There were two ways to make money in my hometown: building guns at the factory or selling used cars at one of the dealerships along Route 12. I accidently shot my brother in the foot when we were kids and everybody agreed I ought to stay away from guns, so after high school I got a job at Bud’s Cars, Trucks & RVs.
There were two kinds of kids in town: the ones that left at the first opportunity and the ones that stayed. After graduation all the rich kids went off to points south or west in order to become lawyers or nurses or teachers, and none of them came back to live, which was fine by me.
That summer, ten years after we wore those black robes and marched through the auditorium, I knew they’d parade through here with their foreign cars and city-mouse spouses and tell everyone oh, you haven’t changed a bit, echoing the inscriptions in our yearbooks. They would say to each other that they couldn’t believe they grew up in our one-stoplight town, that it seemed so small now, so quaint, when what they really meant was poor.
Occasionally I saw some of those kids around town, mostly during the holidays, and we exchanged pleasantries. Some of them asked me how long I planned to work at Bud’s, as if the world was my oyster and I was just killing time here. Some of them asked when I was going to get married. A man should know himself and I did: I was no good at relationships but I was good at being single.
One time I ran into the former quarterback at the grocery store. He was home for Christmas, picking up cans of cranberry sauce for his mother, and he said, “Josh, even Becky the retard managed to get married!” His face was all beefed up from eating too much and sitting at a desk all day, his eyes sunk deep in the sockets so you had to search for them.
I wanted to punch his ugly face. I wanted to tell him about the time I fucked Becky, how I pulled her elastic-waist pants down in the boys’ bathroom. It was her idea but nobody would have believed me. She wasn’t retarded, just a little slow and sad and she wanted someone to see her and well, I wasn’t proud of it, but I was a horny kid back then. People like Becky wanted a reunion, they needed a chance to say: Look, someone loves me even if none of you ever did. She never understood that those kids who fled didn’t give a shit about her.
Those guys probably felt sorry for me, and the others, stuck in this town. They probably whispered about us, saying: it’s a shame and if only they had more opportunities, more education.
I did all right at Bud’s but my brother made more money at the gun factory. He got himself a decent looking wife and had two kids, like people do. We’d get together a couple times a month and sit on his back porch while his boys ran around playing tag in the yard. They’d yell “Uncle Josh, come get us!” but I just stayed up on the porch with the cooler of beer between my brother and me.
The winters were hard and a lot of folks ended up with one or two permanently broken-down, rusted cars in their yard. They kept coming back to Bud’s for another cheap car to get them through another winter or two. Some came to the lot with wanderlust, opening the doors of the RVs, planning their routes in Rand McNally atlases, ticking off all the important places they thought they ought to see in America: monuments of dead presidents, landscapes different from our own mountains.
Me, I hadn’t been outside of the tri-state area and the truth was most of those people who bought RVs at Bud’s hadn’t either. Most of them parked their motorhomes in their driveways and that was that. Maybe some used it for a spare bedroom in the summer, or as a playhouse for the grandkids. Very few actually took that big road trip they mapped out in their minds but the possibility of it kept them going.
It was around the time the class officers started planning the reunion that I first thought about helping myself to one of Bud’s RVs. The class president ran around town with a clipboard, making lists and tracking people down, as if being elected to that position ten years ago really meant something. As far as Bud, I figured we could call it even for all the commissions he cheated me out of over the years.
For months, I kept an atlas in my glove box. Some nights, when I pulled into my driveway, I sat in my truck for a while with the dome light on and turned the pages, mapping out routes with my finger: over the border to Canada and then west, dropping down through Washington, Oregon and along the coast of California, wondering what it’d be like to be one of the kids that left. Then I’d count the cash I’d been saving, locked up in a tin box under the seat of my truck, enough to get out of town and get by for a while.
Sometimes I thought about swinging by Becky’s house on the way out, see if she wanted a chance to ditch this place, too. Together, we could have watched the stoplight recede in the side view mirrors of one of Bud’s RVs. But Becky was the kind who stays. She was still waiting for people to notice her, and if you were hoping to be found then you needed to stay where people knew to look for you. Some nights I sat in my truck and ran my finger further south, tracing my way down to Mexico, where nobody would ever find me.
I went to Bud’s on the night that the class of 1991 gathered at the lodge. I picked one of the smaller RVs, figuring I didn’t need much space and the smaller ones always took longer to sell; when people dream they usually dream big. It didn’t take long to hitch it up to my truck. Maybe I should have felt guilty about it but I didn’t. I pulled out onto Route 12 and drove into the dark. I passed by the lodge, all lit up from within. Inside, I knew Becky and the rest of the class were drinking champagne out of plastic glasses, congratulating themselves on all their success. When nobody was looking around or asking for me, I headed west, to see what all the fuss was about.
Shasta Grant’s work is forthcoming or has appeared in Cream City Review, Jelly Bucket, Wigleaf, mojo, Corium Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a prose editor for Storyscape. She lives in Singapore and Indianapolis and can be found online at www.shastagrant.com.