“Is here!” shouts our guide, and we crunch over to where the snowy cliff runs out. Miles below, unheard, a glacial river splashes. The space between the pearl-white peaks is silent. The air is paper thin.
“Magnífico,” I whisper. Antonio turns and smiles, but I mean him, and his dark and sparkling eyes. I hand him the water.
Peter-the-Australian is watching the sunlight fade away.
“Where are we gonna stay tonight, then?” snorts Gemma, from behind. “My bloody feet!”
Antonio unlocks a splintery shack. There’s a rich smell of Andean wood, and something like alpaca.
“I can see me breath!” says Peter, shards curling.
“No mirror?” yells Gemma, pulling off her hat. “What about my hair?” and it tumbles loose, like silk.
We spoon up soup as the night turns blue, then black. Antonio uncorks a dusty bottle and four glasses, crystallized with frost.
“Can’t get a signal here,” says Gemma, vexed, but Peter (“You millennials!”) is already dealing out a pack of cards.
“We two,” says Antonio, winking at me, “Against Gemma. And Peter.”
We’re a team. (Tonight? Maybe tonight.)
“That’s not fair!” Gemma’s protesting, glossy-lipped; but an hour later, I take another sip, play my hand – and it all falls apart. Gemma whoops.
“I’m sorry – ” I turn to Antonio, but, “Is only a game,” he replies, knocking back his glass.
In the dark heart of the night, I feel my frozen way outside. The stars are speckled right down to the ground, as if the world has tilted. I listen in, too.
From somewhere in the shack, I hear a giggle.
The dawn’s like ice.
I hand him the water, but “Gemma!” he calls, and walks away. On a far peak, I see the snow come crashing down before I hear it.
© Joanna Rubery 2017