In the morning, the first thing I did was hop out of bed and jerk back the curtains to gaze out at the rolling hills, tall trees, and arboreal splendor that is Rural Vermont. This place is gorgeous. I slept in, as it turns out, the servant’s quarters, which comes with my own porch on the second floor, and a sitting room to the side. It’s wonderful. Old farmhouse, slick wooden floors, charming in every single way. Kipling designed the house to be like a ship, and I see where that comes from, but it’s also pretty damn roomy, so it’s not much like a ship at all, either.
Willingham made breakfast, and me and Williams did the grocery shopping for a couple of days. I also replaced all of the creams, gels, and unguents that the diligent security of the
I took a tour of the house last night, but walked it again in the daylight, and decided to write in Mrs. Kipling’s study—the Dragon’s Chamber, as it was called. Mainly because I liked the desk, but also because I have a good window to gaze out of and contemplate things.
After breakfast, we walked the grounds a little bit and spent some time out on the porch, taking it all in. Being in the same physical space as another author, and particularly one like Rudyard Kipling, is both exciting and humbling. I feel energized in a completely non-supernatural way.
We mostly got settled into our own spaces today, and Willingham got used to the two of us being around. I did some prep work, and started rewriting what I already have on Replacement Gorilla. So far, so good.
We absconded to the village to eat and drink, based on a website that I found that gave a list of stuff to eat and drink. One of the local hotels has a movie theater in it (so the website said) and also a grille where they make their own beer. Case closed.
We showed up, and not seeing a restaurant entrance, walked right into the hotel. The woman behind the counter looked as if she was grown there. She stared at me with a kind of dim, reptile intelligence.
“Ma’am, where is the entrance to the restaurant?” I asked, all southern and gentlemanly-like.
Her mouth formed a frown so severe, it would have made a croquet hoop jealous. “The grille was downstairs, but it moved out about three years ago, and we don’t have it now. But you can go out the door and try down the street, two doors, where there is another grille that serves local beer.” This was delivered in that sing-song “ayuh” New Englander accent that Stephen King always writes about. It’s never scary until you hear it live and in person.
Needless to say, we beat a hasty retreat and found the pub that served locally brewed beer, which was ver good. While at the bar, our not-unattractive waitress caught Willingham’s eye. The problem was, I spoke to her first, and in the Book of Guy, that designates the right of First Flirt. In truth, I was merely trying to be my usual charming self, but Willingham also prides himself on his charmingness, and so we are constantly jockeying for position with waitresses, check-out girls, and whomever else we mutually run across.
So it was while settling a bet that me and Willingham made as to the number of bookstores in Brattleboro that I told our waitress that we were staying at the Kipling house for a writer’s retreat. Then, while discussing the entrance to the movie theater in the bar, she found out that me and my wife owned a movie theater in Vernon. As she walked away, Willingham asked, “I wonder what else you could tell her that she would believe.”
Me and Williams tried to think of things, each more outlandish than the next. One of the careers was test pilot, I think. Willingham threw out “Deer Tick Surveyor,” which we both pooh-poohed. “That’s the point,” said Willingham. “It’s supposed to be something outlandish.”
I begged off, citing the fact that there’s no way I could pull off the lie, and Willingham rolled his eyes at me.
But the idea stuck with me. Could I pull this off? I’ve not seriously used that set of flirt muscles in years. I felt like the lion that has been de-clawed for the zoo. I was still on the fence about it when she came back and asked us if we needed anything else. I wanted more beer. I nervously made my selections from light to dark, trying to think of an opening. In the midst of ordering a sampler tray of beer, I closed my menu with a snap. “That’s only four,” she said. “You get five.”
Williams, seizing the opportunity, immediately dropped into the Wingman formation. “For a guy who counts things for a living, that’s pretty sad,” he deadpanned.
In an instant, and seeing that it was suddenly On, I said, “Well, that’s deer ticks. It’s a much smaller thing to count.”
The waitress cocked an eye at me. “Deer ticks?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Deer ticks. I’m a deer tick surveyor. That’s how I got the money for the writer’s retreat. I’m counting the ticks in your deer population.”
She smiled and cocked her head. “Are you just telling me that, because it sounds like something that someone would make up.”
I then assured her that no, it was real, and in fact was funded by a grant by the EPA, and that the job wasn’t to count every single tick; that’d be stupid. Instead, one counted the ticks from a select sample of the population and extrapolated the results, which told us if the deer population was shrinking or growing. We got into a conversation about whether or not Vermont had a problem or not. I was totally in the zone. Then, as if I just remembered, I hopped out of the moment with, “Oh, and I still need a fifth beer.”
Now both Williams and Willingham were assisting, trying to get me to stop telling her about my day job. She assured them that it was a fascinating topic, even as she went to turn in my beer order.
Flush with victory, I drank my little cups of beer with relish while Williams and Willingham offered commentary my deception. We had us a merry old time before coming back to the house to do our first round of reading and critiquing.
I cannot explain how much I miss doing this stuff.
The writing was fun, and I fell back into it with a grace that kinda surprised me. While writing fiction is a muscle that has to be flexed, there’s some memory in the muscle, as well. This will be a good week to shake off the cobwebs and get back into fighting trim.