Loveland Pass by Mel Bosworth
Wearing pink flannel pajamas and bunny slippers, Veronica lingered in the doorway as her father stood at the sink, shaving. "What did you dream, Daddy?”
Anderson lay flat-bellied on the bed, nestled between mountains of bunched blanket. He looked up from the hotel questionnaire on which he’d been doodling, lazily.
“Yeah, Dad. What was your dream?”
David tapped the razor against the porcelain, and the cream, sprinkled with whiskers that once shaded his jawline, melted in the pool of hot water.
“I don’t remember,” he said. “Was I talking in my sleep?”
Veronica rolled her eyes and tucked her hair, long and straight, behind her ears. It was a simple gesture that mirrored her mother. Anderson offered the paternal echo by flipping onto his back and sighing loudly.
“You was talkin’ lot,” laughed Veronica, her six-year-old diction still malleable.
“I was? I hope I didn’t say any secrets.”
Veronica jumped close and then nuzzled her slippers to his toes.
“I like your bunnies, baby. Are they gonna go down the rabbit hole?”
“Nooooo!” she said, swinging on his leg.
With a damp towel, David wiped excess cream from his cheeks. As he crouched to kiss Veronica’s forehead, he noticed that Anderson, two years older than his sister and restless in stretching skin, was chewing on his big toe. David patted Veronica’s backside and asked Anderson to get his foot out of his mouth. Then he told them both to get dressed, and that their mother was waiting.
Their plane had chirped down on the tarmac in Denver the night before. But a flash snowstorm postponed their drive to Dillon. David phoned his estranged wife, Marsha, from the airport. She was disappointed, but understanding. The desire to see her children was strong, but not selfish; waiting another night and not putting them at risk was the right thing to do. But the distance of these visits, she said, was wearing her thin. Not to mention the strain it put on the children, racking up more frequent flyer miles than most businessmen.
“I don’t like this, David,” she said.
“I don’t either. But the work has taken me to the east coast for now.”
“You mean she’s taken you to the east coast.”
It had been two years since David’s infidelity. Marsha would be forever wary, and rightfully so; she’d put her faith into their marriage only to watch as his faith faltered. As time went by, and the children grew, the transgression that David, in his arrogance, once considered a pebble became a heavy stone. He began to realize he’d put himself before his family one too many times.
Recently, he’d begun making the necessary adjustments for atonement, that is, if Marsha would still have him. The fact that she hadn’t asked for a divorce left him a semblance of hope that maybe, in spite of his fuck ups, she still loved him. Although his dream had become clouded for a time, he never stopped loving her.
“Listen, Marsha. There’s something I want to tell you.”
“About what? About Jan? Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say. I’m not ready to hear that yet.”
“It is about Jan. But it’s not what you think.”
David sat at the end of a long row of vacant blue chairs. Veronica and Anderson were by the window, watching the snow blanket the planes on the quiet runway. Veronica bounced and clapped her hands, making the ball of pink yarn atop her cap wiggle. Anderson danced, flapping his long, awkward limbs like a boy who wished to be a bird. Marsha felt him watching the children.
“What are they doing?” she asked, her tone shifting, familiar.
“Anderson thinks he’s a bird. And Ronnie is...beautiful, like her mother.” Marsha sighed.
David imagined her sitting at the bay window of the cabin, warming her hands around a mug of steaming coffee as she looked out over the mountains.
“We can’t wait to see you.”
From the hotel in Denver, it was a little over an hour’s drive to Dillon. The sun warmed the thin, choking air while plow trucks sweated along Interstate 70, scraping the roads black. David had been driving only ten minutes when the requests for Loveland Pass began.
A steep, winding road that traversed the Continental Divide, Loveland Pass was a postcard of western Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. It offered raw and gorgeous scenery, but was treacherous in winter. It was a concern that provided much of the impetus for the construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel that opened in 1973. David and Marsha were only a year old then, and thirty miles apart. Over the next four decades, their own divide would expand and contract, dependent upon what seemed to be David’s terminal case of impetuousness.
