Friday, March 7, 2014

Eben Danforth read again through the letter from the IRS, his lips forming each word as he went along:
Your income tax for 1983 has been selected for audit. Please come to the IRS Office in Augusta at 10:00 am, Tuesday, August 17. Bring copies of your 1983 return along with any supporting documents.
            He turned to Flora and said, “We’ve been selected for an audit. What does that mean? What’s supporting documents?”
            “I don’t know, Eben. I couldn’t make head nor tail of it neither. It’s something from the guvamint. Why don’t you ask Tommy White. He works for the guvamint. Maybe he’ll know what it’s about.”
            Two weeks later Eben and Flora were sitting the in the IRS office in Augusta. Flora had a shoe box clutched under her arm. She was wearing a cotton print dress. Eben had been ready to put on his suit that morning, but Flora had said to him, “Don’t dress up too fancy. They’ll think we got money.” So Eben didn’t wear his suit but he wore his favorite tie, the one with the bright pink and yellow flowers.
            They were shown into a little room, and pretty soon a young man came in. “Good morning,” he said, “I’m Everet Layton. I’m an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service” Mr. Layton had thinning brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses, which kept slipping down his nose.
            The IRS agent opened a folder and thumbed through it until he found the papers he wanted. “We have some questions about your Schedule A and your Schedule F, and there were some arithmetic errors.”
            “I don’t wonder there’s some arithmetic errors,” Flora said. “Them things are so complicated to fill out. I added that stuff up four times, and I got a different answer each time.”
            “I see,” the IRS man said.
            “It’s them Republicans in Washington,” Eben broke in. “They’ve got everything all mixed up down there. Why it’s worse than it was during the Nixon administration.”
            “Now if we can look at this Schedule A,” Mr. Layton said, pushing his glasses up.
            “What’s a Schedule A?” Flora demanded.
            “That’s itemized deductions. Now you have down here $78.00 for labor donated to the church.”
            “Well, yes,” she replied. “I spent three days working on the church fair. At $3.25 an hour, that would be—ah, ah…”
            She pulled a pencil from her pocket and looked around for something to write on.
            “It wouldn’t matter what it came to, Mrs. Danforth. You cannot deduct the value of your own labor.”
            “You mean my labor ain’t worth nawthing?”
            “That isn’t what I said. You see, if you deducted the value of your labor, then you’d have to …”
            He looked at Flora glaring at him pugnaciously and broke off his explanation. “Anyway, I don’t make the rules. It’s just not allowed. That’s all.”
            “If we had any kind of a guvamint in Washington,” Eben said, “we wouldn’t have all these problems.”
            “Back to the Schedule A,” Mr. Layton said, “I see that you deducted for your dues to the Daughters of Demeter and transportation and lodging to a regional meeting of that organization in Schenectady.”
            “Well, Eben always took off for his dues to the paper workers’ union.”
            “That’s perfectly all right. Union dues are an allowable deduction, but dues to a social organization are not.”
            “Well, the Daughters of  Demeter are dedicated to upholding the farm family. They believe in service to God and country and family. If the guvamint is against them things, I don’t know what this country is coming to.”
            Mr. Layton sighed and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “The government isn’t against those things. It’s just that certain guidelines have been set up so that the tax burden can be distributed equitably.”
            “If them people in Washington warn’t giving our money away to a bunch of foreigners, they wouldn’t have to bleed poor folks like us for every cent they can get out of us.”
            The IRS agent ignored Eben’s remark and went back to the itemized deductions. “You have listed here $35.00 for a Dr. Stark. Is he a medical doctor?”
            “Of course he is,” Flora answered. “I took my cat Rags to him when he was sick, poor little kitty.”
            “I’m sorry, but you can’t deduct payments to a veterinarian to treat a pet.”
