“These woods are lovely, dark and deep…” The line kept
running through Michael’s head as he trudged further up into the
Berkshires on that morning, late in September. He shook his head,
partly to clear away the mosquitoes that had returned with this brief
spate of warm weather, partly in frustration at only being able to
remember one line of the poem. He had overdressed, a city boy out in
what passed for the wilderness of New England. The sweat dripped down
the crease in the center of his forehead to slip under the rim of his
wire-frame glasses and collect in small pools on his nose.
This second day of hiking was easier, somehow. Muscles which
had been well-toned by college basketball two years ago, had finally
started remembering how to move under pressure. Michael hadn’t added any
flab to his thin frame since leaving college; hours and days spent
hunched over a computer had, if anything, only emaciated his long
body. A diet of coffee and donuts from the all-night Dunkin’ Donuts
had kept him going through long nights of programming and debugging.
But now – now he had escaped.
Escaped from a city he was growing to hate; New Haven had been
bad enough as a student, but it was unbearable outside the guarded
precincts of Yale. Escaped from a live-in girlfriend who was becoming
more shrewish by the day. Did he even love her anymore? She was
still lovely, at least at night. Escaped from her four cats, two dogs, and
multitude of small rats in gleaming cages. Michael had escaped for two
all-too-brief days of Indian summer sunlight spotting its way through
stained glass leaves against a wide and empty sky. And he was
determined to make the most of it.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood”…was that even the same
poem? Same poet? He couldn’t remember. And this wood wasn’t yellow.
There were still a few green leaves hanging determinedly on the
darkening branches, but the overwhelming color was a joyous shouting
red across the line of hills. He paused for breath on the trail at a
‘lookout point’, marked by a small camera signpost. It was stunning,
of course. The hill fell away beneath his feet to a deep valley,
cleft by a river winding far below. Leaves across the horizon were a
patchwork of sunset colors, blazing fiercely in the sunlight. Michael
almost felt like breaking out into a Gloria in praise of a God he’d
never believed in. He laughed softly to himself as he turned back to
But there was singing. Somewhere not far ahead, just to the
left of the trail, he could hear a woman’s voice, high and clear above
the murmur of water leading down to the river below. Michael couldn’t
quite make out the words, so far away, and he began to push his way
through the underbrush towards that silver voice.
Sharp thorns scored light tracks along his hands as he pushed
them away from his face, and the light dimmed as he went deeper
and deeper into the trees. Michael was surprised, and a little
disturbed, to know that there was someone else here on this desolate
mountain. While he’d known that there were other hikers about, he’d
deliberately taken a disused trail, paint faded almost to nothing, to
avoid other people. He’d seen nobody for almost two days, and had
liked it that way. He’d almost started to miss his girlfriend again.
The brush had been getting harder and harder to push through,
but as he persevered he began to hear more voices. He still couldn’t
make out their words, but low, throaty laughter danced across the
still autumn air, pulling him forward through the thick growth.
Suddenly, he broke through, almost falling flat onto his face as the
trees gave way to a small clearing, a deep pool…and women.
So many women, it seemed at first, a horde of slim legs,
shining teeth, tangled hair and soft breasts. For they were naked,
all of them, clothes no doubt discarded nearby for the call of that
pool, bright with glittering sparkles, deep as dying. It was a
glorious pool, and they matched it. Michael had pulled back
instinctively, and he crouched now in the shadow of an old oak,
watching avidly. His lips glistened as he licked them over and over.
He began counting the women, finding it difficult to concentrate on
anything other than the slide of water of smooth, dark skin. None of
the seven women were pale; no, tanned golden by weeks of playing in
summer sunlight. Their hair was uniformly blond except for one, and
she, she was red. Red as the leaves across the hills, red as sunset.
That one was tall, perhaps even taller than Michael. She
sat on a rock for a moment listening to the singer standing by the
pool, then leaned over to break the song, still unintelligible to
Michael, with a kiss deep and long as the pool itself. Then, laughing
wildly, she dived down into the water. When she came up, it clung to
her body, caressing the line of imperious neck to impossibly high
breasts to slender waist and hips and muscled legs, finally dripping
off red-painted toes.
Michael didn’t know how long he watched before his legs began
to cramp. He was sure these women wouldn’t appreciate his presence,
and so, slowly, regretfully, began to ease his way back from the
clearing, into the woods. And then she called him, a low, accented
voice sensuous as silk.
Michael stumbled from his hiding place in the shadow of the
ancient oak, falling to one knee, hands braced to catch himself. His
face and groin were burning as he looked up, though burning for
different reasons. She only laughed at him, a rumble of laughter like
muted thunder as one of the blond women stepped forward and reached
out a hand to help him up. The blond’s hand was steady and dry in his
damp one, her nails long and sharp and red as blood. She led him over
to where the redhead sat on the flat rock, damp with the water
She cocked her head, studying him carefully, from the thatch
of windswept stringy hair, down the length of his sweat-stained
clothing, pausing briefly at the all-too-evident bulge in his pants.
