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The Edge

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.
A man rock climbing.

We could've camped back in the junipers, two famished birds, a hairbreadth away from each other. Our language might've been more faithful; the lights might've been on in our thinking. We could've done without that edge, without that gaping hole, without that no-sound of the desert thrumming in our ears, stoning us in.

Our mending could've taken place out of the wind, beyond the buzz of the chasm, away from the bats, but you were not bashful of the edge and the clamor and the earth's bones in that sapped light.

You felt most aligned with that edge nearby. I wanted the middle, far away from cliffs and cracks. For seven days, I was like all things in the desert: barely alive, waiting for clouds or late afternoon thunderstorms, some sort of kiss. The days were no longer lazy assumptions like they used to be when the brink was obscure and always out of earshot, when we were steadfast, close to the axis.

And there you stood, at ease, out of love, enjoying your time on that rocky lip that held the last breath, the last word, the last view of emptiness.

When we arrived in Mexican Hat, you were all smiles and already miles away. You still held sway, making sure we arrived in advance of the harvest moon, emphasizing that I bring those items that would make you happy: Swedish Fish, the heavy Coleman lantern, a bottle (not a box) of wine. I felt sick; I wanted new rituals to take root, an untouched narrative to sprout up in the seven days we had together.

You were eager for the stone and sweep. I wanted to match your pace again, but you bee-lined for the rim while I lingered back. No matter how much fresh air I took in or how long my eyes rested there on the stone or on your backside, my anxiety remained.

I couldn't escape the suns epilogue either — six nights of the same conclusion, the same closure. I tried to rewrite, reset, and rekindle, but even the moon was dissolving, sucked on by that darkness night after night. You read your book in the tent, sometimes with your back to me. I was just an eavesdropper, bound to lose sight, bound to that darkness.

Each day, at noon, we would lift our bodies from the stone, set aside our motionless talk and move with slow feet down through the strata into the heat of the bottom, barely a glance between us. We would swim, our soft and solitary sounds echoing through the canyon — small endings, meager rituals for the sick at heart.

On the last day, we were up to our hips in cold water, standing there dumbly like mules, conscious of the new silence, of our moon-white flesh, of the stone staring at us. Eventually you went under, wallowing in the coolness, pressing your body against the river bottom. You remained submerged for as long as you could.

I watched as if that squirming mass below was a metamorphosis, that whatever broke the surface for a breath would not be the same being. What emerged wanted the dry, desert air, the bright world, more than it wanted me. In that moment before it surfaced, I raged for the world to be altogether different, to believe that something powerful was leading us on, that you couldnt leave for Las Cruces because it was nowhere to be found on the map, that you would have to come back with me to that dull and edgeless center.