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Welcome to Dogwood Springs (2003)

Welcome to Dogwood Springs (2003)

©2003 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2003). Welcome to Dogwood Springs. First chapter of an uncompleted novel.

One of my favorite books is an absurd little collection of vignettes called The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi. It was published in the United States in 1950.




Welcome to Dogwood Springs

A Novel

By Dallas Denny


 Although there is a superficial resemblance between the community of Dogwood Springs and the municipality of tiny (pop. 800) Pine Lake, Georgia, I assure the reader the former is based only loosely upon the latter, and the Great City is based only loosely upon Atlanta. I have created the characters out of whole cloth (purchased at a bargain at Jo-Ann’s Fabrics). Any resemblance between actual human beings and the residents of Dogwood Springs is entirely coincidental. So, too, is any resemblance to the prose style of one Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

I wrote these six chapters before I ran out of steam.


Chapter 1

In Which the Writer Finds His Money Pit


The instant the Writer discovered the little village of Dogwood Springs, he fell into violent ambivalence with it. He saw it initially on the map, of course, but even on paper it had the ability to simultaneously thrill and frustrate him. The compact rectangular grid representing the tiny community lay obstinately embedded in a surround of winding streets named after dead kings and queens: King George Lane, Victoria Circle, Liberace Place. The streets of Dogwood Springs had simple names, tree names like Pine, Spruce, Maple, flower names like Rose and Gardenia, and one street obdurately named for the late Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Writer thought Dogwood Springs looked rather like a tic-tac-toe board tossed carelessly onto the map; it didn’t seem to belong at all. He wondered idly whether it might be just the sort of homey place for which he had been longing. But on the other hand it was on the sedate eastern side of the great city, rather far from the upscale northern suburbs which was the only place—or so he had been advised by Patricia, his real estate agent—in which to reside. Said agent, believing both the Writer’s bank account and his pretensions larger than they were in actuality, was taking him for the third day in a row to tour rambling empty mansions in subdivisions with extravagant names. The Writer, quailing at the thought of yet another dreary day spent wandering echoing halls, flew in the face of common sense and all that was holy and insisted that Patricia take him immediately to Dogwood Springs.

Since the tiny depression-era houses of Dogwood Springs sold for less than one-fifth the price of the cavernous new constructions in the northern suburbs, Patricia did her dead level best to dissuade him. “Dogwood Springs?” she snorted, as if to a child who, although small, should nevertheless know better than to have made such a preposterous request. Not content with reprimanding the small child once, she proceeded to repeat herself. “Dogwood Springs? You want to go to Dogwood Springs?”

The Writer was beginning to suspect he had committed a serious social gaffe, but he felt strongly that real estate salespeople must be kept in their place, unless you wish to find yourself living in a ramshackle old mansion with fourteen rooms and a leaky roof—which is a remarkably accurate description of his former home in Maine, an edifice which he had had on the market for a year-and-a-half, and which had, despite three reductions in the selling price and a now somewhat faded “Motivated Seller” sign in the front yard, had attracted no buyers, motivated or otherwise. If the Writer had some conviction about keeping a firm mind about not caving in to the pressures of real estate agents, it was because he had once experienced a moment of vacillation in the presence of an attractive and charming Coldwell Banker agent and had as a result spent ten years writing checks to keep the result from moldering down around him. No, real estate agents must be kept in their place. The Writer continued to insist he be taken to Dogwood Springs.

Patricia launched into a litany of reasons why the Writer did not, in fact, want to be taken to Dogwood Springs. She gave example upon shining example of fine residences in the northern suburbs, homes at the sight of which the Writer would doubtless fall to his knees in awe and reverence. The Writer stuck out his lower lip and folded his arms, refusing to be budged.

“You must remember,” said Patricia, looking at the Writer rather than at the road. “Location, location, location. Dogwood Springs is hardly the sort of place for a person of your status.” I’m sure you’ll be happier in Duckhead or Glorietta or Betaretta. I just know you’ll be enchanted with the properties on the list.”

The list in question was lying on the seat between the Writer and the real estate agent. She leaned over to examine it, nearly colliding with a freight truck making a wide right turn. The Writer made a desperate grab for the list, but Patricia was quicker. “What about this one?” she demanded, waving the list in his face. “It’s in the prestigious PointeLake community.”

“Is there really a lake?” asked the Writer hopefully. It was really not a stupid question, for he had been unable to find water of any sort at four of the wet-sounding subdivisions to which the agent had already dragged him.