            “Why not? Rags is more than a pet. He’s a dependent. He depends on me to feed him and take care of him. Nobody else would take care of him, especially him,” motioning toward Eben. “He’d forget to feed him, and the poor little kitty would starve to death.”
            “Now let’s look at the Schedule F,” Mr. Layton said.
            “The guvamint pays them rich farms out west thousands of dollars for not planting,” Eben said, “but what do they do for the little fellow? Nawthing. Not a thing.”
            “Now, Mr. Danforth, I see that you have a pretty good sum here for chicken feed.”
            “Ayuh, we raised 2,000 chickens last year.”
            “And when those chickens grew up, Mr. Danforth, didn’t you sell them? And didn’t you derive a profit from them?”
            The IRS agent had the manner of a clever detective who had just put his finger on the heart of the mystery.
            “No, we didn’t sell none of them,” Eben said.
            “We’ve got a receipt for every bag of grain,” Flora said, digging into her shoe box and pulling out little pink slips, which she began piling on the table.
            Mr. Layton ignored her and directed his questions to Eben. “You didn’t sell them? What did you do, keep them for pets, like your cat, Bags, or whatever his name is?
“No, we didn’t sell them, and we didn’t keep them.”
“Well, what in the world did you do to them? Did you execute them?”       “We traded ’em. We traded a hundred chickens to Mike Biladou for a Jersey calf. We traded some more for a pair of goats.  Traded some to Bill Farley for a load of cord wood.”
“What about Tommy White?” Flora asked.
“Ayuh, I traded some chickens to Tommy White for a second-hand chain saw.”
“Aha!” said the IRS agent.
            Eben and Flora looked at each other.
“Don’t you know that these things constitute a profit in kind?”
“What does that mean?”
“That means that these things you traded for are worth money.”
“You mean cord wood and goats and things are the same as money?” Eben asked.
“Exactly. They represent a profit to you, and you have to pay income taxes on that profit.”
“Godfrey, Flora, what will they think of next?”
“Now, let’s go back over these things,” Mr. Layton said. He started asking them questions, writing things down, and entering figures into his calculator.
When he had finished, he said, “Here’s what we have. You owe $287.00 in back taxes. In addition to that there are interest and penalties, which brings your total tax liability to $431.00. Can you write a check for that so we can get this cleared up right now?
            “Well, no,” Eben said, “we couldn’t do that today, but if you give us a week we can bring you what we owe you.”
            “All right, I’ll give you twelve days, until August 30, but remember, every day more interest charges are being added.”
            On August 24 Eben walked into the IRS office in Augusta, carrying a crate of live chickens. He put the crate on the floor in the corner of the office and started walking out.
            “Wait, what are you doing?” the receptionist yelled after him.
            “I’ll be right back,” he said.
            In a few minutes he was back with another crate of chickens. By that time Mr. Layton was in the front office. “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Danforth. What’s going on?”       
            “Just a minute. I’ll be right back,” Eben said as he walked out the door. By then the chickens were beginning to caw, and the place was taking on the sound as well as the odor of a chicken house.
            By the time he finished, he had brought in baskets of zucchini, corn, and tomatoes, and a black billy goat.
            The IRS agent said, “Just a minute, Mr. Danforth. You can’t leave these things here.”
            “Well, last week you said that them things was just the same as money, and as near as I can figure out, they’re worth at least $431.00”
            Just then one of the hens started cackling. Eben reached under her and pulled out an egg, which he handed to Mr. Layton.
            “I think there’s a couple more in there. That should take care of the interest I owe you for this week.”
            Then he grabbed the agent’s hand and shook it.
            “Well,” he said, “it’s been real nice meeting you. I wish there was more people like you in the guvamint.”
            He shook Mr. Layton’s hand one more time, and then he headed out the door.

