Illustrated by Kristy Lankford
When raindrops fall from a blue sky you know the day is fucked. I needed this hike. And I was starting to feel things. Lungs burning. Legs quivering. Sweat stinging my eyes. Physical sensations only, but something.
Now I see it all coming apart. I’ll have to turn back. I don’t know where that will lead, but it scares the hell out of me.
It’s Arizona. Early May. Not supposed to rain. In cargo shorts and a t-shirt, I recline in a natural scoop carved into the red rock by thousands and thousands of years of wind and rain. Feet dangle over the ledge. Maybe two-hundred feet down. I don’t look.
I rest my head on the hard, slick stone. Catching my breath before the last and most difficult leg of the hike. Cliffs of copper and rust tower above, palette-knifed against a narrow, jagged ribbon of blue. Cockroach-sized raindrops make audible splats. They say lightning can strike on a clear day from twenty-five miles away. I’ve never seen it happen but I suppose it will. It doesn’t matter. I was naive to try this.
Angry gray clouds blot out the ribbon of blue. The temperature drops, goose bumps rise. The rain picks up. Thunder rumbles.
Mickey left a year ago and I stopped feeling things. I stayed in nights and weekends. Didn’t answer the phone. Ordered pizza delivered. At work I kept my eyes on my desk, avoided conversation. My family quit trying to help, not that they’d tried very hard. I’m not sure my friends noticed. I buried myself in novels already read, paging along for hours without satisfaction. Mickey had become my best friend, my only friend, my lover. And so much else.
Nobody has run their fingers through my hair, felt the smooth skin on my inner thighs, held me, touched me at all, in twelve months.
Then this morning I had a dream, the first with Mickey in it. We were hiking. He reached back to help me up a steep spot. The sun was behind him. Blinded, I couldn’t see his hand. I blinked, and he was gone. I woke with the sun in my face, a thin ray slipping between the blinds.
I drove an hour, stopped at the ranger station to get a hiking permit, asked for directions to the closest hike that would be beautiful, maybe inspiring, yet not too difficult. The ranger sent me here, to Cathedral Rock. She called it spiritual, cathartic. I moved impatiently through the first stretch, mostly flat and cool under a dense canopy of trees along the creek. I labored up the next section, a series of naked switchbacks scorched by the late morning sun.
I’d been lost before, before I met Mickey. He must have thought of me as a stray. He took me in. Loved me. Guided me. Mickey was the first person, the only person, to ever say I was beautiful. I know he loved me. I never knew why. I loved him like air.
If I just wait a bit and the rain picks up, it’ll wash me off the ledge. I won’t even have to do it. It’ll just happen. I lean out a bit, look down. Crags protrude from scattered bushes far below. They won’t look there. I might not be found for months. Maybe never. Maybe I’ll find Mickey. I don’t know about stuff like that.
I feel the familiar pull, a strange compulsion to jump that wrestles with an utter fear of falling. Dizzy, I lean back. Don’t do it. Let whatever come.
Darker now, cooler. I hold myself. Then a purple-white flash lights the world. Crack of thunder immediate, violent. I flinch. The rain comes in sheets. I close my eyes, let the giant drops, half frozen and slushy now, harsher, punish me.
“Pretend they’re lemon drops.”
It’s the first time Mickey speaks to me since he left. I realize now. I was heartbroken when he died, of course. Everything drained from me. You’ll get through this, people said. Slowly, things will get better. Instead the heartbreak turned to bitterness. I was furious with him for not being there, day after day after day, angry with myself for not being able to live without him. I didn’t know what to do with the emotions, so each day I stuffed more and more of them into a box until there were none.
“Let them fall on you,” he says. “Enjoy them. They’re sweet and sour at the same time.”
I stick my tongue out and taste the rain. He’s right. Sweet and sour. I don’t know the science of it, don’t care.
A rivulet forms in the trough of rock, trickles into my collar. The cold and wet on the back of my neck catches my breathing. I sit up. Stringy hair covers my eyes, clings to my face. The water becomes a stream, then suddenly a wave, loaded with sticks, leaves, sand and small stones. I roll onto my stomach, pull my knees up under me and reach for something, anything. The water froths around my arms and legs. I slide backward on rough marbles that dig into my knees.
A piece of old cactus embeds in my forearm. I scream. Mickey’s name. But it’s lost in the roar of the storm, can’t even hear it myself.
The water rises, pushes harder. Fingernails dig into a tiny crevice. Inching forward. Aware of every muscle in my hands, arms, shoulders. I crawl ahead, slide back, pull one last time, roll sideways, make a clumsy push with my legs and careen out of the growing torrent. On my back again, eyes closed against the storm, the lemon drops pounding every inch of exposed skin. I think they might bruise me. Shivering, I open my eyes, stick my tongue out, and feel.