Jordan had always regarded the woods surrounding Bennett Park as safe. No urban
terrorists lurked in the shadows, and no serial killers ever hid behind the
trees. Yet it was such an isolated place that she was startled when she noticed
the black Toyota Sequoia dominating the lonely parking area. She shrugged and
relaxed as she looked at the SUV, though, certain at a glance that no criminal
would ever drive such a car. No; someone as messy as an ax murderer was more
likely to drive a car like hers, she decided ruefully. She sighed as she
got out of her battered Grand Am, and she bent to pull a wire cage from the
passenger seat before slamming the car door noisily, confident that she had
nothing to fear.
dear Agape! I give you your new home!”
within the cage began to hop about nervously, trampling on a wilted lettuce
leaf – Chloë’s last gift to the creature she had rescued from a terrier two
weeks before. Two weeks of caring for
Agape in her cluttered apartment had left the animal sleek and healthy, and
Chloë knew that she had become too attached to him. It was time to release him
into the wild.
She did not
see any people in the vicinity as she carried Agape, cage and all, through a
heavily wooded area. As soon as she came upon a clearing in the woods, she knew
she had found the perfect spot to release him –and the perfect time. The first
notes of birdsong were punctuating a sunrise that was quickly becoming glorious
morning, and only the slightest breeze ruffled the late-summer peace. Long, purple shadows stretched from the
trees and drew Chloë’s eye to a series of briar bushes –blackberries, perhaps?
– at the other end of the meadow, the perfect refuge for a wild rabbit.
to the middle of the meadow with the cage in hand and set it down gently.
it! Freedom!” she said, breathless and
excited, and she opened the door of the cage.
shrank back, his nose wriggling frantically.
encouraged Chloë, bending over him eagerly. “Look at all this lovely grass!”
remained in his cage, his eyes wide and vigilant.
– take your time,” said Chloë, sighing, and she sat down beside the cage,
Indian-style, watching the first rays of the sunlight illuminate and color the
clouds nearest the horizon. Just as she was beginning to give up on him, Agape
hopped tentatively towards the door of the cage, his ears nervous and attentive
to every sound in the vicinity.
breathed Chloë, overwhelmed by emotion. “You’re free now, and you’ll live your
life as nature intended…”
several more hops, distancing himself from the cage, then started to move away
faster, clearly searching for the shelter of some bushes. Suddenly, a dark form
descended and enveloped the rabbit, struggled to gain a purchase on him, and
lifted off, its wings beating furiously in its effort to gain altitude. All of
this took place within three seconds – the time it took Chloë to recover
herself, jump to her feet and scream.
seemed to respond to her shrieks by accelerating its flight, and, still
clutching Agape, it disappeared over a line of trees to Chloë’s immediate
south. She ran through the trees in the direction the raptor had gone,
energized, galvanized, and fairly hopeless in her pursuit. Yet she could hear
the tinkling of bells. Confused, she followed the sound.
several minutes of running, she burst into another clearing and stood, stunned
for a split second. Agape was still, completely still now, his eyes still open;
a tall, bearded man was holding him up by his ears, looking at him
appraisingly, while the hawk had settled onto the gauntlet on his other hand
and was gulping down a meaty reward. Bells tinkled; Chloë screamed.
go! LET HIM GO!” she shrieked, running as fast as her flip-flops would permit,
stumbling as she approached.
started and turned his attention to her. Yet as the hawk began to move her
wings nervously and shift about, he focused instead on the bird, releasing
Agape and working rapidly to hood the bird and tether her jesses to his
gauntlet. He ignored Chloë’s screams.
you? How could you?!” she raged, and she dived towards Agape, who was now lying
on the ground near the man. Just as she was about to reach him, the falconer placed
a large, booted foot squarely on the rabbit.
you to leave my dinner alone,” he said. She could have sworn he had spoken
quietly –yet every syllable of that command resounded through her head like a
trumpet blare. His voice was a rich, sinister baritone.
rabbit, and he’s no one’s dinner!” spat Chloë. “Hand him over!”
said coolly; he had now managed to calm his hawk. He turned his gaze on Chloë,
but all she could see was her own reflection in his mirrored sunglasses. Why
was he wearing sunglasses this early in the day? As she continued to observe
him, a chill ran through her. He stood well over six feet in height – six foot
four or five? –and he was heavy in the shoulders. He was bearded, darkly
dressed, and as still as a coiled snake, watching her, waiting.
Agape from a dog weeks ago, and I cured him of his injuries. I just now
released him into the wild…”
seemed to concentrate on Chloë more intensely suddenly, his thick brows drawn
into a frown. “You named the animal what?”
