Once Their Was A Spider

Maddy pulled into the driveway that curved around the flowerbed where the lamppost was planted, and she turned off the car. Mrs. Henderson had not arrived yet, so she decided to sit and wait with the windows rolled down and with the chilly October breeze reaching into the front seat and making her wish she’d worn a warmer jacket.

Her mother, Marlene, knew Mrs. Henderson from the water aerobics class they both took at the Y. The two ladies were doing knee lifts in the pool one day, and Marlene mentioned that Maddy would be coming to town for a visit, that she was a writer who seemed unable to write lately, and Marlene was hoping to give her some room for inspiration. She called it “quiet time.” “I’d like to give her some space and some quiet time.”

Mrs. Henderson said that no one had used her lake house in weeks, or was it months, she couldn’t remember for sure. And she would be happy to let Maddy stay there for as long as she needed. It was as quiet as they come, she said, and it would be good for someone to be there to air out the place and run some water through the pipes. She said for Maddy to meet her there at 5:00, and she would give her the keys and give her a quick tour. Maddy was only a few minutes early.

She remembered what her mother said about this woman, that she was late to everything that was governed by a set time, and that she was usually the last one in the pool and always apologizing as if she were normally prompt. She would sidle out of the locker room looking like Tracy Lord and slip off her robe, drape it over the bleachers by the south wall, and snap on her swimming cap, careful to tuck in every loose strand of hair. Throughout the entire display, she would say how sorry she was for being late, and she just didn’t know how she could have misread the clock. The first couple of times, the other women in the class and their instructor would stop and listen and smile, but after it seemed Mrs. Henderson’s entrance was going to be a regular exhibition, they stopped paying attention and kept on with their jumping jacks while she gushed.

Having become impatient with waiting, Maddy got out of her car and decided to give herself a tour while she waited. The side yard was narrow and overhung with tree branches like a trellis, and she had to duck to get through the tunnel they made. At the other end was a wide-open back yard that extended down to the lake where there were benches and an empty dock. With the onset of fall, all the boats had been brought in for the season, and the only things still on the lake were the geese and ducks and sea gulls. The birds were taking turns circling overhead and honking, gathering the troops for the flight south.

Standing in the middle of the yard, Maddy turned back to see the house and was startled by its size. From the front, it was nothing but a simple ranch house, but from the back it had character and a rustic sense that made it blend in with the woods around it. It was built on a hill, so the back had an exposed basement that wasn’t seen from the front, revealing it to be a much bigger house than people expected when standing on the front porch.

To the right of the house was an inlet where local residents tied up their canoes during the summer months, but now there was nothing more than a ripple from the occasional duck turned upside down looking for fish. To the left, on the other side of the thick stand of trees were more and more trees growing out of a ravine too steep for hiking. Maddy stood on the edge where the ground began to slope, holding onto a slim tree trunk as she leaned forward for a better view and thinking she’d need something like a ski pole to navigate down to the bottom. It wasn’t too far of a drop, though, and she could see how the leaves on the forest floor gave way to mud from a recent rain.

Car tires crunched the gravel in the driveway, and Maddy made her way back through the wild trellis to meet Mrs. Henderson. A tall woman draped in a pashmina shawl made to look like leopard skin climbed out of a vintage Mercedes the color of steel. She flipped her shawl over her shoulder and extended a gloved hand to Maddy.

“You must be Marlene’s daughter. I’m Mrs. Henderson. Call me Janine.”

“Hi, I’m Maddy. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your letting me stay here for a few days. It’s so nice of you.” Maddy smiled as she pictured Mrs. Henderson in a one-piece and bathing cap doing water aerobics in a swimming pool at the Y.

Mrs. Henderson smiled back as she pictured herself as the benefactress of a struggling author. “My pleasure. Let’s go inside, and I’ll show you around. I see you’ve already had a look at the grounds.”

