Read Inside: The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Cover art by Judith Freeman Clark
Cover art by Judith Freeman Clark

We use the word “epistolary” to describe novels that use letters and their derivatives as a means to propel or comment on the action in a book. Jane Austen was renowned for her use of letters, especially in Pride and Prejudice. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle updated that scenario through the use of telegrams in his Sherlock Holmes novels, and contemporary author Fannie Flagg created a gossip column in a local newspaper to comment on the action in Fried Green Tomatoes in the Whistle Stop Cafe.

I’ve always enjoyed that sort of thing, and decided to use a local blog, written by Wil Bennett (aka Little Crow) as a way to add significant details to my Carding novels.

This chapter, the second in Dazzling, begins with one of Wil’s blog posts then moves on from there.


New Post on Carding Chronicle blog: April 7
Firewood Circus Company Coming to Carding in May

by Little Crow

The air at Carding Regional High was buzzing this morning with word that the Carding school district has been awarded a grant to bring the Firewood Circus Company to town for a weeklong residency next month. The residency includes theater and music camps for students of all ages, culminating in a performance on the last day of camp.

“We’re very pleased that Firewood has chosen Carding for this remarkable experience,” superintendent Reggie Rosen said. “We’ll have a mime camp at the elementary school, juggling and acrobatics in the middle school gym, a clown college in the high school, and more. We’ll also have classes in makeup, costume, and set design going on in several locations at our academic campus.”

Every student in Carding’s elementary, middle and high schools is welcome to attend any class of their choosing for the entire week. And the entire town is invited to the performance put on by the camp attendees on the final day of camp.

The Firewood Circus Company is renowned in New England for its commitment to bringing the excitement of public performance to communities all over the region. They’ve taught at the college level as well as in small villages on the Maine coast and in big cities such as Boston and small towns like our own Carding.

Founded in Vermont over twenty years ago, the Firewood Circus Company has been a regular feature of Burlington, Vermont’s First Night program, and appears at summer festivals of all sorts in all the New England states.

I can’t wait. I have always wanted to learn how to juggle. I’ll be looking for you at the show.

Little Crow | April 7 | Categories: Local school news

• • •

“Ooooh, I don’t know which one I want to do more,” Suzanna Owen said as she and her best friend, Faye Bennett, bent their heads over the Firewood Circus Camp schedule. “I would love to learn how to walk a tightrope. Or clowning, maybe clowning.”

“Be sure not to let my daughter into the mime class,” Stephen Bennett said as he turned his truck into the driveway of the Carding Bird Sanctuary. “She’d explode if she couldn’t talk for a whole week.”

“Ah, come on Dad,” Faye said, making a face at him over her shoulder. “I don’t talk that much.”

He raised a single eyebrow as he pulled into a parking space at the bird sanctuary. “Perhaps. But you must admit you do like being heard.” He watched the rain hit the hood of his truck for a moment, trying to decide if he was watching small pellets of sleet or large drops of rain bounce off the metal. Either way, he didn’t like it much. Anyone who was sane stayed off the roads in icy conditions, and Stephen liked to think of himself as sane.

“You two stay here while I get the bird,” he said. “I’ll need you to open up the back of the truck when I come out. Okay?”

“Okay, Dad,” Faye said, barely looking up from the class descriptions in the circus company’s brochure.

His foot sank into a puddle when he stepped out, and Stephen twisted his mouth down. Maybe he should just head home.

“Something wrong, Dad?” Faye asked when he didn’t move.

“I don’t like the way the weather’s going,” he said.

“But the lady from the sanctuary said the hawk has been bolting,” Faye said. “The bird could hurt herself if we don’t let her go today.”

Stephen sighed, and looked up at the sky. The pewter clouds were thinning. Maybe it would stop raining. Maybe the temperature would rise above freezing.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Faye and Suzanna chattered along until they realized that the temperature in the truck’s cab was starting to drop. “Dad’s been gone for a while,” Faye said. She studied the front door to the bird sanctuary but she couldn’t see much through the rain-spattered windshield. “I’m going to see what the hold-up is.”

“Okay,” Suzanna said, folding up the brochure. “I’ll open up the back of the truck.”

If Faye didn’t know better, she’d have guessed that she’d walked in on an argument between her father and the lady behind the sanctuary’s counter. When the woman’s head snapped up, the first thing Faye noticed were her batwing eyelashes and the tight circle of her too-red mouth. When her father picked up the large cage holding the hawk and turned around to face his daughter, Faye noticed his flushed cheeks. Stephen rarely got angry but when he did, his face lit up like a Christmas tree. She looked from one adult to the other but neither of them gave her any clue about what was going on.

