94 Babes in the Woods

It was Friday evening; the girls had gone to bed, and finally settled down. They didn’t mind at all that their father had called to say that his dinner plans had changed. They’d had a lot to tell Mrs. James, about the school concert and how there was this one girl in Pansy’s class who thought she was such a good singer and sang really loudly but was always flat and how the teacher made her stand in the back row, making it up that she was tall so she had to stand there but it was so she wouldn’t sound so bad if she was way back there. Poppy had to say about seeing her Dad standing by the door looking at some other girl but wondering why he kept smiling at that girl instead of at her. Then they both launched in on Aunt Gina and Bert, curious if there were still out on the drive telling jokes because Aunt Gina knew so many funny ones. Mrs. James was curious about that, too. It was spring, after all.

As Mrs. James later lay in bed, she was in a daze but not dreaming. Lee’s confession – that boy on the beach – turned her thoughts to her own girlhood. It was all so innocent; babes in the woods, they’d been. It was with R.T. of course. It had only ever been him, all of her life. Could life with a childhood sweetheart lay in store for Lee? Less and less likely, she assumed. Kids these days met so many other kids, over so many years, had such amazing opportunities to see the world, were exposed on such levels.

But hers was truly an exposure, too, and she smiled, recalling it so vividly. She gave herself quite a start finding it didn’t hurt to remember. Her widowhood had long become an exercise in turning away from intimate memories, not trusting her emotions to refrain, not whip them into the loneliness of her unanticipated and bitter loss. Perhaps she might have the luxury of reverie restored to her, of things simply taking time to refresh, not to re-injure.

So back she went, into the past. She was at the family cottage, at last persuading her parents, and her grandparents whose place it was, to permit her boyfriend, R.T., to join them for the weekend. She was seventeen, he slightly older; they’d been keeping company for about a year, and their families were known to each other. Night-time separation would be strictly enforced of course, although they’d had a fun time, at her youngest aunt’s suggestion, of playing a game of assigning numbers to all of the available spots to sleep, then of everyone drawing a matching number out of a hat, with hilarious, even incestuous results, and her lucky aunt and R.T. imaginarily sharing a pull-out couch.Chapter 94 Babes in the Woods

During the day however, they were more or less free to come and go and though expected for meals, had been allowed to go off with a picnic lunch on their first day. There was a sandy beach a five minute walk away and they left the cottage sporting suits and beach towels, expecting to spend late morning and afternoon there. She could hardly wait to introduce him to all of the things she’d enjoyed doing as a child: a sandcastle raised here and there, to abandon at will; swimming, of course, but also wave jumping, if possible; crawling, playing at ancient amphibians out through the succession of sandbars; wading out to the one or two huge rocks beyond to do some diving into the finally deeper waters; and now with him, the prospect of long, long unchaperoned walks to the neighboring beach along the wide beckoning curve of the bay, with time to share, and of double that joy with going back again.

There were two ways that led to the bay, and together they formed a sort of square. The one most used was by way of the lane, then a jog along the main road to the path down to the water. The other direction led into the woods to a narrower trail running parallel to the creek that eternally sang behind the cottage, trilling toward the bay. That trail crossed the path that led to the water. The trail was deemed the shortcut but it amounted to the same distance. There was a sort of panache about using the trail, adding to the illusion of private beach access. The old man living in the last cottage along the lane misanthropically claimed that the access into the woods was solely his; he clearly could not bear the invasion of light foot traffic past his door but everyone on the lane ignored him.

Both the creek and the trail extended beyond the turn for the beach, much further into the woods. The spring fed creek was sometimes blocked by a beaver dam. Local wallies got all hooted up, went back into the resulting swamp and blasted out the dam. For awhile, the creek ran high again. The beavers persisted, and so did the wallies. This seldom frequented section of  trail meandered slightly uphill even further past the dam and the swamp, traversing a deeper forest with mature hardwoods and a taller understory. Young Ivy had never quite dared to go that way; not afraid of legendary giant beaver, simply unwilling to go it alone, sensibly wary of lurking wallies. At the junction to the beach she paused.

“Want to walk in the woods, first?” R.T. was so happy to be there, he would go anywhere, do anything. Ivy was animated, describing the route and its many features, before they fell into a sort of silence, unbeknownst to them a sign of respectful acknowledgement of where they were. And that is how they entered the glade, quietly, hand in hand, rapt by the high light freely poured into the bowl of space opened before them.

“Is this what they mean by ‘dappled’? whispered Ivy into R.T’s sheltering shoulder.

“Let’s be naked here together, be a part of nature, the way it all begins.”

“Now? You mean now?” Ivy glanced about her. No excuses, at least in human form, materialized.

A boy on a beach, one of many public parks along the Lake Michigan shore.

A boy on a beach, one of many public parks along the Lake Michigan shore.

“Now. Let’s look at each other as a part of all this beauty.” It was surpassing lovely. Swept away by the solitude, enamored by their ecstasy, they soon stood apart and bare as the forest floor between them, shafts of sun as a mythic blade bronzing the sward where they might have lain, protecting their amazed, adoring mutual gaze. The sun dimmed, the moment passed. Enriched, distilling the revelation they retreated, more suitably dressed for the scrutiny of the public eye. Play always came easily to them, after that morning.

Somewhere, on her beach, Lee could meet that moment; who could deny such bliss? So many years on and Ivy reveled in it, still. Who would crave the superficial, after such an insight? Absent R.T., she’d have spent a lifetime attempting to resurrect that connectedness again and again, mistaking it no doubt in the artifice of certain personalities offering a plausible swap, and she giving too much affection in return. That same cottage grandmother had been a young widow; she complained about the widowers who approached her for marriage, her fellow card-players, deciding that their protestations of love were based simply on a hope for regular and decent meals, at which she was a true proficient. Hers was not a bad precedent to follow, accurately ascertaining the inauthentic.