The two women stepped through the front door, and Maddy followed her host as she went from room to room. “There are just a few rooms to show you, dear,” Mrs. Henderson said as she turned the thermostat up a bit. “I’ll just show you around and leave you here to make yourself at home.”

They walked through the living room that combined with the kitchen, and they peeked in at the guest room and extra bath. There was a laundry room and door to the basement steps and an enclosed back porch with wicker chairs and rockers. On the other side of the house beside the inlet was the master suite. It was roomy but comfortable, and the bathroom was like something Maddy imagined finding in a spa, the kind of spa she could never afford.

Mrs. Henderson saw the look of delight on Maddy’s face at the sight of the round tub, a large window that opened out toward the inlet, and gold faucets that fed the marble sink. “It really is a lovely room, isn’t it?”

“It really is.” Maddy tried not to sound too eager.

“I’ll tell you a secret, though. One night I came in here to use the potty, and just as I sat down—pardon my frankness—I spotted a big, black spider on the rug right in front of the shower door. It was the kind you’d see outside in the woods and not like one I had ever seen inside before. I was so horrified that as soon as I had finished, I ran straight back to bed. And I’m ashamed to say I can hardly stand to use this bathroom anymore. I have not seen the nasty thing since, but it was enough to put me off of this gorgeous room for good, at least at night. Well, that’s my little secret. Feel free to use the master suite, dear. I just thought you should know.”

“I promise not to tell a soul,” comforted Maddy. She was trying so hard to appear cool in front of the woman with the cashmere wrap that must have cost her a month’s worth of Maddy’s rent that she didn’t have the courage to admit her own biggest fear—spiders. She was relieved to hear they were not typically found inside the house but would keep a wary eye toward the rug in front of the shower.

Mrs. Henderson left a set of keys and her phone number on the kitchen counter and left Maddy to find her inspiration in the hide-away house.

Maddy brought her small suitcase in from the car along with a few bags of groceries she had picked up on her way in from town. She unpacked her clothes and put them in the empty drawers set aside for guests. She put away the milk and juice and some things she had planned for simple meals, and she made a tuna sandwich and took it out to the back porch with a glass of bargain wine. In the morning she would attempt to write something or at least think about writing.

•••

It was the middle of the night, or what seemed like it, when Maddy woke up to find herself in the unfamiliar room in the strange house that creaked and rattled. A fierce wind circled around the house and through the woods and lapped water onto the rocks along the shoreline. It took Maddy a minute to recognize where she was and to realize a storm had blown in while she had slept.

She needed to use the toilet, but when she turned on the light in the master bathroom, she remembered Mrs. Henderson’s secret. Had she been fully awake, Maddy might have been clear-headed enough to squelch her fear of spiders, but the image of a threatening outside creature was still fresh in her head, and she decided to use the smaller guest bath on the other side of the house.

As she washed her hands in the tiny sink, a gust of wind blew through the trees and around the house, and the wood frame and cedar siding creaked under the pressure. Just as Maddy turned off the light, CRACK, a tree overhead snapped at its base and then, BOOM, it slammed into the roof and front wall just at the corner of the house, landing with full force into the guestroom and sending splinters of wood and bits of glass in all directions.

Startled and frozen in place, Maddy stood in the doorframe of the cramped bathroom unsure of what to do next. Once she caught her breath, she flipped the switch for the bathroom light back on to see just exactly what had happened and what damage had been done. The tree must have taken an electrical line down with it because the power had gone out even to the lamppost in the driveway.

In complete darkness, Maddy reached her hands out in front of her and slowly stepped forward. With half the roof and part of the front wall missing in the guestroom, the wind was blowing leaves into the house, making them swirl on the floor at her feet, and for a moment she wasn’t sure if she was outside or in. She stepped forward again but jumped when her foot landed on a piece of broken glass, and she rolled head first over the big tree trunk that now lay across the floor. And at the other end of the somersault, Maddy found herself sitting in the wet grass.

