Category Archives: Carding Chronicles

Short stories about Carding, Vermont

Little Green Postcards: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Double day lilyEvery year, the Carding Garden Club organizes a weekend-long “Home and Garden” tour as a fundraiser for its work to beautify the town. Most of the time, this event generates friendly competition as well as collaboration among Carding’s dirt diggers.

And let’s face it, it’s just so much fun to wander through other people’s gardens knowing that any weeds you see are someone else’s to pull.

However, there’s a new twist to the decidedly non-competitive spirit of the event this year—a new gardener who believes that winning is everything.

Hope you enjoy the competition.

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.


The Carding Garden Club is pleased to invite every gardener in town to participate in their annual “Home and Garden Tour” on the third weekend of July.

Back in March, the little green postcards bearing these words brightened up mailboxes and community bulletin boards all over Carding. At the time, seed packets were just starting to appear on racks in Cooper’s General Store, and Lee Tennyson had barely accepted delivery of the compressed peat flats in which he would start everything from lobelia to geraniums, begonias, pansies, petunias, coleus and back again for his greenhouses.

In other words, July seems like a long way away when there’s snow on the ground.

By April, conversations around the coffee mugs in the Crow Town Bakery had turned from the right way to sand a driveway to hopes for a good growing season. You know the drill—not too hot for too many days, not too much rain either, every weather condition in moderation, and no frost after Memorial Day though it would be better for everybody if frost never appeared again after May 1.

Gardeners began to potter out to their garden sheds to assess the tool situation, sharpen their clippers, fit that new handle into the square-ended shovel, and check the hoses for splits and cracks.

Then Andy Cooper put out his first bags of compost on May 3 and suddenly, every gardener in town felt the pressure to weed even though the ground was still cold and very wet.

You have the full range of gardeners in Carding. There’s folks such as Edie Wolfe who inherited her mother’s mature gardens along with her family home. In other words, her peonies are older than she is.

That makes Edie a “maintainer,” separating and replanting the iris on a regular schedule, controlling the day lily hedge along the road, and tucking in marigolds to replace the narcissus after they’ve spent their flowering energy early in spring.

Edie’s best friends, Ruth Goodwin and Agnes Findley, are like “two paths that diverged in a wood” when it comes to gardening. Agnes is very precise. Her autumn joys never droop. Her bronze hens and chicks rigidly maintain their heart shape within a greater field of green succulents by the same name. Her escargot begonia’s leaves always swirl perfectly in their aubergine pot by her shaded front door.

They wouldn’t dare do otherwise.

Ruth, on the other hand, likes to take her gardening cues directly from nature which seems to do just fine without a lot of human interference, thank you very much. She does manage to put taller plants in the back of her gardens and yank the grass back from the worst of its intrusions.

But otherwise, her red bee balm runs riot with the buttery yellow of the evening primroses and her lime green spirea with its strawberry-ice-cream-colored flowers is taller than anyone has ever seen that plant grow before because, Ruth says, “it would inflict too much pain to prune it. Besides, I like it that way.”

I have to confess that Ruth’s gardening style drives Agnes crazy, and she’s often threatened to show up and weed in the middle of the night.

But she doesn’t.

The three friends used to maintain a mild competitive spirit among them during the Home and Garden Tour. Edie would win one year, Agnes the next, and much to everyone’s surprise, Ruth would take the trophy once in a while.

But now they demur from competition. Instead they use the frail and fleeting time from the arrival of compost bags at Cooper’s to the garden show as a spur to get their grounds into shape so they can enjoy the rest of the summer at their leisure.

But the same cannot be said of Carding newcomer G.G. Dieppe. Mrs. Dieppe, as she likes to be called, does not hold with this non-competitive concept. The idea is to win.

And even though she’s never gardened before, how hard can it be to buy better plants than anyone else and hire someone to put them in the ground?

“All it takes is money,” she told Andy Cooper. Of course he alerted Edie, Agnes and Ruth right away.

And the chase for the Carding Gardening Club trophy was on.


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.

Little Green Postcards

Every year, the Carding Garden Club organizes a weekend-long “Home and Garden” tour as a fundraiser for its work to beautify the town. Most of the time, this event generates friendly competition as well as collaboration among Carding’s dirt diggers.

