Hot — OK, lukewarm — news item in the Vineyard Gazette: “Midnight Farm Manager Charged with Theft.”
No, this is not about the security guard at an all-night agricultural establishment, and the individual was not charged with rustling sheep. Midnight Farm is an upscale boutiquey sort of shop. IIRC Carly Simon once had something to do with it. Maybe she still does. I wandered in a couple of times when it was still located where the hardware store used to be. It contained a variety of items I wasn’t interested in, at prices I could barely imagine, never mind afford. Among the items the former manager is said to have returned after she was apprehended were an $834 handbag and a $500 scarf. You get the idea.
Midnight Farm has since moved to the higher-profile place on Main Street, Vineyard Haven, formerly occupied by Bunch of Grapes, a fair-to-middling bookstore that probably wouldn’t have survived had one of the big chain bookstores ever set up on this side of Vineyard Sound. It moved across the street to the rustic-looking building that was once home to Bowl & Board, which sold useful housewares at reasonable prices. This is probably why it went out of business.
One could chart the decline or gentification (depending on your perspective) of Martha’s Vineyard by tracking the evolving occupancy of a few commercial properties. Midnight Farm’s former home, the one that was once a hardware store, now houses the health-food annex of Stop & Shop (which used to be the A&P, which is why some of us call it the Stop & P). Fortunately the hardware store survives and (apparently) thrives almost a mile from the town center, where there’s plenty of parking but getting out of the parking lot can be a challenge in summer, when State Road is gridlocked almost to the Tashmoo overlook.
But I digress.
It is said that everyone on Martha’s Vineyard knows or at least knows of everyone else. This is not true. I did recognize the name of Midnight Farm’s owner; I may have been in the same room with her once or twice, but we do not move in the same circles. I did not recognize the name of the woman charged with, according to the Gazette, “larceny more than $250 by single scheme, shoplifting more than $100 by asportation, and larceny more than $250; false creation or use of a sales receipt; and possessing a class E drug (Xanax).”
I didn’t recognize the word “asportation” either, so I looked it up: “a carrying away; specifically : felonious removal of goods,” says the online Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged. It’s not in the (abridged) Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate or the American Heritage Dictionary, so you know it’s not an everyday word. I can’t wait to work it into a sentence.
But I digress again.
What I set out to write about wasn’t crime, the community, or island economics. What I wanted to mention was how when this news item was shared on Facebook — of course that was where I first heard of it — a couple of commenters expressed surprise that the thefts weren’t discovered sooner, because they may have taken place over a two-year period and because Midnight Farm is not a corporate giant whose right hand doesn’t want to know what its left hand is doing.
The comment thread was long and getting longer (it’s probably still growing). No surprise there: incidents like this touch us in different ways, and wrestling with them in a more or less public space helps us make sense of them. I read and reflected and finally posted: “Hindsight is 20/20.”
What’s driving my novel in progress, one of the questions I’m struggling to answer, is “What do you do when it’s too soon for hindsight? How do you know when to act, and if you think you should act, what do you do?”
The scenario in my novel involves a sixth-grade girl. Her stepfather may or may not have sexually abused her in the past. He may be abusing her now. A handful of people outside the family begin to suspect that something is wrong, but they don’t know what. They can’t know, either because the girl doesn’t have full access to her own memories or because the “don’t tell” imperative is strong or, quite possibly, both. Their suspicions grow, but the price of being wrong is very high — the stepfather is a powerful figure, and a lawyer to boot — and if they’re right, then what?
The novel also involves the rescue of a dog. The dog wasn’t being abused, but he was being seriously mismanaged and was on the verge of getting shot when my protagonist and the sixth-grade girl intervened. The fate of the dog becomes a matter of some public concern, including a selectmen’s meeting.
Not so the fate of the girl. The fate of the girl is in the hands of two people who aren’t sure they trust their own perceptions, have no way to confirm them, and know the price of being wrong is unthinkably high.
Hindsight, I’m discovering, may be 20/20 but until you get to where hindsight is possible, it’s more like picking your way through a swamp at twilight, where you glimpse ripples and flashes of light but don’t know what’s making them.