Our Writer in Residence, Emilie Collyer, has been hard at it and here responds to the experience of playing Atmosphere Industries’ Mont Trottoir.
by Emilie Collyer
My favourite photograph is the one of us at the top of the mountain. You’re looking like a freakin’ movie star. Fuck you’re gorgeous. And I’m looking like the idiot who’s in love with a movie star. We’re both wearing sunglasses and peaked caps and kerchiefs – is that what you call them? – around our necks. Mine is orange and yours is purple. The sun is shining so brilliant. Behind us are mountains and more mountains. Serious mountains for serious fuckers. Our mountain was humble in comparison. It was only 5,000 metres or thereabouts. You know I should look up exactly how high it was. I have never been happier than in that moment. On that day. Fuck me, you were so beautiful.
We never own anything, that’s what I learned. Things, people, mountains, sunshine, they’re just on loan to us and we can’t ever get away with thinking we can keep them forever.
You made me believe in fate. When we met I’d got too old for most of that romantic stuff. Those couples who told stories about meeting and falling instantly in love, I didn’t buy it. Or I figured they were deluded and one day they’d just as suddenly fall out of love. Then they’d hate each other with a ferocity that would scare them.
I was standing at the bar talking to my friend Tom. It was a Christmas party and not a great one. About three people were still wearing paper hats. Most were looking at watches, saying they had to go to another party, or get to the shops before they closed. You know that manic look people get in their eyes a few weeks out from Christmas.
We had met once before and hit it off.
It was at the all day workshop for new disability workers. I was standing behind you in the queue for coffees. You were talking to someone and I saw you. It was like discovering a rare bird.
‘Jesus,’ I thought to myself. ‘Does anyone have any idea how fucking beautiful that woman is?’
I remember looking around, actually embarrassed, that we were all in your presence, being so careful not to stare too hard, not to say anything out loud. All of us. At least I assumed that was what everyone else was thinking. And when you turned and smiled at me:
‘I’ll order yours, it’ll be quicker. What are you having?’
I mean, how can a person’s eyes be so pure? I nearly lost my fucking balance, fell over right then and there. I guess I did fall over, just managed to keep my body upright.
Then, at the Christmas party.
‘Oh my God!’
You embraced me. It was warm and spontaneous.
‘This is so great. I hardly know anyone here. My friend works here. He wanted me to come. Do you work here?’
‘In the building,’ I said. ‘I mean, there’s a bunch of organisations. We share the space. So it’s a … like a shared party.’
‘Wow. Drink? Let’s get pissed. You want to get pissed?’
You were wearing a long black dress with a simple tie around the neck. Your hair glided over your shoulders. Like a magic river. You wore white sandals. On most people they would have looked, I don’t know, like trying too hard. But on you they were perfect.
We drank Mojitos and then beer and finally, shots of vodka. It cost me a fucking fortune.
‘So,’ you said at the end of the night when it was just us left, sitting at an outside table. It was too late for mosquitoes, too late for taxis. The air was still warm and it was going to be one of those nights where nobody would get any sleep. ‘What are your plans for next year? Any resolutions?’
The table was warm beneath my hands. I was looking at my hands, wondering how they would look next to your hands. I wasn’t old then – I know that now – but my skin had already started showing signs of age. The wrinkles around my knuckles. Faint sun spots on the back of my hand. Your hands were smooth like cream and the colour was like a word for caramel that hadn’t been invented yet.
‘I’m going to climb a mountain,’ I said. It just blurted out of me.
You slammed down the shot glass and you grabbed my hands in yours.
‘Can I come? Can we do that together?’
Our hands entwined looked perfect.
So yeah. Fate.
I had friends who were living in India and they’d been the ones to suggest the mountain trek. Seriously, after the Christmas party, I thought I’d never hear from you again. I mean we were both drunk. Who sticks to a promise they make to a stranger on a hot night drinking vodka?
It all happened so easily. My friends in India organised everything from that end. All we had to do was book flights and buy some gear. The plan was to do a 12 day trek in Ladakh, through the Indian Himalayas. We’d fly to Delhi, spend a few days there in the searing heat of mid June. Then we’d all fly to Leh, the capital of Ladakh. It would take us a few days to acclimatise to the altitude.
You and I both loved the light headed feeling.
If we’d had more time, it would have been better to get the bus from Delhi to Leh. That way your body adjusts gradually to the altitude. Flying in is a shock to the system. You can’t take a full breath. Some people panic. Others get terrible headaches. Most people feel incredibly tired. There were signs at the airport advising visitors not to undertake any strenuous activity for at least 72 hours.
The four of us hung out at our little hotel. We played cards and studied maps and read the dog-eared PD James and James Elroy books that were lying around the hotel and drank milky coffee during the day and Nepalese beer at night.
My friends, Dan and Mary, could see how I looked at you. They smiled in that way that good friends smile when they see you happy after a long fucking time. Like they can finally stop worrying about you dying alone in a rented apartment with unpaid phone bills and rats eating your intestines.
