CLAIRE HAMILTON — CREATIVE WRITINGThe pen is mightier than the sword

Catching Clouds
by Pat Reynolds

They had met by accident at the studios. A bump and scattered papers led to an apology and an invitation to dinner.
    ‘I know nothing of mountain climbing. Why do people do it?’ Fiona couldn't imagine anything so bleak.
    Mike's eyes became dreamy. ‘I love the solitude. When I climb I feel closer to understanding what life really means.’
    She was puzzled, but sensed he had opened a door which normally remained closed.
    Through summer evenings they'd shared a closeness she had never felt before. There was only one dark spot in their relationship – his insistence that she climb.

Monte Rosa towered in the background of the blue bay. ‘Isn't wonderful! Just a little over fifteen thousand feet!’ He grinned and put his arms around her ‘Of course we won't go to the summit, but I know you'll love the experience.’
    She nodded, a rigid smile on her face.
    ‘Are you okay?’ He turned her towards him. ‘You're looking pale.’
    She had the urge to lie. It would be so easy to say she felt ill. No. It was time for truth.     ‘I don’t want to go.’ She leaned into him in a silent plea for understanding. Fiona felt him stiffen, then roughly pull away.
‘Why?’ Narrowed eyes studied hers, then widened. ‘You're frightened.’
    Miserably, she nodded and hung her head.
    ‘How long have you felt this way?’ His voice sounded grim.
    ‘From the beginning,’ she replied in a low tone.
    He looked incredulous. ‘All those months and you never said anything.’
    ‘I thought if you knew how I felt perhaps you wouldn't want to know me.’ She saw his lips curl in derision, and hurriedly said, ‘I'm sorry.’
    ‘You thought the only way to keep me interested was to pretend. Did it ever occur to you that my feelings for you have nothing to do with climbing?’
    The distaste on his features made her grow cold ‘I should have told you.’
    ‘I agree.’ His blue eyes darkened. ‘Perhaps you're a coward.’
    It was like a slap, and she flinched. Her cheeks reddened under his penetrating stare. Mutely she stood in the hotel room not knowing what to say.
    ‘Are there any other secrets you've kept from me?’ His tone was full of sarcasm. When she didn't reply he gripped her arms and shook her. ‘Well say something, or are you scared of me too?’ He pushed her away and with a look of disgust, flung open the door, and left.
    Tears she had managed to contain fell. Why on earth hadn't she told him from the start how she felt. Now it was too late. He thought her weak and untruthful. Fiona sat up and wiped her eyes. Would he come back? His hot words and accusations made her fists clench. Yes, she was terrified of climbing, but that didn't make her a coward. Even now it made her palms slick as she recalled the time she swung through the air, feet scrabbling in panic for purchase on slippery rocks. ‘Damn you Mike,’ she said aloud.
    Sunshine fell in broad sweeps across the floor highlighting their gear. Fiona stared at it, then abruptly jumped up. She would show him! With swift movements she repacked the rucksack, then filled the water bottle. There would be no need for the other items. All she intended to do was to climb until dusk, pitch the tent and spend a night on the mountain. Sitting at the table, she wrote a terse note, then grabbed some fruit and left.
    Furiously Fiona plunged along the trail. The pack dragged on her shoulders irritating her even further. Warmed by exertion she took a break and sat on an outcrop gazing at the scene below. The arch of the sky seemed to meet the sea where minute sails of white looked as fragile as tissue paper.
Everything sparkled in crystal clear air.
    A brisk wind chilled her arms. Time to move. Fiona pushed steadily upwards. It grew cooler and dusk was approaching fast. So far she hadn't experienced any difficulties, but as darkness threatened her earlier euphoria melted away in a rush of panic. Fifteen minutes later she found a flat area and with relief pitched the tent. Through the open flap she gazed at the sky. Stars shimmered so near she felt she could touch them. Fiona took off her boots and crawled into the sleeping bag.
    Cold awoke her. Puzzled at the dimness she searched for sky, but saw only grey. For a moment Fiona was disorientated and blindly rumbled for her pack. Reassured, she grasped the cold metal of the torch, and turning it on looked at her watch. Six-thirty! On trembling arms she crawled outside.
    Mist wetted her face and hair. The rock beneath her hands was cold and slick. Don't panic! Take it easy. Soon the sun will bum off the mist. Should she stay or make her way down? By eleven o'clock she had her answer. There was no welcome light, just a cloying whiteness that swirled and eddied. Her mind made up she put on a jacket and rolled up the tent.
    For the next two hours Fiona made steady progress, then disaster struck. Her feet scrabbled and found nothing. With a cry she tumbled and slid, coming to an abrupt stop as her foot hit a rock. Agony engulfed her ankle. Wriggled toes showed it wasn't broken. As she stood pain made her gulp. Well, she decided, I'll just have to limp along. But she hadn't reckoned on the swelling. An hour later she sat shivering inside the tent. Fear sliced through her. What had she been thinking of! What if this weather persisted? The thought of Mike sending out a search party made her flush with embarrassment. Gradually she eased her breathing and then drifted off into a troubled sleep.
    Cocooned in warmth she opened her eyes to blinding sunshine. She savoured the crisp air feeling wonderfully alive. With the gear packed and her boot loosely knotted, she limped down the trail. Now she could see trees in the distance and emerging from the shadows a figure she recognised. He spotted her and began to run up the steep incline.
    They met on the path in bright sunshine. He stood looking at her a frown creasing his forehead.
    ‘I see you're limping. You didn't need to prove anything to me.’
    No tender words or concern. Fiona sighed. ‘I didn't do it for you,’ she said coolly. ‘I did it for myself.’
    His eyes strayed upwards to the mountain. ‘How did it go?’ Mike asked shouldering her rucksack.
    Disappointment passed through her as she realised he would never change. His first love would always be climbing and she would come a poor second. The time alone on the mountain had shown her she was no coward. She doubted she would ever attempt to climb again. But there would be different hurdles to mount in the days to come. Fiona realised with regret that in the future their paths would each take a different course. Without a backward glance she followed him down the trail.

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