Alice’s watch tapped her gently on the wrist as she and Max basked in the fading sun on the warm, tilted surface of the slab of what had been called Cleveland Rock for so long that no one had a clear memory of why. It stood not far from the bank where the Potomac started to bend to the north after wrapping around Orleans Crossroads, in a little archipelago of rock slabs that were almost, but not quite, within jumping distance for a kid with a little ambition and not much sense, which landed whole generations in current there before they learned that the only way to properly get onto the rock was to swim to the southern side, let the current pin them to the rock, and get a handhold to pull themselves up.
The other standing disincentive to spend time there was the substantial colony of wolf spiders that lived there, each nearly as broad as the cap on a mason jar, but those in the know, and Alice in particular, recognized them as harmless sentries that would largely cluster at the waterline for unknown reasons. They would occasionally venture out to visit the interlopers in their territory, and a nap on the warm rock would often include at least one tentative foray up a leg or a thigh, or worse if you had a nervous disposition and bad luck that day, but Alice had learned the fine art of just recognizing the difference between things that were a threat and ones that weren’t.
“There’s one on my face,” said Max as Alice tapped the message reminder on her watch. She looked over, her vision blurry from napping, and gauged the situation.
“Yeah, it’s big.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I don’t blame you. This is why you wear sunscreen, silly. They hate the smell.”
“Can spiders smell?”
Alice asked the question and her watch answered that they had a very strong of smell and used pheremones to identify their territory.
“So we just need to mark our territory with sunscreen,” she added. “Plus, you won’t get cancer.”
“I don’t understand how they’re always here, though. This rock is completely underwater when it floods, so how do they get back?”
“I dunno. Maybe they swim, or maybe they can walk on water like striders.”
“Maybe they just hunker down and hold their breath?” Alice mused, trying to think out how that would work. Her watch tapped again, and this time she sat up and rubbed her eyes, rubbing a little suncreen into her eye in the process, which gave her a lopsided squint. “Ow.”
“See, that’s why I don’t want to wear the stuff. Are you going?”
“Yeah, my Mama’s gonna land on me if I don’t get home for dinner tonight. I think someone’s coming over.”
“Well, I’m going, too, then.”
They climbed down from the rock and half-swam and half-waded to the bank, walked gingerly through the tall grass and underbrush, and headed north and south, respectively, on the railroad siding.
“See you tomorrow?” Max yelled.
© 2020 Joe Belknap Wall
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