The Tree Stand
Jay Atkinson
Coming October 2022!
Pre-Order Available! 
Binding

 

ISBN 978-1-60489-336-6, trade paper, $19.95

 

 

Bio:

Jay Atkinson is a professor of writing at Boston University and has an extensive sports background: he has done winter exercises with the US Marines, run with bulls in Pamplona, and played rugby in Belfast during “The Troubles” of the 1980s. He’s written two novels, a story collection, and five narrative nonfiction books, and received the 2016 Massachusetts Book Award Honors in Nonfiction for his MASSACRE ON THE MERRIMACK. He’s also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize several times, and featured in the New York Times, The Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Men’s Health, and Runner’s World, among many others. 

 
 


Excerpt from Book:

The Tree Stand

 

Goodreault woke up on the couch when his wife Eloise came downstairs. It was quarter past six. Under normal circum­stances, Joseph “Goody” Goodreault would have already finished his ham and eggs at the White Spot diner and been working by now. But he’d had only two paying jobs in the last six months—building a screen porch over in Jaffrey, and Mike Hargreaves’ gambrel roof. And the only thing on his schedule for the next six months was a two-day Sheet-rocking job a hundred miles away in Jackson Village. It was so bad that Goody had to lay off all three of his employees, even Tom Futch, who’d been with him for nine years.

Eloise passed through the living room without speaking and turned on the kitchen faucet and ran the water for her coffee. Tossing off the quilt, Goody stepped into his dungarees, then his work boots, and went into the tiny bathroom in the front hall. He took a piss, washed his hands and face, shaved, and brushed his teeth, rinsing off the bone-handled shaving brush and inserting his soft gold bridge with the left eyetooth protruding from it. Worried about his overflowing septic tank, Goody closed the lid on the toilet, recalling something that his grandfather used to say: “If it’s brown flush it down—if it’s yellow let it mellow.”

The lower floor of the house filled up with the smell of brewing coffee. He heard Eloise calling up the stairs, and then Joey and the twins, Lynn-Marie and Benoit, their voices thick with sleep, rumbled along the hallway above him and descended to breakfast.

Goody took his old woolen hunting jacket from a hook by the front door, buttoned it up, and went outside. Dawn was still half an hour away, but the gigantic pines across Beech Hill Road were silhouetted against a sky that was turning crimson by degrees. It was cold, nearly freezing, though the first real frost hadn’t yet arrived and there’d been no snow except far to the north, above Lincoln. A squirrel chittered from a leafless maple as Goody crunched over the stiff edge of his lawn. Once again, someone had thrown the “For Sale” sign into the ditch across the road, and he wandered up and down in the gloom until he found it.

After choosing a stone from the tumbled wall beyond the ditch, Goody pushed the green-and-white Sullivan Realty sign back into its hole in the ground. With the stone in both hands, he raised it overhead and gave the top edge of the sign four or five good whacks, driving it deep into the semi-frozen lawn. The concussions from this activity resounded against the house in a se­ries of loud, dry reports. Facing that way, Goody noticed the sash drawn aside and Eloise’s face, pale and disapproving, showed it­self for a moment.

Goody threw the stone back into the woods and, com­ing along the driveway, he stamped the mud from his boots and glanced at the house. It was a small, untidy cape, two rooms up and three down, shingled in cedar except for the lower, south­ern-facing half where it was wrapped in pink insulation. Like most tradesmen, Goody never seemed to have time to work on his own house. The upstairs bathroom was unfinished; the kitchen was stripped to the studs and sub floor; and the back porch, which faced Sportsman’s Pond to the west, lacked a set of stairs. In his real estate advertisement, Tim Sullivan had called it a “quaint work-in-progress,” listing the price as $152,900 or “best offer.”

Now that the economy had bottomed out, Goody had plenty of time on his hands, but no way to buy the materials he needed to do these jobs right. In the fourteen and a half years they had lived on Beech Hill Road, the house had always been under construction, in some form or another, and he had grown accus­tomed to the half-tiled floors and Sheet-rock walls and exposed wiring. It was a quiet, secluded area and he would miss living there. Although they were on a dirt road and the house was built on a paltry half-acre, the nearest neighbor was almost a mile away and Goody’s property abutted more than two thousand acres of state-owned wetlands and the 152-acre Sportsman Pond, which was also protected from development. Bow hunting and muzzle loading were permitted in season, and the local fishing was ex­cellent. Last winter, Goody had taken a four-pound largemouth through the ice.

