Note: The names of my friends have been changed to protect their privacy, even though they probably don’t care.
Before we left the library, I walked A back to the reading room to show her the huge windowsill full of potted geraniums, the stone wall outside, and the view beyond—past another stone wall, a field, and a barn—to the mountains. We spoke softly even though we were the only ones there. On the wall a rack of magazines, the sort of thing that gets me all excited about some future time—never right now—when I’ll come and spend a whole afternoon or morning sitting and reading magazines. My wife had been stymied in her attempt to print bank statements. Logging on from an unknown device requires, of course, a verification code, which is sent via text message to one’s phone, which, sadly, never can receive them while in Craftsbury. How we’ve managed to get this far in buying a home is a testament to our ingenuity. It seems you’re not supposed to be able to function in modern society without cellphone service. Walking out, she asked if I’d printed my documents and I said no, I emailed them. “Oh,” she said. “Well I can email them from my computer at home… I thought we came here for printing”. “We did,” I said, “but then as I downloaded the PDF I realized that I could just email it to her. She’s going to be uploading it or emailing it anyway… it’s not like she’s going to walk it down the street to the bank” (Apparently, our lender doesn’t actually give us the fake money for our home—they go to the big bank and get it for us. They both get paid, of course, but it’s the big bank that will get our interest payment for the next 30 years—all $122,000 of it.)
Fully successful or not, it was all terribly pleasant in the warm evening, surrounded by the sweet Spring air, and we took our time getting back in the car, kept the windows down, and rolled out the gravel drive to the pavement and down to the village. We passed a friend’s house and noticed another friend’s car. “Are they hanging out without me?” I wondered.
A packed up and left for Montgomery—an easier drive now that Eden Mountain Road is dry and unlikely to consume your vehicle in a series of mud-pits. I was to be left alone at home for the first time in what felt like months. It may have been months, in fact, as we’d had a houseguest who only recently left. I would make dinner, I thought. I almost began with the beans as A left—I was plenty hungry, and it was a totally reasonable dinner hour (6pm). First, however, I’d step out front for a smoke. I rolled a cigarette and ambled out to the road and looked down the street to our friend’s house, with our other friend’s car out front. I wondered if they were indeed hanging out—maybe drinking beers or having dinner? Or perhaps it was business of some sort. I knew I’d be welcome, but a little bit of me made the point that I hadn’t been invited, might not be wanted, and reminded me that I could feel small and unwanted. I thought about going back inside and starting dinner, but it was so darn nice outside, and I had nothing that I had to do, and was alone for the night, and so I stuck the cigarette behind my ear and started down the road. I got to the farmstand first, and decided to delay my intrusion by checking out the stand—it had just opened days before and I hadn’t yet visited. At the door were friends and their dog and a pair of their parents. The friend with the dog on the leash told me the dog’s name and how he was more of a goofy cartoon character than the imposing god that his name implied. We crunched on the gravel floor. The friend took her parents through the veggie cooler at back, pushing aside the strips of clear rubber to admire the vegetables. I was introduced and we all agreed that March and April were rough. We laughed that we were finally reminded why we live here. The parents came from Florida and had never been to Vermont before. We agreed to get together soon and said goodbye and I took a solitary loop through the farmstand, memories of last summer flooding in, seeing all the same products and some new ones too.
I emerged into the light and saw a friend coming out of the red farmhouse carrying a white stand mixer. She was barefoot and smiling and we chatted for a bit about the $14 bag of granola I’d seen in the farmstand. “This is where we’re headed,” I said, “where people can charge whatever they want for food and we’ll pay it. I already do it with heavy cream, which is like $7”.
We walked to her car and I helped her load the mixer. The car was full of her stuff and she was leaving town the next day. I asked about some tiny clay sculptures on a board taking up her entire back seat. “The kids made those,” she said—kids at some camp. She was leaving to lead different kids on a wilderness expedition in Maine.
Back in front of the red house I saw our friend hide behind his car, and pretended not to see him. He popped out smiling and called to us and said that he was going to try and scare me, and he crossed the street to us and we hugged and I made a big deal about his hair being all gone, and he said his lady had done it in the middle of a field in Maine. We asked about his visit and he told us about the farm where his gal is working and how he’d seen a woodchuck making its home behind the port-a-potty that the farmers used. Woodchucks carry some awful disease, he said, and to have one residing near a communal toilet was a terrible hazard, and so he stoned it with a rock.