Feeling her way toward something solid to stand on or to hold onto, Maddy tried to make her way back into the house, but she stumbled on a fallen branch. She stumbled again and and again in a groggy panic until she made contact with a tree that seemed firmly planted, and she held on with both hands.

The rain had begun lightly just a few minutes before but was now in a full downpour, which made for some slippery traction in the fallen leaves and muddy patches. So, when Maddy, now drenched in her night shirt and flannel pants, turned to get her bearings, her feet went out from under her, and she slid down that ravine she had been marveling at in daylight, the one she knew to be too steep to manage without help.

She screamed on her way down and grabbed at small tree trunks and branches as she slid past them, scratching herself from head to toe. When she reached the sludgy mud, Maddy knew she had hit the bottom. She sat still just for a moment and then screamed for help some more, and she checked herself for broken bones.

Maddy appeared to be all in one piece, but she sat in the mud in the dark and wind and rain and thought through all of her options. There might be someone nearby to rescue her, but that would be unlikely on this remote road late at night where no one heard her scream. She could wait until dawn to try climbing out, but she was already wet and cold and had no idea what time it was. Every time a leaf moved or a tree limb brushed against her skin, Maddy remembered Mrs. Henderson’s description of the big, black spider, the one that you’d normally see outside, and she would shiver and brush phantom things from her arms.

If ever there was a perfect spot for spiders to dwell, Maddy thought, it would be the bottom of this dark and damp ravine. She decided to stand up and attempt the impossible climb back up to the house right then and there.

With firm steps and determined grip, pulling on this tree and that tree and working to hoist herself up one step at a time, she dug her bare feet into the mud. She would make progress, climbing up two or three feet and then slip down again, but she dug in that much deeper and pulled that much harder until she finally made it back up to the front lawn. Leaning forward with her hands on her knees as she gasped for air, cold rain pelting her back, Maddy remembered the emergency flashlight she kept in her glove box, and she limped her way through howling wind and flying debris to fetch it from the car. Now armed with a slight source of light, she climbed back over the tree that had slammed into the guestroom, and she gathered her purse, her insufficient jacket, and her shoes.

Safely back to her car, she left her quiet hide-away house leaving a spray of gravel behind her. She escaped what was supposed to be a few days filled with the promise of peace and productivity, the possibility of renewed energy and newfound clarity. She drove through the driving rain and whipping winds breathing hard like a marathon runner and thinking out loud about the unimaginable events that had led to this moment.

If only Mrs. Henderson had seen the creature in the guest bathroom instead of in that gaudy, self-indulgent luxury spa, or if only that woman had kept her damned secret to herself, Maddy was sure she would not be weaving down the isolated road back to town soaking wet and caked with mud, shivering, scratched and bloody. If only she’d been brave enough to use the toilet in that bathroom with the Italian marble and gold fixtures instead of using the one that was more like a closet, she would not be feeling so foolish.

With both hands gripping the wheel, Maddy was beginning to form the words in her head for the story she would tell her mother when she finally reached town. Slowly beginning to relax, she began to think in paragraphs with punctuation so she could present the tale in proper form to her editor. This had all happened because once there was a spider on the rug in front of the shower door.

A Magical Christmas


My Memaw and Granddaddy didn’t bother with a Christmas tree for just the two of them. They had a potted palm in the living room, and sometimes Memaw would hang wrapped candy canes on its few stalky branches.

That palm was the one living thing in the house that served to filter the air while Granddaddy took drags from his unfiltered Pall Malls. He smoked them chainlike, lighting up one after another even though he never took more than a few puffs from any one cigarette.

He mostly smoked in the kitchen, a big room that was also a kind of family room. Besides the out-dated appliances, a metal kitchenette table, some matching chairs with red plastic seat bottoms, and some counter space stacked with old magazines and a checkerboard, there was a TV, Granddaddy’s Naugahyde recliner, and Memaw’s padded rocker with a matching footstool. After supper, my grandparents would put their feet up and watch Andy Griffith. That Gomer Pyle was a hoot.