She ignored him. “Five bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths on a full-acre lot. Covenant neighborhood, three sides brick, great room with cathedral ceiling, master-on-main, three-car garage, full basement with an in-law suite.”

The Writer shuddered at the in-law word. Although he was safely divorced and therefore hopefully immune from the visitations of his ex-mother-in-law, even the rambling house in Maine hadn’t been large enough those times when she had come to visit. Even Texas, he had once muttered, wouldn’t be large enough. “I want,” the Writer grumbled, “to go to Dogwood Springs.”

“No, really you don’t. Here. Look at the list. You’ll see we have some wonderful properties.” She thrust the paper hopefully toward him, looking a bit crestfallen, as if by letting it out of her hands she was violating the real estate agents’ code, as perhaps she was.

The Writer grabbed the list, glanced at it, and tossed it into the back seat. “Pat, if you won’t take me to Dogwood Springs, I’ll find someone who will.” His initial desire to visit Dogwood Springs had in fact been only a whim, but under onslaught his initial impulse had solidified into determination. He would, by damn, go to Dogwood Springs! Was he not a man, and moreover, a customer? “Now will you take me, or must I find another real estate company?”

Patricia capitulated, deflating almost visibly inside her red blazer. Said jacket was her just reward for selling five million dollars of real estate—all, of course, in the northern suburbs, where crimson jackets were awarded like medals of honor to closers. Even in the unlikely event of her agency having listings in Dogwood Springs, it would hardly be worth her while to sell a home there, for it was a community of little houses at little prices which the owners, showing a scandalous lack of respect for the real estate industry, often sold themselves, cheating real estate agents out of monies which should by rights be theirs, starving their children and driving them into ruin, or so Patricia believed, with all her heart. “The client is always right,” she said, and less loudly, “Even when he’s wrong!” and threw her Cadillac into a sudden U-turn, darting in and out of the parking lot of a McDonalds and narrowly missing a Jaguar driven by a hunched-over elderly driver who would have made an obscene gesture if he had seen her.

Since they were now heading towards Dogwood Springs, Patricia thought she would take the opportunity to give the Writer a number of carefully crafted reasons why a trip to Dogwood Springs would be a waste of time. He could not possibly, she reasoned, object to the clear light of logic. He was, after all an author, and weren’t authors, especially mystery writers like this one, noted for their clever use of reason? Having surrounded herself with shallow friends from the northern suburbs who were, if anything, unified in their lack of interest in the printed word, Patricia wasn’t at all sure how to win an argument with a writer, but she was certain this one would see reason soon enough, and then she could swing the big car around and head once again for the northern suburbs, where the house with the mother-in-law suite patiently waited. She smiled at the thought of impending victory.

“Let me fill you in about Dogwood Springs,” she began, glancing at the Writer to see his reaction. He was leaning back in his seat, eyes half closed, with a smile on his face, so she continued. “It’s a very small place.”

The Writer did not react visibly to this distressing news, so she continued. “It’s but a quarter-mile wide and a half-mile long.” The Writer was still smiling. “There are only sixteen streets.”

“Yes,” said the Writer, who had a suspicion this speech was not going to be complementary, and who wanted to put in a good word for the little # mark of a town. “I can see so on the map. It’s just a little grid, some streets and what looks to be a lake. The streets are named after trees and such.”

Streets named after trees, indeed! thought Patricia. How tacky. The streets in the northern suburbs had real names, fine names to go with grand houses, names like Waterloo Boulevard and Thomas Jefferson Drive and Port Cochére Lane and D’Artagan Way. Oak and Elm and Hemlock, how distressing!

“Dogwood Springs was started as a summer resort, a fish camp, really, back in the ’30s. There was no thought anyone would ever choose to live there year round. The lots are tiny,” she continued, “sixty by one hundred feet, and a few are even smaller.” The Writer was still wearing his blissful expression, so she hit him with the devastating consequences of building on small lots. “That means the houses—” Patricia deliberately chose the word house instead of the preferred home so as to suggest the domiciles of Dogwood Springs were merely lath and mortar, lacking the warm and congenial qualities which made a house a desirable place in which to take up residence “— are tiny. Some are only eight hundred or a thousand square feet, and almost none are larger than 2000 square feet.”

