Fly Away

by Kelson Vibber

The doors opened briefly and the sounds of Lenny Kravitz filtered out into the darkness, a dozen or two party-goers in deliberately bad makeup singing along as they danced, drank, and tried to talk. Lisa barely turned her head, staring out at the city lights nearly a kilometer below. In the darkness she couldn’t even see the cables that had brought them up the mountain that afternoon. Reaching into her jacket pocket, she found a pack of cigarettes, removed one and placed it between her lips. Taking the lighter from another pocket, she shielded the flame with her free hand and carefully lit the end, inhaling the smoke gratefully before pulling the cigarette away. It dangled from her hand, the first ashes falling on the concrete railing that kept her from reaching town the hard way. Idly, she wondered if glitter were flammable. She’d best keep her hair well away from her face.

“On second thought, I’m not going up there!” Turning toward the hotel, she saw a young man climb down the stairs from the viewing platform on the roof. “The wind’s a bit strong,” he added.

“I imagine so,” she said. She took another drag on the cigarette, sizing him up. Probably American, she guessed. Hair just left uncombed, and his face... “I like the zebra stripes,” she added.

“Thanks,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how to handle the theme, but some of the girls were lurking in the hall with makeup. By the time I knew what hit me, I was ready to go on a safari.”

“So would you be the hunter, or the game?”

“Good question.” He walked over to the edge of the deck, near where she stood. “One hell of a view, isn’t it?”

“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s almost better than the party.”

“It’s certainly quieter,” he grinned.

Lisa laughed at that. “It’s cooler too.”

“Yeah.” He leaned on the railing beside her. “Even if we are trapped overnight.”

“Some of the blokes on my tour are thinking of staying in town tomorrow. They ’avent decided whether they’ll find a place to stay or just go clubbing all night.”

He scoffed. “Is there really anything here that’s open all night?”

“Not likely,” Lisa said, arching an eyebrow.

The mountains beyond the city were all but invisible, blending in with the night, but the yellow lights of the city burned steadily. Huge gaps marked the lakes, and patches of fog glowed faintly white in the moonlight. The sky in that direction was clear, the stars intense points of light in a dark blue sky.

“Have you looked the other way?” he asked.

“Only from over here,” she said. “It’s cloudier that way.”

“It’s also got the Alps.”

“There’s mountains on this side, too, and they don’t-”

“Just take a look,” he prodded.

She glanced over at him, arching an eyebrow. “I’ll be there in two ticks.” Stubbing out her cigarette on the railing, she turned around and crossed the five meters to the south side of the deck. The slope was more gradual on that side, she remembered, with a meadow below and mountains in the distance, but since the moon hadn’t done much for the mountains on the north side, she wasn’t expecting much.

What she had forgotten was that the Alps already had snow. As she reached the far side of the deck, the moon, hotel, and peak on her left, they came into view, the snow reflecting the moonlight so that the distant peaks shone clearly. The scattered clouds above reflected moonlight around the edges, the snow below seeming to melt in places where, she realized, lower clouds were creeping over the mountains from the south.

Even the meadow below, though only grass and rocks, could be clearly seen in the moonlight. Even if it reflected less light than the snow, it was close enough that she could see every detail down to the cross some brave (and perhaps suicidal) climber had erected on the lower peak across the way.

As she watched, the clouds shifted, their edges sometimes filling in, sometimes opening up holes of deep blue sky with scattered stars. It was a moving black and white photograph that had been hand-tinted in blue - from the dark blue of the sky to the steel blue of the meadow and rocks below to the pale blue of the snow and the icy blue-white of the cloud edges and the moon itself, slowly escaping as the clouds released it into open sky.

Screw the disco, she thought, this view alone was worth the isolation.

She turned to him. “So your tour heads toward Austria or Italy next, is that right?” she finally asked.

“Austria. Then Italy, France, and back up to London. And you’re heading into Germany?”

“Back into Germany. We just came here from Munich. St. Goar, then Amsterdam, and then in four days we’ll be back in London.” She waited for a reaction, but he didn’t seem to give one. “’Ave they got you in the other hotel?”

