Message from a student in the journalism class I teach on Wednesdays at Middlebury with my husband, Bill, proposing “a story about three Middlebury professors who found a dead body floating in Otter Creek, reported it, then were visited by heavily armed men who looked at the body, proclaimed ‘he’s not ours,’ and left before the police arrived. Obviously I’ll have to verify …”
Message from my editor on the eve of the official publication of my first novel telling me he’s leaving the country and won’t be back till Oct. 16. “I’m sure you’ll get some, um, good reviews,” he says.
Jonathan, the car salesman, calls. “You sound terrible,” he says.
“It’s just a cold.”
“I am so sorry to hear that, really.”
It is a glorious fall day, and I’ve got 94 minutes exactly before I have to pick up my daughter from her riding lesson, 26 minutes to haul her home, get her cleaned up and fed, and 18 minutes to get her back into town for play practice. I decide to go for a run. I trot down the driveway and turn right onto the trail I always take, keeping an eye out for the tall, thin, fully munitioned man I saw last week leaning against a tree who said he was hunting for bear.
“Here’s the reason you wouldn’t have noticed me out here last year,” he explained, holding up his right hand. “See?” He pointed to what was left of his third and fourth fingers. “Lost ‘em,” he said.
Ten minutes down the trail and I see a dead shrew off to my left lying belly up, not a mark on its body. Seven minutes later I trip and fall. Blood percolates from my knees and palms. Could that shrew have been a sign? But of what? In my book, one of the characters, Crystal, always notes the time when she thinks the universe may be telling her something significant. I look down at my watch. The crystal (!) is smashed.
So, I’m late retrieving my daughter and late getting her out the door. She has to eat her fish sticks (but they’re organic, free-range, from the natural foods co-op) in the car.
“Let me see your hand again,” she says, her mouth fully engaged.
I flash my clotted, chewed up palm in her direction.
“That is really gross, Mom.”
“Thanks a lot,” I say.
“No,” she laughs. “That’s not what I mean. I mean it must really, really hurt.”
I start to cough.
“Are you OK?” she asks with real concern. “You sound terrible.”
Just how terrible will not be clear for at least another hour, when my chorus practice begins and the woman sitting beside me keeps edging farther and farther down the bench.
“You should go get some cough drops,” my daughter tells me as she climbs out of the car. “I’d give you mine, but I only have two left.”
“What happened to the whole bag I got you last week?”
“The dog,” she says, slamming the door. I watch her disappear into the school. At least she comes by this blame-the-dog stuff honestly. Last year, cleaning off her desk, I found a piece of paper that said: “Top Secret: My parents throw away things of mine they don’t like and say it was the dog.” Smart kid.
A few minutes later, as I’m standing in the cough-drop aisle of Baba’s, a little market near the Middlebury campus, mesmerized by all the choices, I hear Archie, the cashier, explaining to another employee that it’s only the media that say Republicans are right-wing and Democrats are left-wing. As far as I can tell, he thinks both parties are left-wing, the Democrats only more so. Archie leans on the counter and begins to draw on the back of his receipt pad, pausing to hand a man a can of Skoal and ring up another’s six-pack.
Archie’s diagram shows a vertical line on the right, with the letter D at the top and next to it the words “more” and “fiscal.” At the bottom is the letter R and the words “moral/social.” Between the two he writes “fascism, communism, statism, collectivism.” The girl Archie is talking to says, “I’m tired of protein. I need some junk food,” wanders away, and comes back with a chocolate-covered peanut butter wafer.
“So, if the Democrats and Republicans are both more or less left-wing,” I say, putting a bag of Halls Mentho-Lyptus cough drops near the cash register, “where does that leave you?”
“To tell you the truth,” Archie says, “I’m not really much of a party person.”
An older woman with long red hair steps up to the register and I see that it’s Ruth Stone, who won the National Book Award for poetry last year at the age of 87.
“She writes wonderful poems,” I tell Archie.
“Thank you, dear,” she says. “I’m sure you do, too.”
“Actually, not,” I say. “But I do have this novel coming out.”
Ruth Stone gives me a big hug.
“What time is it?” I ask Archie.