A Short Short Storyby Valerie Trueblood
They were hardly more than a mile from a trail, though not the one they had lost. No way to know that. They were in a canyon, so there was shade. By day the heat bore down, at night he unwound his shirt from his leg and put it back on, while the shade, always moving, made its way to fissures beyond them and became the cold. Nothing to do about that.
About when to take swallows of water their agreement was reached in silence, though they had argued through the first hours about her chances of finding the trail. “Stay where you are,” she had to keep saying. She was the hiker. Why had she asked him to come along, someone she did not trust or even know? She was the one who knew the amount of water to carry on a day hike, she was the medical student, she had the little pack with the EpiPen and the tape for getting cactus needles out of your skin. “That’s the rule. If you want to be found.”
“The rule,” he said with a grimace.
“If I go you’ll never see me again. We have no idea where we got off the trail. There’s no GPS, no reception. We don’t know where we are. We’re nowhere.”
Now her reservations about him were pure dislike. When he was playing his oud she had shut her eyes so she could listen without seeing his face, with its pitted skin. The oud was the instrument you followed, moving from lament to incantation while the percussion was taking you to a state of abandon somewhere between dance and sleep, befitting the drawn-out end of a wedding day. That was far into the night of the ceremony, when they were all swaying, leaning on each other to stay on their feet. She was the maid of honor and she brought a chair and put it under the bride. The groom was playing with the musicians, who were not drinking but seemed to be using their fingers in a trance. The music was Middle Eastern, because the groom had a dumbek and his teacher’s band let him sit in at his wedding.