Skywalking

by Pat Hanahoe-Dosch
   

Mira pulled the small bottle of water out of her jacket pocket. It was so late, the only other people left on the skywalk over the Grand Canyon were an elderly couple standing at the other end, looking out at the canyon and quietly talking. No one was paying attention to her. She had to stretch to get the bottle over the five feet two inches of glass siding and pour the water into the canyon, 4000 feet below.
           

She suspected it would all evaporate immediately, but pulled herself up to look, anyway. She was five feet, six inches tall, 120 pounds, and by doing a kind of pull-up with her arms on the edge of the glass, she could see over it. Harsh, gorgeous rock walls everywhere, seeming to never end. Some grasses, strange bushes and cacti she couldn't name. Trees she thought must be mesquite or some desert tree like that. Different shades of red, gold, and gray that changed the longer she sat there, darkening, black seeping in, even dark green. At the bottom, a thin line of water, the river. It looked too small and inconsequential from this distance to have carved out all this.
           
She sat on the glass floor, legs bent and crossed in a half-lotus yoga position. She was forty-two and still somewhat flexible enough to sit like that for awhile even in the cool air. Her jacket was warm but her pants were thin jeans, and she felt some of the cold seep up from beneath her.  She closed her eyes, her fingers clasped together around the plastic bottle as if in prayer.
           

The photo of her brother standing in this same spot, arms stretched wide, smiling in a way he had rarely smiled, was all she could see. He had loved this place. It hurt that she didn't know why. Was it just the scenic views? Did he have strong memories of being with friends, or a woman, here? She knew only that he came here once a year, camping generally on the south rim of the canyon with friends or even a few times by himself. He once told her he wanted his ashes scattered over the side of this look-out point. He said he loved being able to look down and see the canyon below, the unnerving sight of seeming suspended over such a dangerous drop, looking down into air and the deepest chasm on the continent. Had she been a terrible sister to not have asked more? To not have listened more? To not have known more about him? They had lived such separate lives. He lived in California and worked as an engineer for some big company. She lived in North Carolina. Opposite ends of the country. They talked on the phone every couple of weeks, but rarely got to see each other.
           

He had drowned in an accident somewhere off the coast of Aruba, the police said. They never found his body. She had filled the bottle with water from that ocean six months later when she gave up, knowing they would probably never find him. Their parents had a memorial for family and friends in their church in Raleigh.
           
This was her own, private memorial. She sat there, looking out at the canyon, watching the colors in both cliffs and sky shift and meld from gold to bronze to red, then the growing shadows, which changed shades of darkness.
                                                                                                         
                                                                                                             ~                  

           
The shuttle driver, Lucy, waited for her. There were five other visitors waiting in the shuttle. They complained loudly. "Tell her if she doesn't get on the shuttle right now, you'll leave her here!" someone shouted. Lucy sighed, got out, and walked over to Mira to see if she could talk her into getting up and leaving. But then she saw that Mira was crying, huddled there in a knot. Lucy was good at recognizing grief--she'd suffered too much from it, herself. She leaned down toward Mira, said softly, "I'll be back for you after I drop off the others." Mira barely heard her.
           

"Bout time," someone said as Lucy climbed back into the shuttle bus, started the engine, and drove on. She dropped them off at the tribal hotel in Peach Springs. She just wanted to go home, back to the rez. But she had promised. Why had she risked her job to help out some lame tourist who couldn't pay attention to the time? The skywalk closes at 6:00 p.m. She turned the shuttle around and drove back. Now it was 7:00 p.m. and almost dark. She took a flashlight from the glove compartment and walked out to where she had left Mira, who was still sitting there, crying and staring into the darkness.
           

She squatted down next to Mira, then sat, leaned against the inner siding and stretched her legs out. She was short and thin, so she could stretch out and just touch the edge of the glass sidings in both directions. "Hey," she said. Mira opened her eyes and looked at her, alarmed. Then she saw Lucy's hotel uniform and how dark everything around had become and said, "Oh no. I'm late. I'm so sorry." Her voice was thick with grief. Lucy shrugged, forgetting Mira probably couldn't see that in the small light of the flashlight. "It's okay. I took everyone else and came back. You okay?" Mira looked at the stars spread out above the canyon like the distant lights of a vast city. Or like an ocean filled with bioluminescent algae. Had he seen something like that while diving, before he drowned? Was his spirit swimming with such creatures somewhere in the deep dark of the Caribbean Sea?
           

"My brother drowned six months ago, scuba diving, alone, late at night, probably drunk. They never found his body. It was a really, really stupid tourist thing to do. If it was an accident. Maybe it was deliberate. Or he was murdered. We'll never know. I just poured some water off the Canyon edge here in his memory. He loved this place." She didn't know what else to say. She didn't want this woman's sympathy. It was done. Now she should leave. But she couldn't get up yet.
           

Lucy didn't bother with the usual platitudes. She didn't know this woman or her brother, so it was pointless to say she was sorry. Instead, she said, "My father was run-over in the street in Kingman, Arizona, one night by a white man who hated "damn Injuns," which is what he shouted out the window as he smashed into my dad. That man was never arrested though my brother saw it all happen and described the guy to the cops. Some white guy saw it all and gave the cops the license plate. They didn't do anything. My brother was fourteen. I was twelve. Three years later my mother died from a heart attack. Maybe it was because of her diabetes. I think her heart was just too broken. My grandmother finished raising us. My brother's in Iraq, now. I get a letter from him once in awhile to let me know he's still alive. I worry about him a lot."
           
