The Green Woman by Haim Watzman
The rock had a red stripe on the south side and a blue stripe on the north side. But they were fresh and bright, painted not long ago, so they couldn’t be the same ones he remembered from thirty-odd years before. Perhaps it wasn’t even the same rock. Yet the parting of the paths was the same parting, here on the trail that ran a short way up the slope from the channel below. The waters of early winter rains ran swiftly and noisily in the bed that had awaited them all summer. A breeze from the west wafted the mist, drawn from the water by the first rays of the rising sun, up the slope to chill his cheeks, and the steel pressing at his waist.
He stopped, breathing harder than he had that other morning so many years ago. Glancing back, he could see before him new neighborhoods on the surrounding ridges, which then had been crowned with trees and lined with venerable terraces. Jerusalem had encroached on its enveloping forest, but he could see that only if he faced what he knew. If he turned to the unknown behind him, as he had resolved to do when he woke in the dark an hour earlier, he could see only the grove close around him, the oak to his left below, the olive to his right above, and the spreading branches of the carob tree, weighted down with fruit, obscuring the trail marker below to anyone who did not seek it. And now, looking again, he made her out. It was not a dream or a vision. She stood there, where he had seen her decades before, where perhaps she had been stationed at the dawn of time. The green woman.
He felt a delight that only the young and untouched feel, a happiness that coursed through his aging body and made him want to leap in the air or sprint down the path or climb the oak and shout through the stillness. The chill left him; his body glowed. Gazing at her, he slipped off his backpack, pulled off his sweatshirt, pulled down his t-shirt, and stuffed the outer garment into his bag. The sun appeared over the peak above him and a ray fell on his face. Leaving the backpack where it had fallen, he strode toward her. Her gaze fell on him but her face revealed no emotion. She raised her hands to her sides, so that one arm pointed to the red south and one to the blue north.
Then it had been early spring, not the start of winter, and she had not been standing. She lay on the ground then, on her side, on mat of cane, so that he had not seen her until, map in hand, he had stood flush by the painted rock and considered which way to go. Even when he had lowered his map he had not at first made her out, the curves of her olive-hued skin blending almost faultlessly into the undergrowth. Then no clothing concealed her body. Now her arms and torso and legs were covered by a gown of jade.
He’d felt the same delight that first time, but he’d been young then, and it was not an unfamiliar feeling. He had felt it already several times that earlier morning, in that hour when he’d locked his bicycle to a lamppost and set out at first light into the forest, when he had gazed up at the morning star and smelled the aroma of the dew-damp earth and spotted the reds and yellows of spring flowers. The contours of her body were just one more elation of the newfound day.
Then, too, she had said nothing. She’d looked into his eyes boldly but, it seemed, indifferently, as if she cared little whether he went on or remained. No, that passion had not been like the undulating peaks of euphoria he had felt this later morning, for this rapture burned with passion, with a desire toward the woman in his gaze that, rather than spreading out from his groin to his entire body, flowed inward from his limbs toward the weapon bound at his loins that demanded to break free.
Perhaps, back then, decades ago, he would have joined her under the carob and accepted what she was offering him. He might have done that had her flesh been the same color as the three other unclothed women he had known at that point in his life. But this woman, like the leaves of the tree above her and the grass she slowly stroked with her feet, was green. And she lay at a crossroads. Instead, on that earlier morning, he had had considered the two paths before him, the red one heading south, the blue one going north and, unable to see where they went, had turned his gaze away from her and looked back to consider the known path from which he had come.
He had come to seek her out again now, decades later, because one of those human-hued women, the one he had turned back to then, was gone. Her place in their bed was empty, and the space she had filled in their home was a dark abyss that loomed before him by day and swallowed him by night. And in the darkness came doubt. What had been a source of joy, the children and grandchildren and talks over morning coffee and lovemaking at night, all that hurt now, and the pain was so great that he grew ever more certain that the choice he had made back then had been mistaken, that he should have stepped forward and lain with the green woman, and then followed her south, or north, as she led him.
So he resolved to rehearse that long-ago morning and make that other choice. Perhaps it was not too late to change course, to repair his error. And the cold winter desire of the adamant metal where delight once resided would be the surrogate for the lust of spring. He told no one, of course, just as he had never told the woman he had joined to him about that other woman, the one at the crossroads.
He no longer had a bicycle, so he left his car in the parking lot of the zoo that had not been there then, and walked along a path that was now paved with asphalt, past the springs and onward on to the earthen path that curved around the high hill.
He strode toward her until only the rock with its two stripes separated him. She did not flinch. The slightest of smiles played on her face, the barest intimations of an invitation. Feeling as he had felt then, he reached out and touched her waist. She let him lift the gown up over her head. Her skin was as verdant as it had been then.
She ran her hands under his t-shirt, on his chest. He took off the shirt and felt her hands undoing his belt. The pistol fell and hit the rock and fired, the bullet rocketing over the river.
The breeze chilled his torso. He shivered. The green woman knelt on her mat and grasped his hand to pull him down to join her. From here, at the crossroads, he could see a little way down the red trail that headed south along the side of the hill and even less of the blue trail that headed north and upward. Holding his pants up, he turned and placed the two paths, and the green woman, behind him. He rebuckled his belt and retrieved the t-shirt and backpack from the ground. He found delight on the way back, not the passion of youth but the comfort of the familiar, the path he knew and the memories of walking it long ago back to the woman he had then realized he loved.