Tuesday, April 24, 2012

frozen in time

She had been wanting this shot for her film forever and now, standing almost at the precipice along the side of the mountain, cold air whipping around her nearly 360-degree view, she knew it was worth it.  Even though they were in the Caucasus, she suddenly thought of Into Thin Air, the Krakauer book that had kept her up for many a late night as they prepped for this trip up the mountain.  They’d taken every precaution.  There were no tourists here; everyone knew what they were doing.

Her production staff had resisted this trip, insisting that everything she wanted could have been done with CGI, but she was old-school.  There was just no substitute for the real thing, and no amount of pixels was ever going to convince her otherwise.  Sure, she’d played Riven and Myst back in their day -but she’d never been fooled they were anything but what they were, i.e., pixels on a screen.  Yes, yes, CGI had come a long way, and its judicious use she had no issue with, but ever since she’d seen the laughable Star Wars prequels, she knew in her heart she wouldn’t make that same mistake with her film.

Her friend and benefactor Dmitri moved up alongside her on the narrow ledge.  He had a bottle of vodka in his hand (but of course he did) and it was open and he was offering it to her.  She smiled gamely at him and took a swig (a small one), and then passed the bottle back.  He took a very deep swig, (in contrast to her very small one), and then capped the bottle.  He was extremely wealthy now, but back in the day, he’d climbed his share of rocks -even K2; he’d almost forgotten the thrill.  Even though their altitude was low by daredevil standards, they were still standing up in the air.  Not so many people could ever say they did that.

He took a deep, satisfied breath -its vapor hanging briefly in the air before vanishing -and then clapped her (very gently) on the shoulder, and grinned, “You are crazy, woman, but that is entirely the reason I like you.”  She only smiled back in response.  It was cold and it was time to set up camp.  She was determined to save her breath.

After camp was set up and she’d gotten the shots of the frozen lake that she wanted, (she kept wanting more, but the film was precious, (though they were using digital as a backup)), everyone settled in for some good-natured goofing off, which mostly consisted of dares and drinking vodka, (she stuck with water).  At one point, everyone stripped down to see how long they could take it, which she found incredibly stupid, causing her to wonder when on earth she’d become an adult who could no longer enjoy such silly, foolhardy things.  She smiled and laughed along with everyone else and somehow found herself also unzipping (though she kept her coat on) and then falling into a tent with Dmitri.

“Kiss me, you crazy woman,” he hugged her close, whispering in her ear.

“No, no,” she laughed, “but I’ll cuddle with you -because it’s cold.”  Even though it was quite dim inside the tent, she could feel his grin expand his entire face as he whipped off his gear and then patted the empty space in the sleeping pack next to him.  She laughed again and then whipped open the flap of the tent, sending in a gust of freezing air and earning a yelp from him.

“Dammit, woman!”

She only laughed and went for her tent, but once there, she thought, Why not?  She grabbed her pack and the film and the rest of her gear and trudged back to his tent.  When she poked her head back inside, he let out another yelp, but it was one accompanied with his huge grin -because she had come back.  She dumped her gear and then crawled into his bedroll.

“No funny business, sir!” she admonished as she wiggled up next to him.  He only growled in response and then wrapped his arms around her.  Getting this far with her was a triumph and he was going to sleep well that night.

He woke with a start.  A nurse was standing over him, as well as a doctor.  Both were looking at him with unmasked concern.  He looked around the room, and blinked.  He didn’t understand why he was waking up here, and the first word out of his mouth was “Sophie?”, but it came out like a croak.  The nurse looked at the doctor and the doctor shook his head and he saw that.  He blinked again.  “Sophie?”  His voice was a little more clear this time, at least in his head, but for the others in the room, his voice sounded thick and unhealthy.

A few weeks later, he stood at the spot where they’d been airlifted to base camp and then onto the hospital.  This was the spot she’d brought him to, somehow, in the space of fourteen days, after the freak storm had wiped out their camp, most of their gear, and their ability to communicate with the outside world.  The rescue had begun as soon as the storm and the threat of further avalanches had subsided, but by then, nearly four days had passed, as well as so much blood from his body, she must have despaired to save him.

What had that been like for her, he wondered, to walk that many miles alone in the snow, with little gear, and the albatross of him dying wrapped almost literally like a stone around her neck?  Everyone assured him that she’d been dead before she hit the snow; that her death would have been calm and peaceful -hypothermia was like that -but what about the intervening fourteen days?  What would those long days and long nights alone have been like for her?  She must have been terrified, he thought.  His chest felt tight and heavy; he didn’t think he’d ever enjoy breathing cold, thin air like this again.  It had always felt like a liberation before, (he drew a deep breath), but it didn’t feel that way anymore.

“Sir?”  It took a few tries for him to respond.  He finally looked over at the man speaking to him.  “Are you ready to go on?”  He didn’t answer; he just adjusted the pack over his shoulder and then started the long trek up the low mountain.  He planned to walk her steps in reverse, as if somehow, he could walk backward in time to her.  The man with him shook his head as he fell in line behind him.  What Dmitri really wanted was to die, but he wasn’t going to let that happen.

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