The hand-drawn map was in the copy of Madam Bovary
I found in my school library when I was seventeen.
The label “Lovers’ Glen” marked a turn on a dirt road
four miles south of the baseball fields. I had to go;
I walked out in the evening, face down, trying
not to scuff my pumps, trying
not to appear conspicuously eager.
I flushed when I had to step to the side to let a Model A pass.
I clasped the novel in both hands; I carried it in my right loosely;
I gripped it in my left; I shifted it back and forth.
I stopped once where a fence overgrown with rot and moss
made a soft reading bench. I opened the cover and stared at the map,
the scripted lines (such penmanship! no elaborate loops, no hearts, no grandiosity;
A man’s hand definitely. Or a strong woman’s. A precise stroke in either case.
In either case, a hand I should have liked to touch, to have the chance
to examine intimately, to perhaps glance up from, to glimpse a face).
Finally, I came to a clearing under cottonwoods where the road hitched uphill.
At the bend was a wide birth of dirt, mud, and grass matted with the tire prints
of bicycles and motorcars.
The sky was black in the east,
and a Technicolor bruise in the west
that swiftly lost its hues. I was alone,
a little chilled, a little ashamed of my lust,
of my curiosity, of the book in my lap and the thought that,
not an hour earlier, I had dreamed I would touch myself in this spot
if no one else would help me.
Meditative castigations were cut short when a nearby branch broke.
Who was with me? Whose footfalls approached? I slipped
off my shoes. I left my book
in the muck.
I ran away in a dumbstruck fright
until my lungs burned and my sight blurred.
When I reached my house, my mother asked,
Why was I was crying? Why was I barefoot?
Where had I been? What was his name?
Silently, I collapsed in my room, caught between
thanking God for saving me
and scolding myself for my cowardice,
for sprinting off like a baby girl when womanhood was at stake.
Years later, I was reading about a double-murder in Cleveland
in which a couple were slaughtered roadside in their car.
A gunshot to the head of the him, to the chest of the her.
Unglamorous deaths, both: he without pants, she without shirt,
her breasts ruined with the mingled stains of their blood.
I thought back on my night in Steubenville.
I’d never returned for my shoes
or for M. Bovary.
I realized with regret I’d never picked up another copy,
never finished her story. Emma was still waiting, poor dear,
poisoned on her pillow…
I have never considered myself a virtuous lady.
Just lucky not to live in antiquity.
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