Meeting in the Woods

By Phoebe Wilcox

I thought I was alone in the woods when I tripped over the root. But he was there, or almost, still distant on the dirt path.

I'd left the A-Point electronics factory at 3, and by 4 o'clock I was sitting in an air-conditioned apartment, reading to a mentally agile centenarian, Mrs. Hatchupper. She loved "The New York Times." Every time I read the "Times" to her I bumped into some word I've never heard before. Like hubris. I tried to remember it by attaching it to Hatchupper. Hatchupper's hubris, I thought to myself, picturing the slogan on a t-shirt she might wear to bed, while Mrs. Hatchuppper felt through the crinkled bills in the covered candy dish on top of her TV set. She gave me ten dollars for the reading.

"When are you going back to school, Tasha?"she queried, clutching the table for balance as she stood to walk me out.

"Oh, it already started. I'm just at the factory for the next three Saturdays because tuition's due and I need the money for books. A-Point knows I'm out of there after that."

It was nearly 7 o'clock and darkening when I clicked her door shut behind me and headed into a translucent evening.

It was a little after that that my sandaled foot caught the root. I went sailing into the well-worn path like a poorly aimed arrow, getting dirt in my mouth. I was standing, wiping it away, tapping my fingers against numb lips when Andy approached, coming the opposite way, but of course I didn't know him yet. At that time he was just some dim, masculine silhouette smelling like Royal Copenhagen, which one of the guys I'd dated at school wore all the time. I loved the smell but not the guy.

"You okay?" Andy asked. I could hardly see his smile, but I could feel it in the dark, warm and reaching toward me.

"Yeah," I answered apprehensively, not accustomed to meeting anyone on my woodland path.

"I felt that from twenty yards away; made me wince. Wanna beer?"

"Mmm...just a couple sips."

We veered off the usual path, me postponing the eventual birth-of-Venus springing out into the parking lot behind the Zippy Mart on Mill Street, him delaying his expulsion onto Deer Lane, where Mrs Hatchupper lived.

We sat on a log next to a little creek, my thoughts running away with the current as I popped the can of beer open. After two or three sips I came to feel like I was swimming in amniotic fluid, treading water in the warm darkness of Mother Earth's womb.

"This is why guys accost girls in the woods and have them drink beer: so the girls lose their bearings, and the guys can have their way with them," Andy said, "but I'm a little different, just a little."

"How?" I asked, not half as concerned as I would have been without the beer.

"I actually really like women, so when I seduce someone I let them take as much time as they need."

"Are you a wolf in sheep's clothing or a sheep in wolf's clothing?" I asked.

"Both," he answered, laughing and tapping my thigh briefly with the hand that wasn't holding a beer.

When I got home, the first thing I did was look up the word, "hubris." The second thing I did was copy Andy's phone number into my address book. I hadn't been sure of what he looked like exactly until we reached the birthing streetlights in the parking lot behind the Zippy Mart. He walked me all the way home. He hadn't tried to kiss me. He's part Indian and looks like his great-grandmother, who was a Cherokee. I could tell there was a hook, a line, and a sinker, dancing dangerously and enticingly in the water all around me that night. I didn't mind at all.