I leaned back into the plush sofa and let my compatriots listen to the timorous sounds of their own egos, swirling my glass and watch dozens of tiny bubbles fly up to suicide themselves against the border of liquid gold. It made me feel slightly better.
Around me, ugly people in pretty clothes were eating tiny bites of food saturated in truffle oil. The women were leaving territorial marks of lipstick on everything they came into contact with – their glasses, their ornamental toothpicks, their husbands, other people’s husbands – all smeared in variations of Revlon red.
The men were standing around in clusters with their hands deep in their pockets. They were pretending not to watch the wait staff who flitted in and out, agile on impossibly precarious heels, skinny girls in short white dresses, obviously meant to blend in with the all white decor. How they could manage to keep the outside furniture sure a pristine shade, I couldn’t fathom. I imagine they must have to constantly retouch every surface, dry-clean the out fabrics on a regular basis, and tirelessly scrub the sand off the marble floor. All this so rich men with trophy wives could sip exotic drinks and feel like they have experienced the island.
Drumming my fingers on the armrest of the couch, I watched the wait-staff’s best efforts to discourage a growing army of pigeons from besieging the cocktail party. A small flock of birds had descended earlier, summoned by a single misplaced finger-sandwich. They wove skillfully in and out of the parade of leather driving moccasins and designer heels, pecking at cubes of tuna speckled with caviar, chunks of lobster, and the occasional proscuitto-wrapped melon ball. They seemed dressed for the party, with their feathers freshly preened and the iridescent purple-green shimmer of their plumage.
When the squabbling over a duck confit empanada had more or less ended, a large grey male meandering in my direction fixed me with a beady eye. His bobbing head moving in rhythm with his pink-legged strut forcibly reminded me of the self-important, sauntering gait of my fiancé, who often walked in the wrong direction while looking as if he had somewhere to be. The pigeon, with his neck feathers plumped and his wings neatly arranged, clearly had plans for my untouched plate. Chuckling to myself, I dropped him an expensive sounding canapé. He scrambled over, his head bobbing frantically, wings askew. I pictured Laurent running after his latest celebrity client and burst out laughing as the whole flock came running over, cooing in alarm, feathers plump, jostling over the morsel. I left my feathery fiancé lookalike to fend for himself as the horde hopped up onto the seat I had vacated and pecked my whole selection of snacks to shreds.
Today’s story prompt is from Nancy Stohlman.
Find a story you’ve written that isn’t quite working. Chop it down to exactly 100 words. Give it a new title.
This is Drift, the story from my week-long writing challenge, reworked. I love it.
Return to Sender
“Hey,” I said, sitting down next to my fiancée on the bed. Sarah’s eyes were red and puffy.
“Hey,” she said, handing me the wedding RSVP her best friend had sent back through the mail, unopened. “Alissa will not be in attendance.”
I looked at the pale blue envelope, dotted a darker color where her tears had stained the paper. In the weeks since Alissa had told my fiancée she was in love with her, Sarah had sent her five invitations. The bitch had not deigned to reply.
I ripped the invitation in half.
“More food for me.”
Continued from here.
The cut was long and jagged and ran from the bottom of my ribcage to the top of my snow pants. It was already starting to bruise around the edges. I refused to go the ski patrol so Mark bought a tee shirt from the gift shop, stuffed it with clean snow, and handed it to me. Annoyed, I sat down on an outside bench with a huff and pressed it to my side. Mark sat next to me and tried to lift my shirt up a little so he could see the wound better, but I smacked his hand away.
“Stop poking at me,” I said, and it must have came out a little harsher then I meant it because Mark made a face like I’d spit at him and turned away. I bit my lip. We sat there for a few minutes in silence. The day had turned out to be unusually warm for March and some of the other skiers were walking past us in t-shirts. I was overdressed, having gotten ready in the still frigid morning, and the snowpack felt good against my skin until it started to melt into icy little rivulets that ran down into my base layers and held on. Despite the melt, I held it to my side until the snow inside was all gone, then shook it out and laid it over my knees.
“Ready to go?” I finally asked.
“Why won’t you ever let me help you, Susan?” Mark asked me quietly.
“What?” I blurted out, surprised.
