Adelia, New York
A line of venerable sugar maples stood between the Baxter home and the private road, half obscuring the residence from anyone following the winding route up the hill until the moment the cobblestone driveway appeared, as if from nowhere, on the right. Built in the Federalist style, with its Palladian windows and narrow chimneys, the large house had looked down on Adelia from its perch atop Franklin County's highest point for more than two hundred years, the frame taking shape almost a full decade before the Redcoats' 1813 jaunt up the St. Lawrence in pursuit of General Wilkinson. Three hundred mostly wooded acres, as long a part of the Baxter holdings as the house itself, stretched out from the back porch—a massive tract of undeveloped land thick with white pine, interspersed with stubborn popple, and filled with whitetail, rabbit, and fox. Eight generations of Baxters had culled game from this land, and when the British made the mistake of taking their chase through the southeastern corner of the acreage, the list of acceptable prey was righteously amended to include them. Beyond the unmarked graves of these trespassing soldiers, past the far boundary that marked the Baxter property line, the wilderness continued almost without interruption to the feet of the Adirondacks.
The road that passed in front of the Baxter place—a one-lane thoroughfare called Lyndale that until two months ago had been gravel but now looked slick with fresh asphalt—separated the property from the ninety-foot drop-off that allowed the residents of the home to survey the town below. The road was a splinter off SR 44 that linked the interstate a hundred miles south with the 122 across the U.S.–Canada border, but when the Baxter ancestors first cut the trail up the hill, the main road was little more than a rutted wagon path, and Eisenhower and his interstate 150 years off.
As Artie Kadziolka made his way down one of Adelia's uneven sidewalks, keys in hand, arthritis sending streaks of sharp pain through his knees to supplement the perpetual throbbing, his eyes found the house on the hill, more easily spotted now that fall had shed the maples of half their leaves. He counted six cars and trucks parked in the semicircular driveway and guessed that meant the old man was on his way out. A twinge of sadness made a sudden appearance but was gone almost before Artie recognized it. Death had been lingering outside that house for a long while, and Sal Baxter had done all he could to keep him hovering around the maples, but the unwelcome visitor had finally carried his terrible scythe across the doorstep.
The keys jingled in Artie's hand as he walked, and he grimaced against the stiffness in both knees. The arthritis had gotten worse over the last few months, and his prescription medication was no longer doing the job. So last week he'd doubled up on the pills, which had helped a little. He knew the walk to the hardware store did him good—helped him to loosen things up—but it was becoming clear that no amount of pills or exercise was going to keep things from growing progressively worse. Still, it wasn't the legs that worried him; he could run his business without full use of them. What worried him was how he would keep the store going if the arthritis took to his hands with the same vengeance with which it was working on his lower appendages. It would be foolish to operate a table saw without the ability to keep a firm hand on the wood passing through the blade.
He crossed Third Avenue, the road empty except for a yellow dog that Artie saw disappear down the alley separating Maggie's Deli from Walden's Drug. In another thirty minutes a group of men would gather outside Maggie's waiting for coffee, and Maggie would tsk at them through the window while she readied to open, which she wouldn't do until seven o'clock. She hadn't opened even a minute early once in the last twenty years, and yet there wasn't a morning when the men didn't gather, peeking through the window, trying to catch Maggie's eye. Often Sal Baxter's son, George, was among them, although Artie suspected such would not be the case today with what was happening up the hill.
Artie had fond memories of hunting with George in the woods behind the Baxter home, years ago—in the late fifties, when both attended Adelia High. Artie would follow George up the gravel road to his house with a few of the other boys lucky enough to be included in George's circle. Artie carried his Winchester. Mostly they were after squirrel, although once they took an eight-point out of season; it was George's shot that had brought the deer down. This was back when the Baxters cast a longer shadow over the county—when there was talk of Sal running for governor. Back then, Artie ate at their table, teased George's sister, chopped wood for Sal, and nursed a desperate crush on George's mom, who was the local standard of beauty for years.
Then George had gone off to college.
