Steve Yarbrough The Oxygen Man

ISBN 13: 9781878448859

The Oxygen Man

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9781878448859: The Oxygen Man
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This gritty first novel takes us into the world of Ned Rose, who works nights checking the oxygen levels in fish farm ponds, does all the dirty work his boss requires, and silently shares the family home with his sister Daze, who is nearly blinded by bitterness and disdain. Since his early teenage years, Ned's life has been marred by anger that erupts and then quickly disappears, leaving him filed with secrets and regret. When Ned and Daze realize that they have one last hope for deliverance, The Oxygen Man moves into the deepest veins of the heart.

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About the Author:

Steve Yarbrough's stories have appeared in The Oxford American, The Hudson Review, and The Southern Review and in two collections, Family Men and Mississippi History. His third collection, Veneer, was recently published by University of Missouri Press. He is a professor of English and creative writing at Cal State, Fresno

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Daze Rose was sitting in the kitchen eating an omelet, with a little bit of ketchup on the side. While she ate, she read the Jackson paper. Somebody else she'd gone to school with had been convicted. Of a crime this time. He'd soon be home, back to Sunflower County, where they would put him to work in the Parchman Prison fields. So many people she'd known had gone to jail. So many more who should have hadn't.

She heard Ned's truck pull into the yard. His door slammed. His work boots crunched the gravel, she knew they did even though she didn't hear it. The screen door was closed.

"Hey," he said.

She kept her eyes trained on the paper. Behind her the refrigerator opened and closed. He popped the cap. The cap hit the counter.

He was drinking Beck's these days, and he'd brought himself some new clothes, replacing his old Rustlers with Levis-he'd even bought himself one pair of Calvin Kleins, though as far as she know he'd never put them on. He'd always wanted to be something he wasn't and if she'd been what he was, she might have felt the same way to.

He drove the backroads in his pickup truck all night. He drove from this fishpond to that one, from that one to the next, lowering a boom into the water, checking oxygen levels. Sometimes he turned on the aerators.

"I've never lost a pond," she heard him say.

"Out there at night, "he also said, "you see the damndest things."

She knew he wanted her to ask what kind of things, and so she wouldn't. She knew he needed her to ask, and so some part of her wanted to, and because she wanted to she couldn't.

He sat down at the table, stood the cold bottle on the placemat. She couldn't stop herself. Mistress of the gesture, she slowly stood up, let her gaze climb his torso toward his face. He needed a shave. His eyes were bleary. His hair was still more red than grey, but more grey was on the way. The fact that he had aged and would age further, was a huge mark against him.

He swallowed, though there was nothing in his mouth. He said, "What's in the paper?"

"Kyle Nessler's going to Parchman."

She pulled her bathrobe tight around her, laid her knife and fork on the plate and stood. She picked up the plate and took it to the sink. Behind her, wood groaned as he shifted his weight.

"He killed his little three-year-old daughter," she said, "and buried heron the banks of the Pearl River down close to Crystal Springs." Hot water splashed on the plate, diluting the ketchup, which began to spread to ward the rim. "They gave him life. If you ask me, life's the last thing the sorry bastard deserves."

She turned around slowly then looked at Ned. As if the weight of her gaze was more than he could bear, he dropped his head.

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Yarbrough, Steve
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