Written by argonaut :: [Wednesday, 04 January 2006 12:00] Last updated by :: [Thursday, 15 May 2014 16:02]
WRITTEN FOR SGI WORKSHOP 2.3
The morning had been raw and overcast, and I hadn't seen any other skiers on the slopes all day; but the weather had cleared during the afternoon, and now only a few tattered gray clouds, fringed with pink, were sailing across an indigo sky. I stood at the top of the run and gazed down the long empty expanse of snow that lay between me and the alpine resort where Karen and I were vacationing. Tiny in the distance, a few skaters were gliding across the enormous ice-rink; I wondered if Karen was one of them. It was getting late; this would have to be my final run of the day.
I had barely adjusted my goggles when I heard a soft “whump” behind me – and tasted the brassy tang of fear.
I looked back over my shoulder. Sure enough, a shelf of ridge snow, wide as a football field, had broken loose and started rumbling toward me like a white sandstorm.
I broke into a cold sweat, recalling what a ski instructor had once advised me to do in a situation like this: “Remove your skis. Drop your pack. Face downhill. Then put your head between your legs and kiss your ass good-bye.”
I pushed back my left sleeve, exposing the watch Karen had given me on my last birthday. Karen’s “covert activities” were strictly pro bono, but she wasn’t averse to calling in an occasional favor from a wealthy or influential beneficiary; and this watch was one of them.
It was a beauty, but I didn’t pause to admire its elegant design or exquisite craftsmanship. Fumbling with haste, I pressed a hidden switch on the dial’s circumference, and a tiny green light began flashing, indicating that an ultrasonic signal was finding its way – I hoped! – to the only ears on earth capable of hearing it.
The soft purr of the avalanche was turning into a low growl. Absurdly, I recalled a couple of lines from a poem I had learned back in high school:
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near …
I squinted downhill, scanning the slope, desperately looking for –
Remember the Tasmanian Devil in the Warner Brothers cartoons? How he always arrived on the scene as a miniature tornado, a vortex of chaotic energy? Well, that was what I was seeing now – a cyclone of snow, whirling and twisting as it moved up the slope in my direction.
It slowed down as it approached the spot where I was standing. I put up a hand to shield my eyes from the snowflakes that were flying all around me, but I could make out a dark shape inside the spinning white column – a shape that gradually became more distinct as the cyclone’s whirling motion grew slower, then stopped …
It was Karen – of course.
Her long blonde hair settled slowly along her shoulders as she stopped spinning, suspended a few feet above the surface of the snow. She was wearing her new figure-skating outfit: a short red skirt … a blue blouse, low-cut, snug against her torso, with long, loose sleeves … and red calf-length boots, with the blades still attached to the soles. She bowed theatrically as she came out of her axel.
“Hello, sweetheart,” I said, in what my friends assure me is the world’s worst Bogart imitation.
“Hello yourself,” she replied. “Didn’t I tell you? – If you need me, just whistle.” She winked lasciviously and added, “You know how to whistle, don’t you, hotshot? You just put your lips together and – blow.”
She flung her arms sideways and arched her back. The fabric of her blouse stretched even more tightly against her chest as she began to inhale, drawing hundreds of cubic feet of alpine air into her lungs. Suddenly leaning forward, she cupped her hands around her mouth and blew a powerful jet of air through her pursed lips. I dropped to the ground as the gale-force wind passed over me, stirring up eddies of loose snow as it raced uphill toward the avalanche.
I raised my head just enough to witness a sight without precedent in the annals of meteorology. The wall of snow, rushing toward us with what seemed to be irresistible force, suddenly recoiled liked a wave hitting a sea-wall. The snow piled higher and higher behind an invisible barrier until – unable to advance directly – it parted like the Red Sea and went roaring downhill on either side of us with the force of a locomotive. Louder and louder, its rumble filled my ears for a long, terrifying minute; then, its momentum spent, the avalanche subsided, and a vast silence lay on the darkening mountainside.
* * * * * * * *
We were flying downhill, back to the resort. That is, Karen was flying – I was riding along, cradled in her arms. I’m sure the sunset was spectacular, but my eyes were drawn to the neckline of Karen’s blouse.
“Enjoying the view?” she asked, grinning.
“Just curious – aren’t you cold in that outfit?”
“Silly! I’m impervious to cold, remember? Along with just about everything else.”
“Except my charm.”
“Well, yeah, but that’s even rarer than kryptonite.”
With tantalizing deliberation, I took a Godiva chocolate from my pocket. Ignoring the greedy look in Karen’s eyes, I made an elaborate show of peeling away the gold-foil wrapping; then, holding it out in my palm, I popped it toward my open mouth.
There was a sharp hiss of air, and the chocolate vanished in mid-trajectory. I looked at Karen, who was regarding me with a triumphant smirk – or as much of a smirk as she could manage with a chocolate clenched between her front teeth.
“Super-breath is definitely one of your funkier talents,” I remarked as Karen began munching blissfully on the chocolate. “But I must admit – it has its uses. What else can you do with it?”
Karen winked. “Let me think about that, hotshot. Maybe I can come up with something by the time we get back to our room.”
I could hardly wait.