The two sat there for awhile, silent, just breathing the desert air, the smell of creosote, clay and sand--almost the smell of rain though it was a dry and chilly beginning of the night.

They stared out at the stars over the wall of thick, black night the canyon had become. "Do you ever get over it?" Mira asked.
           
"No," Lucy said. "But you learn to live with it if you give it time. Someone told me eventually you even learn to live well and be happy anyway. I'm not there yet." I'm only 23, she thought. Why had she said so much? Maybe it was the darkness that surrounded them, even directly below the glass they sat on. Maybe she just felt sorry for this woman. They had nothing in common. She was white and clearly rich if she was staying at that hotel. She lived far away, probably. Her own loneliness and sorrow sometimes seemed to choke her so she couldn't speak, could only feel a terrible heartburn singe through the linings of her esophagus and stomach. No medication she'd tried could soothe it. Lucy wondered if this woman felt her grief grow inside her body like that. And she wondered what it would be like to drown. The only place she could imagine drowning would be the Colorado River, snaking through the canyon so far below them. She had only seen scuba divers in movies. She hadn't given much thought to whether real people did that kind of thing. It seemed crazy. Whatever. She needed to get the shuttle back to the hotel before someone noticed it was missing. "We have to go," she said, softly, firmly.
           
"Right. Yes. I'm sorry, of course," Mira said. She gingerly pulled herself up by using the handrail. Her legs were stiff from sitting like that for so long.
           
Lucy put her hand on Mira's arm and gently led her around the skywalk's horseshoe shaped loop, shining the small flashlight in front of her. As they stepped off the skywalk, near the edge of the canyon, Mira knocked the plastic bottle against the edge of the siding by accident and lost her grip on it. It fell into the darkness.
           
Well great, Lucy thought. More tourist-pollution. So much for bonding with me and this place.
           
Mira cried out, "No, no, no." She stared down into the black canyon. "Those were the last drops of water at the bottom of that bottle." She knew no matter how much damage the water, scavengers, and anything that eats flesh at the bottom of that ocean had done, there really could not be any of him in those drops of water. Yet that bottle and the water were her last contact with him. Her last, even if symbolic, touch with him physically. The water hadn't felt just symbolic. Surely it was possible some of his molecules--some part of his atomic make-up-- could be in them.
           
Lucy pulled on her arm, and they walked to the parking lot. Mira climbed into the shuttle, sat silently with her head leaning on the glass of the window, looking out at the road, in the seat behind Lucy, who climbed into the driver's seat. They were quiet on the drive back to the hotel.
           
"Are you heading home tomorrow?" Lucy asked.
           
Mira sat up in her seat and looked at Lucy. "Yes," she said. "Back to North Carolina. I have to get back to work."
           
"What do you do?"
           
"I own and manage a store-- we sell mostly shoes and high-end fashion accessories in Raleigh."
           
"Oh," said Lucy. She was wearing the same hiking boots she'd worn for the past five years. When the soles wore out, she took them to a shoe repair guy in Kingman. She had to wear dark blue uniform pants and shirt with the hotel's logo on a patch on the shoulders. Otherwise, the only accessory she wore was a blue scrunchie she used to tie back her long black hair when she was working. When not working, she wore mostly jeans, t-shirts, or flannel shirts when it got cold. She'd been wearing the same jeans and shirts for about five years, too. She made just a dollar more than minimum wage, driving the shuttle. Her only jewelry were a few good pieces of silver and turquoise she'd inherited from her mother, including the pair of earrings she always wore. They looked like round silver flowers with turquoise petals. They dangled just a little from her ears on a silver chain. She still lived with her grandmother because someone had to take care of the old woman, now. Her aunts and uncles were no help. She loved her grandmother, of course, but sometimes she dreamed of going somewhere else, like maybe Phoenix, or Tucson. Maybe even college. She'd never have the money for that though. It was worth staying there if it meant her brother could get away. Maybe the army would do that for him. She hoped so. She didn't know what to say to this woman whose name she didn't even know.
           
"Goodbye," Lucy said, closing the shuttle doors behind Mira as she turned, trying to say something to Lucy. Mira watched the shuttle drive away, her right hand slightly raised as though to wave.

Pat Hanahoe-Dosch has an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and is currently a full Professor of English at Harrisburg Area Community College, Lancaster campus. Her story, “Sighting Bia,” was selected as a finalist for A Room of Her Own Foundation's 2012 Orlando Prize for Flash Fiction. Short stories of hers have been published in The Peacock Journal and In Posse Review. Her nonfiction articles have appeared in Travel Belles, On a Junket, and Wholistic Living News. Her second book of poems, The Wrack Line, was recently published by FutureCycle Press this past June. Her first book, Fleeing Back, was published by FutureCycle Press in the summer of 2012. Her poems have been published in Rattle, The Paterson Literary ReviewThe Atticus Review, War, Art and Literature, Confrontation, The Red River Review, San Pedro River Review, among others. She has recieved a Pushcart nomination.