On cold nights, they would close the two doors that led to the rest of the house and turn on the space heater. And Granddaddy would smoke, dropping ashes into an ashtray with a three-foot stand that was its own piece of furniture. You had to walk around it and respect its place in the floor plan.

Everything in the room was coated with a layer of yellow nicotine tar—you could use your fingernail to scratch things in the crud on the TV screen, things like your name or “wash me”—and that coating gave the room a certain glow. You know how the atmosphere outside changes colors sometimes before a storm? You look out a window or step out to get the mail from the box, and you’re startled by how yellow it all is. And you wonder what bad thing the weather is about to bring. In Memaw’s kitchen, the yellow glow wasn’t a sign of foreboding. It was just sticky residue from Granddaddy’s bad habit.

I’m not sure what year it was—I may have been eight or nine—when my mother decided we needed to make the twelve-hour drive from Indiana to Alabama as a Christmas surprise for Memaw and Granddaddy. Our annual visit was a June trip, so showing up in December would be unexpected.

We packed up the car with snacks and presents and comfort things like napping pillows and the canning jar that held some water and a washcloth. My mother prepared the jar before every trip just in case someone would become carsick on the road. You might not know it, but it’s nice to have your face and neck washed after vomiting in the ditch beside the highway. Mama kept the washcloth jar on the floorboard in front of her seat and held it upright between her feet.

We left the house at six in the morning before the sun came up, and we drove straight through to Hamburg, Kentucky. That was our planned lunch stop because we knew there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken just off the exit ramp. We stopped there for lunch on all of our June trips, and that was the only time I was allowed to have Kentucky Fried Chicken. That year, I got to have it twice, and I thought it was a sign this would certainly be a magical Christmas.

It was sometime in the early evening when we pulled into the driveway in front of the house. A stand of pine trees lined the right side of the property, and another large pine was the centerpiece of the front yard. Except for those rich, green trees, everything else had turned brown for the winter—the pastures to the left and right and the harvested cotton field out back had all lost their summer color.

There were no climbing roses on the fences or honeysuckle beside the house or grapevines on the arbor. I had never seen Alabama at Christmastime, but I ignored the sepia grass and bushes and scrambled up the front porch steps to stand behind my parents when they knocked on the door. I couldn’t wait to see Memaw’s face when she saw us there with our arms full of wrapped gifts. Memaw and Granddaddy opened the door and drawled, “Well, I’ll be!”

We all hugged one after the other, and Memaw wiped her eyes. She and Granddaddy had just been sitting in their chairs watching the Jim Nabors Christmas special, O Holy Night seeming a little jaundiced, and they were thinking they would have to spend Christmas alone.

We filed into the kitchen, shutting the doors behind us to keep in the heat. Memaw pulled leftovers from the refrigerator and dragged out pots and pans to warm things up. There was corn bread with honey and butter, green beans canned from the summer before, stewed chicken, and a chess pie just baked that afternoon.

“Cut you a piece of that pie,” Memaw sang as she stepped around us and made sure we were all fed and satisfied.

After supper, the men sighed and sat back to gnaw on toothpicks while the women cleared the table and filled the washtub to wash up the dishes. Memaw washed while Mama dried, and they talked about how we decided to make such an unexpected trip and how many days we would probably stay. They would call the aunts and uncles to try to get everybody together at least once.

I slipped out of the warm and hazy room through the side door into the living room and furrowed my brow at the potted palm by the fireplace, a handful of candy canes stuck here and there on it to make a sad Christmas tree disguise. I gathered the presents we had brought with us and arranged them around the plant. I stood the larger ones in the back, and I scattered the smaller ones toward the front in an avalanching display.

Memaw made our gifts every year because she couldn’t afford to go shopping. One year, we all got bars of soap stuck with colorful pins and artificial flowers so they looked like little baskets. She had learned to cut up dish soap bottles and crochet onto them to make purses, purses we would never use but loved for Memaw’s sake just the same. I put her gifts to us in the very front because we would open them first.

