Flash Fiction: The Climb (ca 1800 words)

First of all let me tell you that my novella is free on Amazon for a few days so you can go grab it here (US) or here (UK). Or you can just continue to read… 

Because of some post-publishing-burbs I’m dedicating myself to small projects at the moment and so this happened. I don’t quite know what to call this. It doesn’t feel like a short story (It’s just about 1800 words), so lets call it flash fiction exercise.  

THE CLIMB

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“You’re never finished, you try to be, but it never goes away. Struggling to settle in yourself. Find a way to get along with yourself is hard enough, and then there’s other people. Hell is other people, Sartre said. Anti-social existentialist, although I’m sure he was just pretending. He was French, he must have loved other people, surely they all do?”

And you tell me I’m generalising again. Making assumptions and I just smile at you. Of course I’m generalising, what else can you do with a man like Sartre?

“I like Camus better,” you tell me, “less pretentious,” and I laugh, but I know you mean that with all your heart.

“Will you take a trip with me?” I ask you and you cock your head, a persistent lock of hair falling in to your eyes. You brush it away, irritably and frown at me. Your lips look soft and I want to kiss them, but I’m not allowed. Not now.

“Where do you want to go?” you ask. “It’s too early for the pub.”

“I want to climb a mountain,” I tell you.

“Climb a mountain? You? You never even go out of the city,” and I know you think that of me. I have’t corrected you. 

“Will you?”

“When do you want to go?”

“Now!” and for an instant I think there’s a real chance you’ll say yes. You look at me, and there isn’t contempt in your eyes, but interest.

“You know I can’t go mountain climbing,” you say and sigh. “I’m expected at home in two hours, and I still haven’t found my panties.”

I tell you they’re behind the sofa where the ordeal started and you climb out of bed, your naked body still giving me hot flashes, even after all that’s been going on.

“Call them, tell them I begged you to go with me?”

“I don’t have a sitter.”

“Ask your mom? She’ll do it.”

You exit the room to find your panties and then you come back, standing in the doorway with nothing but your pink panties on, so curvy, breasts perky over the stomach and I know you think I don’t notice that you cover your stomach with your hands. 

“Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious,” I say, “when am I not serious?”

“We can’t just go climb a mountain,” you say and start looking for your top. The top suits you perfectly, hides the stretch marks on your stomach that you hate, but I love, and the turtle neck makes you look beautiful. I’ve told you this, but you never quite believe me.

“Sure we can, we pack a bag and we drive to E and we climb. It takes a few hours, we’ll be back before dinner.”

And you look at your watch, and you look at me and you smile and I love that smile, and I’ve never told you that, because that’s more intimate than sex but I know that the smile means that you’ll at least try.

You search for your phone without saying anything and you make the call and despite the obvious dissatisfaction on the other side of the line you assert yourself and when you’re done you throw the phone on the bed and shrug your shoulders.

“So, lets go,” you say and I can’t help but squee a little.

You make sandwiches in the kitchen and you don’t mind that I hug you from behind and kiss your shoulder. The car ride takes no more than half an hour, and as I park the car you look at me and ask me if I’ve done this before.

And I hesitate to tell you. I hesitate to tell you that I do this every week. I go here after we’ve been together and I climb this mountain. It’s not a hazardous climb, it’s more of a Sunday walk and I come here to get you out of my system, because you’re not mine and I think it’s quite clear you never will be.

Except somewhere deep inside I insist that you are.

I shrug my shoulders and tell you; “Once or twice”.

I take the backpack and put it on my back. We walk quietly, focusing on the path a head, occasionally stopping to take in the view over the city. When we’ve reached the top we sit down on a big lump of rock and eat our sandwiches quietly.

I want to touch your cheek and up here on this mountain it seems safe, but I hesitate to do it because it will mark this place forever as yours and so much of my life has already been invaded by you.

The girl of my dreams.

“You look pretty in the new coat,” you tell me and I can feel myself blushing a bit. You rarely hand out compliments.

“Do you think Sartre had the same kind of problems we do?” I ask her.

