Saturday I stomped through oceans of rain-soaked slush to get out of the suburbs and into a city neighborhood where the used bookstores overflow. We’d just had a monster surprise snowstorm a few days before, and then a day full of rain and springlike temperatures soon followed. I carried a gigantic yellow umbrella. One of my shoes was soaked through before I even left my own driveway. A little more than an hour later, my coat and bags were cast aside and I sat on the floor of the bookstore while I prowled the shelves. My little collection was enriched that day by more books than I expected, and I also found one particular prize.
I wrote earlier about this hobby of mine; it’s intimately tied to my memories of my mother, which is one reason I think the dusty shelves were calling to me at this time of year. When I saw Buck’s spine I pulled it out with a gasp and dropped a handful of other books just to open it up and look into it again. In the intervening years, I forgot that I used to own this one, and I’ve never seen it in any other place where these books are discussed and catalogued. The Avon Flare Competition published books written by young authors—Tamela Larimer was a student at Penn State when Buck was published and she grew up not far from where I did. I read this book to pieces when I was a kid, and to have a copy in my hands feels like my mother leaving it on my bed for me again.
I wonder if she would have done that if she’d known what happened in the book. Buck, an orphan who ran away rather than face the child welfare system, is a former drug pusher and child prostitute. He’s just getting ready to pry Rich’s car stereo from its dashboard when Rich finds him.
This kid—I could see now that it was a kid, a guy around my own age—jumped so high he hit his head on the roof. It’s a miracle he didn’t knock himself out, considering the impact of metal on his skull. I really startled him.
He leapt for the passenger door and threw himself hard against it. But the car in the next space had pulled too close. The door opened about four inches and then scraped the other car. And for some reason that made me madder than anything, this jerk scraping the paint like that.
Head thrown back, muscles tense, this kid plastered himself against the partly open windshield with these wide eyes. One hand clawed on the dashboard, and the other dug into the headrest. He looked like an animal, frozen beyond panic.
Rich and his family take Buck in, and high school society takes him in, too. Everyone loves Buck until that love starts to threaten the hierarchy of popularity that existed before he came. It’s such an unusual book compared to a lot of the ones I read back then. It has a downer ending, it’s written from a first-person male perspective, and, well—it’s not graphic, but some of the stuff Buck has gone through curdles the imagination. The writing is just as good throughout the book as that excerpt. Back then, to think that someone only a few years older than me had written a book like this was a powerful inspiration, even if the only writing I did back then is best hidden away in a Rubbermaid bin.
I packed the book carefully away in a lower layer of my bag, because the rain was still coming down and the top layer of books got wet no matter how I tried to angle my umbrella over them. I stopped at a few other stores on Wellington West before coming home with Art-is-In bread and a jar of pear-vanilla jam and a backpack full of other goodies. At the bus stop, cars drove too quickly through the flash-flooded streets and sent geysers into the air. By the time I got home, my jeans were soaked to the knees. Still, it was a good day, a better day than I hoped for when I set out. Any day I feel my mom is a good day.