Long ago, as a kid, I dreamed of traveling around the world, living in very different places, seeing people and countries like the ones I encountered in my voracious reading. The India of Kipling. The China of Pearl Buck. The Thailand of Anna and the King of Siam. Yes, I realized later that everything I’d read was written by European observers. Europe and the UK were closer, but seemed just as entrancing; the England of Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes, the France of Colette’s Claudine at School. Yes, I realized even at the time that it wasn’t just faraway places I craved, but faraway times.
Thinking about places that inspire me, though… That’s a different matter. I’ve written several stories set in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where I have a cabin retreat beside a river that flows down from Mt. Washington, so I could truthfully say that I was inspired by that region.
But there’s another place, one I’ve tried harder to describe in writing than any other. One that defies description. The Grand Canyon is as much a place in time as in space. I’ve only been there three times, but dreamed of it long before that, ever since my favorite aunt gave me a subscription to the magazine Arizona Highways when I was about twelve. None of that excuses my presumption in using it as a setting for erotica, but after all, the Canyon doesn’t care. It just is.
Here’s a series of excerpts from my story “Bright Angel,” published in Best Lesbian Erotica 2007 (Cleis Press) and again in my collection A Ride to Remember (Lethe Press). I hope it’s not too disjointed this way to make any sense, but I tried to pick the passages most related to the setting.
Maura lounged against the railing, gazing out over the vast, bright gulf of stone dropping away at her feet. Dark sunglasses masked her green eyes, and those famous waves of long chestnut hair were tied down by a Hermes scarf rippling in the breeze. "Are you trying to tell me all this was carved by that little trickle of a river?”
In spite of her studied nonchalance, I could tell she was as awestruck as any other tourist. "The Colorado's wider than it looks from this distance. And it was carrying billions of grains of rasping sand over millions of years." I didn't look toward the river at all, gazing only at Maura's slim, vivid form. The view of the Grand Canyon from Mather Point had gripped me often enough over the years, and I had photographed it for many a magazine and guidebook, but long ago I'd come to terms with the inability of the human mind to fully comprehend its grandeur. Comprehending Maura, however, might still be within my grasp.
Did I even know who she was any more?
"Hey Roby," Maura said, without turning her head, "Too bad you don't have the balls to fuck me right here." Oh yeah. I still knew exactly who she was. "If you'd had the foresight to wear a skirt," I told her, "You'd be bent over that railing right now praying you could hold on long enough to ride my fist to glory." I pressed closer and reached around to unzip the fly of her elegantly cut jeans. "You could still drop your trousers and make all these amateur photographers rich on sales to the tabloids. Or you can let it simmer a while, and I'll fuck you somewhere even better."
While I checked in at Bright Angel Lodge, Maura watched the tourists signing up to ride down the nearby Bright Angel Trail tomorrow morning. Even in April, well before the high season, there was heavy traffic along the route. This late in the afternoon we wouldn't have had long to wait to see the mule train returning from the river at the bottom of the canyon, four-fifths of a mile straight down and eight miles of switch-backing trail below, but I had no intention of waiting. Our cabin out behind the Lodge perched close to the edge, with just room for a narrow path and a wind-gnarled pinõn pine between its wall and the canyon's rim. Even a year ahead of time it had taken luck and the pulling of few strings to get the reservation.
The furnishings were of comfortably updated 1930s craft design, highlighting natural wood tones and artistically simple lines. The stone fireplace incorporated specimens of all the different rock strata revealed by the river's carving of the canyon, from pre-Cambrian black Vishnu Schist to the Kaibab Limestone of recent millennia. The platform bed was modern, wide, and inviting. Maura prodded the mattress with a manicured finger, sat on the edge, then lay back. She eyed me speculatively.
