I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 19:
Becca smiled radiantly in her tan shorts and beige, sleeveless top. A small maroon backpack rested between her shoulder blades. She and Adam had flown to Utah for vacation, leaving behind their comfortable home in the outskirts of Baltimore. They had been hiking in Arches National Park in the May sun for the last four days and Becca’s normally white complexion glowed in uneven patches of reddish brown around her sunburned shoulders and face. Her dark brown hair occasionally fluttered about in soft tousles in the sun swept canyon breezes, soft curls of chestnut that she brushed away from her eyes with a combing stroke of open fingers. Although it was their last day of long hikes, Becca’s stride was as strong as ever.
Adam struggled to follow behind her, stumbling from time to time, worn and tired. He had read a series of studies on melanoma while an undergraduate and had developed a paranoid attitude regarding sun exposure and so he wore long khaki pants, a long-sleeved light blue cotton shirt and a wide-brimmed safari sun hat.
Becca peered back at Adam from a high ledge, chuckling at the weary, soft man trailing behind her, all bundled against the hot sun. Her characteristic freckles were visible underneath the sheen of pink-brown sunburn around her nose and cheeks. She shouted, her lean muscular arms hanging at her sides. “Come on. Let’s get to the arch.”
“Coming,” said Adam, pausing a moment to catch his breath, one hiking boot up on a rock, a listless brown hand resting above bended knee. They had hiked all morning, stopped for lunch and a rest, and were now completing their final trek of the trip. An hour into the early evening hike, Adam was growing tired. He gulped a series of forced, deep breaths, gazing about from underneath the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. The quiet coffee and russet landscape was flooded in daylight, at rest and peaceful. He took one last gasp and turned towards Becca, peeping up from under his safari hat. She was standing on a shelf of rocks above him, under the shadow and backdrop of tall protrusions of jutting brownish-red formations. She had both hands resting patiently on her hips, her bare arms and legs smooth and taut, smiling down at him like a child enjoying the clumsy antics of her new puppy.
“Come on, Mr. Limpy Dingy,” she teased.
“You not happy with our love life?” he shouted back across the dusted pebbles, joking, buying himself another moment of rest before he had to start moving again.
“Did I sound happy last night?” she said, never outdone in sarcasm or humor.
“You better be careful,” he said, half serious, walking towards her, feet aching with each labored step. “The walls in that cheap little hotel are pretty thin.”
“Who cares?” She turned and walked forward, laughing off his concern.
He finally reached her on the ledge, standing behind her with a silly look on his face. “Who cares?” he mocked in a contrived female voice.
“You gonna make it?” she asked, ignoring his humor, concerned for his endurance.
“We haven’t eaten in a while. Do you have anything in your backpack?” he said.
“No,” she replied, looking back over her shoulder. “Food isn’t all you need to get you through life.” She turned and moved forward.
He stood in place.
She stopped and looked back, sensing his stillness. She smirked and held her palm out to him. Her smirk turned to a smile that was at once both loving and teasing. “Come on.”
He trotted forward, grasping her strong hand and they moved forward together through the beautiful desert terrain, the sun throwing longer and longer shadows across the dusted trail and landscape as they trekked through the late afternoon light.
“I liked the rock art near the trail head,” he said at her from behind. Their hiking boots softly crunched at the pebbles and parched dust strewn all along the wide trail. He watched the muscles in her calves quietly flex and rest with each strong step. He wondered if she’d respond to his statement. She didn’t.
“How do you think those people viewed God?” he asked, persistent, beginning to pant as he strove to keep up with her.
“What people?” she shouted, not looking back.
“The ones who created the art that we saw. Those etchings. The gazelles and hunters and…” he paused, reassembling the images in his mind. “And were those horses?”
“Adi,” she said. A few steps later she finished her sentence. “Stop overthinking everything.”
They wandered the desert, through a procession of muted, scenic moments as the sun’s chariot dipped lower in the painted sky. Becca’s vigorous stride had opened a chasm of distance between her and Adam. Time to time, she would glance back to make sure that he was OK, that he was coming along. She smiled to herself each time she caught a glimpse of him struggling to keep up, plodding through the desert.
The trail faded into itself, conceding boundary and form to the larger landscape. The earth turned to brown powdered dust, tall, still cacti bearing witness to a cascade of lighted and shadowed images twinkling in dusk’s silent grace. A small lizard scurried across the sun baked soil, darting out from under a sanctuary of dry, rustling shrubs, vanishing into the caves and shadows of a scattered pile of crimson rock. Shade began its slow climb over the expanse of rolling desert plains, splashing a rippling current of fissured texture across the stern, old faces of the surrounding rocks and canyons. And the short wheat colored shrubs, relegated and invisible in the heavy glare of day, acquired personalities in the blossoming patches of soft, gray shade, the cooling desert breeze kneading through and about them in lulled, whispered whistles.
