I dig my fingers into the pockets of my jacket and tilt my face towards the sun. The sharp wind of fall stings my cheeks. I want to drink in the spaciousness of this place, disappear into the rust red canyon, become the shadows dancing on painted rock.
Behind me, there are voices belonging to people pointing cameras and fingers at the enormity that surrounds us. One of the voices belongs to my travel companion for the day, Mark the meteorologist. He’s made a point to stop every tourist we pass, asking them where they’re from and what trails they plan on taking while visiting the Grand Canyon.
We met on Couchsurfing a few weeks earlier, and although I didn’t end up staying with him, I took him up on his offer to take me on a hike. The canyon is his backyard; he knows it the way I know the hidden creeks and wide curves of the slow-moving river down the street from my duplex back in Florida.
“Germany?” I hear Mark ask another tourist.
“Austria!” the man bellows.
I inch closer to the rock’s edge, peering down at the layers of sediment stacked beneath my feet. A shard loosens and falls into the canyon, a tiny part of this massive whole.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” the meteorologist asks his new friend.
“Of course! And then I take one of you and your girlfriend!”
My heart cringes at the word. I feign temporary deafness, but Mark calls my name twice.
The meteorologist and I don’t correct the Austrian. Instead, we hand him our cameras, stand dutifully in front of the unfathomable view, and smile, arms dangling like dead fish at our sides. My smile is tight-lipped, my eyes squinting into the Arizona sun. I won’t bother checking the photo afterwards to make sure he’s taken a decent shot.
It’s not the Austrian’s fault. It’s not wrong to assume that two people visiting the Grand Canyon together would be lovers. How would he know that I only met Mark this morning, in the half-light of morning?
“Thanks,” I say to the Austrian, retrieving my camera from his bulky hands. I try to keep the sarcastic tilt out of my voice.
Back in the car, Mark drives so that I can take in the last of the views on our way out of the park.
“Halloween’s tomorrow,” he says.
“Mhm,” I say. “You going to dress up?”
He laughs. “I just pass out candy to the kids.”
On the steering wheel, his left hand is hairless and naked.
“Are you a vegetarian?” Mark asks.
“Nope,” I say, snapping another picture of the view outside my window—canyons within canyons. “Why do you ask?”
“I shot my first elk of the season, and I was wondering if you wanted to come over tomorrow night for some elk stew.”
Although my first instinct is to always say yes to venison, I pause.
“I’ll have to see what my friend has planned for Halloween.” How is Mark to know that Cait, the friend I came to the conference with, is leaving tonight?
The whole drive down from the canyon, I go back and forth about the elk stew. You should go, I think. He’s nice enough to show you all over the Grand Canyon, and now he’s inviting you over for dinner. Why not? You don’t have anything else planned.
But the question tugs at me: What’s the point? This is not my town, not my time zone. Kissing men who live in far-off places has lost its appeal over the years.
Later that night, I text him my thanks and an apology. It was a beautiful trip to the canyon. Thanks for being such a great guide! My friend already had Halloween plans so I’ll have to take a rain check on the elk stew.
The next morning, I spy a flyer in the bathroom of a coffee shop—a brass band from New Orleans playing a Halloween show at a venue nearby. I buy a single ticket and wait until eight p.m. to apply a single coat of red lipstick.
Walking to the show, I push my hands into my jacket pocket and clutch my key between my fingers; I am a stranger to this city, and I take shadows for bodies waiting to pounce. The streets are dark, and shouts of laughter echo between buildings. I wonder if Mark still made the elk stew, and if he’s eating it alone in his warm house. How many children have come to his door, asking for chocolate and gummy worms in their cheerleader costumes and mummified getups? Beneath my jacket, I am dressed in all black. I think of what I will tell people if they ask about my costume, but I don’t speak to a soul all night.