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Buck O'Eight

ON THE PLAYGROUND of the Saint Paul public elementary school where I work, a young boy with a burdened face sat beside me on a bench, desperately trying to keep his mouth shut. In the cafeteria, only minutes before, I had caught Trevor (not his real name) subtly trying to slide someone else’s dollar into his pocket. Trevor’s throat was a kinked garden hose, frantically holding back, but overwhelmed by the pressure. Finally, he let loose a deluge of tears that accompanied his life story up until his attempted theft.

Eleven years old, Trevor was already a surrogate parent for his six-year-old sister; their mother would sometimes be away for days at a time. When she was home, the kids didn’t know if they’d find her aggressively irritable side that violently overreacted to the smallest inconveniences, or an unnerving smile frozen upon her face while she laughed nonsensically at seemingly anything.

Occasionally, there would be a handful of change and a couple of dollar bills left upon the countertop. Trevor would walk his little sister to the dollar store to buy the only food in the house.

“My sister always wants to get candy, but you don’t get a lot of it for a buck. I buy the pancake mix, because that can last us for a few days.”

“Do you need more food in the house? Is that why you tried to take the dollar?” I asked.

Trevor shook his head, “No,” then continued, trembling.

There were only four plates in their apartment, and they were always washed after eating. Their mother had her favorite ceramic plate, embossed with an elegant design, which Trevor refused to use. When he heard the crash, and his sister’s scream, Trevor became frantic.

“I just need a buck o’eight, and I’ll just buy the nicest dish at the one dollar store and hope my mama don’t notice.”

The young man exhaled half of his worry when I placed a dollar and a quarter in his hand. Since it was Friday, I told him to try to enjoy his weekend.

On Monday, Trevor arrived with a red and purple blister bulging under his eye. This time, he succeeded in holding his silence.

Story: SCOTT BADE is an educator for Saint Paul Public Schools and resides in North Saint Paul with his darling wife, Erika; his adorable children, Audrey (1) and Oliver (4); and his very supportive brother, Dan.



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