Memaw used to shred old clothes and braid them into colorful rugs to cover the cold floors in her unheated house. I scooted onto the big living room rug she had made from worn-out work shirts and house dresses. I held my legs to my chest and rested my chin on my knees, wishing I had colored lights and some gold garland to weave around the Christmas palm.

In the next room, the muted, lilting voices of my grandparents sang a song half giddy and half pitiful. First, they rose up: “We sure didn’t ever expect this. No, sir. We sure didn’t.” Then they descended: “We thought we’d spend Christmas alone, just the two of us.” And then up again: “And now look at y’all here. Have you some more pie.”

Well, I decided, tree lights or no tree lights, garland or no garland, the potted palm with the candy canes and the arrangement of presents would have to do. From my spot on the floor where I could listen to the family in the next room, full from Memaw’s cooking and warm from the big surprise, that Christmas seemed to have shaped up into something pretty magical.

On Her Way to the Square—Revised

On Her Way to the Square

Kathryn pulled the door handle toward her and shook up the bells hanging from the coffee shop’s door. The regulars at the counter turned to see who was about to join them, and the old man sitting at the corner table looked up from his book about the history of the Roman Empire. He quickly returned to his reading, but the men at the counter casually waved at Kathryn as she made her way to the empty stool beside them.

Bob walked out from the kitchen, saw Kathryn straightening the bunched up rug that had nearly tripped her, and poured a cup of his strongest blend. He snapped on the plastic lid and said, “Here you go, Kathryn. Can I get you anything else?”

Bob knew his customers by name and knew what they wanted before they even sat down, which is why Kathryn liked his place better than any of the other shops in town. She needed only to appear at the counter, and a cup of just the right kind of coffee would be set down in front of her. Bob always asked if she needed anything else because that’s what he asked everyone, but Kathryn never wanted more than that one cup. Today, though, would be different. “Actually, I need another cup like this but with some room at the top. Julia’s meeting me here in a few minutes, and she likes a little cream.”

Julia had been Kathryn’s closest friend since they met in a knitting class where they each fumbled with the awkward needles and made an irreparable mess of a skein of yarn. When Kathryn’s husband left her, Julia listened to her cry. And when Julia opened up the town’s only bridal shop, Kathryn promised never to be a customer. They laughed at each other’s jokes, and they kept each other’s secrets.

Just the night before, Julia had confided that her husband was being transferred out of state, and she would have to close down her shop or sell it. She didn’t want to make an announcement so soon, though, and had asked Kathryn to keep this one last secret until she was ready.

Tom, the man beside Kathryn, folded the first section of the newspaper and set it down on the counter, picking up the sports section, which had been well read that morning but poorly reassembled. He sorted out the pages, rattling the paper and grumbling about inconsiderate readers. After a few minutes of organizing and careful creasing, he held the paper out at arms’ length and focused on the football schedule for the high school games that would be played on Friday.

“Are we gonna win this week, Don?”

Don was resting his elbows on the counter. His shoulders were hunched up around his thick neck, making him look even broader than when he stood upright with his hands in his pockets. He took a big sip of coffee, swished it around in his mouth before swallowing it hard, and ran his tongue over his teeth. After a sufficient pause, he answered, “I think we will, Tom. I think we will. I got a good bunch of boys this year, and they’ve been working pretty hard.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” Tom said. “You’re doing a great job with that team.”

Don took another mouthful of coffee, swished, swallowed, and wiped his teeth, the way Kathryn’s father used to do when she was a little girl. She wondered why Don would make such a spectacle out of drinking a cup of coffee when a simple sip and quiet swallow would do. Must be something about aging men, she decided.

The bell rang, and they all looked at the door expecting to see Julia, but it was Daryl instead.

“Hey, Daryl,” Tom waved to the postman who was dropping off the morning’s mail. In exchange, Daryl picked up a ready cup of coffee with a few packs of sugar.