“Luvlan Pash!” squealed Veronica. With mittened hands, she tugged playfully on her seatbelt. Anderson’s approach was far more subdued, but just as effective. From the backseat, he improvised a song: "Oh, the Loveland Pass will kick some—”
David hawk-eyed him in the rearview mirror.
“Butt…Kick some butt, kick some butt. Oh, the Loveland Pass will kick some butt, all the livelong day.”
David frowned and considered his children’s wishes. The roads in Denver were cleared well enough, but in the higher elevations of the Rockies, and particularly on the hairpin turns where the sun couldn’t catch, they were bound to be in far rougher condition. But the children loved the views. And so did he.
“Loveland Pass?” he asked.
“Yay!” from Veronica.
“Huh?” from Anderson.
“You two are going to get me in trouble.”
When US-6 approached, David took it. The rental was a new Toyota Sienna with a V6 engine and all-wheel-drive. He thought it should be able to handle the hills, and whatever slick spots they might encounter, without any difficulty. Chuckling to himself, he heard the words of his mother when he was just learning to drive in the snow.
“It’s not you I’m worried about, David,” she had said. “It’s the other guy on the road.”
She’d been more disappointed in him than anyone when things fell apart with Marsha, and it carried in her eyes and voice. The intensity in both had dulled, making her appear older than she was. This new guilt, coupled with his preexisting self-loathing, wore his eyes and voice out too. Even his hair, once dark and thick, thinned and grayed in less than two years.
But when he confessed his split with Jan, and his tentative plans for reconciliation with Marsha, it was as if a switch had been turned on, not only in his mother but also in himself, and old lights hummed with new brightness. But he knew the final say wasn’t his, despite his mother’s assurances.
“Do you remember your dream, Dad?” asked Anderson.
“I think it’s coming to me, kiddo, but it’s not there quite yet.”
Burying her nose in her coat, Veronica stared at her father with those round blue eyes that made his heart ache. He pinched the lip of her cap and pulled it down.
you dream about last night, Anderson?” asked David.
Veronica wrestled the hat from her eyes and turned to look at her brother who wagged his tongue. The children knew very few details of the separation, which is to say, they knew enough. They knew that Mommy and Daddy didn’t live together anymore. They knew Mommy was angry, and Daddy was sad. They knew that both parents still loved each other, and them, very much. They knew Jan only by name, whispered and shouted. The steady tension in the air and secrets had pulled them closer, like wounded puppies lapping each other’s wounds. Veronica wagged back at her brother.
“I had a dream I was flying,” he said. “That all of us were in a plane, flying. Mom too.”
“Where were we headed?” asked David.
As the minivan began its ascent of Loveland Pass, the engine tightened. To the right, a towering wall of snow, perhaps twenty feet high and squared neatly by the plow trucks, shadowed the open corridor that tapered and then dropped abruptly to the left. David pointed out the window.
“We’re getting close to home, guys.”
The Rocky Mountains rippled to the oceanic horizon like frozen, colossal waves. Jagged and dressed in white, they sparkled in the six blue eyes that beheld them. The awe they inspired electrified the children and humbled David; their massive, stoic permanence provided an acute contrast to his soft, ephemeral existence. As he reached for Veronica’s hand, a deep sound jarred the minivan.
From around the approaching hairpin turn, the rapid blub blub blub blub of a semi’s Jake brake pounded the air. David decelerated and hugged the right shoulder to allow the truck room to pass. But the tight bursts of compression stopped short and were replaced by screams of metal on metal as the driver ground the gears. The semi burst into view around the turn, its trailer fish-tailing wildly behind it.
Veronica and Anderson were breathless with alarm, but David managed an, “Oh, shit,” before the semi rolled onto its side and careened toward them, screeching. The truck filled both lanes, and with little time and nowhere to go, David steered the minivan to the left and told the children to hold on. He prayed that the impact of the trailer would be more yielding than that of the truck.