And let’s face it, it’s just so much fun to wander through other people’s gardens knowing that any weeds you see are someone else’s to pull.

However, there’s a new twist to the decidedly non-competitive spirit of the event this year—a new gardener who believes that winning is everything.

The competition begins tomorrow. Hope you can stop by.

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.

SH-Double day lily

Pretty Hair: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Table of foodLately, the Carding Chronicles have been documenting changes about town but especially in the family of Harry and Louisa Brown.

As Chronicles go, this one has wallowed in the telling before getting to this point. If you need to catch up, you can read each of the segments individually here: one, two, three, four and five or you are welcome to read all the segments together here: The Uncertainty Principle.

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.

——————————–

Louisa sat in her car long after she’d turned off the engine, staring at the house where she’d spent her married life with Harry Brown, where she’d raised their three sons. To her eyes, it seemed faded. 

She shook her head and looked again, taking time to inspect the building for neglected maintenance or the need for a new paint job.

But everything was fine.

It must be the mist of memory, she told herself as she gathered her bag and the leashes for her two dogs. She had to grin as she thought about how Harry would have complained about canines in his house and then she frowned.

I don’t need to care about Harry’s opinion any more, she reminded herself, aware of the sense of relief that accompanied that thought. Does that make me one of those widows who dances home from her husband’s funeral?

Judging by the sounds coming from the way-back of her car, the puppy was now awake and doing his best to roust the female that Louisa had named Gracie. She opened the car door and headed toward the hatchback. It was time to face the wrap-up of Harry Brown’s life.

Connie Lindfors, the woman hired to be Harry’s cook and housekeeper, was in the kitchen washing lettuce when Louisa came through with the dogs.

“I checked the fencing around the old play yard,” Connie said. “There was one place where the little one could have gotten out but Jacob was here earlier this morning with some wire mesh to patch things up so I think we’ll be all right.”

Louisa resisted the urge to hug Connie. The woman had been a steadying hand over the past bewildering week, taking care of the house, the food, and all the plans for the reception after Harry’s funeral. But once the funeral was over, Connie would have to move on to another client so Louisa didn’t feel hugs were appropriate under the circumstances.

There was something too familiar about that gesture.

But she could be honest. “You have been just amazing,” she told Connie. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you.”

Connie waved her hand about the kitchen. “This probably feels weird to you, halfway through a divorce, no longer living here, and yet you’re burying a husband from this house. Life can take some pretty strange twists, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, I do. None of this seems real to me. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and Harry will be arguing with me.” Louisa sighed. “Toward the end, that’s all we had in common.”

Connie picked up a towel to dry her hands. “I don’t know if this is a good time to bring this up or not but local realtors have been by to ask what’s going to happen to the house. With the market so tight and all, it would be a good time to sell. It’s a great location and a really nice house.”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know. I don’t want to come back here. It’s too big for me to handle on my own and there are way too many bad memories in these walls.” Her face tightened up with pain. “Too many angry words and too few apologies.”

“What about your sons? Would they be interested?”

Louisa shook her head. “Gideon definitely isn’t. Jacob seems content with his apartment up at the Tennyson farm and Noah loves Boston. He likes to visit Carding but he doesn’t want to live here.”

“Then would you consider selling it to me?” Connie asked. “I like Carding.”

Louisa’s eyes flicked around the house. “I’m not trying to be nosy but why would you want such a big house? Between mowing the lawn and the gardens and keeping up with repairs, this place can be overwhelming. Not to mention expensive.”

“Hmm, yeah. But I’ve been thinking. There are three bedrooms and two baths on this side of the divide and lots of common spaces like the living room and den.”

“You’re thinking about renting out the rooms, aren’t you?”

“Well, I overheard a couple of women in the Coop the other day talking about the Carding Inn,” Connie said.

“Hmph, that place doesn’t exactly have the best reputation and the owner is not the most pleasant man on the planet,” Louisa conceded. “Were the women here to take classes at Carding Academy?”

