By Nancy Machlis Rechtman
Marcus had been 10 years old when the time capsule was buried beneath the cornerstone of the new movie theater on Main Street and Pine on May 27, 1975. Originally, it was agreed that the capsule would be opened in 50 years, in the year 2025. Marcus couldn’t even imagine being 60 years old. That seemed positively ancient. But now, only 25 years later, the theater was being torn down to make way for a multiplex that would anchor a modern, upscale indoor mall that would draw people not just from Fairview, but from neighboring towns. And since the theater was going to be torn down, it was decided that the time capsule should be opened only 25 years from the time it was originally buried, marking the start of the new millennium.
There was a great deal of excitement about opening the time capsule. The mayor had proclaimed May 27th to be Time Capsule Day. There was to be a parade, a fair, and music. There would also be speeches. And Marcus would be giving a very important one. You see, Marcus Clayton was the mayor of Fairview at the ripe old age of 35. His first term was coming to an end, and since no one was running against him this time, he was pretty much a shoo-in. Not like the first time when Oliver Schmidt had run against him. It had been fifth grade all over again.
Oliver Schmidt had been Marcus’s nemesis since fourth grade when Marcus accidentally backed into Oliver in the cafeteria and Oliver’s spaghetti and meatballs slid off his tray and onto his new white sweater and khaki pants as Marcus watched in slow-motion horror. Marcus apologized repeatedly, but Oliver had turned purple, screaming at the top of his lungs until Mrs. Applebaum grabbed his arm and hauled him off to the nurse’s office where he could find a change of clothes. Oliver was taller and wider than most fourth-graders, and he came back to the cafeteria just before lunch was over wearing a Superman sweatshirt and green pants that were about two sizes too small for him. He glared at Marcus as walked by, and after that he did everything he could to make Marcus’s life miserable.
When fifth grade started, Marcus had been so relieved that Oliver was no longer in his class. He felt like he could breathe again. But then came the class elections. His new teacher, Mrs. Hazelton, told the class that she would choose which students would be running for which office. And Marcus almost fell over when she chose him to run for class president. When he started protesting, Mrs. Hazelton looked at him sternly. “Mr. Clayton, I can see that you’re a leader. You’re bright and you like to talk. You will make an excellent class president. Now sit down and start thinking of a campaign slogan and what you will say to the other students to get yourself elected.” His best friend, Andy Lange, had given him the thumbs up to encourage him, but Marcus had no such confidence.
And then the world caved in when he learned that Oliver Schmidt had been chosen by his teacher to run for class president as well. As much as Marcus begged Mrs. Hazelton, she refused to budge. Marcus was to run for class president. Against Oliver Schmidt. And she expected him to win.
The next few weeks were a living nightmare. Oliver had hung signs all around the school with drawings of Marcus falling, knocking things over, lying on the ground, and getting hit in the face by a baseball. And he had slogans like “Vote For Oliver Schmidt. He Can Knock Out the Competition.” Or, “Vote For Oliver Schmidt. He Can Stand On His Own Two Feet.” Marcus soon realized that more than anything, he wanted to beat Oliver Schmidt. His anger began taking over his better instincts. And then one day, Tess Wentworth came up to him after class and offered to help run his campaign. Marcus was speechless. Tess was beautiful and smart and popular. He had no idea why she was offering to help him, but he certainly wasn’t going to turn her down. And from that moment on, everything changed. The other kids looked at Marcus with more respect. Tess only had to ask one student to help out, and ten more were at the ready.
Tess and Andy coached Marcus for the debates. Tess got the best artists in their class to make eye-popping posters. She made Marcus feel that he should be class president, that he deserved to win. And in the end, he did. And while he thanked Tess profusely, he still wasn’t sure if she understood how grateful he was. And how although he had won the election, she had won his heart.
When the idea for the time capsule was suggested, people were very enthusiastic about it. Everyone in town was invited to submit something to be buried in the metallic capsule that looked like a giant pill. Adults and children showed up with newspapers, cans of food, toys, movie posters, and more. Soon, the time capsule was filled to the top, and there was no room left for anything. The mayor at the time, Mayor Blackburn, made the announcement on the news that the time capsule would be sealed and buried the next day, and he invited the townspeople to come by and have one more look before it went under the cornerstone of the theater, and into the future.
