by Ryan Crisp
They climbed for over three hours, and the top of the mountain seemed to recede into the white sky as they ascended. Brian’s heavy breath was smoke, pushing into the air as if from a car exhaust. Mike was in better shape, and had hardly broken a sweat. His breathing came naturally, even allowing for a few words along the way. Brian had been silent except for a sporadic cough.
Mike expected a spiritual experience at the top, with perhaps a shaman wrapped in a blanket, waiting for them. But as they looked out over the valley from the summit, the world was still a place of borders, hate, and unfairness. The smell of pine forced its way into their nostrils, and the cold air slapped them in the eyes like wet fish. Neither of them had imagined that it would be so unpleasant to look out over land from a vantage point that few eyeballs would ever experience.
Mike patted Brian’s back, as lightly as he could stand, and kissed the chapped skin of his cheek. He wanted to get back down to the valley before dark, before the wild animals appeared, before they could be killed. He wanted them to depart the earth together at some point in the distant future, but certainly not today. Certainly not tomorrow, or next weekend.
“Are you ready to head back down? It’s so damn awful up here.” Mike took Brian’s frail, skinny arm that seemed strong buried inside his climbing gear.
“C’mon sweetie, let’s get the hell off this cliff. So damn awful!”
“You go down without me. I’ll be fine. I need to stay here for awhile. Alone.” He pulled his arm from Brian’s grasp and lowered his body down amidst the rocks and dry bushes. Mike turned away. He didn’t want to know how long it took him to sit down.
“I don’t want to leave you alone up here. What are you going to do? Do I need to worry?”
“No, silly man. I just need some time with Mother Earth. Or whatever.”
The slapping wind yielded to a gentle breeze, and Mike hesitated for a few minutes before telling him to be careful though he knew that Brian was always careful when he was alone. Only when he was alone. Mike descended as slowly as possible, always keeping an eye on the top, always wondering if his lover was still alive up there.
When Brian arrived at their truck about an hour later, shivering and walking with a slight limp, Mike hugged him stronger than he had since things went wrong, and Brian responded with a whimper. The wild animals never arrived, and they didn’t speak on the drive home, except for the occasional commentary on how bad people drove in the country. Mike wanted for them to depart the earth together, but was beginning to wonder if Brian would be alive when they pulled into their driveway. How damn awful.