Adam’s legs became heavy and he stopped, stooped forward, his hands on his hips. He watched Becca’s silhouette ahead, a lithe spring bouncing within a still panorama of cacti and jutting rock formations. The soft, sideways sunlight cast a pleasant yellow hue on one side of everything and the air had cooled. Adam took off his hat. His sight expanded up and back and he felt connected to the blue-gray sky. He ran open fingers through his hair, brushing it back, letting the sweat on his scalp cool and dry. He stood in place and cleared his throat.
Becca heard him from far ahead. She stopped and turned, looking back at his still form across the expanse of desert. Although Adam couldn’t see her face at that distance, her carriage and stance showed concern. “I’m fine,” he shouted to her, waving his hand in her direction. “Just taking a rest.”
“Do you want me to walk back?” Her hardy voice skipped along the powdered path and bounced through the shaded hollows of rock.
“No, just give me a minute.”
“I’ve given you seven years. You can have another minute,” she said.
He moved ahead in gradual, languid steps, watching her form grow larger as he approached. Her sunburned arms and legs reflected the falling sun in a glow of long golden lines. A sudden breeze brushed a tousle of brown curl over one of her eyes and she tossed it back with a smooth swirl of her neck.
“What do you think about planting a weeping willow in the backyard next spring?” she shouted to him.
“I think that’s a great idea,” he said in between heavy breaths.
“Come on, Baby Cakes,” she said. “We get there in time, we can watch the sunset through the eye of the arch.”
He stopped, leaning forward, hands on his hips.
“It’s downhill all the way back,” she reminded.
He trudged ahead, dragging his hiking boots across the powdery terrain, leaving behind long, strewn footprints.
She waited, smiling, watching him.
“I think I’ll throw myself off the next ledge,” he joked, making a series of clumsy gestures to dramatize his exhaustion.
“Don’t tempt fate,” she said. “Come on, Mr. Girly-Man,” she teased. “I’ll draw a hot bath for you when we get back to the room. But don’t make too much noise in the tub,” she added in a goofy, contrived voice, now she mocking him. “Remember, the walls are awful thin.”
“Very funny,” he said, finally reaching her.
They stood alone in the desert, facing each other in silence.
“What?” she said softly, an awkward smile on her freckled face.
He didn’t answer, watching her gray eyes. Her face fell into a comfortable repose. A dry, gentle breeze curled cat-like through the still space between their standing forms. He gave her a kiss, not a very good one at all, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Come out and play, Adi,” she whispered. “There’s a whole world outside your head.”
He watched her gray eyes.
“Come,” she breathed the softly rasped syllable while tilting her thin torso forward, holding a muscled, sunburned arm towards him, palm open in invitation. “Come. We’ll walk together the rest of the way.”
He grasped her firm hand and they trudged forward. He walked faster, not wanting to slow her down. She walked slower, not wanting to leave him behind. The sun continued to plunge lower in the horizon as they made their way to the lovely arch. They moved quietly, in peace, as the sun threw cinnamon-laced honey here and there across the distant hilltops.
They followed the trail as it swung behind a ridge and carved itself into a steep cliff of pinkish crème sandstone. Steps had been cut into the sandstone at points where the slope became steep. The hard path continued to curl up and around the waist of the large rock formation. They followed its steep slopes in the gray shade of twilight, Adam now on his hands and knees, afraid of the large drop growing at the fenceless edge.
“Come on. You’re doing great,” Becca encouraged him, not far ahead.
They finally reached the top and stood side by side, gazing ahead at the broad, flat plane of reddish gray sandstone that lay before them in a slightly downhill slope. A deep, black fissure cut across the stone plane, splitting one slab of rock from the next. Ahead, across the fissure, stood the lovely delicate arch that they had come to see. They walked towards it, their legs appreciative of the descending slope after having walked uphill for so long.
Adam peered at the arch. One of its legs stood much thicker and broader than the other. An arm curled up and around, connecting the legs, creating a large, framed arch atop a broad expanse of lovely reddish gray sandstone.
“I bet the striations mark the ages,” said Adam, pointing at the horizontally layered texture of the arch.
“Forget the ages,” said Becca. “It’s beautiful to look at here and now.”
They peered over and through the arch, to where the distant slopes and hills reached up and touched the thinly clouded twilight sky.
“The Lord’s one hell of a painter, huh,” Adam exclaimed, stunned. “How would you like to have all of that to yourself?”
“I’d rather just have a good life,” said Becca.
