Tag Archives: Carding Chronicle

Two Phone Calls: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Two phone callsIt seems to me that people always talk about change as though it takes no more effort than flipping a light switch.

But if there’s one thing humans resist with all their soul, it’s change.

The Brown family—father Harry, mother Louisa, and sons Gideon, Noah and Jacob—have been in the midst of wrenching change for a while now. This week is the beginning of a multi-part story about how they handle this new phase of their lives.

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.

Glad you’re here.

———————————-

For Gideon Brown, Thursday was just another Thursday. With his father Harry sidelined by a stroke—maybe permanently—from the family trucking business, all of the day-to-day responsibilities of scheduling, estimating, hiring, payroll and maintenance now fell on his shoulders.

Not that he had to handle everything by himself. His two younger brothers, Noah and Jacob, both pitched in, Noah with his accounting wizardry and Jacob with his uncanny ability to direct a construction crew on-site.

But still, the bulk of the responsibility for Brown & Sons was Gideon’s.

Not that he would have it any other way. The busy-ness helped mask the emptiness he dragged around with him, an emptiness that often threatened to drown him in grief over his dissolved marriage. His estranged wife’s departure had left an outsized hole in his life, a space filled with regret and self-recrimination.

Of course, Gideon’s obvious sadness worried his mother.

“What about the girl who was the secretary in the school office?” Louisa asked as she dished out pasta for her oldest son. “What was her name? Linda?”

“Lydia,” Jacob corrected as he walked in the door. “And she’s hardly a girl, Mom. She’s almost Gideon’s age.” He winked at his older brother then wished he hadn’t made the joke when he saw Gideon wince.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “That wasn’t funny.”

“Lydia doesn’t live around here any more, Mom,” Gideon said. “Besides, she wasn’t my type.”

He leaned over to fish a thick envelope out of his jacket pocket. “These are the final divorce papers,” he said, laying the document in the middle of the table.

Louisa’s eyes filled with tears. She’d adored Gideon’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Chloe, and missed the young woman’s presence in her otherwise all-male family.

“I understand she’s going to be in Carding this week,” Gideon said, “moving the last of her stuff out of the rooms she rented in Edie Wolfe’s house.”

Gideon’s news removed any motive the three of them had to initiate dinner conversation and the pasta disappeared in silence.

Later, as Gideon collected his belongings before heading home, Louisa cornered him. “Have you talked to Chloe at all since she left for England?” she asked.

“Yeah, once.”

“Did she…is there…?”

“There’s somebody else in her life now, Ma.” Gideon kissed her on the cheek. “Chloe’s not coming back. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

Later, Jacob found Louisa standing immobile in her darkened kitchen.

“Ma? You all right?”

Louisa jumped and when she turned, Jacob realized she’d been crying…again.

“Oh Mom,” he sighed as he wrapped his arms around her. 

“We have turned out to be such as sad family,” she sniffled into his shoulder.

Jacob let her sniffle a bit more before he said: “But we don’t have to stay that way, do we?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like such an effort to get out of bed in the morning. Your father…”

“Dad? What about him?”

“He called again today,” Louisa admitted. Her sons had pleaded with her not to interact with Harry because it took such an emotional toll on her.

“Please tell me you didn’t answer the phone,” Jacob said.

“You’ll be proud of me. I didn’t,” Louisa said, tapping her eyes with a soggy tissue.

“Well, that’s a step forward,” Jacob said. “Though I assume he left a message.”

“Oh you know he did.” She lifted her head so she could look her son straight in the eye. “He wants me to come back. He says he wants to reconcile, that he’s changed…”

Jacob raised a hand to stop her. “Please don’t tell me you believe him.”

“No, of course I don’t. He’s just alone and scared and realizes there’s no one there to take care of him except the people he hires,” Louisa said. 

“And that he fires just as quickly,” Jacob said. “Please don’t tell me you called him back.”