“Hold the door open, would you Faye?” he said. As she did, Faye turned to look at the woman. Her lips had relaxed into a smile that wasn’t a smile.

Suzanna was already at the back of the truck, the cap’s back window up and the tailgate down. She, too, noticed Stephen’s face, and glanced at Faye for a clue about how to react. But Faye just shrugged a little and shook her head.

“Whoa. Whoa there. Steady…steady,” Stephen murmured as he eased the large cage into the truck. The red-tailed hawk nipped at his gloved fingers.

“She’s a beauty,” Suzanna breathed softly as the ferocious eyes turned in her direction. “Where are we taking her?”

“Not sure,” Faye Bennett said as she scanned the paperwork from the bird sanctuary.

Suzanna crowded in to look over her shoulder. “What does this mean, Small Farm?” She pointed to one of the lines on the form.

“I don’t know too much about it except it’s at the far end of the lake,” Faye said. She flipped to the second page of the form to look at a minuscule map. “Wow, do you think they could spare the ink,” she said. “Dad’s going to need his glasses to read that, and I don’t think he brought any.” She pointed just below the X marking the hawk’s release spot. “Can you make out that word?”

Suzanna took the paperwork from her friend’s hands, and peered at it, tilting it toward the light coming from the bird sanctuary’s office. “I think it says Sunrise Hill,” she said, looking up with a shiver. Even though she had put on her heaviest jacket, the damp air of early April seemed to penetrate all the way through to her bone marrow. She glanced at the caged bird as it rocked from side to side, repositioning its feet. I got up early to see this, she reminded herself. I’m not going to mind the cold because we’re setting a bird free, and that’s what’s important.

“Faye, Suzanna, can you attach the bungee cords to the inside of the truck for me?” Stephen said. The two girls jumped to his side. “Now, I’m going to hold the cage in place while you set the hooks. Mind you keep your hands…”

“…far away from the hawk,” Faye ended the sentence for him. “We know, Dad.”

“Just making sure. I felt that last bite all the way through my glove,” Stephen said. He turned his head to smile at Suzanna. “Did I hear you say we’re going to Sunrise Hill?”

Suzanna nodded as she hooked the last bungee cord to the inside of the truck. “I’m pretty sure that’s what the map said. The X for the release spot is next to something called Small Farm.” She shook her head. “Does that mean it’s tiny?”

Stephen chuckled. “That’s not a bad guess. It was a very small farm—as in not-very-big—on the west end of the lake. You drive up Sunrise Hill to get there. But it’s also true that the last owners of the property were named Small. So I guess you could call it the Small small farm.”

“That’s pretty lame, Dad,” Faye said, wrinkling her nose.

Stephen laughed then tested to make sure the cage wouldn’t move. Then he rechecked the padding on its bottom and halfway up its sides. The hawk looked on, bored but on guard.

“Okay, this is going to be a long, slow ride so we don’t rock this beauty too much from side to side,” Stephen said. “Let’s saddle up, shall we?”

“Oh, Mr. Bennett, just a minute,” the woman called from the door of the bird sanctuary’s office. “I have one more piece of paperwork for you to sign. Sorry about that.”

“Sure, sure,” Stephen said with a just-barely-suppressed sigh. “You two wait here.”

The two girls craned their heads to check out the woman at the door. “What time in the morning do you suppose she has to get up to put all that makeup on?” Suzanna asked as the woman fluttered her bat-wing eyelashes at Stephen.

Faye frowned. “Do you think she’s trying to flirt with my Dad?”

Suzanna watched in silence for a minute. “Sure looks that way, doesn’t it?”

Just then, Stephen stepped back from the woman, handed her a clipboard and pen, and marched back to the truck, his mouth a thin, straight line.

“I would say your Dad is not pleased,” Suzanna said.

“Yeah, that’s the way he looks when my room needs cleaning,” Faye said. She raised her chin in the woman’s direction. “She doesn’t look too pleased either.”

The girls stayed quiet as Stephen got into the truck, turned the key, and eased it into gear. Finally, Faye decided to risk a question.

“Who was that woman, Dad? I’ve never seen her before,” she said.

