Excerpt from Crossroads
                                                                    








    September 2005
    Eighty-one-year-old Madeline stormed into the middle of Weaver’s main intersection, positioned herself directly
    beneath its only traffic light, spread her arms wide, and screamed, “I will not allow it!” Just to make sure every
    atom and chromosome of every person within range heard her proclamation, she turned one-hundred-and-eighty
    degrees and did it again. “Do you hear me? I will not allow it!”

    The light guiding the traffic traveling along Emma Street turned green, but there was no need for Madeline
    McHenry Weaver to move out of the way. The light could show its colors from now until Elvis returned and she
    would not have to move—for safety’s sake anyway. Yet the truth was, she couldn't stand out here all day. If the
    heat of their Indian summer hot-spell didn't get to her, her arthritis would. Annoying thing, getting old.

    “You done yet?”

    Web Stoddard sat at the corner, on a bench that skirted the town’s only park, with one arm draped over its
    back, his overall-clad legs crossed. The shoelace on his right work boot was untied and teased the sidewalk.
    He slowly shooed a fly away as if he didn't have anything better to do.

    Which he didn't.

    Which brought Madeline back to the problem at hand.

    She waved her arms expansively, ignoring the light turning red. “No, I’m not done yet. And I won’t be done
    until people start listening to me.”

    His right ankle danced a figure eight. “No people to hear, Maddy. It’s too late.”

    She stomped a foot. “It’s not too late! It can’t be.”

    Web nodded to the Weaver Mercantile opposite the bench. “Want to go sit at the soda fountain? I have a key.”

    “You have a key to every empty business in town. Don’t abuse the privilege.”

    He nodded slowly, then grinned. “Want to go neck in the back of the hardware store?”

    She crunched up her nose. “It smells like varnish and nails in there.”

    “Not a bad smell.”

    “You’re obsessed with necking.”

    “When was the last time I mentioned it?”

    She hated to be put on the spot. “But you think about it a lot.”

    “Last I heard, thinking tweren't a bad thing. And don’t act like I’m pressuring you. The last time we kissed was
    1942.”

    She looked past him toward the gazebo that sat in the middle of the town square. Even from here she could see
    the floor was covered with the first sprinkling of gold, rust, and red leaves. Dead leaves. Blowing away, just like
    the town. Yet that’s where she and Web had exchanged their last kiss. “October twenty-second, 1942.”

    He smiled. “You remembered.”

    “You were abandoning me, going off to war.”

    “You were supposed to wait for me.”

    Ouch.

    She took two steps toward the bank that she and her husband Augustus had owned. Yet proximity close or far
    from Web wouldn't make the past right itself. But how dare he bring it up at a time like this? She put her hands
    on her hips and glared at him.

    “Gracious day. What a look. What did I do?” he said.

    “Here I am worrying about Weaver and you...” She let her head wag like a disappointed mother.

    He sat up straight and his loose lace became sandwiched between shoe and sidewalk. “You need to let the town
    go, Maddy.”

    She shook her head.

    He patted the bench. “Come over here.”

    She crossed her arms, hugging herself. She didn't want to be scolded, or worse yet, placated. “I will not let
    Weaver die on me.”

    His voice softened. “It already has.”

    Her arms let loose, taking in the expanse of the main street. “The town’s going to turn one hundred next year.
    We can’t let it expire at ninety-nine. It’s... it’s sacrilegious.”

    He squinted his left eye.

    “Scandalous?”

    “You’re overreacting, plus taking it way too personal.”

    “It is personal. I’m a Weaver.” As soon as she said the words she wished she could take them back. Her
    becoming a Weaver was directly related to her not waiting for his safe return from World War II.

    He was charitable and let it slide. “Nothing lasts forever. Not even a family line,” he said.

    Ah. Sure. Rub it in. If only she and Augustus had had children...    

    “It’s just you and me, kid,” Web said, doing a pitiful Humphrey Bogart imitation.

    But he spoke the truth. They were the only lifers left in town... which made her remember, there used to be
    another. “I can’t believe the Sidcowskys left. We went to high school with Marabel.”          

    “You can’t blame them for moving to Wichita to be closer to their grandchildren.”

    Madeline strode to the curb in front of Sidcowsky’s Hardware and kicked it. The scuff in her shoe and pain in her
    toe was worth it. “They’re traitors, the lot of them. Abandoning their life-blood, their hometown that needs
    them. They are selfish beings, thinking nothing of the greater good, only thinking—”

    “The Sidcowskys are good people, but they, like others, came to a crossroads and had to make a choice. The
    Sidcoswkys held on way beyond when others left.”

