I park the truck on the bare rocks next to the bench, not really a designated parking space. The parking area across the canyon, on the other side of the bridge, is empty.
I was last here just four days ago, but nearly a year passed from the time before. A family was getting in and out of their SUV in the reststop, stepping to and from the handrail along the canyon's rim. Getting ready for either selfies or a picnic, or maybe both. They're not noisy, but the maskless heeler sees them, and begins defending her world, as everything she sees is _her _world.
Seconds later, the perfect echo comes back... **bark!**
And she repeats, Bark!...**bark.**
That day my visit here was brief, the heeler challenging her unseen echo all the while. A quick trot down under the bridge, to the unrailed canyon edge, and a quicker glance into its depths. There were new Mexican gang graffiti on the bridge foundation. But the tunnel gate was open, there were people across the canyon, and I could hear a vehicle far up the road. Time to go.
But today, there is no one in the canyon, save two anglers a half-mile up the road, loading their gear. The tunnel door is closed. We are alone.
And yet, not alone.
I look at the date on the bench. We're just two days before the anniversary. Oddly, for the first time, I wonder which date they chose. The date they were taken? Or the day one sister died, and the other did not? Only a few long hours separated those two events, but someone had to decide which number to put on the memorial stone bench.
As I pass the bench, I remember the unseen touch on my shoulder on a previous visit.
There are no such things as ghosts, but I remember the touch just the same.
This time I walk onto the bridge, the far edge just touched by the evening shadows. I snap pictures of some of the top rivets, little bright beacons in sunlight against shaded steel. There is no movement in the air at all, a perfect stillness. The heeler sisters are quiet.
I stop midway, and look upstream. The canyon widens a little this way, mostly in shadow. A rock face still in sunlight is reflected in the perfectly calm water below. There are no birds, no insects, no rippling fish. It could have been a photograph and looked the same.
I cross to the downstream side, facing the picnic tables and bench used by rappellers. Still no breeze, or sign of life. Only the ripples where the river squeezes between large boulders tell you this is real life, in real time. I think about the daughter and niece with the beautiful name, and wonder what she thinks when this date comes. With a shock my brain does the math... she's a grown woman by now. Are there grandchildren who will need to be told this story?
I linger on this side, looking down 10 stories to a small patch of shrubs, and the only steep notch that climbs out of the canyon. I've been down to those bushes, but in broad daylight for me. I had trouble climbing back up that notch, clambering over rocks on my hands and knees, sending loose gravel down the scree.
She did it half naked, with a broken hip.
There is a small graffiti on one beam, scratched into the battleship-grey paint. The number '73', surrounded by a heart.
I am roused by the plop of a trout leaping out of the water, far down the narrowing canyon.
Time to go.
Back at the truck, the heelers are unusually subdued, the masked one laying in their bed in the back seat, her sister looking up from the passenger's seat, not bothering to even raise her ears. Normally I would be greeted at the door by wagging tails and eager ears. Whether they feel the quiet of this place, or just sense it in me, I do not know.
I look to the bench and tell the girls goodbye, then turn the key and fill the canyon with the noise of an engine.
As we take the first curve away from the canyon, the maskless heeler climbs up to take her usual place on the center console, leaning her left shoulder hard into mine. Another curve up the road her sister steps up beside her, and I feel the gentle push as the masked one leans into her sister.
We all three turn our eyes forward, to see what the road will bring.
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