Patricia glanced at the Writer and decided he was trying hard not to show his disappointment. She imagined herself wheeling about, heading in triumph towards the northern suburbs, where a house with 4000 square feet was considered to be on the small side. “… and not only are the houses dinky, they’re old. And as you know, old houses are money pits. Most of these were built long ago as one-room cabins and have been added onto over the years, at the whim of their owners. No two are the same.” They do not, she told herself, have the uniformness of construction and appearance which characterize the fine homes in the northern suburbs. “They’re nonstandard, small houses with small rooms, outdated electrics, leaky plumbing. Money pits, absolute money pits. And they’re quirky. Idiosyncratic. There’s no, no, no—cohesion! They don’t stick together, those people. They don’t have a plan! I’ve no idea why the city government lets them get away with colors like lavender and fuchsia and lime green and putting cast iron pterosaurs on their roofs! Thank God for covenant neighborhoods.” Patricia dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You know, this isn’t the, the best section of the City. There are—” how could she say this and not seem a racist?—”undesirable neighborhoods all around Dogwood Springs. Not the best sort of people.”

The writer chose not to reply, or so Patricia guessed, sneaking a quick peek at him. He was leaning back in his seat, staring nonchalantly at the headliner, trying, she was sure, not to reveal his growing disappointment.

“You know, of course, banks are reluctant to make loans on such houses. And the owners— well, they’re even more idiosyncratic than the houses, artists and writers—” Oops!, she thought, “—and old hippies and retired couples and work-at-home types and gays and lesbians and, and, and, musicians! Not the proper sort of people at all, not a banker or a lawyer or a broker in the lot. And really, they’re so small, those houses. Only a few have garages or carports or basements. Most have only two bedrooms.” And now, Patricia smiled, for the coup de grâce. “And almost all of them have only one bathroom! Now tell me what you think about that!”

There! Patricia gloated. That had to have done it. She turned in triumph to the Writer, who was still smiling a little open-lipped smile, and awaited his response. After a moment, he began making little snoring sounds.


The Writer woke when Patricia exited the Interstate. He wasn’t at all impressed with the immediate neighborhood, but when they turned off Stoneway Road at the Dogwood Springs city limit sign onto one of the streets named after trees, he was immediately entranced. It was as if they had entered a scout camp, or gone back a half-century in time. The lane was vaulted with trees and lined with cabins and cottages, rustic in appearance and set close together on the aforesaid tiny lots, festooned with pine and dogwood trees, awash in azaleas and rhododendron and irises. As Patricia had warned, no two houses were alike. In fact, they were almost aggressively different. Pink-clad frame frame homes snuggled against rustic-looking cabins which abutted tiny white bungalows which in turn adjoined houses with exteriors of painted cinder blocks. Tiny flower gardens boasted blossoms he could identify and some he could not, the aforementioned azaleas rioted in pink and white and red and purple profusion, and cars rested in tiny driveways. Here and there men and women were about, sitting on shady front porches or in lawn chairs sipping iced tea or lemonade, gardening in the few places where the trees were thin enough to admit sunlight, chatting across fences. There were gazebos, pergolas, arbors, sunrooms, summerhouses, trellises choked with honeysuckle and clematis, gliders and porch swings, one of the aforementioned pterodactyls, and even a tree house or two. The Writer fell immediately out of ambivalence and into admiration—and then Patricia’s Caddy crested a rise and the Writer saw the splendid little jewel of Dogwood Lake and he fell out of admiration and straight into love. Ten seconds later he forgot completely and forever more about the northern suburbs. He had found his money pit.


Chapter 2

Reality Check


Picture an indifferent universe filled with all sorts of astronomical phenomena, including any number of pinwheel-shaped galaxies. Picture one of these galaxies with a rather small and insignificant G-type star near the end of one of the spiral arms. Now imagine this star has eight (formerly there were nine, but one defected) planets, one of the smaller of which is peppered with carbon-based life-forms, some of which claim they are intelligent and a few of which actually are. Imagine an alien observer on this planet’s single moon, gazing through a powerful telescope at a grand city on the continent the English-speaking life forms call North America. This city, our observer notices, lies at the intersection of the Piedmont, a great plain that stretches across the inland regions of the South Atlantic states, and the southernmost reaches of the Appalachian mountains. Unlike the great seaboard cities, there is no ocean to limit the city’s growth. There is no Great Lake like Chicago’s, no Great Salt Lake, no mountain range like Denver’s, no great river like Memphis’. There are no other cities to bump into to the north or south or east or west. With nothing to check its growth, the city has sprawled in all directions until it now covers nearly one-fourth of the state from North to South and one-half from East to West. It has become a vast conglomeration of malls and strip shopping centers and fast-food restaurants and grocery stores and filling stations and apartment complexes, its many highways functioning as great parking spaces for hordes of angry commuters whose daily drives on smog-blanketed freeways are among the longest and slowest in the nation.

To our alien observer (remember her?—and shame if you were thinking she was a he), the city would have a certain frightening coherence. The crime-filled downtown areas, all dozen or so malls and the thousands of strip malls, the 147 McDonald’s, the 92 Burger Kings and the 112 KFCs, the many tall buildings, the half-dozen interstate highways and tens of thousands of surface roads, the thousands of pompously-named apartment complexes, condominiums and subdivisions, all these would contribute to a nightmarish sense of America gone awry, the search for the good life grown cancerous.

Eager to share her findings, our observer heads for Rigel VI or Andromeda IX to report on a city expanding at a speed which approaches that of light.

Had the observer stuck around with her lens on extreme zoom, she might have noticed a man standing amidst a profusion of bushes in the little city of Dogwood Springs.


Chapter 3

A Stranger in the Community


Letitia Goodbody might be a name good enough for some, but to the former Letitia Goodbody, it was anything but. She had hated the name almost from birth. Her baby name was Bubbles. She had no memory of it, but hated it in retrospect. In high school, she was known as Sissy, even though she was most assuredly not. She hated the nickname. The year she dropped out of Stanford, she had, during a moment of insight made crisp and bright by two hits of orange barrel, begun to call herself Spring Summer. Fortunately, no attorneys were involved in this change of appellation. When the hippies all turned into corporate raiders and soccer moms, she was happy to let Spring Summer go the way of all seasons. During the greedy 1980s Letitia changed her name again, this time legally, to the more upscale-sounding Cordelia Vanderbilt. A brief marriage to one Joe Higgins had ended her days as a Vanderbilt.

So it wasn’t Letitia Goodbody, or Baby Bubbles, or Spring Summer, or Cordelia Vanderbilt, but Cordie Higgins who walked out the front door of her Dogwood Springs cottage carrying a piece of cloth on a stick. It was Cordie who strode up to the big oak tree with the roots that were crumbling her foundation—to be more accurate, her house’s foundation, although, as we shall soon see, Lizzie’s foundation was crumbling too. She unfurled a bedgraggled American flag, limp and faded from the previous three-quarters of a century’s duty—(it had only 48 stars)—affixed it to a dowel that showed equivalent neglect, and stuck the dowel in the plastic holder affixed to the trunk. Then she turned and went back inside, leaving the door conveniently not a door at all, but ajar.

No more than thirty second later, former Mayor Marky Crouch slouched nonchalantly around the corner of Elm and Birch streets, and, looking around with an expression that could only be described by 12 men good and true as guilty, hurried up Cordie’s sidewalk, opened the jar—er, make that the door—and slithered inside.

If, dear reader, you are thinking the assignation of Councilwoman Higgins and former Mayor Crouch was be to a lover’s tryst, I am about to disappoint you. Hizzonor was far too henpecked to allow himself to speculate about potential sexual exploits, and Lizzie’s mind ran on one track only. At this moment, that track led not to amour, but to conspiracy. Cordie and Marky were laying the initial plans for a coup.

They came together, not in an embrace, but in a huddle, bending over a map Cordie had spread out on her green formica kitchen table. So intent were they on their intrigues, neither noticed the man standing amidst the camellias just outside the window.

Rhonda Addams’ kitchen window afforded an excellent view of Dogwood Lake, despite her best effort to obscure her field of vision with knicknacks. She was standing at the sink washing her breakfast dishes, or, rather, loading them into her newly-installed dishwasher, when she saw the stranger, a tall and rather thin young man standing placidly amidst the plants at the rear of Azalea Station, only feet from Cordie Higgens’ house. He was looking somewhat bemused, as if he were lostnot an easy accomplishment in such a small town as Dogwood Springs. Rhonda watched for a moment, then picked up the phone and dialed 911.

The writer’s Dogwood Springs cottagethere was no doubt from the moment he saw it that it would be his housesat on a rise close to the lake at 423 Lakeside. It was a single story edifice pained canary yellow, almost obscured by descending layers of verdant growth, pine trees reigning at the upper level, giving way to dogwood, magnolia, and redbuds in the middle stories, which in turn surrendered to a frenzied mass of azaleas, camellias, rhododendron, laurel, and wisteria. Ivy nearly obscured a sign which read “Azalea Station,” but another sign, reading “For Sale by Owner,” had been placed so as to be clearly visible. The writer had wished for a pen so he could jot down the number, but he had had no pen, and he wasn’t about to ask Patricia for one, so he had done his best to memorize the number.

Oblivious to the Writer’s rapid breathing, Patricia had driven serenely past the house and made a quick circuit of the lake, looking without much hope and in vain for her company’s red, white, and blue insignia. There were other streets in Dogwood Springs, but she wasn’t going to drive down them unless asked, and the writer, having discovered what he was already thinking of as his home, didn’t insist. “I hope you’re satisfied,” Patricia snorted, unwittingly making the mistake of driving again past the Writer’s house-to-be. In her mind she was already accelerating the big German car away from Dogwood Springs and toward the glorious northern suburbs. “I told you we were wasting our time.”

The writer had been feeling an growing sense of panic, tied to a sense that if he didn’t act decisively, and soon, he would find himself in real estate hell. He was picturing standing with a bill of sale in a cavernous, empty house in the far reaches of the Northern suburbs. “Stop!” he cried. Patricia, alarmed, hit the brakes, her body pressing into the seat belt. Before the Benz had even stopped rolling, the Writer had opened the door, leapt out, and was running toward a little house nearly visible behind a screen of plants. “Damn!” said Patricia. “I think I’ve lost another one.”

Having left the red-jacketed Patricia sulking in her Cadillac, and having peered in the curtainless windows of the cottage at 423 Lakeside, the Writer had decided to walk the property line of his money pit. He had rather painfully found the boundary at the rear of the lot. His progress, despite a smarting toe, had been good until he had encountered a clump of camellias, twenty-year-old plants in spring bloom, as tall as trees, running riotous. He stood, admiring their beauty, then reluctantly returned to the car.

Patricia, leaning back in the driver’s seat with her eyes closed, was dreaming of the Caribbean. She could almost see the island sunsets, the sun sinking on the western horizon, globulous and orange. Her mental picture was wavering though, the sun not burning steadily, but pulsing rather like a strobe light.

Opening her eyes, Patricia saw a strobe light—and not orange, but blue, and not one, but two. A police car had pulled up behind her, lights flashing. Now the officer made the siren chirp and got out of his car.

She glanced at the dash for the hour. “The Hendersons are expecting us about now,” she said. I’ll call them on the cell phone and re-schedule. We’re going to be running late all day.”

The Writer was at odds with himself. Which would be the less painful—enduring a bleak afternoon walking through bloated trophies of conspicuous consumption in the northern suburbs, or facing Patricia’s wrath by announcing he had decided he hated the northern suburbs and couldn’t possibly bear to live there. After a moment he said, “I don’t know what I was thinking. Do you think we could possibly work the Henderson place back into the schedule?”


Chapter 4

In Which the Writer Acquires His House


The Writer’s house—for of course he was already thinking of it as such, even though it would be more than two weeks before it would be his in actuality—lay empty, waiting for him. It had sat vacant for the better part of two years, ever since the day Miss Agatha Mackenzie had, against her will, been removed to a nursing home by her son Walter, or rather by attendants in white coats there at the behest of Margritte, Walter’s wife. The attendants had had a rough moment indeed until they were able to convince Miss Agatha to lay down her shotgun and go with them voluntarily. Walter, who was fiercely determined that he would never allow himself to be taken to any sort of retirement facility and did not particularly think his mother should either, had finally caved in to the pressure from Miss Agatha’s doctor and the nagging of Margritte, who, once the commitment papers bore Walter’s signature, had summoned the attendants rather than wait for Walter to work up courage enough to tell his mother of his decision to move her to a home. Miss Agatha, who, had she been allowed to stay in her cottage, might have lived forever, had straightaway died of a broken heart.

Walter, who loved the lake house nearly as much as had his mother, had resisted his wife’s increasingly strident demands that he put it on the market, but the arrival of a second child and Magritte’s insistence that they sell their condo in Middletown and buy a house in the elite northern suburbs had eventually worn down his resistance sufficiently to induce him to purchase a For Sale by Owner sign and bury it halfheartedly amidst the ivy, making certain it was for all practical purposes out of sight. Walter didn’t know Magritte, driving by to check on his handiwork, had only that morning pulled up the sign and placed it so as to be clearly visible from the road and hence to the Writer’s searching eyes as he and Patricia had driven by.

Miss Agatha’s house had a long and proud Dogwood Springs tradition, for it actually predated the community. In the fall of 1928 a developer named Albert Flood had, one fine Sunday morning, packed into his gleaming new Model A Ford a picnic basket and his pregnant wife and driven away from the great city along the Stone Way until he found a suitable spot for an outdoor repast. Eating fried chicken and cole slaw and chocolate cake, washing it down with his wife’s lemonade, and speculating on the probable sex of his future son or daughter, he had felt so grand that he had been unable to stop himself from looking about at the surrounding farmland and forests and the sparkling creek and imagining what a grand spot it would be for a housing development. He had been attracted enough by the spot to make a second visit, during which he followed the little creek to its source, a series of springs from which issued water in great quantities, clear as crystal and cold as Calvin Coolidge’s heart.

Upon discovering the springs—which did not in fact need discovering, as they had been well-known to the Cherokee Indians who had once inhabited the region, who had called it Place-Where-Bears-Bathe, and equally well-known to the local farm children, who called it simply the Swimming Hole—Albert Flood had immediately abandoned his thoughts of building a subdivision and begun to think in terms of a resort. Times were, after all, booming; the stock market was soaring and money was everywhere. Albert envisioned the great city’s wealthy bankers and attorneys and politicians coming to his retreat to bathe in the warm waters and pay large sums for poultices and balms and massages and cruel diet treatments. He would, he thought, create a new alternative for the wealthy, who had been traveling long distances for such amenities, and who would gratefully flock to a spa so close to the great city.

Unfortunately, the waters were cold and not hot and completely devoid of minerals, and Flood’s fortune was small and not large, and he was forced to downsize his vision from a retreat on the order of Dr. Kellogg’s to something rather more manageable. He purchased the land at a modest price from a farmer who was happy to be rid of such rocky and unproductive ground and had an earthen dam constructed a quarter-mile downstream from the Springs. Around the resulting lake he laid out a grid, had the land bulldozed, and laid out streets with large lots, 300′ x 200′, in which he envisioned would be built dozens of palatial summer houses much like the ones in The Great Gatsby, which he had recently read. He built a clubhouse beside the springs, put his ads in the paper, and waited for the resulting stampede.

Nine months later, having renewed his 90-day loan thrice and with his banker threatening to call in the sum rather than renew again, and with much of his fortune wiped out by the recent crash of the stock market, Albert was forced to reconsider his position. He reluctantly concluded that perhaps the very wealthy actually preferred Gstaad or Saratoga or East Egg over a 400-acre section of bulldozed Georgia farmland. Looking around at what he had wrought, Flood glumly concluded that perhaps he should lower the bar by subdividing the lots. He further concluded that perhaps Floodland was not the most optimistic name for the little world he was attempting to create. And so he chopped each 200′ x 300′ block into 20′ x 100′ squares and lowered the price to $69.95, and, notwithstanding the fact that he had taken down nearly every tree on the property, changed the name to Dogwood Springs.

This time Albert’s ads brought results, although not quite in the form he had anticipated. He had expected the second-tier rich, not Gatsbys so much as Babbittses—and indeed, Dogwood Springs did draw a few such—but most of his buyers were solidly middle-class, electricians and bakers and grocers, folks who had so far weathered the Great Depression and were looking for an inexpensive escape from the heat and noise of the great city. They bought single and double lots. They would arrive with their children on Friday evenings in their Model Ts or Hudsons or on the trolley and set up tents and spend the weekend on the lake, swimming and boating and fishing, lounging in hammocks, washing their cars, and in general enjoying themselves. On Sunday evening the property would empty as happy, sunburned families returned to the great city for another week of drudgery.

Before too many months had elapsed the lots had all been sold and Albert had recouped most of his investment. He promptly bulldozed the far side of the lake and laid out another grid of tiny lots, which were soon purchased, resulting in a tidy profit for Albert, enabling him to endure what remained of the Great Depression with relative ease. In 1938 he began speculating in land in the northern suburbs, and when he died in 1952, he was a millionaire several times over. His son, Albert, Jr., the very child who had been gestating that day of the picnic, had carried on the family business, as had Albert III, who had built many of the capacious northern suburb homes the Writer had been dragged through by Patricia.

Miss Agatha’s house—although it was of course not known as such at the time—had been the home of Amos Grimes, whose father had built it in 1880. The old man had situated it to overlook the springs, which he had loved. He was much more interested in sitting on the porch and watching the water flow than in tilling the soil of his 200-acre farm, and did so until 1919, when he tumbled one day out of his rocking chair and hit the ground, quite dead. It was the son Amos who, frustrated by years of tilling the rocky soil and embittered by the racism of his white neighbors, had sold the property to Albert Flood.

Albert, who had no particular need of the old home place, had sold it to his cousin Troy, who summered in it until he was forced to sell it to a Jewish family, the Roths, who spent only a single weekend during which a cross was burned in their yard, causing them in turn to sell it at a low price to one Howard Cobb, who was acting as an agent for the Reveres, a family noted primarily for their Klan activities.