“Hmph, Margie Rosen,” he said, his tongue squishing the syllables of the woman’s name against the roof of his mouth as though it was food gone bad. “She’s the sister of our temporary school superintendent.”

He slowed to a stop at the end of the bird sanctuary’s driveway. “Now, let me see those instructions and map so we can get our friend Freya to her date with destiny.”

The rain changed to mist as they rumbled up the hill. It was the type of drizzle that stays liquid in the air but turns to ice as soon as it hits a windshield, roadway, guardrail or sidewalk.

“Great,” Stephen muttered as he turned the truck’s heater up a notch, and directed all its warmth toward the windshield. But the persistent damp on the outside still made the glass fog up on the inside. “Suzanna, see if there are any paper napkins in the glove box,” he said. “Our breath is condensing on the windshield, and either we need to stop breathing or you two need to clear this off.”

The two girls rubbed vigorously, Suzanna taking the passenger side while Faye, sitting in the middle, cautiously reached across her father to clear the glass in front of him.

“Better?” she finally asked.

He gave her single long braid a friendly tug. “Better,” he said with a smile. Ever since Faye’s entry into her hormonal years, she’d become prickly and unpredictable. There were times when Stephen was sure that he and Diana had given birth to Frankenstein’s monster so he cherished any time that she became his little girl again.

The truck slowed more as the road turned from paved to dirt. Then the track narrowed and climbed up the backside of a second hill. Stephen stopped when they reached a flat spot at the bottom of a sharp curve to roll down his window and look at the road conditions.

“The ice is building up,” he said.

“How much further do we have to go?” Faye asked.

“The old farm is just at the top of this curve,” Stephen said. He sighed, looking ahead. “Once I start up, we can’t stop or we’ll lose momentum.”

“What if someone’s coming from the other direction?” Suzanna asked.

“Good question,” Stephen said as he laid on the truck’s horn. “Hopefully, that will be enough warning to let someone know we’re coming.” He looked at the two girls, and unconsciously compared them. Even though they were only three months apart in age, his Faye (and her developing body) looked so much older. He wondered if Suzanna’s Uncle Ted was having Frankenstein monster problems at his house. He’d have to ask.

All three of them breathed a sigh of relief when they finally rounded the last curve, and saw the standing timbers of what had been the Small family’s sheep barn. Just then, the sun managed to find a chink between two raggedy clouds to lift the gloom a bit.

Freya screamed from the back of the truck. “Sorry girl,” Stephen murmured as he lifted the back window of the cab and let the truck’s tailgate down. The bird glared at him as if he was just so much dead rabbit. Stephen twisted his head around to look the site over. “Those pines were a lot shorter the last time I was here,” he said to the girls. “It’s always been a pretty lonely place, even when the Smalls lived here. So where do you two think we should set Freya free?”

Faye was already tromping over the old snow, her back to her father and best friend. She stopped when she reached the far corner of a cellar hole, the remains of the Smalls’ house. She stared out across the landscape for a moment then spread her arms wide with a big shout. “Wow, Suzanna, you gotta come see this.”

Faye stood on an outcropping of lichen-stained granite, perched as close to its edge as she dared. As Suzanna approached, a view of the whole Corvus Valley opened up at her feet. Like everyone else in Carding, the girls were used to seeing Half Moon Lake from its eastern end, the place where the Corvus River plunged headfirst over the Crow’s Head falls. But now they stood on a rise at the opposite end of the lake, and the faraway falls glinted in the pale light. Here and there, fingers of sunlight slanted just right through the raggedy clouds, turning the smoke rising from Carding’s woodstoves into a pink cloud.

The girls didn’t move, their breath steaming around their heads. Then Suzanna finally sighed. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale, doesn’t it?” Tears stung her eyes.

Faye sniffed. “Yeah, it does. Mom’s always telling me how we live in the most beautiful place on earth. I guess sometimes she’s right.”

Suzanna turned to look at her friend, and realized Faye was blinking as fast as she was. “Why are we crying?” she asked.

Faye wiped her face with her sleeve and sniffed again. “Mom says it’s hormones,” she said with a shrug. “All part of being a girl, I guess.”

Suzanna sighed again. “I guess that’s not gonna change any time soon, is it?” She blinked some more, wiped her face, and then unexpectedly started to laugh. Faye’s head whipped around but then the giggles caught her too. Soon the two girls were leaning into one another, gasping for air as tears oozed from their eyes and laughter from their mouths.

