It was night when we got there but we still went out to see it, treading tentatively to the rim. There was nothing—so much of it. I felt something. By the time I put a word to it, a fancy word, “awe,” it was replaced by giddiness at the fact that I was feeling anything at all. Everyone went in. I stayed out in the razor-sharp cold confusing myself. Why was I so moved? After all, there was nothing there. I looked back to the lodge and thought I saw someone, perhaps my boyfriend, coming out to get me. I started rehearsing a speech about how I couldn’t pull myself away, etc. The shadowy figure passed right by. I felt silly, frantic. I hurried into the lodge to join the group.
Tomorrow was New Year’s Eve. There were eight of us: three couples and Sophie and Karen, who as the two single ladies were forced into sharing a room. There was excitement in the air, like on a date that’s going well. Would this culminate in an orgy? Probably not, seeing as we were writers. Anyway, I had no desire to fuck anybody there, including my boyfriend. But everyone was so charming. Greta’s hat fell awkwardly to just above her eyebrows. Her as-of-two-days-ago husband, David, was angry that we were crashing his honeymoon, and the anger made his eyes even bluer. Sophie’s silky black hair had a mermaid quality, as if she were moving through water. She disappeared to tend to a troubled love affair by phone. Karen’s timeless cheekbones gave our group some dignity. Dan kept looking things up on his phone and reading the answers aloud, as if the facts could solve anything. He was very tall. His girlfriend, Becca, was focused on getting up early to see the sun rise over the canyon. The first time she said it I shouted my desire to join, but as she kept repeating it I realized there was nothing I wanted to do less.
The next morning we had breakfast in the copulation chamber of the newlyweds. The Costco-size container of plain yogurt had been left out on the counter and there were specks of soggy granola in it. I scooped some into a plastic cup and ate quickly so as to not delay the group, finishing up just as David was contemplating whether to add a touch of honey to his marvelous parfait that included the last of everything precious.
It was my first time actually seeing the canyon. And with every blink I saw it anew, so as we descended I kept seeing it over and over and over again, and it got to be hard to remember a time when I hadn’t been seeing it, and hard to imagine that a time would come when it wouldn’t be all that I saw. It seemed a little defeated, melancholic, very beautiful. If I could grant the Grand Canyon a wish, it would be a day off to go see some other attraction, perhaps ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower or even just visit Las Vegas and play the slots.
The trail was icy. The soles of Karen’s boots had no grip. She kept slipping and sliding and significantly slowing the group. An elderly hiker noticed her struggles and gave her one of his walking sticks, but it was too late, the fear was inside her. Each step was cautious and fumbling and no amount of encouragement was going to get her to speed up. Greta and her sister, whom I forgot to mention because it’s unfair that people have sisters, were former athletes, and they grazed on assorted nuts every twenty minutes. The conversation among the women revolved around psychotherapy—who was seeing whom, preferences, rates. The sun came out. Our top layers came off. When it wasn’t wise to keep going any lower we pretended to see the stream at the bottom and set up for lunch. Greta and David took the best spot so I sat in the worst spot with the most squashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When the canteen came around to me there was barely half a sip left.
All the horrible faces we’d been looking at on the way down suddenly made sense. Now we were the horrible faces. The donkeys overtook us. David and Greta made the steep ascent look effortless. The husband wrapped his arm languorously around his wife and they climbed in step, up, up, up. My boyfriend and I never found ourselves beside each other. No one walked beside him. He was a maniac. I focused on my feet and tried to contract my butt muscles so that they might grow firm and round like Greta’s.
We took shrooms and watched the sun set over the big dumb thing. I was happy the moment a substance entered my body that promised to change the way things were, and I was happy that those who didn’t want anything to change were pressured into taking it, too. I wanted Greta to be separated from her contentment for a little while. But in fact the drug only seemed to intensify our differences. Back in the room, Greta and David took up the bed like a king and queen. There was no room for the rest of us. Karen, oblivious, lay across the bed by the married feet. Everyone else found themselves on the floor. The men were pushed out into the world. They somehow missed that this was because Sophie had started weeping. Greta gave her a New Year’s resolution to stop doubting herself, because she was gorgeous and brilliant. Greta felt inspired to give us all resolutions. Karen’s was to stop letting her boss abuse her, because she was an asset to any editorial team; Becca’s to stop saying sorry, because she never did anything wrong; mine to stop tanning, because my skin showed signs of damage. When the sexes reconvened, the men asked whether we’d had a satisfying sapphic tryst.
Midnight caught us at the premier fine-dining establishment. The waiters looked like they’d been there since the canyon’s first day. My boyfriend took the potpourri out of the giant martini glass and poured half the bottle of wine into it. He brought it to his lips and took a dainty sip. Everyone rejoiced. The canyon called to me but I couldn’t tear myself away. Every time I was about to excuse myself, someone said something to draw me back in. I gave up trying. A fantastic boom resounded. The giant windows shattered. A waft of freezing air rushed in. Our table was suddenly at the precipice. I threw my sustainable salmon into its muddy jaws. It took a bite out of the table, taking along Greta, David, and my boyfriend too, swallowing everything around me, of which there seemed so much, and in exchange spitting up an infinitesimal grain, a laughable scrap, almost nothing, but not.
Our prolonged discomfort was meant to show us how lucky we were to live in the city, how lucky we were to have an education that brought us closer to the modern world.
The French teacher erupted into this airtight world like a revolution. A carnal shock. She would stand in the light of the tall classroom window, to open or close the sash, and her long thin cotton skirt would turn almost transparent.