If I stop now and close my eyes, I can remember the feeling. Fuck I wish that every person in the universe got to experience that feeling once in their life. Like someone has put bubbles under your skin. Like your stomach is lined with warm honey. Like there is a filter in your eyes that is set to Fuck Off Beauty. And it’s in everything you see.
I wish everyone could have that feeling. But they don’t. I doubt you ever got that feeling.
It’s maybe a curse of being one of the beautiful ones. You’ve got to manufacture the excitement. So you clasp people’s hands and go on adventures with them and drink like a demon, always trying, striving to the reach that same kind of high. It takes effort and gradually, over years, it destroys some of the beautiful ones. Whereas people like me, who never had the beauty, all we ever have to do is find someone like you and spend our lives gazing in wonder.
‘Hey ho! Do you mind if we set up our tents near you guys?’
It was the night before we were due to walk to the summit. We were lying on the grass at our camp site. The guy asking was a friendly German. He was trekking with a friend.
‘Is that okay?’ you asked me, ‘Will it be okay with Dan?’
Dan had been badly affected by the altitude. He was dizzy, nauseous and had even become a bit hallucinatory. But we’d all decided as a group that the best course of action was to push on the next day. Once we were up and over the summit and down the other side, he’d start to feel better immediately. The guides we were with assured us of that. But they still asked Dan again and again if he’d rather we went back down the mountain, back the way we’d come.
‘It’s no problem,’ said Tensing, the lead guide.
‘No,’ Dan replied, keeping his voice low, his moves to a minimum. ‘I’ll be fine.’
He lay quietly in his tent. Mary and the guides both checked on him regularly. It cast a shadow over the evening. Made all of us take it easy, talk less, drink less. The arrival of the Germans was kind of a blessing. They were nice guys, easy going, and very experienced trekkers. They joined the guides in assuring us that Dan would be fine and they also joined in looking after him.
‘People are just brilliant aren’t they,’ you said.
We were tucked up in our sleeping bags by then, cosy in the tent. The murmured German coming from the next tent was comforting.
‘I mean we’re just so lucky to be alive, to get to be a human on this amazing planet with all these amazing other humans.’
You reached for my hand and you took it in yours. You put my hand to your face and I could feel tears on your cheeks.
I’ll never know what I did to deserve those moments with you. Nothing. I was never the smart one or even the nice one. For your own reasons you chose me. I was nothing. No, that’s not true. In those moments I was everything. The whole world and everything wonderful was inside me and of me and all around me in those moments.
Afterwards, during the couple more weeks I spent in India, Dan and Mary kept asking me if I was angry.
You know something – I tried to be. That sounds pretty fucking stupid doesn’t it? But I did. I scrunched myself up all tight inside and I imagined seeing you again and what I should say: how you never even would have gone walking up a mountain if you hadn’t met me; how you could have at least waited till we were back in Australia before you dumped me and moved on to the next guy with big doe-like eyes.
They were the things that Mary and Dan said anyway, as we sat in the stifling Delhi heat on their rooftop and drank beers and talked about life deep into the night. They weren’t impressed with you at all, the way you decided to keep going with the Germans rather than come back to Delhi with us.
‘What a superficial little user she turned out to be,’ said Mary, lighting up a joint and sucking down deep on it and passing it on to me.
‘No thanks,’ I said.
It was the night before I was leaving to fly home to Melbourne.
I couldn’t explain to them why I didn’t feel angry.
I’d got to walk up a mountain with you and see you in that moment, on top of the fucking world, well not quite but pretty fucking close. I got to feel this pure kind of joy at being alive that I don’t know if everyone is lucky enough to feel once in a lifetime.
Because you asked me what my new year’s resolution was, I said it was to climb a mountain and because of that I not only climbed a mountain, but I did it with you.
Every year since I’ve asked a person, someone I don’t know very well, what their new year’s resolution is and if they get stuck I just say:
‘Well how about one thing you’ve always wanted to do?’
And I can see it in their eyes, that little moment where possibilities light up and they might, they just might go out and do that one thing some time in the coming year.
That night, sitting on the rooftop, Dan eventually laughed when he realised I really, truly wasn’t angry with you, when I tried, fumbling, to describe the sense of transient beauty you’d shown me.
‘So she’s a bit like Lassie,’ he said, spinning a bottle top on the table, ‘just came into your life to show you the way.’
I shrugged, opened another beer, passed it to him.
‘No,’ Mary said, stubbing out her joint and pointing her finger into my chest, then outlining some kind of shape, I guess it was around my heart, ‘you’re Lassie,’ she said emphatically, ‘you showed her the way! You’re so fucking good, you’re just …’
‘Lassie was a girl dog,’ Dan pointed out, ‘so he’d be more like um, the Littlest Hobo.’
‘Whatever!’ Mary laid her hand flat over my heart, leant in and kissed me on the head, ‘you’re the dog in this situation man, you’re the good fucking, wish-we-all-knew-one, gotta-fucking-love-them-dog. That’s all I’m saying.’
Either way, you made me believe in fate and wherever you are now, in this great big fucking beautiful fuck off world, I hope you’re seeing the beauty of it all.
I really do.