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Parched

Just a Grain of Sand

By Cathy SchieffelinPublished 4 months ago Updated 3 months ago 11 min read
2
Prickly Pear Cacti

Her:

He hasn’t told me where we’re going – but we’ll be flying.

“Pack warm, outdoorsy clothes and hiking boots.”

I’m stronger. Less broken. The desperate loss of Sadie – I still bleed for her. That’s what I called her. I’m sure she was a girl. It was almost too early to determine but she was more than just a collection of cells. I felt her soul leave that morning he found me. They say God only gives you what you can handle. That’s not true. I was swallowed by grief so vast, it hurt to breathe – the very thing we need to do as humans to survive.

We change planes in Denver. When get to the boarding area for a flight to Las Vegas, I’m surprised. He’s not the big city, casino type. He holds my hand as we exit the airport and make our way to the rental car terminal where a rented Jeep waits. It’s bright blue and open on all sides. Reminds me of dune buggies I rode as a kid. He piles our bags and the guitar into the back. No need to worry about rain here, unlike where we’ve come from.

“We staying at the Bellaggio?” I ask, picturing the infamous dancing water fountain.

He shakes his head, eyebrows raised.

“The Venetian? Always wanted to ride in a gondola.”

Shakes his head again, a sly smile coming to his face.

“The MGM Grand – with Siegfried and Roy?” He cocks his head, grinning.

“Nope, we have a bit of a drive before our final destination. Sit back and enjoy the view.” He kisses my hand, glacial orbs twinkling in the autumnal desert light.

For an arid landscape, there’s a riot of color: red rocks, golden sandstone mesas, and startling splashes of fuchsia of prickly pear cacti - unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As I’m dozing off, he pulls into a lot with all manner of trailers. Before I know it, we’re hitched to a wood-panelled teardrop trailer.

The teardrop has a queen-sized bed in the front of the trailer and the back opens to reveal a kitchen with mini fridge, stove top, and water purifying unit. It’s astonishingly simple.

“No five star resort?”

“The only stars will be the ones we’re sleeping under. How’s that sound?”

“I’ve always wanted to do this.” I throw my arms around his neck.

He presses his lips to my forehead. We drive into the setting sun as the desert sky melts from shades of sherbet to deep indigo.

Him:

We pull into the Mather campground on the south rim a few hours later. This is a remote site and known for stunning canyon views and quiet. I’ve picked up hammocks and camp chairs to make our rugged campout as comfy as possible.

She gets out of the Jeep, stretching. She grabs a fleece to fend off the chilly night air. Glad I packed my warmest double mummy sac. She hangs hammocks and unpacks the food while I fire up the grill for our dinner – steaks and a veggie stir fry. I light the firepit and pull our camp chairs from the Jeep. The first stars begin to dot the enormous expanse of sky overhead.

After dinner I find her laying on her back next to the firepit, gazing up.

“Mind if I join you?”

She pats the ground next to her. I plop down, offering my duffel as a pillow for the two of us. The hard, cold ground beneath makes me grateful I rented the teardrop. But there’s something primal stretched out on this patch of earth – feeling it’s contours and ridges beneath my spine. We lay side by side in silence.

Only it’s not silent.

High pitched chirps of bats and the occasional lonesome song of a poorwill in the distance compete with the constant electric buzzing of insects, too many to fathom. The shock of a red-tailed hawk shrieking, crickets humming, and frogs peeping intermittently, wakes something in my psyche. Is canyon bathing a thing? Like forest bathing? In the understory of sound, beneath the birds, mammals and amphibians, I hear the distinct lapping of the Colorado River below us – and deeper still – the quiet roar of a distant waterfall.

Overhead star trails and comets astonish – galaxies, planets, black holes - a sparkling expanse reminding me how very small I am – a grain of sand in the wind.

I feel her eyes on me.

“I needed this. Thank you.” I find my reflection in the shine of her golden eyes.

I worried this might be too much, too soon. I press my thigh to hers, relishing her warmth. Steam whispers from her lips as she breathes, and I recognize the deep contentment in the relaxed planes of her face. She hasn’t looked this peaceful in a long time. I pull her closer. She shivers and nestles into me, laying her head on my chest. We watch the spectacle of falling stars together.

Over the next few days we hike into the canyon where muted colors of clay and ancient rock remind me of my love of geology. Hermit shale, Coconino Sandstone, Muav Limestone, Bright Angel Shale... The sun warms our backs as we hike towards the trickle of the Colorado River. One day we explore Havasu Falls where we hike for miles – ten miles. I don’t want her to overdo it, but felling trees and an axe helped her recover the last time. Physical exertion heals. Despite the altitude, she moves easily through this rocky, desert terrain. She has stamina and the smile on her face lets me know this is just what she needs. `

Her:

I’ve never been this far west even when I was performing. Arkansas and Texas were as far west as I ever ventured. Dallas is nothing like this. I’ve heard about the grandness of the Grand Canyon, but photos and movies don’t do it justice. This place wakes me. I’ve been asleep too long. These past few months, I’ve been drifting in a haze. Even my song writing was stale. I felt like a black board – blank, black and hard.

This landscape – so vastly different from home, reminds me I need to seek new vistas. I can’t stay in one place or hide in my studio.

How’d he know?

Just like my brother knew I needed music to rouse me from despair after losing Sadie. I still think about her. She’d be just a few weeks shy of delivery if the unthinkable hadn't happened.

I blame myself. I stopped eating. I didn’t let anyone know I was so sick. I kept her a secret. I was afraid to acknowledge she was real. And then she left me... a tremendous void. I'm afraid it'll never be filled. A gaping hole in my being.