“They were. Quilters, both of them. And that got me to thinking that I could team up with the Academy to supply some housing for their students.” Connie spread her hands toward the kitchen table. It was covered by casserole dishes and plates of cookies, brownies and deviled eggs that would be consumed after Harry’s funeral. “I’m used to cooking for other folks and I’ve been a housekeeper for years. I can hire people to do the lawn and clear snow and any repairs that come up.”

Louisa started to nod. “I have no idea what the sale price should be on this.”

“I’ve been putting away money for a long time,” Connie said. “When you’re a live-in cook, you don’t have many expenses.” She stuck out her hand. “Can we agree to at least talk about it?”

“Absolutely.”

That was the last quiet moment of a very long day for Louisa Brown. When her sons—Gideon, Noah and Jacob—arrived, their attention to her was robust in all respects and she was glad of that.

The four of them traveled to the service together and sat together in the front pew of the Episcopal Church while Reverend Lloyd struggled to deliver a eulogy that was both truthful and compassionate. After all, everyone in town knew that Harry had been a difficult man.

Harry’s first wife, Edie Wolfe, was the last to arrive. She was accompanied by her daughter Diana and granddaughter Faye. They sat quietly in the most obscure corner of the church but heads still turned in their direction and a light whisper remarking their presence wafted through the air like smoke from a dying cigarette. 

What was she doing here?

In fact, Edie had come to support her friend Louisa, Diana had come to support her mother and Faye had come out of morbid curiosity. She still didn’t understand why Harry’s last words had been directed toward her and why she felt this strange bond with a man she barely knew.

Later on, back at the house where Louisa no longer lived, Faye circulated among the adults, most of them strangers to her, feeling ill at ease. But then she discovered Louisa’s two dogs in the backyard. As soon as she sat on the edge of the deck, the puppy made itself at home in her lap, trying to chew on her finger as Faye stroked his ears.

“You look just like your grandmother when she was your age,” a voice said. 

As Faye watched, a very old man leaned forward in one of the wooden chairs tucked deep in the shade.

“You knew my grandmother when she was young?”

“Oh, I knew them all—your grandmother, Harry Brown, Andy and Charlie Cooper, Ruth Goodwin, Robert Owen. They were all in high school together,” the man said.

“Were you a teacher there?”

“Nope, principal.”

“What was she like back then, my grandmother?”

“Pretty, just like you. Smart as a whip but kind of uncertain about herself.” He emitted a wheezy laugh. “But then most teenagers are kind of uncertain about themselves, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Most of the time I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.”

“That’s how Harry got her to marry him, I’m sure of it,” the old man said. “Harry was one of the few kids who was always certain. It’s what got him so disliked. He never understood that other people had feelings and limits. I think he bullied your grandmother into saying yes to him but she came to her senses pretty quick. I knew she would.”

“It’s weird to think of Grandma being married to Harry Brown,” Faye said. “There’s so much about her that I don’t know. To me she’s always had gray hair and run the Carding Academy.”

“Oh there was a time when her hair blazed in the sun just like yours,” the old man said.

Suddenly this strange feeling came over Faye and she clutched at her hair.

“Is something wrong?” the old man asked.

“My hair. That’s what Harry saw.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I was with my brother and a friend across the street from where Harry was sitting when he…he…”

“Died,” the old man finished the sentence for her. “It’s okay to say the word in front of an old guy like me.”

“Yeah. Okay. Anyway, I called 9-1-1 when I saw him fall over and then we ran across the street.” She shook her head. “That must be it. He’d been watching me and he thought I was Grandma way back when.”

Just then, footsteps disturbed their conversation. “So this is where you’ve been hiding out,” Edie said, bending over to stroke the puppy in her granddaughter’s lap.

“Hello Edie.”

“Why Jack, Jack Knowlton, I had no idea you were here. How are you?”

“Not bad for an extremely old man. Can’t complain.” He nodded toward Faye. “Tell me, does she have as many opinions as you did at that age?”

“Oh probably more.” Edie looked at her granddaughter with obvious affection. Just then, the sun touched Faye’s hair, turning it from brown to a coppery amber and Edie touched it with a fingertip. “You know, my hair was that color when I was your age.”

“Funny thing,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair. “We were just talking about that.”


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.

Pretty Hair

Lately, the Carding Chronicles have been documenting changes about town but especially in the family of Harry and Louisa Brown.