–it’s the Greek word for unconditional love, you know…”
interrupted the man in tones which were like dry ice. His mouth curled down
slightly in contempt.
an uncomfortable pause, and Chloë could hear her own panting finally slowing
down as she began to focus and become calmer. She still felt afraid, though.
the rabbit!” she said, managing to suppress the tremor which threatened to
invade her voice.
“No; at any
rate, he’s quite dead and of no use to you now…unless you care to eat him
yourself?” the falconer inquired.
I don’t care to eat him myself!” Chloë shouted, her outrage lending her
courage. “But I won’t have you eating him, either, especially after what you’ve
so judgmental,” he said, and continued in mockingly dulcet tones. “This is
nature’s way, you know, and nature is not sentimental. The strong prevail, and
the weak and deficient are selected against in the grand scheme of things.
Evolution has weighed your Agape in the balance and found him lacking!”
rage nearly blinded Chloë. “You monster! You less than human creature! How dare
you do what you’ve done and then presume to lecture me! Thousands of years of
civilization have passed for most of us, but not for the likes of hairy,
grunting knuckle-draggers like you!”
atmosphere around the man seemed to crackle with the electric charge of his
displeasure, but he himself appeared to remain calm.
continue to harass me, I shall have no alternative but to call the police,
Miss,” he began, but he added in a low voice, “or I may simply take things into
my own hands.” He took a step towards
suddenly aware of the isolation of the woods and the sheer size of her
antagonist. She turned on her heel and started towards her car just in time to
hide the tears of anger and frustration which began to course down her cheeks.
“Have a pleasant morning,” his voice jibed as she
walked away, nervously fingering the knife she kept in one of the pockets of
her cargo pants.
As soon as
she was certain she was out of the man’s sight, Chloë began to run, crossing
the woods and barely pausing to collect Agape’s now-empty cage. She wiped tears
of rage and frustration from her face with the back of her hand as she arrived
at the area where the cars were parked. She dropped the cage and kicked it,
screaming and sobbing. The disastrous events of the past several months rose up
like derisive shadows to haunt her, and she sank onto the gravel, her back
against her car, her arms around her knees, and she gave herself over to her
grief, weeping uncontrollably. As the minutes went by, her crying slowly
abated, and a peace of sorts gradually returned to her.
glad her father could not see her now. He, who had always wanted a boy, had
treated her with nearly military discipline, and he had never tolerated tears.
He had encouraged her to be tough and unyielding, firm and unwavering in her
goals. Perhaps he had not expected that, in the end, she would turn these gifts
against him and resist his will just as implacably as he imposed it.
taught her to use a hunting knife, too.
shakily and turned to stare at the black SUV which was still parked near her
Pontiac. She glanced back at the woods; no sign of movement or noise –no one
monstrous man she had met in the woods think her to be a wimp? Of course he
did. She was sure of it, and a cold type of anger, of the dangerous kind that thinks,
erupted within her. The falconer had merely taken a step in her direction, and
she had run, intimidated, from him.
at the gleaming black surface of the SUV, mirror-like in its newness, and her
right hand fingered the knife in her pocket. She looked down at the SUV’s huge
tires – brand new. She knew from bitter experience how expensive tires could
be, and she could only imagine how much Firestones like the ones she was
looking at might cost.
looked back towards the woods. A breeze stirred in morning air, but there was
no other sign of movement.
her knife out of her pocket and opened the blade. It was a spring-assisted wood
knife with a blade that measured three and a half inches, and she had always
been careful to keep it sharpened. It had always served as a handy tool to her.
Now, for the first time, she was about to use it as a weapon.
arms were slender, yet strong. Work and an active lifestyle –lifting and
carrying, pushing and pulling props and electronic equipment –had kept her in
prime condition. Now she brandished her knife for a decisive moment, then
plunged it into the left rear tire of the SUV. She jerked the blade through the
rubber and metal of the tire until she had created a sizeable gash. She
repeated the operation with a second, then a third, tire. As she paused to wipe
the sweat out of her eyes, she heard the distant jingle of bells. She moved to
the last tire, plunging the blade of her knife in and biting her lower lip
until it bled as she worked. The sound of the bells was approaching ever
She ran to her car, hurriedly slamming the door and
turning the key in the ignition. Her heart was thumping wildly within her
chest, and she held her breath. The engine turned over, spluttered, then died.
