An evening of Myth and Poetry
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February 1, 2017 in Trinidad, CO
on the Shelf
A barista, an old woman's web of mystery, and a tip jar.
Aromas of water through roasted grounds wended their steamy way, fulfilling the desires of those with fingers around warm cups, tantalizing those yet standing in line.
"What can I get you?" John asked across the counter.
The old woman's answer was soft, oddly punctuated by a faint clicking,
"I'd like a small coffee, thank you, with room for cream, if you please. I do love cream! Don't you?"
John only nodded and accepted her payment. Cash. Exact change. Her dark eyes twinkled, strangely familiar as he held a small mug under the air pot's spout.
"I'd love to travel too," she persisted.
Barely tall enough to perch wrinkly elbows on the counter, still this little old woman reached past cellophane-wrapped cookies and reusable straws with an adorable spunk to tap one elongated finger meaningfully on the rim of the tip jar. She smiled as if sealing a secret pact between them then squeezed back into the crowd.
The next day, and the next, she payed her exact change with none given to the tip jar that she never failed to tap.
"I think the train would be nice," she would remark, or
"You ride the train, don't you?" or,
"I haven't seen a train, of course, but I hear people talk."
On the third day, looking up at one of the ceiling's cobweb-filled corners, she said,
"I've never traveled away from just this spot." Then, seeming to consider the tip jar more carefully, she went on in her slow, clicking way, "Yessss, I think I will ride just there, if you please Ian, when you take me to the train."
"Ma'am, my name isn't Ian," he protested feebly, never having given her his name at all.
"Don't be silly, John Grahme. 'Ian' is from your grandmothers and we must honor our elders, mustn't we? Now, I think tonight we shall go."
He had a sinking feeling of a having agreed to something he didn't remember but when he looked again for the old woman, she was gone.
That night, side-work finally done, John upended the tip jar. Leaving it on its side, he began to count out the crew's take. A small spider appeared nearby, and he watched the creature approach as the dimmed lights caught a glint of shiny dark eyes. He caught his breath in the next moment when, with a lifted foreleg, it tapped on the rim of the jar. It… uh… no, she jumped up, calmly walking the smooth glass, hunkering down at the bottom as if to wait.
With sudden decision, John… uh… no, Ian swept up the jar and grabbed his jacket.
"Nothin' to see here folks," he breathed out to the empty street. "Just caught a spider. Just letting it go outside, that is all."
Yet he knew that wasn't all as he clutched the jar tighter, the creature inside an excited tourist, forelegs against the glass, as if watching out the window.
Then the swipe of the card, the bump of the turnstile, the slide onto a smooth, molded seat. The carriage jolted into motion and he lay the jar gently down beside him, steadying it with one protective hand. The spider stepped out onto the garish orange plastic, turning to climbed the round of Ian's thumb, a sense of thin, elongated fingers encircling his. With an inexplicable kinship, he squeezed the phantom hand lightly back.
Then Grandmother Spider climbed down again, dangling briefly on a gossamer thread as Ian whispered to her,
"I hope you like the traveling."
A moment later, she scrambled into a tiny crevasse and was gone.
©2020 Annette Meserve