Authors: Norman Ollestad
Where are they?
Down there somewhere.
He rubbed his gloved hand up and down my back.
Go for it, Boy Wonder. Test the snow.
I think we should go back down the regular run, I said.
He shook his head.
As I dropped over the ridge a rising tide of snow reached over my knees and my thighs plowed the sea of white crystals. They blew off my chest and glimmered in a halo around me. The crystals and I moved as one. The clouds and the wind sheared off and nothing seemed to exist outside my crystal ball. I lifted my knees and popped into the air. I came down and the crystals spread away beneath my skis. I steered and there was no resistance, no fluctuation, just one fluid stream of powder. This is what he dreamed about and made him so excited, this powdery nothingness.
I banked like a seagull riding a current of wind and there was nothing more to life than this blind freefall.
I heard my dad yell and felt him glide in beside me—now we were inside one big halo. His sheepskin jacket was all I saw.
Whoosh. The halo shrank and he was gone, shooting down the slope. I was alone again in the weightless cascade.
Trees stood in a row. They reflected light onto the snow under the limbs. No tracks anywhere. Deeper in the woods the snowflakes fell straight down because the forest kept the wind out. I held my turn until I saw an opening where I could enter the woods. I banked and sailed through. The halo sucked away behind me. It was brighter and the snow piled up around the tree trunks and I weaved around them as though they were race
poles. The trunk pillows burst apart and the feathers wisped my face. I loved the feeling and I hunted down the biggest pillows I could find. I wanted to show my dad.
Then everything dropped out beneath me. I flipped over. I was upside down. But not falling anymore. Snow poured into my parka from the waist and out the neck and into my hair. When it stopped I saw a tree trunk not more than two feet from my face. Looking downward I saw frozen earth and roots. Upward I saw my skis parallel with the tree’s limbs above them. My ski tips were wedged against the tree trunk on a lip of bark. My tails rested on the outer rim of the tree well in which I hung upside-down.
I reached upward for my skis. The bark cracked. Too fragile. I pinned my chin to my chest and yelled.
It was quiet. What if my dad can’t find me? He’ll have to go down and back around. But he might think I’ve quit already and go to the lodge. Snow will cover my tracks if he doesn’t come soon. He’ll never find me. I’ll freeze to death.
My feet were cold and the blood drained into my head and it got heavy. I unzipped my pants and pulled out my dick. With my teeth I pulled off one glove then cupped my hand around my dick. It was warm. Having something to hold, something so entirely mine, settled me down, and I forgot about freezing to death.
I must have put my penis back inside my pants because when I felt a tug on my ski I was not holding it anymore.
Boy Ollestad! said my dad.
Tears and coughing.
It’s okay, he said. I’m here.
He crashed into the tree well and my skis broke from their perch
and we both fell onto the frozen ground. My helmet smacked the trunk and one of my skis smacked my dad’s shoulder.
You all right? he said.
I guess, I said.
He clicked off my skis. When he stood up his head was just below the top of the well.
I’m going to throw you out, he said.
He grabbed my waist. Hoisted me onto his shoulders. Inter-locked his hands in my hands and straightened his arms as I straightened mine.
Put your boots on my shoulders, he said.
I lifted my knees and steadied the boots onto his shoulders. He moved forward and I sprang over the top of the well. I landed facefirst then crawled away from the well.
My skis came flying out next. Then my dad’s head appeared. He wedged one boot and one hand against the trunk and the tip of the other boot and the other hand into the snow wall—spread like a starburst. His arm shot up and he grabbed a limb and snow ruptured from the pines and caked his head. He twisted, pushing both boots off the trunk to dive. He landed next to me.
He shook his head like Sunny coming out of the ocean. He lifted his goggles.
That was gnarly, Ollestad.
How ’bout that powder?
I was looking at the tree well and in that moment the bliss of the powder was difficult to enjoy. Then I noticed him staring at me. His eyes beamed like a golden sun cutting through the snowstorm and the high seeped back in.
He opened his hand and I took it and he pulled me upright.
We’ll head down that valley, he said. Could be some good skiing down there, Boy Wonder.
my dad’s cold limp body. Everything appeared to have slowed down. Each snowflake was separate and unique from the other. The plane debris creaked a specific timbre with every gust. The fog swarmed in discrete braids of vapor.
I crouched on all fours like a wolf or some sort of animal that is used to living in these mountains. I swiveled my neck up and down, eyes tracking the geography of the funnel. I could smell the snow and distinguish the wind in another chute from the wind roaring in this chute. As if wearing ski goggles, I was able to delineate the contours in the snow, no longer a shapeless white mass that I would have to touch in order to discern the changes in texture and pitch.
