I’m nearing the half way mark through Stopping by Autumn. Zoē is the novel’s main character and moves through a world very different from that of the other characters. Unlike my first novel, which only has elements of magical realism, the second novel (taking place in the same fictional region of Vermont) glides whole-heartedly through the genre. The following passage takes place after Zoē wanders into a little village called Sled Island. The El Camino has broken down again and rather than wait with her father at the garage, she explores. (Tue 22nd — Being a rough draft, a just updated this with some minor changes, including the addition of Homeric Epithets.)
Further inside the store the shelves were full of books, souvenirs, toys, clothes, used books and handmade quilts. Some of the shelves were carved into the shapes of vines swollen with wooden grapes. The thick vines seemed to coil and stretch from one shelf to the next, growing thicker and hiding more of the shelves the further she went.
Hidden among their coils were owls, hawks and gulls with gaping beaks—all carved from the same dark wood. And if she looked twice the hawk might have vanished or the owl turned its gaze. Zoē walked quietly. An old woman with a cane across her lap was sleeping in a chair in the corner. There was a wisp of a beard trailing from her chin and her gap-toothed mouth hung open as she snored. Next to her was a room with sawdust and shavings spilling out. Zoē went to look and found a workshop. There were no windows, a workbench was in the middle, and broken toys were piled on the floor and spilled from open closets. A large man, as old as the woman, was hunched over the workbench. He wore a leather apron and peered through an elaborate jeweler’s monocle. The man had piled toys at one end of the workbench. One by one, as Zoē watched, he took them and with a small mallet broke them.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m makin’ spare parts,” the man gruffly answered.
“But you’re ruining new toys.”
The giant man looked up, still stooped over the workbench, slope-shouldered. “And you never know when a good toy’s gonna need fixin’. So you can’t have too many spare parts.”
Zoē glanced behind her. “You’re just taking them from the store.”
“But then there won’t be any good toys to buy,” Zoē answered factually.
“You’re a strange one,” said the man. He flipped up a lens and squinted through his monocle. “You’re a little off aren’t you? Not quite right in the head. Any other girl would have run off by now.” He let that sit, then said, “Come in here.”
Zoē went in and stood at the workbench, hands in her coat pockets. The man picked up a broom that had been leaning behind him and pushed the door shut behind her.
“Why did you do that?”
“What’s that you’ve got round your neck?”
“I see that,” answered the giant man, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, “but what’s that you’ve got hanging from the necklace.”
“My mother gave it to me.”
“Give it to me.”
“No,” said Zoē, “you’ll just break it.”
The slope-shouldered man didn’t answer at first. He rubbed his stubbled chin with the palm of his hand as though considering what next. “If you won’t give it to me then let me see it.” Zoē pinched the necklace and lifted the pendant so that he could see it. The giant man studied it and rapped the workbench with his knuckles. “What’s your name, girl?”
Zoē hesitated, then said, “Eudid.”
“Eudid?” asked the man. “Is that a Greek name?”
“Yes,” Zoē answered. “Do you want to see the pendant?”
“Then let me look through your monocle. If you let me look through your monocle, I’ll let you look at my pendant.”
The giant man stood and took a deep breath. His broad chest expanded and his sloped shoulders rolled. Then he went to Zoē, towering over her. He took off his monocle and gave it to her. Zoē at once saw that he couldn’t see without it—or not very well. She slipped out from between him and the closet, and went to the other side of the workshop. The man tried to see where she went, squinting, but seemed unable to see her. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Zoē went to the workbench. She put down the monocle and picked up the mallet that he’d left on the workbench. “I’m making spare parts,” she answered.
“For what?” he answered.
“For your monocle.”
“How will you do that?” he asked.
“Like this.” She smashed the monocle with one blow. The lenses and tiny gears burst across the workbench and fell to the floor.
“No!” cried the man. “He swept his arms ahead of him.”
Zoē held onto her necklace, hunched low and scurried along the opposite side of the workbench. The giant man turned, eyes fiercely squinting. When he went behind the workbench, Zoē hurried to the door, opened it and ran back into the store’s displays.
“Eudid!” the man cried.
“Good lord. What’s all the alarm?” The old woman had woken, and was as unable to see as the slope-shouldered man. She clumsily pushed herself upright and swung her cane back and forth.
“My monocle!” roared the man in the doorway.
“What about it?” asked the old woman.
“She broke it!”
“Eudid!” he roared.
“I did not!” the old woman answered. “I had nothing to do with you or your precious monocle.”
“Eudid!” he roared again. “Eudid!”
Zoē crouched beneath the swinging cane, then ran to a door that was in the center of the store and under a staircase. “I hear the little beast!”
“Where?” answered the old woman, turning and swinging the cane in Zoē’s direction.
“Eudid!” snarled the giant man.
“I did not you old fool!” cried the woman.
Zoē quietly opened the door, stepped down to a little landing, then noiselessly closed the door behind her.
upinVermont | March 21st 2022