August 14, 2011

A Ghost and a Girl and a Country Road

I put on Rachel’s gigantic sunglasses and, holding a glass of wine, extended my arm.

“Come, come Mr. Bond. You derive just as much pleasure from killing as I do.”

David has a late-night adventure on a Vermont country road with a girl from Baltimore.

Rachel laughed. It was her turn now. We were sitting on tall stools in my Vermont kitchen. We had just watched a British comedy, The Trip. The two main characters, driving together through northern England, try to outdo each other’s impressions: James Bond, James Bond villains, Michael Caine. We had moved to wine after finishing off Rachel’s bottle of Hendricks, having mixed a half-dozen of that most humane of drinks, the gin and tonic. It was almost midnight. We had been together since about nine, when we met for our latest check-in: she showed me her day’s studio work and I read her what I had written in my novel. We did this every day. I discovered that I wrote a lot more when I knew I’d be forced to read it to Rachel later. Rachel, she was beautiful I thought: a country-girl’s face: open and wide-eyed and freckled. She was from Baltimore. She had a crazy laugh; she punched me when she felt happy. She had blond hair and it fell over her eyes. But she was a dark-spirited painter who painted dark scenes on tiny canvases, as though to prove a world absent of light. One night we had driven up the hill to the star-gazing field to watch a violent lightning storm coming from Canada. A few days later it ended up in her paintings.

Rachel had the frequent, intense, and infectious laugh of someone trying to forget something. She leaned forward and said in a kind of cockney, “This is how you do Michael Caine. He’s very specific, Michael Caine is. He talks through the nose. It’s very nasal! And you’re not doing the broken voice when he gets emotional. She was only, she was only sixteen years old!”

Rachel was only 26 years old, something Griswold had pointed out the night he saw us going on a cocktail hike to the bistro. Nothing had happened between us, but we liked each other’s company. We made crab dip together. She drove me to the adjoining town when I needed to go grocery shopping. We exchanged movie and reading lists. There was something of the autodidact in her. A part of me, a much younger part, was slowly going for her. We were already in a triangle. Big Bob liked her; he denied it, but I knew he did. And they were fast friends. So we competed for Rachel’s attention without admitting we were doing it. He tried to thwart me in little ways. And I tried to thwart him. It was the classic small town Vermont love story.

“Should I text Big Bob, invite him over?” wondered Rachel, lifting her phone.

“Oh, no no. I don’t think so. I think he’s doing something. He’s busy.”

We had finished the last of the wine, but we didn’t feel done. The moon was full. There was promise in the late-summer night, in the luscious breeze that was already touched by autumn.

“Let’s drive somewhere,” I said.

“Where?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about that haunted bridge?” she said, eyes alight. Those eyes, they looked as though they were waiting for hurt or ecstasy, whichever.

We had been talking about taking a driving trip one day, over to New Hampshire and finishing up with dinner in Montpelier, or driving up to Canada to a zoo in Granby. Or, more adventurously, driving all the way to Quebec City, the only walled enclave in North America. In the middle of all this planning, though, we had come across tales of haunted spots in Vermont. One of them was nearby, a haunted covered bridge.

“Wow,” I said, “The one where cars get mysteriously scratched by the jilted bride?”

“Yes! And it’s a perfect night. Full moon.”

“And it’s midnight.”

I won’t go into details of this fiasco. We drove and we drove. For hours on backwood dirt roads, past old farmhouses, through Hansel & Gretel woods that spilled their muscular roots into the ditches, by pastures lousy with deer. We went in circles. The roads seemed to run back into each other. We’d be on one, always called something Hollow or something Upper, or something Old, and then pass an intersecting road with the same name.

“That’s impossible!” cried Rachel. “What’s going on?”

Then we ran out of gas and rode the car downhill where we luckily ended up in front of a shut gas station, but with open pumps. Then we drove back up the mountain to look again for that covered bridge. We finally gave up and turned around. It was 3am. We went back to my house, but the only alcohol left was a bottle of Goldschläger, a cinnamon liqueur dotted with gold shavings. We cracked it open. It was disgusting. I knew she was only 26 and that I was twenty years older than her, but I was beginning lose it that night, in my kitchen at three in the morning. I moved in to kiss her.

“Don’t do it!” she said. “Don’t do it!” But it was her tone that said just the opposite.

“It would have been a sin against God if I didn’t try.”

“I don’t want things to get awkward. I don’t want this to go away.”

“It already is awkward. This whole town is awkward. Big Bob –“

“He’s crushing on me.”

“See, it’s already awkward.”

“Okay, let’s kiss. Kiss me.”

So I did.

Vermont