There is a sidebar on my office computer, which scrolls down the top news stories throughout the day. Today it’s all about Wendi Deng’s billion-dollar spike, the exhumation of Rudolph Hess, and the search for the bodies of three tourists who ignored the fences and signs and tumbled into the frigid waters of the Merced River, where they were swept by the inexorable current over a 314-foot waterfall.

They had posed on the slippery granite ledge for a picture. I wonder what secrets that photograph might reveal. Would the spectre of impending death show itself in their eyes? Would the mist take the shape of a sickle, curving over their three shining dark heads? Was there something in the color of the dawn yesterday morning, some secret birdsong that went unnoticed, some heaviness around the feet when Death closed his hand around them and began to tug. How can a man be toppled over the rail at a baseball game and collected so tritely while his young son stands looking down, his small hand still lost inside a sweaty leather mitt? How can a woman hear a pop inside her head and decide to make one last run to the quick-mart while her brain begins to flood and swell and squeeze out whatever part of her lived within its convoluted folds. Did her lover see her leaving, really leaving when she walked out the door? Did he kiss her deeply the last time he lost himself inside her? Did he ride her like an apocalyptic horseman, roll out a dreamlike dirge-rhythm with his hips–did he whisper in her ear, Come with me, baby, come with me.

The tourists are still missing. Somewhere they will wash up, three soft torn husks on some tangled river-beach where the rocks are beaten smooth, shining in the sun. The birds will gather and sing for three lost souls who never heard their warning and never will hear again.

If Death came for you today, what would be left undone?

Photograph by Richard Avedon


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