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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young man, legally separated from his family, hopes that a trek in the Himalayas will provide him with a new soul and redemption, that will reunite him with his wife and children.

Submitted: March 11, 2016

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Submitted: March 11, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter One


“And you never . . . ever get them home on time; you are an irresponsible idiot, Jason; a complete idiot!

Well, I had to agree with the irresponsible part; Andrea was right. I am irresponsible; and I do—and I do not know how—always manage to get the kids back past the agreed-upon time.

This separation and visitation stuff really sucks.

I raised my supplicant eyes to whatever good-natured gods there might still be around up there, to try and find at least one who would disprove the adage that ‘character is fate.’

However, only a moment’s reflection on my character was necessary to bring my gaze back to our white house with dark green trim and the swing and the kids; and to change that supplication into a hope for a flat-out miracle.

I was a righteous horse’s ass about so many things, that I wondered how Andrea had even agreed to marry me, let alone suffer my obnoxious character for almost ten years.

Andrea’s face appeared intermittently between the flapping green sheets; her long blonde hair whipped around her ears and mouth in a Man Ray style tableau, complete with a San Francisco sun highlighting drifting strands. A cold Pacific wind raised goose bumps on her sleek thirty-five year old arms; after all, it was August, and a Mark Twain winter was gripping the Bay Area for a third consecutive week.

So there she was in the back yard with clothespins between those perfect lips, because the dryer was broken. Again; and I still had not looked at it . . . or found someone who could. Even between flaps, I could see her shaking her gorgeous head in complete capitulation. I was toast.

I breathed out a huge breath of my foul air and finally understood what a total jerk I was. Time for home truths: I had been and continued to be a total dickhead, seemingly without any redeeming feature except making enough money doing currency trading to keep Andrea and the kids free of money worries and provide them with whatever money can buy.

Unfortunately, for all of us, I clearly had no idea how to provide the things that money cannot buy.

And so I just left that yard there on 24th Avenue, with the cherry blossoms on the front lawn; and Andrea and John and April, and  I just kept walking to Clement Street, caught a bus to the East Bay Terminal, and then a bus for Berkeley. I’d had it too.

John was now seven and April nine—why the Christ had I ever let Andrea talk me into naming her April? I always feel like I should be checking on some event; some occurrence, or even a birthday, every time I talk to her; wouldn’t you?

Oh, I don’t know, maybe I just over-think all this flummery; and in the meantime I forget about dryers and visitation hours and insurance payments—dentist appointments.

When things got rocky in our marriage about ten months ago, I voluntarily left the house.

I had thought that a move to Berkeley would give me a chance to sort out all these real-life prerequisites, mainly on sixteen-mile runs all over Tilden Park and Strawberry Canyon; but living in Berkeley only aggravated my problems. I retreated farther from reality and was clearly becoming more irresponsible as well as easing into the insufferable-asshole category.

Now I seemed to have been pushed beyond a mellow point; in fact, I feel like I’m well past some sell-by date and that my life demands that I do something different; really different.

* * *

 Man. Why had I thought that running twenty-four marathons would fully prepare me for this . . . this trek through the valleys and ‘trails’ of the lower Himalayas?

Yeah, ‘lower’, as in 15,000 feet ‘lower'. I can hardly bloody breathe, and we aren’t even close to the goddamned ‘Base Camp,’ at 17,598 feet.

Silently cursing, I—along with thirteen other condemned souls—am staggering, wheezing, and gasping along the frightening so-called ‘trail’ from Namche Bazaar at 11,300 feet to Lobuche at 16,100 feet.

Well they hadn’t helped—those marathons; and even the few ultras—hadn’t prepared me for . . . this; not entirely.

However, most of the other ‘trekkers’ were also reflecting alternating blue and green shades from the area of their gills; and didn’t we all wish we had a ton of gills; or better yet, a  super light-weight oxygen sucker; the all day number; industrial size.

But . . . we were all trying to be tough and hardy and game, and all those tiresome clichés that people like sticking on themselves when they get into a situation they hate; and which they’d like to escape from, but can’t.

* * *

Some stretches of those initial days were strictly eyes on the ground; one foot in front of the other.

 “Mind the loose stones.”

“Careful with that root.”

“Watch those branches.

Sometimes there was the sliding liquid greenness of sparkling streams, tumbling over rough rocks. And at least one time during the day, some twist in the trail would cut open a piece of the sky to reveal staggering views of windblown peaks; faces; ice fields; coulombs; ridges.

These stunning views seemed timed to appear just when Steve or Marge or Bishop Love or Dr. J or an REI type, was about to ruin the entire experience with some idiotic remark or a dumb question of our leader, Gert. Then Everest –Cholomunga—or one of her glacial spires cum children—would sweep away all the negative energy from my head and confirm my decision to undertake this mission.

Aside from our quintessential trek-leader type, Gert, (a large blonde, jovial, German hippie turned Mountain-Man) my trek mates—with one exception, Terisita “Terri” Chee—are drawn from a fairly nominal mixed bag of adventurers from North America.

We have Steve and Bev; a real beaut couple; so SoCal to the tanned core. Just the Hard Rock Café Cancun t-shirt on Steve whenever the temperature gets above zero.

