By Aaron Dubanevich
I am not a writer. I’m descended from a writer, but it’s not something I aspire to. I’m writing this out of desperation, hoping that putting it on paper will make it easier to put it away. There will be times when I skip details, or I don’t remember exactly what someone said or precise sequences of events, but that doesn’t matter. The important parts are already in the historical record. I guess you could call this a confession, though I’m not sure what I’m confessing.
No philosophical preamble, no foreshadowing. I’ll just start where it started: when we moved to Vermont.
I was fine with it, no abrupt uprooting trauma, no important friendships or affairs to break. My brother wasn’t quite as chill, but didn’t protest too much either. I think a part of him liked the idea of starting over, just to see what would happen.
It was dusk when we arrived. Our parents had been there before, but it was the first time Miles and I had seen our new home: a narrow, three-story house, painted pink of all colors, with a porch looking out on the street. Beyond that the land sloped down through wild, tangled pasture to the town of Winfield, a small suburb of Montpelier. Ours was the last house on the row, unruly pines to one side, our new neighbor, Millicent Chase, on the other. She was already on a first-name basis with my parents by the time I got there; they’d met and gotten friendly while they were casing the joint the week before. She was a fan, but very civil about it.
We didn’t have much to move in. Our old place in Framingham wasn’t very big, and one common trait in our family is a deep-seated disdain for clutter – hatred of cleaning up – politicized into some half-assed ethic of anti-consumerism. All I had was computer, music stuff, and some books and clothes. After moving our things in, I excused myself and went upstairs, carrying the last of my own shit, left them to it, my parents, their youngest and their new friend jawing on about whatever. I have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to small talk.
I kept the lights off as I entered my new room, kicked my clothes box into a corner and went to the naked bed. I flopped down, head hung over the edge. I rested like that for a while, letting my neck get sore. Then bright light blew in through the window, from next door. I could faintly hear a rock tune playing on her stereo. I knew it was hers because every so often she ground her hips with the tempo. I wouldn’t have kept watching if she hadn’t taken off her pants. Three words: shiny lavender panties.
It wasn’t Ms. Chase herself. I could still hear her and the others downstairs. I didn’t remember hearing that she had a daughter, but I hadn’t been paying much attention.
She took off her shirt, bra, slid the panties down her legs, bent low over an open drawer, long copper-colored hair draped over her back and sides, searching for something while I enjoyed the view and a mild little flair of paranoia: like there should’ve been a camera somewhere capturing my reactions for the amusement of others. She found what she was looking for and, still naked save for a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, got into bed and read for a while before turning off her lights and music.
For some reason, maybe just because I knew that knowing her was inevitable, I hoped I’d never see her again.
We’ve got money. Serious money. But my parents would never admit their children to a private school. Principles alone: public schools are one of the greatest features of American society, paraphrasing my father’s rhetoric; private schools are environments of like-minded people that produce ‘intellectual symmetry’ comparable in cultural terms to the biological symmetry that precedes the extinction of a species.
This from a Harvard grad.
Winfield High School was built on ground once occupied by a state prison, from which, over the years, a number of hazardous chemicals had seeped into the ground. A legal battle had been waged for years between Town and State over who had the responsibility to pay for the clean-up. The end was nowhere in sight. Large areas of the school grounds were cordoned off with police tape. As I walked down the sidewalk toward the entrance on my first day of school there, I saw a little punk tumbling down a large pile of loose dirt in the middle of one of the quarantined zones, cheered on by the girl I’d seen strip through my window the night before and a tall, lean boy I’d never seen before. The punk was wearing large pink-tinged aviator shades and a back-turned baseball cap. The girl, unbespectacled now, was wearing a tight, nipple-hugging olive drab t-shirt with a picture of that engraving of Matthew Lyon battering his fellow Senator with a fire-poker above the stenciled words: U.S. OUT OF VT.
There were a lot of shirts like that. And hats. And pins. I was one of the only students not wearing some support for Vermont’s swelling secession movement. I knew about it – probably more thoroughly than most of them – but was determined not to care, though it was the reason the Thornes had come up here.
See, from 1777 to 1791 Vermont was a sovereign state, a republic. Then they signed the constitution, joined the union. But it looked like a second republic might be coming. People all over the country were pissed about Federal policy and practice over the past few years, and many Vermonters were increasingly interested in just removing themselves from the whole mess. And there were quite a few silver-tongued, monied newcomers, like my parents, who wanted in on it.
Standard first day of school bullshit. Nothing worth noting.
Cars passed me as I walked home. I tuned out their sounds, listening to music from memory. Cheaper than an iPod. So I didn’t hear her when she pulled up beside me.
“Hey, neighbor,” she said, smiling a little, leaning over from the driver’s seat of a blue-and-rust Toyota Tercel, unlocking the door. “Give you a ride home?”
I didn’t want the ride, but got in anyway. Still don’t know why.
“Sadie Chase,” she said.
“Daniel Thorne,” I said, remembering her gorgeous nudity to pass the time.
You wouldn’t think a Tercel could go that fast, or that it would need to. I watched her graceful driving, hands and feet all moving as she accelerated past 40 through a tight 25 corner. I can drive stick, but not with that kind of confidence.
“Stop staring at my tits.”
“I’m staring at your feet,” as she did another no-stall two-step over the gas and clutch.
She mouthed an incredulous “Oh,” smiled. “It helps if you can dance.”
She growled when the one traffic light in our way went red, tapped out a tense 4/4 rhythm on the gearshift in time with the ticking of her turn signal. “Masshole, yeah?” Burning out as the light turned green.
“Sorry. You prefer Flatlander?”