Eloise’s little sedan was parked behind his truck. When he’d had money coming in, Goody had installed a large, walk-in tool cabinet in his pickup. Fully loaded it was so heavy he had to reinforce the truck’s suspension, and he hired a body shop in Rindge to paint it jet black, imprinting Jos. Goodreault & Sons Construction. Home Improvement and Remodeling along with his phone number and metal and shingle roofs (snow plowing) in smaller letters, along both sides.

These improvements, including the paint job, the tool cabinet, which was used, and a dozen power tools, also used, had cost him eighty-five hundred dollars, which he’d paid in cash. Al­though he sorely needed that money now, he was still glad he had done it. When Tim Sullivan finally sold the house, he and Eloise would pay off the mortgage and their credit cards, split whatever was left over, and then file for divorce in county court. His wife had already said he could keep the children. He was going to rent half a duplex in Winchendon for $250 per month less than what he was paying now.

Goody climbed into the front seat of his truck and began idling the diesel. Before long, Joey came out of the house with his school bag, followed by his mother and the twins. Having forgot­ten something, Joey ran back into the house. Dressed in a black leather jacket and high-heeled boots, Eloise walked by the truck without a sign of recognition. But the twins, who were six years old, stopped beside his door and Goody motioned them back so he could open it.

Lynn-Marie was wearing pink rubber boots and carrying a stuffed giraffe under her arm. She had her mother’s fair skin and light-colored hair and Goody could smell the maple syrup on her breath when he leaned down from the truck to hug her. “’Bye, Daddy,” said the little girl. She presented the toy giraffe. “Give Isadore a hug.”

Goody pressed the inert giraffe to his chest for a moment and handed it back. Her boots slapping the pavement, Lynn-Marie traipsed in the direction of her mother’s car, the giraffe looking back at Goody with its lifeless black eyes. Ben wore green-brown camouflage pants, sneakers and a hooded coat; he looked like a tiny hunter who’d forgotten his bow. While his teenage brother exited the house, slamming the door behind him, and then opened the passenger side door of the truck, climbed in, and slammed that, young Benoit exchanged a complicated progression of fist bumps, taps and handshake grips with his father and then glumly walked away.

Joey had gone back into the house to retrieve his MP3 player, and he had the headphones on when he snapped his seat­belt into place; Goody could hear the percussive thump of the hip hop music that was playing. His son’s hair hung over his face and the music was turned up so loud that Goody didn’t bother speak­ing. He put in the clutch and joggled the truck into reverse but had to step on the brake and wait for Eloise, who was fixing her hair in the rearview mirror. After dropping the twins off at school, his wife would drive over to Sullivan Realty in East Rindge. Eloise had been working there as a receptionist for three months. It didn’t pay very much but the job provided their only reliable income for the time being, as well as health insurance for the kids. Goody was grateful to Tim Sullivan for that.

Eloise finally backed out of the driveway, revved her tiny engine, and turned left. Goody went in the opposite direction; Joey was a sophomore at the regional technical high school, nine and a half miles away in Jaffrey. Like a lot of kids his age, he was interested in computers and the Reg Tech was the best place to learn about them. Joey’s math and conceptual skills weren’t strong enough for programming, his counselor had said. But he had an uncanny mechanical ability and had shown a lot of promise assembling computers—building them from kits, as Goody had once been proficient in making birdhouses and intricate wooden cabinets at the same school.

The sun was up now, but hidden in a seamless bank of clouds, which meant a raw, overcast day, typical for November. At the end of Beech Hill Road, Goody crossed a narrow bridge over a chattering stream and turned west onto Route 119. Along that stretch, the county two-lane passes through a forest of maple trees, oaks and pines that eventually gives way to the pond. Goody rode along in a comfortable silence; he never said much on their mornings together and neither did Joey, so he was content to have his fifteen-year-old listen to Kanye West and 50 Cent, mulling over whatever problems were waiting for him at school. Goody had attended the Reg Tech starting the year after it was built. He had learned how to make things, all right, but he wasn’t athletic or popular, doing just enough to graduate with his class. Although they had never spoken of it, he was fairly certain that his eldest son shared the opinion that school was hell.