“Well, I did think about it. Old habits die hard, you know.” But then she stood up straight. “The truth is, I made two calls, neither of them to Harry. The first was to my lawyer.”

“You’re finally going to go through with it.” Jacob could barely keep the excitement out of his voice. He adored his mother and was determined that the remaining years of her life—no matter the number—be devoted to her own interests.

“Yes, yes I am.” She looked so sad and wistful that Jacob’s eyes teared up in response. 

“So what finally tipped you over the edge?”

“You know I meet Edie and Ruth and Agnes for coffee at the bakery every Wednesday morning, right?” Louisa asked.

Jacob nodded. He’d always found it peculiar that one of his mother’s best friends, Edie Wolfe, was Harry’s first wife. Though when he thought about it, who would understand Louisa’s problems better than Edie?

“I try not to talk about Harry because they’ve all heard it before, too many times. But I know they’re concerned about me. Ruth brought me something.” Louisa opened a drawer and withdrew a well-thumbed booklet about border collies. One of Louisa’s incentives for building a small house on the outskirts of Carding was the possibility of starting a kennel, a longtime aspiration of hers, one that Harry had actively squelched as “too expensive and ridiculous.”

So far, Louisa’s sole move in the direction of her dream was the purchase of a border collie pup that she’d named Pippin after her favorite hobbit. Since then, she’d made no other effort at all.

Jacob smiled but stayed silent, willing his mother to speak. This had to be her move or it wasn’t going to work.

After a few more heartbeats, Louisa said with a small, shaky laugh, “Boy, this change stuff is hard. How do you move forward if you can’t see which path to take?”

“But…?”

“But then I made a second call, to this kennel in Maine. I made an appointment to visit them, to look into buying another pup as a mate for Pippin,” Louisa said. “Ruth’s going to come with me.”

Jacob laughed. “And if I know Ruth, she’ll be sure you keep that appointment.”

Louisa nodded, letting a small smile temporarily push her melancholy to one side. “That’s why I asked her. And Edie’s going to the lawyer with me.” 

She looked up quickly. “I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t ask you to go with me.”

In response, Jacob wrapped his arms around his mother, lifted her feet off the floor and hugged her so hard, Louisa was left gasping for breath.

“Are you kidding? When do you want me to get started on that dog run you’ve been talking about?”


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.

Two Phone Calls

It seems to me that people always talk about change as though it takes no more effort than flipping a light switch.

But if there’s one thing humans resist with all their soul, it’s change.

The Brown family—father Harry, mother Louisa, and sons Gideon, Noah and Jacob—have been in the midst of wrenching change for a while now. Tomorrow is the beginning of a multi-part story about how they handle this new phase of their lives.

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.

Thanks for visiting.

SH-Two phone calls

Secrets: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Lilacs in budIt is so hard to resist the flowers of spring. And today, Carding’s renowned queen of mail delivery, Ruth Goodwin, is going to yield to temptation.

But you can’t tell anybody about this spot of hooky.

Let’s invite ourselves into Ruth’s yellow Jeep and go along for the ride, 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.

—————————————–

The aroma hit Ruth Goodwin in the face as soon as she stepped out her front door. The scent of the deep purple lilacs in her yard was nearly overwhelming. Across the hill, she could see white clouds of blossoms covering the apple trees in the Tennysons’ orchard.

Her beagle, R.G., hesitated on his way to the Jeep where he had planned to ensconce himself in the passenger seat for the first of his many daily naps. Why was his human sniffing the air like one of his fellow canines?

He snorted and sat down. R.G.’s first law of dogdom was to never waste energy trying to figure out people.

“What an incredible spring,” Ruth murmured. “Time to break out the colored pencils and camera. Be right back, R.G.”

The dog yawned then shook his head until his great floppy ears whirled about his head. Waiting sounded like a good plan to him.

For years, Ruth Goodwin had had a secret. In the world at large, it would never be considered a big deal. In fact, folks in Carding would have been floored to find out that Ruth had any secrets at all because she’d always cultivated a reputation as forthright and open. But we all have our little privacies, don’t we?

