Harris and Cortina ate pancakes with butter and syrup at a table near the door of the park’s visitor center, a short walk from the trailhead. It had rained. Their clothing was soaked through. Their boots were filled with mud. They were bedraggled. Shaken.
Men and women in expensive looking hiking gear and sleek backpacks came through the door. Their sunglasses set back atop their heads, they looked around, and smiled at the couple eating pancakes, in a way as if the two were unfamiliar guests at a wedding party who no one wanted to sit with.
Harris poured syrup over the cakes. It trickled down over the round edges.
Cortina did not look up from her plate. Her hair dripped.
They both knew it was over between them.
Harris poured himself second cup of coffee and lifted the pot toward her. She shook her head.
He put the pot down and she picked it up and poured a cup for herself.
They’d made love the night before, in Bullhead, in the back bedroom of her mother’s doublewide, and they’d slept late. They had to hurry, then, to start the drive up to Zion. Neither of them liked to feel pressured.
Cortina’s mother worked at a casino in Laughlin, on the Nevada side of the Colorado River.
The day before, she had taken them to the casino for breakfast in the employees’ cafeteria and then they swam in the river. The flood gates at Lake Mead were open and they floated down river a few miles in the swift, brown current and then walked back up along the road to Harrah’s and jumped back in again.
By the time they reached the Weeping Rock trail head, it was almost noon. It was three hours up over the East Rim into Hidden Canyon and another three down.
Cortina had taken the trail once before. It was narrow. Two yards wide at its widest. Switchbacks crisscrossed the steep face of the mountain.
Cortina led. Single file. She called back to Harris the names of every tree and rock formation they passed. Kaibab limestone. Fremont Cottonwoods. Quaking Aspen. Utah juniper. Bristlecone pine. Navajo sandstone.
He followed in her steps as best he could.
In the canyon above the rim, protected from the wind, they drank the last of the water she had packed.
Harris, his legs covered in fine red ancestral dust, saw himself as a free young man who’d once lived in the quiet sacredness of the canyons, on the plateaus, and down along the creeks in the valleys. He felt they begged to be worshipped.
When the sun traversed the rim, Cortina said they needed to head back down. The way they’d come up. He thought there must have been another, easier, trail down.
They’d been together for about a year. They talked books. Shared pizzas and salads. They once took a weekend trip to Block Island, rode rented bikes, and bought rolls at a roadside bakery. They were both reading Blindness then. She liked Saramago’s writing more than Harris did.
She had two children. Teens. They lived with her and spoke badly about their father’s new wife and with whom they spent weekends before she became pregnant, after which they felt they were no longer welcome.
He found them hard to be around. Cortina knew that. She said he would get used to them over time. That they meant well, though Harris doubted that.
Down from the rim, they walked in shade. The rockface on one side, and nothingness on the other. Far below, cars were leaving the park.
Harris’s boots slipped on the downward slope a few times, and Cortina told him to keep a safer distance behind her.
There had been a magnetic rush between them when they’d met. An outsized hunger for each other.
She had a literary mind. She knew things he did not, making references to authors and books he’d not read. She hated Hemingway. He suspected it was the man’s matter-of-fact unfaithfulness, rather than his writing, that she disliked. She abhorred Roth. He sensed a peremptory rebuke which he took personally.
Further down, the wind picked up. An updraft. The trail was shadowed by tall darkening clouds.
Cortina unstrapped her backpack and removed a poncho which she put on. She had not packed one for him. He had not thought to bring one. It snapped in the wind.
One crack of thunder. Rain began.
Pebbles skipped down the mountain face from above them. They walked down a few yards, no more than ten or fifteen, looking for some shelter. There was none.
Larger stones fell with the sheeting rain and, in moments, rocks the size of coconuts tumbled down. Water sluiced around their feet. Harris felt he could not breathe.
She screamed at him. “Turn around, go back up!”
Boulders the size of steamer trunks clattered and bounced around them. He shuddered in horror as each one passed.
“Up? Why up?” he said.
“Just listen to me, damn it, we have to find some cover.”
“Up there,” she said.
She pointed to an outcropping of rock they had passed. He did as she said.
“Get down! Make room for me and don’t move!”
Whole sections of the rock wall split off and slid down the mountainside, tumbling out and hitting the side again lower down, some landing on the switchbacks and others bringing down trees and shattering at the foot of the mountain.
Harris’s breath came in short, panicked gulps. He forced himself back against the rock. The nearness of death, the reality and imminence of it. At any moment they could be swept out into the nothingness.
They waited only for the next moment to come and to pass.
When the rain finally stopped, the sky cleared and brightened, waterfalls broke out of crevices in the rockface.
“Now,” she said. “Let’s go down now.”
He flew home to New York alone. She drove the rental back to Kingman.
He saw her once again. A chance meeting on one of the avenues uptown near the Met.
She had let her hair grow out to a soft and appealing shade of gray. It was cold, and they spoke for only a few minutes before she turned and took the arm of the man she had been walking with.