Chloë looked in horror as she saw the falconer’s dark figure emerge from the
woods a distance away. She pushed on the accelerator, praying that she was not
flooding the engine, and turned the key. The engine sputtered, then began to
thrum, its bass notes vibrating through a broken muffler. Putting the car into
reverse, Chloë floored the accelerator, then screeched into Drive and went
forward, heading onto the road which would lead her to the highway and towards
Washington Square Park.
seemed to scream as the monster approached, and he flailed his arms helplessly,
completely unable to move. No sound came out of his mouth, though, and the
mother-monster from “Aliens,” her long teeth exposed, gripped the top of his
head in her jaws. A tendril of drool dripped, then splattered onto the boy’s
head. A light flashed.
That’s gross!” complained the boy, breaking out of his pose and wiping the
jello off of his head.
plain jello, for the more complete experience,” responded the she-monster. She turned her baleful glare to the boy’s
father, who stood several feet away, examining the images he had captured on
his digital Olympus.
The man did
not answer, but he smiled slowly as he looked at the image. His son ran to him
so that he could look, too, and he whooped his delight.
This is awesome! Wait till I show ´em
reptilian she-thing stared at the father expectantly. The man looked
uncomfortable for a few seconds, then chuckled.
hell. Here…it was worth every penny.” He approached and handed the monster a
twenty-dollar bill, which she quickly put into her cash box.
thanks!” she chirped, her small eyes gleaming.
be hanged –if it isn’t our own lovely Van Chloë,” drawled a voice off to
Chloë’s right, and she cringed. Kit!
fallen into the habit of calling her “Van Chloë” or simply “Van” years ago – a
poke at her torturesome artistic principles.
“I knew it had to be you, Van. That costume
vision was limited, but she could tell by Kit’s voice that she was circling
tail… What did you use? Painted spandex and bits of plastic for that cool
exoskeletal look…and some cellophane…”
wire,” supplied Chloë, sighing. “And LED lights with 3.2-volt batteries to
light up the eyes.” Her hands appeared and worked at the snaps at the neck of
off the monster head, and Kit wrapped her arm around her neck in a clumsy
worried about you, Van,” she said softly. “Why haven’t you called me for the
I’ve been busy making a costume,” Chloë responded shortly.
Kit, her long arms akimbo. “It’s more than that, and I know it. You only cut
communication when something bad happens. So, what happened?”
There was a
pause as Kit eyed Chloë speculatively.
money?” she asked, finally.
today I made enough money to pay the rent, and I’m only three days late,” Chloë
said. “So, how’s life with your boyfriend?” There was accusation in her tones.
at me for selling out, Van Chloë?
Still mad at me for moving out of our apartment?” Kit’s voice was soft, calm,
even sympathetic. When Chloë failed to answer, Kit continued.
miss you, Van, and all we were doing together, but I’m a big girl now. I needed
bigger projects, and I’ve got bills to pay. You know that Derek and I make
money painting low-brow portraits and stuff, it’s true –but we also have the
Ipswich Theater project to raise money for. I haven’t totally sold out!”
said Chloë, but she was shaking her head grudgingly.
that if we can get enough money to rent that warehouse, you’ll be the first
artist in,” continued Kit.
about what you and I were doing together? What about our performance projects?
Didn’t you grow and develop as a creator when you were performing with me?”
your second banana? Look, Van, you’re brilliant, your singing voice is sublime, and I’ve always loved your
ideas, but the bottom line is this: poverty is not purity. You don’t have to
cut your ear off or starve yourself to be a true artist.
making a good living now with Derek…so I have money, I break even now. That’s a good thing. I tell you what, Van
–why don’t you pack it up and call it a day and I’ll buy us some Chinese
take-out? Then we can argue some more. And then you can tell me what
traumatized you so much that you haven’t talked with me for a whole week!”
returned quickly. The ice that had descended upon Chloë’s friendship with Kit
since they had stopped working together quickly thawed, and conversation
between them became fluid once more.
their meal in the familiar, cluttered, seedy intimacy of the SoHo apartment
they had once shared. It was where Chloë lived by herself now.
old paint and varnish coated the kitchen table –continued to coat it, in spite
of Chloë’s frequent attacks on it with everything from bleach to paint thinner.
Lines cut with exacto knives crisscrossed the table, and an old wine bottle in
the center held a single, white taper which had guttered down.
believe you really slashed some guy’s tires,” Kit said, scowling at her wine as
she swirled it around in a chipped teacup.
believe I did it either, Kit,” sighed Chloë. “It’s really not me.”
at her for a long moment before she spoke again.
I’m kind of worried about you, Van. So, okay, you’ve had a really crappy time
of it lately, I’ll admit. But then you take it out on this guy…”
“I told you what he did, Kit! I told you what
know. He was a real jerk,” Kit admitted, “but don’t you think you got kind of
carried away over some widdu wabbit?”
it’s normal to come to care about creatures you’ve taken care of.”
