- Safe For Now
Out of the city at last, a thousand unfinished things behind her, she headed north along the winding old parkway into the waning afternoon. Each week she made the four-hour drive to the Massachusetts campus where she taught. She would spend the night in guest housing, rise early the next morning to teach all day, then drive south in the dark so she could teach the following morning in Manhattan.
She put a tape in the player and settled in for the long haul. She hadn't spoken to her lover before leaving town today, and now she ached to hear his voice. His wife's schedule had changed again, and he had warned her he might not be able to call at the usual times. It shouldn't have mattered. After all, they had again agreed to end things.
The sky overhead shone with the high clear blue of afternoon, but already a golden haze was deepening beyond the western hills where the sun had disappeared. Last week the leaves on the roadside trees had glowed gold and red, but a sudden cold snap had turned them brown. The next good rainfall or windstorm would send them tumbling down. Within a week or two, the empty branches would stretch skeleton fingers to the winter sky. These weekly drives gave her a window on the changing seasons. Where she lived in Manhattan, there were no trees except the potted fichus and tiny bonsais that the wholesale plant stores set out on the sidewalk to entice passersby.
The road was narrow and bounded on the right by towering granite outcroppings. Little frozen rivulets glistened along the craggy faces like tear tracks. She wondered what this land had been like before the earth had been blasted apart for roads and houses. She had read that [End Page 116] elk, brown bears, wolves, and coyotes once roamed the deep forests of Manhattan Island and passenger pigeons darkened the sky each fall. In those long-ago winters, the Hudson froze solid, and you could ride an iceboat clear across to crane up at the Palisades where eagles nested and bobcats stalked.
In a half-bare tree, high above the rushing cars, a hawk scanned the roadway. Was it resting or biding its time for small unwary prey? Without warning and all in an instant, she was swept by a tremendous yearning joy, washed by rolling waves of feeling. Almost as far back as she could remember, she had been subject to these sudden unpredictable surges that lifted her straight out of the daily round of thought and into an altered experience of the world. Her chest ached. Crafted for thought and action, bound by walls of flesh and bone, her body was too small and solid to contain so great an expanse of feeling. She took a deep, trembling breath and surrendered.
It had been a while.
It might have been the simple act of driving that brought on the flood of feeling. Embedded in each week's solitary drive was the illusion of escape, the fantasy of driving away from her complicated life into the freedom of unknown possibilities. Or maybe the trigger was the golden sunset beginning in the west or the surprise sighting of the hawk. Once, high in the French Alps, she had been sitting on a boulder in the woods, reading A Portrait of A Lady. She had looked up from the book to ponder the web Madame Merle was weaving around Isabelle and found herself looking into the dark eyes of a small red fox. Beyond the fox lay the forest, and far below, a great lake glittered in the sun. Slowly lowering old Europe to her lap, she sat as still as she could, returning the fox's deep gaze. For several minutes, they held each other's eyes. Then the little creature simply turned away and quietly disappeared into the underbrush. She never read a novel the same way again; her reading and her awareness were forever colored by the knowledge that just beyond the border of human society, a fox was going about its mysterious foxy business.