ut of the front door and down a landscaped path that is a mere spoke in the wheel of Causton, Massachusetts, Audrey steps lightly until she reaches Main Street. The road is puffs of exhaust and grainy tarmac. It winds down a soft slope towards the center of town, then curls in first one, then two concentric circles which, from above, resemble a snail-shell spiral. Soft and snug in the middle of the spiral is Audrey’s school.
Her lunchbox rattles its daily soundtrack inside her rucksack. In her hands she carries a big cloth bag, almost half as high as she is, that contains her class project. She is careful not to press too firmly on the sides of the bag with her fingertips.
Finally, weeks into April, the snow that stood taller than her has melted at the edge of the sidewalk, although Spring rain has yet to wash away the dirt, twigs, and salt that were buried beneath it. She treads lightly and feels the soft edges of stones and soil underneath the soles of her tennis shoes. The slope is long and wide up here, but soon it dips swiftly into Causton proper, and soon after that it begins its first wide arc into the beginning of the spiral. Audrey leans against the contours of the hill as she reaches the dip in the sidewalk.
On her right and across the street is the Harrison Theater, proud of its age, stucco crumbling at the corners where once there were faux turrets. The crenellation is still visible, though, and it is these red-brick right angles that she has always pointed out to her mother, mostly on long weekend walks through town.
“It’s even older than I am,” Mom would say.
The shops become more densely packed after she crosses the intersection of Maple Street and Main Street, and Audrey peers into the windows on her left. There is a cafe, usually frequented by adults whose occupations require reflective vests. The antique shop next door to it is run by Mrs. Kingsley, a friend of her mother’s. And then there are the places she can’t see into: windows obscured by creepy mannequins wearing dresses and sun-hats, or by a series of rectangular images of houses with meaningless dollar amounts hanging over them.
The street is now curving more sharply to the left. In the summers there’s a festival on this part of Main Street. They move the cars and motorcycles that are now parked in the morning light, and stalls along the sides of the street rest in the shade of large oak trees. She has a bumblebee necklace at home that her parents bought her last summer at just such a stall. Audrey preferred the stalls to the obscure stores up and down the middle of Main Street.
From above, she is a mere speck moving along the spiral. The first soft curl of the road finishes, and as the second circle begins, it nearly meets the large dip in the landscape that Audrey just crossed. If she had wanted to, she could have slid between buildings and across parking spots to this exact point as she came down the hill and into town.
The second circle in the spiral is different. There are some houses, mostly timber beams that lead up to the upside-down V of a roof, but also some more with red bricks and flat tops. If she had her own house, she would build crenellated turrets on top, flat roof or no.
She speeds up as she passes the church. Across the street, the clock face on its spire tells her that she will soon be late for school. Next to it is a park, empty but with patches of ice still lying in shaded spots; it is the negative space that makes up for the Catholic grandeur next door. Audrey has never been into to the church—they are not Catholic—but she wonders what the planes and spikes that pepper the outside of the building might look like from the inside.
“There are lots of different things people believe,” her father had always told her. “Some people like churches. Some people like to climb mountains or play music instead.” She still doesn’t really know what this means.
This second arc is narrower and shorter. Audrey is nearing her destination. Some of her friends live down here. There are shorter, newer houses, and shop-fronts selling services. The dry-cleaner always smells like fabric softener, and Audrey takes in a deep breath and holds it, her eyes closed, until she has passed the store two doors down, Causton’s butcher. She has seen the gristly carcasses that dangle behind its glass windows, and would rather not see them again.
Eventually, she comes to the center of the spiral. The baseball field is to one side of the school buildings, which are set back into a large green field. Taking the path all the way through the field until she reaches the playground, she spots a few stragglers playing catch. Holding tight onto her bag, Audrey climbs the stone steps, and goes inside.
In room 27C, Audrey reaches her seat and slips her rucksack off her back, letting it clatter quickly into silence beneath her desk. She places the cloth bag on the wooden table top and pulls out a neat construction made of plastic, wire, wood, paint, and tiny figurines held in place by expertly placed drops of glue. Its rectangular base is painted green and labeled Causton, Massachusetts. At its center, a coil of grey that winds in two concentric circles like a snail-shell spiral, is labeled with the words Main St.
There are flat roofs and pointed ones, die-cast metal cars pilfered from her brother’s old toy box, and trees that, in a previous life, were pipe cleaners and glossy green plastic. The contours are right, for she measured them and her mother used complicated math to figure out how deep the dip in the street ought to be for this miniature diorama. Painted expertly by Audrey and her father, the tiny people are stiff, still, but perfect.
At the top of the spiral is the only inaccuracy Audrey permitted. Set back from Main Street and along the spoke that led from the tarmac world back to the warmth and quiet of her parents, is her house, and at each corner, proud and solid, a series of right-angled crenellations that formed miniature, perfect turrets.
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DLR likes writing for fun, and writing for money. He likes his dogs to have beards, and his bourbon to have poise. He is editor and cofounder of Dr/ Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, and his other Snake-Oil can be found here.