By Cyrus Shahrad
At breakfast I was too nervous to eat, so I spent ten minutes making ham and cheese sandwiches and wrapping them in napkins, just like we used to. After that I sat back in my chair and sipped coffee, alternately looking at my watch and out the window into the dying flurries of last night’s storm.
Before long, without realizing it, I’d pulled a stick of chewing gum from my pocket and was booting it off napkin kickers into backside spins, which landed on the far side of a cutlery canyon. I noticed a girl at the table opposite watching me with eyes that seemed to say: “Who is this crazy old man?”
I wished she could’ve seen me growing up-chewing gum was nothing. By August each year, my mom would catch me sculpting kickers and quarterpipes out of my mashed potatos, and smack me suddenly on the back of the head. “What are you doing?” she would scream.
“This means something,” I always replied after a pause, as if from the far end of a long-distance call. “This is important.”
After the waitress had cleared the table, I took the photograph out of my pocket. It had turned up at my New York apartment three days earlier in a tattered envelope held together with tape. The shot was of me and Spencer at age fifteen, seated on top of what we called “Hannah’s Cliff”-named after the new girl in our science class, who we’d both fallen for in a big way. The nearby gondola had been reflected so clearly in our goggles that two old men could be seen watching us through the window; so could the camera, which Spencer held at arm’s length. It was a great picture. On the back he’d scrawled a San Francisco phone number and beneath it the words: “Fifteen ’til we die.”
An hour later I’d booked my flights and taken a week off work. The following evening I was on the plane.
As kids, Spencer and I spent many nights on the porch of his old man’s cabin, looking up at the stars and waxing lyrical about the strange eddies and currents of the world. Life was like snowboarding, we decided: you chose your line and you charged it the best you could. Pretty soon snow would fall and erase the legend that you left behind, but the mountain itself would never forget. And maybe, just maybe-by a coincidence of time and space, or a fluke of interplanetary alignment-you’d one day stumble across one of your old lines, and everything would come whirling back to you.
We met at the bottom of the gondola, as planned. I hadn’t seen Spencer in more than ten years, but he looked good. We shook hands, then hugged. I gave him a ham and cheese sandwich, which made him laugh.
On the way up, we started several conversations about work (he was a successful fashion photographer; I’d woken up one morning to find that I’d turned into a lawyer), but they trailed off each time we passed over a familiar powder field or forest, and pretty soon we were just smiling idiots in near silence, staring at wisps of cloud that washed over the jagged peaks like ghosts.
It was near the top that we found what we’d been looking for. As I remembered it, Hannah’s Cliff had been exactly that-a sheer face of almost certain death, which we’d scoped for days before daring each other to drop it-but right now it appeared to be no more than six feet high.
The reality of our legendary stomping ground set me giggling like a lunatic-until I spied two black shadows through the cloud, and stopped as quickly as I’d started.
“Jesus,” I said, “Is that … “
Two boys were seated near the edge of Hannah’s Cliff. They were smiling for a camera, which one of them held at arm’s length. A series of footprints, run-in lines, and landing marks showed that they’d already hit the drop at least once. Their fifteen-year-old grins were like letterboxes stuffed with Christmas cards.
As we passed, I saw the pop of a disposable flash reflected in two pairs of goggles. The kids then rose unsteadily to their feet, tramped over to their snowboards and began strapping in-aat which point our gondola cleared the brow of a hill, and they disappeared from sight. I looked over at Spencer, whose face was as pale and insubstantial as smoke. Suddenly it felt as though the gondola itself was falling through space.
By the time the doors opened and bowled us into the blinding Alpine air, the clouds had lifted and the snow shimmered like crushed diamonds underfoot. The mountain was empty-ours had been the first lift. We strapped in silently, bolting down the old path and diving off-piste as the gondola groaned above us.
It didn’t take us long to find Hannah’s Cliff, but the kids were gone, as I’d known they would be.
They hadn’t even left any tracks.
The author strongly recommends that you read Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut.