Back in the Magic Kingdom

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(Host) Recently commentator Philip Baruth returned to Burlington after a long absence, and was glad to get back to the relative safety of Vermont. But he woke up in the middle of his first night back to find that no place in the world is always free from fear.

(Baruth) I got back into town yesterday after being away for three weeks, and I felt what I always feel: not just the sweet sense of coming home, but of coming into port somehow, out of stormy seas. While I was away the news was filled every day with helicopter attacks and ambushed Humvees and weak economies. But the Burlington International Airport is like the border crossing to a magic kingdom: whatever violence and trouble you’re flying away from, elsewhere in the world, you fly into this small, clean good-hearted airport where absolutely nothing treacherous seems to be going on.

I took a cab home, and the cabbie told me a long detailed story about suing his landlord for wrongful eviction, and I wished him well with the lawsuit. I love Burlington cabbies because they’re never in any rush; they’re like tugboat captains, just putt-putting across the city, with no traffic to speak of, and so they have time to add the really baroque details to their stories.

Of course I’d flown back in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave. My wife and my daughter wouldn’t be back for another week, and the upstairs was so hot that I made up the couch and went to sleep with the front door and the sliding glass door to the back deck standing wide open. I’d been traveling for twenty-three hours, and I could hear the wind shushing the oak trees in the back yard, and in two or three minutes I was *out.*

The next thing I knew glass was shattering somewhere very close to me – not just the sound of a window pane breaking, but the very particular sound of a very, very large panel of glass shattering, and then the shards pouring down in a long stream. It’s the first time I’ve woken up screaming in longer than I can remember. By the time the shattering noise stopped I was standing in the middle of the dark living room, with the fireplace poker in my hand. It was quiet again, except for a soft sound like the tinkling of very tiny piano keys, this sound coming from the back deck.

I walked over to the sliding glass door, which was still intact, and I saw the cat Richard crouched by the screen, almost flat to the floor, eyes wide at something out on the deck.

The deck itself was covered with a thick layer of glass shards and nuggets. The large once-glass-topped table in the center was just a vacant metal frame. Everything that had occupied the table-top – a vase of tulips, a candle from Sweden – all of these things were lying overturned in the little sea of glass. Pieces of it were still shifting in their little piles, making that tinkling noise.

I made myself go out and search the back yard: nothing.

I turned the light off and sat down in the one of the orphaned deck chairs in the dark. It was a bit cooler now out there. I decided that some inherent flaw in the glass tabletop must have finally revealed itself, and in the heat it had just disintegrated. There were other explanations, maybe not as logical but certainly possible. But this was Burlington, Vermont, and it was 3:45 in the morning, and I simply refused to believe in them.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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