Adam looked about, soaking in the wonder that was the world. He suddenly felt someone watching him. He turned and noticed a silly smile on Becca’s face.
“What?” he said.
“I got you something in that little gift shop we ducked into yesterday,” she said.
He looked confused.
“The one we went into so you could use the bathroom,” she reminded. She pulled off her maroon backpack and slung it down in front of her, yanking open its top zipper. She reached in and pulled out a small plastic carousel and held it towards him, resting it in the middle of her palm. Her face broke into a toothy, dimpled grin as she watched him. Adam stood still as she moved her free hand to a butterfly-shaped key on the side of the carousel and wound it, sending a ratcheting burr into the placid twilight with each sharp wind. She let go of the key and the carousel began to turn, playing “Silent Night” in a surprisingly melodious series of chimes. She giggled at him. The carousel began a second chorus and she sang along with it. Her voice was lovely, floating across the desert air in delicate, affectionate tones. The carousel had begun to wind down and its chimes slowed. She slowed her singing to fit its pace, finishing.
She moved her palm towards him, offering him the gift.
He picked it off her palm with a smile. “Thank you,” he said.
“You like it?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
They strolled across the hard sandstone and sat at a vantage point where the arch stood off to one side and from where they could gaze over the broad expanse of rock at the faraway hilltops, the clouds, the unending skies and the orange horizon. Becca reached again into her backpack and pulled out two small ceramic teacups and a thermos. She threw Adam a smile as she opened the thermos and poured hot chocolate into each teacup. She handed the sugary concoction to Adam. “I know you’ll like this.”
Adam took a small first sip, smiled, and took another bigger one. “You’re right,” he said. “I love it.”
They finished their warm drinks in silence as the sun set across the quiet horizon, throwing reddish gold rays of last light on the distant, tree studded hills. A few minutes later the sky started to darken and the stars began to show. Adam looked over at Becca, his knees up in front of him. She smiled at him, sitting cross-legged. They sat in silence in the enveloping twilight, resting under a canopy of star-splashed heavens.
The night suddenly became more silent, cooling in a quick plunge. A rustle of air gathered and moved behind them, mixing spicy tones of musk into the arid desert scents. Becca turned hastily, her brow furrowed in curiosity and surprise, looking about. Nothing. She turned back around and glanced at Adam. His head was bowed in a dour reminiscence. The gathered air brushed its graceful fingertips over Becca’s bare, sunburned shoulders in paternal gratitude, leaving behind goose bumps as it curved towards and around Adam. The gentle breath came around again and then again, until it had completed seven circles around them, and then floated off into the ageless desert, its ashen palm fading, a pale smile turning away into darkness.
Becca faced Adam. “Do you want to get married?”
Adam choked on his hot chocolate. He moved his hand quickly to cover his mouth, dropping his teacup. It fell to the hard sandstone in a tiny, shattered crash. “Damn it,” he muttered in hushed exclamation.
“Relax,” she said, stretching forward to pick up the pieces. “Let me get this cleaned up and we’ll move to another spot. I don’t want you getting a piece of glass in your butt.” Becca policed the broken shards into a plastic baggy and they stood to move. She watched Adam’s face intently as she slung her backpack over one shoulder and onto her back, pulling the straps secure under each armpit.
Adam avoided her eyes. He knew that she wanted him to answer her question, but he was afraid. She noticed his awkwardness, sensed his hesitation, and decided to let it drop…for now.
They strolled together a few feet across the sandstone, swimming next to one another in a darkening pond of twilight. Her still silence was uncharacteristic. It made Adam uncomfortable.
“I love you, Becca,” he blurted.
She smiled. “I know,” she said. She moved her palm behind Adam’s head, cupping the back of his scalp firmly, and turned his face towards her. She craned her neck forward, moving her mouth onto his. Her lips were firm, her kisses always strong and forceful. She pulled back from him, her eyes on his mouth a moment, a lost look on her face. Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes lifted to meet his. He watched the sun’s retreating rays behind him, reflected in her pupils. The characteristic smile that was her public signature slowly formed over her mouth and a teasing spring burrowed its way back into her voice. “Now suppose you could reduce that sensation to ‘X equals negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four times A times C divided by two times A?’”
“Suppose you could?” he wondered.
“It wouldn’t mean shit,” she teased. “It wouldn’t make one hill o’ beans of difference to how much I love kissing you.”
She turned to watch the sunset, standing next to him. He felt her shoulder against his and realized how much he liked that feeling. The drying sweat on the back of his shirt felt refreshing in the cool air. They stood noiselessly, side by side, as the noble desert night joined them, a quiet, imperial stranger with a soft, gray beard, wearing a flowing robe of purple felt.