It was the shoes I noticed first. They were brown and clompy and worn, with traces of mud and dead grass stuck to the sides. She was drinking a cup of black coffee, some of which now spilled on the newspaper she held in front of her but did not read. Instead, she held it up to hide the fact that she stared into space; her thoughts breaking long enough for her to look around the small café and then drift back to whatever it was that drew her imagination to another place and time.
With nothing better to do and too little in my own life to merit attention, I resolved to catch her eye. I did, but not of my own effort. I had just searched my bag to see whether a piece of blueberry pie was in my future. It was not, and as I glanced around for a waitress to order my tea, I felt the stranger’s eyes on me. I looked her way, nodded, and then surprised myself by walking over and asking if I could join her. The stranger looked at me hard, nodded that I could indeed join her, got up, and walked out. Stunned at her rudeness, I stood motionless for a full minute until I turned and saw her at the door, motioning impatiently for me to follow.
Startled as I was, my grasp loosened for a split second, spilling some of the contents of my bag. I knelt to scoop it up, but her wave was so insistent and hurried that I took what was in my hand and left the rest to fate; a faint peach lipstick that I loved and two quarters.
As I started toward the door, she turned and jaywalked at a brisk clip across the street, a little to the left, down an alley, and back onto another street. I trotted to catch her, nearly close enough to ask her name a couple of times; but I was so out of breath, I could only wheeze. As we neared the edge of town, she slowed and looked northwest of where we now stood.
I looked intently in the same direction, but couldn’t see a thing despite my eye-strained efforts. My stomach growled and the woman, tired of what I supposed she saw as my ineptitude, turned her head slowly to me, then started off again. Ambling now through the long grass of the field we reached, she headed toward the wooded coolness at the far end. We’d entered the woods only slightly when she bent down and wisked a handful of blueberries from a bush.
Holding them out to me, she said, I couldn’t tell apropos of what, “It’s early yet, but maybe . . .”
It was the first time I had heard her utter a word. Her voice was surprisingly lovely; soft and – I will acknowledge this much – lilting. It made me think of a song or, perhaps, a story I had heard a long time ago, but couldn’t quite remember.
I was just about to reply, when a piercing shriek caught my voice in my throat. My leader paled slightly, and searched the distance from where the horrible sound had come. She involuntarily, barely perceptibly shook her head and hesitated for a moment.
to be continued . . .