Stephen and the hawk looked on from the truck, the man slowly shaking his head from side to side. “Aliens,” he said to the bird. “I think all of you women are aliens.”

Freya shook her head. “Chip-chip-chip,” she scolded.

Stephen carried the caged bird to the spot where the girls watched Carding turn pink. “Oh, I’d forgotten how beautiful it is up here,” he said as he set the cage down. “I need to bring Diana for a picnic…after the roads dry out.”

The hawk rocked nervously from one foot to the other then plucked at the cage door with her beak. “Do you think she knows we’re freeing her?” Suzanna asked, pushing her always-disobedient hair away from her face.

“Yeah, I do actually,” Stephen said. “This is her kind of place, open in spots where she can hunt. And the marshy end of the lake is just beyond those pines. There’s places there that never freeze over so there’s fresh water for her to drink and bathe in. What’s left of the Smalls’ barn could be shelter from bad storms, and we’re not too far from the spot where Freya was shot so she’s already in a familiar place.”

Suzanna shook her head. “I don’t understand why anyone would shoot Freya. She’s amazing.”

“People used to put prices on the heads of all predators because these birds hunt some of the same things humans do, like rabbits and quail,” Stephen said. “It’s only been in the last fifty years or so that the feelings about them have changed. But some people still do it.”

“But shooting hawks is illegal,” Suzanna said.

“Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s not done,” Stephen said. Deep creases set in on both sides of his mouth as his mind strayed back to his encounter with Margie Rosen. He hadn’t liked being the target of her barely-veiled innuendos at the bird sanctuary. He hoped he’d read her wrong.

But he doubted it.

Faye tugged Suzanna around to the front of the cage. “You see those latches on top of the door?” she said. Her friend nodded. “Dad’s going to open them. Then you pull on this string, and the door will open.” She handed the knotted end to her friend. “I got to do a couple of these before I knew you. Freya’s yours.”

“Are you sure?” Suzanna asked.

“Oh yes,” Faye said. “Freya’s yours.”

“Okay Suzanna, you and Faye back up a little bit,” Stephen said, “and I’ll flip the latches.”

Suzanna stepped backwards, her eyes glued to the now-quiet bird. She didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Ready?” Stephen called.

Suzanna wound the string around her hand. “Ready.”

Stephen flipped the latches then joined the girls. “Just pull nice and steady,” he said.

Suzanna took a deep breath then started gathering the string in her hands. Freya stayed still until the door was fully open. Then she strutted forward.

“You’re free,” Suzanna breathed.

“Fly,” Faye whispered.

“Soar,” Stephen urged. “Try the wings. I think you’ll find they work as good as new.”

Freya moved closer to the edge of the granite bulge, snapping her head left and right. She raised her wings high above her head, letting the breeze ruffle her feathers. Then she settled, advanced, tried the wings in a new position, and settled again.

“Is she going to fly?” Suzanna whispered.

“She’s just testing her equipment,” Stephen said. “It’s been four months since she’s done anything more than glide from one end of her enclosure to the other in the sanctuary.”

Freya reared up to flap her wings again. The sun provided backlighting that gave her small audience a moment to appreciate the reddish glint of her feathers. Her sharp eyes soaked in every detail of her terrain then she turned to her left, glanced at the trio watching breathlessly, and rose to catch a current of air that gently lifted her above the earth.

Stephen and the girls whooped and jumped, clapping and squealing with delight.

“Did you see that? Did you see how she looked at us?” Suzanna asked as they collected the cage, string, and Stephen’s gloves. “Oh, I wish she would come back to visit some time, tell us how she’s doing, and about all her adventures.”

Stephen laughed as they piled into the truck. “Now that was worth getting up early, wouldn’t you say?” He shifted into the truck’s lowest gear. “Are you buckled in? We’ve got to creep back down the way we came up, and then how about some breakfast?”

“Oh yes, please,” Suzanna said. “I’m starving.”

The girls chattered so much, neither one of them noticed the way Stephen’s hands clenched the steering wheel on the curves that dropped down from the Small farm. He’d driven too many icy roads not to have a healthy respect for their power to surprise. If the hawk hadn’t been battering herself in her enclosure at the sanctuary, he would have refused to release her that morning.

He sighed deeply when they finally reached the flat stretch of asphalt at the end of the road, and the tension in his shoulders and hands eased. With a glance at the two excited girls in the seat next to him, Stephen reminded himself that a little adventure now and then was a good thing, was it not?

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.

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