Smiling as she said it, just an abrasive young lady trying to make conversation. Why with me?
“Well, I’m an Emmet now, ain’t I?”
She laughed. “My Mom told me that your Mom told her that you play guitar.”
“Me, too. You good?”
“No,” hoping the next thing out of her mouth wouldn’t be–
“Wanna be in a band?”
Fuck. Back in Boston, the minute people found out that I played (almost never from me, by the way) they used to ask me that all the time. I’d never bothered being polite about it, but for some reason I wanted to think of a nice way to tell her no way in hell.
Before I could, she braked and turned, drifting with impressive precision up into her driveway. “C’mon,” walking not to her house, but mine, “I wanna hear you play.”
My urge to be nice was deteriorating at an alarming rate.
The place was quiet. Miles was still at school, trying out for one of the sports teams, I can’t remember which, little twerp, and Jack had left a note on the fridge that he wouldn’t be back from work ‘til late. Sadie invited herself into the living room, stopped, confused, glancing around.
“Looking for something?” maintaining calm tolerance of her blustery home invasion.
“Yeah. But . . . I . . . can’t . . .”
I waited. Then:
“Whoa. I just figured out what’s wrong with this room.”
I cocked an eyebrow at her, pretending I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“There’s no TV.”
“No, I guess. I’ve just never seen it before. How do you watch Lost?”
She slumped into the couch, head in her hands going back and forth, slow, smiling condescension. “Do you at least have the internet?”
I shook my head, believably mystified.
She didn’t get that I was joking. “How do you live? How do you find out things?”
“Where do you get porn?”
I thought to say out my window, but it was probably too soon for that.
“Alright,” shaking off her surprise, “let’s hear you play.”
“I don’t want to be in a band.”
“Oh, horseshit, everyone wants to be in a band. C’mon.”
I got that feeling again of being watched by comedy cameras so people could laugh at my tense bewilderment. I went upstairs to get my acoustic. She followed me. I turned around to look at her a couple times, once hoping she wouldn’t be there, that I was just having an extraordinarily complex hallucination, and again, hoping she’d just turn into a pillar of salt or something and leave me alone.
She didn’t like my room. “You don’t have enough stuff.”
I picked up my guitar, sat on the edge of my bed, played some purposefully sloppy chord progressions, topped it off with an amateur-hour blues riff to shut her up.
She nodded. “Good enough. You’re hired.”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to be in a band.”
She stared, tilted her head a little in what looked like genuine distress and confusion. “Why not?”
I’d never been so happy to see my mother as when she walked into the doorway behind Sadie and asked, sleepily, “How was school, Daniel?”
“Ohmygod,” Sadie spun on her heel, smiling, hands clenching in nervous spasms, “I’ve been wanting to meet you since my Mom told me you were here. I love your books!”
So that’s why she’d been so eager to get in.
“Your mum said,” said Mom, looking back and forth between me and Sadie, starting to smile. I put my guitar away, slunk around them as Sadie was asking why we had no TV. They followed me downstairs, but went into the living room while I escaped to the kitchen, looking in cupboards and fridge for something missing, something we needed, an excuse to walk down to the store, a reason to get out of this house, away from–
“Daniel, why don’t you want to join her band?” Mom yelled.
Sadie followed up: “And why’d you lie to me about how you don’t have internet?”
“You gonna see her again?” Mom asked that night, at dinner.
“Her who?” asked Miles.
“Ms. Chase’s daughter came over with Daniel today.”
“Is she hot?” Miles is six years younger than me, but had already developed a keen ability to sense even the slightest hint of sex. Mom raised an eyebrow at me.
“She’s psychotic,” and I went on to describe the basically B&E way that afternoon had gone down. Mom didn’t seem fazed by it, smiling a distant, little smile, like it was cute.
“Most imporant thing,” Miles advised, “is to find the clitoris.”
Boy did his homework. Any other family, the Mom would’ve done a spit-take. Mom just shrugged, little half-smile, “That’s not the most important thing.”
“What’s not the most important thing?” asked Jack as he walked in, hugging Miles from behind, kissing my Mom, nodding at me.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” said Mom, giving him a Look. Ewww.
“Daniel has a girlfriend,” Miles told him.
Jack gave me another look, sat down next to Mom. “Is she hot?”
My parents used to have a thing about getting me together with someone. Most families, they’d try to mitigate something like that, but not Jack and Janet. They’re too young to be hippies, so I think it’s because of their own relationship, which they aren’t shy about:
Jack’s father took off before he was born, and, classic displacement, his mother took out her frustrations on Jack. He did time in foster care, learned not to get attached to anybody, stayed that way for a long time, through school, air force, college, and career . . . passive aggressive way to remind me that I could’ve had it way worse.
My mother was raised comfortably, but, and this is the way she told it to me the first time I heard the story, “rebelled myself into a into a vortex of sex and drugs that turned my twenties into a savage blur.” I thought she was giving me The Talk, trying to keep me on some liberal version of the straight and narrow by being honest instead of imposing any kind of discipline. But, “then I met your father.”
“You didn’t get busted did you?”
She laughed, but didn’t deny it.
The point, I guess, was that they helped each other out of hopeless lives: he reigned in her wildness, she opened him up, that kind of nonsense. I’m sure my father would be just as effective an advocate without her, and her books would be just as bafflingly complex and pointless without him.
They were disappointed that I thought so.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I told them, not sure why I cared so much what they thought.
“How’s it going, love?” Mom asked Jack, turning the table to talk of secession. I tuned out.
Aaron Dubanevich is the author of The Center and the Source, available from BareBones Publishing. Second Republic is his upcoming second novel.