Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1986
Walden Brosseau was wrestling with a long strand of shiny, blue garland on the porch of Comfort Rock General Store. The fuzzy pompom on his yellow, red, and orange Ski-Doo toque bobbed back and forth as he untangled himself enough to wave at me as I jogged down from the school.
“Hi Walden. Want some help?”
“Won’t say no. You just take the other end of this junk and unwrap me. That’ll be help enough.”
I did as he asked and set him free from his festive shackles.
“Having fun decorating?” I asked.
“Don’t know about that,” he said. “Be easier if grumpy pants would get out here and help.”
Walden nodded toward his brother inside of the store.
“I can help,” I said, taking one end of the garland and wrapping the strand around my arm. “What’s wrong with Wilson?”
“Just being Wilson,” he said, climbing up his stepladder. “Cranky ol’ bastard.”
“Does he hate Christmas or something?”
Walden shook his head as he unspooled the decoration from my arm and draped it around the store’s front door.
“Nah. He just has his way. He’s all business, is all. Doesn’t stop to think that making the store pretty makes folks wanna come in. Ask him, he’ll say I’m wasting time and money.”
“That’s my brother.”
He tacked the garland to both corners and the center of the door frame and climbed down.
“Thanks for helpin’!”
“Oh sure,” I said. “Um, have you seen Heather and Mr. Nash around lately?
The attempt Heather and I made earlier in the day to corner Nashville and ask about the Christmas concert came up short. He was over in the high school wing, fighting with a clogged toilet in the boys’ locker room. Our enthusiasm for getting him and his band to play stopped short of venturing in there.
A few minutes of groveling on my part convinced Ms. Van Fleet to let Heather and I talk with Nashville after school, though. Heather and her dad went to the store every day right after school to get hot chocolate and coffee, respectively. Then he’d drive her home before returning to school to finish his work.
“They ain’t been by yet, Lauren,” Walden said, “but you’re welcome to wait inside.”
One of the nice things about Walden and Wilson was that, even though I was a kid and they were in their late 40s, they always made me feel welcome. Still do, even all these years later.
I went inside, making a beeline for the dairy cooler. I grabbed a pint of eggnog – Idlenot, which was alway the best – opened it, and took a small sip. It was so delicious. I saved a bit of chore money each week during the holiday season to buy myself that creamy, golden treat. Aside from what I got for myself, the only eggnog we had at home each year was the one the milkman would leave as a gift for Mr. Winchester in the barn refrigerator on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on when the milk got picked up. Mr. Winchester always passed it on to my father.
Rounding the aisle to pay, I saw Zadok Thompson standing at the counter, having a heated discussion with Wilson. I got closer to eavesdrop.
“Don’t tell me what I saw,” Zadok said. “They’s my eyes. Not yours.”
“I’m just sayin’ that maybe …” Wilson paused when he saw me and then looked back at Zadok. “Get out the way, you old fool. Got a payin’ customer here!”
He turned his full attention to me.
“Just the nog, sweetie?”
I’ve known Wilson and Walden since I was a baby, and I never did and probably never will get used to how eerily alike they are physically. The very definition of identical twins. You can only tell them apart by their attitudes and taste in hats. Wilson’s never worn one, and I’ve never seen Walden without something on that head of his.
I smiled at Wilson.
“Just the nog, thank you.”
I paid and looked up at Zadok. He smiled back impatiently, clearly eager to get back at it with his opponent.
Zadok had been a hermit his whole life, living all alone up on the hill a couple miles past the barn. Our road dead-ended in his driveway. Zadok was the best storyteller in Comfort Rock. Maybe in all of Franklin County. Opinions varied on what was fact and what was fiction.
“What’re you two talking about?” I asked, not giving a second thought to what was and wasn’t my business.
“Well,” Zadok said, “this damned cuss can’t be bothered to hear what I’m dealing with. Same blamed thing every night. Waking up to …”
“It’s nothing for you to worry about,” Wilson said. “Head on along and let us stew a bit more, ok, Lauren?”
“Actually,” I said, “I’m waiting for Nash … for Mr. Nash and Heather to get here. I’m talking about important stuff with them. In fact, I’ll tell you what if you tell me what’s going on up on the hill.”
Zadok’s eyes went wild at the idea of having a sounding board, and he squatted in front of me, his worn-out knees popping like maple trees filled with frozen sap. He grabbed me by my shoulders and looked intensely into my eyes.
This would be good. I could tell.
“It’s them space aliens! Up there foolin’ around with my cows! Out in the field most every night. The ships …”
“Zadok! Stop it,” Wilson said. “I don’t need you stirring up my customers with nonsense. Especially not the younger ones.”
Wilson leaned across the counter and pushed Zadok’s hands off my shoulders.
“There ain’t any aliens, sweetie. Just some damned deer jackers tear-assin’ around up on his land. That’s all. Only spooky stuff going on up there is in his head.”
Zadok sprung straight up, knees a-poppin’ as he rose.
“Well I never!”
He grabbed his bag of flour and gallon of orange juice, turned, and headed for the door.
“Hey!” Wilson yelled at Zadok as he stormed out the door. “Ya ain’t paid for that!”
“I’ll do it when I’m damn well good and ready!” Zadok shouted back from the porch.
Before the door could close, Nashville grabbed it and held it open for Heather and followed her in.
“What’s got old Thompson fired up?” he asked.
“That?” Wilson said. “That ain’t nothin’. If he doesn’t pitch a fit about something every few days, must be somethin’ wrong with him. Just business as usual.”
“Speaking of business as usual …” Nashville said, and he headed over to the coffee pot.
Heather stepped up next to me.
“Are we going to ask him?”
I was distracted by aliens.
“What? Ask who what?”
“Dad? About the concert?”
“Right. Yeah. Ok. Of course.”
“Mmm hmm. Sure,” I said. “Just thinking about stuff. Go get your hot chocolate and then we’ll talk to him.”
A couple minutes later I followed Heather and Nashville into the hardware section of the store.
“What’s got you girls so interested in me this afternoon?” Nashville asked as he began to scoop nails from a five-gallon bucket into a paper bag.
“You say,” Heather whispered to me.
“But he’s your … oh, ok. Well, we were wondering if …”
“Can one of you hold this for me?” he asked, holding out the bag. “I gotta get a bunch of screws, too.”
“What’s it all for?” Heather asked as she took the nails.
“The stage in the gym needs some serious fixing before the Christmas concert,” he said. “It’s been put off too long.”
“Oh,” I said. “The Christmas concert? “It’s funny you brought that up.”
To be continued …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMON TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.