I’m healing. I still have wounds, scars that won’t go away. The gaping hole is still within me. But it doesn't hurt so much. A dull ache has replaced the screaming, bloody pain of loss.

This desertscape is a salve, soothing my battered body.

I’m writing again - better than before. Or just different.

He gives me space and time to write and think. He wanders trails and into canyons while I craft, building storylines or a melody. Later I share what I’ve created and we work together. He’s good at finding harmonies or contrasting melodies that make the songs more complex. We make a good team.

We rise early. Sometimes he’ll grab me for a morning of indulgent outdoor sex. There’s nothing better than making love to raucous birdsong and rustling wind through the junipers, stirring all senses. Nature’s elements stimulate the lust I felt for him in our early days.

Last night he pulled out the guitar, sitting across from me.

“I’ve been working on something for you.” I sit back, trying to keep my wildly beating heart from overtaking the beautiful song. My eyes fill with tears.

I’m a mess when he finishes the last lyric. I’ve heard this song but never the way he sings it to me. I sit in his lap, holding his face close to mine.

“Thank you – I didn’t know you could do that. Shit, that song…” I kiss him, pressing my cells into his, wanting to lose myself in his essence. He grips me, tears sliding down his cheeks. Or are they mine? He carries me to the teardrop bed, unbuttons my flannel and strips me of all my layers. As I lay under a blanket of stars, his breath on my neck, I hear the distant yips of a coyote. An owl calls from a lone tree up in the piney woods nearby. He raises up a moment, gazing into my eyes and smiles.

“I meant every word of that song. There’s just “nothin’ like lovin’ you.” I pull him down and we tangle, limbs entwined.

The next morning he rises early, bringing me coffee in bed. The subtle markings of our love making on my body remind me of last night’s passion, like sore muscles after a work-out. I’m grateful for my tender spots. Watching him, watching me is a turn on. We forget about breakfast and tussle again.

The next few days we hike and climb and find places to sit and watch the land around us. Holy ground. Sacred and mystical. It inspires new music and we write new songs. I ask him to sing that song to me again every night. And he does.

Too soon we must leave. No more checking our boots before pulling them on in the morning and shaking out the sheets before climbing in for fear of scorpions. I know how much better food tastes when cooked outside and I’ve never slept as well as when covered by a quilt of stars, nestled in his arms.

Him:

I return from Cumberland one evening. It’s a chilly mid-December night, the house is awash in candlelight. She greets me at the door in a dark silky dress. She looks like she's just came from a performance, her face flushed and glowing.

I breathe in her heady scent of almonds and gardenias, wrapping my arms around her. “Are we celebrating something?” Has she gotten good news about the album coming out in a couple weeks.

“You’ll have to guess. Come, what would you like to drink?”

I’d like to drink her up. I don’t think that’s what she has in mind. At least not yet, based on the beautifully set table. She’s pulled out her aunt’s antique China, with the little blue flowers and two crystal goblets. She brings me lowball of Jameson knowing my preference.

“Let me clean up and I’ll be right down.” I head upstairs to change out of my grubby field pants and work shirt. I don’t want to dine with her while looking so rough. I hop in the shower for a quick rinse off. When I return she has a fire going. She glides, as if on ice and leads me to a chair, and hands me my drink. I want to grab her – hold her silky softness close. But she slips from my grasp and comes from the kitchen carrying two plates. The distinct scent of liver assails my senses.

I stare at the blood-red shiny organ meat glistening on the plate, surrounded by grilled onions. She goes to the kitchen, returning with a basket of homemade bread. I look up into her eyes, confused. She smiles placidly, and hands me the bread basket.

“Dig in. Butter for your bread?” She hands me the butter dish. I’m relieved to sink into a warm baguette, versus the stinky liver. When I lift the butter tray lid, there’s a pregnancy test strip. I practically fling it across the room, but first glance at the two pale pink lines.

“Oh Annie…”

I jump up and grab her, swinging her around.

“Hey, easy there. It’s still early.”

I put her down and look at her closely. She’s flush and beautiful and smiling like she’s won the lottery.

“You feel good?”

“I do. I’ll probably look like porky pig by the time these nine months are up.” I squeeze her again and lay my hand over her flat belly. I slide my hand inside the buttons of her dress to feel the warm skin, trying to discern any movement of the tiny being growing inside – like a grain of sand.

“No, there’s nothing to feel now. I’m only six weeks along.” Her golden eyes glow in the dancing flames of firelight.

“Grand Canyon baby.” I continue holding her belly, not wanting to let her go.

“Nothing like surreal sunsets and the magical Milky Way to sow a seed. The doctor says things look good. I’m to eat as much iron and folate as possible – hence liver and onions for dinner.”

“I thought you’d lost your mind.” I pull out her chair. I sit across from her and take a sip of my whiskey. “Bon apetit, mama!”

I take a bite. It’s not terrible. The smell is worse than the actual flavor. She watches, laughing. Candlelight lights up her face.

Over the coming weeks and months, she blossoms.

I think back to our time on the rim of the Grand Canyon those months ago.

Engulfed in the desert’s parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

Love
2

About the Creator

Cathy Schieffelin

Writing is breath for me. Travel and curiosity contribute to my daily writing life. I've had pieces published in Adanna Lit Jour. and Halfway Down the Stairs. My first novel, The Call, comes out in 2024. I live in New Orleans.

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Comments (2)

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  • Cathy Schieffelin (Author)3 months ago

    Thank you Zara! And thanks for spotting the typo. I’ll do a quick edit.

  • Zara Blume3 months ago

    This is a lovely, romantic story. I was so glad they got a happy ending. I love your writing voice. I knew the moment I started reading this, it was going to be good. I did spot a typo: ‘Too soon me must leave.’ I’m assuming you meant we. Good luck in the challenge. 🤍

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