Hello… It’s Gabbie here – holding my breath as I gather up the courage to share my writing with you. My excerpt comes from my Young Adult (YA) Work In Progress (WIP). I’ve called it Downhill and it’s about a young guy from Jindabyne who was once a competitive Alpine skier until he decided to retire… at the age of 19.
Comments are welcome!
Second place is the first loser. I scrawled those words on the edge of my exam paper, trying to make the letters look like they were sliding downhill. Maybe I would get it tattooed on my bicep – instead of the Olympic rings. No need for them anymore.
I sighed and leant back into the grainy plastic school chair. I stretched and tried not to yawn. The hall had sixteen windows, I’d counted them during the first exam. They were up high, so you couldn’t see outside and they weren’t very big either, just enough to let natural light come in. That was probably a good thing – less distractions and all that.
My desk was in a spot where a slant of sunshine had landed. It was pouring through one of those little windows making a straight line onto my exam. The dust motes were dancing in the light and it reminded me of falling snow.
I would miss snow.
I remembered the last time I had skied – really skied – down something steep and rugged and deep with powder. We had been in Canada, out the back at Mont Sainte Anne – off piste as the locals would say. My best friend Bern had a World Cup on his bedside table. Really. He had won the Alpine Ski World Cup the day before and the trophy was in our motel room. It was crystal, like a round ball sitting on a stem. Bern had kissed it a thousand times, carrying it with him as we pub crawled our way through the village. That night, while Bern was pashing his crystal girlfriend I was wallowing in the soggy depths of inebriation. And at some time that night I had agreed to ski out back with him before we flew home.
The powder was glorious and the sky perfect. The hard work of climbing back after each run down was worth it. My head was pounding but I didn’t care. In ten hours time I would be on a plane back to Australia, never knowing if I might ski overseas again. Certainly knowing I would never compete again.
The snow was thick, ungroomed, fresh. I had to push hard on every turn to propel myself downhill, chunks of snow tumbled beside me as I created a tiny avalanche.
Skiing is about being just this side of losing control, like you’re on the verge of falling but you don’t quite let go. But then I did. I let my legs push harder and tighter until I was racing and control slipped away. I caught an edge and my skis took different directions.
I hit the ground.
Felt a crunch.
Finally, I stopped, my body embedded. Unable to go on. My head felt like pins and needles were tingling in my brain. I could taste blood. I climbed up from the snow and a sharp pain gripped my left side. I squinted up the hill to see my ski, my pole, my goggles, my other pole, strewn like rubbish across the mountain.
Bernard plunged down after me; effortless and graceful. He skidded in next to me.
“Mop! Are you okay?”
I pulled off my gloves, pinched at my pockets. Snow spilt out of them.
Bern laughed and I tried to do the same but pain was burning at my side.
“Don’t make me laugh,” I winced. “I might’ve broken a rib or something.”
“That’s alright,” he said. “I’ve got some duct tape back at the Chateau. Let’s go and I’ll tape you up.”
We struggled up the hill to gather my things. I clicked into my bindings, shook snow from my collar.
“You know,” Bern said looking down the peak, “that was pretty bad, Mop. You could stack another thousand times and you’d never fall as hard as you did just then.”
In the hall, behind me, I could hear Darcy’s pencil scrambling across the page like his life depended on it. His life probably did depend on it. He was smart. Darcy had a good chance of going to uni and studying something. I think I heard him say once he might try engineering. I didn’t even know what engineers did.
I held my biro and tipped it upside down. It was one of those novelty pens – I’d bought it in a tacky souvenir shop somewhere in Switzerland a few years back. Inside the pen was a tiny but gorgeous girl suspended in water. As I turned the pen, her bikini top slid off revealing ridiculously big boobs. I smiled, flicked the pen. Bikini on, bikini off.
I’d missed too much school to know a lot about anything. I knew this though – if you didn’t know the answer to an exam question, you were pretty much stuffed. But I didn’t want to be the first one to leave the hall. I’d been the second to leave from English, third to leave from Maths and first to leave from Geography. There were only eight of us sitting the Design and Tech exam. I decided to wait. I’d be the fifth person to go.
I looked back at the exam paper and tried to focus on the question. Focus. That was the buzz word floating around my head these days. Haunting me.
Once – focus had been my trigger word; the word my coach would whisper before the buzzer sounded, the word I’d visualise in that heartbeat of a moment before they called my name to race. Focus had been my word. But I wasn’t sure what it meant anymore. I’d never had to focus on anything in the real world.
Early year, I’d made the decision to retire from professional skiing to focus on my HSC. I’d taken two years to complete Year 11 – that was with competition and skiing. Then another year for Year 12 and the HSC. Three years in total to do an eighteen month course and a few weeks of exams. And after all that, I still had more gaps than knowledge.
I didn’t know how to “focus” on school. The only thing I’d ever been focused on was skiing. I asked my friend Mac once how she did it. She had flicked her hair and told me it was easy. She could focus on study because she really wants the high grades and all that.
Everything I really want, I’ve already had.