    Madeline would concede the point—privately. She did a lot of conceding in private. Although she hadn't let
    others see her panic, that was the emotion holding her in a stranglehold this past year. What had Queen
    Elizabeth called her horrible year when Windsor castle burned and she endured the scandal and divorce of her
    wayward children? Annus horribilus. So it was. Actually the demise of Weaver had not come about in a single
    year’s time. The disease that had eaten away at its foundation had come slowly, like a cancer cell dividing and
    eating up the good, only making itself known when it was too late. Townspeople finding jobs elsewhere. People
    moving out, no one moving in. People getting greedy or panicking when business slowed. Closing up shop.
    Forgetting in their quest for more money, more success, and more happiness, all that Weaver stood for: family,
    tradition, safety, security, continuity.

    Where was that continuity now? Where was the loyalty? It wasn't strictly a Weaver-problem. No one stayed
    employed with one company their entire lives anymore. They didn't even stay in one neighborhood, but
    hopped houses and even spouses as if all were interchangeable and acceptable on the frantic road to
    happiness. The truth was, Weaver’s demise had killed her husband. The doctor may have said it was his heart,
    but Madeline knew frustration and despair were the real—

    “This town isn't the only town going through hard times, Maddy. People need to eat.”

    She pointed at the Sunshine Café on the opposite corner. “People could've eaten right there, until those
    quitters, the Andersons, moved out.”

    “Moved on, Maddy. People have to move on when they aren't making enough to live. Big towns with big stores
    and big jobs. That’s what people need.”

    She watched a squirrel scamper diagonally from the park to the bank just a few feet in front of her. It didn't
    even hesitate. Even the rodents knew there was no need for a traffic light in Weaver anymore.

    Her shoulders slumped. What she needed was a long soak in a lavender scented bath. What she needed was
    time; more years to accomplish what she wanted to accomplish. “They don’t need those things they’re after,
    Web. They want them. Big difference.”

    He came toward her, right there in the street. She let him come. She could use a hug. In the three years since
    Augustus had died, she’d relied on Web’s arms to make her feel better when the world was uncooperative. Her
    cheek found his shoulder. The clasp to his overall strap bit into it, but she didn't care.

    “It’s not your responsibility, Maddy.” He put a hand on the back of her head and she closed her eyes to let the
    years slip away. Many, many years...

    But then his words—instead of falling away as they gave comfort, hung back and started to jab like a bully
    offering a challenge.

    Yes, she and Web had lived a lot of years here, shared a lot of history, but it wasn't time to rest on those laurels
    yet. There were too many years between them to brush off as being past and over. She may be old, but she
    wasn't dead yet. She suddenly pushed away from him. “It is my responsibility, Web. You don’t know...”

    His faded blue eyes looked confused, as if he’d forgotten he’d just said those very words.

    She repeated herself, growing impatient. “Weaver is my responsibility.” She pointed at the street signs. “Emma
    Street is named after Augustus’s great grandmother, and Henry Avenue was named for her father. Every street in
    this town is named after a Weaver. They claimed it ninety-nine years ago and we've been here ever since. I’m
    the last Weaver standing and I will not go down without a fight!”

    She noticed her arm was raised in a give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death position. She kept it there for effect.

    “Ever hear of retirement, Maddy? Enjoying your golden years?”

    She lowered her arm. “Oh pooh. Use it or lose it.” She started walking toward the Weaver Garden on the far
    edge of the park, right across from the Weaver mansion. She often did her best cogitating among the flowers.

    When she didn't hear footsteps coming after her she turned back and found Web still standing in the middle of
    the abandoned street. “You coming?”

    He put his hands in his pockets. “Depends. Exactly what are you planning to do?”

    “I’m going to save Weaver, silly. And after I do, we’re going to have the best and biggest 100th birthday
    celebration this town has ever seen.” Web’s shaking head riled her. “I will save Weaver, Web Stoddard. The
    question is: will you help me?”

    Web’s sigh was eaten up by the drone of the cicadas overhead. “What do you have in mind?”

    Madeline had never let technicalities stop her before, and she certainly wasn't about to start now. She put her
    hands on her hips. “Are you in or out?”

    “You need to explain—”

    She took a step toward her best friend. “I don’t need to do anything of the sort. I need a yes from you. Now.”

    “Before I even know the question?”

    “Exactly.”

    “You’re not being fair, Maddy.”

    She planted her feet dramatically and waited. Come on, Web. Do this for me. For Weaver. For us.

    Web’s head shook no even as she said, “Yes. Yes, I’m in.”

    Bravo.

    It was a start...(continued)



                                                                    Copyright 2006, Nancy Moser