Vacationland: Chapter 1

By Nat Goodale | Jan 28, 2011

Introduction to Chapter 1: Vacationland is a contemporary novel set in Lincolnville, where the underlying tensions beneath the veneer of sail-on-horizon boil over into retribution and revenge. Here we meet Mr. Nelson, from away, come to save Maine from the Mainers. "Vacationland" is due out this summer. For more information on this and other works, please visit natgoodale.com.

 

CHAPTER 1

Ask a Mainer what he does in the summer, he’s apt to say, “If it falls on a weekend, we generally have a picnic.”

It was a far cry from summer – it was a far cry from spring. April can be a nasty month on the coast of Maine, like an unwelcomed visit from an unfaithful wife. Today, the wind swept raw rain onto the mud. Donny Coombs was trying to be optimistic. He had gathered his toolbox from the dilapidated garage and was trudging through the mud to his lobster boat. It stood proudly in his yard next to his pickup truck, up on blocks and balanced by three jack stands on either side.

The ladder leaned on the starboard toe rail. He climbed one handed, weighted down by the tools. His boots tracked mud up the rungs, left tracks on the deck. Donny set the toolbox under the pilothouse, away from the rain, stood under the roof and dug under his rain gear through the neck of his thick sweater to his breast pocket and took out his smokes, fired one and looked out at his house and beyond to the busy construction happening in the field that used to belong to his great great grandfather.

Donny could remember playing as a little boy in the fields with the family dogs. His house had been built by his great grandfather, and back then was part of a major tract of land that ran along the coast and looked down on west Penobscot Bay and the islands. Over the generations the land had been divided and sold off piece by piece.

His half-acre and the original homestead was all that was left. The house needed some new wood and paint. He’d get to that later, when the boat was in the water.

The house was snug on Route 1, the road that went all the way to Key West. In the old days it was a sleepy road and who wanted to plow a driveway? Now the semi trucks whizzed by, spewing up grit and whirlwinds of road grime.

Donny’s new neighbors had set their house way into the field, closer to the water and far away from the road. First thing they did last fall was to pave the drive right up to the foundation of their three-car garage. They obviously looked forward to having their curvy driveway plowed. He’d heard they were going to plant a hedge as a noise break.

Smoke trailed the pitched cigarette into the mud. He could probably get the plowing job.

He unlatched the engine box and raised it out of the way. The task today was to accomplish what he’d neglected to do last fall. It seemed that once Pot Luck was hauled and up in his yard, the job of laying up the engine and winterizing the boat gave way to drinking beer. The fishing was over and it was time to relax. Who worked with money in the bank?

The engine had to be run for a few minutes to stir up the old oil. Without ocean water to cool the motor, it could only be a few minutes. He turned the key and hit the starter button and nothing happened, a thought unspoken. He swore and buttoned up his slicker and made his way down the ladder to fetch the battery charger and power cord.

Two trucks would fit in his garage, in theory at least. There was hardly enough room to get to the back wall for the charger. He stepped around a stack of lobster traps. They were the last batch, about 80. The other 360 were neatly piled beside the building. It had been his winter work.

He took the power cord off a hook behind spools of pot warp and dug the charger off a shelf, nearly falling over empty jugs of gasoline. Then he tied off an end of the cord to the junction box. The cord tangled as he unwound it to the boat, but he managed to keep the end out of the mud. Then he slipped on the ladder and had to catch the charger before it cratered into the mud. At last he got it all hooked up to the battery terminals and went back down to the garage to plug the damned thing in. There was no explosion, so he figured it was OK or the charger wasn’t working.

Given it would take several hours for the battery to charge and it was nearly noon, Donny made his way out past his old truck stuck in the lawn on flat tires, a fallen comrade, past his new truck of the same model, figuring he could scavenge parts off the old one, and went up the steps into his house.

In the mudroom he shed his over clothes and boots, padded in stocking feet into the warmth of the kitchen, threw a couple of sticks into the wood stove then grabbed a Budweiser out of the ice box and sat at the Formica table.

From the table he could look out the dirty window and see the house going up next door. He’d been watching all winter. It was amazing what you could do with money. Even on the coldest weeks, the construction crew would show up and build and build. The garage and house were framed up by Christmas and roofed by the end of January. Made sense that they wanted to get to the inside work before winter was done. They were now nailing up the cedar clapboards to finish the siding. They used the long expensive boards; why have a seam when you could afford not to?

