New Year's Day, 2004

When we first moved to Keene this past July, I set out to explore our neighborhood. Our street is short and goes nowhere; it intersects a single dead-end street then runs into a cross-street that leads one way to nowhere and the other way back to somewhere. So although our street isn’t technically a dead-end, the only real reason for going down it is to reach one of a handful of otherwise overlooked houses.

At the end of our street, along the road that leads to either nowhere or back to somewhere, is a big grassy field. These days, it’s a big muddy field; come tomorrow or the next day, it might yet again be a big snowy field (alas). The college kids who rent rooms in neighboring houses park their cars in this field, as does an occasional car-hoarding homeowner. In the corner of this field, back behind the wild rose and raspberry bushes, is a narrow dirt path that leads through a wooded thicket to an abandoned parking lot next to a still-functioning factory on another dead-end street.

Last fall, I found her lying there along this short-cut. The dog and I cut through this tiny patch of woods several times a week; the dog likes to pee and sniff there, and sometimes I see waxwings and hawks. It always struck me as being the eerily perfect place to hide a body: small enough to be overlooked, close enough to town and several side streets as to make for easy dumping. There aren’t many murders in Keene; I can’t remember hearing of any bodies being discovered in the woods since we moved here in July. But there’s still part of me that gets the creeps whenever I set foot on this cut-through: this is the kind of place where nefarious deeds are done, or covered up.

So last fall when I saw a headless blue torso lying on the side of this same dirt path, her modest breast strewn with leaves, I jumped, then laughed. What kind of person is scared of a plastic dress-maker’s dummy? She has no head nor anything below the waist; she’s only a clothes-hanger, designed to stand still with adjustable waist and chest while any anonymous tailor or seamstress peppers her with pins. When I found her, she was lying chest up, tightened to her smallest-waisted, smallest-breasted setting. “She’s my size!” I chuckled as I yanked the dog from marking her with pee.

And so she lay on her back in these overlooked woods, seen only by me, the dog, and the occasional adventurous kid or dog walker, until this past New Year’s Eve. It must have been a raucous party, judging from the stash of beer bottles I found there the next day; most were empty, but several had been left unopened. The cops in Keene are vigilant when it comes to breaking up the frat-house parties my college students attend in droves, so I imagine they’d be no less diligent about busting beer-drinking high schoolers camped out in the woods. In their rush to run away, these invisible revelers had left behind not just beer bottles but a like-new, empty backpack: someone’s bookbag used for smuggling bottled contraband.

Ever since she found her feet at that party, propped up at the head of the shortcut like a sentinel by, I presume, the same kids who left the woods peppered with beer bottles, she’s greeted me and the dog every time we step onto this path: hello, and welcome. The woman of the woods, she’s stood there in snow and rain; by late January, the snow had drifted over her nonexistent head. Through it all, she stood firm and implacable, never relenting in the face of wind or cold; both guardian and spirit, she watched over the woods with eyeless, faceless vigilance.

Left out in the trash, March 6, 2004

So imagine my sadness when I saw her yesterday morning left out in the trash, dumped alongside some neighboring college kids’ stash of Friday night beer bottles. Had she been invited to the party, at least, or simply picked up in a flurry of spring cleaning? Besides buckets of yard debris and cases of empty bottles, the dumpsters next to her were filled-to-overflowing with rugs, pillows, and upholstered cushions. Someone’s moving, it seems, and the woman of the woods has gotten her walking papers along with them. So since her legless boots ain’t made for walking, she’s out in the trash, left out to dry.

Take a lesson, ladies: keep your head. When those college boys ask you to come on ’round, you’d best beware lest they take their pleasure with you then leave you out with the empties. Given the choice between frat party and abandoned woods, I was wrong about the real place of danger. Now I’m the only woman of these woods, always watching, weather-worn enough to look with suspicious on fresh-faced boys with their otherwise tempting guiles.