My mind stopped darting from one thought to the next. No longer debated whether or not the punishing storm would finally win, whether or not I would lose my grip on the ice, or if
Sandra was right or wrong about my dad. My mind sealed itself off from everything but the immediate geography.
I turned away from my dad and stared into the blizzard. Far across the chute a white airplane wing, previously camouflaged by the gray fog blending with the white snow, seemed easily distinguishable, as if suddenly my eyes could cut through the flat, milky light. The wing was lodged against the base of a big tree trunk. The snow was flatter there, having gathered behind the trunk.
I moved toward it, one hand then foot at a time, scaling laterally out of the funnel. The wind gathered razors of ice off the tree limbs and lashed my face. Upslope a few feet the wind had chafed away some of the snow and exposed a faint trail. I tracked higher to root it out, sturdy on my four paws as a mountain goat.
My hands found the scant trail ledge before my eyes saw it. I slinked low to eye the trail’s shape and trajectory. It traversed the chute, feathering away near the tree where the plane wing pulsed in and out of existence. The edge of the wing was fused into the snow at the base of the tree trunk. It was propped up at an angle. Shelter.
I thought of the airplane’s floor rug. I remembered seeing it tangled amongst some twisted metal near Sandra. I needed it. Also maybe there’s an ice axe or shovel or at least some gloves somewhere in the wreckage. So I followed my prints back to the impact zone. Slipping was not an option. I was hunting for tools.
I rummaged through the twisted pieces. Nothing to help me, except the rug. The frayed metal scraps would only cut my hands up, and they weren’t stiff enough to axe with. I coiled the rug and hefted it under what would be my downhill arm during the hike back to the wing.
I heard Sandra whimpering. She was above me—I had tuned her out along with everything else that was a distraction. Her eyes were glassy, lashes frosted. I told her to carefully, slowly, step-by-tiny-step, move with me to the wing.
No, she said. I can’t move.
AD WAS HOLDING
both our surfboards when I woke up, and it took a second to remember that we were in Mexico.
Let’s get wet, he said. It’ll feel good.
I was suspicious because he didn’t mention the waves at all, just the part about getting wet. I followed him down some rusty metal stairs and we passed a Mexican couple dressed up in fancy linen clothes. They huddled against the railing as if we were
or lepers or something. Down on the beach the swells became waves, big waves.
It didn’t look so big from up high, I said.
You’ll be fine. There are some beautiful peelers coming off that point. See them?
Should I surf the inside section?
Hell no, he said. If you don’t surf the point you might as well be anywhere riding the whitewash.
I swallowed any further protests because I could see in his eyes that we were going out no matter what.
Although the air was as hot as a two-dollar pistol, as my dad liked to say, the water was cool. I howled because the salt stung my raspberried hip and the scrapes on my ass and arm and hand.
It’s good for it, he said.
I clenched my teeth and put my head down and paddled. The stinging waned and after ducking under a few waves I felt awake and clearheaded for the first time in days. He pushed me through the bigger walls of whitewash and the salt scrubbed off the caked layers of sweat.
Out on the point I shivered, more from buried fear than the water temperature. My dad rubbed my back and spoke softly to me about the waves and how a ride could be effortless, like a seagull gliding an inch off the surface.
The swells came around the headland and stood up without warning. They were taller than my head. He told me I could do it, that it would be
, and he turned my board around and told me to paddle for the
little one rolling in
He pushed me into the wave. Not a
, it was over my head. I swept my feet under my body and leaned back just a bit. The nose of the board dove for an instant and then planed out on the bottom. I turned my shoulder and the board responded perfectly, elevating into the face of the wave. I pumped my back leg to generate speed.
My dad said these waves were perfect because they broke down the line without sections. I hoped he was right because no matter how hard I gyrated I remained in the crux of the wave—right where the face of the wave bent and the lip of the wave started to pitch outward. I kept pumping my legs and the lip kept pitching toward my head. After a string of near escapes,
each one a victory, my legs got tired and I curved over the lip and down the back of the wave. I paddled to the beach before my dad could call me back out.
The sand was black and burning hot so I sat on my board. I watched Dad ride some waves. He swung his board up the face of the wave, banking off the pitching lip, which drove him down the face, giving him enough speed to thrust off the bottom and back up the face to bash the lip again.
