Postcard from Hardwick
The stranger who answered my Craigslist ad for a Toyota Matrix (impressive fuel economy! only 240,000 miles!) alarmed me by gasping for breath beside my house, bent over with his hands on his knees. In the dark, a snowstorm whirling around us, he wheezed an explanation about his genetic disease. “But fortunately,” he said, “it all turned out for the best.” Weekly injections hold his lung capacity at a steady 17%.
What a nutter, I thought. In what kind of universe is oxygen deprivation for the best? He straightened up and made his way slowly into our house. While my daughters leaned against our kitchen cabinets and stared, he rambled into a long story about his enterprise growing saffron on the St. Albans Bay, far up on the northern shore of Lake Champlain. I wondered if he was brilliant, a wingnut, or possibly both. Eventually, he yanked out a roll of cash from his pocket and piled $1,200 in fifties and twenties on our kitchen table.
A month later, I’m still musing over this stranger, a man in his 70s with the gumption to drive through a snowstorm in a cloth-roof convertible, over sketchy roads and down the twisty Woodbury gulf, with not much more than my two lines of directions and my phone number.
In this season of what an acquaintance calls “in the hole” — dim days, early dark, raw rain or biting snow — I imagine this Craigslist-sent stranger as a kind of auto-seeking wise man bearing the gift of possibility. Despite what looks like darn bad odds — the relentlessly rising doomsday of climate change, our nation rife with outright deceit, unfettered corruption and greed — the ailing stranger at the door bears tidings of the joy in tending flowers, of his determined belief in the might of tiny tender blossoms to heal human ailments.
My story with the stranger didn’t end that night. Two days later, just after Thanksgiving, keeping my end of our bargain, I drove the little Matrix to Montpelier. Following the stranger’s two lines of instruction, I parked the car behind a specific (and will remain undisclosed) downtown dumpster. I tucked the key in the visor, gathered my knitted hat from the passenger seat, and walked away.
As I emerged from the narrow alley, a wave of pigeons swooped upward. For a brief moment, their black feathers shimmered above me in the scant daylight before those city birds disappeared — quicksilver — over the tall rooftops. In their wake, a scattering of snowflakes drifted down silently, slow, slow.