They’d been hiking up the hill until it felt like a mountain. His shins ached and calves cramped. His walking stick helped but perhaps less so than he’d originally thought. His friend looked at his phone, nearly eight, and calculated how much longer until they would turn around and finally, thank god, head back.
— Hey Siri, seven minute timer.
At every fork in the path his friend kept choosing the trail of steeper incline. The friend hinted that perhaps he didn’t know where they were going. The trail kept looking more unfamiliar, more beautiful. But, dang, he wasn’t even breaking a sweat and had been talking for the last half hour, too. The only thing that occasionally paused in his body was the pattern of the storytelling. Everything else was just movement, like he was swimming up a lane in the hill.
— Sorry, I keep pausing. I’m… trying to figure out which details are actually important. Maybe just keeping going and I’ll say everything instead?
— Yeah sure, he replied.
Whatever. Calves and shins, man, at least he wasn’t talking about those at such length. He was occasionally asking about them.
— Does that just go straight up?
The friend knew this would be good for him. He’d been in that hole before, the one with all of the feelings that you didn’t want to feel, and knew that ultimately time was the only thing that could fill the hole, and so here was some time for the filling, step by step. They passed unnamed but clearly trees of some import that had grooved themselves into what was some form of a vortex, the nature and gravity and entropy haphazardly deconstructing a tree-fort, based on some abstract set of blueprints. An eighty-two degree angle of log here, a twisting unlike any other, nine-hundred-and-eighty degrees of angular momentum like a petrified tendon worn through and hung over the path.
— I think we’re gonna make it. You okay?
Was he okay? Not at all. This was awful. The hike was just a distraction, and on the other side of his cramping shins and calves was a disappointment that chased the stick in his hand and would clamp back down and cramp up his brain, too.
The friend went all the way up ahead and then crossed back down and onto the smaller path cut by feet that wrapped around the pair of redwoods and protected the view.
— Hey, watch out for the poison oak here.
The warning was more for the friend himself, who was in shorts. And as he sat down at the wobbly bench, the timer on his phone chimed. How did that take just exactly seven minutes, the friend wondered, he hadn’t even been up this pathway before. Because it was how long he had given the expedition, something in him answered. He looked briefly out over the view and now he was sweating, and then he glanced briefly down sloping combine of brambling green to guess at how deep and wide this hole might, if he let it. The entire bay, from this hill down to the ocean, in its misty muted grays and greens and blues, were all colors that for a time would all feel like reminders of her. But it was a temporary hole, and so if they kept climbing and exploring, and didn’t rush it, and occasionally sat like he did here, incapable of seeing everything all at once, but that you’d feel it all eventually, but not at once, because this form of grief was non-linear, like all forms of loss, without a true line of ascent, eventually it would go back to how it was for the friend. Beautiful. Hauntingly. Temporary.
— So, I guess I’m telling this story because how everything that happened afterwards was unexpected and turned out really, you know, like better.
The hike, for the friend, would perhaps be a reminder that it would all eventually be fine, also, if he ever happened to be so heartbroken again. It would all feel twisted, but then it would be okay.