ç Gone Lawn 52 : Jon Doughboy
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Gone Lawn 52
beaver moon, 2023

new works

Jon Doughboy

14 Maple Candies

Every summer I visit my childhood friend—my only friend—in Vermont. I leave New Jersey and take the Thruway to the Northway driving past little artsy Hudson Valley towns and decaying Borsht Belt resorts and cut across the southern Adirondacks and into Vermont, stopping for a Stewart’s unsweetened iced tea refresher and gas and then again stopping at Palmer Lane Maple in Jericho for maple candies and a maple creemee. The ice cream is cold and smooth, the candies hard and sweet.

I pop the first maple candy. A brown sugar maple leaf the size of a quarter, glossy like a piece of amber that melts on my tongue for the last stretch of road to my friend’s little shack in nearby Underhill. The locals call it the Shire. There and back again. Bougie restored farmhouses. Transplants with high-paying gigs they do online, advising people on their finances, who knows? I pass an empty farmstand. I pass a sculptor’s yard with iron creatures standing around idly like they’re waiting for a bus except there are no busses in the country. I pass a pick-your-own berry farm except no one is picking.

At dusk my friend and I slouch into camping chairs in his yard and drink bourbon and listen to the soldiers at the Ethan Allen Firing Range pummel invisible enemies with heavy ordinance. I offer my friend a maple candy which he turns down because he’s sick of them which I understand. Maple saturation. Vermont runs on maple. America runs on Dunkin’ and forever wars and I run on loneliness and my friend doesn’t run, he walks.

We hike up to Smuggler’s Notch. I eat a candy and listen to my friend explain that we’re standing on the Hershey Highway, so called because it’s where skiers in the winter sneak away for a cold shit. But this isn’t ski season and I don’t like sneaking and neither of us has to shit.

Another candy back in the parking lot. My friend tells me a kid drowned recently in the daycare here, fell into a water cistern and couldn’t get out. Couldn’t get out.

We swim in a stream in the morning down the street. The water is cold. My friend says there’s trout but I don’t see any. I ask him if he’s caught any, if he eats fish. He tells me there’s trout, that’s all he knows, that people say there’s trout, ok? I say ok. The water is cold. The candy is sweet. We see no trout.

We’re kayaking across the Waterbury Reservoir listening to kids leaping off a large rock and into the water. Chatter, cries, young bodies slapping water. I say, it must be nice. My friend says, what? I say, living in Vermont, being young, laughing. My friend doesn’t say anything to that.

We hike Mt. Mansfield which is the highest peak in Vermont. We take the Hell Brook trail, a steep scramble up slippery, break-neck boulders. We hoist ourselves up by gripping roots. It’s sunny. It’s summer in Vermont. I want to be thankful. To my friend. To nature. To something. The views are predictably spectacular at the summit, farms and mountains rolling on. The Adirondacks of New York to the west. The Whites of New Hampshire to the east. I try to say a prayer then remember I believe in nothing. My mouth is dry despite the candy.

Canoeing on Lake Willoughby and the water is very clear. Caribbean clear. I’m in the front, drinking a canned margarita. My friend is in the back steering. We see the nude beach. A lot of flaccid cocks and sagging tits soaking up the bright Vermont summer sun. I ask my friend about his ex, Megan. She was an exhibitionist who volunteered at all these sex positive workshops, teaching people how to use anal beads safely, demonstrating the right preparations. She’s dead, he says. How? I ask. Killed herself in Pomona, he says. I crack the candy in half with my molars, run my tongue along the sugary glass. Pomona is in California. It’s good to have a friend.

I’m on my own for the day. My friend was called into work. I borrow his bike and ride around Burlington. It rains. I stop for an award-winning beer at an award-winning brewery but it’s too bitter and I don’t really like beer.

Riding back to my car a man with binoculars flags me down. He says, there’s a bald eagle out there, high in the branch extending over the lake. Do you want to see it? I nod, take his binoculars, but see nothing but green branches and blue sky. Do you see it? He asks, excited for me, for the bird, for life. Yes, I do, I say, even though I don’t because it must be nice to be excited for something. And? He asks. And it’s beautiful, I say, a thing of beauty.

Around the fire I tell my friend that it’s proven that pets help fight loneliness and he should get a cat. I’m allergic, he says. What about a dog, I ask. I don’t like dogs, he says. We throw another branch on the fire. It’s large so we try to burn it in two. You could get used to a dog, though, couldn’t you? I ask. You know, learn to love it? Couldn’t you? Couldn’t you? The branch takes too long to burn in two so we leave it there in a bed of coals surrounded by stones smoldering alone into the Vermont night.

I leave the next morning. My friend sees me off, gifts me a bag of Vermont goodies. Cheeses, jams, a jug of syrup. Next year, I say. Next year, he says. I start my car and spray the windshield with fluid, watching the wipers remove bug guts and dirt. I see my friend between wipes standing at the window watching me. I pop another candy though I’m starting to get sick of maple too.

I stop on the way back at the Storm King Art Center because it’s early still, only the afternoon, and I don’t have to work until tomorrow and I pass this every year but never stop. I suck on a candy and walk around the sculptures. It’s humid. My face is slick with sweat. I don’t understand sculptures. Towering metal, mounds of stone, shapes of twisted rubber. All this time, money, and energy and for what? Lots of stuff taking up space. A whole world of stuff.

New Jersey. I’m home. There and back again. I eat my last candy and look at the photos on my phone of these past trips to Vermont. I see me aging in them. My friend aging. And the world indifferent to us both. Eight years of my friend and I, of those green, green mountains. 112 candies. I think about work. Being back there again, slogging through another friendless year. I think about killing myself. I think about Vermont next year.

Jon Doughboy is a lowly clerk at Bartleby & Co. He can be found on Twitter and his website, linktr.ee/doubhboywrites.