Diving headlong into the wall of snow to the right, the truck missed them, but the sudden cessation of momentum snapped the trailer around and swatted the minivan from the road.
Veronica and Anderson screamed. David, silent, gripped the wheel. The front airbags deployed, punching David and Veronica back in their seats. Anderson thrashed in his seatbelt, his blonde hair whipping. Adrenalin tranquility, the fleeting silence of peril, flooded the minivan as it was airborne. It landed upright on the slope, a wash of snow covering the windshield, and then skidded to a stop, a mere car’s length from the precipice.
“Get out,” said David. “Get out now.”
He wrestled through the airbag to unbuckle his daughter. Anderson whimpered in the backseat. The boy’s hands were shaking too badly to function with any degree of precision.
“I can’t undo my belt, Dad. Please help me.”
Once David freed Veronica, he fought the door open and rushed her from the minivan, high-stepping in the deep snow a few yards up the slope. Panting, he glanced up at the pass. The semi was motionless on its side, save for a few spinning tires that longed for road contact. The collision with the wall had covered much of the cab with snow, but the driver clambered from the wreckage.
As he gently set Veronica down, he noticed that her face was blank. She had scampered down her own rabbit hole where things were safe.
“Are you okay, Ronnie? Talk to me, baby. Say something. Are you hurt?”
But she offered nothing. The breeze off the mountains flicked the blonde hair that spilled over her ears. Anderson yelled from the minivan.
“Dad! Please help me!”
David brushed Veronica’s cheeks with his thumbs and then kissed her forehead.
“I’ve got to get your brother. And then we can all go home. Okay?”
A precarious smile flashed across her lips. David told her he loved her and not to move—he’d be right back.
Anderson was in a panic inside the minivan. Unlike his sister, his face was overflowing with emotion. His high-pitched, anxious laughter mingled with tear-choked coughs as David unclasped the seatbelt.
Anderson. Grab my sleeves.”
The boy, finding a use for his hands, latched onto his father’s coat. Then the minivan began to move forward.
“What the fuck?”
Scurrying backwards, he dragged Anderson from the vehicle, but a large sheet of snow, beginning just below his daughter’s feet, had broken loose, and the ground ran like water down the slope. David clutched his scrawny son to his breast and lunged toward Veronica. But the slide was too powerful, twisting his feet and upending him.
Father and son spiraled downward in the surge of snow. The minivan, leading the race, rocketed over the precipice and down into the valley. David’s legs swung over the edge as the gush subsided. His elbows were buried shallowly on the top of the cliff. Miraculously, Anderson had managed to stay locked onto his cuffs. Digging his heels into the snow, he tried to jerk his father up.
“I’ve called for help!” a voice cried. “Hang on! I’m coming! I’ve called for help!”
It was the trucker as he worked his way down the slope. David heard him, but the words drifted out into the valley. He focused on the face of his son, and everything else melted.
“You’re very brave, my boy. I’m so proud of you.”
Anderson continued to tug, relentless. His cheeks were rosy and damp as his lips flapped over his big, crooked teeth. David could feel the weight of his dangling body loosen his elbow-hold in the snow. He knew that Anderson, the feather-light boy who had helped to carry his sister and mother for the last two years, would never let him go. And so he opened his mouth and let his thoughts become words, even though he doubted whether the boy could even hear him.
“I love you, Anderson. Tell your mother I love her. Tell your sister I love her. Tell them all.”
As the trucker reached Veronica, Anderson’s heels began plowing a path in the snow as the burden of his father threatened to pull him over.
David spoke in a whisper.
"Anderson. I remember my dream now."
Then he straightened his arms, and his hands, like two pink rabbits, disappeared down the dark holes of his sleeves. Anderson fell back, hugging an empty coat.
© 2005-2010 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas