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December 21, 2011 by markstani

A short Christmas-ish story:

Stacey watched the Winter Olympics with a stack of paprika Pringles and her bare legs ski-poled out across the couch.
Pearl and Jim walked in. Pearl said, ‘hell, it’s beautiful.’
Stacey said, ‘uh-huh.’ She glued her eyes on the screen. Mountains sparkled under snow like celebration cake icing.
Pearl said, ‘Linus Thirlby’s gonna take it down Black Run. You coming?’
Stacey shook her head, reached for another Pringle, glued harder on the screen.
Jim said, ‘last time, he almost drowned.’
Stacey sparked up and motioned her boots.
‘Well, why didn’t you say?’

Pearl and Jim held hands in front. Their steam-breath mingled. Stacey crunched behind. When they reached the ravine they saw a bunch of stick-boys high on top. Black Run cut down the edge, helter-skeltered through the trees. If you made it that far, it flung you down an almost vertical drop, ramped up over the frozen lake to the island. Any lack of speed and you gambled on the thickness of the ice. Two Christmas Days ago it swallowed Ian Thackeray whole. Since then only Linus Thirlby had had the balls or the non-brains to try it. He must have reckoned it was worth the risk for the hot girls he got coming to watch.
They climbed next to it. The spring that dribbled down the track had froze it rock-solid. It was smoothed to a chute. It banked on the corners, plunged down an incline with no get-out clause. Jim gazed out at the white-over lake.
Jim said, ‘look – the ice is cracking.’
Stacey flicked a smile.
‘We can but dream.’
Stacey and Linus had a thing going in fourth year. He pursued her for months. He sent cards and flowers. He was Stacey’s first time. He was careful and kind, said he loved her. Next day, the whole school knew about the ten pound bet Linus had had with his bunch of friends. Stacey spent half her day in a toilet cubicle. Pearl coaxed her out, told her to bide her time to get him back.

They puffed to the top. Their lungs burned. Linus Thirlby beamed up from his sled, a soldered-off square of car bonnet. He said, ‘well, look who isn’t.’ His friends pulled smirks. The young girls fought to swoon over him. Jim said, ‘the ice is cracking.’ Linus Thorsby pulled a face, put on his best girly voice: ‘what’ll we do, the ice is cracking!’
He swung his attention to Stacey. He said, ‘didn’t think we’d see you up here. What’s the chances, huh?’
Terry Jenkins: ‘I’d lay you ten to one.’
The boys cracked up, high-fived.
Pearl said, ‘come on, let’s get out of here.’ Stacey stood her ground.
‘I’ll clear that lake farther than you.’
The boys silenced.
‘You serious?’
‘You bet.’
Linus said, ‘ladies first.’ Stacey lay face-down on the sled. She felt its cold bite through her jacket. Linus said, ‘shit, face first?’
Pearl said, ‘Jesus, Stacey.’ Then she said, ‘this ain’t the Olympics.’
Stacey stared down at the lake-crack. She thought of Ian Thackeray, the way his mother flung herself at the coffin, pawed the lid. She remembered Linus Thirlby’s smug grin at school, those hours in the cubicle. The secret only she and her now-dead mother shared about that day. She said, ‘push.’ She felt a boot on her arse cheek. She thought she heard Linus Thirlby shout, ‘stay low at the last!’ She saw the ice rush up to meet her. She reckoned she’d bided her time long enough.

Stuff flung through Stacey’s head. Some good, some not. Like her whole life spooling out before her eyes. Stay low at the last. Her first kiss – Bobby Lee, through a mouth of parma violets. Linus’s warm breath: ‘Me and you, Stacey – we’re gonna be great.’ Stay low at the last. Her mum’s face, spilled with horror: ‘we’ll fix it, Stacey, I tell you we will.’ The leering boys. The ache in her guts. Her mum’s last days: ‘I’m proud of you, Stacey, whatever.’ The trees whipped past. The chute banked and flipped. She blinked up, eyed the lake-crack, yearned for the oblivion beneath. Stay low at the last. She banked high, caught a tree-root overhang, shot down the near-vertical, spun like a flung-free Waltzer ride, ice and sky and lake all-a-whirl, then hit the ramp side on and jerked back up, felt the slo-mo sensation of flying, of things dropping away. She clamped her eyes and stretched and flew some more, so the leering boys were back to stick-men pointing up at her comet-ing through the sky; saw her mother waiting on the island smiling her on: ‘I knew you’d make it.’ Till she sailed down, soft-snugged in pillow-white snow, felt the comfort she craved.


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