
girl at the video store, of any of the four hundred residents, wasn't
exactly desirable. Everybody in town knew Buck. They
recognized his blue corduroy pants, knew he pumped gas for a living, that
his mother had died in 1984, that in 1983, he had lost the final game of
the football season, after missing a crucial field goal, one that would
have advanced the team to the state finals for the first time in the
school's history. This collection of facts, this was what tied
Buck to a dead end job in a fading town.
He told himself that he stayed for various reasons, one being to stand
beside Porter and keep the station going since his boss and friend had
caught a virulent strain of herpes from the girl at the video store,
barely three months after his wife died of lung cancer, even though Mari
didn't smoke. Three months later, Porter loved his Cuban cigars, still. If not Porter, Buck told himself that he stuck around to lead
the Sunday morning children's choir, couldn't leave because Morton's
grocery teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and if the store closed,
Janice would lose her job, and her husband, who hadn't worked since the
factory closed, who was humping one of the cheerleaders down at the high
school, if that rotten bastard were to lose the comfort of her paycheck,
he "would move in with his brother, God damn it," whore around in
Atlanta, never once looking back. Every evening, Janice cried over
the particulars of this broken-down argument on a stool at the Bait Shack,
her head on Buck's shoulder.
Or maybe it wasn't about sad and depressed childhood friends, possibly
Buck craved the television-like down-home feel of a small town, created by
women like Will Henderson's wife who brought pastries to the town
meeting for free, probably penance for the supplies she regularly lifted
at Morton's Grocery on the days when Janice was nursing a hangover, for
every hour that she just couldn't cope with her husband's downward
spiral. But the real reason Buck held on in Trent was because he
just couldn't bear to pass by the Trent City Cemetery and know that he
would lose contact with his mother's bones; his mother, the only person
in the world who had thought to look beyond the uniform, who always saw it
as more of a costume. She used to touch his name, which was
embroidered above the pocket, and shake her head, saying "Honey,
somebody, some day is going to take off the mask and see you for what you
want to be."
At the gas station, Buck worked from nine to five, every day washing the
windows of Trent's elderly widow women, the commuters late to work while
watching the cars whiz by on I-95, every day waiting for one with
out-of-state tags to pull up to the gas tanks. God help him,
hopefully some stranger unfamiliar with the Trent scent of failure.
It became his habit to look over every impatient, distracted face behind
the wheel, occasionally whispering, "Mama?"
work is copyrighted property of Margaret O'Neal.