Quickly Down the Mountain by Robert Long

Sarah's thoughts had cleared by the time the ski lift took her from the ground. Tom pointed back down the mountain -- "look, there's our hotel" and she humoured him for a moment, eyes following the line of his gesture. When they turned to face forwardagain he kept talking and talking and she found that she could not listen.

She closed her eyes.

It replayed in the darkness. They were amongst the first to board, being in First Class for the one time in either of their lives. The luck Tom had in winning the prizedraw felt tangible in the chairs that could recline to become beds, and in the taste of the champagne that was served as soon as they were in the air. For once his firm seemed generous, successful, not the cash-strapped plodders they were when it was time to discuss his pay. Happiness, she thought, was what the plane wanted to look like, and it was a fine imitation.

It wa red at him, she was certain he was a ghost, that she really could see the white of the walls through his stretched and wearied skin. He approached them as they stood by a window at the rear of the cabin, pushing through the curtain that separated the elite passengers from the rest. He looks like he's about die, she had thought, he's just so ill. She assumed he must be looking for the toilet but afterwards suspected that he was looking for them, seeking them out. His appearance had meant too much for it to be an accident. As if to prove he was a messenger he started to approach them first and then, seeing something better, turned away.

The bar at the back of the cabin had been temporarily abandoned, the stewardess called away a few moments previously, and the sickly old man made for it, pouring himself a glass - a large one - of the expensive whiskey on offer. Sarah was already laughing, thinking it would do him some good, when Tom made a big stride forward,telling her "he's stealing that drink, you know," as though she couldn't see it for herself.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" Tom said, grabbing the glass from the old man's hand. He physically tore it away, so roughly she thought it would hurt him. "Get out of it," Tom said, and bundled the old man towards the curtain. The stewardess had seen them and rushed back, diving diplomatically between the two.

" I'm sorry about that," Tom told her when the intruder had been dispatched back to his proper place.
"I just couldn't believe it." He slipped Sarah a wink, his pretend severityevaporating once the necessary was done.

That was the moment, she thought. It hadn't begun there, she knew, it had beenbuilding for days. But
that was the moment her love foundered, after days spent slowly but irrevocably sinking. Her mother had been so drunk at the dinner they had shared a week before, the experience of listening to her disheartening but fascinating, all the shards of her mind spilling out in broken sentences. The most coherent ting she said all evening was "I never liked Tom, he's so brash, such a bloody show off."

The declaration seemed to make her more lucid, temporarily reversing the effect of the wine. "Always
telling me the bloody obvious like it's rocket science. Well, if he makes you happy, love,who am I
to judge?" That was all. So bizarre, Sarah thought, so ludicrous, that it should have begun like that. But hearing someone else say it, someone so dear, started the flood.

Now she understood what she had always known.

Sarah did not see the old man again. Their First Class tickets meant that she and Tom were amongst the first to leave the plane. Their holiday, now normal, just another trip together, continued as they had planned it. But it was different for her, then and every day since. Tom was pushy and obnoxious, preoccupied with showing her everything she could already see for herself, and she couldn't forgive it any more. He could be kind and he made her laugh sometimes, but that was only a reason to stay in touch, not to stay here.

She opened her eyes.

The ski lift had hoisted the two of them most of the distance towards the peak. The buzz of contented humanity accompanied them; although it was summer the town did good business on its views and cosy restaurants. The dry toboggan run kept students in employment on their summer break. Beneath their feet, a screaming girl passed by on the metal track that slalomed down the mountain.

"You see?" Tom said. "You push the lever forward to go and pull it back to brake."

She nodded.

Tom helped Sarah dismount and talked her through the short walk to the hut where the run began. He climbed into the car ahead of her, so he could build up speed and be waiting for her at the bottom. She waited a few seconds longer than necessary before pushing the lever down.

The first corner came slowly but the little car quickly gathered pace. The second threatened to throw her into the forest but she was pulled away at the last. Laughing, she realised there was no reason to hold back. Sarah leant all her weight on the lever and let it happen, the air blasting her hair and flooding her ears, the force distorting the smilethat pressed itself onto her face. It was only the illusion of an escape, but it possessed her as though it was real. She wondered how soon she would reach the bottom and the only good answer was never.


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