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"Both in the Grand Canyon HQ at Sundown" by Ella Schwalb
April 23, 2015
Winnie saw the Grand Canyon in real life for the first time when she was 9, the summer after 3rd grade. Her mother had been a ranger there for a few years before Winnie was born, and made a long-awaited return to work as a human resources associate at the Grand Canyon National Park HQ, a beige slab of a building to the western edge of the park grounds.
They drove up for the first day in a park jeep along a service road, and got out for their first shared view. Her mom had this spot in mind, where no visitors would be, and when Winnie climbed up to the ledge to see she felt her eyes fall forward and across and her heart sweep side to side. She took a big gulp of it, stood there for at least a full minute, petting the powdery wings of the butterflies in her stomach, and then turned around and never looked back.
Her mom was hurt at first, and tried many times throughout June to lure her back to give it another try. Winnie was firm. “But it’s so beautiful….” visitors from across the country would say, pleading, offended, when they chatted with her in the HQ lobby, after she said that yes, she liked living here very much and no, she didn’t gaze into the Grand Canyon every day, or ever, in fact, after that one first time. She preferred the close quiet satisfaction of her little round jade bunny whose smooth curves she ran along the back of her hand, who grounded her when she put her warm thumb in the cool shallow ridge which marked the edge between its ear and its back.
One time she took it with her into the yellow tiled bathroom, across from the door to her mom’s office which was plastered with wildflower decals. She set it on the rim of the sink, and as she took her hand away from turning off the faucet, accidentally flipped it into the basin where it knocked over and around the drain cap, picking up water droplets. She scooped it out quickly, and since there were no paper towels she wiped it in the bottom of her shirt. It was alright, intact, a sturdy self-contained little thing, and she immediately replaced the bunny in its special perch next to the Roladex on her mom's desk. But she felt chilled and a little upset by the spots of bunny water against her abdomen which stayed stored, lingering in her shirt for the next 20 minutes. So spooked that she didn’t come back to pick it up and carry it around at all for three days afterward.
Her father came to visit one weekend in the middle of August. He couldn’t hear the firmness in her little girl voice when she said how much she didn’t want to go to the lookout with him, how she wanted to just sit with him on the little porch behind HQ, or go walking in the thin woods across the road where it was still so easy and possible to believe the canyon wasn’t there. But he insisted and so she saw it a second time. She couldn’t touch any fraction of it, and her eyes bleated with terror. When her father looked over at her with a ready smile, he saw those eyes and they struck fear into his heart. He waited it out for another few muted, wobbly minutes, gasping it in, but he left quickly and he never went back to the Grand Canyon either.