As Chronicles go, this one has wallowed in the telling before getting to the final segment. That will appear tomorrow.

If you want to catch up, you do that here: one, two, three, four and five.

I’ve gathered all the stories together in one piece and that will be available tomorrow, if it’s your preference to read the whole story at the same time.

Hope you enjoy.

SH-Table of food

 

The Uncertainty Principle: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Park benchThe warm exhale of summer is starting to invade Carding, Vermont. Tonight, one hundred and two seniors will graduate from Carding Regional High School.

In two weeks, best friends Wil Bennett and Dave Muzzy leave for Costa Rica and a month of volunteering at a wildlife rescue center.

Wil’s sister Faye is uncertain what this means for her. And she’s not very good at uncertainty.

Most of us aren’t.

And Harry Brown is grappling with too many changes in his life. He handles most of his anxiety by complaining which, of course, accomplishes nothing.

This is the fourth segment in a Carding Chronicle that’s about change and uncertainty. We’ll finish up next week.

In the meantime, have a lovely 4th!

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.

——————————-

“There are a great number of questions in life for which the only right answer is ‘I don’t know.’”
—Reverend Gordon Lloyd, pastor of Our Lady of Assumption church in Carding, Vermont

Neither Diana nor Stephen Bennett mentioned it but they had both noticed how much more time their son and daughter were spending together nowadays. Sure the siblings never missed a chance to tease one another but their barbs were softer. In fact, they shouldn’t be considered barbs at all.

“I think Faye has realized she’s going to miss Wil when he leaves for Costa Rica,” Stephen said.

“She’s not the only one,” Diana sighed. “I knew this was going to be hard but I had no idea how hard. Our little family is changing. Nothing is going to be the same again. I already miss our old life.”

They stood together, listening to Faye and Wil laugh as they tried to get Wil’s mortarboard to stay on his head.

“I suppose we could glue it on,” Faye said as she fussed. “I still have some spirit gum left from Halloween.”

When Wil turned to look in his mirror, the hat slid off once again. “We may have to do that. I guess you’d better get it.”

Faye got to her feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Wil’s best friend, Dave Muzzy, showed up while the spirit gum was being applied to Wil’s forehead. Ever since the river raft race back in May, Dave had had two reasons to visit the Bennett household. Even though he and Faye had agreed to keep their budding relationship on the private side, their growing warmth and interest in one another was visible to everyone around them.

Wil watched them duck their heads shyly at one another for a couple of minutes before he finally asked: “So how serious are you two about one another?”

Wil laughed as Dave blushed all the way from his chin to his eyebrows. “Wow, you are red, man. Really red.”

“How long have you known?” Faye asked.

“Hmmm, you’re my baby sister…”

“Not a baby any more, Wil.”

Wil pointed at Dave. “And you’ve been my best friend since forever. You two have never looked at one another like you do now or have gotten all shy around one another. Heck, I remember getting between you two on the town beach when Dave said something that ticked you off, Faye. You had him pinned to the sand.”

Now it was Faye’s turn to blush. “We really like one another…”

“…but we’re trying not to tie one another up,” Dave said, glancing at Faye for her approval of his words. “Costa Rica, college…”

“…for both of us,” Faye said. She squinted up at her brother. “You’d better be okay with this.”

Wil grinned. “Well, I can guarantee I won’t get in the middle if you two get into a fight on the town beach again.”

Faye reached over and took Dave’s hand. “I think we’re good on that.”

“Does Brian know?” Wil asked.

“Well, we haven’t said anything to him, that’s for sure,” Dave said. 

“And I don’t think we owe him an explanation,” Faye added. “I’m sorry that he’s isolated himself but neither Dave nor I are the people to fix that.”

“Yeah, that’s on him,” Wil agreed. “Okay, let’s get on this spirit gum thing. If this doesn’t work, I don’t know how I’m going to keep this funky hat on long enough to graduate.”

“How’s Harry doing this morning?” Louisa asked when Connie called her from the grocery store.

“Oh, I think he’s edging around to the idea that this divorce is really going to happen. He said this morning that he’s going to buy the house from you. But selling Brown & Sons is going to be a sticking point. That’s who he is, how he sees himself,” Connie said. 