“You hit it with a rock?” I asked
“Yeah it was a great moment, Sarah distracted it and I crept up on it and nailed it with like a softball-sized rock. Right in the head”.
“No way,” I said.
“Yep, yes”, he smiled and nodded and went on to explain again why that thing had to go.
“Then what?” I asked
“Well I got a pitchfork and speared it and then we buried it in the field a ways away”
“Was it dead from the rock or did you have to kill it with the fork?” I asked.
“No I had to spear it with the fork..”
“What?!?!?” I made a shrieking laugh and he chuckled and smiled and nodded
“Yeah and let me tell you guys, those woodchucks are thick-skinned. I mean, I had to really jab it to get through the skin”.
“Oh my God!!” I yelled and we all laughed, imagining the blood and the whole gruesome scene. We congratulated him for his good deed and he said he had to get back, that he was finishing up the survey of Allen’s house, but that they were pretty well done and now it was time to relax and enjoy a beer, and I wanted to ask if I could come and hoped that he would invite me, but he just said goodbye and headed back across the street. We chatted some more about Teresa’s last day in town and did she want to do anything in particular and I said maybe we should cook out tomorrow night? “That would be great”, she said, and so we made a tentative plan and I said I’d talk to the wife and hopefully see her tomorrow, and good luck with her packing, and she went back inside and I crossed the street still not sure what to do. I’d seen Stephen enter from the side and so I went that way and came up to the edge of the yard, and through some bushes saw the guys and one other friend sitting and standing, looking out at the field behind Allen’s house, the dog running, the three guys chatting and laughing. I hesitated and thought again about my dinner and how I didn’t really want to hang out for a long time, and I thought “well I’ve got this cigarette to smoke, I guess,” but I saw the conversation going on and wasn’t quite sure I wanted to join in, and turned to leave when Stephen yelled out “Gabe!”, and so then I had no choice but to come through the brush and into the yard and they were all happy to see me and I didn’t disturb a thing, but took my place in the group and finally lit the cigarette I’d been toting around, and they weren’t doing anything special, of course, or planned or exclusive, and I felt silly for feeling so awkward, but I lied and said that I was going to go around front when really I was turning to go home.
We all played with the dog, and we made lots of jokes and they joked about some commune in New York that I would love, and we talked about the house down the road that we’re buying and how the septic tank was being dug out as we speak, and they were all very happy for me. I had a couple of serious conversations too and a single puff on a joint that I didn’t feel right away but would keep me buzzing all evening. The dog ran around, so happy, jumping into the long grass and sprinting back across the yard. I stood by Allen, who sat on a stool and between us on the grass stood his drink, and the dog kept running between us and we’d both look down as he narrowly missed the drink. The lawn had been mowed and I’d never really sat in the back yard, and it opens up all around, down from the road, back to some woods, and the sun was going down lighting up the big pine trees and all the grasses and there were a pair of red-winged blackbirds that make their home back there and we all admired the yard, and Allen said he had a bocce set and that these old cars and things can be cleared. I got to speak a little bit of Spanish and found it really rusty, and the friend from Chile told me about his family visiting, and how his mom is 90 years old, and about the trout in his pond that are getting really big and old, and about Chile and how it has changed, and we stood and talked about the state of the world and about how some people are preparing for the end by planning their escape to space, their brains uploaded to computers for all eternity, and I told him the word for that is “the singularity”, and we agreed it would be super boring and that they’d probably just be up there jacking each other off, and that we’d found a special place here in Vermont, away from it all.
The friend from Chile said his goodbyes and then me and Stephen went out through the house, and I said we should cook out tomorrow night because it was Teresa’s last night and so we made the plan, and outside there were a couple more jokes and then goodbye and see you tomorrow—come by any time and let’s cook out—and so I walked back up the road feeling full of fun and laughs, and back in the apartment everything was quiet and dim and I couldn’t believe it was after 8 o’clock and well past time to cook dinner.