The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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    When he donated this memory at The Free Library of Philadelphia, this gentleman of about seventy told me he’d prefer to remain anonymous. He had a woman with him of around his age, and they behaved as if they were on a date, although I’m fairly certain they were married. They didn’t give me much information besides this story, but who cares? It’s a great story. By the way, it turned out that the old man who led them had worked ski patrol for twenty years!

    Bill looked around anxiously, and his teeth chattered like the bit of a jackhammer. I held my hand about two feet from my face and spread my fingers wide. I couldn’t see them move.

“Are we really going to do another run after we get up there? I can barely see my skis, and they’re attached to my feet!”

“Look, this isn’t the first time this has ever happened. I’m sure that once we get up there, we can just wait for this whole thing to blow over.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah! And if worst comes to worst, we’ll have ski patrol guide us down.”

    Bill was uneasy by this point, but he had actually done a good job today. We had eased through all of the hardest Blues on the mountain, and had even moved on to some of the more intermediate Blacks. Given that he wasn’t the strongest skier, his performance on intermediate runs had impressed me. But as the lift scaled the mountain’s icy slopes, I found myself wondering if the impending storm would shake Bill’s performance. I wondered if he’d make it down in one piece.

    When we finally reached the top of the lift and entered the lodge, two things didn’t happen. First, we didn’t find any ski patrol to guide us down the mountain. Second, the storm didn’t blow over. In fact, it got worse. We sat with our hands between our thighs, trying to keep warm, and looking out the window into the white abyss. Just then, I recognized an older man on the far side of the room, and we made eye contact.

    I’d seen him around the rental shop before, but I was wondering what he was doing up here. He was easily in his mid-eighties, and he had a noticeable limp. The man could barely walk. It didn’t seem possible for him to put on skis, let alone ride them down the mountain. He hobbled toward us, and it seemed as though the bones in his joints grinded together with each step he took.

“You boys looked like you could use something warm,” he said, holding two cups of hot coco.

    But I didn’t reply, I was far too busy worrying. Not only did I need to worry about getting Bill down the mountain, but now I also had to figure out how I’d get this decrepit old man down safely—and without the help of ski patrol. “How the devil am I gonna get these guys down the mountain?” I thought to myself. My palms grew sweaty, which only made them colder. I buried them deep in my armpits. Just then, the old man stood up and grabbed his skis.

“Well, wanna head down? I’m not sure about you boys, but I don’t wanna miss dinner.”

“What about the storm?” I said.

“What about it? It’s just a little snow. Don’t worry about it, I’ll lead you down.”

    Beads of fear trickled down my brow as I started to recall every horrible story I’d ever heard about groups of people stuck on frigid mountains. Bodies frozen solid, amputations done with pocket knives, reluctant cannibalism. I feared the absolute worst as we stepped out into the frigid and opaque blizzard. The wind plucked Bill’s hat from his head and spitefully tossed it into the tree line below.

    I was just about to tell the old man I’d had enough, and that we weren’t going down in this storm. But then he fastened his boots to his skis, hosted a welcoming smile, and shoved off with his old ski poles. He carved gracefully down the steepest section of the slope, and we followed. He led us into a valley of trees, which blocked the wind enough so that we could see. Bill and I cruised along, watching the old man carve between trees with the greatest of ease. It was as if the mountain were merely his playground, and the storm was a minor annoyance.

“This little gnome is better than us!” I said to Bill.

    When we finally reached the bottom of the slope, the little old gnome removed his skis. And once again he was crippled. He had difficulty walking over to me, so instead I made my way to him. Patting him on the shoulder I said, “Come, let’s get some brandy.”

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When he donated this memory at The Free Library of Philadelphia, this gentleman of about seventy told me he’d prefer to remain anonymous. He had a woman with him of around his age, and they behaved as if they were on a date, although I’m fairly certain they were married. They didn’t give me much information besides this story, but who cares? It’s a great story. By the way, it turned out that the old man who led them had worked ski patrol for twenty years!

Rating: 1
Recorded by Marcus Kunkle on May 6, 2014
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