"The Infernal Revenue Service" was first published in The Small Farmers' Journal

RFD 1, Grangely is now available as a kindle book     RFD 1 Grangely

Monday, February 17, 2014


Beulah was sitting on the sagging couch watching television. Every once in a while she would lean her heavy body forward, take a chocolate from the half-empty box in front of her and pop it into her mouth, chewing daintily until it was gone.
            She was watching her favorite soap opera, “The Gathering Gloom.” Aurora, the show’s heroine, was reading a love note from Derek, one of her ex-husbands. A tear welled up in Beulah’s eye and began rolling down her cheek. She didn’t get love notes from anyone, not since she and Broderick Bickford had broken up—not that he had ever written love notes to her even when they were going together. She reached for another chocolate, picked it up with pudgy little fingers and stuck it into her mouth.
            She heard Tommy White, the mailman, drop the mail through the slot. She waited for the next commercial to see what Tommy had left. No one ever wrote to her. It was always just bills for her mother. So when she did pick up the mail, she was surprised to see a letter addressed to her. She took her letter back to the living room and sat on the couch to read it.
            It was not a letter but a poem:
            As I sit in my lair,
            Dreaming of your hair,
            Floating on the air,
            Do I dare, do I dare
            Hope that you could care
            With a love so rare
            That I could hardly bear?

            Beulah had never read anything so beautiful, but who could have sent it? There was no signature, no explanation. She didn’t recognize the handwriting. It wasn’t Broderick’s. He could never have written anything like that anyway. He did not have a sensitive soul like Beulah, who saw the poetry, the drama, the music in life all around her.
            Just then she heard a knock on the door. Beulah hurried to see if it was the man who had written the poem to her, but it was her friend, Lucinda Fogg. Lucinda was so tiny that it almost looked as though Beulah could, if she wanted, pick Lucinda up and stick the young woman in her pocket. Lucinda was returning a book she had borrowed, Tessie’s Torrid Tryst.
            “It was wonderful,” the young woman said. “I especially like the part where Tessie and Tyrone were marooned on a desert island. While I was reading it, I kept thinking about me and Harrison Plunket being marooned on an island.”
            Beulah showed her the poem she had received in the mail.
            “Oh, that’s wonderful,” Lucinda said. “It just makes chills go up and down your spine. Is it from Broderick?”
            “No, me and Broderick had a fight and broke up again. I don’t even know who sent it to me.”
            “I’d just die if I could get Harrison Plunket to write a pome like that.”
            “Have you got Harrison to ask you out yet?”
            “No, he don’t even seem to know that I’m alive. This is fated to be a one-sided romance,” the young woman sighed. “I know I ain’t got no chance with him—not with so many beautiful women around.”
            Poor Lucinda, she was not just tiny, but thin, straight up and down. She was plain all right, but if you looked at her closely, you could see that she had a beautiful soul.
The next morning Beulah’s mother woke her up before she left for work. She held an envelope in her hand.
            “This was under the side door,” she explained. “I thought you’d probably want to see it right away.”
            The handwriting on the envelope was the same as that on the poem she had received the day before. Inside the envelope was a note:

            Dearest Beulah,
            Please meet me for lunch today at Maisie’s Diner.
                                    Your secret admirer

