Midnight. Eric limped through the frozen swamp south of Killington. Undrained pus swelled his left knee, hobbling him. The injury had pushed him far afield of the resort’s slalom slopes, prevented his full membership in this year’s crop of seasonaires. The chalet boys were sympathetic but busy, wished him better luck in New Zealand. They were all hardcore addicts: hemisphere-hoppers determined to tip the snow globe to their will, to chase snow highs year-round.
At thirty-five Eric gracefully accepted his demotion to grunt, agreeing to do any job on an emergency basis so long as it kept his hand in the game. In the last week he’d subbed for a food-poisoned comic, bar-backed at the base lodge, and acted as snow gun whisperer, rigging fan wires on three machines to make fresh powder a sure thing for the weekend crowd.
When he emerged from the brush he saw his fellow lame bums in the moonlight—a snowboarder, a ski-patroller, two gondoliers and a groomer. They were crouching shoulder to shoulder around an impromptu oil-drum stove. The local bum, Jasper, had secured the location. With increased development, spots for such outlawed après-skis were harder and harder to find. The group rewarded the local bum with the first draw of the bottle and their hearty thanks.
Jasper was, in fact, the only authentic bum among them. The older men knew it and felt guilty, slipped him extra tip shares when they could. Jasper was born and raised in a ski town. They were the newcomers, the interlopers—burnouts turned bums. Eric was an engineer, the others had worked in finance, medicine, IT—basically city guys escaping the grind, trying to reconnect to life again through play. Unfortunately their play jacked up the price of everything for local bums like Jasper.
A cloudbank crept across the full moon. The bums looked up. The wind was shifting south. A clipper system was expected to bring snow overnight but would depart by dawn. On pub decks all over the mountain tourists drained their glasses and headed for their rooms, disappointed with the sudden, obstructed view. The bums, by contrast, stopped dunking their aching bones in coal yolks and began to stretch, as though decrepitude had been a mere studio pose and their muscles were now released to be their true weightless selves. It was the prospect of a bluebird day that freed them from imprisoning pain. Clear skies, off-piste slopes, virgin powder—even the sorest among them twitched with feral desire.
Maureen Kingston’s poems and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in B O D Y, The Frank Martin Review, Gargoyle, Gravel, IthacaLit, Stoneboat, Terrain.org, and Verse Wisconsin. A few of her prose pieces have also been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards.