Stories

Gondola by Kelly Welsh

#Colorado #gondola #nostalgia #romance #skiing #winter #young love

I was twenty-two the first time I peed standing up. My hair snuck out from under my hat and whipped me in the face; my lower torso thrust forward over the edge of the open gondola door, knees slightly bent over the nighttime landscape. Davis held my hands behind my back, trying to keep me steady. He was my one line of security between freedom and an icy plunge down the frigid forty-foot drop to the slope below us.

“Hold on!” I yelled back to him. The tormenting wind garbled my words, forcing emphasis on a few strange syllables and carrying the rest away. A large gust threw the gondola jolting back and forth on its ridged wire.

“I am holding on. Will you hurry up? You’re a small girl—I don’t know how you can hold so much piss.”

“Sorry, am I pissing you off?”

I could feel his eye-roll through the back of my skull. I tilted my head back and let out a shout of delight into the stars. Maybe my voice would reach the ears of every tiny rodent curled and sleeping in snowy dens amongst the trees. They would wake up and watch me in my glory, noses posed and poking upwards in a pious and curious homage. My golden stream soaring through the air, leaving a trail across the pure white below me, tainting the beautiful. My voice breaking up in shaking decibels into infinity, and me—standing cold and in love and off balance on a hollow metal shelter suspended somewhere in the middle of it all.

I don’t want this to end. But just as the thought materialized, my empty bladder reinforced the inevitable. That’s the same thing I always think before every perfect moment comes to its finale. That’s why humans invented cameras—and Kodak invented Kodak moments—and poets invented poetry. There are no fireworks when moments end, only exploding wishes.

The wind gusted again and Davis jerked me back into the gondola. Both of us giggled as we barely avoided falling over. I shimmied my pants back over my hips, buttoning them, but leaving the fly unzipped, just so I could appreciate the breeze a bit longer.

“You’re nuts, you know that?” he asked.

“Yeah. I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t love you so freaking much.” And I did. Even with his stupid orange hat that clashed so badly with his stupid red shoes, I loved him. So I pulled him in and I kissed him and I wished the layers of coats and flannel and skin and secrets and pride would fall off into the Grand Canyon of Stupid Things and leave our vulnerable spirits to caress one another in their nakedness.

When he pulled back from our kiss, I saw that look in his eyes again. I didn’t want to see our future reflected in there like that.

“I don’t want you to lea—”

“Shhhhhh.” I put my finger to his lips. “Don’t say it. Just not tonight, okay?”

He nodded, but I couldn’t handle looking at the pain. That kind of pain that’s too stoic to give into tears, or anger, or admit to itself that it will be okay again. Too stoic to hate me like I hated myself when I saw that pain. But he was staying. He would continue to rotate on this gondola for another year, or two, or twenty. This was his home and he was at peace with it. I wished that I could be too, but I wasn’t; I felt the incessant tugging of something more. I could picture the law school acceptance letter resting on top of my nightstand in its seductive typeface. I could almost feel its weight. The future it entailed.

He couldn’t live in Neverland forever. I hated this line of thought, and to stop it, I bit it—his ear, that is—hard, poking out beneath the silly orange hat, just to get rid of it. Just to see the pain change into something physical. I could taste a trickle of rust swell up where one of my teeth broke the skin. Oops—a few precious drops.

“Ouch.” He instinctively shoved me away. “Son-of-a!” His hand went to his ear and wiped away the evidence, pulling the red smear on his finger in front of his face. He shook his head, half laughing.

“—fucking nuts.”

I felt a little guilty but I smiled. That was how he said he loved me.

The gondola car slowed down and lowered under the shadow of the overhang. Metal hit metal and the car snuggled itself between the runners. Walls blocked out the small amount of light that had been reflecting off the snow and seeping through our windows. The doors opened slowly, without us having to force them this time.

Here, at the top of the mountain, the air felt stiffer. The roof blocked out the stars and my lips were too cold to blow steam rings with my own breath.

“So what’ll it be?” he asked. “Are we going around one more time, or are we getting off?”

One more time, I wanted to say. I wanted to say, “Let’s keep going until the sun rises and we make fun the tourists with their cowboy hats and fur coats. Let’s go until we can smell coffee wafting out of windows from miles away and guess what brands are roasting. Let’s go until they catch us and arrest us for using our gondola keys illegally. Until we don’t just get fired from our lifty jobs, but every job we might ever have because we’re too late for the interviews because we’re here. Until they stop showing re-runs of Friends on TV. Until everyone we’ve ever known forgets us, until the ground forgets us.”

But my pocket was empty. We’d already used both the condoms I’d brought, the whisky was gone, and I couldn’t pee off anything anymore. My teeth were starting to chatter. I didn’t say let’s keep going. I couldn’t because, just maybe, I needed to be a bit more grounded.

Instead of saying anything I stepped off, and he followed. Both our feet fell on solid earth. The law of gravity wrapped us in its smothering weight, reasserting its obsession with us.

“What do you want to do now?” he asked.

I paused, but only for a moment. I couldn’t let the space between us fill into his eyes again.

Instead, I tore the hat off his head and sprinted towards the ski racks.

“If you want it back, you’re going to have to catch me.”

He chased after me, purposefully giving me a head start, probably because he was six-three and I was a slow runner. In a deft swoop he grabbed a handful of snow and fashioned it into a Calvin and Hobbes-worthy projectile missile, hurling it with the practiced precision that I could never master. The snowball flew, and fell, and crashed into my back as I sprinted away. I squealed, letting the little crystals fall down the neck of my coat. I ran and I kept running. Because of the momentum. Because that was how things worked. Just like the way everything else worked. With the exploding wishes and the perfect moments with empty bladders and the moving forward–the moving on. The melting.

Kelly Welsh is an author and editor at flatironsliteraryreview.com. For more of her writing, check out kellymwelsh.com.

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