A journal of narrative writing.
by Jacquelyn Stolos

“Grand-nephew,” I said, walking to where the bike leaned against the house. I took it by the handlebars and began to wheel it towards the road. “My name’s Al.”

“Well it sure is nice of you to look after the house for Marcy,” George said, placing his hand on the small of his back as he bent to pluck up a dandelion. “It gets pretty lonely around here in the fall after all the summer people are gone.”

I nodded, not sure what to say.

“See you around, Al,” he said, tipping his hat at me to reveal a thick head of white hair. I wondered if my hair would go that color, or if it would fall out like my grandfather’s had. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it. Only my mother would be calling this time of day.


“Al,” the owner said as I was pounding at a paint-can-sized jar of hot fudge with a steak knife (our can opener was missing), “can you watch Emily for just a few minutes? We’re out of bananas and Sundays are our biggest split days.”

The screen door slammed shut and Emily stuck her wrinkled thumb into her mouth.

“Do you like pink?” I asked.

Emily held her stuffed rabbit in front of her face, peering at me with wide eyes from between its ears. Silently, she retreated behind the cone cabinet.

It took me an hour to bike back from Middlebury to Lake Dunmore every evening. I passed an egg farm where the sign boasted “the biggest, freshest eggs in the world” and an abandoned marble quarry where, behind chain-linked fences and “no trespassing signs,” teenagers cannon balled off the white cliffs into the turquoise water below.

At night in the lake house, I wandered through the rooms picking things up and putting them down. A porcelain lamp, a set of Russian nesting dolls. I wondered about the woman who lived here, who’d invited her family here summer after summer to share her view, her life, her shitty books and her Russian nesting dolls. I talked on the phone with my parents, telling them about my adventures driving though Illinois and the Dakotas, telling them not to be worried, everything was going all right. I asked them if they’d received my Niagara postcard yet then cursed the US Postal Service, saying goodnight, I love you.

The problem with deciding to do something, the problem with having a moment of courage to do something bold, is that human beings have memories and imaginations. In moments, days, weeks of weakness we can wonder if what we had thought was courage was really just bold stupidity. We can imagine a different, much better outcome. We can knot our hands through our hair and “what if” ourselves into a ball in the lonely center of our mattresses. What we can’t do is go back and try the other way.


The owner was out buying napkins or fixing payroll or something like that. I was alone with Emily and one of my coworkers—a freckled girl with strong opinions about eating local. Emily sucked her thumb and held her rabbit to her face, ducking behind the freezers when we tried to talk to her. My coworker and I gave up, leaning on our elbows against the front counter and talking to each other. I knew she’d told me her name during our first shift together, but I couldn’t remember it.

“Do you live on campus?” she asked, pocketing a twenty from the register.

“Nope. I live on Lake Dunmore,” I said.

“Why all the way out there?”

“I don’t know.” Her nose was perfect, turning up at the end like a ramp for fairies. “I mean, it’s beautiful.”

Later, trying to soak off the ice cream sludge in the old lady’s tub, I thought of better things, smarter things I could have said to her.  I am a world-class swimmer and I must train in the icy waters of a glacier lake. As the great-great grandson of Lord Dunmore, I actually own every house on Lake Dunmore. I survive on a diet of loons. I am a loon. I like your freckles.

Greg called to see how I was doing. I told him about the canoe trip I took through Northern Minnesota and how I strangled a lake monster with my bare hands then roasted it on a fire fueled by its own scale-oil.

“C’mon, man,” he said. “We love you. Just tell us where you are so we can visit you. My mom is worried about your mom. She says you’re going to give her a heart attack.”

“How’s Georgetown, you dumbass?” I asked.

I thought of my friends often. While I wandered through the old lady’s house, usually ending up shifting my weight from foot to foot in front of her enormous back window, I wondered what they would think of me here. Louise would read too much into it, slapping me on the back for critiquing the wastefulness of the American upper class. Greg would frown and tell me that stealing was never right. Hannah would say that she understood everyone’s perspective equally, then would cry because I was so close to Burlington but had never visited her at UVM. Bailey probably wouldn’t care. “Have you thrown any parties?” she’d ask. “You pussy.”

Lonely in the empty lake house, I filled it with ghosts. Louise was in the pantry lighting marshmallows on fire. Greg sat beneath the window, erasing all the improvements I’d made to the vacation books. “It’s her property, Al. Jesus.” Whenever I looked out at my view, I was distracted by Hannah sobbing on the dock as Bailey swam naked.

My parents stood out on the gravel drive, never knocking but always looking sideways at the door. Do something, Greg’s ghost told me, looking up from his work on the vacation books. I began to use the side entrance; I picked up more shifts at work, three times a week with the freckled girl, now. I wished I knew her name.

“Do you have a bike?” I asked. “You should bike with me out to my house.”

“I don’t have a bike.” She said. Emily peaked out from behind the cabinet of sprinkles and M&Ms.

Where are you from?” the owner asked. She wore a black and green flannel that reminded me of my mother.

“Florida,” I said. “It’s freezing up here.”

Emily curled around from behind her mother’s legs, holding the rabbit close to her cheek.


After two-weeks of scooping ice cream my right forearm began to bulge. My freckled, fairy-ramp-nosed coworker invited me to a party at the college. I was telling a group of people around the keg about the summer I’d backpacked China when someone tall and broad-shouldered came over and asked me who I’d come with.

“Everyone. No one,” I said, knowing I didn’t sound clever. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know her name.

Thrown out of the party, I wandered the campus. It was not intentional wandering; I did not look up at the stars and wonder what I was doing on this campus in this state on this earth in this life. I had forgotten where I’d locked my bike.