Marcus felt that he needed to submit something. But what could he submit that would matter once he was old – or even dead? And then it hit him. He’d write a letter to Tess and tell her how much it meant to him the way she had saved the election. And how grateful he was for her help and support. And how much he loved the way she smiled. Well, why not? She’d never know about the letter. And he’d be old or dead by the time the capsule was opened, so none of it would matter. And so, he wrote the letter. After he sealed it, he made his way over to the theater. He walked straight to the capsule and looked inside. It was filled to the brim, with not an inch of space left for anything. Except for the thinnest envelope that he was able to slip inside the newspaper lying on top without anyone noticing. Or so he thought. He turned to find Oliver Schmidt and his family standing a few feet behind him – none had even a trace of a smile. Oliver smirked when he looked at Marcus and he sidled up to him.
“What did you just put in there?” Oliver demanded, looking down at the capsule.
Marcus felt himself break into a sweat. “Nothing.”
“I saw you,” Oliver insisted. You slipped something into the capsule. What was it?”
“I wanted to take a look at the newspaper,” Marcus stammered.
“Why don’t we just take a look?” Oliver sneered, leaning over.
Marcus felt his heart stop. He knew what would happen if Oliver picked up that newspaper. He’d never be able to show his face in school – or in town – ever again.
“Young man, what are you doing?” demanded an authoritative voice.
Both Oliver and Marcus whirled around to find Mayor Blackburn standing behind them. The mayor was staring intently at Oliver.
“Nothing,” Oliver muttered.
“There are to be no more items placed in the capsule,” the mayor admonished. “This evening is just for everyone to take a look before it’s buried tomorrow morning. Stand back, please.”
Oliver glared daggers at Marcus as he took a step back. Oliver’s mother raced over and grabbed him by his ear, dragging him back to where the rest of the family was standing. “Ow, Ma!” Oliver cried.
Mrs. Schmidt’s shrill voice reverberated through the crowd as she scolded her son. “Can’t you behave just once? Just once? You always embarrass me! Couldn’t you try just this one time to control yourself?” Her voice faded away as the family waddled in sync down the street. Once they were gone, Marcus took a deep breath. As he turned to go, he nearly bumped into Tess, who was standing right behind him. Marcus smiled shyly.
“Hey, Marc,” Tess said.
Marcus seemed to have lost his voice for the moment. He nodded and looked down at his feet. Finally, he mumbled, “Hey, Tess.”
“This is so cool,” Tess said.
“Yeah,” Marcus agreed.
“Did you put anything in the capsule?” Tess asked. “I put one of my Bee Gees cassettes in there.”
Marcus’s throat went dry. “Uh, yeah,” he stammered. “A newspaper.”
“Cool,” Tess said.
“Cool,” Marcus said.
Marcus never ended up telling Tess how he felt about her since the following year they went off to different middle schools and then high schools. In spite of Marcus having several girlfriends over the years, Tess always had a special place in his heart.
Marcus was a very good runner and ended up being the star runner on the team. And, because it turned out that he did love to talk, he was the captain of the debate team and their team ended up winning the State finals. By his junior year, Marcus was getting noticed by several colleges and he was offered a full scholarship to a college several hundred miles away from Fairview.
Marcus enjoyed his years away at college, but he returned to Fairview soon after graduating. Within weeks, he had several job offers, including one working for the mayor. He had graduated with a business degree, and the mayor’s office felt he would be a valuable asset to them. Marcus decided to give it a try. He had always thrived under pressure and was extremely detailed, so he fit right in. Marcus was happy to find that most of his group of friends from high school were either still living in Fairview or had returned after college, so he had a large social circle. But he never found that one special person. His thoughts had turned to Tess now that he was back, and he asked around about her. But no one knew exactly where she was these days. Someone thought that she had gotten married and moved across the country, but wasn’t really sure.