"You must need to rest a while after your trip," I said with exaggerated solicitude. "Go ahead, take it easy. I understand." I began to unpack, hanging things in the closet, watching for her next move. She got up and started to unbutton her shirt. Not a bad idea. The day was getting hot. So was I, but I wasn't ready to take her deceptive bait. Maura is never that easy.
My own bait was more subtle. I moved into the living room, pulled open the curtains of the window beside the fireplace, and crossed to the far side to set my cameras and equipment out on a table. Maura followed. I didn't let her catch me watching, but she knew I could see her in the mirror as she shed her jacket and peeled off a tank top damp with sweat. She hadn't bothered with a bra. Then, to enhance the temptation, she turned around to present a rear view while wriggling out of her jeans. Her lovely ass-cheeks paused in mid-wriggle as she saw the view presented by the wide window.
The vista, tinted gold and copper by the late afternoon sun, was breathtaking. Maura gripped her loosened jeans tightly and edged past chairs and coffee table to gaze out, spellbound. It was the same scene she had surveyed from the rim outside, but somehow intensified, made more personal, more deceptively comprehensible, by the framing effect of the window. From inside it looked as though the cabin extended right out over the shining void.
I gathered her thick chestnut hair in my fist and yanked her head back. "Surprise, my knees aren't all that decrepit yet," I hissed into her ear, and brought my right one hard up against her ass. She jerked, but spread her legs to let me thrust between her thighs and nudge into her crotch. "You wonder how the river carves a canyon through rock?" I asked. "You think you're stone? Haven't I cut my petroglyphs into you?" My other hand worked its way around to her belly and slid down to her shaved pubic mound. The scars I'd given her, where even bikini photo spreads wouldn't reveal them, were too shallow for my fingertips to find like this, but I knew they were there; four tiny, curving lines forming a delicate circle like a secret mandala, cut by the business end of an ice-climbing screw.
"I suppose you think the water always flows gently, smoothly, taking forever to wear away resistance." My fingers moved lower, stroking gently, too gently, over her clit and lush outer lips. "Working down through layer after layer, " I went on, going deeper, sliding back and forth in her growing slickness, keeping it up slowly, slowly, as the silk gag muffled her accelerating whimpers of demand. When she arched into my touch, desperate for more, harder, faster, I drew my fingers away and approached from the other side, starting with long strokes down between her buttocks and into the tender strata of her soaking crotch. "But sometimes storms batter at the rocks, and spring floods from mountain snowmelt surge through the ravines." I was really getting into it now. "The water pounds, thrashes, filled with sharp silt and uprooted trees." I raised my hand suddenly to the nape of her neck, still holding her hair roughly back. The scent of her juices on my fingers roused my own.. ***
I spread my fingers then and slapped hard, again and again, marking her buttocks with red hand prints like the marks on the walls of ancient Anasazi cliff dwellings far below in the Canyon. Suddenly Maura lurched backward, pushing off from the window sill, nearly toppling me. I lifted her just enough to swing her around and then dropped her hard onto the Navajo rug in front of the fireplace. In the seconds it took for me to get a latex glove from my pocket onto my hand she had torn off her gag and kicked her pants free of her ankles, and now she crouched, long hair falling forward to veil her face, her butt lifted toward me and her swollen labia exposed. "Do it!" she snarled, so ready that there was no need for lube. I thrust into her, slid out, thrust again, and then she was pumping herself onto me, heaving, panting, her cries rising higher as my other hand pinched her nipples. When the spasms struck, tightening her cunt around my hand and wrist like a trap, I supported her until her grip finally loosened and I could withdraw, gently, holding her wide open for a few seconds and admiring her glistening folds. "Dusky rose," I said softly, "Like the sandstone layers of the canyon wall at dawn."
Maura whispered something I could barely hear. I leaned closer. "Was this the 'better place' you had in mind?" "No," I said honestly, not sure whether she was working up to another challenge. "This was just an opportunity seized. You'll know when you get there."