Jacob?” said Kit sourly, then clapped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry. You
know I never liked him.”
told me that until after he’d left me
and you’d moved in,” commented Chloë. “And I don’t want to hear about Jacob.”
maybe not, but you’ve been mooning over him a lot, then you had a nasty run-in
that guy with a buzzard, and suddenly you’re slashing tires. Are you really mad
at men, maybe, Van? Like your dear
daddy, and Jacob, and now this other guy?” Kit’s voice was soft.
“I am not mad at men!”
lucky he didn’t see your license plate. That was a close one, wasn’t it? Next
time you might not be so lucky.”
me. At any rate, I was inspired after that. I woke up that night, you know,
after dreaming about that horrible man in the woods, and I decided that I
wanted to be the she-creature from ‘Aliens.’ Just like that! And before I knew
it, I was at the sewing machine with a bunch of Spandex, designing the costume
on the fly.”
him a monster, too, you know,” added Chloë.
that man a monster and slashed his tires? You were so charming,” said Kit, eyeing Chloë with a sudden gleam. “Tell me,
did this man happen to be attractive?”
“No!” exclaimed Chloë, aghast.
she doth protest too much,” ventured Kit. “Now, now, don’t get all upset. I
just want to know what he looked like.”
really get a good look at him. It wasn’t quite daylight yet, and I was upset.”
How long has it been since you’ve gotten laid, Van?”
occurred to me where some of your frustration might be coming from.”
“Not from any sexual deficiencies or
anything Freudian!” Chloë protested.
just so it’s clear, have you tangoed with anyone since Jacob?”
“I knew it. Trust me, kiddo, you need to
cut loose and find yourself a guy, even if it’s only to keep yourself in
practice. You need…”
“Someone. You need someone.”
you think of my new Audrey Hepburn style sunglasses?” Beth asked, pulling them
off her head, then putting them on again with a sweeping Superman-Clark Kent
beautiful … I’d prefer Audrey wearing them, though.” A faint smile appeared on
Ian’s face, a welcome contrast to his habitual frown, as he moved aside to let
her pass into the bright living room.
weren’t familiar with your vitriolic sense of humor—and didn’t have this enormous
self-esteem,” Beth said in self-mocking tones, “I’d be slightly shaken
by that remark.” She pushed her sunglasses up onto her head like a bored movie
star. “You haven’t a chance with me,
“Honey!” he exclaimed with a sour look on
his face. “I don’t even like honey …” he muttered through his teeth, heading to
brought you a present,” Beth informed him, searching in her bag.
muttered something incoherent before leaving her alone.
across the room to the wall made entirely of thick glass panels, which offered
a breathtaking view of the swimming pool, the lake, and the deep green forest.
designer chair at her side grabbed her attention. She contemplated the idea of
sitting on it — she would probably have been the first person to take such a
chance — but once more she found her courage lacking. She looked at the
uninviting planes of shining steel. They looked razor-sharp. Instead, she left
a small box on it, wrapped in glossy red paper.
are.” Ian handed her a cup of coffee. He used his forearm to clear some space
on the glass coffee table in front of the sofa, pushing the sheet music which
was scattered all over it into a messy pile on its corner. The plate full of
her favorite croissants made her feel welcome and cared for.
“This is my
present?” Ian indicated the red box, suspicion all over his face.
the brooding today, Ian. I’ve just finished my second and probably last visit
to the marriage counselor. I’m not in the mood.”
into the graphite gray sofa. The soft pillows embraced her body as if making
amends for the steel chair.
“How was it
him sit on the table, his long, muscular legs stretching his black jeans.
Just awful!” She took a sip of
coffee. “The highlight of the ordeal was the silly woman asking Dan how his
heart felt about the distance between us lately. Dan explained that the heart
does not ‘feel’ anything –that our brain is responsible for feelings, and she
should have known that.”
“What did you say?” He pushed open a glossy panel
which mirrored the pool’s water.
“A glass of
wine might be better for you…” A small refrigerator came into view, and Ian
pulled out a bottle. His long fingers worked fast to remove the cork.
What the hell! The woman was a complete idiot. Dan and I told her she was
worthless, shared a good laugh, and went our separate ways. He had work.”
Beth took a
deep breath. “More than anything else, it’s sad…the only remotely pleasurable
thing I’ve shared with Dan these last few months was laughing at the idiotic
Johnson, then!” Ian raised his glass. “This is a good start, Beth.”