She was so excited that she got up and called Lucinda Fogg.
            “Lucinda!” she cried excitedly. “I got a note from him. He wants to meet me for lunch!”
            “Who?” the sleepy voice asked.
            “You know! Him! My secret admirer!”
            “That’s wonderful!” Lucinda exclaimed, awake now.
            “I want you to go with me.”
            “I couldn’t go with you—not on a date,” Lucinda protested.
            “I don’t mean go to lunch. I mean just go with me until I meet him and see who he is. We’re going to meet at Maisie’s Diner at noon.”
            At eleven-thirty Beulah and Lucinda were in sitting in Lucinda’s father’s car, across the street from Maisie’s Diner, watching the people who walked into the diner. At about ten minutes of twelve, Beulah saw a young man approaching. He was wearing a shiny blue suit. A wide, flowered necktie was knotted about an inch below the top button of his collar. He had horn-rimmed glasses and dark hair, which he kept brushing off his forehead.
            “Look,” Beulah said. “There’s Harrison Plunket. I wonder what he’s doing here?”
            Lucinda scrouched down in her seat. “Oh, I don’t want him to see me,” she said.
            “Why not? How do you expect him to notice you if he can’t see you?”
            Harrison stopped in front of the diner and looked around. He glanced at his watch. Beulah noticed then that he was holding a bouquet. He brushed his hair from his forehead and started pacing back and forth in front of the diner. He looked at his watch again.
            It was Lucinda who first realized it. “I wonder if that’s him,” she gasped.
            “You know. Your secret admirer.”
            “Oh no! If that’s him, I just couldn’t go.”
            “No, you go,” Lucinda insisted. “I guess me and him just warn’t mean for each other. If I can’t have him, then I’d rather you have him than anyone else.”
            “No! I couldn’t!”
            But Harrison had spotted them. He crossed the street to where they were. He looked at Beulah and asked, “You got my note?”
            Beulah looked at Lucinda, who whispered, “Go ahead. I want you to go.”
            Beulah got out of the car, and she and Harrison started to cross over to the diner.
            “I hope you don’t think I’m being to pushy,” the young man said, “but let’s face it, I’ve always admired you. There aren’t too many people in this town who appreciate the finer things. Then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. I figured it’s better late than never. So I burned the midnight oil to write you a token of my esteem.”
            “It was just so beautiful,” Beulah murmured. “No one never wrote me no pomes before.”
            “Like I said, I always knew you appreciated the finer things, so in the last analysis I decided to take the bull by the horns and strike while the iron was hot. I had a sneaking suspicion that you and Brick had had a parting of the ways.”
            Beulah looked at him with admiration. “You have such a way with words,” she said.
            Then, just as they were ready to enter the diner, a burly young man approached them.
            “Where do you think you’re going with my girlfriend?” he demanded.
            “You and me ain’t going out together no more, Broderick,” Beulah said. “so I guess I got a right to go out with whoever I want to.”
            “It’s a crying shame,” Harrison said to him, “that you can’t let bygones be bygones. To all intents and purposes you and Beulah have severed your relationship, so it stands to reason that she should be free to go out with whoever she wants. It’s about time you learned the facts of life.”
            “I’ll teach you the facts of life,” Broderick roared. He lowered his head and started running toward Harrison. Beulah gaped at muscular Broderick gathering steam as he rushed toward scrawny little Harrison. She started to scream.
            She needn’t have worried about Harrison, though. At the last second Harrison stepped aside, and Broderick ran head-first into a telephone pole. There was a loud crack, and the pole seemed to move slightly. Broderick landed on the ground moaning, his eyes swimming out of focus.
            Beulah ran to him and cradled his head in her arms. Harrison went over to see what he could do.
            “It goes without saying,” he said, “that he was the aggressor in this little dust-up. I certainly didn’t do anything with malice aforethought, but when jealousy rears its ugly head, something like this is likely to result.”
            “Don’t talk to me, you brute! What have you done to him?” She turned her attention back to Broderick and said, “Speak to me, my darling. Are you hurt?”
            Broderick sat up and started looking around, a puzzled expression on his face.
            Eben Danforth had come out of the diner to see what was going on. “Good thing he hit hisself in the head,” Eben remarked. “He might of hurt hisself otherwise.”
            Harrison was standing, a bewildered expression on his face. Lucinda Fogg came up to him said, “I know how you feel. I know what it is to be spurned by the one you love.”
            Harrison looked at her as though he had never seen her before.
            “If you need a shoulder to cry on,” the young woman assured him, “you can always count on me. I’ll always be there for you.”
            “Thank you,” He answered. “You’re like a shot in the arm, a breath of fresh air, just what the doctor ordered.”
            The two young people walked off together.
            Broderick brought his eyes into focus and looked Beulah. “I’m sorry I got mad at you,” he said. “I missed you.”

            “I missed you too, Broderick. Let’s go into Maisie’s and have some lunch. They got chocolate cream pie for dessert today."

"A Love So Rare" was first published in Rafale.

