All Stories, General Fiction

Thorong-La by Jessica Hutter

I’d actually been warned about the mountain years before, in the days when we were still in the Bronx, when all we’d climbed were the stairs on Bailey Avenue. Back then the ascent was no less tricky, with the steps that crumbled and the men who sat at the top, like goats, watching until we got close and then following us through the neighborhood. In the winter there was nothing extraordinary about the cold, more dirt than snow, just enough ice to make you doubt the ground.

At sixteen, I had little respect for my surroundings as they were. I believed in signs and put great stock in dreams. The nights I woke up from falling, I would not attribute it to the ice. Instead I was sure I’d foretold my own death. When a woman read in my hand that a relationship in my early twenties would drastically change my life, I pictured a murder-suicide or, worse, a pregnancy. Never once did I imagine a mountain.

The relationship appeared someplace else entirely, in the city of Paris where I was supposed to be studying. It crept in when I wasn’t paying attention, most likely while I was missing the point of Madame Bovary or deciphering labels at the Monoprix. My distraction must have lured it in, like an aroma to something feral.

 “There,” it said, homing in on a lecture on Stendhal, on the girl who did not pay attention and gaped instead at the chandeliers. “There’s one.”

It found Joshua next, cross-legged on a park bench, journaling into a laptop. Chandeliers did not distract him. This one was full of plans.

The formula was simple but reliable: a music festival, a late spring shower, a dim, chilly library. Whispers and drums; add several drops of rain from your hair onto a stranger’s desk; the offer of a warm red scarf; mistake the hidden scent of your future for the scent of wool, and politely ask the stranger what he’s reading.

All the relationship had to do was wait.

He was reading about the Thorong-La Pass. I got him to tell me about it in a café. He gave a description of some place far away, high up and cold. After an hour, I realized things of this nature were Joshua’s preference. He understood a mountain better than a coffee cup. The Himalayas did not scare him. But I probably did.

The day he asked me to come with him, it came with caveats. “This won’t mean I’ll love you,” was the most absurd one, his way of admitting he already did. I was not scared of love or the lack of it. It was Stagnation that pained me. A still pond, an hour of scales with Mrs. Faber, our father’s couch on a Sunday when the game was on—treacheries all, a squeezing fist in my chest. A mountain, I thought, was nothing.

The night before we made it to the top it had been so cold we’d worn all our clothes to sleep. There were others at the guesthouse, shapeless in the dark, eyes by candlelight, no sound but the howl of wind, and my breathing coming out in whistles, hurting, the familiar squeeze now strange. “Sorry,” I whispered to myself inside my sleeping bag. “So sorry.” I was still muttering when I woke up to a sliver of day coming through a crack in the wall. I had apologized to myself all through the night.

We couldn’t even see when we’d made it; a cloud had settled over the peak, leaving us only the view of the pebbles scattered around our toes. But eventually, the small flame of victory—a prayer flag fluttering at the top of a cairn. Joshua danced up and down, flailing his arms. He looked around for rocks to add to the cairn, to show he’d been there. I sank to the ground, keeping my eye on the flag and the path under my knees before the cloud took them away, too. It’s all downhill from here, Josh shouted, risking avalanche. And it was. Hours later, the cold ended and the air returned. But I was already too sick to go further. Josh walked into town alone, drank a beer with the other trekkers, exchanged his sweater with a Tibetan woman for a bag woven with roses.

At the foot of the mountain, I lay on a haystack in an abandoned barn, acknowledging my previous disrespect. Sorry. So sorry.

Jessica Hutter

Image by leon grandjean from Pixabay 

11 thoughts on “Thorong-La by Jessica Hutter”

  1. Jessica
    The ironic humor enlivens this. Mountains are best just left “there,” and guys who go to town for a beer as you lay I’ll in a haystack, on account of his Big Idea, are possibly best left there as well.


  2. I felt transported back to the stairs on Bailey Ave . Who knew back then they were steps leading you towards a mountain. You never did shy away from adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Jessica,
    This was a cracking piece of writing.
    I enjoyed the observation regarding Stagnation being mentioned just before routine.
    Looking forward to reading more of your work.


  4. Quite a lyrical romance with the man and the mountain. I liked “the formula” about six paragraphs down. The ending is kind of funny, the sense of mortality, and reality. They do say that climbing down a mountain can be much more difficult than reaching the top.


  5. Very evocative of a place and how a place determines feelings and perhaps actions. You have an excellent light tough to your writing style that makes it really accessible to read, but also has a strong sense of wisdom to it.


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