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Then into the Mountains
By Molly Black
Mollis felt she could go blind with the beauty of the upreaching, snow-laden branches meeting the rays of the sun pouring over the peaks of the mountains, and when she breathed in, she brought it all inside her. By the end of the third day she was the closest thing to ecstatic she'd been in her life, but for the day that Iris came. Iris. How glad she was she'd be seeing her tomorrow.
The last hour or so of the hike, the sky had clouded up and it had begun to drizzle. As the hikers had been warned of this possible eventuality, they all put on their rain slickers. If anything, the rain had warmed the temperature up a little, but it had also made the ground less crisp, and made the day seem to get dark even earlier.
That night, the group was to stay in a lodge. They arrived by four, having walked less lingeringly through the gloom, as though the speed of the city had begun to return to their bodies.
They all seemed a little embarrassed to be so relieved to arrive at the large old stone lodge. There was a main room, where they would meet for what was promised to be the only really gourmet meal of the trip, and tiny private rooms for each of the hikers, each with its own enormous tub: something very much appreciated after a three-day winter hike.
Mollis went to her room, removed all her heavy and damp outer clothing, and lay on her back on the small bed¾on top of the woolen blankets, hands under her head on the starched white pillow. Inside, it was different. She didn't feel as far away from home as she had outside. And here she felt alone,something she was unfamiliar with. It was uncomfortable. Tomorrow she had to go back. As it contracted back into itself, Mollis realized her body had expanded. Was that relaxation? But she was losing it. She was compacting again. Soon she would hardly be able to breathe, or maybe she would just forget how, again. The conversation with Duck the night before seemed like something she'd read somewhere in a newspaper on a train; it had nothing to do with her. She wiggled her toes as they adjusted to the room's temperature, and lay there for quite a while.
Someone tapped on her door.
Duck stood there. She looked up at him and he smiled very subtly. He offered her his hand, and she hesitated, looked up at him. He shook his head and raised his palms to her. She took a deep breath. He offered his hand again, and she followed.
There was nothing romantic in his movements. He took her to his room, closed the door behind them. He went over and began to fill the large tub, testing the water for hot, but not too hot. Then, unseductively, and very quietly, he began to get undressed. She did as well.
The hot water smelled and felt like balm and blessing. Offering her the sponge he turned away from her and offered her his back. Steam rose from the tub. After three days of no talking, the silence felt natural. After three days of tuning in to the sounds around them, the sounds of the water sounded like music. She lathered the sponge and washed him. He was so compact, and so brown. Though she'd never bathed with Steven, she knew him to be pale, somewhat fleshy, even his back. The soapy water made Duck's skin appear to shine, but she touched it only with the sponge. She washed the back of his neck and his shoulders, then down along his spine, and the back of his ribs. When she paused, he stood up and turned around, motioning for her to turn around. And then he washed her back; she felt the rub of the sponge along her shoulder blades, on her shoulders, on the back of her neck, and then between her shoulder blades and down her spine and along the whole of her back.
When he stopped she opened her eyes and saw that he was again offering his hand, for her to turn around.
She turned around again, without standing up, and now they faced each other. He reached around to add some more hot water to the tub, then turned back again. When she met his eyes, what she saw there was deep kindness. He still had the sponge. He washed her shoulders, her neck, her arms. He washed her breasts and her stomach, and then he handed her the sponge. She washed his chest, his arms, his shoulders. She didn't think she'd ever been so relaxed in her whole life. She felt almost like crying. They stood up, emptied the tub and showered off the remaining soap. He wrapped her in his thick white robe, and then accompanied her to her room. At her door they stopped, and they looked each other in the eyes, and he bowed with his head, ever so slightly. Then she went in, and was asleep as soon as she was under the covers.