As for Dogwood Springs, it quickly grew from a sea of tents amidst the mud to a hamlet, as lots were traded, bought and sold, and families began to erect one-room cabins and as new vegetation, including many of the dogwoods for which the townlet was named, began to grow. By 1940 many of the cabins had, by virtue of additions, become full-time dwellings, and some of the bathrooms were inside. After World War II, Dogwood Springs enjoyed a reputation as an inexpensive place for young families, who generally sold their properties as soon as children began to arrive in favor of larger homes elsewhere in the great city.

From about 1965 to 1975, many of the houses had fallen into disrepair and Dogwood Springs became known as a sort of hippie hangout. Most of the inhabitants rented from owners who now lived in the northern suburbs or other affluent parts of the great city. During this period longhairs and rednecks commingled more-or-less peaceably, and the odors of marijuana smoke and Pabst Blue Ribbon were common ones. The eighties saw the town continue to deteriorate as rotting houses were rented for low prices and occasionally burned to the ground by the owners for insurance monies, but around 1985 the little town began to turn around. As prices skyrocketed in other parts of the great city, single men and women, gay and lesbian couples, and newlyweds began to purchase, renovate, and expand the tattered houses. A neighborhood association was formed and pressure was put on absentee landlords to either repair or sell their properties. The reason the neighbors were able to make this work was because the town operated under a covenant which had been drawn up by Albert Flood’s attorney, creating Dogwood Springs as a municipality. Consequently, it had always had a mayor and a constable and the power to tax and levy fines. Soon the town had a three-person police force which brought in a considerable income from speeders on Stoneway, as the Stone Way was now called, and a city government which required landowners to keep their property clean and in good repair. Soon the washing machines and abandoned cars had been carted away and the houses spruced up, the landlords had sold their rental properties to people who actually lived in the homes, and Dogwood Springs had become a picturesque little community of modest but individualistic homes which commanded increasingly higher prices on the market, a beautified lake and springs, and a government and homeowners association dedicated to keeping the quaint little community as different as possible from the northern suburbs.

This was the Dogwood Springs with which the Writer had fallen into love.


Chapter 5



When the Writer had left Maine five days earlier, the snow had been knee-deep, the sky gray, the wind blustery. Here it was warm and sunny, the air fragrant with blossoms. Although it was barely April, the pollen count was already high enough to be a topic of discussion on the evening news.

It was the gloaming when the Writer turned off Stockbridge and for the second time that day descended into the little village of Dogwood Springs.

By the time he reached the village, the writer he discovered he had an appetite. Wishing to dine in an establishment which exemplified the spirit of Dogwood Springs, he passed an Appleby’s and several steak houses in favor of a small placesome might call it a dive, but we certainly will not stoop to such ignominy in these pagescalled Larry’s Wings and Things.

The reader who resides above the Mason-Dixon line may not be well acquainted with Southern gustatory traditions, and so may have missed out on a lifetime of grits, buttermilk biscuits, corn bread, fried okra, candied yams, collard greens, ham hocks, chicken-fried steak, Southern fried chicken, barbecue, and that new tradition which is vended from tiny kitchens and carts along the road side, chicken wings. Southerners are prodigious consumers of chicken wings, which, separated at the joints, resemble little drumsticks, but with white meat. They eat them deep-fried in artery-clogging grease and dipped in Tasasco sauce which burns the clogs out of the arteries. Traditionally—if something so new can be called a tradition—served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing, wings are ordered in quantities of six, ten, twenty, and fifty and devoured, by themselves or with fries, and washed down not with pop or cola, which are Yankee terms, but with Coke, which in the South can refer to any carbonated beverage. Perhaps other parts of the country consume the millions of chickens made wingless by Southern gourmands, or perhaps there are hordes of the poor disappendaged creatures wandering about, but one thing is certain: in the South, the favorite part of the chicken is the wing, fried and Tabascoed.

Larry’s Wings and Things therefore more than exemplified the native cuisine. It was fortunately also more than the usual 20-foot trailer from which wings were vended; in addition to wings, the menu featured burgers, steaks, fish, and several pastas, complemented by a Plexiglas spinner featuring a variety of pies, cakes, and pastries. The Writer, who wished to revel in the regional cuisine, walked to the counter and ordered ten wings.

