I was walking along the edge of the woods when the first swallows of the year arrowed over my head. I saluted as they wheeled away from the treeline and faded into the distance.
It was when I dropped my hand that I saw her. Or at least, when I noticed her. I’m not sure I can really say I saw her. I saw a shape framed around the light green of new leaves sprinkled among the branches. I am certain it was the shape of a woman but I can’t say exactly how. It was as if the dapple of sunlight and shadow had taken feminine form but the harder I tried to look directly at her, the more determinedly she stayed in the corner of my eye as she strolled toward me.
From the south.
I must have looked a proper fool, peering at someone who had just seen me salute a flock of birds that weren’t even magpies.
“I do that every year,” I said. “Salute the first swallows I see. My own little welcome to the spring.”
I was now sounding like a fool as well as looking like one.
She said nothing. The closer she got to me, the less distinct she became and the more certain I was that I wasn’t imagining her.
“I know it’s silly,” I said.
Her voice might have been a passing breeze or the drumming of a woodpecker, but her words were spoken directly into my ear. “No welcome is ever wasted. Thank you.”
I saw her walk past me or maybe through me, but when I turned to watch her walk away, she was gone. Nothing curved or shimmered between the green of the pasture and the grey dappled blue of the sky.
I turned back to the woods. The trees were in blossom.