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"Over The Edge"Excerpt:  Over The Edge

Chapter Six

Matthew swerved into the small turnout at the summit of the 8,500-foot Teton Pass and stared straight down into what had been advertised as the wide-open spaces of Jackson Hole.  Where was the view?  His escape had turned into a circle.  He’d left the San Francisco Bay Area engulfed in a depressing blanket of fog.  He’d worked his way through the Sierras and across Donner Summit in low-hanging, snow-blowing winter clouds.  Now a murky gray sea of fog filled the valley.  Frustration generated anger, which in turn produced pain.  His muscles knotted and spasmed.  This was bullshit.  He wasn’t going down there.

The light vibration from the engine lulled him further from action.  But spectacular vistas and peaks rimmed the fog-shrouded Hole, a tantalizing temptation to journey down into the unknown.  He couldn’t sit here at the top of the Teton Pass much longer.

The steep road down promised little comfort.  He glanced up at the mighty avalanche chutes to his left, the Twin and Shovel Slides, frightening forces of nature that had scoured the mountainside clean of all vegetation.  The edge of the even more murderous Glory Slide beckoned a short distance below the summit.  How could this route be open to traffic?  But where else could he go?  He had no other plan.

Matthew reached the valley floor at Wilson.  The Stagecoach Bar stood out from the few buildings that comprised the small town.  Matthew parked the car at the side of the road and again experienced the misery of unwrapping himself from the Corvette to remove his tire chains.

Jackson Hole cold slammed him.  His lungs froze in mid-breath.  The lining of his nose contracted.  His eyes watered, but no moisture survived to reach his cheeks.  His lightweight clothes were as worthless as tissue paper.  Frigid shock folded him right back into the car.  The hell with the chains.  Inevitably the links would break, wreaking havoc on the fiberglass wheel wells of his car.  They could mangle the car all they wanted.  He didn’t give a damn.

Looking north up the valley, he picked out images of the Teton Range, emerging from what turned out to be only a thin layer of low-lying clouds.  Some consolation, if he didn’t feel like an emotional rag doll.  Still, even at this angle, the mystic peaks stood out against the murky sky.

*  *  *

The car crunched the short distance to the road that led to Moose and the ski resort at Teton Village.  He made the left turn and eased towards mountains that rose out of the flat valley haze like the city of Oz.  An irregular border of barren aspens and frozen fir trees lined the way.  Little other traffic distracted him.  He focused on the view ahead and almost missed the large moose with its calf chewing branches ten feet from the road.

Matthew turned left down a plowed driveway across the street from a deserted KOA Campground, halfway to Teton Village.  The small road opened up into a rectangular parking lot one hundred yards from the highway and across a snow-filled creek. 

The Grand View Lodge sat at the end of the flat area, two stories, constructed of thick lodge-pole pine, gleaming even in the gathering gloom.  A small, ancient log cabin squatted on the side of the lot nearest to the highway, close to the corner of the lodge.  The structure, weathered to a dark brown, stood in stark contrast to the clean light wood of the newly completed Grand View.

Matthew put on his gloves and ski hat for the short walk to the large, varnished front door.  A feminine hand-painted sign by the doorbell invited a visitor to ring the bell and step inside.  Matthew followed the instructions and entered.  A hallway of polished planks greeted him. 

Matthew moved down the hall towards an inviting open space.  A large woman appeared.  She waited in the two-story-high living room.  Light from a bank of floor-to-ceiling picture windows cascaded over her head and shoulders.  Matthew snatched off his hat and stared at the goddess.  This had to be Jim’s wife, Julia Nordman.

Her huge breasts dominated his vision.  Matthew raised his eyes with great difficulty to a beautiful face so unreal it lacked life.  Flawless creamy skin stretched over a broad forehead and high cheekbones.  Her luscious, full lips could swallow a man, yet were proportional to her impressive head.  Long, thick blond hair draped below her shoulders.  Ice-blue eyes held light but little depth.  They were the disconcerting element in an otherwise perfect picture.  Her eyes broke his trance.  He took the last several steps into the living room.

“Matthew Green?”  A slight smile changed little of the overpowering effect of her face.

“Yes,” Matthew answered, extending his hand and grasping hers.  Calluses and rough skin evidenced ungoddesslike work.  “What a beautiful place.”

Large, comfortable furniture and sturdy log tables filled the room.  An iron buck stove stood in front of an interior wall of river rock, masterfully fitted to minimize grout lines.  A glass-enclosed porch with plants and hot tub paralleled the large windows.