I plan to publish the whole collection as a kindle book in early March

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


            Eben Danforth always drives around in a beat-up old pick-up, but years ago he had a VW Beetle. The men who worked with him at the pulp mill used to tease him about the car.
            “You see that thing on the road,” Bill Farley would say, “and you can’t hardly tell whether it’s coming or going.”
            The teasing didn’t bother Eben. He’d just go on talking about how easy the beetle was to drive, how inexpensive and easy it was to repair, and what good gas mileage it got. He especially liked to talk about the gas mileage.                                      
            Everyone at work got tired of hearing how many miles per gallon Eben had got on his last trip, everyone, that is, except Bill Farley, who would just egg him on and tell him how he could get even better mileage.
            “You put some of that XO-10 in that gas tank, and let me tune it up, and you’ll get some real gas mileage out of it,” Bill would say.
            They’d get together at lunch break, the four men who work in the bleaching department, Eben and Bill and Horace Slocum, and Bill’s sidekick, Burt Bickford. Like the time about two months after Eben first got the car, Bill asked, “You know what that car of yours looks like?”
            He nudged Burt, who smiled because he knew something funny was coming.
            “It looks like a giant beetle.”
            Although he had heard the joke at least a dozen times, Burt broke out laughing.
            “Yeah, it looks like a great big bug,” Burt added, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses on his nose and pushing his red suspenders up on his shoulders.
            Horace scowled and took a sandwich out of his lunch bucket.
            “I’ll tell you,” Eben answered, “that car is the finest kind. It’s the easiest thing to drive I ever had. I jest step on the exhilerator, and it goes along as smooth as nawthing at all. I went to Bangor last week, and I didn’t even have to parallel park. I jest drove right into a spot.”
            “Not to change the subject,” Horace interrupted, resting his hands on his big belly, “I been watching this new soap opera when I ain’t working on the day shift. I don’t usually listen to them things, but Martha has it on, and I kind of got interested in it.”
            Bill ignored him and asked Eben, “What kind of mileage did you get on that trip to Bangor?”
            Horace scowled again, and Eben answered, “Thirty-two miles to a gallon. That’s pretty good, if you ask me.”
            Burt frowned, trying to comprehend something. “I never could figure out how you know how many miles you get to a gallon,” he finally said.
            “There ain’t nawthing to it,” Eben replied, taking a pencil stub and an old pay envelope out of his shirt pocket. “Let’s say your odometer readers 17,435 when you fill your tank with gas.” He put the figures on the back of his pay envelope.
            “That wouldn’t be right for my car,” Burt said, “’cause I’ve got almost 80,000 miles on my car.
            “That don’t make no difference,” Eben responded. “I ain’t explaining the particulars. I’m explaining the principles. So let’s say your odometer reads 17,435.”
            Burt had his face all twisted up trying to understand. It was clear to everyone except Eben that Burt had no idea what Eben was talking about.
            Eben went on to say, “Then, let’s say the next time you fill it up, your odometer readers 17,725, see. You subtract the 17,435 from 17,725.”
            He screwed up his face and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as he did the calculation. Burt, sitting opposite Eben, had the same expression on his face, even down to the tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth, but it didn’t help him understand what Eben was doing.
            “Let’s see,” Eben went on, “five from five leaves nawthing, and three from two, let’s see. Take away one from seven, and that makes twelve and subtract three and that leaves nine, and four from seven is three. Ayuh, that’s right. That means you’ve drove three hundred and ninety miles.”
            Horace had listened patiently while Eben tried to explain to Burt how to figure out mileage. Then he felt it was his turn. “This here soap opera,” he began, “it’s called ‘The Gathering Gloom.’ It’s about this young girl named Aurora who’s trying to get into show business.”
            Eben ignored him and went on with his explanation: “So, let’s say when you get gas, your tank takes twelve gallons.”
            “My car always takes more than twelve gallons. I always have to put in at least fifteen or sixteen gallons, sometimes more.”
            “That don’t make no difference,” Eben went on. “Just say this one time it took only twelve gallons.”
