Vermont Currency

My neighbor offers to pay me to stack her wood. I reply she can’t pay me, but I would stack it anyway.

The woman and I stand in her yard, looking eye to eye. I am inches below five feet. In her seventies, the woman seems both tough and fragile. She asks what she’s going to have to do for me – cook, is that it?

Without thinking, I say something that surprises me: Maybe you should just be happy with this? Why not do me a favor and allow me to do this?

She thinks this over – there’s an actual pause – before she agrees.

It’s an interesting and largely unspoken contract. She’s an attorney; I’m a writer. We’re each divorced. Both small and scrappy, accepting help is a reluctant relief.

The next morning, while I’m cooking noodles to pack for my daughter’s lunch, my neighbor appears at our double glass kitchen doors. I’m in trouble, she says.

I ask her in, cautioning her not step on a kitten.

She’s closing on her house at noon, and behind in packing. When my daughter heads to school, leaping the cemetery fence, I walk over to the neighbor’s and take a look. Then I walk back to my house and shout for my teenager to wake up. Your help is needed! In a bit, my long-legged girl walks over drinking a can of this orange juice she keeps buying, takes a good around, says, Hmm, and then, Where’s the packing tape?

A skilled packer, when we run out of cardboard boxes, she goes out to the woodpile, empties plastic milk crates, and loads those with the iron skillets. We pass a fat black marker back and forth between us, to label the boxes.

Written on my summer fan
torn in half
in autumn.

– Bashō

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