Magazines on the log tables lay in tight, measured formation.  Stone-cold river rock overpowered the space.  Every surface shone, immaculate, every piece of furniture positioned at perfect angles.  But the staged setting chilled the room.  Even dust motes fled to the perimeters.

“It’s wonderful to have a guest, Matthew.  You’re the first one since Christmas week.  Even though you’ll be renting our old cabin, I hope you’ll have meals with us.”  Julia swept her hand over a spotless end table.  “Our prime booking period is in the summer.  I’m afraid the winters will be very quiet.  Lonely.”  Her voice became wistful, her smile lightly touching her incredible features.  “A bed-and-breakfast needs guests.”

Her words, empty of expression, left Matthew uneasy.  Her unnerving beauty made him conscious of his sexual inadequacies.  Why couldn’t she be a fat, homely hostess, a surrogate mother?  He had enough confusion and gaps.  And he definitely was in no mood to chit chat.

“I appreciate your offer,” he answered.  “Would you mind showing me the cabin?” 

Julia slipped on a coat the size of a sleeping bag.  She led Matthew into the two-car garage attached to the kitchen, then out a side door that opened close to the old one-room cabin.  Julia hesitated at the cabin door, her eyes resting on the Corvette.

“What a gorgeous little car,” she said. 

An unexpected look of sadness tinted the smooth features of her face.  Her disconnected speech and movements distanced the effect of her beauty, making her both more approachable and yet projecting a melancholy aura.  Then she pushed her way through the unlocked entry.  Matthew shook his head, not sure what to make of his gorgeous, spacey landlady.

Matthew didn’t know what he’d expected from his new home, but the warmth generated by a baseboard heater on the far wall was a relief.  A single bed, narrow chest of drawers, small table, two wooden chairs, and stove with two burners and an oven filled the tight space.  A large rock fireplace took up one wall.  An alcove held a toilet, skinny shower, and vanity that doubled as a kitchen sink.  Hard to believe that Julia and her husband, Jim, had lived here for almost two years.  Matthew would have loved to see Julia cram her outsized body into the miniature shower.

“Please call me if you need anything at all.” 

Julia’s soft monotone promised less than her words.  Was her understated offer sincere?  How could he function around such a spectral distraction?

*  *  *

Alone but content, Matthew unloaded the car.  It didn’t take long.  He had brought little:  A portable stereo, medium-size box of albums, one suitcase with toiletries, and basic clothes.  A new life required leaving the past one behind.   

He had also left his old boots and skis.  The boards wouldn’t have fit in the car anyway.  His first move would be to buy warmer clothes, the weather being nonnegotiable.  On his last trip to the Corvette, he picked up a small cardboard box his mother had begged him to take on his journey.  In ten minutes he distributed his meager possessions and set up his stereo.

He turned to the battered box, hesitant to open the brown flaps.  What the hell, better now than later.  Four large manila envelopes labeled “Early Years,” “Skylake Camp,” “High School” and “College/Military” sat on top of some framed diplomas and wooden plaques.  Matthew fingered through the envelopes, curious about their contents.

For over an hour Matthew explored the life of someone who had become a stranger.  A newspaper clipping dated January 7, 1945.  World War II on all fronts, but the end in sight.  An auspicious day to be born?  The first four chapters of a book, Trip to Mars, primitive long hand on graying lined paper, dated 1955.  Fifteen small pages, then nothing.  Characters abandoned, waiting for gas on the moon.

Report cards and SAT scores—unimpressive.  Pictures of a boy evolving from a small child with huge, distorting glasses to a handsome smiling face on a ski trip to Aspen during college.  A photo in Boot Camp, still the shadow of a boy lingers.

The lure of the bed fed his fatigue, tried to seduce him away from his discoveries.  But nightmare monsters lurked beneath unconsciousness.  He fought to keep his eyes open, turning back to the contents of the envelopes.

Many letters.  Childlike scrawling from summer camp, bragging, and asking for cookies.  Letters from college, well-written.  Send money.  Then a letter from Boot Camp, “I have been ordered to write¼ things aren’t as bad as I thought, but damn near.”  More letters, but the messages too close to the pain. 

Matthew could go no farther.  He couldn’t relate to the memories of this other person.  Privileged and protected.  Interesting, but he felt no emotional connection.  Matthew lay down on his new bed and hoped without conviction for no dreams, unable to resist the pull of exhaustion.

An album by the Byrds filled the small space with the ambiguous words of “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  He’d lived through the seasons of killing, mourning, hate, and war.  He awaited the promise of “peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

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© 2005, 2006 Marc Paul Kaplan, All Rights Reserved