The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!
This particular story, Candidates Forum, is an excerpt from the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, which will debut in this space on April 7. Stay tuned for details.
“Well, well, well,” Andy Cooper said as he unfolded the sample ballot for town meeting. “Will you look at who’s running for school board this year.”
Amos Handy stretched his neck out of his perpetual red scarf to peek over Andy’s shoulder. “Oh gawd, not him again,” Amos muttered. “I thought for sure the Good Dentist would never run for school board this year. He only won by four votes last time. What makes him think he’ll make it this time?”
Andy pointed at the thick paper. “He’s unopposed.”
“But I thought that what’s her face, Pat Evans, was going to run this time,” Ruth Goodwin said, crowding in to look at the candidates’ list.
“She is,” Andy said, pointing again. “See? Right here. Unopposed.”
“Unopposed?” Stephen Bennett said, pushing into the growing crowd. “Who else is on that list?”
“Well, Greta Rutherford doesn’t have to run this year, of course,” Andy said as he stapled the sample ballot to the community bulletin board just inside the door of the Coop. “Her term’s not up until next year.”
“Hey,” Stephen said, pointing. “Do any of you know who this Dick Monroe is?”
“Isn’t that the new president of the country club board?” Edie Wolfe asked as she sauntered up. “I heard he bought that godawful big spec house, the one that’s way up on the hill behind the seventh hole of the golf course.”
“Yeah? When did he do that?” Amos asked, reeling his neck back into his scarf, and securing his jacket’s top button.
Andy shook his head. “It has to be pretty recent,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him in the store more than once or twice.”
“And he’s running for school board?” Stephen said. “What’s he know about Carding or our kids?”
“Well, he’s supposed to know a lot about money,” Charlie Cooper said as he strolled up to stand behind his brother. “I understand he’s originally a Vermont boy who made good in Chicago, and now he’s back.”
“But that doesn’t make him qualified to be on our school board,” Edie said.
Charlie turned his mouth down in thought. “Well, it doesn’t make him disqualified, either. Many folks think the most important thing the board does is watch how our money is spent.”
“I know what you mean, Charlie,” Stephen said. “But where you put the money can either do a lot of good or a lot of harm.” He shook his head. “It’s been so busy at the bakery, I didn’t realize that the deadline had come and gone for collecting signatures to get on the ballot.”
“Would you have run?” Andy asked.
“I was thinking about it, especially since I figured that the Good Dentist would be gone after this year,” Stephen shook his head. “I’ve never liked that guy. Don’t trust him either.”
Ruth nodded. “I always thought you were a sensible man, Stephen.” Everyone grinned. Ruth was Maxwell Goodwin’s first wife, the one who got the biggest alimony payment, as she liked to say.
“Oh no,” Edie said. She had leaned over to see all the way down to the bottom of the ballot. “Look!”
The crowd, now numbering a dozen, bent over as a single unit to read the two words that had shocked Edie.
“Harry Brown!” Andy said. “Since when does Harry Brown care about our schools?”
“Is there anyone running against him?” Charlie asked.
“Nope,” a new voice added. “Dad was the last person to get on the ballot, just minutes under the deadline. He told Mom that the Good Dentist asked him to run, and it was folks up at the country club who signed his nomination papers.”
Several stunned faces turned in Gideon Brown’s direction. His father, Harry, had put a lot of effort into making himself disliked in Carding, and he had succeeded.
“He got all 50 signatures up at the country club?” Edie asked, her voice rising in pitch as she reached the end of her question. “I didn’t think there were 50 residents of Carding living up there. Most of the condo owners are from away.”
Gideon shook his head. “You forget how many locals work in the club and on the course and on the slopes,” he said. “There’s a lot of folks who rely on paychecks from Mount Merino to buy their groceries.”
A thick blanket of silence rolled over the gathering, and Gideon fidgeted, uncertain how much more to say. He wasn’t crazy about his father either.
“Great,” Amos muttered. “We’ve got a dicey dentist, a woman named Pat that no one knows, a stinking rich finance guy who’s new in town, and—excuse me, Gideon—probably the most hated man in Carding running for school board.”
“Hmph, and Greta,” Ruth said. “Don’t forget Greta Rutherford.”
“That’s not saying much,” Amos said. “She’s loopier than I am.”
Everyone else’s mouth twitched as they bowed their heads to take in the man’s shorts and well-worn boots. Summer or winter, Amos Handy saw no reason to ever change his wardrobe. Amos was Carding’s self-selected eccentric.
“Can’t we do nominations from the floor to stop these folks?” Amos’s voice squeaked.
Charlie shook his head. “Not this year. We switched over to the Australian ballot, remember. So it’s just show up and vote.”
They all looked at one another in dismay. “Great,” Andy muttered. “And we’re hiring a new superintendent this year, too. We’re in great shape.”
“You can say that again,” a voice boomed. Everyone started. Gideon tried to hide from his father’s gaze but Harry had already seen his eldest son.
“There’s gonna be some changes made,” Harry continued. “Year after year, I look at those school budgets and all I see is salaries for teachers and aides and administration, and I ask myself: Where’s the education in our school budget?”
“But…” Charlie began but Edie shook her head. Being Harry’s ex-wife, she knew that opposing Harry with common sense was useless.
Harry’s grin grew wider. “See ya at the polls,” he said as he turned away.
The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 19. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.