She wasn’t ready for the initial blast. Sure she remembered a vista of some kind during the Sugar Hill descent, but the first of view of the mountains against a cool, gray late summer sky was a little hard to absorb at first. It had been a wet summer and the emerald ridges shimmered in the beams of sunlight that poked through the clouds here and there. Her fingers were very tight on the wheel and they creaked a little when she pulled them away. She pulled onto the shoulder for a moment, amazed at the pounding in her chest, then drove on.
The long swoop down through the village and up again on the interstate to the Notch did nothing to calm her down. 30 years had passed and the changes; a few new buildings here and there, changes in signs or colors, seemed too little. Nowhere in America do things sit still like this. At least not in the franchise-choked world of the new millennium. Her aging compact shuddered and groaned up the long hill to the ski lodge. She had the accelerator close to the floor.
She wasn’t surprised at the parking lot. The Lexus’s and BMW’s were few and far between. This wasn’t a school that produced users of that kind of hardware. She sat in her car for a minute, looking up at the ski trails snaking down the mountain. The idle chair lifts looked stark and out of place against the rich summer greenery. She didn’t want to see anyone just yet and was glad to find herself alone in the lot. She glanced pensively at a silver flask on the seat next to her. This wouldn’t help, but what would? She unscrewed the cap slowly and tilted the silver neck against her lips. The whiskey was smooth and cool. It ran down her throat nicely, a trickle of icy fire. What the hell…
When she opened the car door the breeze that slid in had a shivery, high-altitude essence. The Connecticut she had left was warm and summery. These mountains weren’t. The reared up around her and churned out their own weather, their own light. She slammed the door behind her and moved quickly across the battered asphalt.
There were few people standing outside the door of the lodge, talking and smiling. Middle-aged men with graying beards, women of the same age, bundled in sweaters against the mountain chill. She didn’t recognize any faces, but tried to look happy to see them. The doors were covered with pieces of paper carrying hastily scrawled messages and admonitions…mostly about where things were and what couldn’t be brought in. She pushed through into a wall of noise.
She was caught off guard at first by the volume of the band that was playing and the sheer number of people in the room. They were dancing, eating, drinking and talking in every corner. Most looked like those she’d seen at the door, but there were a few younger ones moving about, most likely alumni children. There were also a few much older. Faculty maybe? She wasn’t sure. As she scanned one unfamiliar face after another, the tight feeling that had been building in her chest slowly loosened. This was just another party, another room full of strangers. Maybe she would leave a little earlier than she had planned.
There was a bar in the middle of the room and she sidled her way through the dancers to get to it. She hadn’t sat alone at a bar in years, her husband always veered toward the tables. So the stool felt too high and she wasn’t sure what to do with her hands. But the whiskey they brought her was better than what was in her flask and she sipped at it gently.
Someone said her name and she turned see a pair of eyes that turned the liquor in her mouth into something suddenly hot and chokey. His face was a little fuller, hair a little thinner. But the eyes that held her, that made the glass in her had quiver, were the same as ever, filled with a soft gray light. He talked about his home, his children, his wife. She tried to listen and gave him the same news, the same plain facts of a life in progress. But she found herself back in a dorm room with those eyes, being held through the night as endless snow thrummed against the windows and the radiator clanked and hissed. Under the covers his body had been warm and awkward, his words never just right but always what she wanted to hear. Mostly though it was his eyes that she remembered, how careful and curious they had seemed as she moved beneath him. She wasn’t even sure how long it had gone on, whether there had been one night like that or many. She tilted her head close to him, trying to make out his words over the shrieking horns on the stage. Then he smiled, kissed her on the cheek and was pulled away by someone else. She watched him walk away.
She climbed off the barstool quickly walked to the outdoor deck. Though she hadn’t had a cigarette in 5 years she found someone smoking and had one in her hand within seconds. But it didn’t help and her eyes began to fill. She turned to face the mountain as the warm tears slid down her checks. This was going to be even harder than she expected.
He was back at the bar in a minute, surprised to find her gone. He glanced
out the window and saw her standing on the deck, her back to him. There
were silvery streaks in her hair and it moved in the breeze. Her shoulders
were shaking rhythmically.