Ruth’s secret was her drawing, particularly her colored pencil drawings.

Particularly her botanical portraits.

As a child, she’d adored the tales of Beatrix Potter and studied the detailed illustrations of her favorite author until she’d learned nearly every line, every shade and every hue in the tales. In her teens, Ruth had been appalled to discover that Potter’s lifetime ambition to be a botanist had been stymied by her father because he did not deem it a suitable endeavor for a woman. That’s why Beatrix had turned her keen eye toward illustrating children’s books, much to the delight of millions of readers.

But still, ambition thwarted is ambition thwarted, in Ruth’s opinion. So Ruth, unencumbered by male opinion, decided to pursue a private career in botanical illustration in honor of her heroine.

And in order to remain unencumbered by opinion of any persuasion, Ruth kept her efforts to herself.

While Beatrix Potter had wielded watercolors to bring Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck to life, Ruth eventually decided to use colored pencils because they were far more portable, no water required.

In the winter months, she sketched the purple and white glories of red cabbage and the seedy interiors of hubbard squash. In summer, Ruth turned to beets and watermelon and beans and zucchini from her garden.

Fall, of course, was dedicated to brilliant leaves, acorns, and goldenrod.

But spring—aah spring—now that was the season for flowers. And in Ruth Goodwin’s opinion, this was one of the most glorious springs she’d ever witnessed in her beloved Vermont.

R.G.’s wait was soon over when Ruth bustled out of the house to stow her pencil case, sketchbook and camera under the Jeep’s driver seat. “Come on, R.G., let’s hope the mail is light. We’ve got blossoms to visit.”

But as often happens, Ruth’s hopeful morning tumbled downhill into a day full of delays. The delivery truck with its tubs of mail had a flat tire so it was late arriving at the Carding post office and that, in turn, made Ted Owens, the postmaster, late sorting Ruth’s deliveries.

And instead of a light mail day, her mail totes were stuffed with Memorial Day sales flyers and festival announcements. Then her daughter Sarah called with a reminder about their Saturday date to pick out a wedding dress, and Ruth had to catch herself before admitting that it had totally slipped her mind. Sarah’s fiancé was nice enough but Ruth remained unconvinced that he was the right guy for her strong-minded daughter and that had a tendency to push thoughts of her daughter’s upcoming nuptials to a nether region of her mind.

“Not my choice. Not my choice,” she reminded herself while aloud she said to Sarah: “The Bridal Place. I remember. I’ll be there, rest assured.

All of which meant that by the time Ruth and R.G. got on the road in earnest, they were already 45 minutes behind schedule. Then they got stuck behind the Tennyson hay wagon and then they had to detour around the asphalt patching on Route 37 which made them just in time to get behind the kindergarten school bus delivering its tiny passengers home for lunch.

With a sigh, Ruth tuned into Dirt Road Radio to catch the noontime weather to see if the rainy forecast had changed since she’d listened to it while she ate breakfast. In Vermont, you just never knew. The Green Mountains could delay the rain until evening. But alas, it was not to be. The forecaster was adamant: It was to be rain, clouds and drizzle for the next three days starting about mid-afternoon. 

Not good drawing weather by a long shot.

By late morning, Ruth still had one heavy tote of mail left in her back seat. Her intrepid beagle turned his mournful eyes in her direction, a signal that it was time to stop so he could stretch his legs. Ruth gazed up the hillside to her right and thought about the remnants of an old orchard tucked into a deep fold of the land up there. Some of those old trees were crabapples renowned for their ecstatic pink hue. And off to one side there was an old cellar hole where now-wild lilacs proclaimed that this had once been a home.

Ruth considered the crabapple-and-lilac combination some of the best flowerage in the Corvus River valley.

