Every Wednesday, I?m posting a short, 1000-word prequel to one of the eleven stories in If You Need Me I?ll Be Over There, which comes out June 1. This one?s a prequel to the eighth story in the collection, ?Another Man’s Treasure?, originally published in Prairie Schooner.
This happened on a weeknight in May, when I was just starting to get interested in a girl named Cheryl, who lived over in Friend but had a cousin in Seward she was hanging out with a lot that spring. This was the year after graduation. I heard she would be out near the watertower, so I made sure that I wore one of my tighter tee shirts and the Huskers ballcap that did not smell like pig s—. I pulled up in my truck right at the base of the watertower and was pulling the case of beers I had brought out of the truckbed when I heard a guy say, Move it, buddy. He was talking to me. He was very tan with a buzzcut and a round face with cheeks like a baby?s. He stood very close to me with another guy that was as big as a pop machine.
I said, Move what?
This piece of s— truck, he said.
My truck was not a piece of s—. It was a hand-me-down from my grandfather who kept it in very good condition, and I told the guy so.
The guy said his buddy had parked here already and was on his way back from a beer run. I pointed to the many other places to park. Who were these guys? I had not seen them at the watertower before.
You do not get it, dumbass, the guy said. This spot ?ain?t? yours.
The other people there, my friends many of them, were starting to look our way, including Cheryl, and I was not about to look stupid in front of her, so I just shook my head and walked away. But then I heard the guy say, Hey, d—head, and he grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around. He was a little older than me, and a little bigger, and he shoved me up against my truck. He said, Little boys need to listen, and he took my keys out of my hand and pushed me aside. I did not even have to think about it. I just set the beers down and threw myself at the guy, but the big man he was with was suddenly in my way. He grabbed me in a bear hug and I had a hard time breathing.
Get him out of the way, the guy said.
He got in my truck, started it up, and backed out fast without looking, the front left tire crushing the case I had brought. Beer sprayed all over the truck, and the dust he kicked up caked along the side. He drove it back all the way to a far corner, almost to the road, and stepped out leaving the door wide open. I could not move. I tried to kick but the guy holding me kept lifting me off the ground and I could not get any purchase.
Let him go, the guy with the buzzcut said, and I was pushed to the ground. I could not see the others but I wondered, Where is somebody to say or do something? Where is Mike? It was still so light outside.
I turned around and tried to figure out who I was going to hit first. Then the guy did something strange. He held my keys in the air and walked behind his large friend, and he said, Come and get them. Then he pulled the waistband of his friend?s shorts out and dropped my keys down the back.
The friend just stood there smirking at me. And then he turned around and bent over and let out a long fart.
They both started cracking up. I did not know what to do. I could not reach in there, not with everyone watching, but I could not fight them both. Even though I think my parents wanted me to, and even though there was money from my grandparents to pay for the expense of it, I did not go to college. My whole life, I had said a lot of Yes and now I wanted to start saying No Sir, so when my dad asked me if I wanted to work at his insurance company I said No, thank you, and I told my parents it was time for me to relax a little. Most days, I drove the mower over our lawn to get some sun and lifted to keep my weight up. I did not want to be anybody special, but I wanted to feel good about myself when I woke up every morning.
Look, I said, you moved my truck. It is fine. Let me just have my keys and we will forget this happened.
Nobody is stopping you, the babyfaced guy said. Just reach on in and grab them.
Then he said, I can tell you want to, faggot.
I was so angry I started to shake, and then I ran at him with my fist cocked. Before I had a chance to hit him I got lifted up and thrown down onto the ground. The heavy fellow. He planted a boot in my chest. Stay down, he said, his voice like a lowing cow.
He reached into his pants and pulled out my keys, and then he dropped them right onto my face.
They walked away and left me alone the rest of the night. I was handed somebody else?s beer and stood a way?s apart from the crowd. Everybody pretended like they had not seen anything, except Cheryl, who came up with a friend of hers and said, I am sorry about those guys. They can be such a–holes when they drink.
Who are they? I asked her.
She said they were the friends of her brother, Kevin, who was out on a beer run. It was another hour before he came back with his truck. He did not even park in the spot. I could not have any fun. I spent the whole night trying to come up with some kind of revenge, but when I brought it up with Mike or Jerry I could not get any one of them to help me. What, do you want me to grab a crowbar? Mike said. I am just here to drink and get some p—-. I drove home, alone, well before midnight.
Sometimes, when I am not sure what I am supposed to do with my life, I look for signs. Stains I get on my clothing. Stories on the news of dead children. This memory of Cheryl, maybe it was a sign I did not see at the time. Maybe I did not pay the right attention. It was not two more years before I married her.
You can pre-order If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There here.