Loving Scarlet

The island on the far side of the passage was thickly wooded and dark in the night save the glow in the windows of the houses along the shoreline.  It was late in August.  There was a light westerly wind and the clouds that had plagued the day were long gone.  Beside him on the balcony overlooking the water the girl kept her hands tucked under her arms.  He said to her, “See how the sun shines on the moon and then from the moon on the water?” and he took a long sip of wine thinking You fool.  Why must you always teach? 
     “Yes,” she said, “on the ripples.  How many do you think there are?”
     “Yes, that we can see.”
     “Not billions?”
     “Probably billions.”  He looked at her wineglass on the balustrade.  The glass looked in danger in the wind.  You have no idea, he said to himself.  You don’t talk to her in how many years and now you are with her and there is an uneasiness and you think it is something.  He looked over at her not moving his head and it suddenly struck him she was a woman of nearly thirty years and not the girl of sixteen.  He saw her eyes were on the water and the play of the rippled light was on her eyes.  He said quietly, “Scarlet.”
     “I thought about you, all these years.  I think about you.”
     “I’ve thought about you too,” she said lightheartedly and her eyes stayed on the water. 
     “Please don’t.”
     “Don’t what?”
     “Say things that are not true,” and her eyes had not moved.  But it is true, he thought.  I never embellish.  The only lies I tell are understatements.  He said, “Your birthday is April first.  Your favorite color is yellow, because it reminds you of summer.”
     She laughed.  “How do you remember that?”
     “I just do.  I remember a lot.”
     “Your birthday is November …”
     “December fifteenth,” he said and wondered if this meant she did not love him.
     “December fifteenth,” she repeated passively.  She was standing to his right and she turned to the right and looking inside at the party said, “I’m pretty chilly.”

Alone on the balcony he peered down at the wide river of water moving through the passage.  The moon glimmer on the water acted as a charm and he saw Scarlet spread across the water as he had seen her spread across his bed on a night years ago.  When you were eighteen, sixteen seemed old enough, he told himself.  Now you see her out there as a girl and you feel ashamed looking at her.  But you will die with this.  He took up the wineglass she had abandoned on the balustrade and he tilted it to his mouth and tasted the cool glass and bitter drops.

What is it, man?” said an old friend.  They were at the table with the food and the punch and the bottles of wine.  James kept peeking at Scarlet on the far side of the room.  The man she was talking with touched her elbow.  She was smiling.  “I’m sorry,” James said.
     “You look lost,” his friend said.
     “I think I am.”
     “You know it happens all the time.”
     “What’s that?” asked James.
     “I mean, it’s boring—you not being over Scarlet.  How long were you guys a couple, like two months or something?”
     “Excuse me.”  James got up.  In the bathroom he washed his hands and then dabbed his face.  Scarlet was at the door when he opened it.  Their eyes met for a blink.  “I have to go,” she said.  “It was nice to see you.”
     “You too.”
     “Walk me to my car?”

Out by her car she said, “I should be in bed and asleep.  My flight leaves really early.”
     “I'm sorry.”
     “It’s my fault.  It was good to see everyone.”  He went to open her door.  She touched his hand.  “James, if what you said is true, if you’ve really thought about me over the years, what have you thought?”
     “That I wished I knew you," he said.  "Every day I regret what did not happen between us.”
     “You took my virginity.  What else did you want?”
     I love you, he thought.  I love you.  Let me kiss you.  Let me tell you.
     “Goodnight,” she said and opened the door.  She got in.  He stood there feeling a calm like still air. 

The long driveway was narrow and tunnel-dark under the tall evergreen trees that leaned over it.  She drove fast up it and onto the road.  You are a liar, she thought.  Have I thought about you?  Of course.  Ten thousand times.  But you hurt me once.  No man will ever hurt me more than that.  Who are you, James?  She wanted to go back and ask.  Yet she had to get to bed.  Her flight departed incredibly early.  “And we never really knew each other,” she said softly to herself.  “What I feel cannot be love.”                  


