Saturday, April 4, 2009
When I was young, high school young, I spent a good portion of my spare time in winter, trapping the local rivers. It was a small town in Minnesota and I was nearing the end of my Tom Sawyer days. I never was much good at it, but I enjoyed my time at the river and made a little pocket change from the few muskrats careless enough to find my labors.
I would follow the abandoned railroad tracks, now just a trail, down to the river. There was a trestle there that no longer served a purpose beyond remembrance. A small chain hung looped across the ends to discourage passage, but me being Tom Sawyer, it always worked the opposite and beyond it I went. I would stand in the middle and lean over the rusty rail and just watch the water rush below. It was cold but somehow always still, even in wind. it was peaceful, it was mine. I learned ideas here, and cultivated them in classroom daydreams.
When I followed the river south, it would lead me to another river and where these two rivers came together, there was a house, distant across the field. Though it was far in the country, it couldn’t be called a farm. There just wasn’t enough big buildings, enough equipment, and the fields grew only scrub. By my coming down the river, it placed me deep in the back yard with a view of the back door. There were chickens, a few goats, a shed and the girl.
I kept a trap there, on that bend. Though I knew there were no muskrats, I knew what time she would come through that back door. I knew her routine and when she entered the shed, and her image in the window and her glances toward me. I always pretended to be busy but I think she knew my game. More and more I became careless and bold and would just lean against the tree and watch, knowing she knew my watch.
The distance was fair and I could only guess and imagine the who that she was. She always wore a skirt, an old coat worn open, men’s boots and a green scarf. A crazy look. Even from a field away.
I thought maybe she was young, abused and belittled. Tortured maybe even. I figured she would always stare down in servitude and she probably was plain, even ugly, but I was drawn anyway. The house was red with white trim, badly in need of fresh paint and something else. I never wondered who else was in there, and only looked to the door she would come through.
One day, when the wind blew and I leaned in stare, she paused on the way to the little building. I should have looked away, looked to my trap, but I didn’t and she started toward me. I watched her wipe her hands in her skirt and walk with purpose toward me. I can’t explain why-it was so unlike me-but I began to walk toward her and we met there in the winter wind, midway in the field of scrub.
Soon, it became clear I had been wrong about so much in my young minds imagining. Her hair flew above the scarf in perfect play and her eyes were blue and full of life. They didn’t look down in servitude but locked onto my own and claimed them without quibble. Her features were both strong and beautiful. I suppose She might have been seventeen or thirty, it was impossible to say. She simply was, timeless and beautiful. I tried to study her in this moment of luck but it was difficult as she wouldn’t release my eyes from her lock. She wore a red kerchief on her hair but it couldn’t contain the wildness. The green scarf fell around her neck and spilled onto a man’s flannel shirt. The coat was just a coat that may never have closed. She wore dirty worn boots clearly designed for a man, and the dirty skirt that came nearly to her knees looked as if it had once been beautiful. Maybe peach with yellow waves playing across it.
I wanted to look at her legs and I did. I couldn’t help myself in my clumsy youth. Though she was clearly anything but large, her legs were full and strong. The sides were white from the cold but the knees themselves were brushed red. I remember I so wanted to touch them to know the smoothness and I wondered what she wore under the skirt. Maybe something clean and light and flowery, or maybe men’s long underwear cut off mid thigh. I did all of this in a single moment of acquaintance. I couldn’t have been more mesmerized in the shadow of this being more beautiful than any girl I had ever seen and more powerful than any man I had ever known. She half-smiled, put her hands in her pockets and spoke.
I just nodded. I wanted to speak but nothing came out.
She squinted in the morning sun as she studied me, still in smile, and asked my name while lifting her head as if to draw it out of me.
“Rick.” It was strange. Like someone other than me had answered.
Her lip curled up on one side in approval.
“What’s your middle name?”
“John,” I surrendered.
“Rick John,” she nodded. “That’s a good name.”
It was such a strange moment for a boy to find himself tangled in. She had walked into this field and claimed this boy for her morning amusement and he, who was I, went willingly. I asked her name as her study of me continued.
“I don’t have a name. I’m just the girl who does the chores.”
I laughed at the thought and pressed,lowering my eyes in challenge. “Everyone has a name.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Not me.”
I noticed she was staring at my ear. I was only wearing a baseball cap and I watched her move in close and reach. I don’t know if I was flinching or making myself accessible, but my head turned and she touched my lobe. I felt her warmth in her finger’s squeeze. She held it and studied it before letting go and stepping back.
“You’d look good in an earring. Would you like one?”
It was crazy, river rush crazy. My heart was pounding and my blood rushing. How does a boy respond to something like this? A boy out walking rivers wearing out Tom Sawyer and spying out imaginary girls.
“What? you mean now? Here?”
She turned her head a little, pointing with her look to the shed.
“Over there. It’ll be OK.”
In just a few seconds, I had to wonder and decide of this girl who was woman who was man leading me to her shed and driving my ear and placing who knows what there and me walking the river back a changed being, Tom Sawyer drowned in currents rush.
“I’d have to think about that,” I offered in youthful stammer, shuffling my feet.
Her smile faded just a bit, as if she was disappointed but not surprised.
“Don’t think on it to long, Rick John, I just might change my mind.”
I only nodded as my head swam great oceans. I so though wanted whatever this was to never end, to last, and I searched for things to say.
“Don’t you get cold dressed like that?”
Her smile grew again, knowing my thoughts and intent I suppose.
“I have things to keep me warm. And things to do. Nice meeting you, Rick John.”
With that she turned and walked toward the red house with white trim and the little shed of secrets. Just like that. One turn and it was over. I stood and watched her walk, the skirt flowing and the hair flying in wildness, knowing I had come close to something of greatness and had passed on a chance I would probably not know again. I felt something sticky in my hair, and realized it was from the maple I had known in my watching. A passing of seasons.
I never went to that shed, and she never again walked the scrub to make the offer. That was the last year I trapped. Tom Sawyer received a proper burial, and muskrats kept their fur. But everyday of my life, I wish I had gone to that shed. I wish she had driven my ear. I wish I had known her name.