Artie had carried on with George's sister for a while, yet that ended before George came home for Christmas break, a different person than the one who'd left. After that, the only times the two talked were those few occasions when George needed something from Artie's father's store—the store that now belonged to the son. George still came in now and then, to buy the odd tool or coil wire, and they would chat for a few minutes—always cordially, never too familiar. But not once had Artie been tempted to change his daily routine to join the men who gathered in front of Maggie's every morning, even when George was among them.
Artie almost felt bad about his involvement in the pool, although it didn't stop him from wishing that the elder statesman of the Baxter clan would hold on just one more day. Artie stood to win a cool thousand dollars if George's dad passed into the great beyond tomorrow. On the heels of this last thought he reached his destination and started sorting through the mess of keys on the ring.
Kaddy's Hardware—the name coming from Artie's grandfather's belief that people might be reluctant to enter an establishment whose name they couldn't pronounce—occupied the corner of Fifth and Main. It was the perfect location, with ample parking in the side lot, and Ronny's Bar & Grill next door. From eleven to five, a steady stream of customers came through—mostly for small-ticket items, but those added up. Artie made a good living on duct tape and caulk, and aerator rentals.
As the keys clinked against each other, a city services truck rolled around Sycamore and up Fifth, Gabe at the wheel. Artie waved as it passed by, turned and headed up Main toward the town center. In the back, a sign for the Adelia Fall Festival swayed dangerously, and Artie watched until the truck straightened, expecting the heavy wooden placard to topple to the pavement, but it remained in the bed and the pickup continued on. By midmorning several of the signs—some of them the original ones hand- painted by the founders of the Fall Festival back in 1931—would line the streets surrounding town hall, and in the weeks leading up to the event, seasonal decorations would pop up and then the big banner would be strung across Main. The Festival, whose seasonal synchronicity placed at the height of football season, was the most anticipated event in Adelia, punctuated by the arts and craft fair along Main, the town dance, a parade, a lawn fete at St. Anthony's, and officially culminating in the Adelia High home game against rival Smithson Academy, of neighboring Batesville. The two teams, historically evenly matched, had come near to splitting forty years' worth of games, although Adelia had won the last three. But Smithson was strong this year, projected to go to the state championship.
Unofficially, the Fall Festival found its end much later in the evening, when students from both schools met at the town line to pummel each other with tomatoes under the amused eyes of the adults. This tradition was like most modern incarnations of long-lived events, a neutered version of the original occasion, when men from Batesville had shown up at the first Fall Festival to throw rocks at the Adelia revelers, who responded in kind. In the seventy-eight years that followed, the only time period during which some form of the confrontation did not happen was between 1937-1942 when Batesville, with its overwhelmingly German citizenry, suspected an escalation to more deadly projectiles should they make their customary appearance.
His key found the lock and he gave it a turn, wincing against the pain that shot up the back of his hand to the wrist. He released the key still in the lock and opened and closed the hand. Then, with a shake of his head, he pushed open the door. He knew it was only a matter of time until he couldn't do this anymore, and unlike his father, he didn't have a son to whom he could turn the business over. When he retired, Kaddy's would be gone.
That brought a small laugh from his thick frame, and as he stepped into the store he winked at Cadbury. The scarecrow offered its toothless grin in response from its spot in the corner. Artie was acting as if the absence of his store would have some kind of lasting impact on Adelia. The town, though, would do just fine; it would remain long after someone else had filled this prime piece of real estate.
Before he could shut the door, he caught sight of movement on the newly paved road. A pickup was taking the steep part of the hill, heading toward the Baxter place. He watched until it hit the flat and swung into the driveway, disappearing behind one of the ancient maples to take its place in the line of vehicles belonging to the rest of the vigil keepers. He supposed that was something he had in common with the oldest family in Adelia. Long after Sal was gone, the Baxter clan would still be there.
As the door shut behind him, he found himself wondering if Sal's death would finally bring CJ back.
Hunter's Moon by Don Hoesel
Copyright © 2010; ISBN 9780764205613
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.