“Yeah. Three-plus to a room, two bathrooms per floor.”

“Lovely.”

She suddenly feared he might use that as a bridge to some cheesy pick-up line, but instead he said, “Australian?”

“Perth. I work in a legal office. You from the States?”

“Silicon Valley. I’m a software engineer.”

“I’m Lisa.”

“John. Nice to meet you.”

“And you.” She smiled. “It’s a nice change to talk to someone who isn’t hitting on me.”

“I noticed the ratio seems to be stacked against you in your tour.” He grinned briefly.

“We’ve been out over two weeks. Ten single girls and thirty single men. About three of the girls hooked up with someone in the first five days. The rest of us have had to fend off twenty-seven increasingly desperate men.”

“That explains why they’re going after our girls tonight. Was the party their idea?”

Lisa laughed. “No! Actually, it was our tour guide’s. Though one of them did come up with the ‘bad hair and makeup’ theme.” She leaned back against the railing, staring at the sky to the north where the clouds gave way to stars. “What amazes me are the ones with the plastic wigs.”

“Suzie ‘brought it just in case.’ Can’t say anything for your guys, though.”

“I think Greg and Andy bought them in town. I couldn’t guess where.”

“I don’t recall seeing a ‘Souvenir Party Wigs of Switzerland’ store!”

She snorted in mock disgust. “Wait till you see the souvenirs in Pisa. They’ll throw the tower on anything and call it a souvenir. There’s the tower lighter, the tower pencil sharpener, the hunchback pushing up the tower, the tower wearing a top hat with a cane, the naked lady hugging the tower - it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No way. You’ll see.”

She turned around again to look at the mountains once more. The moon had been captured again as the clouds closed up, changing the sky to steel grey, but the Alps were still caught in its light, the snow still reflecting across the valley to meet two travelers who would likely never meet again. It was strange, how the fast-paced trip of long bus rides, short afternoon tours and nights of drinking and partying, never knowing whether your roommate was going to be your only company, or bring someone over, or just stay elsewhere... repeated over and over again for two weeks... had simply stopped. One moment of peace, one moment of simple conversation with someone who probably would not know how precious it was until he himself had been out another ten days. She found herself touching his hand, and tried to pull hers away without acting too embarrassed.

“Our hotel is rather typical, once you get past the lobby,” Lisa said. “Yours looks pretty old. Aside from having two toilets per floor, what’s it like?”

“Not bad for a hundred-year-old hotel,” John said. “The walls are all wood-paneled, the view’s fantastic, and the floor’s been carpeted recently. Most of the rooms even have space for three people. Two twin beds and a fold-out lounge in ours. It looks nice. But I’m getting up early to shower tomorrow.”

“Good idea,” she said. “After tonight, you’ll need it.”

“No kidding.” John walked a ways to a bench set in front of the railing and sat, and Lisa followed. “It may be cooler out here, but I think the sweat’s just frozen on.”

A few phrases of “Blister in the Sun” reached their ears. Someone else had come outside. They watched a silhouetted figure sit down in front of the glass walls of the lobby and light a cigarette, the purplish lights of the impromptu disco and a seething mass of dancers behind it.

“Funny,” she said. “I only came out here for a smoke. But here I am, twenty minutes later.”

“I’m sure it’ll keep going for a few hours. I don’t think you’ll miss anything.”

“No, that’s not it. I just haven’t had a chance to slow down since I reached London. Sitting out here, the Alps under the moon, talking to you. It’s been a hell of a lot nicer than just a smoke. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

They sat in silence for a while, before Lisa finally got up. “I think I’m ready to take on the disco again. You coming?”

“No,” he said, although he stood as well. “I think I’ll just stay out here for a bit.”

“All right.” Lisa put her hand on his arm. “Enjoy the peace while you can.” She leaned forward and hugged him, just for a few seconds. Then, armed with the memory of a single moment, she headed back to rejoin the chaos.

March 2000