Excerpt from Win Winters’ Notebook

by Tracy Winn

Tropical Storm Irene
White River Valley, Vermont

Hot and humid. Three months ago they shut down the clapboard mill. Three months without a paycheck. Today I fixed the lawnmower Ward and me found at the dump. Going for new sparkplugs, saw a healthy-looking coyote running near the river. Wonder if that’s what took Ashley’s cat. Ashley cleaned and defrosted the fridge all afternoon with the TV on. She said being laid off should be more like a vacation than this.

Thunder and some impressive lightning last night. Checked up in back for any downed wood worth cutting. Our second winter together and we won’t be able to pay for oil heat. Should I ask Harrison Lenk if he wants to come help? Might do him good to know somebody remembers how easy he was with a chainsaw. Ashley’s still moping over that cat. Doesn’t she understand that any tuna-fattened pet is going to light up a coyote’s radar screen? Made her laugh when I acted out her next cat’s revenge.

So hot and close it just has to storm. Fixed the bathroom faucet. Even when you know it’s going to take longer than you think, it takes longer than you think.

Stormed last night, and today was a beauty. Something ate the bean plants just when they were putting out. It cut them clean off. The row of stubby stems sticking out of the dirt told me just how many green beans we won’t eat this year. I used the tin from the old barn to put a new roof on the shed. Maybe keep things from rusting to hell. Ashley’s moods change faster than the sky over West Hill.

Yesterday was a weather breeder. Today we had an inch and a half of rain in four hours. Washed out Guernsey Farm Road again. Hutchins, at least, will get paid. I should’ve bought a backhoe when he did. Started replacing the ropes on the windows in the kitchen. Went for coffee at the store and heard they’re maybe going to reopen the clapboard mill. At that news, I had a second cup. The new teacher from Massachusetts hit the bull moose that hangs out in the wallow by Route 100. Hutchins is butchering it and sharing parts. I told Ashley it was something to put in her spanking clean defrosted freezer. She looked at me like I was the road kill.

Partly cloudy and 70°. At the Summerfest on the town green, we snuggled on a blanket. Turkey vultures wheeled overhead. Above them, the gliders from Warren caught the light like daytime stars way up there. Black birds and white planes all making circles in the blue sky. Made me feel lucky to be an American. The band sucked. Harrison Lenk was there. Since he got back from Afghanistan he can’t stop picking at hairs on his clothes. That and drinking. What a waste. Ashley was tired tonight. She peeled my hands off her like scraps to toss in the compost. Ward and me used to hate our dad for making us write down our thoughts before bed. Now, I’d like to thank him for teaching me how to keep myself company.

Cloudy and cool. Didn’t wear a tie and she gave me a tongue-lashing. After church, changed the oil in the truck. Painted the porch and risers. Just because AT&T finally got a tower in doesn’t mean Ashley needs a cell phone. Who does she have to call anyway? Layla and Jared came to play poker. I answered the door with bits of toilet paper I’d forgotten were stuck to the nicks on my face. Layla said it was a good look for me. (I only shaved for Ashley.) Jared brought a six-pack, but it was kind of quiet with Layla not drinking and Ashley turning her eyes to the TV whenever I said anything. The show was about dwarves adopting a baby. I turned it off. She said you don’t call them dwarves.

Weather report said “mix of sun and clouds” —what else could there be up there? No word from the clapboard mill about any work. I got a couple of loin steaks and some neck meat from the moose that got hit in the gulch. He was a big mother. Started re-glazing the kitchen windows. Got one and a half done. Ashley pointed out how I should have done it before I fixed the ropes. Stopped in to talk to Ward. My brother says from what he’s heard on the talk shows about sex, mine’s a common problem. They made a big deal of the one woman who wanted it three times a day. It was her husband who didn’t.