She looked at R.G. whose emotional state had changed from mournful to hopeful. Turning up the hill would make her late with her mail deliveries. But right now, the sun was still shining, the grass and new leaves were oh-so-green and…

…the mail could wait.


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.

Spring Beauty: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Spring BeautyIt’s been a wet spring in Vermont and the river levels have been higher for longer than normal.

Earlier in the month, we had a brief respite of non-rainy days, enough to bring the Corvus River low enough to make it safe for the annual Amnicolist River Race.

Sixteen-year old Faye Bennett, her brother Wil, and their two best friends, Suzanna Owen and Dave Muzzy, came in second—though they hotly dispute the ranking.

No matter. Life moves on. It is spring, after all. And Faye, who often confides in her beloved Uncle Dan, has a new wrinkle in her life that she wants to discuss.

This is their most recent email exchange.

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.

——————————————————————

Dear Uncle Dan,

I had the weirdest thing happen to me during river race week.

I think I may have fallen in love.

It all started when I nearly fell out of our raft toward the end of the race. It was a close thing. And it was Wil’s best-friend-since-forever, Dave Muzzy, who pulled me back into our makeshift pirate ship.

Dave and I have known each other since we were in elementary school and he’s stayed overnight at our house more times than I can count. So why is it that I suddenly noticed that he’s an interesting and funny guy? And that he has beautiful brown eyes?

I know you’ve been listening to me whine about Brian Lambert for a while now (I’m sorry about that and I promise this is the last time) about how cool I thought he was, what a good time we had together and then what a rat he turned out to be.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he dropped me like a glowing ember from a wood stove to go back to his old girlfriend, Sheila, the one from Martha’s Vineyard. The worst part about the whole fiasco was his cowardice when it came to telling me what was going on.

It was pathetic.

But then a couple of days before the raft race, I ran into this very same Sheila in the Coop. She was by herself and I was just going to walk on when she stopped me…to apologize. She claims she didn’t know anything more about me than I did about her.

But that was not the most interesting part of our conversation. That came at the end when Sheila said that the reason Brian broke up with me is because I scare him, that I’m too smart and figure things out that he believes I shouldn’t be able to figure out.

Can you imagine? Seriously, you could have whopped me off my feet with the proverbial feather when Sheila told me that!

I didn’t tell anyone about that conversation until after the race when Wil, Suzanna, Dave and I went out for pizza. (Fiorello’s is doing a new pizza with artichokes now and it is yummy!!)

Well, you know Wil—he just howled with laughter and offered to tell Brian about my math grades. (I truly suck at trigonometry. Who needs to know what a cosine is anyway?) 

In other words, he was no help at all.

But Dave took me seriously. He told us how Brian complains about his dad all the time. “Mr. Lambert doesn’t like to be questioned about anything which leads to a lot of arguments with his wife and his kids,” he said.

“Yeah, we’ve been at Brian’s house a couple of times when they’ve gone at it,” Wil said. “Makes me appreciate the Moms and Dads…”

“And Uncle Teds,” Suzanna added.

“Yeah, and the Uncle Teds we all have.”

“The thing is,” Dave went on, “If you pay attention, you realize that Brian’s just like his Dad. In school, he does this thing with guys where he gets all harsh and nasty if someone knows something he doesn’t. Personally, I think he’s insecure about a lot of things so he pushes people away. I suspect that’s the real reason why he won’t try out for basketball in college. He’s afraid somebody might be better than him and Brian can’t handle that.”

So then I asked Dave: “Are you afraid of me? Are all the guys I know afraid of me because they think I’m smart? Because if that’s true, that’s really sick.” That’s when I noticed that Dave has beautiful eyes. 

He laughed. “Nah, I’ve seen your report card, remember? I figure I can keep up. Besides, I don’t have any patience for people who are deliberately ignorant and I think that what Brian did to you was deliberately ignorant.”

That night, after we all got home, Dave texted me to ask if I wanted to hike up to the old Small farmstead on Sunrise Hill. I haven’t been up there since Dad, Suzanna and I released that red-tail hawk back into the wild.