Yosemite, an Entry

     Then we were out of the car and I was better.  The air was rich with sage and the grass tall and the sage all around us.  I broke off a bloom of sage and held the buds to my nose.  I clutched the branch as if to have it forever.  I lost it that night.  But the sun was warm in the valley.  We trod on a wooden walkway over the grass and over the sage and mulberry that grows thick in the heart of the valley.  El Capitan thrusted up over us like a testament.  The granite was streaked with black and vertical gashes cached with minerals knifed down the walls.  The valley went on and on.  River flows plunged over sharp ledges spraying finales of snowmelt far down into mist.
     I felt good of a sudden.  Maybe it was he was behaving or my back feeling better or leading on foot or being out of the machine and gawking at it all or everything and it an accumulation.  Adventure I said to him.  It smells good.  Hold the sage to your nose.  Smell it and smell the leaning tower of rock like an ancient achievement and not chaos who is the giver of beauty in nature even if there is no God.
     No God.  Look at this valley I said to the boy who was happy too out of the car and running through the grass until it was too tall to run.  Walking and then the thick hairs of the earth rashing his face and she saying we better go back the grass too tall and we better get going if we are going to see it all or even a lot of it we have to go now.
     Go now fine back in the car and he did not fight.  Adventure cartwheeling in his head soft and curly and you are a good hiker good job Daddy.  The sign.  Read it.  Mountain lion habitat keep children close and we kept him close alright I held his hand and the rocks were covered in moss and behind any of them we did not know and I said it is like the book you know the part I will fear no evil for thou art with me yes and we struggled through it and he said good job my Mommy good job Daddy.  The old path our great grandparents walked was cobblestone up through the trees like the streets on the islands of Greece she said.  We had no fear of the mountain lion though he handed me rocks he wanted to take home and I held them thinking a primitive weapon to smash the skull of an attacking beast.
      At the mirror lake the naked back of half dome was ineffable.  Its massiveness and tallness was like something I do not know but the boy saw it Amazing so cool he said and yes it is good to have words to say just or close to what you feel and he will be okay I thought.
     By the time we made it back to the car the day was I guess over.  He had hiked two or even three miles and good for the little boy.  He will be better than me.  Yes better.  Love nature more truly.  Have memories more fully of things I never knew as a toddler or ever even now for you can only experience some things that wondrous way if you are a child and if you missed it you did and better move on and spin it to be a positive because you can make things better for your children.
     I have trouble with the name of the big waterfall we looked at before driving back to Fresno.  I was more worried about keeping the boy safe not falling off the bridge and there were a lot of people and the bridge for picture taking did not seem safe for children who all like to get close to the edge.
     At one point when I was up at mirror lake I thought it would be nice to be alone up here with my notebook so I could capture it in words and not try to recreate it later like now.  I think it was good though to hold the hand of the boy who will know more than I know and to keep or try to keep the woman with child happy for I felt my ancestors did in the forests and hills of Germany and maybe the natives here in America this sort of thing where you walk in the midst of cliffs and thunderous falls through the trees and mossy rocks and up the slippery rock slopes to the supine lake shallow to cross barefooted with the child in your arms and the woman saying wait wait I am going to take a picture.
     I saw the smell of sage standing there with my fingers to my nose in the wild tall grass in the heart of the valley of the gods.  I tasted the black streaks down the granite walls and heard the rock hardening and condensing under the weight of the universe.  I felt the twisting tree trunks screwing upward off the steep hillsides.  I saw the wind how it moved the clouds in the afternoon so on the far slope towns of trees were dark green and others light green and the white in the sunlight on the pine needles and the shadow how it clarified the peaks of the trees.  Even the buses and the people more interested in Oh who am I to say what except I was happy when we got there and on our feet and the grass curious against our legs.  He fell once and cried I fell on purpose and pretended to cry and he said you okay Daddy.  Just get up.  I got up and we went on through the woods with the rock in my hand.  I held him all the way down to the car.  My muscles are older than I am.  I just locked him in my arms and clopped down the road that most people take to the lake of words cannot describe beauty.