Silvia stood at the bottom of the mountain and gazed up at the enormity of it all. The day, the holiday, the task ahead.
Why couldn’t she be on the beach in Andalucia? She felt a sob rising from deep within her stomach, as the nerves set in. Silvia felt guilty as she looked at her husband and three children, all smiling. Gazing lovingly at the mountain, imagining the thrill of riding down it at full speed. Why couldn’t she feel the excitement, too?
Silvia had only had two lessons on a dry ski slope—they were experts. She’d enjoy it, they said. She’d love it, they said. She was petrified.
If only Vera hadn’t died. If only the cancer hadn’t spread. Why wasn’t Vera with her now? She could be laying on the beach in sunny Spain, laughing, drinking, knowing her family were having fun up the mountain. But here she was. She’d been dragged along on a holiday she didn’t want to be on. She hated the cold, the wet, the damp, the snow, but most of all, she hated the mountain and skiing.
“Come on, then, you lot. Let’s get going.” Said Jake. Silvia plodded along behind her husband. The three teenagers rushed way ahead of them.
“It’s going to be great, Silvia. You’ll love it.” Silvia gave a half smile. She wanted to back out. She wanted to back out now.
One by one, they sat on the ski lift. Samantha, Tim and James first, followed by Jake, Silvia’s husband. The lift yanked Silvia forward. She hung on tight. She stared straight ahead at her hands holding the middle pole. She was scared of heights. Vera had told her to keep looking at the horizon that day they hired a boat out. It helped. Today there was no horizon, no Vera, so Silvia fixed her eyed on her hands.
I wish you were here, Vera. I wish we were swimming in the warm sea and not halfway up a cold mountain.
Silvia copied her family as she slid off the ski lift and followed them a little way in the powdery snow. The mountain looked pretty, dotted with the occasional green-blue pine trees. Still, Silvia did not like it one bit.
You’ll be all right Silv, all you’ve got to do is copy us. We’re experts. You’ll soon get the hang of it. It’ll be fun you just wait and see.
It wasn’t fun. Standing up there on top of the world, looking down at the tiny buildings below where she wished she was already. This was far from fun.
“Right then. Let’s all get in a straight line. I’ll count us down and we can be off. Are you all ready?”
“Yes,” the children shouted.
No. Thought Silvia. I’m not doing this. I can’t. Her knees trembled uncontrollably.
“Three, two, one—go.”
Jake and the three children gracefully glided off down the mountain. Like ballet dancers dancing to the same rhythm. Their bodies swaying. Weaving in and out of the pine trees.
Silvia felt alone. She was alone. She looked around. Panicked. What on earth was she doing here? She could not move forward. One step down that slope and there would be nothing to stop her. She’d probably crash straight into the first tree. Could she walk sideways, step by step, until she reached a tree? Hang on, rest a bit and then step sideways to the next tree? It was a thought. It would take ages, but it was one way of getting back down the mountain.
Without warning, a strong wind blew a swirling mist around her. The ends of her skis were barely visible. Dare she move? Which way was up? Which way was down? She felt disorientated.
She must get off this mountain, but how? She moved forward inch by inch. Pushing first one ski and then the other. As her confidence grew, she picked up the pace, swinging her arms to help with the momentum.
Suddenly, her skis crashed into something solid in the fog. Was it a bolder? She tried to move sideways a little. The hard thing was still in her way. What was it? A tree? She leaned forward and peered into the grey haze before her and there it was: a brick wall.
Stunned, Silvia stood upright. She looked again as the mist cleared slightly. Her skis were wedged up against a red brick wall. Was she dreaming? Hallucinating? She was stuck solid. She could not move.
The wind grew stronger, and the mist swirled around her head and then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the fog was gone. Silvia looked in front of her and there where the red brick wall had been was a deep crevasse. Silvia gasped. Carefully she slid her skis backwards a few inches, then stood stationary, wondering what on earth she should do next. The mist had only lifted slightly. She could see a few pine trees ahead of her about one hundred metres, but no further than that. Not daring to move in case the mountain gave way beneath her feet, she stood trembling.
Silvia spun her head round.
“Vera? Is that you Vera?”
A female figure emerged from the mist standing not two metres from Silvia.
The female figure held out a hand. “Come on, I’ll help you down the mountain.” Silvia took the hand. It felt warm.
“Just hang on and I’ll guide you down the slopes.”
With mouth aghast, Silvia hung onto the safety of the hand and gently, she glided down the mountain. As they neared the bottom her skis slowed and the hand slipped from her grasp and was gone.
“There you are. We were getting worried about you. Why didn’t you come down with us, you nincompoop?” Jake pushed himself forward on his skis and hugged Silvia.
“Are you all right?”
“The kids have gone back up. I’ve been waiting ages for you here. Did you enjoy your run? Isn’t it exhilarating?”
Silvia did not have an answer for that.