It’s a beautiful spot but that was the same day Dad’s truck slid off the Hooke Road bridge and he nearly drowned so I’ve been sort of superstitious about both places ever since.

I figured Dave was asking all of us but when I texted back, he said no, he was just asking me.

That made me feel funny and I almost said no. But then I thought, why not?

I met him in front of the library, hoping that Wil wouldn’t see us. I love my brother (don’t you ever tell him that) but honestly, he’s getting to be more of a pain the closer he gets to graduation. I know he’s nervous but seriously, I can’t wait until it’s over so he can go back to being his usual jerky self. That I can handle.

I could tell Dave was kind of nervous when we first set off but after a while we got into oohing and aahing over all the wildflowers on the trail. I’ve never seen so many spring beauties in bloom at the same time. There was one slope that was carpeted with them. I took pictures with my phone and I attached one of them to this email so you’ll miss Carding and come visit soon.

We both brought stuff to eat and drink and we spread it all out on a big rock when we got to the top. The view of Carding from up there is like I imagine Rivendell looked to Bilbo Baggins the first time he saw it. You can see the Crow’s Head Falls way off in the distance and the river snaking through town and the spire of the Episcopal Church.

After we finished eating, the two of us just sat there cloud watching. And then we were holding hands. And then we were snuggled up close with our arms around one another.

I don’t think either one of us thought much about what we were doing or what it meant or could mean. It just felt right, really all right.

And then we kissed one another. More than once.

And that felt really all right too.

Is that how it works, Uncle Dan? One minute you’re standing on one side of a line and the next minute you’re on the other side and you have no idea how or when you moved?

I’m not sure but I think I floated back down the hill. We barely talked except for Dave asking me to go to the senior dance with him and for me to say yes.

Dave graduates with Wil next month and then the two of them are taking off for Costa Rica to volunteer in an eco-agriculture program for six weeks and then they’re off to UVM for school. And I have plans for after I graduate next year and I don’t want to get attached to anyone who gets in the way of doing them, no matter what. 

I’m trying to wrap my head around all of this but it’s kind of knocked me sideways. Any advice Uncle Dan?

Love as always,
Faye

•••

Dear Faye,

I have three observations to make about the new turn in your relationship with this young man. Take them or leave them as you will.

The first is: Good friends are very hard to find. As you said, you and Dave have known one another for a long time. No matter what paths your lives follow, you now both know that there’s someone out there who “gets” you, who will take you in no matter the time of day, and who will come to your aid in every crisis. You can depend on Dave. He can depend on you.

Believe me, dear niece, that is more important than anything. That’s what your Mom and Dad have, a deep friendship built on trust with a bunch of love thrown in for good measure.

Second, one of my favorite expressions is: Blessed are those with no expectations because they will never be disappointed. In my opinion, unmet expectations are one of the banes of human existence.

Look at what you know about this situation: Dave is your friend, he likes you a lot, you are both incredibly comfortable in one another’s company, so much so that you don’t feel the need to talk about your relationship.

In my opinion, messing with that is just asking for stress and hurt feelings. Let it be.

And third, I like Dave. I’ve always liked Dave. And I’m an extremely good judge of character so it’s all good with me.

Will you cry when he goes off to Costa Rica and then UVM? I expect so. Would you stop him from going to either place? Of course not. Is there a possibility of the two of you having adventures together at some point in the future?

I, for one, will be interested to find out what happens.

Love from wherever I am to wherever you are,

Uncle Dan

————————————————-

Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or 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.

Spring Beauty

It’s been a wet spring in Vermont and the river levels have been higher than normal for longer than normal.

Earlier in the month, we had a brief respite of non-rainy days, enough to bring the Corvus River low enough to make it safe for the annual Amnicolist River Race.

Sixteen-year old Faye Bennett, her brother Wil, and their two best friends, Suzanna Owen and Dave Muzzy, came in second—though they hotly dispute the ranking.

