In this tale of lost years and inevitable retribution, Steve Yarbrough sets his characters against a Southern landscape in the Mississippi delta, an economically challenged area where the remaining few trudge through their jobs grateful to have employment but frequently questioning the direction their lives have taken.
This is especially true for Ned Rose, who works the graveyard shift for Mack Bell, driving from catfish pond to catfish pond, aerating and watching for trouble. Unfortunately, trouble is what he finds, a number of recent acts of sabotage that have Mack in a froth of rage and desire for retribution.
The two men have a long history, Ned chafing under Bellís abusive mentality. Since high school, Mack has retained the upper hand, seducing the more vulnerable Ned by allowing him to join the social circle of the all-white high school football team, yet never letting Ned forget his background.
A shameful incident, long-buried, haunts the relationship, leaving Ned forever under Mackís thumb and contributing to the tensions that surface in their adult years. This clearly one-sided relationship will come to a climax eventually, Nedís internalized rage and self-disgust fueling a descent into excessive drinking and an inability to function on more than an elementary level. Meanwhile, Nedís sister, Daze, watches her brother from a distance with disgust and distrust.
Ned and Daze were raised by a distant housepainter father and an amoral mother, left to fend for themselves most of the time, enduring the shame of their motherís outrageous behavior. The siblings are not drawn together in their misery but have grown more distant and uncommunicative. While Daze escapes into a youthful romance, Ned withdraws, nursing his unhappiness. By the end of their teens, Mack will have permanently scarred both their lives.
As adults, Ned and Daze barely coexist, Mack hovering like a storm cloud over their lives. Believing he knows the culprits behind the sabotage, the blacks whom he pays less than a living wage, Mack decides to deal with them on his own without bothering with the law. Long inured to Mackís particular brand of justice, Ned reaches his breaking point after a lifetime of emotional abuse.
Against this Faulknerian Southern backdrop, Ned and Daze are confronted with their humiliating past and the demands of the future, too many years under the boot of the more powerful Mack. Ned realizes that until he faces his nemesis, the future is intolerable. Moody and atmospheric, Nedís appointment with destiny drives The Oxygen Man, the urge to free himself and claim his manhood in a final desperate cry for release.