Catriona’s husband is so disappointed at not being able to see into the canyon that he almost stamps his feet like a child. In fact, the effort not to behave childishly is so great that, for a moment or so, he is unable to move at all.
After forcing his way through the crowd gathered in front of the railing and securing a place at the edge he had leant forward and gazed down only to find the view entirely obscured by the grey mist.
Catriona watches him now as, resisting the urge to stamp and curse, he lurches stiffly amid the swell of unhappy tourists. She hasn’t any choice but to follow.
A man is holding court at the centre of the crowd and she assumes at first he is a guide of some sort but, drawing closer, she quickly realises that he is one of them, a sightseer. The only difference is that he has been here for longer, for months in fact, and that he has seen many times what they cannot and probably will not be able to see.
Only half listening, Catriona studies this self-appointed Shamen and his attentive audience, her husband amongst them, hanging on his every word.
The mist, the man informs them, can lift in a matter of minutes.
‘Really?’ she blurts it out, regretting it instantly as all the disappointed faces now turn toward her. ‘It is so thick, it really could lift just like that? So quickly, so dramatically?’
‘Oh yeah’. The man pauses waiting for his audience to re-focus. ‘Oh, yeah, it can all change in the time it takes to bend down and tie a shoelace. This place – it really is that dramatic.’
‘How long has it been like this?’, Catriona asks.
‘Couple of weeks. I won’t try and kid you, it’s unlikely that it’ll clear today’. He scans the crowd and exhales heavily before continuing. ‘You’ll be able to see a little more from higher up and there is a great viewpoint west of here. It’s about twenty miles or so but you’ll need a car. The buses don’t take you that far.’
‘We don’t have a car,’ her husband says softly.
‘And we have to leave this afternoon on the coach,’ she adds.
The others have begun to clamour for directions and, shrugging his shoulders, the Shamen turns toward those with cars.
Catriona and her husband sit on a bench at the edge of the car park and watch as the exodus now begins in earnest. One man grabs his wife by the arm and drags her along. ‘Come on’, he says, ‘let’s go, we’re wasting time here’.
They walk alongside the canyon and the mist is like a lid. Where the path has crumbled they cling onto the rocks, clambering precariously. Catriona is in front, her husband has insisted on this but if she were to stumble and fall he couldn’t possibly save her and together they would topple down into the abyss.
Catriona wonders if, like her, he is tempted to reach out into the clouds for purchase.
‘It’s like a lid,’ she calls to him, ‘the mist is like a lid.’
She is forced to a halt in front of a large flat rock but the ground is stable enough that they can turn and lean against it. Catriona studies him in profile as he scrutinises the cliff face.
‘How did we get here?’ she asks.
‘I have no idea,’ he replies blankly.
She starts to laugh, it escapes from her unbidden and when he turns his head, for the first time in what feels like an age, she looks him squarely in the face, laughing all the more to see him look so puzzled.