Walter scampered off the school bus and flung himself into his aunt’s ready arms.
“I got first in the practice race!”
“Congratulations!” Laura ruffled his brown hair, which smelled of sun and salt, warm vinyl and bruised grass. Like the last dash of summer.
Walter looked over his shoulder to make sure the bus was out of sight, and then asked, “Did you bring my lemur?”
“Sorry buddy, I completely forgot,” Laura said. Like a tipsy gargoyle, the stuffed animal was perched on the arm of the sofa, strategically covering a small coffee stain. She’d meant to clean it before Walter came home from school, but then her boss had emailed about paperwork she’d supposedly forgotten to file. Pacing, calls interrupted by the myriad dead spots in the house, frantic searches of old folders on her laptop: first the morning gone, then the afternoon.
Walter nodded stoically and handed her his lunchbox. “Is Ohio back from the vet?” he asked as he crouched to examine a snakeskin wedged between two rocks.
Laura shuddered and focused on the thistles edging the driveway. Just a few purple heads held on when she swung Walter’s lunchbox—too heavy—in an arc, scattering filmy down. “Nope, but soon, I bet. I think Seth wanted to stop by the gallery on the way home.”
She considered asking Walter why he hadn’t finished his lunch, but then reminded herself the conversation would be better left to Matt and Seth. Instead, she offered, “Remember the orb weaver we thought was gone after the storm? She’s back. This morning I saw a new web between the doorpost and the marigold pot.”
Walter’s head snapped up. “Are there any flies in it?”
“Didn’t check. Race you?”
He took off without answering, kicking up puffs of dust that settled on her jeans. Once he turned the corner, she slowed. Even after all the hiking and swimming and wandering this past month, she didn’t feel up to chasing an energetic eight-year-old. What did Matt and Seth do with him during the long Maine winters?
A short honk sent her jogging back to the street to get the mail from the letter carrier, Mrs. Lynd, who’d heard from Matt that Laura might be heading back home to Virginia. Should they hold her mail?
“I’m not sure yet,” she said, making her voice bright, in case Walter could still hear her. “I’ll let you know soon.”
Walter wasn’t waiting for her on the front porch, where a single shred of web clung to a marigold husk.
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Carolyn Oliver is the author of the poetry collection Inside the Storm I Want to Touch the Tremble (forthcoming 2022), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Prize. Her fiction has appeared in Yalobusha Review, Longleaf Review, Tin House Online, Bayou Magazine, Tahoma Literary Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Terrain.org, The South Carolina Review, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net in both fiction and poetry. Carolyn lives in Massachusetts with her family. Online: carolynoliver.net.