Early summer morning. Last look at Bass Lake before Bette and Dena hit the Willow Creek trail. Cerulean, azure, turquoise. Each had her favorite word. How is it possible Nicki is not here? The trail gentles up hill, the creek a quiet liquid shimmer. The trail steepens, pocked with rocks, narrowing, the creek cascading. The girls don’t scrabble down the rocks to sink into The Washing Machine, three interconnected frothy pools where Nicki revealed her pregnancy and plans for an abortion which she never had. They keep walking, sweating, stopping only to sip from their water bottles and to take turns carrying the backpack. They boulder hop across the creek to the Grandpa Moss tree but they don’t stop there and put silly moss beards on their faces or make fairy houses with stone pathways like they did for Nicki’s little sister to stop her sobbing after she slipped on the rocks and they pulled her from the creek and yes, it was dangerous, so close to the cascades, and nine was probably too young to have taken her. But the poor kid never had any fun, her parents putting her in the Music is Moral group and all the other Kids’ Ministry activities. The girls keep walking, climbing, scrambling, losing the trail, stopping to rest, finding the trail. They don’t stop at the granite boulders that resemble a sleeping cat. They don’t pose for selfies at the chute. They don’t butt slide down to the deep pool at the bottom of Angel Falls. They walk and climb and scramble.
At the top of Devil’s Slide, they crawl through the hole in the wire fence, ignoring the sign warning that seven people have fallen to their death here. They sit on a smooth slab of granite and open the backpack: candles, a thick journal with clouds on the cover, a pair of worn cowboy boots, a magic eight fortune teller ball, a pink battery powered Disney princess toothbrush which Dena’s mom bought for Nicki during the short time she lived with them and mentioned she’d always wanted to be a princess for Halloween but they weren’t allowed to celebrate Halloween. A knit cap, gray hoodie, nightgown with silver stars, books of poetry. A laptop covered with stickers: a few llamas but mostly sayings: Bee happy, Keeping it weird, You did not wake up today to be a weak ass bitch. You’re doing amazing, sweetie. They light a candle for each item, laying it gently on the granite. “For Nicki,” they say. Then return the items to the backpack. They stand, holding the backpack between them, steadying themselves at the top of Devil’s slide: the granite slippery, wet, frothy, the ecstasy of knowing it’s out of their hands—they’ll slip or they won’t—and they fling that backpack into the water, howling her name.
Nicki comes here regularly but knows that this day, her One Year Anniversary, will be the last. She follows the girls briefly, making sure they’re safely back on the trail. Then she plays. She swoops and leaps in and out of the waterfall, sideways, upside down. She slides down the steep granite, water running through her like glittering ruins. She swallows shadows, then spits them back as amber tangerines which she juggles and splats against the granite. She paper-maches her journal and poetry books into soaring falcons. She shreds her clothes then weaves them with spider silk and she trampolines for hours. Day turns twilight. Her laptop and fortune teller ball sink to the sandy bottom. Her pink princess toothbrush is caught in an eddy. It spins and it spins and it spins.
Claudia’s flash appears in Smokelong Quarterly, Atticus Review, Pidgeonholes, The Forge, Fictive Dream, Trampset, Ghost Parachute, and elsewhere. Her poetry appears in such places as The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Plume, and Hunger Mountain. In 2022 her flash was shortlisted for The Smokey and awarded second place in Vestal Review’s food themed flash fiction contest. She is a recipient of a Hedgebrook residency.