Fog this morning. Clear and warm in the afternoon. Ashley said absence makes the heart grow fonder and went to Rutland with Layla who wanted to get some things for her baby. I told her if she went she was only window-shopping. She said why am I always so negative. She is the one who’s always saying no. Replanted the beans. No chance before frost, but what choice do I have? Growing season’s shorter than a grasshopper fart. Hung Irish Spring soap from the trellis in case it was deer that got the beans. Finished up the kitchen windows and started painting them. Who knows if there’s enough paint. The Channel 8 news team came to interview Ashley’s aunt and uncle about their hummingbirds today. No one knows why they have near a hundred at their feeders. Those birds are hard to count—fighting all the time, bombing each other. Not sure what to do about our anniversary.

Beautiful day. 82°. Not a cloud, except Ashley. Swept the basement and organized the shelves. The squash just keeps coming. Let the chickens into the garden to eat the potato beetles. They seemed happy. Can a chicken be happy? Had a fight. She dyed her hair and I said there’s no way we can spend money on that sort of thing. She said she bought it at the grocery store for $6.99 and did it herself. I said it looked it. She went to her mother’s. She hasn’t come home yet. I’m not sure what to do next. Ward says it’s what I get for marrying Ashley. I said how would he know anything. He said then why do I keep asking him for advice.

Another beauty, but hot as blazes. Fell asleep last night with the TV on. Mr. Johnson from the clapboard mill called to say I could work half days starting tomorrow if I’ll take twelve-fifty an hour. What an insult. But what choice do I have? Not sure which stings worse, the half days or the piddling pay. I should just be thankful. It would’ve been great to hear them start up the mill this afternoon except, am I the only one who can tell how bad the saw needs sharpening? The sound cut right across the river and the road. Set my teeth on edge. Mowed the lawn — proud the machine we found at the dump stood up to the job. To keep up the racket, I cut down that dead maple up in back. Harrison Lenk’s wife said he couldn’t come help. Stopped by at Ward’s to see if he had any new ideas. He told me this joke: What’s an illegal’s idea of foreplay? Answer: Honey, I’m home. Ashley came back acting like nothing happened. I told her I was sorry. Things got a lot better after that. Her hair looks kind of good, like she might be sweeter now.

Muggy. Got back to work. Only two of us there, me and Herm Greenfield. He said they had orders enough only to keep us up and running for three or four weeks. Never did have much to say to that man. We sharpened the saw blades and cut 1,200 board feet. Next week, I’ll get a paycheck. We went over to her aunt and uncle’s to watch their hummingbird story on the news. The interviewer was a flatlander without a clue. Ashley’s aunt made a pork roast, a treat after the moose we’ve been eating. They do better on her pension than we do working when we can. Later, Ashley wanted me to rub her feet. Then she said no again and closed up like a clam.

Today was hot and humid, 92°. Thunder showers. Got a twenty-dollar advance and drove to town to match the paint for the kitchen windows so she couldn’t complain. Painting took until midnight, but I finished up. Ashley will be asleep when I go up. Wish I knew how to ask her about last night. Maybe I’ll always be looking for the magic formula. Just writing that makes me lonely.

Hot, hazy, and humid. Today she hung the curtains back up and the kitchen looks good. Wore a tie, hoping that would help. On the way back from church, told her the immigrant joke. Shouldn’t have. I went up to where Ward and me used to sled, and picked some wild flowers for her. She called it an interesting color combo. I dug a fire pit in the backyard and built up a nice bed of coals. Buried potatoes in tinfoil like Dad used to do, and cooked up another moose steak for dinner. Ashley fixed summer squash from the garden and made cupcakes with eggs from the white pullet. The meat could have used more time in the A-1 sauce. For our anniversary we promised to do better.

Hot, hazy, and humid. Downpours in the afternoon. Payday, but taxes take so much it’s hardly worth it. And right after he hands me the check, Herm Greenfield says next week might be the last for work at the mill for a good long time. I don’t know where he gets his facts. We cut 1,500 board feet today. I’m tired now. When I got up to bed last night she was asleep. Except now, looking back on it, I don’t think she really was. Slows me to a standstill when I think of what we were like a year ago itching and aching to get married. We had jobs. It was all new, and she still liked everything about me.

