Magazine article World Literature Today

Showdown in Shawboro

Magazine article World Literature Today

Showdown in Shawboro

Article excerpt

His mama didn't name him Trim. Officially, he's a William-same as his daddy, his daddy's daddy, and his son. But nobody (Mama included) called him anything but Trim, nicknaming according to the look of a beast. And thus it was a lanky man who showed up at the post office with a gun and a grievance.

I was still short enough to stand on the front seat of the family's '51 Ford when Dubby quit the Ford plant in Norfolk, Virginia, to work as an electrician for Shelton Simpson. Trim's wife, Eva, also worked in Shelton's Shawboro appliance store in the dual role of bookkeeper/ receptionist. Having a job outside the home made Eva unusual among Shawboro women. Since Trim's upholstery shop prospered, their family didn't absolutely need a second income. During that era, Shawboro wives and mothers toiled outside the home to help keep their family in clothes, food, and shelter, not to prevent themselves from going mad. If Dubby hadn't quite finished for the day when we arrived to collect him, Mom parked the Ford and visited with Eva.

Like her husband, Eva talked slow. Unlike Trim, she drawled more than she twanged. "Hayyyyyy," she'd say. "How ya dooooo-in?" She worked eight to five at a metal desk alongside Shelton's display stock of General Electric appliances. While Eva and my mother chatted, I skipped up and down the row, opening refrigerator and oven doors to ogle the plaster of paris food inside. Green beans, yellow corn, a ring of biscuits, a slab of ham, a full-sized "cooked" turkey, waxy brown. Eva surely noticed the coveting because once Christmas rolled around, Dubby brought home the lot, beans to turkey. For years I played with those blocks of painted food. Years. The paint chipped, the edges cracked and crumbled, and still I laid that bounty on my make-believe dinner table in my mostly make-believe playhouse-straw for rugs, sticks for doors, and pinecones for decoration.

When Shelton retired and closed up shop, Eva took the civil service exam. Initially she assisted my Aunt Vivian in the post office. After Aunt Vivian also called it quits, Eva took over as head postmistress. Standard wisdom in Shawboro: you couldn't do better than a civil service job. Good benefits, good pension, and, as postmistress, half a day free every Saturday. When Eva leftTrim, she didn't ask him for money. She'd accumulated enough on her own.

Eva's decision to leave seemed to shock the community as much as the abandoned husband. Couldn't believe it, never saw it coming.

"Just beside himself," the stunned said of the stunned Trim. "Talks of nothing else."

In quick succession, Trim quarreled with his son (who took his mother's side) and with his daughter (less partisan). He quit the upholstery business and dissolved the father/son partnership. He began to spend not just a portion of his days but all day every day at home, aggrieved, sulking, blaming one woman for that unhappy manner of being. He upped his grass mowing to every other day and then, one afternoon, grass shorn to the nub, he took his rifle and headed for the post office.

The post office in Shawboro, as in any small community, is a social hub where more than mail gets picked up. To spark-fire gossip, Trim couldn't have chosen a better locale to threaten his wife of record. A trip to the post office might take ten minutes or thirty, depending on who else bought stamps or loitered in the parking lot. …

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