“She was my
last chance.” The wine was dry and cool.
overreacting! She sells dreams just as you do in that business of yours. As if
love could be arranged, fixed, healed or —”
have found happiness through my site, Ian. You may not approve of a dating
site, but some people are brave enough to use it.”
you need this Mrs. Johnson for, anyway? What will a strange woman achieve by
putting your marriage under the microscope?”
problems…lately they’ve gotten worse.”
your husband! Don’t talk to Mrs. Johnson! Talk to Dan! Not every man welcomes a
stranger into his marriage —”
that’s the problem. Maybe Dan has already invited a stranger into our
marriage.” Beth forced a smile onto her face. “You know that Barbra Streisand
song? ‘We’re not making love anymore,
we’re not making love like before…’” She was certain that at any other
time, Ian would have protested against her off-tune singing, delivering one of
those remarks that made people want to crawl into a hole, embarrassed. The fact
that he didn’t say anything made the situation even worse.
another reason…men can’t perform for
various reasons. Stress… maybe a health problem,” Ian struggled.
have talked to me. We’ve only been together for fifteen years! He knows I love
him for himself. Not the gifts he’s gotten me, not the house, not the success,
not even the lovemaking.”
take away all those… what’s left? His beautiful hair?” Ian’s eyes sparkled,
teasing her. Her husband had begun to go bald long ago, much to his noisy
couldn’t help smiling. “Do you think Dan isn’t cheating on me?”
he’s smarter than that.”
those words from Ian’s mouth was like a punch to her stomach. Maybe that was
the reason Beth had never needed a psychologist. Her friendship with Ian and
his brutal honesty worked like a mirror to reflect her inner fears.
intake of breath did not go unnoticed.
he’s smarter than that,” he said with confidence.
watched as Ian lowered his lashes. He didn’t know it, but he had this almost
boyish trait –as with poker players, a little sign betrayed his hand. His dense
lashes dropped every time he hid something, as if emotions or truths could
escape from that cold face of his. Beth remembered how, many years ago, he had
been more open, almost unguarded.
at his discomfort, and he raised a questioning brow. “Open your present!” she
ordered, changing the subject.
at her sourly.
“Is it a
new trimmer for my beard? I got the hint last time, thank you!” He picked up
the offending box. “My beard is well-trimmed…”
“This is a
‘Futur razor,’ and you should shave!
Did you know 95% of women prefer a clean-shaven face? The beard makes you look
“This is the face I have, and I feel very
comfortable with it –and I feel comfortable with the remaining 5% of the women.
I’m not greedy.” He smiled a devilish half-smile.
talking about sex, Ian. You need a partner
this dating website of yours has affected your brain!”
what I said about needing a partner…
You need to see people! An artist
draws inspiration from interaction with people. I mean it! You need to get
around …to see new people!”
need new people! I need no
distractions, at this point. I have a deadline, and my investors are breathing
down my neck…and the last time I interacted
with new people was inspiring
enough to last me a decade.” He raised his hands as in supplication. “On the
seventh day, God didn’t rest. He realized his mistake” –Ian snapped his fingers
like a magician – “and hid! He’s been missing ever since.”
at him, unaffected by his theatrics.
count that incident in the woods with that crazy woman as a —”
me, her histrionics were quite dramatic. People are getting crazier every day.
Just look at the way they drive, the way they look at you.”
becoming a recluse because you’re afraid of people slashing your tires?” Beth
a recluse –just a man working and concentrating on a project. I need to focus
now, that’s all. I’m certainly not afraid of pseudo-intellectual ninnies who
name their pets Greek names and think they’ve grasped the meaning of cultural
named her rabbit ‘Agape’! Is there anything cheesier than that? And she was
hysterical over his death, while she
had been the one who decided to let him ‘live the wild life’ in the first
place. What did she think would happen?” He gazed out, the frown on his face
“To think I
tried to find her afterwards, to apologize for my behavior! I really can’t
stand people who have zero connection
to reality. I bet she tore my tires just because she didn’t have her way…”
you’ve let that spoiled woman get to you. Was she beautiful? Do you remember
what she looked like, what she wore—?”
I remember, but I don’t care to remember!” Ian muttered sullenly.
recognized his I’m-in-my-world glance
as he turned to face her.
to chat about dresses and demented women, but I have to write. I’ll be in the
music room. Close the door when you leave. There’s stifado in the fridge.”
“What’s stifado?” asked Beth loudly, trying to
draw his attention, looking at his broad back as he drew away.
furrowed his brows as if interrupted from a deep thought, and looked back at
her over his shoulder. He seemed surprised, even annoyed, by the question.
“Rabbit with onions, of course.”