Lin Hendler

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 105 in 2002.

I headed westerly again. I had not gone but perhaps twenty yards when I spotted the brunette.

She was lounging beneath a tree. She had no book to occupy her time, she just was lying there. She was no doubt reminiscing about younger times and days that had long past. Perhaps she was remembering when she had etched her name in wet cement, years ago. She was wondering, maybe, if her name was still there. She was leaning against a tree, her legs outstretched in front of her, ankles crossed. Her eyes were closed, but she was not asleep. Every once in a while, she opened her eyes to watch the sea of grass ripple in the breeze, or to twine her fingers into the grass before she uprooted the small plants. I could see the rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. I felt like her face had planted itself firmly in my memory. Her thin face was beautiful, her American accent touching with its coarse twang.

The tree she was resting against was large and gnarled. It didn't seem like it would be all that comfortable, and yet, there she sat. I darted as quickly as I could behind another tree so that I might watch her. I slipped clumsily on a rock, and made a rustling noise. She did not seem to notice. I thought of what I could say to her. How I could appeal to her. I imagined walking up to her, talking to her about the gardens, cathedrals, love and the England that had seemed to entrance her. I could dazzle her, talk to her about the dripping, dreary moors. She would come home with me, entranced. I'd give her happiness for an evening. I could and I knew it.

I stood behind that tree, soaking her in, breathing her breath. I knew what I could do to get her, as I know how to get almost anyone. It's part of my job, knowing how people work, and writing them down. But there was something about her melancholy, something that I didn't totally understand. This hatred in these young girls was astonishing. But I was impressed by how erotic a girl could be when she was alone, when she was not trying to impress a man.

Perhaps, I figured, it would be best just to watch her. When she wasn't aware that there was a man near. Her breathing was slowing, perhaps brought on by the pill she had ingested. Her legs, which were twined about each other, ankle above ankle, eased slowly apart. I imagined that it was my hand gently pushing them apart. I wished the moment would last an eternity. I was perfectly content, watching her breasts heave upward with every intake of breath. For that moment, she was mine, even if she did not know it. This sad junkie girl who hid skag in her shoe. I crouched down quietly, and listened to the wind. This girl would bring her first love to England. But she wouldn't love herself enough to hold on to him. This I could prophecy. When she would learn to love herself and another correctly, I couldn't tell. But she would be here again with a love destined to be lost. I wanted to tell her this. I wanted to own her, too. The two conflicting thoughts swayed in my head, swirling slowly, dancing together. So, I just crouched, watching. Listening. Observing her breathing become slower and slower until her breasts hardly seem to move at all.

I didn't know how much time had lapsed when her friend returned. Her hair was disheveled from the wind, and I had been right. It glowed a bright copper until she stepped into the shade.

'Did you want to go?' The red-head's words sliced like a knife through the still of the day. The brunette's chest rose as she was startled and took a sharp intake of air. Her breathing came a little rapidly now. The red-head's voice seemed loud in the air.

'I guess.' The dark haired girl's voice was husky from quiet daydreaming. I wondered if I should have warned her about the next time she would go to Kew. I wondered if I should have talked to her. I wished that I could go back, reverse time, and give me those few precious minutes before the red-head would arrive. But it was too late. I missed her forever despite the fact that fate had dropped her almost directly onto my lap.