“Here you go, Daryl. Got time to sit for a while?” Bob handed him a wooden stick for stirring.

“I got a few minutes. Julia's shop is next on the route, but she hasn’t opened it yet.”

“She’s stopping here, first,” Kathryn offered. “Then we’re going to walk down to the square to watch the time capsule being buried. She won’t open the store for another hour at least, I’m guessing.”

“The time capsule,” Tom shouted, slapping the sports section down on the stack of papers. “I nearly forgot about that. I got something being buried in that thing, you know. Thanks for me reminding me.”

“What are you burying, Tom?” asked Bob.

“An auto insurance policy, void of course, and a personalized pen from my office. I thought it would be interesting to see how cars change in the next fifty years. And, well, you can’t exactly bury a car. I threw the pen in just in case I’m not around when they dig the thing up.”

“Where are you planning to be?”

“You never know. I might be in Florida, or I might be dead.”

There was a slight sound of clinking glass coming from behind the counter, as if bottles were being rattled and sorted. Kathryn could hear whispering mixed with the clinking and was curious enough to lean over the counter to see who was down on the floor, out of sight and being so hushed. No one else seemed concerned, but she had to know. She could just see the top of a little girl’s head, a girl who was kneeling on the floor rearranging empty soda bottles on the shelves.

“That’s Bob’s granddaughter,” Tom said without looking up from the paper. He had picked up the want ads, which he read every day just in case he should need a new job.

“She comes in here with me sometimes when my daughter has to work.” Bob held up a pot of fresh coffee and offered to top off Kathryn’s cup. “She plays with these bottles until I take them in for the deposit.” There was a drop-off station in the grocery store parking lot, and he liked to wait until he had a trunk full before bothering with the trip.

Kathryn took the lid off her cup to allow for more coffee. She smiled down at the little girl. “What are you doing with all of those bottles?”

The girl raised her head to see Kathryn peering over the counter, looking down at her and the empty bottles. “They’re just talking.”

“To who?”

“To each other. They have to go back for the deposit today, so they’re saying good bye’ in case they get separated.”

Before Kathryn could ask another question, Bob added, “She gives them all names, and they have a little family and a school and what not, and then when it’s time to return them for the deposit, they all say “good-bye” and wish each other well. My wife says someday her imagination will either earn her a million dollars or land her in prison.”

Kathryn sat back on her stool and listened to the whispered story of friends departing and their promises to keep in touch. She had lost so many friends of her own over the last few years as people moved on to other jobs and other homes, and she took comfort in this steady group of coffee shop pals. She had the sense that even if one or two of them were to move to Florida in their old age, most of them were there for the duration.

“So, what are you burying in that capsule, Daryl?” Tom put down the paper and tried to wipe the ink off his fingers.

Daryl had to think for a minute. It was at least a month ago when he dropped off a little box of things at the city hall. “Let me see. I threw in a few stamps, because you never know what the cost of mailing a letter will be in fifty years. And I got to thinking that we might not even be using stamps then. Who knows? I copied a few FBI Most Wanted sheets. Thought it might be interesting to see if they ever catch those folks. Oh, and an old rubber stamp. Everything’s printed electronically now, so we don’t really use that old thing anymore.”

Tom thought about the FBI posters. The oldest people in town liked to say the world was worse than it ever was when they were younger, and they were glad they wouldn’t be around to see it go to ruin. He wondered if that was really true and if the FBI would be looking for the same kind of criminals in fifty years or would they be looking for worse. “I wonder,” he said. “I wonder what kind of crime we’ll have in fifty years. Do you ever wonder about that Don? Ever wonder what this place will be like then or what kind of kids will be in school?”

“Nope. People are people. People were mean a thousand years ago, and people will be mean a thousand years from now, those who want to be. They may come up with new ways to prove it, but we’re all the same. Nothing ever changes.”

The old man in the corner cleared his throat, and everyone turned to acknowledge him. He held up his book and said, “The Appian Way.”

