A journal of narrative writing.

The problem with trying to get the fuck out of New Hampshire is that there’s only one way to go. North is out for someone without a passport and east isn’t an option unless you’re up for a long, salty swim to Portugal (where you’d probably need that passport, again). To flee south would be suicide—hitting a major city every hundred miles with its traffic and roadwork—you’d never get anywhere.

The only way to get out of New Hampshire is west through Vermont. And the danger of fleeing through Vermont is, when driving west without any intention of stopping to do anything more than piss in the Green Mountain State, you can get hit by a memory.

I was two hours up 89 when I was slapped in the face by the way that the highway bent wide around a mountain and my windshield filled with a summer-green valley of ice-blue creeks. I remembered my windshield looking just like this but white and frozen. I’d driven this exact stretch of highway a year and a half before, with Libby Thompson sitting cross-legged in my passenger’s seat. “I think its exit three,” she’d said.

The steering wheel grew slippery under my hands as I remembered how, off exit three and down 107, Libby had shown me the hide-a-key rock at her great-aunt’s summer place on Lake Dunmore, lit an apple-scented candle, then cried on the frost-bitten carpet. “It’s not you,” she’d said. “I’m just not sure. Not about you or us or anything specific, just about everything in general.

The problem with being eighteen and restless is how easy it is to trick yourself into believing that taking exit three to 107 to see if that hide-a-key rock might be in the same place isn’t losing your nerve, but doing something brave and exciting.

I stood in front of Libby’s great-aunt’s bookshelf squinting at the creased spines of her paperbacks—the type of books my father devours and my mother calls vacation pulp. I’d read sixteen of them in the three days since I’d arrived, munching through the old lady’s store of marshmallows (she had an inordinate amount of marshmallows in her pantry. For what? Grandchildren by fires? Or some sick marshmallow obsession?), and canned goods. I’d made a project out of crossing out words and sentences and chapters I didn’t like, then crossing out the name of the author and replacing it with my own. I’d been mixing it up, working on different variations of my name.

Al Foster

Allen Theodore Foster

A. T. Foster

The décor of the home was in accordance with all the rules and regulations of summer cottage interior design. Birch branches framed doorways and the throw pillows were embroidered with witticisms like “there’s no place like second home.” A sketch of the house signed by “My DaVinci” hung just inside the front entrance. I picked up a limp, hand-sewn doll and blew the dust out of her golden yarn braids.

So far, there had been no sign of the old woman or any of her neighbors. I looked above the bookshelf out the window. It was late afternoon, but the sun was already behind the mountains, haloing them in its last attempt to brighten the sky. Looking at the mountains and the lake, I was overcome with a sense of injustice. Someone owned this house, this view, and didn’t stand at this window every moment of her life. This view deserved to be looked at. If the ungrateful old lady wasn’t looking at this view, the she deserved to get her marshmallows eaten.

The problem with Vermont is there really aren’t any problems with Vermont. If mountains and covered bridges and lopsided farmhouses are in your blood but you’re fleeing New Hampshire because of some restless itch crawling all through your body, Vermont is a trap, a tease, a mirage. As long as you remain in Vermont where the air smells just like your backyard, where you can practically hear your mother shouting to you that it’s time to come in and wash up for dinner, that itch won’t be cured. It might lie dormant for a few weeks, but then it will come back stronger than ever, driving you back into your Honda and onto some westward stretching road.

Studying the way that my scrawny reflection overlaid the lake and the mountains in the glass, I was torn, torn between my knowledge of my need to drive, drive, get the fuck out and my obligation, my responsibility, my mission to appreciate this rich old lady’s view and eat my way through her pantry.

I stood up straight, thumped my fist against my chest, then bent forward, laughing.

The sound of my laugh startled me.

It was the first human noise I’d heard in days. I decided that if I wasn’t going to flee I’d at least need to do something, interact with some other human being.

By the next morning I was chaining a bike I’d borrowed from the old lady’s garage to a wrought-iron lamppost on Main Street in Middlebury.  The town looked exactly how New England towns are supposed to look—paradise for a tourist with a cobblestoned fetish for the old and quaint. A bell jingled as I wandered into “Frog’s Chocolate,” and I felt obligated to buy a duck-shaped piece of chocolate on a stick. A bell also jingled as I walked into “Vermont Glass,” drawn in by the colorful display of twisting, bubbling blown glass in the window. A grey-braided woman behind the counter eyed me and my chocolate duck as to say “no, this store is not for you.”

I found a “Help Wanted” sign at an ice cream parlor and applied within.

“Are you a student?” the owner asked. A purple stone sparkled in her nose and her hair was short, curling around her ears. Her daughter peered up at me from behind her legs.

“Aren’t we all?” I said, thinking I was clever. Thinking I was making a point that everyone was a student of the universe, tricking myself into believing that I wasn’t starting to feel anxious, forcing myself to ignore the fact that I was losing my nerve. They were all starting college right about now—all my friends buying books and meeting new, collegiate people—and I was off making some sort of point that I’d decided to make back in January when apps were due and I thought I was smarter than all of it. Better than all of it.

“Middlebury is a lovely college,” the owner said, and I did not correct her.

The problem with working at an ice cream parlor is that ice cream is wonderful until it has melted then dried on the forearm of your scooping hand. In the morning you can manage it, washing after each customer, but in the afternoon when the line is out the door and it’s a sprint between the register, the moose tracks and the mint-chocolate Oreo fudge, the hair on your scooping arm will become tangled and matted with something grey and sticky. The smell of soured sugar won’t wash away, even after an hour soaking in the old lady’s tub, editing her vacation books and eating her marshmallows.


“Hey there,” a grey, sloping man in a frayed Yankees cap shouted to me from the garden next door. He held a hose limply over a dying rose bush. “I’m George. You Marcella’s grandson?”

So that was the old lady’s name. I knotted my fingers together. I didn’t like knowing it; I preferred ignoring her anonymous presence. Now that she had a name I could feel her peaking at me from behind her dusty curtains, willing me out of her gravel drive.