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 week features an excerpt from the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. Here’s the story so far: Stephen Bennett nearly died in an accident in April. It is now May, and his thirteen-year old daughter, Faye, has not regained her emotional balance since almost losing her beloved father.
Faye’s fear has turned to anger at the world, making her edgy and sharp. When her friend and teacher, Chloe Cooper, is reprimanded by the school superintendent, Faye leaps to her defense. I think you can figure out the rest from what follows
The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, will debut in this space on April 7. If you follow my website, regular installments will be delivered to your inbox over the course of twelve weeks for your reading enjoyment. Tell your friends. Sharing is a good thing.
At some point in the middle of the night, Diana Bennett thought she heard the sound of the printer in Faye’s room. But after listening to silence for a while, she decided she was wrong, and fell back to sleep. Tomorrow was Saturday, and she had to be up early. It was always standing room only for breakfast in the bakery when she had fiddlehead omelets on the menu.
Since the temperatures in mid-May vary widely in Vermont, folks in Carding usually swanned around in fleece vests until late morning. Then some time after eleven, they swapped their fleeces for T-shirts, keeping the fleece handy, just in case. As the old joke goes: If you use your car’s heater and air conditioner on the same day, you must live in New England.
Faye had chosen the color of her fleece vest with care that morning. Olive green because she didn’t want the starkness of black or the grab-your-attention hue of her favorite magenta. So it was olive green. Right in the middle.
Business for her petition drive had been brisk from the moment the Crow opened its doors. Faye quickly discovered that most caffeine-deprived people would sign anything if it stood between them and a cup of the bakery’s breakfast blend.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hennesey,” Faye called out. “Would you sign my petition?”
The bustling woman stopped short to peel her eyes off her cell phone screen. “Sure, sure,” she muttered, scrawling her signature before hurrying into the Crow. When Faye retrieved her clipboard, she counted up the names she’d collected. Fifty three in just one hour. That’s pretty good, she thought.
“Whatcha got there, Faye?” A male voice drifted over her shoulder. She spun around, hiding the clipboard behind her back. How would Gideon Brown react to a petition drive about his ex-wife Chloe? Faye decided that the sidewalk in front of her parents’ bakery was not the best place to find out.
“Nothin’,” she said.
Gideon smiled, and cocked his head at her. “I thought we were friends,” he said.
“We were,” Faye said. “I mean, we are. I don’t think you’ll be interested in this, though. It’s just about school.”
“Some sort of homework?” Gideon asked. “I’m happy to help.”
Suddenly, Faye spotted Margie Rosen headed toward them, and shrank against the bakery’s wall. It was the first time she’d seen the woman since the day of her father’s accident. To her dismay, Margie’s path coincided exactly with the empty spot on the sidewalk in front of Faye.
“Ah, I thought I might find you here,” Margie said, looming over the girl, her bat-wing eyelashes fluttering. “My brother tells me there have been some difficulties at school because of you. He’s asked me to talk to you—and maybe your parents—to see if there is something we can do to settle this situation.”
Gideon watched Faye’s expression turn to stone, and thought he detected a bit of…what?…fear in Faye’s eyes. He swiveled his head toward Margie, and his skin crawled a little though if you’d asked him why, he couldn’t have told you. He shouldered his way between the two females, and thrust his hand out to Margie.
“I’m Gideon Brown,” he said. “I’m a friend of Faye’s. Is there something I can do to help?”
“Oh, I’m Margie Rosen. The superintendent of schools is my brother,” Margie said, extending her manicured fingers. Gideon didn’t like the way she lingered over their handshake. “I can’t believe we have not met before,” she said.
Gideon maneuvered himself closer to Margie in order to give Faye the cover she needed to scoot away. It would have worked but just as Faye turned, the clipboard slid from her hands, hit the concrete, and spilled petitions all over the sidewalk.
“Oh my dear, let me help pick these up,” Margie said as she bent forward, careful to let the top of her shirt gape open in Gideon’s direction. Then she read the petition, and gasped. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked, pushing the papers under Faye’s nose.
The girl glared, her hands fisted by her sides. “I have a right to collect signatures on a petition,” she said.
Margie closed in but Faye refused to back up. “You do not have any rights,” the sputtering woman said. “You are a minor, and your parents are legally responsible for what you do.” She rolled the papers up in her hands. “I doubt your parents will let this nonsense continue once I tell them the consequences of your behavior.”
“I have a right to my opinion,” Faye yelled. Heads turned in their direction.
Margie pointed at the door to the bakery. “In there. Now.”
Faye crossed her arms. “No.”
