I sipped the smooth, caramelly black coffee on the way back to the car. Its rich aroma invaded my nostrils.
“Not bad but not Starbucks. Missing something.” The wifi. I had to use the dwindling data plan to cope with a fast-building inbox.
“Sorry. I wanted to cross off Tlaquepaque village from the list and taste the local brew. That took care of it.” Kate took out a pen and marked her itinerary.
“Always trying to hit five birds with one stone, are you?” I slid into the driver’s seat and started the engine.
“What’s wrong with that? All buckled up, let’s head to Grand Canyon. No more stop-overs. We should get there by six-ish and sunset is at 6:32 pm.” She flipped through her printed itinerary and glanced at her watch for the nth time.
It had been buzzing as often as mine did. Odd. “Did you really write the time of sunset on there?” The red light turned green, and we were back on the road.
“Of course! You know me.” She tossed her head. “Now, there are three routes to Grand Canyon. Two would lead to the more common west entrance while the eastern side is not accessible to the shuttle so, less crowded. We can view the amaaazzing sunset at Lipan Point on that side.”
“Let’s take the road less traveled.”
“Why, Jeff, just when I thought you had become predictable, you throw me your wild side.”
I roared and clawed and earned another eew from Annie. Kate would never guess what spurred my wild side. My hidden agenda—the lesser the crowd, the faster the turn-over for her perfect photographic spot.
Although that power nap in the chapel sure did boost my spirit. Or maybe that coffee had more caffeine in it. Whatever. I began to look forward to this Grand Canyon sunset that Kate had been raving about.
My mind cleared as the scenery changed from bustling activity to stark aridity. The straight highway stretched to infinity and intersected beyond the horizon.
Nimbus clouds loomed ahead and made the surroundings bleak. My wings of enthusiasm weighed with the low-lying gloom hovering overhead.
Mountains embraced us at the far distance, but instead of feeling cradled in a cocoon, a growing sense of claustrophobia engulfed me.
Trapped. Like the pencil stuck in the sharpener.
The more I drove into the dark tunnel of gray sky surrounded by even grayer mountains, the harder I stepped on the accelerator. I had to escape this gnawing sensation of the world closing in on me. Even the air seemed devoid of oxygen. I turned up the vent, which only managed to rattle my mind.
“Huh!” Kate gasped.
“What?” I decelerated.
She turned right and left. “Sorry, I fell asleep. I thought I was in a raging storm.”
“Oh, that must have been the wind. Really strong out here.”
“How far still?”
“Another hour. I hope it doesn’t rain.”
And raindrops fell like pebbles on the windshield. “Great,” I muttered, turning on the wiper. It squeaked in protest from being roused of inactivity.
“You didn’t pray early enough.” She put her palms together and leaned towards the windshield, her eyes turned upwards. “Lord, please make the rain stop. In Jesus’ name…”
She looked like a child begging for lollipop then she tapped my shoulder. “Say, amen.”
She smiled and settled back on her seat, and then perked up, pointing towards the road. “Look! Answered prayer. Thank you, Lord.”
The dark clouds ahead looked like thick grey veils parting in the middle and a tunnel of light appeared below it.
For all my skepticism, I had to admit the scene looked miraculous.
Of course, I knew patches of weather inconsistencies often happened in the desert. But let Kate bask in her miracle. Why douse her faith with a pail of mud water?
An hour more and we approached the edge of the desert then entered the plusher mountainous regions.
The sun had started its fast descent, and long mountain shadows fell on the desert as we drove past.
“Almost there. What’s the ETA from the GPS?” Kate said.
“Expected time of arrival is 6:29 pm.”
“Girls!” She clapped. “Gather your belongings now. As soon as we park, hop off the car—”
Moans and groans erupted from behind me.
“It’s alright, Kate. We got 30 more minutes to go.”
“Oh, you don’t know these girls. We’d be out, and they’d still be scampering for their shoes.”
And she predicted right, thirty minutes later, gave me a told-you-so glare at the parking lot, then headed to the rim where some ten tourists stood.
I walked to where she planted her tripod, capturing the burst of red and yellow flames of the exiting sun. “Dad, please lock the car.” Sarah joined me and watched the last few tails of color on the horizon.
“Oh well, you missed the height of her standing ovation.” Kate gestured at the dark mountains.