Once again, Louisa silently thanked the gods for helping her find Connie Lindfors—cook, housekeeper and now understanding friend.

“Yeah, I know. But how in the world would he run the business if Gideon isn’t there? And Gideon has the right to make up his own mind about what he wants to do with his life.” Louisa sighed. “I’m trying to free my son.”

“I know. I know. I’m just saying this isn’t going to be easy,” Connie said. “Harry came shopping with me again today. He likes sitting on a bench on the green. And I did get him to agree to go to the baseball game at the high school tonight. We probably won’t stay long. But at least he’ll get out.”

“Is anybody stopping to talk to him while he’s on the green?” Louisa asked then immediately regretted her question. Harry’s relationships or lack of them were no longer any of her business.

But old habits die hard.

“No, not that I’ve seen.” Connie paid for her groceries then slid the straps of her cloth shopping bag over her shoulder. Cooper’s had been out of the thick bacon that Harry liked but she’d bought his favorite sausage. The man was more carnivore than herbivore, that’s for sure.

She stopped suddenly when she stepped through the exit door, her phone pressed to her ear. From Connie’s angle, she could see Harry and at least half of the town green. “Wait a minute. I think Gideon’s here.”

“Really? Are he and Harry talking?”

“No, Gideon’s behind him, just looking at his father.”

“Probably trying to make up his mind what to say,” Louisa said.

“Or what not to say,” Connie added.

For his part, Harry had just started to wonder where Bonnie…no, that’s not right…where Connie was. He felt tired and the sun, welcome at first, was getting warm. He set his cup down on the bench so he could reach up to pull the brim of his hat down.

But it wasn’t there. He’d forgotten his hat. Strange. He’d been wearing something on his head for years now to protect it from the sun and shield his eyes from glare. When you worked outside as much as he did, you learned to wear a hat.

As soon as he dropped his hand back into his lap, he spotted her across the street. She was such a pretty woman what with her bouncing step and her hair flouncing about her shoulders. He loved the way the sun brought out its coppery sheen. 

Harry had been watching Edie Wolfe from this spot for years. She didn’t know it yet, of course she didn’t, but he was going to marry her. All he had to do was work up the courage to ask her out and the rest would follow just as surely as night follows day.

Yep, she would become Mrs. Harry Brown and he’d not only gain a pretty wife, he’d gain a father-in-law who was a Senator in Washington, D.C.

Not bad for a boy who drove truck for his father.

But then Harry had never been content to just work for his father. He had plans, big plans.

He watched her closely, drinking in every detail of her walk. What a great shape she had, firm and soft in all the right places.

Today would be the day. He could feel it. Today would be the day that she’d notice him. He straightened up his shoulders to relieve a sudden pain in his neck. He must have slept wrong.

“Dad?”

Gideon reached out to jiggle Harry’s shoulder. Something about the set of his father’s head wasn’t right.
“Dad? Are you all right?”

Harry started to pitch forward but Gideon grabbed him before he rolled off the bench. People started to rush toward him. 

There were voices. 

Connie appeared on Harry’s other side and together they laid Harry down on the bench. Faye Bennett raced across the street, Wil and Dave in her wake, her hair ablaze in the sun.

“I saw what happened. I called for an ambulance,” she said as the sound of a siren split the peace of Carding’s main street.

Harry’s eyelids fluttered and he made a waving motion toward Faye with his hand.

“Pretty hair,” he said.


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.

The Uncertainty Principle

The warm exhale of summer is starting to invade Carding, Vermont. Tomorrow night, one hundred and two seniors will graduate from Carding Regional High School.

In two weeks, best friends Wil Bennett and Dave Muzzy leave for Costa Rica and a month of volunteering at a wildlife rescue center.

Wil’s sister Faye is uncertain what this means for her. And she’s not very good at uncertainty.

Most of us aren’t.

And Harry Brown is grappling with too many changes in his life. He handles most of his anxiety by complaining which, of course, accomplishes nothing.

This is the fourth segment in a Carding Chronicle that’s about change and uncertainty. We’ll finish up next week.

In the meantime, have a lovely 4th!

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.