            Burt nodded, but his eyes betrayed hopeless bewilderment.
            “So you divide the twelve into three hundred and ninety,” sticking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth while he did his calculation.
            “Anyway,” Horace continued, “Aurora met this rich man named Lance LaRoux, and he promised to get her a part in the chorus line of this show called ‘The Purple Passion of Pompey.’”
            “Let’s see, Eben said, “twelve goes into thirty-nine four—no, three times. Three times two is six. Three times one is three. That makes thirty-six. Take that away from thirty-nine, and you get, let me see, four. Add a zero, and you get forty. Twelve goes into forty, let’s see, four times, so that means you’re getting thirty-four miles to a gallon.”   
            “It’s all too complicated for me,’ Burt said. “All I know is, that old Plymouth of mine is falling apart. I had a valve job done last week, and now it’s leaking oil. Yesterday I was driving home after work, and the muffler fell off. Fell off right there on Hardy Road while I was going home.”
            “What kind of gas mileage you getting on that Plymouth?” Bill asked, stuffing the last of his sandwich into his mouth and winking at Horace.
            Horace just scowled.
            “I don’t know,” Burt answered. “I just know it uses an awful lot of gas. I can’t hardly afford to drive it.” He pushed his red suspenders up on the shoulder of his red flannel shirt.
            Bill turned to Eben, who was eating blueberry pie out of a plastic dish. “Tell you what you ought to do,” he said. “You bring that VW over to me Satady, and I’ll tune ‘er up for you. Then you’ll get some real mileage out of ‘er.”
            He nudged Burt, who then said, “Ayuh, you let Bill tune ‘er up for you, and you’ll get some real gas mileage out of it.”
A week later the four men were sitting in Maisie’s Diner eating lunch.
            “What kind of gas mileage you getting on your VW now that I tuned ‘er up for you?” Bill asked.
            “I went to Houlton last Sunday, and I didn’t have to fill it up until Tuesday.” He pulled an old envelope covered with figures from his pocket. “I got sixty-eight miles to a gallon on the trip. I went to Bangor yesterday, and the gas gauge is still up above three-quarters.”
            Horace looked at him skeptically.
            “I told you you’d get better mileage if you let me tune it up,” Bill said, winking at Burt.
            “I tried to figure out my gas mileage like Eben does,” Burt cut in. “I don’t know if I done it right or not, but I’m just getting four miles to a gallon. The carburetor went last week, and them brakes is beginning to squeal.”
            “That show, ‘The Gathering Gloom,’ is getting pretty good,” Horace offered. “That rich guy, Lance Laroux, who helped Aurora get a part in the chorus line, wants a reward for helping her.”
            If you guys want anything else to eat,” Maisie yelled to them, “you better get it now. You ain’t got but six minutes to get back to the mill.” She stuck a cigarette into the corner of her mouth and lit it with a wooden match.
            “Give me a piece of blueberry pie,” Eben said.
            “Me too,” Burt added.
            “We better get back to the mill,” Horace said. “We’ll see you guys there.”
            As they went out the door, Horace said to Bill, “Eben couldn’t possibly get getting sixty-eight miles to a gallon. He must of figured it wrong.”
            Bill laughed but waited until they were outside to answer. “He didn’t figure it wrong,” Bill laughed. “Don’t say nawthing to him. I been adding a gallon of gas to his tank every morning. But now I’m really going to drive him nuts. I’m going to start siphoning some gas out of the tank every day. See if he can figure that out.”
For the next week Bill waited for Eben to say something about his gas mileage, but Eben never mentioned the gas mileage at all. Finally Bill couldn’t wait any longer. He asked Eben what kind of mileage the VW was getting.
            “I don’t know,” Eben said. “I need to get grain for Flora’s chickens, and I was having troubled getting the bags of gain in and out of the back seat of the VW, so I went to John Trembley’s and got a pick-up truck.”
            “But I seen that VW in the parking lot every morning,” Bill said.
            “Oh, I thought you knew,” Eben replied. “I sold that VW to Burt a week ago.”
            Bill’s face dropped as Burt said, “I still don’t know how to figure gas mileage, but it seems to use an awful lot of gas. I’ve filled it up twice this week, and I ain’t driven no place but back and forth to work.”

"The Beetle Bug " first appeared in The Braided Quilt.  

A kindle edition of RFD 1, Grangley will be coming out in the next few weeks.