We ate lunch in a restaurant at the top of the rusty stairs. We sat at a pigskin table in our wet shorts and the refined Mexican couple scrutinized our sandy feet and salt-contorted hair. My dad sunk low over the table and shifted his eyes to the couple and back to me.
They have no idea what they’re missing, he said.
His eyes wound up. His cheeks formed into two rosy balls.
They think they’re really something, he said. We just surfed perfect waves, perfect, with nobody out, and they’re just sitting there oblivious, sipping coffee and chatting about who knows what.
I looked over at the fancy couple. They sipped their coffee like birds and the man smoothed out his linen shirt and I thought about us racing across the sea on those waves.
It would be boring to be them, I said.
Could you imagine? he said, and we laughed like two monkeys.
In the morning a crosswind was chewing the swells down to one-foot mushers. We left and never found another good wave in Baja. After traversing the monotonous desert all morning we parked on a bluff of dust and sand, no bushes or plants or color, except for the emerald sea below. Just looking at it cooled me down.
Good thing we got those waves yesterday, he said.
It’s sure better than sitting in a hot truck all day with nothing to look at but dust, I said.
Have you ever been tubed? he said.
It’s kinda like flying through deep powder.
Yeah. Even though it’s different, you get that
I turned and my dad was staring at me with wild sapphire blue eyes. He saw it in me and I saw it in him—a remembrance of that feeling: hovering in a weightless space with honey on the tip of your tongue and pure red blood gorging your heart, soaring on a current of angelic music cutting clear mountain air.
Maybe we’ll find some tubes for you, Boy.
What happens if you don’t make it out?
You get crushed.
He punctuated his response by holding his gaze on me.
My dad was not his usual self that night. We ate in a town crowded with Mexican tourists and he scowled and stared at the people moving along the cobblestone street. It seemed like he was glaring at women’s asses a lot. He said he was feeling under the weather and he ate oranges and raw garlic with cheese for his dinner.
Are you sad about Sandra?
Naw. I’m just fighting off a bug.
Will she be there when we get back?
I don’t know. I hope so.
In the room we plugged in the fan he had bought at the local hardware store. The store had mostly barren shelves and
was dank and dirty, part of a broken world of half-built structures and unfinished roads. We sat naked on our respective beds receiving alternate blasts from the fan. He tuned the guitar, which was way out of tune from the heat. He sang
Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
and then shut off the lights.
The following afternoon we set across the Sea of Cortez aboard the ferry. The only thing good about the eighteen-hour journey would be the cool air coming off the water. My dad played poker with a Scandinavian doctor and his beautiful wife. There were stacks of 1,000 and 10,000-note pesos building up in front of my dad’s seat. I wondered if he was trying to impress the wife. She had dove-white hair and lime green eyes. The opposite of Sandra.
The dolphins rode waves off the ferry’s bow as the sun went down. I was mesmerized. They must be the best surfers in the world.
In the middle of the night I was awakened. My dad was curling up on the end of our bench, putting the top of his head close to mine. He smelled funny.
What’s that smell? I said.
We’ve been sweating for a couple days, he said.
You smell like that lady, I said.
We danced together after you went to sleep, he said. Her perfume must’ve got on me.
Where was her husband?
He danced too.
Yeah sure, I thought.
The next morning we disembarked in Mazatlán and the sage was gone, replaced by jungle. The jungle crawled across the hills and was deep green and smelled of wet earth.
is Mexico, I thought.
We took the highway south and drove out to the first point we came to. A blond surfer, clearly an American, was waxing up his board.
Guard the truck, said my dad and jogged across the beach and spoke to him.
When my dad returned he looked excited.
The guy thinks the waves will get good today from a hurricane off the coast. What do you say we drive for a couple hours and then surf?
Is it going to get big?
Maybe. But we’ll surf a point. Just stay on the inside.
At the last point break there was no inside section where I could ride the smaller waves. I brought this to my dad’s attention.
That was unique, he said.
He patted my leg and shut my door and went around to the driver’s side.
The road veered inland and I anticipated it veering back toward the coast. I moved to the edge of the seat, waiting for the moment when we’d see the big waves, not wanting them to catch me by surprise. My dad whistled a tune I had heard him play on his guitar and he told me it was Merle Haggard. He jiggled his shoulders and lifted his voice. It was out of sync with the forlorn lyrics and it seemed like maybe he was trying to hide sadness. Or maybe he was fine. There was no way to read him. He was walled off in his own world. I hated not knowing what he was feeling, not having a barometer to look to. Unable to
express my aloneness, I felt tied up, and I sat there picking the scab on my elbow.
