Lana Elizabeth Gabris
“Stop!” My cry was meant to be a holler, but no sound passed my lips as she ran by, bare feet kicking dust as she darted though the dry trees, the bright leaves groping as though they could stop her, the morning dew long gone. I’d fallen on the rocks and she’d slipped from my grasp, hair whipping at my wrist on an echo of her laugh.
Ahead the trail only grew steeper, trees shortening against the years of wind, yet refusing to let go of their hold, while shorter shrubs thrived. The sun was high enough there was no shadow to follow as I grasped at a boulder and propelled myself past the last great clawing root. A tree trunk split and torn still scorched from a century old storm pointed the way.
I squinted against the glare off the shale, the pale fade of her hem disappearing over and beyond a shaded wall of moss. I heaved myself off my knee, stumbling to catch up, always out of reach.
Over my shoulder the rocks hid the trail but I never glanced back, only looking before me. Tendrils of ivy, the red balls shimmering as the leaves trembled, grabbed at my ankles as I tread by them. My head snapped around at a soft giggle and my ankle rolled. I fell, the leaves and dirt offering no cushion, the wind pulled from me as I rolled, landing on my side, jarring my teeth.
The trail circled to top of the mountain, pathing around the rocks. From where I lay panting, I could see the edge of the rocks, where they rolled over into the steep cut-off stretching down over the tree tops far below.
She stood, just out of reach, toes curled over the edge of the rock, fingers twined in her skirt. I called for her, struggling to my knees. She smiled, chin pressed into her shoulder, long hair tangled over her arm. Her eyes closed and she fell, even as I leaped forward only for my fingers to close around nothing as I gasped, stepping back, hands empty.
I was alone, the warm breeze rustling the leaves, the valley below pristine. Again I had ran, never able to catch her. I dropped to my knees, pressing my fist against my forehead, my other hand digging into the hot rocks, the sand grinding against my skin.
The wind crawled over my cheek and I turned away from it, the memory of the warm scent of her still lingering, never seeming to fade. I closed my eyes and slowly leaned into my knees, imagining the wind pushing at me, forcing me back.
“Your hand is bleeding.” The soft voice made me look down, my palm stinging, to see the sand and rocks crushed into my fist, a stream of crimson banding around my knuckles. A shadow passed over my shoulder, smiling copper eyes over a lightly freckled nose as light fingers reached for mine. The pebbles fell from my grasp and I sat back on my heels as she dabbed at my hand with a blue bandanna, emblazoned with patterns of ponies, nipping as she pressed.
“That’s better.” She left the cloth in my grasp and shrugged out of her packsack, hair pulled into a braid snagging on the strap, a checked shirt her blanket as she sat beside me. Out of her pack came a water bottle and I shook my head at her offer. She crossed her ankles, hugging her knees and stared out over the valley, resting her chin on her arm.
“This is the place to say goodbye isn’t it? I don’t think there’s anywhere closer to…” Her voice trailed and she ran a finger along her neck to pull at a chain, her small hand wrapping around a tiny cross. In my pocket, against my chest, the gold from the pendant I’d kept close to my heart, burned as she ran her thumb over her chain.
I looked away, a bee darting from a honeysuckle, its wings battering the wind before summersaulting into the clouds and she shifted beside me. Out of the corner of my eyes I watched her slender fingers untangle the chain from her hair, wrapping the links around her wrist and she rested on her knees, holding her hand out over the edge.
Her eyes closed, the chain slipped free and was gone in one glancing flash. She turned her hand over, sighing and touched my arm.
I turned the pendant over in my palm, remembering how it gleamed against her skin, how it had always tangled where the cat had snagged the links. The breeze picked up, tugging at the ivory carving and I let it slide to my fingertips. If I let go, I could never catch it again.
It swirled through the air, gleaming, and singing against the blue jay above my shoulder. My breath caught and I stumbled forward.
I had to catch it, even as hands grabbed at me, tugging me back and I spun to look down into copper, my heart pounding, boots catching on the rocks sending moss to chase what I had thrown away.
Her hand was warm through my shirt, my reflection in her eyes hard with blame against her soft lashes. “Look.” She whispered and I followed her pointed finger to see night was falling, the trees growing dark, light stolen, stars already starting to pinprick around the moon.
Where the trail lay, the rocks gleamed a gray path beneath my boots, the sand crunching as I made my way down. Resisting the urge to look back as I followed her, wondering if I had slipped would I have the caught the gleam of gold before it reached the bottom.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty is one of those words truly belonging within one’s own mind. As writers, we take such great pains in describing lovely things in ways that have never been spoken or spun into clichés (cornflower blue eyes, anyone?).
Ever since I started taking myself seriously as a writer, beauty has manifested itself into the flex of a horse’s neck pausing midstride on a hill, to the curve of a lover’s cheek and sunlight cascading in waves down unreachable cliffs, sparkling through leaves (in video game speak ‘god rays’).
Yet in all these words, you can never really capture why it’s a beauty to you. I’ve come to discover I find beauty in all the imperfections we see in ourselves; the nose broken from a fight; the scar from a quarrel with a sibling or a chipped tooth. It’s even harder to capture why the catch in the singers from your favorite song makes your heart flutter, and press repeat before the last chorus completes.
To me, beauty is what makes me pause, look and sometimes listen twice.
Lana Elizabeth Gabris currently lives in the heart of British Columbia with her floor to ceiling sagging bookshelves, along with her fiancé and their much loved dogs of various sizes. Her illustrations of flora have been published in several outdoor magazines across North America. Her fiction recently appeared in The Copperfield Review and Cowboy Jamboree.