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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Between Red Rock and a Place in Peru

by Roland Goity



Elizabeth was in Sedona, an outdoor paradise. In nine days, she’d be headed to Peru, at the base of the Andes. So, why did she feel like screaming? 

      ***

 

Cottony clouds hung gently over red rock spires. Towers of nature, taller than bank buildings on Wall Street. Awkward footsteps beside the sunlight-dappled ripples of water, the quaking aspen tinkling in the breeze. Everything gave way to her echoing cry—WAIT!

 

      ***

 

Holding hands, Tara and Marcus dropped from view behind a bend in the creek, just past a pair of sycamore trees. They’d heard Elizabeth but ignored her, she was sure.

 

When she lost her footing on loose rock coming down the mountainside, they had laughed at her clumsiness. So she didn’t let on how painful the stumble had been.

      

That was twenty minutes ago. What was painful then was Abu-Ghraib torture now. 


      ***

 

At certain moments, the dazzling landscape seemed to numb the fires in Elizabeth's ankle. She flashed on the mountains surrounding Cusco, Peru. A town in a valley bowl of snow-lined beauty that she’d only seen in photos, but where she’d be teaching English to mahogany-skinned school kids for a dozen weeks. Were the mountains there even more immaculate than this encompassing red rock? Perhaps they were. But right as the thought gave a flicker of relief, the pain shot through her again. She untied the laces of her boot and rolled down her sock. Faintness struck as she glimpsed the swollen ankle, grown from a yellowish plum into a Macintosh apple.

  

      ***

 

For every step she took, she cried out. For Marcus, for Tara, for a slowing of her hurt. But her friends didn’t forgive, nor did her ankle. When Elizabeth broke up with Marcus that summer, he turned white as the sand at the park in New Mexico where—days earlier—he’d proposed to her, and she’d said, Sorry. They’d rarely spoken since until Tara suggested their Southwestern trip.

 

It was Tara who had really craved Marcus, and their venture to Sedona sealed her desire. The night before, the three of them had sucked dry a bottle of rum with the help of a limeade mix. They’d set up three tents, but Tara had beckoned Marcus into hers; her finger a worm-baited hook, Marcus a lustful trout in the moonlit luster.

 

      ***

 

With dusk coming on soon, the sun disappeared behind the glowing rims of the canyon. Long shadows crossed the creek-side trail; the temperature dropped like it had OD’d on aspirin. Elizabeth had covered maybe a mile in the last hour and would move no more. Were an axe within reach, she’d have chopped off her leg. She shook her head and screamed some more, withdrew her boot and bared her foot. She dipped her lower leg in the chilly creek. The Macintosh had turned into a grapefruit, but now it was appeased, soothed, and she knew she’d live to see another day.

 

The night would be spent by the creek, the local critters her neighbors. Tara and Marcus were long gone, and wouldn’t set search until morning. But they’d find her, or a ranger would. Someone would send for a helicopter. Or cot her out. Or set her leg in a splint and help her hobble to freedom. Fewer than three miles remained between where she was and the trailhead parking lot. She wouldn’t die there.

 

Of course, she wouldn’t.

 

Elizabeth, exhausted, lay back on the sifted dirt of the bank. Her leg, below her knee, became a permanent fixture in the flowing cold of the creek, like the protruding sycamore root in the water downstream. Her body pulsed wildly; she gently peed her pants. Yet she smiled. She knew that no matter her situation now, in two weeks she’d be mostly healed. In two weeks she’d be in the land of the Incas, at five-digit altitude, teaching the English language to children of another world completely.

 

She drifted off to a dream of persecution, resurrection. Where cottonwood blossoms fluttered in the air.