My dad reached across my body and braked hard, his skin peeling off the vinyl as I banged against the passenger’s door. Next to a roadblock made of sandbags and a two-by-four stood a young man in a military uniform that was several sizes too big for him. He waved a white flag.
Shit, said my dad.
Nothing. It’s cool.
My dad eased the truck up to the two-by-four that was about hood high. I wanted him to stop farther back. From under a makeshift lean-to of palms appeared three more young men in uniform. The soldiers had rifles over their shoulders, barrels pointed forward and swinging, as they approached us.
, said my dad.
The teenager with the flag stepped aside and a guy wearing a billed cap took the lead. He was a teenager too. His eyes were small and swollen like Nick’s on a Saturday morning. He didn’t respond to my dad. The other two guys with rifles circled the truck and glared at me. How could teenagers have guns already? I thought.
I peeked around my dad’s body. The leader rested his hand on the nose of the rifle, which was lazily pointed toward my dad’s head.
, he said.
My dad reached for the glove compartment and the teenager on my side raised his rifle. The barrel was inches from my face. My dad spoke to the leader in Spanish and pointed to the glove compartment. The barrel dropped and I peed in my pants. I held
my breath so I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t move and the piss ran down my leg.
The leader asked my dad about the washing machine. My dad showed him the Sears receipt. My dad and the leader seemed to argue.
The leader grabbed the door handle and I gasped. The teenagers laughed at me. The leader opened the driver’s door and looked behind the bench seat. He yelled to the guy on my side, who opened my door and rummaged through the glove compartment, scattering papers onto the floor and the road. One of them grabbed my dad’s guitar. The guy holding the flag made kissing gestures to me. My dad put his hand over my hand and I stared at the black floor mat and the papers.
The soldiers took money from my dad’s pockets, then one of them threw the guitar case into the truck bed and a sound rose from my dad’s gut. The leader yelled to the kid with the flag and he pulled back the two-by-four. It slid off the sandbags and when there was enough space my dad hit the gas hard. The teenagers whistled and called out.
My dad did not speak. His arm muscles were taut from gripping the steering wheel. I spoke and it startled him.
What? he snapped.
Nothing, I said.
About ten minutes later he pulled over. He told me to change my shorts and I was amazed he had noticed. He fixed the tarp and inspected his guitar. His face looked angry. The vertical crease between his eyebrows cut deep into his skin and it looked like he had a scar there.
Was that all our money?
Almost, he said, then pulled the poker winnings from the sound hole of the guitar.
Ha! I said.
You hung tough, he said.
He kissed me on the cheek.
I love you, he said.
I love you too, I said.
Later that day we came upon another checkpoint. This time I saw only one teenager. He was in uniform like the others had been. He was tall with very dark skin and pimples. He rested something against the sandbags in the shade, and his long spine hooked like the handle of a cane. Gangly legged, he strolled to the truck. He spoke in slow Spanish. He pointed to the washing machine. My dad grumbled and pulled the receipt out of the glove compartment again. On cue the teenager said tax in perfect English. My dad pointed back from where we had come and seemed to recount the heavy tax we had already paid. The teenager looked startled. He craned his head and peered beyond the road into the jungle. Sitting in a folding chair was an older man in uniform with a toothpick in his mouth and a magazine in his hands. The boy whistled and the man tore his eyes from the magazine and shrugged his shoulders, as if bothered. The boy waved the man over.
My dad’s eyes darted around. They landed on the sandbags. Suddenly he hit the gas. The tires squealed, then bit, and the truck lurched and charged the barricade. I ducked and heard the wood ping off the grill.
Stay down! he yelled.
He tucked his head between his shoulders like a pigeon and kept the pedal to the floor. I heard a loud pop.
I crouched into the leg space under the glove compartment. I felt the truck pull as we rounded a turn. The truck righted and he looked back.
We’re clear, he said.
Holy shit Dad!
I wasn’t going to play that game again, he said.
What was that noise?
Crouched under the dash I stared at his knee thinking about a bullet puncturing his skull.
They don’t have a car, I said. Right?
No. They probably get picked up and dropped off.
What about a radio?
Maybe. But probably not.
What if they do?
I didn’t see one. I think we’re lookin’ good.
I crept onto the bench seat and panted like a dog.
Ollestad. Take it easy. We’re fine. They’re long gone.
I looked at him and he saw the fear and disappointment in my eyes.
I didn’t think he’d get to his rifle so fast, he said. He seemed slow.
That was stupid, I said.