“Smile and light up the night.” She snapped three photos of the girls and me, peered at the camera and grimaced. “Bad lighting. C’mon, before it’s gets completely dark. We have dinner reservations at El Tovar.”
"Is that our hotel, mom?" Sarah rushed after Kate.
“Fat chance to get a booking there with our last-minute plans." Kate packed her camera and slid inside the car. "We’re lucky I got a dinner reservation online. Four to five-star reviews. Let’s check in, freshen up and hit the road."
“What?” Annie buckled her seat belt.
“Stop whining and complaining like I’m making you clean the whole house.” Kate sped-typed on her iPhone. “Yup, 9 o’clock reservation confirmed. Sorry, that the earliest spot available.”
“Easy on the data plan.” I gripped the steering wheel.
“Alright. Airplane mode activated,” she said in a robotic voice.
“Mom, I’m hungry!” Annie said.
“What parasite do you harbor in your tummy? Here.” She tossed her a bag of trail mix. “That should keep your lion from growling. Learn to tame it, or it will tame you.”
But Annie’s lion continued to growl by the time we got to El Tovar at 8:30 pm.
“Hopefully, we can be seated before our time. Who knows?” Kate said.
We entered a log cabin-looking restaurant. Wooden benches with back and arm rests lay scattered at the lobby. Kate hurried to the reception area of the restaurant while I trailed behind. She didn’t look happy when she turned towards us.
“So, no table?”
She held out the black square pager. “They said 30 more minutes.”
The girls groaned.
“Why don’t you look around the gift shop and find something—"
Annie beamed and kissed me. Sarah was gone before I even finished.
Kate gave me a pointed look. “You spoil them.”
“Go ahead. You too. I’ll wait here on the bench.”
She followed the girls.
As soon as my back landed on the wooden seat, my eyes closed on instinct. The conversation around me buzzed like humming bees merging with random images.
And then the pencil stuck in a sharpener appeared.
“Stuck!” A man howled a hearty laugh. I woke up.
“But how could your finger get stuck?” The lady, who sat beside the man was red in the face and giggling at his story.
I stood up. The pencil stuck inside the sharpener haunted me like an ominous sign. Two dreams. What did it mean? I had never been superstitious yet even the most scientific mind can discern a beginning pattern and be suspicious.
Heading inside the gift shop, I searched for Kate and found her reading beside the shelf.
“Look at this.” She showed me the book, Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.
“It’s horrible,” she said. “So many fatalities, often caused by something stupid as taking a selfie and losing their footing or sitting on the edge watching the sunset and getting dizzy when they stand up.”
I took the book and read the part where a father played a prank with her daughter by pretending to fall backward to an unseen lower ledge, only to lose his balance and catapult beyond the ledge into the depths of the canyon. Nerve critters crawled on my back sending me the shivers. I shoved the book on the shelf.
“Creepy,” I said.
Annie appeared beside Kate. “I thought you made reservations, Mom. Why did they make us wait?” Annie’s face was so long, it looked like the slimy toy back home that she would squeeze and stretch.
“Mother goose and her golden eggs!” Kate gave her a dagger look. “Thirty minutes and you make it sound like forever. This Google generation.” She waved her hand up in the air. “Wants everything to happen at a click of a mouse. Be patient. Good things happen to those who wait.”
The restaurant pager lit up and so did Annie’s face.
In a short moment, we were seated and a beaming waiter appeared evoking smiles from us.
Before he could open his mouth, Kate rounded her fingers and said, “Just a glass of water for everyone and we are ready to order.”
When he came back with a basket of bread, we all sighed with relief.
“Tomorrow,” Kate mumbled with bread in her mouth. She paused, then swallowed with a glass of water. “Wake up early for the sunrise at 6:43 am.”
“Mom! I thought this would be vacation,” Sarah said.
“Well, we didn’t come all the way here to sleep. Home would be cheaper.”
Annie pouted, and Sarah feigned looking up the wooden beams.
I was too tired to argue. I ate the bread, leaned back after finishing two pieces, and pretended to sleep.
For all the waiting and sulking, dinner better be good.
When the waiter laid my plate of black-crusted tilapia with steaming dirty rice, and after we’ve turned plates to taste each other’s dishes, I said, “Let’s stay for dessert.”
Whoever said, `Your day starts the night before,’ should have appeared, took away my sixth cup of coffee, and told me, “You’ll regret this in the morning.”