Anna Vangala Jones
I can hear sticks, dirt, and dry leaves crackle beneath your feet as you move to stand behind me. The words I’ve just uttered have altered the mood. Irreversibly. Your palms rest on my shoulders for a few seconds and then you tighten your grip with an ominous pressure.
I had been here before. It was with my family though. Not you. We had driven up the mountains in hazardous, dizzying spirals, oohing and aahing as we glanced out the glass amidst conversations that interested us more than the sights. The height and sheer majesty of the trees was breathtaking and humbling, but without being able to reach out and touch the cool, textured bark of the redwood, they meant nothing to me. The sunlit aqua shade of the water was only dim in its brilliance, as I’d never lowered my toes into its depths myself.
Now standing here with you, it is all different and changed somehow. In a small way, I know what you mean finally. Feet planted, unsteady, on this sloping ground in the middle of a silent clearing, I am less of a polite observer. I’m wondering if I can absorb it, become a part of it, as you’ve longed for me to do since almost the first moment we met in the city. A universe away. There we could focus on what little we had to unite us, attending the same school for a while, and pretend that the weight of our trying was enough.
Here, though, it feels impossible. I am used to holding your hand as we both look up at skyscrapers and plastic bags caught on tree branches, swaying and rippling in humid breezes. Yet, now as I crane my neck to view the endless heights of rock upon rock tearing through a clear blue sky, comprehension is looming. This is no hobby or vacation spot to get away from it all for you. This place, breathing and beating out here in the wild, is what is real for you. It’s in your flesh, your bones, quivering and whispering to you in a way that drowns out the roar of subway trains and the blast of a million taxis’ horns.
I told you we were over this morning. You said it was too early for such talk. These things are always clearer in the dark. You might change your mind by then, you said. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried and you’ve sidestepped the inevitable. I won’t miss it. The guilt. The manipulation. The quiet anger. The push to be more like you as you strap me into the confines of a harness and guide me up rocks I’d rather just look at than feel underneath my hands.
I don't relish the way you make me drag out hurting you. I’ve had to do it again just now.
Let’s just enjoy this for what it is. A nice hike together.
And then nothing. That’s it.
I’m regretting where we are the longer and tighter your hold on my body and spirit becomes. It’s so lonely out here. So isolated. I feel your fingers bite my skin a bit harder as the air between us darkens.
It is difficult to judge in this deafening quiet how much time is passing. You still haven’t spoken. The reality of our relationship ending pulses through me, cold but quick. I sense the distance between us widen. You are as unreal and unknowable to me as any part of this stunning landscape.
The sun is lowering, adopting a wine-colored hue. Whatever remains of my fanciful optimism for us flickers and goes to sleep along with it, but by the faint beam of light it still offers, I can also see my strength and resolve. To head off into the dark without you. The redness of everything all around—the trees, rocks, and our two hearts—is blinding.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Yes, I’ll never forget it.
For a moment in time, however brief, together we shared the furious hope of this blood orange sky.
But now, tonight, I won’t stay. I won’t be stopped. I will leave this place. And you.
About the Author: Anna Vangala Jones is an Assistant Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket and Editorial Assistant on the Fiction team at Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Catapult, Berkeley Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, The Brown Orient, New Flash Fiction Review, Fiction Southeast, and Pidgeonholes, among others. Her stories have placed in contests at Gigantic Sequins, American Short Fiction, Ruminate, and elsewhere. Find her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.