People never last



June 18, 1980


“My name’s Ben, and once ya get to know me, ya never forget me,” he said, his black face glistening with sweat, so black as to make his head look like an over-ripe plum.

His grin showed several missing teeth.

“I’ve been working this route for eight years and I’ve seen them come and go. Some last a month; some a year, but they all leave sooner or later,” he said, dumping a heavy carton onto the rear of the truck trail, raising dust.

“Yeah,” he said in a mumble after word. “They all go.”

He sounded reflected; he sounded sad.

He said he made friends quickly, and so felt bad each time one of them left, seeing their faces fade and knowing he would never see any of them again.

The truck rumbled; an impatient driver keeping it running while we loaded, sending fumes onto the dock for us to breathe. Ben tossed another box into the gaping black mouth that we were supposed to fill before the truck could go. This ritual of loading seemed to relieve him a little of his grief. He wasn’t sure why he stayed here himself since he had to drag himself twenty miles each morning and twenty miles back home at the end of the day, a trap that kept him tied up with the lure of a pay check.

But he didn’t love everybody who passed through, and mumbled something about a guy named Taylor who he called “a real son of a bitch.”

“Nobody knew what went on inside that guy’s head,” he said.

No one knew too much about how Ben ticked either, only that he had become something of a landmark here, a statue among the packing crates and dust, too stubborn for even the pigeons to shit on, let alone the bosses.

“The bosses mostly like me,” he said. “Maybe even they will remember my pretty face when it’s not here for them to look at every day.”

His pockmarked face spilt again to reveal his few but very white teeth.

The bosses, of course, did tend to forget him when it came to raises, promising to reward him someday, and to give him a promotion that would allow him to come into work wearing the suit and tie of a floor manager or a salesman, a dream even Ben knows wouldn’t ever come true, even though we all know he could sell anything since his smile tended to sell himself.

But I won’t be here to see his disappointment or when he finally had too much and moves on to some other place just like this place, where he’ll start accumulating friends that won’t last there either.

In places like this, people never last.


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