The Woods of Lehigh Valley

by by Everett Epstein

The 4 p.m. light in room 213 cast the walls azure and the shadows—from the bed, table, lamp, and bulky RCA—a deep navy. The throw, un-tucked with the sheet and kicked to the foot of the bed, was decorated with the staple pattern of Ramada Inns: a puce plaid hemmed with lavender thread. It too assumed the blues of the afternoon. On the bed, the silhouette of a body indented the mattress—an outline in fabric.

Outside the window, the woods of Lehigh Valley. Shoots of pines and cedar crowded together, so close that their branches entangled. In time, they knit into a single, tubered mass—one vast thicket. Looking in, you could make out felled trees through its interstices. Leafed ribcages at odds with the surrounding trunks.

Amid the downed branches, buried loosely under veined foliage, an obsidian shard. Fist-sized, ink-black, and missing a divot from its face, the stone’s surface had a grooved texture, like vinyl. Smeared fingerprints spotted the shard, and its polished edges fractured pale sunbeams.

Here are the names of the animals in the woods:

Sciurus carolinensis

Odocoileus virginianus

Clangula hyemalis

Colinus virginianus

Bubo virginianus

Melanerpes erythrocephalus

Didelphis virginiana

Sorex hoyi

They keep their distance from the obsidian. A breach in the earth, a thorn in their collective flank. They felt its jags, its protrusions. Felt and shuttered.

The woman staying in room 213 opened the door, noted the unmade bed, and frowned. Coming in from Wind Gate (a three and a half hour drive west), she expected and deserved a made bed. Not unmade. Made. Better just make it myself. Not worth troubling the staff. Still, can’t help but be annoyed.

Tugging off the pile of sheets/throw, her mind wandered to her sister, the reason she made the unpleasant, unscenic, just plain “un” drive out to Lehigh. Her nerve. Her gall. Lenore’s damned ugliness. She and I can’t see each other, which I guess is sad, but that’s life. That’s what happens to sisters. Still, can’t help but be annoyed.

By now, she had draped the sheets across the bed and re-tucked its ends. Pausing to look out the window, she reviewed the conversation with (ungrateful) Lenore. To bring up my marriage! At this point in her life, a dignified forty-three, she refused to apologize for the events—the ups and the downs—of her thirties. Why even mention Albert? Why not just gloss tactfully over her bare ring finger, and all the pain, aggravation, embarrassment its bareness implied? Admittedly, Lenore’s asking looked (to an outsider) innocent enough, but I knew what she in fact meant: So, Albert finally unhitched himself from your sinking ship. Your ugly, dead weight. Good for him; he can do better. I got it Lenore! Message received! Roger dodger!

And then to suggest that I sleep there, as if I was champing at the bit to bask in your fucking (excuse me) family’s glow. No thanks, Lenore! Not for me. The Ramada is more than hospitable. I’ll sleep happy here, alone.

What am I doing? Making a used bed. Why on earth? She stepped over to the beige landline and hunted the laminate numbers for the front office with her index finger —a hairless predatory animal. 601-266-6213. Hello. I just checked into room 213. Housekeeping must not  have come because the bed is unmade. Well, not anymore, but. I just need a change of sheets. Uh-hun. Ok. Ok. Thanks. Great.

Clapping the receiver back onto the base, she stared out the window. Her mind—tremulous with offense—ebbed to a calm. A second of silence, just the air conditioner’s purr. Squinting, she found the woods. Growing up in Allentown meant always living on the periphery, always recognizing that dense, insistent thicket. It dragged you into its orbit, pulled you downhill. Even if you didn’t look at it directly, you could feel its pulse, like a headache—a dull pressure behind the ears. I’m glad I’m in Wind Gate now, she thought.


On March 14, Lisa Pollard’s body was found off the side of State Route 3013, fourteen miles west of Allentown. The coroner determined that an intracranial hemorrhage originating in the frontal lobe caused the death. The bruise, a violet blush the size of a fist, extended from hairline to eyebrow. The cranial pressure, altered by a blunt trauma to her face, sent Lisa first into a coma, then crushed her cortex—a vice of fluid.

Linda Warg, a Wind Gate resident, discovered the body by accident. She had pulled off 22 into a Wawa. Coming out of the store with a Diet Coke, she passed her Mazda Protégé and continued walking aimlessly beyond the Wawa’s florescent halo and into the night’s black curtains. She came across Lisa fifteen minutes later.

A missing person’s report, filed on February 26 by Lisa’s parents, noted that she was home from Lehigh University when she was abducted. Upon investigation, the assault took place before the abduction, although she died soon after. Her clothes showed no sign of tear. Indeed, the initial suspicion of sexual violence, proposed by the Allentown police department, proved inconclusive. No murder weapon was found.