He looked at me for a long moment, and I waited a while before realizing that his patience with my stubbornness was finally wearing out, and that this wasn’t one of those conversations where he was going to let me wiggle my way out. I looked out at the mountains, at the long jagged crest line of the horizon, and thought maybe one of the reasons I loved those peaks so much is that there were plenty of valleys to hide in.
“I know you were heading for the cliff,” Mark said.
I said nothing because it was true and because I didn’t want to make him madder.
“I thought you were going to give it up,” he continued.
“Is this conversation really necessary?” I asked. He stared at me for a long moment.
“Susan, I’m not going to watch you go on a suicide mission so you can prove something to a man who doesn’t even call you on your birthday.”
“But is it untrue?” Mark asked. I recoiled from him and he shut his eyes tightly for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a gentler voice.
“Let’s go get in the line,” I said softly, putting my hand on his shoulder. He didn’t look up.
“Susan, I can’t let you do this. You need to stop pushing yourself so hard.”
“Since when do you make decisions for me?” I spat.
“You can take another run, but it won’t be with me,” Mark said, standing.
“What?” I blurted out, “Just like that?”
“Just like that. You’re being too reckless over something that doesn’t even matter.”
I looked down at my side, at my soaked through shirt, and back up at the mountain. She was glorious today, the sun soaking right into the cracks in the trees and letting little shivers of light track down through the unmarked trails. Far above us now hung the cliff face, the long headwall shimmering white, almost blue. I thought about my father standing on the edge of that cliff as I’d pleaded with him not to drop off it. That day had ended at the hospital with his leg in a cast and his arm in a sling. They said he’d been lucky, and stupid, and dangerously reckless.
“Winners never back down,” he’d said, swallowing the painkillers they’d given him.
The clouds shifted slightly and the cliff was cast in shadow and just like that my bravado faded away. I looked at Mark.
“Let’s go home,” I said softly, and he nodded and stood and swung both pairs of our skis onto his shoulder. For a moment I almost protested, but I let him carry them just this once.
That night we lay on the floor next to the space heater using Elvis as a pillow, a task he submitted to only after a long, hard day of chasing his own tail when he was too tired to complain.
* * *
The last few weeks of the season after that passed without incident. We only got in two more days in the backcountry until the cover was too thin to risk it. On those days, we ranged out far from the cliff and explored the deep gully that ran between the two peaks. Little by little, the snow receded from the bare earth until the final day came.
On the last day of the season we rode the ski lift in t-shirts and our thinnest pairs of snow pants, goggles down to block the brilliant reflection of the sun on the remaining snow. To our right on the other peak, the cliff face seemed like a gaping maw, a dark patch surrounded by budding trees. I watched the cliff until the trees obscured it from view.
“I can’t believe this is it,” Mark said, putting his arm around me. I snuggled towards him.
“It’s not it it, it’s just the end of another season,” I replied.
“Even still. That means summer jobs, which means travelling.”
I was silent, watching the water drip off the shiny metallic edges of my skis down into the trail below us. Mark pulled me in tighter.
“Hey,” he said quietly, “if you asked me to stay, I would stay for you.”
I looked up at him. He pulled his goggles up and smiled.
“I couldn’t ask you to do that for me,” I replied.
“Maybe you should,” he said.
I pulled off my goggles.
“Would you stay?” I asked softly, biting my lip. He nodded yes and leant down to kiss me, his lips soft and slightly cold, and he pulled me in tighter then anyone ever had before.
I know! It’s been a while! Refresh your memory here!
“Pumpkin?” David said, surprised, when he opened the door to find me standing there.
“Hey Cupcake,” I said, smiling and trying my best to pretend like I didn’t hate those nicknames with every fiber of my being.
“What are you doing standing on my doorstep looking the way you do?” he asked, leaning against the splintered doorframe. He’d put on more then a little weight since I’d last seen him, and the flab of skin hanging out from under his faded Wayne’s World t-shirt was less then cute. Still, I put my game face on and smiled my best come hither smile.
“I miss you, David,” I said, stepping forward and putting my hand on his shoulder. His shirt was slightly moist to the tough. Ugh.
David stepped back, puzzled.
