It wasn’t there anymore. But he knew that coming here.
He’d driven by this intersection hundreds of times over the years, never paying much attention. But he had to now; it was about to be replaced. He wished he’d taken pictures of it, back in the day. Of course, back then there wasn’t any reason to. It would always be there.
He sat on a bench across the street, finishing his fries, eyeing the empty corner lot where it used to be. The bahia grass was knee deep, a smattering of wildflowers sticking out here and there. No trees, those were long gone. But in his mind, it wasn’t hard to imagine St. Luke’s still standing there. For over fifty years, its majestic spire was the highest point downtown. He looked up at the empty spot in the sky it used to own, shielded his eyes from the sun. He looked down the street, two blocks north. That honor now belonged to a most unworthy successor, a cell tower.
A blinking gray stick.
Every day this week he’d come to this same bench on his lunch hour, to sit and remember. Last Saturday, he’d read the lot had just been sold. A few months from now he’d be looking at a CVS drugstore. In one sense, it was a good thing. One more sign the downtown area was making a comeback.
The church had been gone for over two decades. The whole building had burned to the ground. A senseless accident. Something about a day laborer storing a pile of rags on some cans of linseed oil. A church committee had voted, and a plan to give the pews a new shine led to the destruction of this beautiful landmark.
The memories he’d been digging for had all happened ten years before that, in the fall of 1980. Such a simpler time then. Not nearly as hectic and nowhere near the level of distraction. You could count on having whole conversations with people. No cell phones, laptops, netbooks or iPads. No internet. Just a handful of channels on TV. Only the folks in Arkansas had ever heard of Wal-Mart. And only one cast of Star Trek to keep track of.
He looked across the street again, at the space that would have been the rear corner of the church building. The picture in his mind was so strong. He could still see the leaky roof. The old sofa in the back. Hear the cash register bell clinging. And then, of course, the peculiar cast of characters coming in and out.
He looked at his watch. Time to head back to the office. But he wanted to get closer, to strengthen the feeling. He stood, waited for the traffic to clear and walked across the street. The old sidewalk was still there. And for some reason, they had left the little stairwell all these years. Six uneven steps that led down to the front door.
If he closed his eyes, he could see it all so clear.
The Book Nook.
The place where his life had been changed forever.