No matter. Life moves on. It is spring, after all. And Faye, who often confides in her beloved Uncle Dan, has a new wrinkle in her life that she wants to discuss.

Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s story.

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-Spring Beauty

 

The Great Amnicolist River Race

SH-Rubber Duckie

This is the last of three parts about Carding’s annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts down the frigid waters of the Corvus River.

So far, we’ve been introduced to some of the rafting teams and their assortment of whimsical craft. We’ve also learned about the current state of angst among some of the town’s teenagers.

If you need to catch up, part one is here and the stuff in the middle is here.

This week, we get to watch the race and congratulate the winners.

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 Rocky Road of Friendship: A Carding Chronicle

SH-New leavesLast week, Will Bennett and his friend Brian Lambert persuaded Carding’s favorite eccentric, Amos Handy, to let them use a rather leaky old stock tank as the basis of a raft to race down the Corvus River.

The Amnicolist River Race (an amnicolist is one who lives by a river) has been a Carding tradition for many years. Locals regard it as a way to finally declare your freedom from winter for another year.

There’s something else you need to know going forward—Brian and Wil’s sister, Faye, were once in a very friendly relationship and the wind from their fallout is still having an impact on the swirling whirl of teenage angst in Carding.

This is the second of three parts about Carding’s Amnicolist River Race. Here’s part one. Tune in next week to see who wins!

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 winter-hard buds on the local trees in Carding, Vermont are cracking open and new leaves, all bright and shiny new, are emerging. It is a heady time of year and over the course of May, many residents of this little town in Vermont (population 3,700) will succumb to a form of delirium that includes flowers and all shades of the color green.

Of course, that means it’s time for the annual Amnicolist River Race, a contest of homemade rafts floating downstream on the cold waters of the Corvus River.

This yearly event attracts a lot of attention around town. Let’s join first-time racer Suzanna Owen and her Uncle Ted as they discuss the upcoming festivities, shall we?

“What do you mean you don’t think you need to wear a helmet?” Ted Owen asked his niece. “The Corvus River is full of rocks, you know.”
“I know, I know,” Suzanna said. “But Wil checked the water level the other day and he told us that it’s just over knee level.”

Ted looked pointedly down at his niece’s knees. “You do realize that Wil’s nearly six-foot-two and you’re about eight inches shorter than that. What passes for knee level on him is not the same for you.”

“Well nobody’s ever gotten hurt during the raft race, right?”

“That’s right…because folks wear helmets.”

They stared at one another, not angry but more in a contest of wills, the normal state of affairs between a sixteen-year old and her legal guardian. “But we’re pirates,” Suzanna pouted, as if that explained everything.

“Hmm, yes but would you rather be a pirate with or without a concussion?” Ted extended his helmet-filled hand to his niece. “Honest Suzanna, you don’t want to go there. One of my dearest friends on my high school ski team took a bad fall in his senior year. He had to be tutored at home, barely made it graduation, and he sure doesn’t ski any more.”

“Oh all right,” she said in her grumpiest voice.

“Thank you. So have you and your pirate friends finished your raft?”

“Almost. Wil, Brian and Dave are still looking for a mast but Faye and I finished the skull and crossbones flag yesterday,” Suzanna said.

“Brian?” Ted squinched up his eyebrows. “Did I miss the latest installment of the Faye and Brian saga? I thought she had cut him out of her life.”

Suzanna nodded. “She did and still does. Brian says he’s not getting in the raft, that he’d rather laugh at us from shore.”

Ted chuckled. “Oh, I bet that went over well with Faye.”

Suzanna grinned and shook her head. “You know it didn’t. I’m not sure what his game is but Faye told him that she can’t wait until he graduates and leaves for college.”

Ted shook his head as he watched his niece rush out the door. The water in the Corvus River may be cold, he thought, but a riled Faye Bennett is even colder.