“No,” you answer, “he had a none monogamous relationship.”

“You think that makes it easier?” I say quietly.

You look at me, and I can see you thinking about it, then you mumble, “maybe not,” and as if the two are related, “the view from up here is fantastic, I’m glad you brought me here. I would never have done this otherwise.”

You stand up and walk to the edge of the cliff and I feel my heart pounding a bit harder, not because I think you’ll jump really, but you are completely unpredictable. I stand up and walk closer, but I don’t go as far out as you and when you return you walk straight into my arms.

I put my hand on your cheek and I kiss you and we stand there for a long time kissing and it feels as if we’re showing off to the entire city. Your mouth is so familiar and your touch so welcome, and when you pull away it feels as always when you pull away.

You turn around again to watch the view, even the ocean looks small from up here and seeing your awe makes me remember what it was like to come here for the first time.

“You think we’ll ever be able to?” you ask quietly.

“You can move in tomorrow,” I tell you.

“I can’t,” you say, “what will the kids think? And it will crush Philip…”

We’ve had this conversation before. So many times. But I notice that you say “will” and not “would”. 

“Who cares what they think?” I say.

And this is usually where you get angry with me. You snap at me with some remark about not everyone being as brave as I am, or something else that really doesn’t have much to do with the conversation.

This time though, you don’t get angry.

“I’m afraid,” you whisper instead, and you sink down to the earth, tears suddenly flowing down your cheeks and this startles me beyond words.

You, the toughest woman on the planet. And I know not to say anything. I just sit with you, hug you and wait while the worst of it subsides.

“What you said about settling in your own skin,” you say as you are stroking tears from your cheeks. The movement is fast, determined. “I don’t think I can ever do that.”

I just nod my head. It’s the way the conversation goes.

“But do you know what really scares me?” you say suddenly and I look up, there is something in your voice and it scares me. “It frightens me to think that one day you will be tired of this, this won’t be enough for you and you’ll go and find some other beautiful girl who isn’t afraid, like I am. That really scares me.”

And I jump in, because this is inconceivable and I don’t want to think about this.

“We’ve been friends since we were kids, why would that change?”

And you look at me. And I see in your eyes that this has gone beyond that. That the point of returning to whatever was before is long gone, vanished off the horizon ages ago without me realising it and my heart starts pounding again.

Quietly we descend down the mountain. Quietly we take in the view over the city and all conversation seems to have died. I drive home with certain determination. The atmosphere seems heavy and there are words hanging between us, words unsaid, words I can’t bring myself to say.

I drop you off outside your house. The kids are standing in the window, jumping up and down, excited to get their mom home after an entire night “out on the town,” as we always call it.

“Won’t you come in? The kids would love to see you,” you say.

“Not today,” I tell you. I can’t bring myself to say that today it’s too hard to go from being your lover, to being your best friend in a matter of seconds. But then when you’re opening the door something breaks in me and I burst out.

“I love you, you know that, right?”

You look at me. The lock of hair is in your eyes, but it doesn’t seem to bother you. And you look at me and I can’t tell if the look you give me is hate, because this is the wrong place to say words like these, or because of something else entirely.

“He was right, you know?” you say.

“Who?” I say stupidly, thinking this was the biggest rejection of my life.

“Sartre was right, at least I think so. Hell really is other people. People you don’t know, people who judge and the people who make you stay the person you once were, but aren’t still. He just forgot that people are heaven too.”

I say nothing. Her cheeks are red.

“One day, Selma,” you then say. “One day, I promise, okay?”

And you jump out of the car and you leave me with that impossibly enticing smell and a hint of hope I have never actually had for this relationship.

And I can’t decide if I hate you for making me hope, or love you for giving me something to hold on to.

And when you’re about to open the front door and I’ve already put the car in first gear, you turn around and you run down the stairs and towards me. I push the button to open the window. You smile, and it’s such a happy smile and you look so stunning and I know you will never actually know how beautiful you are in this moment and you lean into the car, kiss me lightly on the lips and whisper quietly, “I love you too, always have.”

And then you’re gone again.

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