“How many Tabascoes?” asked the young man behind the counter, whose thin face and long nose caused him to look not altogether unlike a wingless chicken himself. The effect was accentuated by his uniform shirt, which was so large it, despite being theoretically short-sleeved, rather swallowed his arms. He jerked his head at a plaque on the wall—an unfortunate means of communication, as it made him look even more like a chicken—which featured a memorial to those fortunate or unfortunate enough to have survived wings with a rating of five or more Tabascoes.

“Uh—just how hot is one Tabasco? On a scale of one to ten, say.”

“Ten,” said the young man. Then, “You want a recommendation?” He leaned forward in a conspiratorial fashion. The Writer nodded in dumb assent. “We use real Tabasco sauce here, not Louisiana hot sauce like most places. The Tabasco is a pretty hot pepper. So if this is your first time here, I would go with one Tabasco, unless you need to prove something to yourself.”

The Writer, who had been considering ordering five Tabasco wings for just that reason, said, “I, ah, think I’ll take your advice and go with the one Tabasco, then.”

The young woman who had been standing in line behind the Writer ordered her wings with seven Tabascoes. The Writer felt humiliated.

A bit more than a half-hour later, the Writer, with a not unpleasant dull burn in his stomach, turned his rental car into Dogwood Springs.


Chapter 6

The Other Stephen King


Some hours earlier Patricia had deposited a weary but contented Writer at the door of his hotel. “I sense you feel a single man like you might be swallowed up in some of those homes,” she said as he was climbing out. “Next time we can look at some more modest places. How about tomorrow?”

“I’ll call you,” he said. He knew he wouldn’t.

As soon as the Writer arrived at his room, he kicked off his shoes and pulled of his socks to give his overworked feet a rest. The thick carpet felt good on his toes. He poured himself a shot of bourbon, neat—he thought he deserved it—and walked over to his laptop, sat down, and, through the miracle of the World Wide Web, arranged to have carnations and a box of chocolates sent to Patricia at her office. In the blank labeled “MESSAGE,” he typed:



Thanks for showing me so many lovely homes. I’m sure they’re right for lots of folks, but I just can’t warm myself to the idea of living in another large house. Since Marjorie took the furniture, I would bounce around the places we’ve been visiting like a billiard ball on a snooker table. I have decided the northern suburbs are after all not for me.


I apologize for wasting your time. I hope the flowers and chocolate at least partly make up for your inconvenience.


p.s. I plan to fire the firm which is selling my house in New England. I don’t feel they’re doing enough to move the place. If you would like to refer it to a branch of your company, I would be happy to offer it as an olive branch.

By now the careful reader may have developed suspicions that the Writer, being named Stephen and hailing from Maine, might have the last name of King. Indeed, our Writer’s last name is King, but he’s not the Stephen King you’re thinking of. Our Writer specialized not in horror, but in mysteries, of which there are a two types: the English sitting room conundrum, in which a party of dozen or so bluebloods stand around in a room, preferably in a house in which they are all trapped and being killed off one by one, and, after a deucedly slow process of deduction which allows all but three or four of the party to be murdered, conclude the butler did it; and the American version of the mystery, in which a hard-boiled detective with a one-syllable name liked Sam or Lew drinks a lot of whiskey and gets beaten up by hooligans until the puzzle is solved.

The Writer, being by nature a sitting room type and not at all hard-boiled, of course specialized in the American variety. His detective, one Zack Cheek, had solved a solid dozen or so murders, which, averaging about four per book, meant the Writer had completed three Zack Cheek mysteries before his marriage had desolidified and sent him into a depression which included a writer’s block. He was now endeavoring to write a fourth, and was seeking to escape his rambling Victorian in Maine in favor of a more modest dwelling in a warmer climate in which he could write in solitude, away from the memories of broken gas lines and marital squabbles which would forever more dominate whenever he was within sight of or even thinking of his former residence.

As for Stephen King—the Stephen King, that is—the Writer resented him on several levels: for selling many more books than he could ever aspire to, for being so prolific, and most of all for drawing up with seeming facility, in book after book, marvelously complex and devious characters. Despite his best efforts, the Writer’s characters tended to be rather one-dimensional. Since he modeled them largely on his friends and acquaintances, he had eventually come to suspect that perhaps his characters were simple and gray because his friends and acquaintances were simple and gray. Once ensconced in his new environment, he planned to cultivate a circle of eccentric and colorful acquaintances, with which he would happily populate his next Zack Cheek novel, until they, too, as did all the characters except Zack and his pretty secretary Polly Patterson, met a bad end.

And so the Writer’s writer’s apology to Stephen King, with whom if our Writer unfortunately shares a name, he does not share a talent.