just Zoom on By: A Carding Chronicle

Someone in Carding, Vermont has been mowing down newspaper boxes lately, just laying them flat like so many bowling pins.

At first, folks assumed it was just some “dumb kids.” But now it’s become something of an epidemic.

This is the first episode of a three-part story about how we pay (or don’t pay) attention to the details of life.

In terms that Sherlock Holmes would appreciate, will the folks of Carding only see or will they observe?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont, the little town that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain state. I’m so glad you stopped by.

Most mornings when Agnes Findley walks to the end of her driveway to get the newspaper, she’s still half-asleep. Though it’s not a long walk, she enjoys those first breaths of morning free of the tug-and-pull that the opening day will bring.

It’s quiet and peaceful on the road where she and Charlie Cooper live because the morning commutes and school-bus pickups—though truncated by the reality of the infamous virus upon us—have still not begun in earnest. In October, the moon often plays with the retreating dark in the early sky, giving just enough light to see the newspaper box in its spot next to the mailbox.

But not this morning.

“What the…?” Agnes’s mind whirred from inattentive to wide awake in a single moment. “Where’s the newspaper box?”

She hurried up the incline to the road where the distinctive green box and its darker-green pole lay across the top of her driveway. When she picked them up, the morning’s paper fell at her feet, soaking up moisture from the previous night’s rain.

“How the heck…?” She walked to the mailbox to look at the slotted hole next to it, the spot where the newspaper box had been last night.

Her partner, Charlie Cooper, could hear Aggie’s approach to their back door long before he saw her. “What’s going on? You’re huffing like a steam train.”

For answer, Aggie waved the newspaper box and its pole above her head. “This has been happening all over town. What is going on?”

Charlie took the pole from her hands in order to take a close look at the end that had been in the ground. “Do you know if they’ve all looked like this?” he asked, pointing to a bend in the metal about twelve inches from the bottom end.

Aggie stopped grumbling long enough to look for herself. “So it was pushed over, not pulled up by hand,” she said.

Charlie agreed. “I doubt we’re looking for someone with malicious intent. I’d be more willing to bet that someone is not paying attention when they’re driving and the newspaper boxes are taking the brunt of it. Who else has been hit, do you know?”

“Ruth and a couple of her neighbors,” Aggie said.

Charlie started poking around on the shelf where they kept their maps, rummaging until he found one of Carding’s streets. He spread it open on their kitchen table and pointed at the location of their house, and then traced the line to their friend Ruth Goodwin’s street. “Anybody else?”

Aggie hunched up close to Charlie as she popped her reading glasses onto her nose. “The Dawsons and the Elliotts over on Orchard Street.”

Charlie used his finger to trace the route from Ruth Goodwin’s street to Orchard Street. “If you were headed out of this part of Carding going east, that route makes sense if you include Thayer Avenue to make the shortcut to Route 37.”

“Do you know anyone living on Thayer?” Aggie asked. Charlie had lived in Carding all his life with the exception of six disastrous months in California when he was trying to keep his first—and so far only—marriage intact. He and his beloved Aggie had vowed never to make that mistake.

He tapped the map, his eyebrows curling toward one another. “If I remember right, Vivian Smart still lives there,” he said. “There’d been talk of her moving closer to her daughter after that fall she took on the Appalachian Trail. Last time I saw her at the store, she was leaning very heavily on a cane. But you know Viv.”

“She’d rather die on the trail than die at home. Yeah, I know,” Aggie said. “How long has she been the president of the hiking club?”

Charlie picked up his phone. “Forever. I keep trying to get her to accept a president emeritus status so that others can learn how to manage things. Maybe it’s time I try again.”

Aggie stopped him as his fingers started to tap on his screen. “Let’s have breakfast first. I don’t think Viv would appreciate a call, even from you, at this hour.”

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Ruby Royce.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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