Marcus threw himself into his work, but he needed something more in his life, so he went to the local shelter and adopted a beautiful dog of indeterminate ancestry. He named him Finn. Finn was a great running and hiking companion, and he was allowed to hang out at work with Marcus so he wouldn’t be left alone all day. Everybody loved Finn, and he became the unofficial mascot of the mayor’s office.
Several years passed, and Marcus became restless. He loved his job, but he wanted a bigger challenge, so he talked to the mayor and asked his thoughts about running for Town Council. Mayor Blackburn agreed that Marcus should try to find out if he was suited for a life in politics. He won easily and found that he enjoyed having a say in what was happening in the town. And, he soon discovered, the debating skills he had honed while in high school came in handy in political life.
So when Mayor Blackburn announced his retirement, Marcus’s name echoed throughout the halls of power as a possible replacement. At first, Marcus assured people that he wasn’t interested. But Mayor Blackburn pushed hard for him to run. And then he opened the newspaper one day and there was an article about the upcoming mayoral vacancy and who might run. And aside from his own photo, there was Oliver Schmidt! Marcus felt his stomach clench. He had managed to avoid seeing Oliver Schmidt since he returned to Fairview, except every now and again at public events when it was unavoidable. Oliver was just a bigger, heavier version of who he had been in elementary school, with the same scowl filling his face whenever he glimpsed Marcus. He was the manager of a chain of auto dealerships, and had done well for himself. He had married Margaret Kornhauser who had grown up a few blocks away from him, and they had three sons who looked just like their father.
So now, if Marcus said yes, it would be fifth grade all over again. But he relished a challenge. And the thought of debating Oliver Schmidt made his pulse race. This could be fun.
At 31 years old, Marcus and Oliver were the youngest mayoral candidates in Fairview’s history. Marcus assembled a top-notch team of advisers, including his best pal, Andy Lange. Oliver apparently used people from the dealership’s advertising department. Marcus couldn’t help thinking back to Tess and all the help and advice she had given him during his run for class president. He found himself longing for those days again. But he had a great team. And they didn’t let him down.
Unsurprisingly, Oliver took the low road. His campaign went after Marcus by saying that he had left Fairview for greener pastures, couldn’t find them, came back with his tail between his legs and used his familial connections to get a job that he couldn’t get on his own, and on and on.
Marcus refused to play that game, as much as his team urged him to go for the jugular. There was plenty of dirt on Oliver Schmidt, as Marcus discovered during his team’s research.
“But, Marcus!” Andy practically shouted in frustration. “He’s slime. He cheated on his wife. He has most likely been taking money from his dealerships and put it into his pocket. He’s not a good guy.”
“We all know that,” Marcus said. “But we’re not going to stoop to his level. Our campaign is about the future. What I can do for Fairview. I don’t want to even mention his name. I want to talk ideas. I want a positive campaign.”
“What about the debate?” Andy asked.
“Oh, I’ll slaughter him in the debate,” Marcus grinned.
Marcus went running early every morning with Finn to keep in shape, clear his head, and to relieve the stress. While Andy had to do his job within the parameters of Marcus’s directives, he couldn’t help but get photos of fit and trim Marcus running with his adorable dog, and juxtapose them in the political ads with bloated, doughy Oliver shoving a greasy triple burger with melted cheese slathered all over it, into his mouth at a fast-food drive-through. The only copy said, “Choose Wisely, Fairview.”
Two days before the debate, a story in the Fairview Journal exploded onto the front page about the financial discrepancies at Oliver Schmidt’s dealerships. Several reporters contributed to the story which had been thoroughly researched and which left little doubt as to gross improprieties taking place there. On the evening news, local reporters caught up with Oliver at his flagship dealership and pummeled him with questions about the story.
“Well, boys, you know how easily numbers can be mistakenly put where they don’t belong,” Oliver said smoothly, while beads of sweat dripped down his face. “It’s a legitimate mistake that our accountants are working on as we speak.”
“Oliver!” shouted one of the reporters. “This is more than a simple mistake. This is embezzlement over a period of over ten years from what the numbers show. How do you explain that?”
