Operation Harry Brown: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Purple irisPoor Harry Brown. Between his health issues and the fact that his wife Louisa has left him, life seems…well…a little out of control.

It’s time to reassert himself, take charge like the man he is.

Right?

Well…maybe not so much.

Last week, Louisa finally decided to file for divorce. And with the help of her friend Edie Wolfe, she’s got plans for Harry as well.

Let’s check in to see how it’s going, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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Nowadays, Harry Brown couldn’t decide whether it was worthwhile to open his eyes in the morning or not so he’d worked out a compromise, slitting them open the merest fraction just to ascertain whether the sun had decided to come up or not.

You can never tell about these things.

He heard a rattle in the kitchen and his heart gave an involuntary flutter before he remembered that Louisa—his wife—no longer lived in her proper home. She had abandoned him. Just like their three sons.

Harry pressed his eyelids together, straining to remember the name of the aide that was with him now. He dredged up a vague image of her—brown hair fading to gray, watery blue eyes, more waist than hips. In other words, she looked like all the other aides that the agency sent to his house.

The last aide had lasted two weeks, something of a record in Harry’s new life as he coped with the results of his near-fatal stroke. If Louisa would just come home where she belonged, Harry wouldn’t have to put up with strangers in his kitchen.

But Louisa had stopped answering his phone calls and she wouldn’t return his messages. He’d even resorted to begging her to come back, something that Harry now regretted.

He groaned, rolled over on his back and then pushed himself upright. As he did, his bedroom door popped open.

“Do we need help with the toilet?” the aide asked.

Harry felt his tongue sharpen for a reply but then thought better of it. “No, that’s all right,” he said. “My canes are here. I can manage, thank you.”

“Would you like eggs for breakfast this morning?”

“Yes, scrambled with some toast. Is there any sausage in the freezer?”

“I’ll look.” The aide, whose name was Connie by the way, bit back her admonishment about eating a healthier diet. Let the old codger eat whatever he wanted, that was her attitude. He hadn’t got much time left, did he? Might as well enjoy it. “How many would you like if there are any?”

“Three,” Harry said and added a please because she didn’t lecture him. She was the first aide who hadn’t done that.

Connie, as it turned out, was a good cook. Breakfast was nothing fancy but her eggs were tasty and the sausage were cooked perfectly—nice and brown—and she didn’t skimp on the butter when it came to his toast.

“More coffee, hon?” A steaming pot hovered over his cup.

Harry smiled. “Sure. Why not? And could I have another piece of toast?” He let his smile extend further. “Please?”

The two of them existed in companionable silence while Connie cleaned up and Harry sipped and chewed. She would do, he thought. She would do well enough until Louisa came back.

“I was planning to do some grocery shopping this morning,” Connie said as she wiped down the stove. “Anything in particular you want for supper?”

“Hmm, will you be here as well?”

“Oh yes, I’m scheduled for the next three days and nights,” Connie said.

“Well, how would you feel about a pork roast? You do eat pork, right? So many people have different ways of eating nowadays.”

“Huh, don’t I know it. I’ve got a granddaughter who won’t touch meat at all. Claims that killing animals for eating is wrong. When she makes a BLT, she only uses lettuce and tomato. What kind of a sandwich is that?” Connie complained. 

“Hmph, no bacon?”

Connie turned to face him, a sponge in her hand. “No bacon. No steak. No burgers. I tell ya, where would this country be without meat?”

This time, Harry’s smile was genuine. Yes, this one would do nicely. “Would you mind if I went with you?” he asked.

“To the grocery store?”

“Yeah. I don’t get out much and I could do with a change of scenery.” He smiled again. One of his many lady friends had told him he had a charming smile so Harry figured he could always get what he wanted if he just turned up the wattage.

Harry knew that aides from the agency were not supposed to drive their clients in their personal vehicles but Connie had been given a lot of leeway in her care of this patient. “Sure thing,” she said. “Why not? Probably do you some good. And with everything in bloom right now, we could even take a bit of a scenic ride.” 

Harry couldn’t believe his luck. “I know a road where you can see the whole valley.”