SH-Park bench

Sitting on a Bench on Carding Green on a Sunny Day: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Baseball playerEveryone seems to be in a state of flux in Carding these days. What with high school and college graduations, weddings, the advent of summer, and vacations, everyone seems to be coming or going.

But underneath all the bustle, there are threads of anxiety, especially in Harry Brown’s family.

Especially for Harry Brown.

This is the fourth part of a family saga, a family evolving into tomorrow. Here’s where you can go to catch up: one, two and three.

We’ll wind it all up after the 4th of July. Wow, that’s next week!! How did we get here so fast?

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.

——————————-

When you gaze at the calendar, there’s arguably no month that’s more pregnant with change than June.

It’s the month of graduations from high school and college. It’s the most popular month for weddings. The heat of summer settles in, dissipating the anxiety that accompanies the cold-weather months.

One one level, the changes rippling through Carding are normal for this time of years. Wil Bennett and his friend Dave Muzzy are struggling to master their impatience at the slow pace that high schools consider necessary for Pomp and Circumstance while wondering why it’s so important. 

They’re not the only ones sleepwalking through Carding High’s graduation exercises. Nothing has turned out the way their erstwhile friend, Brian Lambert, had hoped. The Carding girlfriend that he dropped (Wil’s sister Faye) continues to ignore him and the former girlfriend from Martha’s Vineyard whose acquaintance he renewed won’t return his calls. He’s so embarrassed by the way he treated Faye that he can’t look Wil or Dave in the eye.

Worst of all, his father cornered him into accepting a basketball scholarship from a college he’s sure he’ll despise. He hates playing basketball.

So it wouldn’t be out of line to say that Brian Lambert is one big ball of hurt, resentment, and pain.

For that matter, so is Harry Brown. 

To his surprise, none of Harry’s standard emotional manipulating strategies have worked since his stroke. The fact that they are based on an out-of-date image of himself as a tough guy has never occurred to Harry. In his mind, he’s still the same ruthless businessman and lover that he’s always been.

“Love ’em and leave ’em, I always say,” he used to brag to his golfing buddies. “There’s always another chump or woman around the next corner.”

Until there isn’t.

His first wife—Edie Wolfe—came to despise Harry and his attitude, eventually running away from him in the middle of the night.

But Edie’s faithlessness was nothing in comparison to wife-number-two’s duplicity.

It all started when Louisa took control of his personal and business affairs while Harry was incapacitated with his stroke. Then she divided their home in two while he was in rehab, building a wall right through the middle of the house with her on one side and him on the other. Then she deserted him entirely, moving into a dinky modular home put together by their traitorous sons.

But her latest breach of trust was the worst. Louisa had had the audacity to file for a divorce, demanding half of the value of their house and half the value of his trucking business, Brown & Sons.

“A man works his whole life for his family and what thanks does he get?” Harry grumped every morning over the breakfast table.

His new cook and housekeeper, Connie Lindfors, didn’t bother to comment because she knew that Harry preferred to answer his own questions.

“Would you like bacon or sausage with your eggs this morning?” she asked as she watched a pat of butter transform itself from solid to liquid in the bottom of her frying pan. Harry preferred his three scrambled eggs cooked in butter.

“Have we got any more of that thick-sliced bacon?” he asked. “That’s the way bacon’s supposed to be, not that thin namby-pamby stuff.”

When Connie leaned into the open refrigerator to take a look, Harry took a moment to appreciate the fact that her middle-age girth was not as ample as he had at first assumed. When she emerged triumphantly with a package in her hand, she ignored his ogle.

He’s nothing but an old codger with a dinky ticker, she told herself. Who does he think he is?

“This is the last of it,” she said as she slid the bacon into the pan beside the eggs. “I’ll have to get over to Cooper’s to get some more.”

Harry turned to look out the window. The morning clouds were dissipating fast. “I’ll think I’ll go with you, maybe sit on a bench on the green with a coffee, watch the world go by a little bit while you do the shopping,” he said. “Would that be all right?”

Ever since Harry discovered that Connie would cook him whatever he asked for without lecturing him about diet, he figured he’d better be nice to her so she’d stay.

“I think that would be a lovely idea,” Connie said. “It’s a gorgeous day. And maybe tonight we can catch some of the baseball game over at the high school. It’s the last game of the season.”