“Oh?” he replied, “That’s funny, because the last time I saw you, you told me that if you ever saw me again you’d get a restraining order and a gun.”
In my periphery, I saw Casandra-3 make a sneaky dash from the back of the house next door to the side of 31 Throuse, holding a large purple stick. She’d told me she needed to to get close enough to touch him with her technical sounding word thingy and that my job was to distract him with my – well sexiness wasn’t the word she used, but it was the word I was going to use.
Clearly, the sexy was not working.
“Did I say that?” I laughed. God, this is why I was still single.
“You did,” David affirmed, scratching his belly with right hand.
“Well, I said a lot of rash things. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, Cupcake, and I need you back in my life.”
Casandra-3, crouched low on the side of the building, made a rude gesture which I ignored.
“Boo bear?” a voice called from inside of the house, “who are you talking to?” The sound of approaching footsteps made me involuntary step back.
“Who’s that?” I asked, upset in spite of myself.
David glanced guiltily behind him as a lean, booby redhead appeared in one of his t-shirts and nothing else.
At that moment, Casandra-3 lunged.
“Phkow!” she screamed unnecessarily. David flinched, but my alter-ego made contact with the long purple baton, and they both disappeared in a crackle of energy that smelled vaguely of burnt toast.
The redhead and I were left staring at each other, dazed.
“What the fuck?” she said.
“Are you interested in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” I stammered, before turning and sprinting down the block.
to be continued.
So here’s what happened, internet. Varenka’s boyfriend Rory is in town for the 4th and I was working yesterday eve, so tonight we made burgers and pineapple and drank MANY BEERS.
Rory challenged me to write a story about the 4th of July in under 500 words, and I started it… 4 beers ago.
Here’s that bit:
Henry took another long sip of his mango margarita and shifted in his cheap Walmart lawn chair as his friends came around the corner of the house.
“What’s up fuckers?” He yelled, waving his arms and accidentally spilling burrito grease down his Bald Eagle™ shirt.
“Why the fuck are you eating Mexican food on the 4th of July?” Barnabus asked, throwing Henry a lukewarm Sam Adams. Henry reached for it, but the throw went wild and bounced off the lonely inflatable pool that was sitting half-full on the dead lawn.
“Because being American means I can eat Mexican food whenever I want!” Henry replied jubilantly, taking a huge bite of the soggy, leaking carcass of his chicken Supreme Supreme.
“It’s written in the constitution,” their other friend Freddie said, plopping heavily down onto the dead grass. Barnabus remained standing with two freshly opened beers in his hands.
AND THEN I DRANK MANY BEERS.
AND SO HERE WE ARE.
AND I’M GOING TO WRITE THE REST NOW.
Some time later, Henry set down his 15th beer.
“Fuck!” he said. Freddie groaned, throwing her flimsy plastic shotglass across the yard.
“The fuck are we doing?” she groaned.
“Fucking, drinking, and shit” Barnabus chimed in. He was lying on the ground with his legs on a chair.
AND THEN A METEOR CAME AND THEY ALL DIED THE END.
continued from here.
“You dated somebody for pie,” Casandra-3 said incredulously.
“Like I said, I’ve had worst reasons,” I responded.
“No wonder you’ve gained so much weight,” she snorted.
“Okay,” I said, clenching my hands into fists, “if you’re going to be mean, you can just leave.”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry. I need your help with this,” Casandra-3 apologized.
“Although you do know if you punch somebody with your thumb tucked in like that, you’ll likely break your thumb,” she added. I looked down at my hands and released them.
“Whatever. Are you sure this is the right David Benetar?”
“You can’t mistake somebody with a gigantic bear tattooed across their chest.”
“Fair point,” I conceded.
“Do you have any contact information? An address, some place he works, anything?”
“All of the above,” I answered. I pulled out my phone and flipped through my contacts. David’s number was saved under THAT ASSHOLE. I handed the phone over to my counterpart.
“31 Thouse Drive. Perfect. Where does he work?”
“Really? You need to re-evaluate your choice of men.”
“Can we just focus on this, please?” I grumbled. Casandra-3 make a face but didn’t comment.
“Okay, so we’ve got an address, and he doesn’t work. What does he do?”
“He’s in a band with his friend Steven. Punk rock. He plays the drums.”
