Across the Canyon

This draft will be workshopped during the week of August 17, 2015, in the Writers’ Workshop thread at the EA Forums. If you’d like to share your feedback on it as part of this workshop, I’d love to hear your ideas and responses to the questions I’ll be posing to help me with revisions. I will likely be making revisions to this draft.

Midafternoon, during this late summer season, the shadow from Finger Rock stretched over the hills across the canyon and drew Clarissa’s attention. She often found herself at the kitchen window, facing south and gazing into the shadow’s deep purple. Something about depth, she told herself, and what can’t be seen.

She roused herself from contemplation and made the phone call that she’d decided to make when she’d woken that morning.

“Nancy,” she said, “I’ve been wanting to talk with you!”

As she said the words, she heard how hollow they must sound. She didn’t anticipate they’d sound empty, before she spoke them, for they were filled with her own earnest feelings of goodwill, but as she imagined how they would sound in the ears of her new husband’s ex-wife, she felt all the warmth drain from them. Empty.

She closed her eyes for a moment and breathed. What to do? She could continue the conversation pretending to be cheerful, trying to recapture her typical buoyancy, or she could create space for her authentic feelings and proceed from there.

Across the canyon, the purple of the shadow deepened into black, right in the center.

“We were wondering,” Clarissa continued, “if Malcolm could come over this weekend.”

In the moment of silence, Clarissa thought she heard ice cubes clinking against the sides of a glass.

“I don’t tell our son what to do,” Nancy replied. “Geoffrey and I agreed a long time ago that it would be Malcolm’s choice which house he stayed at.”

“Yes, I understand the arrangements,” Clarrissa continued, soldiering on. “It’s just that. Well, now that I’m here, too–we just wanted him to know that he’s welcome. That we’d like to see him.”

“You’ll have to ask him,” said Nancy. “Or better yet. Have his father call him for a change.”

And with that, Nancy ended the call.

Clarissa held onto the edge of the counter and looked across the chasm of the canyon into the purple shadow.

There was that sharp line, right inside, cutting across her chest. She gazed into the shadow and breathed.

She carried her cup of tea into the garden behind the house.

She and Geoffrey had struggled one long hot afternoon to shift and slide a boulder into the shade of the eucalyptus at the south edge of the garden, overlooking the canyon.

“My gramps planted this tree,” Geoffrey said between huffs. “Must’ve been sixty years ago or more.”

She sat on the boulder now, shaded from the late afternoon sun, facing south and letting the breeze from the valley floor carry to her the scent of mesquite pods and Texas sage.

She wanted, almost more than anything, to be friends with this woman who had spent half her life with Geoffrey. In part, she knew, she wanted the friendship because of Geoffrey. He loved Nancy still–with most of his heart, actually. Geoffrey was one of those loyal men who loved hard, fast, and for a lifetime. Nancy was there in the deepest part of his heart; Clarissa faced her in every tender moment.

Clarissa accepted this without jealousy–this quality was part of what made Geoffrey a good man. And she knew, too, that on some deep level, all of the suffering that he experienced in his marriage to Nancy filled a purpose. It was that suffering that provided the counterbalance to the bright happiness which she and Geoffrey now shared.

So that was part of it.

But there was more, something unconnected with Geoffrey, a pattern that was wholly her own, reaching back to her own youth: the division between herself and others which she seemed to face when what she wished most for was connection.

She kept thinking of Linda Hyte from high school. Linda wore a biker’s jacket as dress–she’d hacked off the sleeves, belted it, and wore it over black fishnet stockings with biker boots. She was popular, but she refused to hang out with the popular crowd. She had her own circle. Linda and Clarissa had been friends for a few months in junior high. And then, they hadn’t. Sometimes, even now, thirty-seven years later, Clarissa would sometimes hold in her hand the sphere of the memory of their friendship and look at it from all sides. She could never understand the barrier that had come between them. It seemed that, for a brief time, the two had enjoyed a shared happiness. And then came the biker’s jacket with the hacked-off sleeves, the black mascara, and bitter cynicism. But it’s so easy to be happy, Clarissa thought then–and now. This divide doesn’t need to exist.

Nancy had that same bitter edge.

Clarissa looked out over the canyon. The sunlight had shifted and now the shadow was diffuse.

There was something else in Nancy that drew her in, something more than the desire that a happy person feels to befriend those in pain. She felt in Nancy some embers of creative energy seeking an outlet, and there were times when Clarissa felt that this spark might light something within her. She could see why Geoffrey had been drawn to Nancy. What is it about a secret power that is so irresistible?

It was one of those impossible friendships, Clarissa realized, a longing that could never be fulfilled.

She sat on the boulder, cradling the tea cup, as rays from the setting sun peeked beneath the eucalyptus leaves. She had learned that one way to greet pain was to create space within, and so she inhaled the scent of Indian green tea, she let the sun’s light shine in her eyes, and she opened her heart in silence. The edge softened and eased.

She sat quietly while the shadows shifted.

As she stood to head back into the house, the phone rang.

“Hey. It’s Malcolm,” a voice mumbled. “My mom said you wanted me to spend the weekend.”

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