And she did. It wasn't along the rim trail or at any of the famous points where cameras clustered, not even Pima Point at sunset when the river winding far below to the west turned briefly into a ribbon of gold. It wasn't the moonlit vista of the canyon as we leaned together against a spreading branch of the pinõn pine outside our own cabin. It wasn't anyplace that easy.
We were up at dawn the next morning, breakfasting on the Bright Angel Lodge terrace. "Why 'Bright Angel?'" Maura asked. I told her about Major John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River, and the story that after his men named one muddy incoming stream the Dirty Devil, the Major had compensated by dubbing the first clear creek they came to Bright Angel, flowing down from the north to join the river across from what later became Bright Angel Trail. I thought, watching Maura's beautiful face, as luminescent in its own way as the morning light suffusing the mist rising from far below, that he must also have been thinking of Lucifer before the Fall, Milton's "angel bright" of Paradise Lost.
Or, just possibly, he had known someone like Maura.
"Just a little farther," I said, urging her past the spring, its fringe of greenery lively with small birds. "We'll fill our water bottles on the way back." A hundred feet off the trail, through a crevice between boulders, we were on a narrow shelf out of sight of passing climbers at our own level. Our view of sky and rock seemed as wide as infinity, and hikers and rafters deep in the Canyon could see us easily if they looked up; see us, but not clearly enough even with binoculars to recognize Maura's features from past magazine spreads or future appearances on the big screen.
Maura stood with her arms outstretched like wings and her back to the cliff. Just above her head a twisted juniper grew out from a cleft in the rock, casting a tracery of shadows across her face. "This is the place," she said with certainty. "Right here. Right now." I drew a wet trail with my tongue along her dusty cheek and kissed her, for once, gently. For once, she allowed the tenderness, kissing back with more sensuality than challenge. Maybe wearing her out was the secret. Or did the vastness of the world spread out before us make petty conflict seem too insignificant? More likely, it was just that she had grander things on her mind than private games.
"Roby...do you think anyone is watching?" Her fingers scrabbled in haste at the buttons of her shirt, and when she'd cast it aside and yanked off the tank top beneath, she went to work on the silver Navajo belt buckle purchased just yesterday. Sunlight glinted from its highly polished surface like spears of fire.
"I'd bet there are at least a dozen pairs of binoculars and as many cameras aimed right up there," I told her, pointing out the peregrine falcon riding the breeze above us, undoubtedly watching for one of the small birds by the spring to stray from the sheltering shrubbery. "And now that you've been wriggling hard enough to flash signals from that silver mirror sliding down along with your pants, most of them must be checking you out, and calling their buddies to look, too."
Maura kicked aside her jeans and raised her arms. Her fingers could just grasp the gnarled trunk of the juniper. "Tie me," she said. I pulled the bandanna loose from her hair. A twist around slender wrists and up over the juniper, and she was bound just far enough out from the cliff for me to slide behind her and press my thigh hard up against her butt, bending my knee slightly, taking some of her weight. That juniper must have been clinging to life here for a hundred years or more; I hoped to spare its roots for another hard-won century, in spite of her thrashing. And she would thrash.
"So show them what you've got, girl," I muttered in her ear as I pulled on a latex glove. I'm not sure she even heard me. Her focus was far out over the bright canyon, past labyrinthine ravines and spurs and phallic turrets carved by water, wind, and time. The sharp pinch of my fingers on her breasts grabbed her attention, though, and over her shoulder I watched pink nipples swell and darken into nubbled peaks as wildly beautiful as any rock formation.
To tell the truth, I am a bit ashamed of using the Canyon like this. But after a bookstore reading a few years ago a young man, a beginning writer, came to me afterward and thanked me, saying he’d never realized you could do all that in erotica. So there’s that.
“Bright Angel” is the second of three stories I’ve written about these characters. The third one, “Meltdown,” takes place in my other inspirational place, the Mount Washington Valley, and has just recently been published in Don’t Be Shy from Ylva Publishing.