Bev, the eternal attendant to the Homecoming Queen; polite, soft spoken; not all that bright, but game. She has never complained; not even after throwing up three times in the first five miles.

Steve likes to complain in a hearty way, as if some macho gods will hear him and make him a decent, likeable guy . . .  and taller too. Maybe by base camp, when he’s all talked out and blue and crying for his Porsche to take him home, he’ll realize that all those muscles and all that wavy black hair aren’t really cutting it with the Himalayas and that he is ‘gone’; delirious, in fact. We’ll have to tell him that the sicky–sled he is lying on, is really a rental, an old Dodge Dart, and that we’ll get him to his Porsche just as soon as Bev signs the paperwork. After that, he’ll go first to a bigger sicky-sled, and then to a copter.
In Katmandu, his delirium will run its funky course.

Steve’ll wake up and realize that he’s neither in Orange County nor at Base Camp; and Bev won’t be there either.(somebody’s got to get their money’s worth from this adventure and it sure as hell won’t be Steve)
Of course, Steve will want a full report; you know that guys like Steve always want a full report from their wives.

Post-report and post-release, Bev and Steve will fly back to Irvine and tell lies to a whole backyard of barbecue drunks.

Then there’s Bob and Marge. Bob’s a portly retired school teacher from Illinois, and Marge is his less portly wife. Marge just loves to tag along on Bob’s adventures so she can needle him when the promises made by the travel agent don’t jibe exactly with what’s happening in real time; she’s kind of like a class monitor in the wild.
Bob’s old and kind of quiet—when he’s not gasping—but a real trooper underneath it all. I’m not convinced that Marge even realizes what a really good guy he is . . . and tough.
If I’m wheezing, he has to be dying.
But not a peep.

Marge on the other hand, with her pretty-well dyed brown hair and her fine skin, uses both—in addition to a soft voice—to gently ‘almost complain’ about various aspects of the Trek Brochure.

“Now I don’t really need to go to see that shuttered monastery, Gert, but the brochure does say that it ‘is’ part of the Trek . . . ”

“Well Gert, I really don’t want the Pangboche-grilled Yak nuts . . .  but they are listed, here, in the food section of the . . . ”

Of course, there are always REI types on any trek in or out of the Himalayas, and ours was no exception.
Pete and Susanne are from Seattle; George and Greta are from Berkeley; and then there’s Stanley—a brother-in-law of one of the women—and his companion; a yet unnamed woman. She has been woven into an embalming cocoon of sweaters and coats and parkas and hats—and wears huge black sunglasses. 
I think our mysterious mummy woman of the mountains, is from Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. Big Black Specs has yet to be unmasked.

The REIers travel as a unit; eat, sleep and talk as a unit; and are wrapped up in their own little Green world with their own Green language that they share only among themselves.
All three guys are about the same REI Catalogue height, five feet ten.
I’ve never seen their hair because it’s always covered with solid-colored toques on the march, and left on when they gather for their feed. Then they shimmer away from the rest of the group and we don’t see them again until breakfast, still wearing their ridiculous hats.

Suzanne is a northern beauty from the Olympic Peninsula who has, apparently, climbed or scrambled over (or whatever the hell you do on a glacier) the Blue Glacier of Mount Olympus, fourteen times.

Here I am being a smartass again as you can plainly see. However, you must admit that maybe she just couldn’t remember doing it before—all that sunshine reflecting off the pristine snow must have blinded her; I guess; or something.
Like I say; although I’ve behaved rather well for me, so far, I’m not even close to any type of major shift in my personality, or my soul, or whatever the hell that is.

Do you know?

The other woman/wife/ sister of Stanley has now been named.
Phoebe? Only in Berkeley can you live a normal life calling yourself a name that sounds like a mixture of a bird’s name, and a feeling of frailty. Nevertheless, she is just as REI as the others and manages to have herself heard; and, most of the time, followed. Turns out, she’s in better shape than any of them.

I could really like her if she could ever unglue herself for a second or two from her mates and the hub; or companion; or whatever the hell Stanley is. She also wears a toque, so her hair color also remains a mystery; but she has very attractive deep set brown eyes.

In the evening, when the shades are drawn off, her face looks as fresh as a thicket after a shower; and from point to point of the reflecting light, she appears to be wrapped in a shimmering golden haze which renders her even more ethereal. And she smiles a lot. Maybe that’s why I like her. From a distance.

Then there’s this guy about fifty, who’s from somewhere near Macon, Georgia. He’s a religious nut. He’s fat, balding, and just a little cross-eyed. He drools ever so slightly when he’s talking fast, which is all the time.
I refer to him as Bishop Love, after the dorky character in the Edward Abbey novels.
This guy is the same quiet but quick-talking subtly-arrogant-bastard Love type, except George here, has the entire Bible on his notebook; cross referenced and annotated.
Even when I go for a leak behind a rock or a log, or in the snow, he’s right there pissing along side of me spouting some obscure homily from Acts I, or some warning of an avalanche per Revelations II.
Now, whenever I see him approaching, I pretend to be asleep, or goofy with altitude sickness.

End of Chapter One

© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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