“Of course he does. Anything else?”
“Occasionally he’ll take a job putting up flyers for local businesses.”
Casandra-3 sighed and ran a hand through her still wet blonde hair.
“How did you guys break it off?”
“He was a little sketchy on the meaning of the word ‘monogamy’. I caught him in a Sear’s parking lot with three other girls and a cross dresser.”
“Don’t you hate it when that happens,” Casandra-3 replied, handing me back my phone. “I’m gonna need you to go beg for him to take you back.”
“Yeah, that’s not going to happen,” I laughed.
“Yeah, it is.”
“I’d like to see you try.” I said, crossing my arms.
Twenty minutes later, I was in my cleanest dress, standing outside of 31 Thouse Drive.
to be continued.
Continued from here.
The mountain is one hell of a fickle bitch. One minute, she’s cold, violent, icy, spitting mad and throwing obstacles into your path for out of spite. The next day she’s gentle, almost nurturing, catches you when you fall, cradles you in snow, lets the run flow like water. The white cracks that run down her face cut long swaths through huge jagged cliffs and white topped patches of trees, sliding down into rolls of varying incline and running wily-nilly down to the base lodges that invite the weak-hearted inside. If there was ever a chance I would fall in love, this it what it would be with – the cold air on my cheeks, the silence of the backcountry, the long, steep drops with tired legs and watering eyes, the sweet companionship of someone who shares my intensity.
I stood next to Mark, ski tips jutting over the ledge, watching little crumbles of snow tumbling down the slope before us, bouncing off miniature projectiles in a mockery of our own eventual path down. This was the hardest part, convincing myself that hurtling through thin air to land on an uneven surface in the middle of trees wasn’t that deadly. This was the best part, when the fear was bubbling deep in my chest, radiating up through my throat, and I breathed deeply and let the percolation dissipate like I was stirring a pot that was boiling over on my finicky stove.
I glanced at Mark. He looked like he always looked before we hit our first run of the day – goggles perched haphazardly on the rim of his white helmet, leaning forward like a horse at the race gate, expression concentrated. He noticed me looking at him and met my eyes with his movie poster smile, unruly brown hair curling against his pink cheeks, breath one long gust of white. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling back before I pulled my own goggles down over my eyes.
“Remember the creek bed falls down on the left side fast here, so if you’re searching for powder, get in and get out,” I said.
“Yes ma’am,” he replied, leaning in and kissing me on the top of my new helmet. I pulled my kerchief up over my mouth before he could see me smile like a high school student that just got asked to prom.
I scanned the path that was haphazardly carved into the snow, defined more by rocks and trees than by logic, and wordlessly pointed my pole to what seems to be the safest way down, bypassing a huge ice chunk and cutting in front of a sizable pine tree before curving out of sight. Mark hurled himself into the abyss with a yell that was more animal than human. I leaned into the air, watching the ground rush towards me and landing with a screech on my skis that I knew meant I’d be patching up rock holes in my base tonight. Spring skiing was coming up quick this year.
I followed him down in a tight line for a good twenty feet before the trees opened slightly and our paths started to diverge, cutting in and out and behind and in front of each other’s line of vision. We only ever stopped or slowed long enough to avoid disaster, never quite long enough to lose our nerve. We yelled to each other through the trees, our words getting caught in the wind and thrown back into our faces, breaking up the swish and click of turns, the thud of snow falling from bumped trees as the ground remade itself under our feet, so that the snow carried us, the rocks pushed themselves up from their burial grounds and the trees slithered closer together on their twisted roots to bar our way through.
On the slope, I felt predatory, adjusting my skis as minutely as if they were an extension of my own body, like a bird adjusting a single feather to change the outcome of a freefalling dive. It is not a sport you can develop in stages. You do not know if you have the courage to drop five feet off of a rocky promenade until you are standing on its ledge, secure in the knowledge that no one will come looking for you if you fall, unless your mangled body is chanced upon by someone equally moronic. The desire to survive the experience grants us the skills to come out of the backwoods unharmed.
