Sugar Shack
Glenn Shaheen

You have to understand how small Live Oak was. I mean, my graduating class had something like 100 students in it, and I was number 50. You would go to the Wal-Mart and see everybody there all at once, everybody you knew and had problems with. I had to get out of there. Just the idea of everybody always knowing what I was up to, where I had been or if I hadn't been anywhere on a daily basis was impossible to deal with. I mean, I had my friends, but most of them couldn't even comprehend the idea of leaving that town. My girlfriend Rachel was one of those people but I had to get out, and so I just left her, left Live Oak, and left Florida as soon as high school ended. I went to North Carolina for a while. I liked the mountains, the real winter. You appreciate heat a lot more when you have to spend legitimate time without it. I never visited Live Oak. My dad and I were only civil with each other. I would call, and he would just sit on the other line, "Huh." Never a question about what I was up to, how I was feeling. He would end every conversation with "You know how it is here." I barely kept in touch with anybody from high school. A couple friends, but most resented me. Like I abandoned them. Fuck that. They could have left if they wanted to. I mean really wanted to, and not just talked about it. Eventually I went to school at NC State, for poly sci. Got a job right out working for the mayor of Chapel Hill. Paid well. I had to go back to Live Oak when my dad died though. I loved him in the obligatory way any son loves his father. The funeral was sparse. I went to Arby's. Rachel came in, and she looked so skinny. She was happy to see me. She hugged me for a little too long, too tight, and when we pulled apart there were tears in her eyes. She wiped them and told me she was working at the Sugar Shack, the strip club in town. "Well, we only go to underwear," she said. Rachel was doing well, she was happy. She had a husband. She loved Live Oak. Two weeks ago Diddy came into the Sugar Shack and tipped each of them $1000. Maybe she could take a trip up to Chapel Hill, she said. I never thought twice about leaving. I was sure Live Oak was a poison. Live Oak, Chapel Hill. I can't understand all the wiping paths happiness can take.

Glenn Shaheen is the author of PREDATORY (University of Pittsburgh Press), which won the 2010 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize in Poetry. He's an editor at NANO Fiction and serves on the board of the Radius of Arab-American Writers, Inc.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Vittorio Pandolfi.

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