Oliver harrumphed. “This is nothing but dirty politics!” he lashed out. “Why don’t you ask Marcus Clayton about his underhanded tactics! How he’s willing to smear an honest businessman like me just for his political gain! You and I both know there’s nothing to these accusations, they’ll disappear like a puff of smoke by tomorrow.” Then he stormed back into the dealership.
But the accusations didn’t disappear like a puff of smoke. They were more like a 3-alarm fire as more and more evidence piled up. By the end of the week, Oliver dropped out of the race, trying to save whatever he could of his reputation as car sales plummeted.
Marcus refused to engage when reporters requested interviews and tried to catch up with him whenever he left his house. Andy told him he had to say something more than “No comment.” Finally, on the day Oliver pulled out of the race, Marcus’s staff put together a prepared statement. It basically said that he was saddened to hear about the accusations against Oliver, as he had been looking forward to a spirited and vigorous debate about the future direction of Fairview. That everyone was innocent until proven guilty. That the truth would prevail.
But in the end, there was no debate, Marcus won the election in a landslide, and Oliver Schmidt sold his dealerships to a young entrepreneur after making a plea deal that kept him out of jail. Soon after, he and his family quietly slunk out of town, never to return.
“Good riddance to bad garbage,” Andy said to Marcus after the Schmidts disappeared.
“Can’t argue with you there,” Marcus had grinned.
Being the mayor of Fairview had never been on Marcus’s list of possible career paths at any point in his life until now. But he loved solving problems, working to improve people’s lives, getting to really know the people of the town. Of course, there were those who were a pain in the neck, but for the most part, it was a challenge that he was up to, and he looked forward to the challenges of his job every day.
And then one day the owner of the theater came to him to discuss the fact that he was losing money, the repairs required to update the building were beyond his means, and he was ready to sell it to the highest bidder who wanted to build a multiplex attached to a shiny new mall. But building the multiplex would involve removing the cornerstone and unearthing the time capsule. Marcus hadn’t thought about the time capsule in years, but now his mind rocketed back to the evening before the capsule was buried when Oliver Schmidt saw him slip the letter to Tess into the capsule. But now Oliver was gone, Tess was also gone, and Marcus was mayor. And the capsule had been buried when he was 10 years old. There was no reason for him to be embarrassed about what he had written to Tess. He had just been a lovesick kid. But even so, he planned to be one of the first to get a crack at what was in the time capsule so that he could somehow get the letter out of there before anyone else could get their hands on it.
It was several months until the sale of the theater and surrounding businesses was complete, and the new owners of what was soon to become the multiplex and new mall were ready to start construction. May 27th was fast approaching, and the final preparations were being made for Time Capsule Day. Marcus worked on his speech with Andy. The excitement about opening up the time capsule was palpable throughout the town. While people were sad to see the old theater be torn down, they were looking forward to a big step into the future.
May 27th started off somewhat overcast, but the clouds broke just as the parade was starting. Marcus sat in the lead car and waved enthusiastically to the crowd. As they made their way from one end of Main Street to the other, Marcus looked at the smiling faces of the people waving. He knew many of them, and now those from his generation were also there with their spouses and young children. Marcus felt a pang, wishing that he, too, would one day have a family. Finn was sitting next to him and the crowd loved him. Well, thank goodness for Finn.
Suddenly, Marcus’s heart stopped. There, as they passed the Blast From the Past antiques store, was a beautiful young woman. A very familiar beautiful young woman, and she certainly was a blast from the past. As the car rolled by, Marcus craned his neck to see if it could possibly be. But the crowd swallowed her up before he could confirm that it was Tess Wentworth. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or his nerves getting the best of him about opening the time capsule. But his heart began to pound, and Finn gave him a slobbery kiss.
When the parade arrived at the theater, Marcus got out of the car, with Finn at his side, and strode up to the podium. He smiled at all the cheers and whistles as the excitement in the crowd grew. He and Andy had decided to make the speech as brief as possible since everyone was eager to see what was in the time capsule after 25 years and didn’t want to hear him droning on and on. And so he greeted the crowd, talking about the significance of the day. And that while it was sad to be losing such a central part of Fairview’s history, they were now moving onward to the new millennium.
