Another half hour toting our melons in the desert heat brought us to the top of the hill. Cave openings were pocked like honeycomb into the facing hillside, between us a small gorge of low but moving water and a steep decline of loose desert dust and stones. We didn’t explore the possibility of a more official way into the grottoes further up the road, opting to skitter directly downward into the wash below to the beginning of a boardwalk that stretched alongside the stream of water running between the two hills.
A chain was strung across the path, a sign hanging from it with Mandarin characters that I rightly assumed read something like, “Grottoes closed, do not enter.” MJ and I stood before the sign for a minute before I surprised myself by tucking my melon to my chest and crawling under the chain. I padded on hot, dirty feet to a patch of shade underneath a tree growing out of the stream, sitting down to empty my shoes of the gravel they’d collected. MJ found a sharp stone to cut open our melons from the wagon man, working a jagged, gravelly line around my cantaloupe’s equator. It pried apart with a snap, bursting full of flesh and so many seeds that seemed a shame to waste. I left the refuse beside the tree in the damp cool of the bank.
Stomachs full with the sweet moisture of the melon, we walked beside and then upstream in the water, around and away from the raucous musical laughter of the small group of local children. They too had ignored the “do not enter” sign, and were now chucking rocks into the stream. They were either oblivious to or unimpressed by the dark cave openings looming in the hillside above them, but I kept glancing up as I waded, curious about their insides. Soon there was no one to be seen or heard but MJ and me.
We wandered away from one another to be truly alone for the first time in nearly a year.
Proud to present new writing and photography by Rachel Paprocki over at A Grammar of Vision.