The Carding town beach is usually a pretty serene place in early spring. There’s a summer ice cream shack that gets boarded up for the winter and reopened every Mother’s Day but it’s not open yet. There are some picnic tables strewn among the pine trees that provide shade for everything but the curve of land that touches the water. And there’s a set of swings that all the kids who have grown up in Carding have used at one time or another. But they’re empty today.

Right now, the parking lot, the open areas among the tables and the shoreline are strewn with homemade rafts of every construction imaginable. Some of them are of the traditional, Huck-Finn variety, built of a wide variety of wood—painted, unpainted, plywood, dimensional lumber, roof rafters from derelict buildings and so on. 

There’s one raft using an old air bed as a base. The smart betting money isn’t on that one, however, because the team who built it is having a heckuva time keeping it inflated.

One imaginative couple collected a number of foam shipping coolers over the winter, the type you send iced salmon in at Christmas time. Arranged in a three-by-four grid, the white coolers are roped together then topped with a tarp that is, in its turn, topped by two waterproof cushions on which the participants intend to kneel while paddling.

While the “cooler raft” wasn’t a heavy favorite, everyone acknowledged that it showed a good sense of recycling and, best of all, it did float.

But the raft garnering the most attention belonged to “The Old Ladies”: Edie Wolfe (aged 67) Ruth Goodwin (the young ’un at age 59), and Agnes Findley who is celebrating her 68th birthday  today at the race. 

In fact, participating in the race was Agnes’s idea.

“I want to do something really different,” she’d told her friends when they asked about making merry on her special day. “Something we’ve never done before.”

Rafting down the cold Corvus River certainly qualifies.

Now the Amnicolist River Race has only two rules: All rafts must be homemade and no one (neither racer nor watcher) is allowed to drink alcohol during the race. The Old Ladies’ raft definitely qualified as homemade.

“Two hundred and fifty,” Agnes explained to Wil Bennett as he admired their handiwork. “Andy Cooper let us go through his plastic recycling at the store for soda bottles and there are two hundred and fifty bottles in this thing.”

“How many rolls of duct tape?” Wil asked. Really, you had to admire the simplicity of the thing—capped empty soda bottles stacked three high, each bottle in each row bound to its neighbors with taut stretches of the gray adhesive tape famous for its ability to fix anything. And then the rows were bound to one another with more tape and then the whole raft was wrapped in still more tape.

Agnes shook her head. “I’m not really sure. We emptied Andy’s shelves and then hit two more hardware stores to get enough. I have no intention of falling in that cold water because this thing falls apart.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Wil said, admiring the wet suits worn by his grandmother and her two friends. For the first time, he wasn’t sure about bringing home the oversized rubber duckie that’s been the winning trophy in the Amnicolist River Race for the past ten years.

He walked over to where his sister Faye, her best friend Suzanna and his friend Dave Muzzy stood with their oars. Together, the foursome gazed lovingly at the raft they’d fashioned from a galvanized steel stock tank. Dave’s father had contributed to their effort with a necklace of large buoys that he’d brought over from the Maine coast, a gift from a friend who owned a marina.

The Pirates had also added a small wooden quarterdeck and fashioned a mast from a tent pole. Faye and Suzanna’s flag, done in red and white instead of the traditional black and white skull-and-crossbones, rippled in the onshore breeze. 

The Pirates wore podged-together outfits of waterproof gear culled from some of the town’s more avid anglers. Wil sported a pair of bright orange waders that rose just past his waist. Faye’s and Suzanna’s waders were olive green and had to be rolled down at the top to fit under their arms. Dave had the best outfit of them all, his father’s fisherman’s coveralls in bright shiny yellow.

Suddenly a slashing laugh cut through their reverie. “Oh my gawd, are you really going into the water dressed like that?” Brian Lambert hooted. 

None of the four Pirates responded with words. It had been months since Brian had permanently ruptured his relationship with Faye. Even worse, in her eyes, Brian had dragged her brother into his deception. Despite Faye’s disapproval, Wil had tried to maintain a certain level of friendship with Brian but it was mostly limited to discussions about sports. Now he sensed that had reached its end.

