The Bike Trail
The wind whips cold around me as I walk with my hands stuffed into my jacket along the old bike trail, half hidden by the overgrowth of vines and hardwoods.
Mandy had discovered it some time ago and had harassed me to come with her to walk it. She had first spied it along her drive to work, seeing its illusive entrance through the leaves, changing from their summer luster to hues of orange and red and dropping to cover the ground. Mandy would tell me how wonderful it would be to walk it from start to end. Of course she had no idea as to how long it was or where it ended. It did not matter though; she saw it as a way to make another memory of us together.
The afternoon sun is filtered by the nakedness of the branches of birch and maple trees. The tall evergreens cast shadows across the trail. The wind whistles about the tired, old limbs; they creak above me causing me to pull my coat a little tighter around my neck to ward off the chilly touch. It is as beautiful as Mandy had imagined it would be. A small stream, trickling along side the well worn path, adds to its beauty and serenity, making it seem that much colder. She was right; knowing that walking it would have made a wonderful memory.
I imagine now our hands held tightly with our fingers intertwined; the cold wind nipping away at the bare skin. Our steps are measured and deliberate, crunching the gravel and fallen leaves underneath, taking us farther along the darkening trail. We stop often to look at a certain tree where initials have been carved to immortalize a union between two lovers or discuss another strange species of underbrush that covers part of the ground. Of course, Mandy’s guess as to what it might be is the right answer. We would not be in any hurry to get anywhere; we would be together on this trail; connected as one through our hands. Our smiles betray our happiness. We act as two school children on a nature walk, giddy and wide-eyed. We would be two lovers re-united. I hear our laughter as we discuss our week’s worth of work stresses and problems. I feel your hand tightly squeezing mine.
I look down at the blue-greenish fungus patch at the base of an old elm. It seemed I was more concerned about not finishing a work project than I was about spending this time with Mandy. It seems like an eternity at this moment. I feel lost and alone; more alone now than the moment afterward. It seems so long ago. I feel the tears forming in the corners of my eyes. The wind chills them, sending a shiver through me. Why had I been such a fool?
I move on, walking slowly as the sun continues to set itself upon the far mountain range. Mandy saw the beauty here and wanted to share it with me. I was too occupied. As I stop a moment to watch the sun fall I recall the day we met and the joyous moments that followed as we grew together. I see the young girl I married become a beautiful mother. I see that same look three more times. I see the smile on her face as each of them grow and become families on their own. What happened to make me change to think that work was more important? Was it their absence? No, I can’t blame them. It was me. I know that now as I walk this trail without Mandy.
We talk about things that no one else knew about – those ghosts hidden away behind locked doors, long forgotten. We stop to watch the squirrels and the deer dart in and out of the trees. And when we stop we wrap our arms around each other to keep us warm. As we round a bend in the trail after coming down a pretty steep slope we come upon the lake, steam rising from its surface. The geese trumpet our arrival as they scurry across the water. The sight of it takes our breath away. We wonder out loud how cold it was. I’m not sure which one of us would bring up the crazy idea; but, both of us would think the same thought – how cold is the water? The thought of skinny-dipping flashes across both our minds – what? Are you nuts? That water is freezing. We stop and watch the geese and ducks. We sit on a log felled because its roots had grown weak. I wrap my arms around you and bring you closer into me. I look into your eyes to see them sparkle with the waning sunlight. You are as beautiful as I remember. I reach up to move a strand of hair from your eyes. You smile and my heart melts. I smile back and say “Hi! How are you?” You answer quickly with “I’m fine now.”
I rise from the log to continue my trek along the path. The sun has begun its decent and the wind grows a bit chillier. As I get close to the end I see the bench and table. The one closes to the fire pit. I straddle the seat.
I pull you against me. Again my arms wrap you up as we bask in the glow and warmth of the fire. I smell the fragrance of your hair as I lean forward to softly kiss your head. You lean against me and I wrap you that much tighter. You feel wonderful to me, bringing back memories of that night so far away. You feel great in my arms. You close your eyes and whisper how wonderful this feels.
I sit behind the steering wheel after starting the car. I wipe the tears away. I miss Mandy, hating myself for not doing this with her when I had the chance to. I think now of so many things I didn’t do with her; telling myself there would be time when the work was done. How could I be such a fool? I wanted us to last forever; time had different plans. I put the shifter into reverse and slowly pull away, alone and lonely.