The dark-haired girl stood on the edge of the path, holding up two cell phones and lining them up in front of her. At first I couldn’t see what she was doing, and then I saw the second girl down the bank a little, between the trees, the stream flashing behind her. The dark-haired girl was taking pictures, smiling, and the girl on the bank stood with her arms out, smiling too, in the dappled sunlight.
I walked past them, tempted for a moment to offer to take pictures of both of them, together. But I prefer to be alone, not to interfere, so I waved and went on by, and they waved back.
I walked on for a while, and then turned back, and saw them coming towards me, walking out of the low evening light, with the wind blowing a dusty haze up behind them so they were outlined and illuminated. They walked so close together their arm hairs must have tingled, but they maintained the tiniest, most delicate distance between them.
They squealed when they saw the dogs, and bent to pet them. Plump white flesh swelled over the top of the light-haired girl’s shirt. Her arms were round and dimpled and the flesh pressed secretively together when she bent her arms. I wanted to touch her, to slip my fingers between the curve of her shoulder and her bent head. I wanted to feel the moist warmth of her skin. It sounds creepy, s*exual, but it wasn’t. It was the same urge I feel with mounds of cool sand, or with rich, dark dirt under shady trees in the hot summer, or with crumpled leaves. I always want to run my fingers along the trails of blazing light outlining blades of grass in the late summer evening. I want to touch the dew drops on spiderwebs, to feel them burst and diffuse over my skin. There is something so alive in dirt and sand and the roughened pads of dog paws, in the night blowing in with the late evening wind, in the laughter of a girl and her best friend leaning over to pet a dog.
“What’s their names?” the dark-haired girl asked. I told her. The light-haired girl giggled. “Wait till I tell my friend Bridget I’ve found a dog called Bridget,” she said. She cooed at my littlest dog and reached out to rub her ears. “Did you see a big group of people down the path?” she asked.
“Around the corner,” I said. The girls smiled and said goodbye and walked on. “See,” the light-haired girl told her friend. “I told you we’re not too far behind.”
I watched them pass into the shadow of the canyon. The light caught the dark-haired girl’s hair and gave it a patent leather sheen, but it was lovelier than that because it was free and loose.
I thought of how young they were, and how unselfconscious, and how the plump girl was beautiful in the way she swung her arms, in the way she held two yellow flowers in her left hand, so that they brushed by her faded jeans as she walked. Sunshine and sky, those flowers against the blue jeans. How long before she became self-conscious, before she looked at herself and saw fat instead of curves, felt shame instead of raw giddy happiness at her place here on earth? They were so fully present in the moment, those girls, so freely happy in each other’s company, taking pictures, picking flowers, giggling at cute dogs.
They passed around the corner, and I looked at the space where they had been, at the imprint they left right there, at the edge of the towering rock, that memory of blue and yellow, of laughter and uncomplicated pleasure. And then the canyon was quiet and still, just me and the dogs, and the overarching sky, and the late evening light, dusty gold against blue.