Harry actually grinned. “Sure. I haven’t been to a game all year.”

Even though she’d been taking care of Harry for only a couple of weeks, Connie was already quite proficient when it came to handling the grumpy old man. Louisa had been very thorough in her description of Harry when she hired Connie, which had helped. But after a lifetime spent as a cook in difficult households, Connie had learned a thing or two about finessing the fusspots of the world.

In her opinion, men were easier to cajole than women, especially those of a certain age. You just needed to pretend to cater to their every whim. After that, they became quite pliable.

“Which side of the green would you prefer to sit on?” she asked as they drove down Meetinghouse Road.

He pointed toward the southeast corner of Carding’s common. “You can see a lot of what’s going on in town from there.”

Connie pulled up close to a bench. “Does this one suit?”

Harry had the car door open before she got around to the passenger side and was already rising to his feet. Across the green, his oldest son, Gideon, watched his father’s arrival with an unexpected tug of guilt. He’d been avoiding Harry because he knew the divorce would make any conversation between them very difficult

To his son, Harry looked smaller than normal, his white hair thinner and more whispy, his shoulders stooped. His clothes hung loose on his body. Connie was obviously quite competent, assisting Harry to the sidewalk and the few steps to the bench. 

When Harry sat down, he turned his face toward the sun with obvious pleasure.

“Are you going to talk to him?” Edie Wolfe’s voice made Gideon jump.

He sighed. “I should. I know I should. But I don’t know what to say.”

“He’s looking mighty frail,” Edie observed.

“Yeah. He’s changed a lot since the stroke. It’s just that…he’s going to ask me about the divorce, about selling the business…”

“So you haven’t made up your mind about whether you’re going to leave or not. I thought that might be the case.”

Gideon looked at her, sharpish. “How do you do that? Understand what people are thinking without them saying anything?”

Edie shrugged. “I just put myself in their place and try to figure out how I would feel. For example, you’ve always taken your responsibilities to Brown & Sons seriously. In fact, you’ve been the bedrock of that business for quite a while, guiding it into the future. That’s hard to walk away from.”

Gideon nodded. “Yeah, it is. But Harry won’t sell unless I go, and Mom wants to be shut of him and everything about him.”

Edie laid a hand on his arm. “And what, pray tell, does Gideon want? Travel? A permanent life in Carding? Something in between or something entirely different?”

“To be truthful, I have no idea, Edie. If I was still married to Chloe, I’d tell you that I wanted nothing more than to take over Brown & Sons and run it the way I see fit. Dad has no idea about what’s changing in our industry, the new regulations coming down the pike or how to adapt to them. If he talks about running the business at all, he talks about stuff that happened ten, twenty years ago.”

“What about your brothers?”

Gideon smiled, the first expression with real pleasure in it that Edie had seen on his face in a long time. “They’re amazing, really good at what they do. Jacob’s an absolute whiz at the newer machines. All that digital stuff just baffles me but he plunges right in up to his elbows. And Noah takes after Mom. He’s not only a great accountant, he’s a good strategic thinker. He was up here last weekend with a whole five-year plan for Brown & Sons all mapped out for us.”

Then Gideon stopped cold. “It’s too bad we’ll never get to see how it turns out.”

They stood in companionable silence, gazing across the green to where Harry sat, the sun creeping up on him, the expression on his face less grumpy than usual. Every so often, he’d raise the coffee cup in his hand at a passing car or in the direction of someone on the sidewalk across the street. Edie and Gideon noticed that no one raised a hand in response.

“It’s hard to forgive him until you see him like this,” Edie said softly.

“Yeah.” Gideon smiled down at Edie. Harry had raised him to hate this woman but Gideon never had understood the sense in that. Edie had always held her hand out in friendship to him. 

“I think I’d better go and say hello to Harry while I have the chance,” Gideon said with a sigh. “Thanks for listening to me, Edie.”

She watched the young man go in silence, his walk betraying the sadness he carried. Ordinarily, their conversation would have sparked an idea, a glimpse of a way forward. But for some strange reason, Edie knew that standing still was her wisest choice at the moment. 

The air felt as charged as it did in those moments before a thunderstorm breaks. Gideon had nearly reached the bench where his father sat alone.


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.