It was a nice house, New England style, with three chimneys, 6,000 square feet of living space, and a three-car garage. Could work on a mess of traps with that kind of space.

The Bud was good so he got another.

He watched a Range Rover pull up next to the contractor's pick-ups. A tall man in a barn coat got out and yelled something at his passenger. A woman, in a knee length leather coat with animal collar, stepped gingerly out and they both made their way into the house.

Donny had not met them yet, which seemed rather unneighborly. He didn’t know on whose part. He wasn’t the kind to take them over a welcome-to-the-neighborhood cake like a credit, but maybe he could have brought them something.

It didn’t take them long to come over. Donny saw the Rover pull out and heard it pull in. He went to the other window and watched the man park behind his F350. The mud nearly stripped him of his unlaced boots as he came to the door. The woman remained in the car. Donny waited for the knock, and when it came it was more like a pounding. “Excuse me, Mr. Coombs. Hello?” It was a deep sonorous voice like you’d hear on C-Span. Donny made him wait. Another pounding. “Hello? Anybody home?”

Donny crossed the mudroom, opened the front door and then the storm door. “Yes?”

“Hello Mr. Coombs. My name is Delano Nelson. I’m your neighbor. May I come in for a moment?”

Donny opened the door wider. “Sure, come out of the weather.”

Nelson came up the steps and walked directly into the kitchen, leaving muddy prints. Nelson stepped to the stove and rubbed his hands together. Donny followed him in, careful not to put his socks in the dirt, shut the door to the mudroom. Nelson stood so straight it looked like it hurt, had a 12-inch spike up his ass. Early 40s and gym trim. Outdoor clothes pressed and sharp. Hair sculpted and on the long side, contoured over his ears, like a manikin. The weather had done no damage. Donny threw several more sticks in the stove, made Nelson step back.

“Nice weather,” Nelson said conversationally with a smile, trying to be especially nice.

“For a cormorant. Welcome to Maine,” said Donny.

“Yes, thank you. I’ll make this brief. I don’t want to interrupt your day.” He looked over at the Bud can on the table and Donny thought he might check his watch but he didn’t. “Well, you see, my wife and I are building our house and plan to move in shortly, be your permanent neighbors. We’ve had to build the house somewhat close to you because of the way the field drains water. If we could have, we’d have set the house much further away.”

“That’s OK, Mr. Nelson. This way we can wave to each other every day.” Donny said it with a smile. Nelson looked distracted. “Yes, well, my wife and I were wondering if we could come to some sort of understanding. We hoped that you’d consider sprucing up your property a little bit.”

“You mean like with shrubs or something?”

“Yes, well, no. We hoped that you might consider removing some of the items in your yard, the ones that obviously have no further use. They would be of no concern to us if your yard wasn’t the first impression when you come into our drive. I hope you understand our point of view.”

Donny rubbed his chin, the thinker. He was quick witted and fast with his tongue but he kept his mouth shut for the moment. Nelson took the chance to look around the kitchen. It was cluttered and messy, but Donny had done the breakfast dishes.

“May I offer you a beer, Mr. Nelson?”

“Well, it is a little early for me, thank you. And my wife is waiting in the car.”

“Pity.”

“You don’t have to agree right now, Mr. Coombs.”

“Feel free to call me Donny.”

“Thank you, Donny.”

“I’ll have to think on it a while, you know, decide which items might have outlived their use and all. You don’t mind the boat, do you?”

“Good heavens, no. We want to fit right in, and anyway, it will be in the water for the season. In fact, I understand we have a mooring next to yours in the harbor. We have a delightful sloop being built in Rockport.”

“Glad to hear it, Mr. Nelson. We can wave from our boats, too.”

“Yes, well, I look forward to your answer. We are staying at the Camden Manor Inn for the next several weeks while they finish the house. You can call us there.”

“I’ll make sure to call as soon as I figure it all out.”

“That would be splendid. Thank you in advance. I’ll be going now.” Nelson let himself out and Donny got the broom and dustpan, swept up the bigger dirt, mopped the linoleum and got another beer. Donny smiled as he sat at the kitchen table and looked out to the Nelson house. It was going to be a contest who could be more neighborly.

 

Nat Goodale has flown planes from Belfast, raised sheep in Montville, and run commercial picnics from Searsport, and now sells Norwegian boats in Lincolnville. He is working on his third book.

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