After staring at Brian for a moment, Wil and Dave turned back toward the water and resumed their contemplation of their raft. Faye rolled her eyes at her former boyfriend before turning her back to him as well. But Suzanna crossed her arms over her chest and leveled a disbelieving gaze at the young man now standing by himself in the crowd.

Brian shifted from foot to foot for a moment, uncertain how to handle the ostracism that he had provoked. For him, the truth was—as truth often is—more complicated than a simple breakup with Faye Bennett. Brian couldn’t admit it to anyone but the feisty young woman scared him. Faye was sharply intelligent and clever, outspoken and funny. Brian admired her and when they were together, he’d enjoyed the energy that swirled around her.

But given his druthers, he preferred life that was predictable. Faye challenged his opinions and choices and that made Brian feel far too vulnerable for comfort. That’s why, when his family returned to Martha’s Vineyard for the holidays, Brian had fallen back into a relationship with his former girlfriend, Sheila. 

Sheila was pretty and sweet and interested in the stuff Brian liked, Game of Thrones and football on TV, playing golf and boogie boarding at the beach. She wanted to work in her mother’s insurance agency after she graduated and had no plans to ever leave the Vineyard. For Brian, resuming his relationship with Sheila had required no effort at all and quite frankly, that’s the way he liked it.

But there was a problem with Brian’s choice. When he returned to Carding, he found he lacked the grit to tell Faye about his change of heart. Embarrassed, he asked Wil to keep his renewed relationship with Sheila a secret and then he passively drifted along until Faye figured it out on her own, as he knew she would.

Faye had not appreciated Brian’s lack of effort in the breaking-up department.

After that, Brian let all of his relationships in Carding dwindle. His tenuous friendships with Wil and Dave had simply been the last to go. The remainder of his senior year in high school now stretched toward June in a long and lonely line of days.

He glanced at Suzanna, expecting to see her face hard and masked like the others. But her face was sad. “What are you looking at?” he demanded.

“You do realize you did this to yourself, right?” she asked in a soft voice.

“Did what?”

“Pushed away the people who were ready to like and accept you.”

“I didn’t do any such thing. You’re all just snobs with nothing to be snobbish about,” Brian said. “You’re all nothing and you’ve got nothing.” When the other three pirates turned to look at him, Brian stalked away.

Suzanna ran to catch up with him. “I didn’t know anyone, not even my Uncle Ted, when I first came to Carding,” she said as she panted by his side. “And I was pretty scared, just like you.”

Brian whirled on her, his fists clenched. “I’m not scared.”

“The people here are kind,” Suzanna persisted. “You know that. So why are you doing this?”

“Leave me alone.” Brian’s shout cut through the hubbub of the crowd. Several people turned to look at them. The tall young man and the petite Suzanna made an interesting juxtaposition with one another. 

For a moment, everyone froze in place. Wil started toward them but then stopped. What was he supposed to do? He looked at his sister, expecting to see her still angry. But she wasn’t.

“I think we need to let him go, Wil,” she said quietly. “He’s hurting. Maybe try again later.”

Just then, Charlie Cooper cleared his throat and raised a bullhorn to his mouth. That was the signal for the start of the race.

“Come on, Suzanna,” Faye shouted. “We gotta go!”

As she trotted back to her friends, Edie Wolfe caught Suzanna’s eye. “That was a good try,” she whispered as she squeezed the teenager’s shoulder. “He wasn’t ready.”

To her surprise, Suzanna had to blink back tears as she nodded. 

Wil and Faye were now jumping up and down to get Suzanna’s attention.

“You’d better go,” Edie said as she pulled a pink helmet over her  own gray hair. “Just remember, the Old Ladies are going to win.”

Suzanna grinned “Oh, I don’t know about that. We’re pirates.”


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or 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.