Hot, hazy, and humid. Thunder showers. Today I cleaned the springhouse and shoveled out all the buildup from the culvert in the driveway. Tired now, but it’s a good tired. Ashley brought another damn cat home from the Dickinson’s barn. I told her I was thinking of joining the National Guard if they close the mill again, and she said had I gotten a load of Harrison Lenk? She said, I put up with enough without you coming home a lint-picking alcoholic. She has an idea about getting a job at the grocery store. It would be more interesting than answering phones like her old job. She could bring home the stuff they throw out and I wouldn’t have to be having crazy thoughts about enlisting. I’d rather eat moose meat than take handouts. But if the store is throwing the stuff away anyway, is that different?

H., h., and h. I cleaned the gutters and split and stacked most of the downed maple. Not too much rot. Got almost a cord out of that tree. The kitten has extra toes and kneaded my face soon as I got to bed. I told Ashley I like dogs. She said she got it because she needs someone easy to love. So I tried to show her how easy I am. Then I made it worse by asking, isn’t it just as simple to be nice to me as not? Now I’m up at three because she woke me to stop my bowlegs jiggling the bed. Can’t I be still? If I can’t when I’m awake, how can she expect me to when I’m sleeping?

Wild weather today. Hail. Hot and then cold. Thunder. Purple clouds. A rainbow that didn’t last long enough. Wet sunshine. The Dickinsons got their hay in just in time. R&B’s garage is working on the teacher’s car that hit the moose. Those people are lucky to be alive. The front is all stove in on the passenger side, windshield gone, and the top tipped like a hat. Ashley isn’t speaking to me. She spent most of the day rearranging what I set up in the basement last week. Saw her fixing her makeup in the bathroom. She smiled at herself the way she used to smile at me. I cleaned the creosote out of the chimney. She yelled at me when I asked where the vacuum was. Was I crazy? Where did I get off thinking I could suck soot into the vacuum she cleans with? Almost good to hear her voice.

Cold, hard, steady rain like October. Made a fire in the stove. This notebook is about the only thing keeping me right in the head.

Warm and sunny. Ward says Fairpoint has got as far as the Dickinsons’ farmhouse installing the fiber optic wires. He’s scared computers are going make his a desk job. The beans sprouted. Sometimes it catches up to me how awesome seeds are. Add water and suddenly they’re strong enough to move the earth. Gruff Truslow stopped by. Hadn’t seen him since we graduated. He is living off-grid up north and growing and canning his own food. Seems like he’s getting by the way Dad did, but he’s all whipped up about harnessing the power of sun, wind, and animals. He keeps oxen like an old timer and hires out for timbering. Pretty sure that job’s not for me. I thought I was going to fix the flashing on the north corner of the roof, but that man can talk. Tried to loosen Ashley up with a beer before bed. She wouldn’t drink it.

Perfect summer day. 82°. Dry and clear so you can see every leaf of every tree on West Hill. Ashley wore some sexy shoes of Layla’s. After church we went up to the swimming hole and she made heads turn. But then some show-off, who’d been diving off the highest cliff, grabbed his dog and jumped. Ashley said it’d get over it—it’s just a dog. She didn’t get why I was angry. Did she see that dog’s face? He didn’t know what was happening to him or why.

Drizzle, followed by hard rain. 65°. Ward’s and my twenty-ninth birthday. I don’t feel any different. Got another piss-ant paycheck for the second time in almost four months. Been thinking maybe I should learn more about fixing engines. No one in the valley does small engine repair. Called Ward to say Happy Birthday to him. It’s easier for me to think of myself going on thirty than to think of him being this decrepit. I made fun of him back when he took that job peddling bull semen, but he was right. As long as a few farms stay in business he gets a steady check and benefits. Even on my birthday, Ashley wouldn’t.

