This Was the Way

I left you there for just a moment, at the forest’s edge, before we began our journey. When I returned carrying your water, to my surprise, you’d disappeared. I turned in slow circles looking for you, confused and desperate about losing my love. From that point, there were three paths through the woods, and I examined each one to decide how I might follow you.

The first smelled odd, like something from a painting memory or a burning lamp lit long ago. I bent down, dabbed at it, and tasted the acrid liquid. That path was slippery with kerosene. I sensed a coming fire that way, one that would blister first the bottoms of my feet, then lick its way up my body slowly.

The second one glittered in the sun like gold, but as I looked at it more closely, I could see that way was littered with broken glass, spiked shards, some huge, so jagged they would tear my feet to ribbons. The image of my blood running down that path froze my mind with vivid detail.

The third, the last path, seemed very clear, a smooth surface with a bit of grit stirred in to keep me from slipping on it, this glossy marbled way. If I were to follow you on this one, I thought, it would make obvious sense. Who in his right mind would choose otherwise, I reasoned. You were the most sensible woman I’d ever met, after all.

So I took that path, the safe one, surely, and ran as far as it would take me. At the end I found you nowhere around, so I retraced my steps, bewildered.

When I reached the point where the three paths met, I found you there waiting for me.

“Where have you been?” you asked, and I said I’d been gone and back, would have left alone, were you not here, not daring to try one of the paths you must have chosen.

“What are you talking about?” you asked, “the one I’d chosen?” and I explained what all had happened.

You stood back and stared at me, appraising me from top to bottom and back, and I saw in your eyes a kind of settling in sadness that has haunted me to this day.

“So you chose the easiest way to find me and found that wasn’t the one. And you’re telling me you would never try a harder path to be with me?”

The answer was obvious, given what I’d said. The question was rhetorical, and I watched as you stepped with no hesitation onto the kerosine path. You faded into the distance, then stopped turned back to see me watch you light a match and dissolve in flame.

Struck senseless by that horror, I staggered to a seat to recover. When I felt strong enough to walk again, I stood and stepped onto the path of jagged glass. I’ve followed that one in memory of you ever since, knowing, of course, that I’d never find you at the end.

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