A New Way Home
Mel and I meet at her studio so I can learn a new way home by foot. I arrive thirty minutes late so we have little time for small talk but she does show me the etching she has been working on all day, revealing the grace of her smile and shadowing the shimmery copper with her fingers as she points to different details of the work.
We walk briskly and she tells me about different forest art she has placed alongside the trail. At times I struggle to keep up with her, watching as she wags her way easily through the rhododendron thicket up the hillside. I consider for a moment that this could be some subconscious test of our forming friendship but rapidly shove the storyline aside and just try to relax into the walk.
We cross through front yards of houses I have never seen in the thicket we live in, which is so dense that it is possible to lose one’s way even following the gravel roads that loop around. We cut across an old power line and come out onto gravel road. Mel pauses for a moment and watches me as I look right, then left.
“Do you know where we are?” she asks kindly.
I offer a guess and am right, I think, though we have different names for the roads in our thicket (she goes by sight, refusing names; I go by the road signs which were installed shortly after I moved to North Carolina). We press on, up the hill and across another yard. Just when I think the trail must be ended and we will rejoin the road, Mel curves off to the west heading directly for another rhododendron thicket. There is no trail in sight as far as I can tell but I follow her instinctively and sure enough, she charges through the thicket and we emerge onto another trail that takes us further up the mountain. I make a mental note to myself to leave early for work in the morning. I have parked my car down below at her studio and there is no way I will find this trial again by myself – not at the pace we’re going and with the denseness of spring.
We finally emerge at the far edge of her property behind one of the outbuildings and for the first time since we departed, I know where we are. Standing in her garden I comment on the new clay sculpture she has added, a gift from a friend, she explains. I turn to look at her as she gazes at the fruits of her labors and suddenly she is so beautiful to me. Her face is completely dotted with freckles that darken her skin ever so slightly. This provides an elegant contrast to the crystalline brightness of her blue eyes, which peek out from her tosselled bangs. Her cheekbones are high and form two tips of a rounded triangle, her chin serving as the bottom tip and completing the symmetry of her face. The effect of her freckles and the angle of her cheekbones and jaw line is breathtaking as I zoom in. Her lips are not luscious but are presented quietly, as per her demeanor and there is nothing in excess about her nose. When she smiles it is like little cherub sparks escape from the soft wrinkles that merge around her eyes.
We hug goodbye with promises to spend time together tomorrow and perhaps go on another walk soon. Just as she waves me off it begins to rain and I still have half a mile walk to get home. Mel sees me fussing with my bag, which contains coveted photos of PD’s iron sculptures that I cannot afford to damage. Mel offers to help and lifts up the back of my fleece vest, re-securing it over the bag and surprisingly tucking it right down into my underpants. With a final wave I am off, gleefully pondering my fascination with this new friend and thankful for her growing openness to my presence in her life.