Cleared out today. Very windy. Found a pile of white feathers blowing around the chicken pen. Just when it had started earning its keep as a hen, that pullet with the crooked foot bought the farm. Picked a lot of zucchini. (We had some for dinner with hot dogs.) Mowed the lawn. Took a nap out there breathing the smell of cut grass. The writing looks screwy here because I’m using my right hand. She didn’t want to again tonight. I put my fist through the wall, and she started to laugh, saying, “You hit the wall. I never thought about what that really meant. Hahaha. Hit the wall. Hahaha.”

More humid. Downpours. Third week at the clapboard mill so maybe Herm is wrong about it closing again. My hand isn’t near as bad as I thought. Ashley had a cleaning job at one of the nice houses up in North Hollow. After I plastered the hole in the wall, I re-caulked the tub. Layla came by and sat on the edge of it. She and her baby-belly took up a lot of space. After a while of nothing she asked, did I know what women think is romantic? Did I know that making love to a woman is more than humping? When I tried to change the subject, she wouldn’t quit. She blew on the mirror, and for a second I thought she was actually going to draw me some illustrations with those ridiculous fingernails of hers. But all she drew was a heart with Ashley’s and my initials in it. I told her Ward’s joke: What’s the worst part of oral sex? Answer: The view. Come to think of it, does being pregnant make Layla think she’s some kind of sex expert? What was that about? Has Ashley been talking?

I expect Ashley to act like a wife, and this is what I get? Last time I looked, that’s what she was. She took the truck.

Did I do anything any other guy wouldn’t have done? Maybe she should have known she has to go along with me sometimes. Afterward she wouldn’t look at the scratches she put all down the side of my face trying to fight me off. She isn’t at her mother’s. Weeded the squash and tomatoes. Replaced the funky downspout. I called her Gram’s. Her Gram said she wouldn’t talk to me. For a while her Gram and me listened to the static on the wire. Her Gram said Ashley doesn’t want to leave her all alone. I called again later, and Ashley answered. What about me? What about leaving me all alone? Before she hung up, she said there is a name for what I did to her.

Hot and close. There are some pretty good names for what she’s been doing to me, too. The hurricane hitting New York City is headed up the Connecticut River Valley. Hard to believe with everything looking so sweet, the big green tomatoes and the sunflowers Ashley planted just blooming. I cut some and brought them in so she’d have a chance to enjoy them, but she wouldn’t talk to me when I called to say I was sorry it happened. I wanted to tell her I was out of my head. I can see that now. At the hardware, I got the last bottled propane and the last D batteries. Left three of six storm candles in the bottom of the box in case I wasn’t the last looking for them. They charged me $11.49 for a plastic bucket. That’s an hour of clapboard cutting right there. Filled the bathtub and a bunch of gallon jugs, taped the picture window, and got the flashlights ready. I’m not sure what else I can do.

No one else went to church this morning. First time in my life maybe that’s the place for me, and there isn’t another car in the lot. The door’s shut and no wonder. Anyone with his head screwed on right would’ve stayed home. This rain isn’t dicking around. Called her at her Gram’s and told her how I hadn’t gotten the memo about church being cancelled. She said that’s not the only memo you didn’t get. Stop calling me. Power went out at noon. Only a few gusts strong enough to bow the window so far, but the river is up to the roadbed. She said you’re on your own big guy. Checked the attic, and the rain on the tin roof rearranged my eardrums. Seemed right, with the rest of me so scrambled. Put some pots up there. Am saving the new bucket for flushing the toilet. Keeping busy isn’t helping. I’m feeling pretty bad about what I did. The roar of rain is so steady like now it will just go on and on and on like this. The racket from the rain makes me crazy for it to stop. Tried to call again but the phone is out. I can’t do anything about it. Checked the basement and the water’s flowing through pretty good. Water coming down from everywhere there’s an up—sky, hills, trees, roofs. Waterfalls where there never was a stream before in the history of the world. A dead cow tumbled by in what used to be the river.

Published on May 6, 2013