“Just try going slow. And try and go steady.”
“Huh. Wins the race right?”
A small smile, for the benefit of no one but herself, crossed the woman’s face.
“Yeah. Wins the race. Like the turtle.”
“I think it was a tortoise.”
“What’s the difference?”
“I have no idea.” Song 170.
It was easier in the pitch black. It shouldn’t be. But it was. You couldn’t see the edge of the trail when it was dark. Not the end of the trail, but the edge. The one that rides beside you. Sometimes on your left and after a switchback, again there, but on your right. Over and over again. When it was dark if you stopped trying to stop you couldn’t tell after a while which side it was on. Unless you put your hand out to feel for the rock. It’s funny to think that you could lose track of a mountain. Even if it was upside down and inside out.
Picturing it that way actually helped for a moment. Instead of a canyon it was the crystal insides of a mountain. And it was easy to follow the trail because it only lead one place, to one point. A single snow covered peak. Like the way a kid would draw it. It even felt cool.
“I’d blindfold you but that mule train will catch up in like half an hour. Goddamnit. Last time one went by one of those things shit right next to my shoe. I almost stepped–”
The woman lowered her binoculars and turned around just in time to realize the girl had been walking. Ahead. But she was stopped now. The woman watched as the girl reached out her left hand and touched the stone. First with her fingertips and then with her whole palm.
“Fuck. I’m sorry. It’s just so hard for me to tell when you’ve got it.”
“It’s ok.” said the girl.
The woman let go of the binoculars and they swung on the leather strap hitting her right at her hip bone. It almost made a sound.
“We could wait again, until it’s dark. Fuck their stupid time line. It’s just that they want you to be able to do it so badly that they push you know? But what’s the point? It’s no good to freak you out. You could end up quitting and then what waste, you know? I’d rather take an extra day than start this crap all over again…”
“No.” the girls voice was thick and quiet. She spit and then took out a kleenex and blew her nose. She looked down, it was dark grey.
“it’s the dust. I know, it’s gross, but it’s better now than when it rains. It gets so muddy that you can’t tell the difference and then you’ll definitely step in a donkey shit.”
The girl surprised herself and the woman with a laugh. She immediately blew her nose again. The woman tilted her head and smiled. Then she pulled out her cigarettes.
“i’m gonna have to learn how to do it in the light one way or the other. Right?” said the girl.
This made the woman smile again. “I don’t know what I get so upset about. I do it every time.”
She lit a cigarette and walked to where the girl stood.
“They wouldn’t have chose me to lead you for no reason. What ever I do or say is the right thing. I am your perfect teacher. I forget that sometimes.”
The girl blinked and rubbed her eyes. The light really was blinding. And the cool mountain had long slipped away. It had to be like at least a hundred degrees, there, in the sun.
“I don’t mind you talking actually. Just don’t say anything about where we are. That’s what snaps me out.”
The woman took a drag from her cigarette and looked at the girl. She tilted her head to one shoulder and then all the way over to the other. The bones in her neck almost made a sound.
“Ok then Turtle.” The woman made a circle gesture with her hand. “Turn around and let’s try it again. If there is one thing I can most certainly do, it’s talk someone’s goddamned ear off.”
The girl turned back, to what in theory, was the way, down the trail, to the end.
“Have you ever heard the story about the Ant that stepped on the Man?” the woman asked.
The girl closed her eyes and smiled. “Not in a very long time.”
As the girl’s knees began to rise and fall the woman behind her started telling the old children’s story as though it had happened yesterday and she had seen it all with her own two eyes. The girl could tell the woman was purposely embellishing every single detail, to stretch it out. It made her smile. It really was obvious this woman was her perfect teacher. For starters, the woman was very funny.
And also, in the woman’s version of the story, there were literally a metric shit ton of swears.