“Sounds lovely,” Connie reached behind to untie her apron. “I should be ready in about half an hour.”

In Vermont, the hills and trees and flowers and gardens spend so much time in the deep freeze of winter that spring isn’t so much a season as it is an explosion. Change is rapid, as if the natural world is afraid that the warming sun will be taken away if it doesn’t hurry up. If you’d been spending a lot of time indoors—like Harry Brown—the speed of the outdoor transformation could catch you unawares.

The old crabapple in his front yard was the first thing to catch his eye. Most years, it bore only a vague sprinkling of white blossoms. This year, it was covered with a veritable snow of fragrant petals and it hummed with bees. When Harry stopped to take it in, Connie heard a muted “wow” escape his lips.

Next he looked down the street toward his neighbors’ yard. Mr. and Mrs. Cummings had been puttering about their “heavenly acre” (as they liked to call it) ever since they’d moved to Carding many years ago. Harry considered gardens as nothing more than obstacles to a mowing machine so he paid little attention to the Cummings’ efforts. Connie saw his jaw drop as he took in the purples and reds and yellows in his neighbors’ yard. He could barely see their house.

“It’s been quite a spring,” Connie commented as she stowed Harry’s canes in the back seat of her SUV. “A lot of rain and clouds and cool weather and the flowers are just loving it.”

“So I see,” Harry murmured as he examined a hedge of purple iris. Their petals were so dark, they were almost black. Unnatural, that was.

“Where would you like to go?” Connie asked.

“Up Belmont Hill, toward the Tennyson place.” Harry smiled again even though his face was starting to hurt from the effort and indicated the binoculars he’d looped around his neck. “It’s amazing what you can see from up there.”

“Okay, just give me directions.”

Harry began to relax as they drove along. Connie took directions well and listened as he pointed out the roads built by Brown & Sons and explained how the company worked with the state after Hurricane Irene on Carding’s bridge and culverts.

“You sound proud of the business you built,” Connie observed as they started up Belmont Hill. 

Harry’s chest puffed out a bit. He couldn’t help it. A man was his work, after all.

Harry leaned forward eagerly the higher they climbed and Connie caught his involuntary gasp of breath when he spotted a small new house sunning itself in the middle of an emerald field. She pointed out the structure.

“That looks like a modular to me,” she said. “My brother and sister-in-law live downstate in one that’s similar to that.”

Harry merely grunted, his eyes fixed on the structure he knew his sons had built for their mother. “Could you pull in just up there? And then turn around so we can see the valley?”

Harry trained his binoculars on the structure, sucking up every detail. It was sided with cedar shingles. Its doorway and window frames were painted a dark sapphire blue and there were solar panels on the roof. Under other circumstances, he would have been proud of his sons’ work.

But instead, he searched for something to criticize. “Hmph, solar panels,” he huffed aloud. “Bet the roof leaks under ’em in winter.”

Connie said nothing. Edie Wolfe had told her who lived in the new house.

Harry grew still as a pickup truck turned into the yard and his youngest son, Jacob, hopped out.

He had a big grin on his face as the front door opened and a black-and-white border collie launched itself into the front yard. Then Louisa stepped into the sunlight, a huge smile on her own face and a squirming puppy in her arms.

“Dogs.” Harry’s voice was weighted down with his disgust. Louisa would have to get rid of them when she came home. He hated dogs. A waste of time and money, in his opinion. 

“This is going to end right now,” he muttered as he pulled his phone from his pocket and angrily stabbed the speed-dial button for Louisa’s number.

Louisa jumped at the sound of her ring tone. Still chattering to Jacob, she gently placed the pup on the grass in order to pull her phone from her jacket pocket. As Harry watched, Louisa glanced at her screen then clicked the phone off. At the same time, Jacob looked up the hill at the car where his father sat with Connie.

He waved. Louisa turned around to see what had caught her son’s attention. When she saw Harry, she pointedly plunged her phone back into her pocket.

Harry shrank in his seat. “Take me home,” he growled. “Now.”

Connie did as he wished. Operation Harry Brown had begun and so far, it was all going according to plan.


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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