"Cataract" is a short story by Pam Houston, published in her collection Waltzing the Cat. In this story, the protagonist, Lucy, is about to take a rafting trip down the southern Utah portion of the Colorado River. She is an accomplished rapids runner, but the river is at one of its highest levels, which means that the rapids are high, fast, and dangerous. Five people had lost their lives that season on the same portion of the river that Lucy is about to enter. Worse yet, she is there with her boyfriend, Josh, and their relationship is quickly deteriorating.
There are three others with them: Henry, Russell, and Thea. When it comes time to haul their boats into the water, the three men go into the bigger boat, while Lucy and Thea take positions in the small, lighter raft. Lucy used to teach rapids rafting, and Thea was one of her best students.
As they travel along the slower parts of the river, there is a discussion of who is the better rafter: Lucy or Josh. Thea says that Josh might be physically stronger and more daring, but Lucy is patient and takes her time to read the river before she plunges in. A competitive energy between Lucy and Josh is thus set up as they meet the first rapids.
All goes well until they are in the heart of the rapids, which have been made worse by nightly thunderstorms that have increased the flow of water. The morning of the big rapids run, Lucy senses that the river is telling her to stay away. She admits she is afraid of the next run, so Josh tells her to follow him in, which she does. Josh makes a bad call and avoids catastrophe only because his boat is so big. Unfortunately, Lucy and Thea do not fare as well and capsize. They are forced to fight for their lives but are eventually rescued by the men.
Later, Lucy must listen to Henry and Russell praise Josh's skills. Worst of all, she must endure Josh's lack of emotion over her near-drowning. She wants him to admit that he was worried he might lose her, but Josh is put off by Lucy's need to admit anything that might appear to be a weakness.
Like many other reviewers, Sharon Ouderkirk, writing for the Canadian National Post, found Houston's collection of stories "engaging" and praised Houston for her compassionate writing.