She didn’t look particularly impressed.
“You don’t look like a hunter.” she said. Michael shook his
head, while trying to place her accent. It seemed familiar, somehow,
like something he’d heard before, but he couldn’t name exactly where.
“I’m just a hiker.” he explained, trying his best scapegrace
smile, wondering if he’d wandered accidentally onto private property.
The paint signs had gotten very faint towards the end of his trail.
“I’m just here to admire the….beauty…” and his voice trailed off
as his blush deepened. Michael tried desperately to keep his eyes on
her face and off her naked body.
Then she smiled at him, a smile so stunning he was dizzy with
the force of it. Her teeth flashed like a model’s, bright and sharp
in the sunlight. “We like admirers” she said, and with that beckoned
to the six blond women, calling them over from their perches on rocks,
their games in the water, their rolling in the drying autumn grass
and fallen leaves. They came with fragments of red leaf caught in
their tangled hair, with clear water drying on golden skin. He had
never, never in his life seen women so beautiful.
And then they were touching him. Michael tensed, unsure what
to do or say in this totally impossible situation. They murmured
gently among themselves, laughing in some foreign language as they
eased off his backpack, untied the sweater wrapped around his waist,
pulled off his Vikings cap. They began kissing his neck, his chest,
his hard nipples as they unbuttoned his cotton shirt and slid it off
his shoulders. The blondes ran their uniformly long fingernails down
his chest and back as one knelt in front of him, undoing his pants and
removing them, dropping sharp kisses on his trembling thighs. Michael
lifted his legs, one at a time, blindly. They took off boots and
socks and pants, his gaze still focused on the blurring face of the
redhead and her brightly shining eyes. Then, with their hands and
mouths moving over him, she leaned over…and kissed him, sliding her
tongue deep into his mouth. It was then that he collapsed.
Michael came back to consciousness to find himself erect
against the aging oak, the rough bark pressed into the tender skin of
back and buttocks. His arms had been drawn carefully back and tied
with some sort of cord, maybe vines. She was standing in front of
him, smiling that bright smile again. He was still dizzy.
“I have a question for you.” she said.
“Well, I have a lot of questions for you!” Michael began to
bluster. He was suddenly terrifyingly, exilharatingly sure that he
would not be seeing his girlfriend, his job, their apartment or her
rats again. Now that he had been stripped of his clothing, he felt
oddly free to gaze his fill, and his eyes drank in the curves and
planes of her body, broken only by a patch of flaming hair.
She seemed to enjoy his gaze, continuing to smile as she
watched his eyes watching her. Then she spoke again.
“What do you want?”
Suddenly time seemed to still and thicken so that Michael
had all the time he needed to remember: the days of college when he
and his friends, self-proclaimed geniuses, would stay up till
dawn promising to see the world and taste its women in wide open
fields and hot dark rooms; the clarity of nights without sleep as he
talked and fucked and laughed with a girl with wide dark eyes who’d
left him when once he slept too late; dancing naked in the rain, all
alone. But closer was job, cats, safety, overpowering fear, and the
love of a woman probably still asleep back home. And now he knew how
much he loved her after all, so much more than either of them had
ever thought. So that he almost said, ‘to go home’. But he’d gotten
too much sleep lately, it seemed.
“You.” he answered, suddenly certain, suddenly sure.
And then she was laughing above him as she reached out and
sliced apart the bonds with impossibly sharp fingernails. The women
surrounded them, touching them everywhere it seemed as her skin slid
against his ready body and she bent to kiss his neck. That was the
first and only pain, a sudden sharp tearing though he did not scream
as he worshipped her with strong limbs and violent burning thrusts.
Somehow she managed to say just then, “Only that, beloved,
for the right answer” before rising to meet him, her red hair falling
around him in streams of blood and fire, their long red nails raking
down his back. And so Michael rose to ecstasy, fully conscious,
fully clear that nothing, nothing could be beyond this.
Hours later, they had long since bathed the last traces away,
and they were once again beautiful in the moonlight. The wildness had
faded for a while, sated by that long orgy in the sunset splendor of
fallen leaves. The blond women were dancing slowly and langorously in
the outpouring of the full moon. On Diana’s face was something
that on another might be mistaken for regret; but he had been lost
from that first moment, after all. And then she joined them in their
dance, and it grew wild once again.
January 13, 1994
Note: Some may claim that Diana should have been virgin; but I don’t
have much faith in the virtues of virginity.
Ethical Dilemmas in “Diana” – A Reader’s Response
A Comparative Religions Response on “Diana” – A Reader’s Response
Death, Sex, and Love in “Diana” – A Reader’s Response
A Poetic Response to “Diana”, and Various Approaches – A Reader’s Response