It was a quiet, cloudy afternoon in Topeka. People were slowly filing out of the synagogue after morning prayers. The weather had been rainy and muggy the past few days, the sort of weather that always makes people unhappy. It was the kind of weather where bugs liked to come in and annoy everyone with their bites and stings. This day was no different.

The two Goldberg sisters had given up planting the flower garden outside the synagogue for today; after all the rain, it was just too muddy. On the way back home, they met Lily Cohen, who was also on the way back from morning prayers. Their houses were in roughly the same area, so they decided to walk together.

Lily greeted them in her usual friendly manner: ''How are you? This weather's been horrible, don't you think?''

''Maybe it has been, but without it, nothing would grow, and there would be no food and no crops.'' That voice belonged to Dani Goldberg, and she always tried to be happy about everything, from her money down to the food she ate. She was the complete opposite of her sister, Dana, who was a complete pessimist and saw the glass half-empty even if it was full to the brim. As the women walked, their heels clanked against the sidewalk. The women liked to hear that noise. It assured them that they were pretty and made them feel better about themselves.

Dana reached the Goldberg house first, but asked the other two, ''Do you want to walk on, to Rosenbaum's Deli around the corner? I'll pay.''

At first the other two were a little ambivalent, as they just wanted to get home, but Dana insisted. Her promise to pay for their meals convinced other two ladies to go, and they walked on to the deli.

Dani opened the door first, and the three of them entered the empty deli, as the door slammed behind them.

The noise startled Naomi Rosenbaum, who was slicing a freshly baked loaf of bread.

The bread's scent wafted through the small restaraunt as the three friends sat down on the old, red, worn stools at the counter.

As they sat down, Naomi asked them, ''Do you want a slice of bread? It's freshly baked.''

''I sure would,'' said Dana, ''I'm hungry! What about you, Dani? Lily?''

''Yes, I would,'' said both women at the same time, then burst out laughing. Dana and Naomi joined in the joyful laughing, and when they got settled down again, Naomi refocused on slicing the bread.

''So,'' said Lily, a few seconds later, ''what do you think about that new guy, Joshua, on the outskirts of town? I see him come into the square sometimes, for bread, and the rest of his miniscule groceries. I guess he doesn't need much, as it seems he lives by himself.''

''Yes, he seems very secretive,'' said Dani. ''What do you think he does for work?''

After a few seconds of everyone thinking, Naomi, from behind the counter, said, ''I know what he does! He's a woodcarver, probably. A carpenter. I saw him at the wood market next to the produce stall, at the farmer's market on Tuesday. He bought some wood, then left. He didn't really talk to anyone. It didn't seem mean, or like he meant it to be. It just seemed like he was either in a rush, or is just a naturally secretive person.