“That’s my point exactly,” Don said. “Crucify some 6,000 slaves along a road for miles and leave them there to rot. Now that was a rough time to live in. You can’t tell me we’re worse off now than those poor fools were way back then.”

“Huh.” Tom wasn’t sure. He would have to think about that for a while. He hoped he would be around when the time capsule was pulled out of the ground and opened up, and he would be the same old Tom, but he wasn’t sure what the rest of the world would look like. “I wonder,” he said, picking the paper back up and looking it over to see if he had missed a page. “How about you Kathryn? Did you give anything to the capsule?”

Kathryn was listening to the saga of the bottles, the departing sorrows and hopes for the future, and she was lost in sound of glass touching glass and plastic crates scooting on wooden shelves. She was suddenly aware that Tom was looking at her, as was Bob, waiting for an answer, but she hadn’t heard the question. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I asked if you gave anything to be buried in the capsule.”

“No, you know, I couldn’t think of anything I thought would be significant. I looked around the house but just couldn’t think of anything the town might care about.”

“Not a single thing?”

“I’m afraid not. I guess I should have put some more thought into it.”

The girl behind the counter stood up and brushed her hair away from her face. She reached down to the shelf below and pulled out a soda bottle, empty and rinsed and ready for recycling. She handed it to Kathryn and said, “You can take this if you want to. You can bury this.” She looked at her grandfather to see if it was OK to offer a bottle. Bob nodded.

Kathryn took it and thanked the girl. “Are you sure? You won’t miss this one?”

“No, it’s OK. I got a hundred of ’em.’”

“Well, then thank you. I’ll take this down to the square and hand it to the mayor. I’m sure he’ll be happy to add it to the collection.”

The brass bell rang, and everyone looked at the door in time to see Julia rush through. “I’m so sorry I’m late,” she hurried to the counter and gave Kathryn a quick hug. I got caught up with something at home and just couldn’t get away.”

“That’s OK.” Kathryn held up the bottle. “We should hurry down to the square so we can make sure this gets put in the capsule before they seal it up.”

Julia looked puzzled, wondering why Kathryn would want to bury an old soda bottle.

“I’ll tell you about it on the way down,” Kathryn said as she grabbed her purse from the floor beneath her stool. Bob dumped out the cup he had set aside for Julia and poured her a fresh, hot cup, remembering to leave room for cream.

Julia handed Bob enough cash to cover her order and Kathryn’s and fixed her brew up just the way she liked it. Daryl pulled a bundle of mail from his heavy shoulder bag and handed it to her. “You might want this,” he said. “Mostly junk, I bet, but you never know.”

“Wait,” Don picked up the sports page and ripped out the article about the football team winning their most recent game. It was full of names of the boys he had worked with and had seen grow up to become young men. He thought that when that capsule would be opened up in fifty years, who ever lived in this town would need proof that not everyone was like a criminal on a poster from the post office. He handed the article to Kathryn. “Would you mind?”

She took the article and rolled it up carefully, sliding it into the bottle. “I’d be happy to include it, Don.”

She and Julia waved to the men at the counter and to the old man at the corner table. They walked out onto the street, letting the bell ring and the door shut behind them.

A minute or so later, they could hear the brass bell ringing as Don and Tom stepped out to go hear the mayor’s speech and to watch the commissioners bury a sealed box of what most of them thought was important and what they all hoped would represent them well for the next generation.

“Now, tell me about this bottle and why it’s so important we put it in a time capsule,” Julie asked as the two women started the three-block walk to the town square. They could see a small crowd gathered in the park on the corner where the flag pole stood surrounded by nearly a dozen trees that had been planted during the town’s centennial celebration a hundred years before.

Kathryn knew nothing could stay the same, with or without a time capsule or a few friends in a coffee shop or commemorative trees. She slipped her hand through the crook of Julia’s elbow and said, “It’s just a way to pretend something is permanent even when you know very little ever is.”