Very short story for January: Katherine Koller writes for stage, page and screen. Her recent collection of stories, Winning Chance, won a High Plains Book Award.
By Katherine Koller | January 7, 2021
Audrey pulled off her ski helmet like she won the race of her life because, on her first run in 10 years, she hadn’t wiped out. The bluebird sky lifted all the highlights in her hair. She put her vintage mirrored sunglasses back on, not only because of the magnified reflection of April sun on soft snow, but to scan the people lingering in front of the lodge, all pretending they’re sunbathing. Like her.
Audrey, is that you?
Jerome propped his skis on the rack — they looked brand new next to her rentals — and pulled up his goggles as if he’d asked what time it was. As if 30 years hadn’t gone by since he left her on a park bench speckled with crusty bird guano and clouded by his clumsy apology: She was too urban for his alpine lifestyle of rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain climbing, backcountry skiing, avalanche control and wilderness advocacy.
He’d missed her marriage to an accountant (now potbellied and currently recovering from hernia surgery), the birth of their only son (not named after her husband but this man), her divorce. Yet Jerome witnessed this, Audrey’s first day back in her ski suit.
Jerome, how are you? She laughed.
That’s when he was certain it was her. Still slim after all this time. Hard to predict because she loved to bake. He taught her how to ski; cool she still does because not many women their age ski anymore. Nice hair. The women he knew all had stringy grey braids. He said he’d heard she’d had kids?
Just one. You? None. I thought you only skied backcountry? When I can. Had a half-day open, so hitchhiked up. Best day of the season. By far.
He continued to look her over. So did she, him, but he couldn’t tell because of her glasses. Until she smiled.
I know. I didn’t want to stop, but I need some water. I’ll get you some. I’ll save a seat.
He handed her his helmet as if she would guard it with her life, as if it contained not only his gloves and goggles, but his heart.
Audrey found a bench, wind-worn cedar, away from the fire and chatty young hotties. She looked up at the mountain to give her strength, as if it would give anything.
If he asked again about her son she’d have to explain that, at this very resort, timing the practice race, her feet and fingers frozen looking up from the finish line, his edge caught on ice, the ski patrol toboggan, the ambulance, the helicopter, the months of coma, the end.
She claimed the empty bench with their two helmets and stared beyond the mountain peak, defiant, at sunrays that could never burn off the touch of the baby, the boy, the young man stratified in the skin of her face. At the highest altitude she’d dared in 10 years to the day, as tears formed, thirst choked her, snagged at her breath, she stood tall, falling, falling for the man with the same name, his longish hair grey now, grinning, offering her a paper cup of mountain water piped from the nearby reservoir under the snow.