“Open the capsule!” someone shouted.
The crowd picked up the chant. “Open the capsule!” they cried in unison.
Marcus held his hands up. “And I thought you all came to hear me talk,” he joked. “No, seriously, I know you’re all eager to take a look at what we thought was important 25 years ago, and how we ever survived without the Internet and cell phones. So without any further ado, let’s open the time capsule!”
Everyone cheered as the time capsule was lifted out of the ground and placed on the platform beside Marcus. Andy handed Marcus the key and he unlocked the capsule. He paused for a moment and then raised the top and invited several prominent members of the community onto the platform to join him in looking through the capsule and holding things up for the crowd to see. He assured everyone that it would all be on display at City Hall starting on the following day. He looked down and immediately saw the newspaper on top of the pile in the capsule. He grabbed it, and surreptitiously reached inside for the letter, pretending to look at the headlines. He heaved a sigh of relief when he felt it. He managed to slip the letter into his pocket as he read the headlines aloud:
“New Theater To Open Soon,” he read. A sense of sadness washed over him as he realized how anticipated the theater had been, how it had been a boon to Fairview for so many years, and how it was so ramshackle and dated now that it was about to disappear. There was always a price to pay for progress.
“Life doesn’t wait for stragglers,” a female voice said by his side. Marcus whirled around, and there she was. As beautiful as he remembered her, but now he was finally seeing the grown-up version. Even Finn seemed to understand that this was someone special as he sidled up to her and offered his paw.
She smiled and took his paw as she looked directly into Marcus’s eyes. “Hey, Marc,” she said. “Looks like you’ve done good for yourself.”
“Tess,” he said, wondering if she was real or if he had finally manifested her from his dreams.
“You remembered,” she smiled.
“How could I ever forget?” Marcus said. “You’re the one who made me president.”
Tess laughed. “You were a diamond in the rough. I just helped polish you up. And you made it to mayor all by yourself.”
Marcus grinned. “Not exactly by myself. I had lots of help” He paused. “So, what are you doing here? I heard you got married and moved across the country.”
Tess nodded. “I did. But the marriage ended some time ago and I was kind of lost for a while. I decided maybe I should come back to my roots and see if I could find myself again.”
“And have you?” Marcus asked.
“Working on it,” Tess smiled. “Believe it or not, I ended up in politics, but on the other end, working on campaigns, kind of like what I did with you in our younger days. You wouldn’t be looking for a campaign strategist, would you? Like maybe after mayor you’ll be thinking about Congress?”
Marcus laughed. “I’m happy where I am, Tess, doing what I’m doing. And I’ve got Andy Lange helping me with everything I do – you remember him, don’t you?”
Tess nodded enthusiastically. “Oh my gosh – Andy! That’s so great that you two are a team, you were such great friends in school. It’s so nice to have long-term friends who you can always count on.”
“It is.” Marcus agreed. “So, if you’re planning to stay in town, I’d love to get together and talk about your thoughts for my future.”
Tess studied him carefully and then nodded her head. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” Marcus said.
“What was in the newspaper?”
Marcus was startled. “Oh, the newspaper,” he said lamely.
“I’m guessing it’s something you put in there that you didn’t want anyone to see,” she said.
“Yes, it is,” Marcus said. “Just a kid thing, no need for it to come to light.”
“Looked like a letter,” Tess remarked casually. “Who did you write to?”
Now, it was Marcus’s turn to study her. “How about we go out to dinner tonight and I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Only if it’s going to be good,” Tess teased.
“Oh, it will be. I promise,” Marcus said, smiling at Tess. “It’s going to be very good.”
Nancy Machlis Rechtman has had poetry and short stories published in Your Daily Poem, Academy of the Heart and Mind, Grande Dame, Impspired, Fresh Words, The Writing Disorder, Discretionary Love, and more. She wrote freelance Lifestyle stories for a local newspaper, and she was the copy editor for another paper. She writes a blog called Inanities at https://nancywriteon.wordpress.com.