Excerpt from Linda Danz's collection of short stories: Breath Visible, published by Bookbaby, December 2017
Out of the Blue
After Trudy’s session with the TENS unit the following morning, they stepped over the sleeping Pink Lips and headed for Mooney Falls. They had saved the precipitous sandstone challenge for last. A low-riding, spiky-haired mongrel—halfway between a schnauzer and a dachshund—led the way.
Posted signs warned extreme caution, and risk figured largely in the trail’s description. Tommy started down. Trudy followed, slower and far less confident. She stepped carefully through a small cave and then panicked in the open. Trudy eyed the wet rocks, the rusted chains. Tommy shouted above the roar of the falls that the ladders were slippery, and he motioned for her to wait. She imagined the gory scene two hundred feet below. She’d be horribly maimed. He would have to climb back up with her tied to his back. Encumbered, they would fall to their deaths.
Trudy pointed to her shoulder, shook her head and grimaced. “Have fun,” she croaked. “Take your time.”
She was red-faced and lathered with sweat. Hikers were forced to retreat or press out of her way as she scrabbled back up the trail. She was sure they heard the hollow sound of fear in her chest. She aimed for the blinding sun above.
At the top of the trail, Trudy took stock of her surroundings. The little dog was nowhere to be seen. She shuddered at what might have been. The roar of falling water did nothing to assuage her anxiety. Dragonflies zipped and dived, snapping her into the present. She skirted around head-bobbing lizards and monarch butterflies immobilized by the heat. At the creek she removed her boots and socks, lowered herself carefully to the bank and sank her bare feet into the cool rushing water.
Here was a verdant oasis sprung from a parched landscape. Trudy thought about what Rennie Eagleflyer had told her in the tepee, right after Trudy’s spirit had been cleansed with turkey feathers and just before Rennie had plunged her arm, up to the elbow, into Trudy’s stomach to remove bad spirits. Just like Supai village, often parched and battered by floods, there is still fresh water in every living soul. “The gods watch over us in many forms,” Rennie had said.
Tommy had come up with the idea for the trip. Trudy had rejected it immediately. They were going to have to tighten their belts. He was persuasive and kept bringing her attention to websites he’d found on the Internet. When she stopped objecting—showed some interest—he reacted as if it was settled. He threw himself into planning the adventure with what she could only describe as joy. They joked about the adventure ahead. Trudy sensed a fleeting return to their common hilarity.
She had called herself a poet once. Published a few chapbooks. Her poems appeared in chapbooks downtown. She performed in venues like the disused gas station on Avenue B and festivals in Tompkins Square Park. Her close friend was an elfin, speed-talking punk rocker named Suzie Q. Back then they were freelancers at Hachette and would remain best friends. They riffed on everything their synergy afforded them. They fought the good fight, clutching shot glasses of bourbon like grenades. They stabbed the stale air of late nights with sweet-smelling joints, cheered whatever punk band Tommy was in and then struggled through a corporate day. By the time places like Nuyorican Poets Cafe breathed life into the downtown scene, Trudy’s life as a poet was gasping for air.
She went back to school at night. Susan went home to Ohio. Trudy rose up through the ranks at Hachette, when you could still get in on the ground floor. Susan remade herself, married, and homeschooled her kids. Then she got her Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree. When Jim Carroll died, Trudy and Susan mourned their hero in so many phone calls, weeping immodestly. They called those days of poetry and rock “the blue times of torment,” a long way from now.
Trudy drew her head from side to side, easing the tightness in her neck. The creek ran through a cathedral of whip-thin willows that fanned under the taller, sturdier cottonwood trees. Cool water lapped at her bare feet, making a sound like a quiet hymn and calming her immeasurably. She twisted as best she could to look over her shoulder. She was utterly alone.
How long does it take, she mused, to learn how to listen to the tree people, and the rock people, and the water people? Would she ever gain that eagle-eyed vision?
She ducked suddenly, an involuntary reaction to a looming shadow that skated overhead. She saw the wingspread first as it fanned its innumerable greyish-blue feather fingers, nearly touching her. A majestic creature—that she would later learn was a great blue heron—lowered its dark, wire-thin legs like landing gear and lit soundlessly onto the creek. It turned its head and looked directly at her. Trudy’s breath quickened. She held its gaze for the split second it took before the bird stretched its serpentine neck and, seemingly lifting its massive body with the strength of its beak, soared out of sight.