All too soon we reached the section where the trail split into two directions. I was ahead of Mark and I knew he knew as well I did that the left fork would take us down to my supposedly unskiable cliff face, the forty-foot drop that looks bad on a powder day. I also knew that he was expecting me to take the right fork, to ignore the cliff, but I hesitated a fraction too long and my skis turned right just a little too late. I hit the sapling almost head on and had just enough sense to bend my knees on impact as I fell and something sharp grazed my side and the snow rained down on my head.
I lay still for a long moment before I opened my eyes. The snow was in my mouth and under my goggles, pressing down on my head and chest. My legs were immobile, locked into the still thick sheltered powder by both the weight of the snow and my skis. I made an experimental movement with my head, tilting it from side to side, and the snow fell inside of my jacket. Instinctively, my shoulders tensed and my arms twitched from the cold. Slowly I began to move, digging my way out with careful motions, aware that I sank several inches for every one that I gained.
“Shit,” Mark said, as he made his way gingerly towards me, packing down the snow beneath his skis as he went. I could tell by the way the tuh sound came out a little too sharp that he was angry.
“You are both extremely reckless and extremely accident prone. Not a good combination.”
“Shut up,” I grunted, trying to untangle my poles from my wrists without falling backwards into the powder. I let him take them from me and I braced my hands against the tree I’d hit, backing out slowly from the treacherous sinkhole I’d created as Mark kept tamping the area down with the base of his skis.
Awkwardly, I gained ground and eventually pulled myself onto safe terrain, and he gave me back my poles and slapped the snow off my back I strapped them back on.
“Are you okay?” he asked, looking down at my goggles from the only angle where he could see my eyes from behind my mirrored lens.
“I’m fine,” I replied, shifting my head, and he sighed.
“Okay,” Mark replied, “after you.”
He was standing deliberately between me and the drop. I breathed out the inhale I was holding onto, stamped my feet and pushed off into the right trail, jumping nimbly between the trees and disappearing. I could hear the scrape of his edges against the occasional patch of ice or rock behind me and I push myself to go a little faster, letting the smaller branches glance off my helmet as I pass by.
Triumphantly, we burst from the glades onto the main trail, startling the civilian skiers who seem to crawl down the corduroy incline like snails, hands thrust in front of them awkwardly, feet turned inward, teeth gritted. We flitted between the traffic, a high-speed chase on a cluttered freeway, edging close to enough to make them panic, like sharks drifting through schools of fish. The unrealistic sense of security in stupidity remained and my speed picked up in the open to dangerous, bone shattering probability, ski tips lifting off the snow, wind chattering in my ears. Like a falcon I pulled in my arms and head and skied straight for a while, feet flat to the ground, until a skier entered my field of vision and I had to pull up slightly and shift my weight and bank a smooth right turn behind her traverse, leaving her standing frozen in comparison to my momentum, Mark crossing in front of her, curving his path as if she were a rock in his stream. In formation we tumbled towards the bottom of the hill, not checking our speed until we had sorted our way through the chaos of people at the base of the lift and stopped inches from those ahead of us in line.
We freed ourselves from our equipment and stood docilely in line, tamed momentarily by the press of people. Mark leaned his forehead on his skis and closes his eyes, his breath calming slowly. I leaned down and loosen my boots. We stood out in a sea of muted colors and grays, a vibrant and obvious pop of color.
I shook the remaining snow out of my jacket and felt a developing bruise on my side under my fingers. I must have hit the tree harder then I thought I did.
Mark noticed my gesture and frowned.
“Are you okay?” he asked for a second time.
I rolled my eyes.
“Let me see,” he insisted.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not seven years old.”
“Oh for god’s sake, Susan, let’s just pop in to the lodge for 5 minutes. The mountain will still be here when we come back out.”
“I’m not going in,” I replied icily. People were starting to stare at us from behind their equipment, holding it in front of their faces and peeking over the sides. Mark gave me a long look, then started to gently make his way out of crowd.
“Where are you going?” I called after him.
“My feet are cold,” he yelled over his shoulder.
I looked up at the mountain, waiting patiently for me, and to the gondola in front of me, and back to Mark, who was walking slowly backwards. For one second I was so steaming mad that I considered planting my feet where I was and taking a solo run, and I was about to do it, too, until I caught his eyes and I knew that this was one of those make or break moments in a relationships that could change everything.