Margie stepped even closer. Faye smelled stale coffee on her breath. “You get inside now. I aim to put a stop to this,” the older woman said.
Faye angled her head out, and the motion reminded Gideon of a snapping turtle just before it strikes. “I said no. I meant no, and you can’t make me.”
Margie hissed. “We shall see about that.” Then she stalked to the bakery door, and wrenched it open.
Faye nearly sobbed as she sagged against the wall. “I hate her,” she said, her voice small. “I hate both of them.”
Gideon didn’t say anything until he’d read the petition. “What’s going on, Faye?” he asked softly. “Is Chloe in trouble?”
Faye nodded, and closed her eyes to keep her tears inside. But it did no good. “It’s the Rosens.” She choked out the name. “It’s all their fault. Everything is their fault.”
Gideon opened his mouth to ask another question but before he could, the bakery door flew open, and Diana craned her head toward her daughter. Gideon thought he’d never seen such a tired, anxious face.
“Faye,” Diana said quietly. “Could you come in here, please?”
The girl’s head drooped. Then she dragged herself inside to meet her fate.
Gideon picked up the petitions Faye left behind. What could Chloe possibly have done that was so awful?
“You do understand, Mrs. Bennett,” Margie said as her painted, pointed finger stabbed a copy of Faye’s petition, “that allowing students to attack a school administrator in this way only stirs up unwarranted disobedience. We can’t have that. My brother is always the first to champion civic engagement among the young. But we must draw the line at the way your daughter is demanding Reggie’s resignation because of a personnel matter. What goes on between the administrators and staff in the Carding schools is not the business of the students.”
Diana looked at her daughter’s bowed head. “Chloe Cooper is a good friend of ours,” she said.
“That does not give your daughter the right to stir people up against my brother,” Margie said, raising her voice another notch. “Managing a school district is hard enough without worrying about who is friends with who. Personal feelings cannot be taken into consideration when it’s a matter of discipline. Reggie cannot play favorites for any reason.
“But he does. All the time,” Faye spluttered.
“He does not, and he never has,” Margie snapped. Then she turned to Diana. “Allow me to make this quite clear to you, Mrs. Bennett. You will take a firmer hand with your daughter’s conduct, and stop this petition drive at once.”
“Or what?” Diana asked
“Or I will advise my brother to sue you and your husband for defamation of character.” Margie’s eyes glinted. “And I’m sure you don’t want that kind of trouble, especially under your current conditions.”
Now it was Diana’s turn to hiss, and her words coiled like vipers. “Faye is not defaming anyone,” she said. “Her petition does not accuse your brother of anything. It merely asks whether his actions against Chloe are justified. That is always a legitimate question to ask of a public servant.”
The atmosphere of the bakery grew still. Peter’s spatula hovered over the eggs on the griddle. Hilary stopped pouring breakfast blend in mid-cup. Then the front door’s bells tinkled, and Edie Wolfe stepped through with her dog, Nearly.
Her eyes flashed from her daughter to her granddaughter to Margie and back again. Nearly tilted his ears forward, and crinkled up his brow. He disliked the smell of human anger, all full of needles and pins. But three of the women in the scene in front of him belonged to him, and it was his job to protect them. So he turned his attention to the fourth female, sniffing her air quietly so as not to be noticed. Funny, he thought, the stranger was not oozing anger like the other three. Margie’s scent reminded him of…what? The dog mentally shuffled through his olfactory library for an apt comparison. Then he lowered his chin to take in a larger quantity of air. Strange, Nearly thought. That woman smells like a cat. How could that be?
“My brother is no mere public servant,” Margie said. “He is a highly trained education specialist with more than one book to his credit. Carding is fortunate to have him, and I will not allow this…questioning…to sully his reputation.”
Thump, thump. The dull sound came from above. Diana’s head snapped up.
Thump, thump, thump.
“Faye, would you please go up to make sure your father’s all right,” Diana said.
“Please Faye.” Diana’s voice lashed the air.
“Ooh, nothing is right around here any more,” the girl hollered as she stomped up the stairs, flailing her fists in all directions. Then she opened the apartment door, and saw her father sprawled on his back, his face white, eyes bulging with fear.
Faye leaped over him to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. Pinching the receiver between her shoulder and ear, she knelt beside Stephen’s head, cradling it in her hands while she ran her fingers over his skin to check for blood or signs of injury. The doctors had cautioned them about blackouts, about the dangers of Stephen hitting his head again.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the thrum of emergency sirens to shred the air, and the sound made the fear in Stephen’s eyes subside. He smiled at his daughter, and squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.
The next Carding Chronicle will be published on March 18. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.