July 3rd: Falls

Somehow, Amber and Mike managed to maneuver themselves into the bath tub together; they knelt across from each other in a shallow pool of milky water, their torsos revealed unabashedly to one another. Amber had never been in the bath with someone else.

Mike reached for the calamine lotion on the sink counter. He massaged the pink, fragrant cream into his palms and rubbed the lotion over her many, many mosquito bites. She felt the instant cooling sensation, but her skin was still irritated and full of swollen protrusions. He handed the bottle over to him and she did the same; he sighed; it was disdainful and rocky and full of jaded love.

*

They had reached the rocky edge, and peered over the guard rail; the falls were so loud, she could barely hear him, even though he was right next to her. She was hypnotized by the water’s insistent, faithful drop – smoothing out rocks, carving out land, unaware of its own power to do these things. The water’s white froth and the green, dampened beauty surrounding it was something to behold. She had been to Niagra Falls before, and other famous waterfalls around the world, but had never been so close that she could see the water’s hefty current so closely.

“Something, isn’t it?” asked Roger, audibly over the water’s rush. He the whole time, had been viewing the falls through his camera lens.

“Yeah,” she replied, shouting. She glanced around for Mike; he was on the other side of the canyon snapping photos of an eagle that could be seen overhead. She grinned at his back; such a tourist, Mike, in his long khaki shorts and Pendleton shirt.

It was a gray day and the sun was washed out by a bright white sky and enormous gray clouds. She could see her breath when she exhaled. The harshly cold humidity made a slick, gliding surface of the rocky lookout on which they stood. She and Roger, a long-time friend, Mike and Roger’s girlfriend Sadie, on the other side of the cliff, and a handful of strangers.She could feel something intangibly frightening about the afternoon; the slippery rocks, the brutality of the water. They were so high up the mountain and the town was miles and miles away; they drove up a winding path, lined with the violent Maligne River and thick ravines; higher and higher and higher, until civilization consisted of a barren hostel and a few cars perched at lookout points along the highway.

Roger and Sadie were a mismatched couple; Sadie was prim and young and very pretty, but incredibly high-maintenance. Roger was a kids’ soccer coach – outdoorsy and rebellious and always the first to make rash decisions, which Sadie audibly protested and for which Roger apologized profusely. Roger and had known Mike since childhood; the four of them came to Jasper together on what Sadie called ‘a couple’s retreat’; it was on their final night of this trip, at dinner, that Roger was planning on proposing to Sadie. They were to go for a walk around Lac Beauvert alone after they ate, and by the waterfront, Roger was going to get down on his hands and knees and ask to marry her. It was lovely and perfect, but ill-prepared, rushed and almost desperate. Amber had never liked Roger much.

“Isn’t it enchanting?” Sadie asked. She squealed when she talked; her voice reminded Amber of an upturned nose.

“Yeah,” Amber agreed. She smiled at Sadie. Poor Sadie; everyone knew something she didn’t; it was a good surprise, yet Amber couldn’t help but feel a small sense of betrayal in not telling her new friend – aquaintance, she corrected herself, about this grand proposal. It would change her life forever or alternatively, make her life in that moment awkward, confusing, terrifying and wordless. It was just too soon Amber felt. She wanted to warn Sadie.

“Hey ladies,” Roger said, coming up to them from behind, Mike in tow. Roger gave Sadie a kiss on the back of her neck; Mike gave Amber a tight squeeze. She looked at her watch and it was almost evening; by the time they got back to town, it would be dinner time. Amber’s heart thumped heavily.

“Let’s get a picture by the falls,” Roger said to his girlfriend, and he took her by the shoulders.

When Amber was little, her parents took her and her older sister to the Grand Canyon. It was enormous and terrifying and overwhelming, but even in childhood, Amber was overtaken by its perplexing beauty. While her mom and sister walked over to another lookout point, Amber’s father hoisted her up so she sat on the guardrail. She could feel the hot metal, burning under where she sat. Her arms and feet were dangling over the edge. She screamed and screamed and her dad laughed at her, leaving her there in his arms before placing her back on solid ground. She was never comfortable with heights again after that; she felt that fear in Sadie’s face as she looked at her and Roger.

Mike had his camera in hand. Sadie crossed her arms, tightened her feet, and stood next to her boyfriend. Roger put on a broad, egotistical smile and stepped over the guardrail; Sadie gasped.

“It doesn’t do anything anyways,” Roger scoffed.

Amber looked down at her leg; four mosquitoes were feeding from her knee at the same time and she was only just about to swat them away when she head a gut-wrenching yell. She looked up and Roger was no longer standing there. Sadie and Mike were dead in their tracks, the scant few other onlookers rushing over and peering, horrified over the guardrail. Sadie screamed and screamed and screamed, and then dropped to her knees. Clouds of mosquitoes gathered above her. Amber would remember those screams for the rest of her life. Mike looked at Amber, tearful and helpless. She rushed over to him, needing desperately for someone to hold onto; but when she reached Mike, she was afraid to touch him.

*

Years later, Amber got the courage to look at the photo; Roger stood with one foot on the guard rail, one foot on the rocks at the edge of the cliff; his hands were up in the air and he was grinning stupidly as if he was impressed by his cunning bravery. Sadie looked at him in the photo, disgusted.

Mike said it only took one second; Roger’s back foot slipped, and in an instant he was gone. It was like he had just vanished; it took Sadie even a few moments to notice or comprehend what had happened before her deafening screams.

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