Tuesday, November 27, 2012

If you go down to the woods today


There was a knock at the door. 

Leslie was writing at the cabin’s kitchen table. It was late afternoon. She had been working all day on the fusion reaction stabilization equations. Her pen was nearly dry, her coffee mug was almost empty, but her gun was fully loaded. 

She carefully lifted it up off the side table. She didn’t budge from her seat. She didn’t answer. 

There was a second knock. 

“Leslie, it’s David Ryan,” called the visitor.

Leslie leaned forward to look into the mirror she had attached to the wall by the table that allowed her to see who was at the door without leaving her chair. It did look like David, but it had been so many years since she’d seen him. And what would he be doing out here in the middle of the woods in this part of the country? 

“Leslie, I saw you a few days ago at the grocery store. I tried to say hi, but you ignored me and kept on shopping,” continued the visitor from the other side of the door.

That guy did sound like David. Maybe it was him. She cautiously got up and went to open the door, keeping the gun in her hand, out of sight, but ready. She flipped off the safety.

Incredibility, it was David. Older, but there was no doubt it was him. Leslie unlocked the door and let him in.

“What are you doing here?” asked Leslie.

“I could ask you the same question.” David glanced down at Leslie’s other hand, “Is that loaded?”

Leslie flipped the safety back on.

“What’s with the gun? That’s a tough way to greet a long lost friend.”

“I’m sorry to be so rude. It’s quite a surprise to see you.”

Leslie put the gun on the entryway table and gave David a hug, “I thought I was dreaming. It’s been such a long time.”

After a deep breath, “Why don’t you go in the kitchen and make yourself at home. I’ll get some coffee.”

David went inside and sat at the table across from Leslie’s place. He spun around her notebook to see what the scrawled equations were about. They looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure what they had to say.

Leslie got two mugs from a cupboard and proceeded to fill them from a restaurant sized coffee urn on the small counter. “Do you want milk or sugar?” she called over to David,

“If you’re still making coffee like you did in the lab, I’ll need a litre of each.”

Leslie came over to the table with the filled mugs and placed one in front of David, “Wise guy. Try it black.” She cleared away some of the nearby loose papers and made a place for the coffee.

“What are these about?” asked David nodding towards the open notebook pages.

“My current project,” replied Leslie as she glanced sideways at the pages. She looked back at David, “I can’t quite believe this. Are you going to tell me how you found me?”

“I wasn’t actually looking for you. I saw you – although I didn’t really know it was you – at the grocery store and then saw you again out here in the forest when I was on a walk. I thought the next time I was out here I’d see if it really was you.”

“Do you live in this area, or is this a vacation?” Leslie took a sip of her coffee.

“We live here now. It’s a bit of a long story. The university was doing a round of cost-cutting and I was offered early retirement. I hadn’t done real physics in years. I was just an administrator, so I took it. My grandmother had left me her house in town many years ago when she passed. The boys had their own lives, so Helen and I moved out here.” 

Ryan took a long look out the window beside the table, The big pond was just as he remembered it.  So were the trees. Time moved a lot slower back here.

“When I was a boy I’d stay a few weeks every summer with my grandmother. I’d  play out in these woods all day. I knew them like the back of my hand. I still like to come out here. It’s surprising how little things have changed in these woods after all these years. Even these old cabins are still standing.”

David turned away from the window and back towards Leslie, “Imagine my surprise when I saw you in the window of one, and saw you buying groceries in town. You must remember that I tried to talk to you in the store?”

“Yes, I do, but I didn’t look too closely at you. I thought it was just some old hick trying to pick me up,” said Leslie with a smile.

“Well, the ‘old hick’ had to see if it was you. What about yourself?”

“I’m on the run.”

“What?” David put down his coffee.

“I’ve been on the run for over a year. Some friends told me about a project they were working on and offered me this cabin to stay in, so I took them up on the offer.”

“Who’s after you?”

“I think it’s the government, but I’m not really sure.”

“Why?”

“Well, that’s my long story. Could you stay awhile and talk?”

David glanced at his watch, “I don’t think I can stay much longer. It’s a long walk back home, and it’ll be getting back in the dark if I don’t leave soon. Helen will get worried. Why don’t you come over to the house tomorrow night for dinner?”

“Don’t you remember those nights in Montreal?”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago and she doesn’t know. It was a youthful indiscretion.”

“You weren’t that ‘youthful’,” replied Leslie peering over the edge of her mug,

“That hurts,” said David with an expression of mock woundedness.

It was summer, but a chill was developing.

“She knows. Trust me,” continued Leslie. 

“No. You’re very different now. You’ve cut your hair. It’s dyed brown. Your clothing style has changed to - how shall I put this - the rustic.” David leaned closer to Leslie until they were almost nose to nose. “And I think you’re wearing brown coloured contacts.”

“And what colour were my eyes before?” asked Leslie with an accusatory tone.

David paused a second. “They weren’t brown,” was his smug reply.

It didn’t matter if they were blue, brown, green, or hazel, a black storm was moving in behind them deepening the chill.

Leslie slowly leaned in a little closer and released the first thunder clap, “God damn it! Do you think she’s a fool! I’m not going to your house pretending to be someone she doesn’t know. I don’t even want to see her on the street or anywhere else! I wish I hadn’t seen you.”

Leslie leaned against the chair back, rubbed her forehead with her hand and looked away from David into the little kitchen.

David was silent.

This wasn’t the brilliant and insightful Leslie Warden from the lab, nor was this the elegant and vivacious Leslie Warden from Montreal, this was the hard-edged and suffer-no-fools Leslie Warden of legend.

The storm had only just begun. Leslie turned back to face David, “Do you know how hard it is to be constantly moving from one place to another, always looking over your shoulder wondering who’s an agent that’s going to arrest you. And to add insult to injury, my wimp of a husband left me at the first whiff of trouble. Now my’ life-mate’ is named Glock. I’ve crash landed in a backwoods cabin without hydro, phone, terminals or stubs. And even this hole isn’t safe now that you’ve found me. I’ll have to move again.”

“What can I do to help?” was David’s response. Smug David was gone. Chastised David was in his place.

“Get out,” was her exasperated reply. “She’ll be sending a posse to find you.”

David didn’t move. “You haven’t told me any details. How can I help without knowing what’s going on? How about this, I could come back the day after tomorrow? We could have lunch here. I’ll bring something. I’ll have lots of time and you could tell me the whole story.”

Leslie was unmoved.

David continued. “Look Leslie, I’m the only person who knows who you are and that you’re here. No one follows me or pays me much notice. I’m just eccentric furniture; an odd outsider. As long as I don’t deviate from doing what I usually do, stick to my routines, people will continue not to notice, even Helen. Don’t do anything rash. I’ll take another of my ‘walks’ on Thursday and come back here. Ok?”

“Ok.”

The next instalment can be found here.

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